Iran Gets its Blackmail Money

The Iranian sanctions are over. The United States has now officially returned 100 billion dollars in frozen assets to the Iranian government as required by last year’s nuclear deal between Tehran and Washington.

“These assets…have fully been released and we can use them,” said government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht.

If you’re negotiating a deal with a hostile party, it behooves you to ask who’s having who for breakfast.

The United States, as the world’s sole remaining superpower, should have had the Iranian rulers for breakfast. We should have eaten their lunch, too, while we were at it, but nope. Iran gets 100 billion dollars and we get…nothing.

Oh, sure, we get “promises” from the Iranian government that it won’t build nuclear weapons, and inspectors get limited access to old nuclear facilities, but even if Iran never cheats and never builds a bomb, the best we can say is that we paid Iran off so it wouldn’t do something horrible.

The word for that is blackmail. Blackmail is a crime for a reason—because the blackmailed person or party gets robbed.

A good deal with Iran would have required the government—at minimum—to cease and desist all funding of international terrorist organizations. Instead, this deal enables the regime to dramatically increase its support for international terrorist organizations.

But okay, let’s be super optimistic here and assume Iran will use 99 percent of its treasure chest for peaceful purposes and economic development. Only one percent goes to terrorists.

Iran’s baseline funding for Hezbollah, its most powerful terrorist proxy in Lebanon and Syria, is at most 200 million dollars a year. If it earmarks just one percent of its 100 billion dollars to Hezbollah—just one billion dollars—that would boost Hezbollah’s cash infusion by a factor of five.

If Iran earmarks ten percent of its treasure chest to terrorism, it could send fifty times as much money and weapons to Hezbollah or its other murderous playthings as it has in the past.

Let me say that again. If Iran uses 90 percent of its releases assets peacefully, it could still spend fifty times as much money on terrorism as it used to.

A lot of people were worried about this, not just in the United States, but also in Israel, the Arab world and even in Europe. Secretary of State John Kerry tried to downplay it.

“Sanctions relief will pour lots of money into Iran,” James Robbins said to him during an interview with the BBC last summer. “There must be a considerable risk they’ll spend at least some of that money supporting extremist terrorist groups who they’ve supported in the past.”

“What Iran has done for years with Hizballah does not depend on money,” Kerry said.

Let’s stop right there for a second. Can any serious person actually believe that? Iran isn’t giving Hezbollah moral support the way, say, the United States used to give moral support to Cubans languishing under the Castro regime. No. Iran gives Hezbollah sophisticated weapons and money. Obviously that depends on Iran having money. There is no way around this. Kerry would be right if Iran simply grandstanded impotently on the sidelines, but Iran not only supports Hezbollah, it created Hezbollah with money, weapons and training. All of which costs money.

“What Iran is doing,” Kerry continued, “and by the way, they’re fighting ISIL and helping Iraq in many ways, but that has not depended on money. So sure, something may go additionally somewhere. But if President Rouhani and his administration do not take care of the people of Iran, they will have an enormous problem.”

Fighting ISIS costs money. “Helping” Iraq with Shia militias costs extraordinary amounts of money.

It’s true, of course, that the Iranian government will have an enormous problem if no money goes into the Iranian economy. But Iran could pour 90 percent of its sanctions relief into the Iranian economy and still have an amount left over that’s 50 times greater than the baseline Hezbollah budget. The government is not facing an either-or proposition here. Not even close. It’s easy to do lots of different things if you suddenly find yourself 100 billion dollars richer.

John Kerry is more honest about this today. He might as well be. The deal is done. No point obfuscating the obvious anymore.

“I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] or other entities,” he said during a recent interview in Davos, Switzerland, “some of which are labeled terrorists. You know, to some degree, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that every component of that can be prevented.”

The United States won’t be able to prevent any “component of that,” as Kerry put it, not even by breaking the deal and reimposing sanctions all over again, because Iran already has its assets back.

One could make the case that this is nevertheless an improvement over the status quo ante, that it’s better to have a powerful terrorist-supporting Iran than an Iran with nuclear weapons, and it’s better than the cost of a huge war to cripple of remove the Iranian government.  

And maybe that’s true. But where does that leave us?

