China’s ‘Triple Bubble’ Economy Poised to Burst

After a nearly disastrous start to the year in January and February, China’s economy steadied itself in March. Now, the early April indicators suggest a continuation of the uptick.

The China bulls, however, are premature in their projections of a sustained recovery. To the contrary, the economy appears poised to be a default or two away from a world-shaking crash.

When economic indicators look too good to be true, as China’s now do, they signal trouble ahead. There are two principal reasons why the present circumstances are cause for alarm. 

Iran Unleashes the Morality Police

Just at the moment sanctions are being lifted on Iran, and even Saudi Arabia’s medieval government is easing up on internal repression, Iran’s “morality police” are back in force. This time they’re going undercover.

7,000 new officers have been unleashed into the streets to ensure everyone—especially women—adheres to strict Islamic codes of morality when they’re out in public. The officers don’t wear uniforms. They don’t identify themselves in any way. Instead, they blend in and mix with people as much as possible, then report the “criminals” they find, such as women who wear fingernail polish or have too much hair showing under their headscarves, to uniformed authorities.

“On Sunday,” Yara Elmjouie reports in the Guardian, “195 members of the Iranian parliament signed a letter warning moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to get serious about confronting women failing to properly observe modest Islamic covering - or hijab - or else, the letter reads, Iranian society will face ‘irreversible consequences’ from a western cultural onslaught seeking to ‘change the Iranian people’s way of life vis-à-vis hijab and chastity.’”

It ought to go without saying that there’s nothing inherently Western about women refusing to cover their heads when they go out in public. Japanese women don’t cover their heads. Neither do women in South Africa, China, or Mexico. Neither, for that matter, do women in Muslim-majority Kosovo.

Iranian women are retaliating against all this nonsense by defiantly publishing photographs of themselves taking off their hijabs on websites like Facebook, but the regime is fighting back.

“For weeks state TV has drawn attention to the hijab in televised debates,” Elmjouie continues, “and pro-hijab posters likening badly veiled women to unwrapped candy bars preyed on by flies made the rounds on social networks.”

Naifs the world over applauded when the “moderate” Hassan Rouhani replaced the bombastic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in 2013, but this guy was never going to make much of a difference. The Iranian presidency is not quite a ceremonial role, but it’s not a very powerful one either.

Ali Khamenei, the self-styled “supreme leader,” is the head of state. He and his Revolutionary Guard Corps control foreign policy absolutely, and he mostly directs internal policy. Rouhani asked the hardliners to stop interfering so much in everyone’s personal life like the totalitarians they are, but there’s not much he can do about it. He could be a pot-smoking libertarian transgender rights activist, and it still wouldn’t change anything in Iran—except, of course, that he’d be flogged and tortured in Evin Prison if he were any of those things.

He’s not, of course, and he’s not even meaningfully moderate. Khamenei hand-picked him and just a few others to run for the presidency a couple of years ago. Khamenei selects every candidate for the presidency, and he’d rather chew off his own legs than choose anyone who is moderate by any definition of that word outside Iran.

Khamenei’s people don’t even qualify as moderate by Middle Eastern standards, let alone global standards. Iran is one of only two countries in the entire Middle East where women are required by law to cover their heads when they go outside. Even foreign women who aren’t Muslims have to cover their heads in Iran. That’s completely unnecessary everywhere in North Africa and the Levant. It’s not even required in the Hezbollah-occupied regions of Lebanon. It’s only the law in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Just north of Iran in Azerbaijan, which would be part of Iran today if Russia hadn’t conquered it roughly 200 years ago, more than 99 percent of women dress like women everywhere else in the world. I spent a week there and saw fewer Islamic headscarves than I see in Seattle—just two during the entire week. I assumed the young women wearing them were probably foreigners. If they were locals, they were as far out of the mainstream as Zoroastrians are in America. There’s a statue in the capital that shows a woman removing her headscarf. It has been there for more than 100 years.

Iran probably wouldn’t be that aggressively secular if it had a genuinely representative government—unlike Iran, Azerbaijan spent more than a half century under communist rule—but it would almost certainly look like Lebanon or Turkey where there’s a healthy balance between the secular and the devout. The Iranian government wouldn’t need to send thousands of undercover “morality police” into the streets in the first place if adherence to strict Islamic codes was what everybody actually wanted.

Iranians, when left alone, are far more liberal-minded and modern than Saudis. The Iranian and Saudi governments, though, are remarkably similar in their fanatical absurdity. The Saudi government has always been more severe, but just at the moment when the Iranian regime is tightening the screws again, Saudi Arabia’s own morality police are being stripped of some of their powers.

The Muttaween, or the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, are no longer allowed to question, ID, chase, arrest or detain people suspected of any “crime,” such as mingling with members of the opposite sex. As of two weeks ago, that’s the job for the regular police. According to the Cabinet, the Muttaween must “encourage virtue and forbid vice by kindly and gently advising as carried out by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and his rightful successors.” They are also required to show their identity cards.

Iran’s “morality police,” meanwhile, do not have to show their identity cards. Instead, they’re blending into the civilian population and ratting out their friends and neighbors like a Middle Eastern version of East Germany’s Stasi.

The regime has proven itself remarkably durable since seizing power in 1979. All tyrants fall in the end, but the hardliners are feeling confident in the meantime. Why shouldn’t they? They put down the Green Revolution in 2009. The United States just cut a world historical deal and will even cover for them when they cheat. There’s hardly any external pressure on Tehran whatsoever to grant its citizens even an iota of freedom or dignity. Like most people on earth, Iran’s people have to seize it by force for themselves. When it finally happens, the country will be all but unrecognizable.

The truth, though, is that it will simply be reverting to normal. It’s easy to find photographs from the 1970s that show no women at all wearing the hijab, as if they were living in the United States, Europe or Israel rather than any nation anywhere in the world with a Muslim majority.

“The name Iran,” Iranian writer Reza Zarabi wrote a decade ago, “which used to be equated with such things as luxury, fine wine, and the arts, has become synonymous with terrorism. When the Islamic Republic government of Iran finally meets its demise, they will have many symbols and slogans as testaments of their rule, yet the most profound will be their genocide of Islam, the black stain that they have put on this faith for many generations to come.”

Putin Celebrates Unrepentant Fascist Zhirinovsky

This time, Vladimir Putin has out-Putined himself.

On April 18, Russia’s erratic, though consistently anti-democratic, leader awarded the Russian Federation’s prestigious “For Service to the Fatherland Order, Class II,” to none other than Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Zhirinovsky, who is the head of the bizarrely named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, has been an unabashed promoter of Russian illiberalism, fascism, and imperialism since he first made a splash in the Duma elections of 1993, when his party garnered 23 percent of the vote.

Zhirinovsky has never minced his words. To his credit, he’s never pretended to be anything but an imperialist and a fascist. Indeed, he’s been so brazen, so outrageous, and so unapologetic that not even Putin Russia’s most ardent Western apologists apologize for him.  

Here’s a classic Zhirinovsky statement threatening Eastern Europe with war, from August 2014:

Ukraine’s New Cabinet

How should we evaluate Ukraine’s just-completed process of forming a new coalition and cabinet?

For starters, coalitions and cabinets are routinely changed in democracies. Devious presidents, devious prime ministers, and devious parliamentarians are also business as usual. So, too, are horse trading, smoke-filled rooms, shady deals, opportunistic bargains, and outrageous demands. Although these things usually dismay and demoralize non-politicians like most of us, their presence actually signifies that a democratic process is taking place.

That said Ukraine isn’t a run-of-the-mill democracy. It’s a transitional democracy mired in economic crisis and war. While other elites can squabble to their hearts’ content, those in Ukraine have a political and moral obligation to set aside personal ambitions and animosities and, in the national interest, find effective solutions quickly. When time is of the essence, one can’t waste two months, as the Ukrainians just did, trying to come up with a new coalition and cabinet. That’s criminal.