The Iranian government has been a malignant force since the day it seized power in 1979. It has taken diplomats hostage, destabilized one neighboring state after another—beginning with Lebanon, then moving to Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen—and created terrorist armies that have killed Americans, Israelis, Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians and—yes—even Argentines.

The Iranian government has done all this without nuclear weapons. The only reason it wasn’t able to wreak even more havoc is because it was crippled by sanctions.

That’s over now. 

Even if this nuclear deal “works,” if Iran never develops nuclear weapons, the Iranian government will be able to a far more destructive role in the Middle East than it ever has in the past. And it’s already by far the most troublesome.

“Right now,” Kerry said, trying to make everyone feel better, “we are not seeing the early delivery of funds going to that kind of endeavor at this point in time.”

Of course not. Iran is only just now getting the 100 billion. Iran hadn’t even received it yet when he said that. We can’t track every dollar it spends anyway, and it wouldn’t make any difference if we could. The Iranian government can allocate funds however it wants. It doesn’t matter if Iran uses the 100 billion in sanctions relief to fund terrorism directly or indirectly. Iran is going to do it one way or another.

It’s not even controversial anymore. Kerry himself says it’s going to happen.

“If we catch them funding terrorism,” he said, “they are going to have a problem with the United States Congress and other people, obviously.”

Why should we have to catch them? We already know it’s going to happen. Iran has been funding terrorism for decades. Iran hasn’t stopped funding terrorism for even five seconds since the day it started.

We can safely assume that since Iran funded terrorism yesterday, and that since the sun came up this morning, Iran is still funding terrorism today. And unless the government is overthrown before midnight tonight, it’s safe to assume that Iran will continue funding terrorism tomorrow.

Iran’s rulers haven’t even pretended to stop, so let’s just cut through the b.s. and assume we’ve already “caught” them so we can figure out what we’re going to do about it.

China-Iran Upgrade Their 'Comprehensive Strategic Relationship’

Chinese President Xi Jinping just wrapped up his three-nation tour to the Middle East with a visit to Iran.  

The global narrative is that Beijing and Tehran are strengthening relations and for good reason: during the visit the two sides inked 17 accords, treaties, and letters of intent.

The two republics—one “People’s” and the other “Islamic”—also declared they had agreed, in the words of the official Xinhua News Agency, “to elevate their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership.” And they appear to have meant it. As Xi’s Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday, “Today we discussed the strategic relationship between both countries, setting up a comprehensive 25-year plan and also promoting bilateral relations of up to $600 billion over the next 10 years.”

Ukraine Expands Trade Routes, Bypasses Russia

Ukraine is taking two important steps toward expanding its ties with the global economy.

The Beskyd-Skotarske train tunnel in the Carpathians is being widened from one track to two, thanks to funding provided by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank. The project will more than double the speeds at which trains can travel through the tunnel as well as double the number of trains undertaking the journey. Since 60 percent of Ukraine’s current trade with countries to its west goes through the tunnel (originally built in 1886), the result will be a vastly enlarged capacity for imports and exports with the European Union, which already is Ukraine’s largest trading partner and with which Ukraine now shares a free trade zone. The work is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2017; trains will start using it by mid-2018.

Life on the Bottom

(Photo by Eric Pouhier)

A few months I spent a month researching and writing about a problem much closer to home than usual—chronic long-term homelessness in America. For a variety of reasons, my hometown of Portland, Oregon, like other cities on the West Coast has a bigger homelessness problem than most of the country.  

I wrote a long feature essay about it for City Journal, which is available now in the Winter issue, though the piece isn’t online yet. The LA Times adapted a shorter version of the essay and published it on the op-ed page.

Here’s the first part:

My hometown, Portland, Ore., has a serious homelessness problem. Portland is often called the City of Bridges — more than a dozen cross the Willamette and Columbia rivers — and beneath almost all, at one time or another, one sees miserable-looking camps constructed of tents, plastic tarps, and shopping carts. It's impossible to avoid running into homeless people downtown, where ragged people sleep on park benches and in doorways.