The Cold Arab-Israeli Alliance Against Iran

Israel and the Sunni Arab states inched closer together diplomatically and geopolitically last week when Egypt transferred control of Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia.

It’s not initially obvious why the control of two uninhabited islands moving from one Arab country to another would even affect Israel let alone suggest that Israel’s relations with its neighbors might be improving. The answer lies in the past. These islands have been flashpoints a number of times during the Arab-Israeli conflict, but they won’t be anymore.

They have no value in and of themselves—no resources, no people, no nothing—but look at a map. The two islands bottleneck the Straits of Tiran between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. Any ships that want to reach Israel or Jordan from the south have to pass through there, and the passage is only a few miles across. A fit person could swim from one side to the other without too much trouble.

In 1950, during the early days of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Saudis asked the more-powerful Egyptians to take control of these islands because they feared the Israelis might seize them. Just as the Saudis feared, six years later the Israelis took Tiran Island during the Suez Crisis in 1956, and again in 1967 when Egyptian ruler Gamal Abdel Nasser blockaded the straits and precipitated the Six Day War. The Saudis wouldn’t have been able to hold the Israelis back, but as it turned out, neither could the Egyptians. 

Things have settled down in the meantime. The Egyptians and Saudis aren’t worried about Israel anymore. There’s no point. The Israelis are spectacularly uninterested in another war with Egypt, and they’ve never fought a war with the Saudis. Cairo and Riyadh—like most Arab capitals—are far more worried about Iran, especially now that Washington is letting Tehran come in from the cold as part of the nuclear “deal.”

So Egypt returned control of Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia.

Egypt’s dictator General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has turned out to be a staunch champion of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, not because he loves the Israelis—surely he doesn’t—but because, like all Egyptian Army officers, he’s painfully aware that another war with Israel would be just as stupid and pointless as the previous wars with Israel and that Egypt would get its ass kicked all over again for nothing. And he’s realistic enough to know that the Israelis won’t wake up some random morning and decide to bomb Cairo just for the hell of it.

The transfer of the islands back to the Saudis “relates to us and it does not bother us,” Israeli Knesset member Tzachi Hanegb said. “The Saudis, who are committed to freedom of shipping under international law, will not harm the essence of the agreement between Egypt and us in this regard, and freedom of shipping in Aqaba and Eilat will remain as is.”

The Saudis are congenitally incapable of saying anything friendly about Israel in public—behind closed doors, the Saudis get along with Israel fine—but Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir nevertheless said, “There is an agreement and commitments that Egypt accepted related to these islands, and the kingdom is committed to these.”

He’s referring to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, signed by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin in 1979, which guarantees passage of Israeli ships through the Straits of Tiran.

By publicly agreeing to respect Israel’s right to this particular international waterway, the Saudis are implicitly agreeing to at least part of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty despite the fact that no formal peace treaty exists yet between Jerusalem and Riyadh.

How far those two little islands have come. They started out as pieces on the board in the region-wide Arab-Israeli conflict, and now they symbolize a long overdue thaw. 

Israelis and Arabs may never like each other, but they don’t have to. Look at the Greeks and the Turks. They’ve hated each other’s guts for hundreds of years, they ethnically cleansed each other in 1923 and again on the island of Cyprus in the 1970s, but the Soviet Union was a lightning rod during the Cold War, and they set aside their longstanding hostility and agreed to work with each other within the framework of NATO.

Israel was similarly a kind of lightning rod in the Middle East that unified the Arabs, but today Iran is the lightning rod. The real threat from Iran is uniting most of the Arab states, and it’s triggering a serious rethink about the non-threat from the Jewish state. 

It’s the Iranian government’s greatest diplomatic and propaganda failure. When the revolutionary regime seized power from the Shah in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini attempted to rally the Arab world behind him by singling out the so-called Zionist Entity as a threat to all Muslims. He had his work cut out for him. Hatred of Jews was never as strong a force in Persian culture as it historically has been in Arab culture. For Persians, Arabs—not Jews—were and are the ancient implacable foe. Iran had excellent relations with Israel until 1979 and would still enjoy excellent relations with Israel today if the Khomeinists had not taken over.

The most intractable fault lines in the Middle East are between Sunnis and Shias and between Arabs and Persians, and Iran has both a Persian and a Shia majority. Iran’s rulers can’t easily become the hegemons of an entire region that hates them. Their best bet, perhaps their only bet, was to unite all Muslims—Sunni, Shia, Arab and Persian—against the Jews.

So Khomeini abandoned Iran’s alliance with Israel and threw its support behind terrorist armies like Hamas and Hezbollah.

In The Persian Night, Amir Taheri sums up Khomeini’s pitch to the Arabs this way: “Forget that Iran is Shia, and remember that today it is the only power capable of realizing your most cherished dream, the destruction of Israel. The Sunni Muslim Brotherhood promised you it would throw the Jews into the sea in 1948, but failed. Pan-Arab nationalists, led by Nasser, ushered you into one of your biggest defeats in history, enabling Israel to capture Jerusalem. The Baathists under Saddam Hussein promised to ’burn Israel,’ but ended up bringing the American infidels to Baghdad. Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian ’patriots’ promised to crush the Jewish state, but turned into collaborators on its payroll. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda never gave two hoots about Palestine, focusing only on spectacular operations in the West to win publicity for themselves. Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Hamas did all they could to destroy Israel but lacked the power, like flies attacking an elephant. The only force now willing and able to help realize your dream of a burned Israel and drowning the Jews is the Islamic Republic as created by Khomeini.”

It was a clever plan, but it failed, and its failure is a little more obvious with each passing year. Israel could have been the lighting rod that brought Arabs and Persians, and Sunnis and Shias, together. Instead, the Semitic tribes are slowly inching together. Not warmly—that’s for damn sure—but the Greeks and Turks, along with the Americans and the Saudis, showed the world a long time ago that cold alliances can work almost as effectively.

South Korea, US Can’t Wait for Beijing to Approve Missile Defense

On Monday, a South Korean official implored Beijing to understand his government’s desire to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, THAAD as the missile-defense system is known.

“I hope to ask China’s understanding of what Korea is feeling about the North Korean threat,” said Shin Beomchul, director general for policy planning of the Foreign Ministry, to an audience in Washington, D.C. “It is not the usual threat, it is a nuclear threat. That’s very serious. We are now in the live-or-die situation.”

To deal with this existential nuclear threat, the occupant of the Blue House has attempted various approaches during her tenure. President Park Geun-hye began her term with the “trustpolitik” policy of building trust with Pyongyang. When that failed, she started to speak of a unified and democratic Korean state.

Ukraine: A Bridge Linking the West and Russia?

MOTYL: Dr. Jiri Valenta, you’ve had extensive experience dealing with the Russians during and after the Prague Spring and wrote a seminal work on its tragic denouement, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968 (Johns Hopkins, 1991). Is there a solution to the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war that would be acceptable to Ukraine, Russia, and the West?

VALENTA: Russian leaders abhor large, endless military campaigns and prolonged, costly wars. Many in Russia believe the war in Afghanistan led to revolutionary change and, in turn, to the 1991 fall of the empire. The Kremlin prefers low-cost interventions as in 1968 Czechoslovakia or bloodless ones as in 2014 Crimea. 

China Takes Custody of Taiwan Nationals in Kenya

On Tuesday, Beijing took custody of 37 Taiwan nationals in Kenya and flew them to China. This followed China’s taking of eight other Taiwan citizens from that country on Saturday.

Nairobi said the 45 were "deported," but Minister Hsia Li-yan of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council used the term “rude and savage.” “Savage” may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the apprehension of the individuals, who arrived in China in hoods and handcuffs, appears to have been an “extrajudicial abduction,” as Taipei first termed it. In any event, the incident undercuts the spirit of cooperation embodied in the 2009 Cross-Strait Joint Crime-Fighting and Judicial Mutual Assistance Agreement.