Some activists believe there's an easy solution: All the city needs to do is fund social services generously enough to treat the root causes — such as addiction and mental illness, get the homeless some job training and move them into affordable housing. But what if a significant portion of Portland's homeless people won't accept that kind of assistance? One local charity, Union Gospel Mission, offers a program that includes addiction treatment, counseling, work therapy and free room and board for up to two years, but it recently had 10 spaces available that nobody wanted.

“They don't want to stop using drugs,” explains Doug, a formerly homeless young man in the program who will be soon starting college and majoring in psychology. “It's hard for some of them to deal with other people and structure.”

“What they want is to live the way they've been living, only inside and for free,” says David Willis, the program's homeless services director. “Most of them don't want to change.”

If this argument is right, then Portland should strive to mitigate, rather than eradicate its homelessness problem; and it may have inadvertently hit upon an ingenious way to do just that.

Back in 2000, a group of homeless people, tired of getting rousted from doorways downtown, pushed their shopping carts together under a bridge, pitched some tents and called the place home. The city chased them from that spot, so they moved to another bridge and got tossed out again. Realizing that these people weren't going away, the city finally relented and allowed them to pitch their tents on a city-owned lot near a drainage canal — across from the Columbia River Correctional Institution, a state-run prison, and on the other side of the fence from Portland International Airport. From Portland officials' point of view, the location was perfect. They wouldn't hear complaints from the neighbors because there weren't any neighbors.

The homeless campers dubbed their site Dignity Village, with the motto, “Out of the Doorways.”

When I drove out to visit, I expected Dignity Village to look like a cross between a refugee camp and a slum — but it doesn't. After the residents found themselves with a permanent location, they upgraded their accommodations by scrounging together as much money as they could — from donations and panhandling to odd jobs and recycling bottles and cans — to purchase cast-off and recycled materials for the construction of what Portlanders call “tiny houses.” Although the houses aren't fancy, many sport some style — Victorian spindles and moldings on the front porches, properly pitched roofs, decorative paint jobs, and climbing ivy growing up the exterior walls.

Read the rest in the LA Times.


Russia's FSB Reportedly Screens Refugees Entering Finland

One can debate the degree to which Russia’s pro-Assad bombing campaign has ramped up Europe’s refugee crisis. But several days ago, a Russian border guard at the Finnish border lifted the veil on an ominous kind of involvement: the FSB, he said, decides which refugees are allowed to approach the Finnish border.

China's Economy Slides, Stocks Tumble, Capital Takes Flight 

Stocks around the world have generally tumbled this month, but last Tuesday was a bright spot as equity markets surged. Then, Beijing's National Bureau of Statistics reported its first estimate of China's gross domestic product for 2015.

The official agency pegged last year's growth at 6.9 percent. The percentage increase, roughly in line with analyst expectations, was the lowest in 25 years.

So why does a dour report trigger optimism among stock investors? Investors now believe the Chinese central government will step up stimulus to restart growth, which has been falling since 2011. Furthermore, there is a hope that state entities and government-backed funds in China—the so-called “National Team”—will begin a new round of buying in China’s two share markets. Both developments are considered good for Chinese stocks.

And what is good for stocks in China is often thought to be good for stocks everywhere else.

With Eyes on Russia, Nordic Countries Share Defense

“Why can’t friendly countries share defense equipment?” a friend asked me the other day. “It would be much cheaper and more efficient.” Dream on, I thought. As every dorm kitchen shows, pooling resources ends with some taking advantage of others’ possessions.

But on January 14, Denmark and Sweden took a small step towards military burden-sharing. The two neighbors signed a military cooperation treaty that will allow them to share information as well as military infrastructure such as airports. While that may not seem like a lot of sharing, it’s a significant step for Sweden in particular. “The treaty is more important for Sweden than for Denmark, since Sweden has maintained its neutrality policy for such a long time,” Johannes Riber Nordby, deputy director of the Institute for Strategy at the Danish Defense College, told me.

Iran’s Hostage Victory

During Sunday’s Democratic primary debate, Senator Bernie Sanders argued that it’s time to bring Iran in from the cold. “I think what we’ve got to do is move as aggressively as we can to normalize relations with Iran,” he said.

If Iran had a representative government, if it wasn’t ruled by Ayatollah Khamenei, his dark theocratic Guardian Council and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the United States and Iran would restore normal relations almost as a matter of course.