The Rise of the Pirate Party

After the release of the so-called Panama Papers led to the downfall of Iceland’s prime minister, the Pirate Party is poised to take his place in the next election. In a multi-party nation, 43 percent of voters are now backing the Pirates.

They sound dangerous, but they’re not named after the murderous brigands off the Horn of Africa and in the South China Sea. The Pirates are basically a libertarian protest party, and they’re capitalizing on a wave of anti-establishment outrage.

Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned last week when a law firm in Panama City revealed that he and his wife set up a company in the British Virgin Islands that allegedly has a conflict of interest with Icelandic banks. Gunnlaugsson’s Progressive Party—which is actually center-right and classically liberal rather than leftist—is in disarray and will likely collapse, at least temporarily.

Europe has never been fertile ground for libertarians. It is not Montana, and it isn’t Wyoming. But the Pirate Party defies conventional labels and isn’t entirely sure whether it belongs on the left, on the right, or anywhere in particular. It’s not even entirely libertarian. It’s a hodgepodge of libertarians, centrists and left-wing activists. The classically liberal center-right could join in theoretically, but it’s poised to go down with the prime minister.

Iceland’s Pirate Party is one of several in the West. The first was founded in Sweden in 2006 as a protest party. They all started as protest parties, including the Icelandic branch. The Pirate Party also has an American branch.

Its various incarnations differ somewhat from country to country, but most have a core set of ideas in common. Those ideas are these, as cited on the website of the American Pirate Party.

  1. We stand for open culture. No one should have the power to prevent the free exchange and expression of ideas, tools, or works.
  2. We stand for transparency and openness. Government activities should not be hidden from the public.
  3. We stand for individual privacy. The amount of oppression in a society is inversely proportional to its privacy protections. Individuals must be free to make personal decisions that do not harm another person.
  4. We are anti-monopoly. No monopoly should be able to prevent works, tools, or ideas from: being freely used, expressed, exchanged, recombined, or taught; nor to violate individual privacy or human rights. A creator’s right to be compensated for their work or idea is only acceptable within these limitations.
  5. We stand for individuals over institutions. Universal human rights apply only to human beings, and not to corporations, limited liability organizations, or other group entities.
  6. We are a post-ideological values-based meritocracy. We place all options on the table. We choose a specific approach because the available evidence shows that it is the best way to promote our values. We do not make decisions based merely on tradition, popularity, authority or political expediency.
  7. We are egalitarian. We believe in equality and a level playing field. We accept input from all sources, and we value all people equally.
  8. We actively practice these values. We hold ourselves accountable for our own adherence to these principles.

Most Americans have never heard of this party. But if the Pirate Party wins an election in Iceland, the other branches may not look so much like protest parties anymore. They might suddenly appear viable everywhere.

Birgitta Jonsdottir founded the Icelandic branch in 2006. She’s a former Wikileaks activist and calls herself a poetess. One of the planks in her party’s platform is granting immediate citizenship to Edward Snowden, who leaked massive amounts of information from the National Security Agency (NSA) about its global surveillance system. Yet in her campaign video, an unidentified man is quoted saying, “information in Icelandic servers would be very much like money in Swiss banks.”

That doesn’t exactly square with Edward Snowden and Wikileaks. The Pirate Party says it wants to protect data, but Snowden and Wikileaks have done precisely the opposite.

She could try to resolve that contradiction, I guess, by saying everyone except government and corporate officials have the right to privacy, but government and corporate officials are citizens too. It ought to go without saying that they shouldn’t be above the law, but they can’t very well be below the law. Either everybody deserves privacy or nobody deserves privacy. (Should Hillary Clinton have released the password on her email account to the public, or should she have used a secure server?) We should expect Jonsdottir’s views on these questions to “evolve,” as she might later put it, if her party wins an election and she find that she’s now the target of leakers. 

The Pirate Party is aptly named in at least one way. It openly supports Internet piracy. “The Pirate Party affirms that current copyright law is not good for the public or for creative professionals,” says the American Pirate Party’s website, “and only actually benefits a small minority of corporate executives.”

Sorry, guys, but that’s bullshit. I am no corporate executive. Royalties from my book sales make up a significant portion of my income. Without it, I’d lose my house. Take my intellectual property away, and you owe me a salary for the rest of my life. Just pay for your books and music and movies like everyone else. All of these things are cheaper than ever. Music costs half of what it cost twenty years ago, and that’s without adjusting for inflation. The same goes for e-books.

If creative professionals can’t make a living, the creative professions the Pirate Party wants to steal from will cease to exist.

Anyway, loosening copyright enforcement isn’t what’s mobilizing huge masses of people in Iceland. They’re mobilized by disgust with the status quo generally.

Jonsdottir says her party is part of the same international wave of change represented by Bernie Sanders in the United States and the Syriza party in Greece, but that only makes sense up to a point. Sanders is a socialist—the opposite of a libertarian—and Syriza has Maoists, Trotskyists and other revolutionary communists in its ranks. Bernie Sanders is Jeb Bush next to these people. Libertarian, they are not. They are, on the contrary, the ne plus ultra of statists.

What Syriza has in common with the Pirates, however, and with Bernie Sanders and also Donald Trump, is that they are all anti-establishment.

Much of the Western world is in an anti-establishment mood. Some people gravitate toward the botched ideologies of the past while others are marinating in new ideologies that haven’t yet proven themselves one way or the other.

Why now and what’s going on?

There may be no single cause. John Podhoretz at Commentary thinks the American mood is a delayed reckoning from the financial crash in 2008.

In September 2008, after months of uncertainty following the collapse of Bear Stearns, the financial system went into its terrifying tailspin. A disastrous recession shrank the overall economy by 9 percent, and the unemployment rate rose to 10 percent a year later.

Now imagine that the meltdown had taken place not in September 2008 but rather in September 2006. Imagine that housing prices and stock prices had fallen in the same way—such that the wealth invested in the 63 percent of home-owned American households and in the stocks owned by 62 percent of all Americans had declined by 40 percent.

Further, imagine that serious proposals arose that the 8 percent of homeowners who had defaulted on their home loans be forgiven their debts—the very proposal in 2009 that led investor Rick Santelli to call for a new “tea party” uprising on the part of the 92 percent who paid their bills on time. Only this time Santelli’s comments had been spoken in 2007. Imagine all these things. And then imagine the presidential race that would have followed. Does the rise of Trump and Bernie Sanders suddenly make all the sense in the world? Of course.

But of course the meltdown didn’t happen in 2006. It took place a mere seven weeks before an election.

That’s as good an explanation of any I’ve read for why the United States is a hair’s breadth away from an election between a fake Democrat (Sanders) and a fake Republican (Trump.)

Perhaps we should have seen it coming. The 2008 primary elections were finished before the financial crash hit. Barack Obama and John McCain were chosen for the general election in an earlier era, before the tsunami of economic anxiety that still hasn’t washed out yet.

There were warnings. The anti-establishment mood on the right began with the Tea Party, and on the left with Occupy Wall Street. Pirate Parties have been popping up all over the place, mostly under the radar, in the meantime. Syriza, of course, is a product of problems unique to Greece, which are so catastrophic that hardly anyone will be surprised if the European Union sends it packing.

We shouldn’t read too much into what’s happening in any one place. Every country has its own unique set of problems, and Iceland is hardly representative of anywhere else. There are more people in Omaha, Nebraska, than in all of Iceland.

Still, no one can say that it’s business as usual right now in the politics of the Western Democracies. What the landscape might look like ten or twenty years after an international and trans-ideological spasm of anger and disgust is anyone’s guess.

The Dutch, Kyiv, and Reform

The Dutch referendum is not the end of the world for Ukraine. As one smart and sober Ukrainian analyst points out, it actually changes very little in Ukraine’s relationship with the European Union. In a word, Ukraine need not panic.