Iran would, in all likelihood, take its proper place as one of America’s premier allies in the Middle East alongside the Kurds and the Israelis. The extreme and often fantastical anti-Americanism so endemic in the Arab world is far weaker among the Persians, Azeris and Kurds who make up the Iranian nation.

Iran right now is like Poland under the Warsaw Pact—a would-be friendly nation occupied and ruled by a hostile regime. Good and proper relations will have to wait until the government is overthrown or reformed out of all recognition like Vietnam's current communist-in-name-only government.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes a harder line than Sanders, naturally. “We’ve had one good day over 36 years, and I think we need more good days before we move more rapidly toward any kind of normalization.”

She was referring to the release of three American citizens—journalist Jason Rezaian, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and former Marine Amir Hekmati—whom the Iranians held hostage until a couple of days ago.

It’s not at all clear that their release counts as a good day. It’s terrific for the freed prisoners, obviously, and it’s almost as terrific for their friends, family and colleagues, but the ransom was insanely steep.

First the United States had to release seven Iranian criminals who were convicted of sanctions violations in a properly functioning judicial system. Second, Washington had to scrub the names of 14 Iranians from an Interpol watch list. And third, the United States is kicking 100 billion dollars in frozen assets back to the Iranian government.

A fair swap would have been three innocent prisoners for three innocent prisoners, but the United States doesn’t randomly grab foreign nationals off the streets to use as bargaining chips, so that was never an option.

If the Iranian government had released innocent people because they’re innocent like it’s supposed to—then we could say we had a good day. But that’s not what happened. That’s not even close to what happened.

It could have been worse, though. Secretary of State John Kerry said he thought he’d secured these peoples’ release months ago, but the deal fell apart because the Iranian government wanted the United States to release convicted murderers.

That demand shouldn’t surprise anyone. Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah convinced the Israelis to release convicted murderers like the notorious Samir Kuntar in exchange for  the bodies of kidnapped soldiers who weren’t even alive anymore, who had in fact been mutilated by Hezbollah.

That’s how Iran and its proxies roll, but the US doesn’t cave like the Israelis.

And at least the US got something out of the deal. At least our people are still among the living when they come home. Jason Rezaian is one of my colleagues. I don’t know him personally, but it will be good to have him back all the same. He holds dual Iranian-American citizenship, but he was born in the San Francisco Bay Area and was the Tehran bureau chief for the Washington Post when the Iranians grabbed him 18 months ago on trumped up espionage charges.

It was instantly obvious to almost everybody that he wasn’t snatched because he’s some kind of a spy. He was simply the latest hostage taken by the government that made a name for itself on the world stage by taking hostages. No doubt he’ll write some very interesting articles, and perhaps even a book, when he gets settled in and recovers.

Anthony Bourdain interviewed him in Tehran shortly before he and his wife were dispatched to Evin Prison. (She was later released.)

“I miss certain things about home,” he said. “I miss my buddies. I miss burritos.” He laughed and added, “I miss having certain beverages with my buddies and burritos in certain types of establishments.”

He missed booze and bars, in other words, both of which have been banned in Iran since the 1979 revolution. (Contrary to popular belief, Iran is one of only a small minority of Muslim countries that actually ban alcohol.)

“I love (Iran) and I hate it, but it’s home,” he said. “It’s become home.”

It’s not home for him anymore. That’s for damn sure. He’s on his way back to his real home in America where he was born.

Iran committed three criminal acts against American citizens and paid no price. We put kidnappers in prison for a very long time in this country, but the Iranian government was rewarded.

What’s to stop that government from doing it again?


Why should the Iranian government stop? Kidnapping and ransoming hostages works. And the regime is already gearing up to do it again.

In October of last year they grabbed Siamak Namazi, one of the founders of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). He’s still being held hostage despite the prisoner swap.

NIAC lobbied hard for the nuclear deal signed earlier by Washington and Tehran. Its principle founder and president Trita Parsi has been fighting even longer—since 1997—to have sanctions against Iran lifted.

One of those guys is Iran’s current hostage. Not some CIA spook. Not a wannabe revolutionary. Not even a crusading journalist. No. The regime’s current hostage is a man who worked for years to normalize relations with Iran.