That said, Ukraine needs to draw several conclusions from the decision by some 20 percent of Holland’s electorate to reject the EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine.

First, that percentage of nay-sayers roughly corresponds to the percentage of citizenry in all EU states who actively reject “European values.” These are the supporters of extreme right-wing parties, many of which of late have attained 20-30 percent of the vote in various elections. These are the people who disagree with the following passage in the Preamble of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union:

No Impunity for Boris Nemtsov’s Killers

Last week, the European People’s Party—the largest political group in the European Parliament that holds 215 of its 751 seats—endorsed the idea of extending EU visa sanctions to employees of the Russian propaganda machine who were involved in state-sponsored incitement against Boris Nemtsov, the leader of Russia’s pro-democracy opposition gunned down in February 2015 in plain sight of the Kremlin. Earlier, the same initiative was backed by the parliament’s fourth-largest Liberal group, which holds seventy seats.

The Iranian Nuclear Deal Keeps Getting Worse

The nuclear deal with Iran is not going well.

Last month, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps fired two ballistic missiles that landed almost a thousand miles away. The US objected, but the Iranians are defiant.

“The reason we designed our missiles with a range of 2000 kilometers is to be able to hit our enemy the Zionist regime from a safe distance,” said Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh.

The Saudis don’t buy it. None of the Arab states buy it, except for the Assad regime in what’s left of Syria and the Iranian-aligned Shia government in Iraq. The rest of the Arab states rightly see Iranian muscle flexing as part of Tehran’s ever-expanding regional hegemony, not just over the Jewish state, but over the entire region, most of which is Sunni and Arab.

It ought to go without saying why nearly every nation on earth, whether or not they’re named “Israel,” ought to be concerned about Iran’s ballistic missile program. Ballistic missiles can carry nuclear warheads. Enough ballistic missiles can ravage cities even if they aren’t equipped with nuclear warheads. That’s why the Secretary of State John Kerry insisted last year that squashing Iran’s ballistic missile program was part of the deal.

But maybe it wasn’t part of the deal. It’s not entirely clear what is in the deal or if the deal is even entirely settled.

“Like most of Washington,” Eli Lake writes in Bloomberg, “I was under the impression that the nuclear negotiations with Iran ended in July…I should have been more suspicious when no one actually had to sign anything at the end of the negotiations or when the ‘deal’ was not submitted to the Senate as a treaty for ratification.”

A ballistic missile test ban certainly is part of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which informally codified the nuclear deal into international law and passed unanimously last July. It clearly states in Annex B that United Nations restrictions will only be lifted if the Iranian government agrees “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology, until the date eight years after the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] Adoption Day or until the date on which the IAEA submits a report confirming the Broader Conclusion, whichever is earlier.”

Deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes acknowledges that Iran’s ballistic missile tests violate Security Council Resolution 2231, but not the JCPOA struck between the United States and Iran. “Iran has complied with the JCPOA,” he said at the Nuclear Security Summit when a reporter asked him if the ballistic missile tests violate the agreement.

So the United Nations now takes a harder line on Iran than the United States does.

This sort of thing doesn’t play well in America. A deal with a government as hostile and duplicitous as Iran’s is controversial, to say the least. Last year, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution opposing it. One might assume American support for the deal or lack thereof breaks down on party lines, but it doesn’t. A survey conducted last September by the Pew Research Center shows that only 21 percent of Americans think it’s a good idea.

It may not be long for this world, but earlier this week, the Obama administration warned the next president not to scrap it. Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon said that an American rejection “would be grasped by hardliners in Iran to assert that we were an unreliable interlocutor.”

The Iranian government already thinks that. It’s already accusing the United States of violating the agreement, so what difference does it make?

“The Americans are now acting in violation of the nuclear agreement,” Iran’s judiciary chief Sadeg Amoli Larijani said on Monday because, according to him, Washington is dissuading American companies from doing business over there. “The Americans should know that the Islamic Republic of Iran would never compromise its interests and would never agree with investment of foreign firms in the country at any price, while it enjoys rich resources and abundant talents.”

You might think the Iranians would be grateful that Ben Rhodes is carrying their water, but nope. Iran’s Deputy Chief of Staff Brigadier General Maassoud Jazzayeri is directly accusing President Barack Obama of violating the agreement because of Washington’s non-existent push-back over the missile tests. “The White House should know that defense capacities and missile power,” he said, “specially at the present juncture where plots and threats are galore, is among the Iranian nation's red lines and a backup for the country's national security and we don’t allow anyone to violate it.”

Think about that for a second. Iran tests ballistic missiles. The United States says it’s unhappy about the test, but gives Iran a clean bill of health on the nuclear agreement anyway. And Iran responds by saying the United States is violating the agreement! Up is down and black is white and one plus one equals 125.

“There is barely a day that goes by,” Lake writes, “when [Iran’s] leaders don't affirm that they have a sovereign right to test as many missiles as they choose. And in case the message wasn't clear, Iranian television made sure to broadcast images of those missiles emblazoned with Hebrew words that said ‘Israel must be wiped off the earth.’”

Secretary Kerry promised Congress that Iranian ballistic missile tests would violate the nuclear deal, but that promise has passed its expiration date.

“We recognize that Iran remains a threat to stability in the Middle East,” Kerry wrote last summer in the Washington Post. “That danger is precisely why this deal is so necessary and why we fought so hard for the multilateral arms embargo to remain in place for five years and the embargo on ballistic missiles for eight.” [Emphasis added.] Those are John Kerry’s own words in an article with his own name on it.

At some point between then and now, the deal was altered. Or at least the administration is pretending it has been altered. It’s not hard to figure out why. If the deal collapses, or appears to collapse, we’re on the road to war again with Iran. And that’s the last thing our current president wants.

It’s the last thing anybody should want, but a deal with the current Iranian government is no more valuable than a deal with Darth Vader. You may recall when, in The Empire Strikes Back, Vader convinces Lando Calrissien to betray his old friend Han Solo. As is his nature, Vader reneges. When Calrissien complains, Vader turns to him, hisses, and says, “I am altering the deal. Pray I do not alter it any further.”

Did Trigger-Happy North Korea Take a Shot at China?

On March 29, North Korea launched a projectile from a location near the port city of Wonsan. The ballistic missile or artillery shell traveled about 125 miles on a northeast path, in other words, toward China, landing near the border.

South Korean Defense Ministry analysts speculate that the North originally planned to fire the projectile out to sea but changed plans and pointed it inland instead due to last-minute problems. That seems highly unlikely, however, because if there were indeed problems they would not risk firing into China.

The NightWatch site maintains that the trajectory was intentional as well as “unprecedented.” In all probability, the North Koreans meant to send a hostile message to Beijing.

Relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea seem to deteriorate by the week. They are each other’s only treaty ally, but in recent years ties have evidently eroded. Now, the bilateral relationship has become, in my view, the most fascinating one in the world to watch.

Is Ukraine's Economic Potential Its Destiny?

The following is an interview with Ukraine investor, Ian Hague.


MOTYL: As a Founding Partner of Firebird Management LLC, a fund management company focusing on the capital markets of the former Soviet Union, you’ve pursued investment opportunities in Ukraine since 1994. Whence this long-standing interest?

China's Show of Force in Indonesian Waters

China has called on Indonesia to release eight crew members from a fishing boat that was seized in mid-March. The tense standoff could be the result of a new phase of lawlessness in China’s behavior in the South China Sea.

 On the 19th, a Chinese coast guard vessel entered the sovereign waters of Indonesia off one of the Natuna Islands. Just 2.7 miles from shore, the Chinese vessel rammed a Chinese fishing boat, the Kway Fey, to free it as it was being towed by an Indonesian craft. Indonesia had just seized the Kway Fey for illegally fishing in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

 China’s embassy in Jakarta claimed the Chinese craft was in a “traditional Chinese fishing ground,” but there is no such concept either in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which Beijing has ratified, or customary international law.


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