Bernie Sanders wants to pick up where Namazi left off. He’ll fare no better.

The Negativists are Wrong on Ukraine

It was at the California Republican state convention in San Diego on September 11, 1970 that Vice President Spiro Agnew immortalized his speech writer, William Safire, by saying the following memorable words: “In the United States today, we have more than our share of nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H club—the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”

Too bad the witty and erudite Safire, who eventually went on to become a New York Times columnist, isn’t alive today. If he were, he might be tempted to direct his rhetoric at the nattering nabobs and hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs who comment on Ukraine.

The 2016 Santa-Putin Letters

These top-secret letters were brought to my attention by my deep-throat contact in the Kremlin. They appeared just after the Orthodox Christmas on January 7.

To: V. Putin

From: S. Claus

You’ve been decidedly naughty this year, and I’m not at all sure you deserve any presents. Unless some persuasive justification is forthcoming, the reindeer and I won’t be visiting you in the Kremlin.


To: So-called “Santa” Klaus

From: The President of Russia

Your lies disgust me. I’m not surprised, though, given your Turkish birthplace, German name, and American sexual orientation. If you were a real man, you’d get rid of that ridiculous costume and show the world your bare chest. What real man hides behind an army of midgets?


To: V. Putin

From: Santa Claus

Obama's Cuba Policy Met By Crackdown in Cuba

The Obama administration is continuing to drop heavy hints that the president will go to Cuba, and that he believes his presence would make be a big, perhaps decisive factor, in getting the Castro regime to end its repression of the Cuban people. According to the New York Times, “Administration officials believe that, rather than waiting for the Castro government in Cuba to loosen its grip on power before making a presidential visit there, Mr. Obama can use his presence to help create momentum toward democracy that the Castros will be unable to stop.” The Times story echoes the interview the president gave on December 14th, in which he said that he hoped to visit Cuba in 2016.

North Africa Exports Rape Culture to Germany

Last week, roughly 200 women in Cologne, Germany, reported that they were sexually assaulted on New Year’s Eve in a public square by a mob of more than a thousand Arab men.

That number exploded this week. More than 600 women now claim they were assaulted, molested, robbed and even raped, and reports are coming in not only from Cologne but also from elsewhere in Germany and even elsewhere in Europe.

Europeans and especially Germans are furious, of course, not only at the perps but also at German Chancellor Angela Merkel for accepting a million refugees from Syria. That’s a staggering number. It’s as if the United States had accepted four million refugees all in one go, which is roughly the population of my home state of Oregon.

At least the United States has a long history of successfully integrating immigrants, including Arab immigrants. According to data from Cornell University, two-thirds of American Muslims earn more than 50,000 dollars a year, and a fourth earn more than 100,000 dollars a year. That’s hardly the profile of a failed immigrant group.

Europe, though, has a much harder time with this sort of thing, and Germany is in an uproar. Protests are breaking out everywhere, with demonstrators yelling “deport them” and carrying signs that say “Rapefugees not welcome” in English.

The culprits are mostly Arabs, and Merkel’s refugee policy is predictably collapsing as a result, but the rapefest in Cologne was not imported from Syria. It mostly comes from North Africa.

Women have fewer rights in the Middle East and North Africa than anywhere else in the world with the single exception of Afghanistan, and they’re abused far more often over there than anywhere in the West, but they aren’t routinely assaulted by hundreds of men in unruly mobs all at once anywhere except Egypt.

Many years ago in Cairo I struck up a conversation with an Australian woman at a restaurant who was traveling around on break from her job at the Ministry of Defense.

“This is the absolute worst place for a woman to travel alone,” she said. “Men harass me constantly. They hiss, stare, and make kissy noises.”

I told her what one of my Syrian friends once said to my wife, that if she ever goes there she should carry a spare shoe in her purse. If any man gives her trouble and she whacks him with the bottom of the shoe, a mob will chase him down and kick his ass.

The Australian woman laughed. “Syria is wonderful, though. I mean, it’s much more oppressive than Egypt. But it’s also more modern. No man ever bothered me there. No men bothered me in Lebanon, either. I was surprised. Lebanese and Syrian men are more respectful even than European men.”

I can’t know from personal experience what it’s like to walk around as a woman in the Middle East or North Africa, but I’ve spent more than a decade of my life on and off in that part of the world and have had conversations with more than a thousand people, men and women alike. Women are unanimous here: Harassment in North Africa ranges from annoying to unspeakable while it’s virtually non-existent in Lebanon and Syria. I don’t know why. That’s just how it is.

“The worst part is that Egyptian men won’t back down when I tell them to leave me alone,” the Australian woman in Cairo added.

The Cologne police department says most of the offenders come from North Africa rather than Syria, which is exactly what we should expect.

“In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights,” Mona Eltahawy writes in her book, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. “More than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they’d experienced sexual harassment, and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women. A 2013 UN survey reported that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women experience street sexual harassment. Men grope and sexually assault us, and yet we are blamed for it because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, wearing the wrong thing.”

Sexual assault in public is so pervasive in Egypt that the authorities ban men from some cars on the subway so women can get to work in the morning without being mauled.

Foreign women get it in Egypt, too, most infamously when CBS reporter Lara Logan was brutally assaulted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on the night the Egyptian army removed Hosni Mubarak from power. An enormous mob surrounded her, stripped her naked, sexually assaulted her and damn near killed her.

“I didn't even know that they were beating me with flagpoles and sticks and things,” she later said in an interview on 60 Minutes. “Because the sexual assault was all I could feel, their hands raping me over and over and over again. They were trying to tear off chunks of my scalp…not trying to pull out my hair, holding big wads of it literally trying to tear my scalp off my skull.”

She thought they were going to kill her. They probably would have if she hadn’t been rescued by Egyptian women who themselves have suffered plenty at the rough hands of their neighbors.

The same thing happened to British journalist Natasha Smith the following year, and she wrote about it in excruciating detail on her blog.

In a split second, everything changed. Men had been groping me for a while, but suddenly, something shifted. I found myself being dragged from my male friend, groped all over, with increasing force and aggression. I screamed. I could see what was happening and I saw that I was powerless to stop it. I couldn’t believe I had got into this situation.

My friend did everything he could to hold onto me. But hundreds of men were dragging me away, kicking and screaming. I was pushed onto a small platform as the crowd surged, where I was hunched over, determined to protect my camera. But it was no use. My camera was snatched from my grasp. My rucksack was torn from my back – it was so crowded that I didn’t even feel it. The mob stumbled off the platform – I twisted my ankle.

Men began to rip off my clothes. I was stripped naked. Their insatiable appetite to hurt me heightened. These men, hundreds of them, had turned from humans to animals.

Hundreds of men pulled my limbs apart and threw me around. They were scratching and clenching my breasts and forcing their fingers inside me in every possible way. So many men. All I could see was leering faces, more and more faces sneering and jeering as I was tossed around like fresh meat among starving lions.

Germany has announced that it’s changing the law to make it far easier to swiftly deport migrant criminals. Most of those involved in Cologne are apparently not Syrian refugees, but they can still be sent back to wherever it is they come from if they are not citizens.

Those who are seeking asylum from Syria and think it’s okay to rape and molest women in Europe’s most generous host country may soon find themselves deported post-haste back to where they belong—to the war zone.

Will South Korea Rethink Its Nuke Policy?

On Monday, a “US official” speaking anonymously to Reuters, said the Pentagon was not thinking of reintroducing nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula.

Earlier in the day, Seoul had suggested Washington was considering the possibility. “The United States and South Korea are continuously and closely having discussions on additional deployment of strategic assets,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.

By “strategic assets” the unnamed US official said the Defense Department was referring to nuclear-capable bombers. South Korean media had been reporting that Washington and Seoul were discussing the deployment of American B-2 bombers, F-22 fighters, and nuclear submarines to the Korean peninsula.

President George H. W. Bush in 1991 announced the unilateral withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea and other foreign countries, and today there is virtually no apparent support in the Pentagon for redeploying them.

Have Chinese Agents Abducted Hong Kong Publisher, Book Sellers?

The case of five missing Hong Kong residents connected to a Hong Kong publisher and bookshop took a strange turn Monday when the wife of one of the missing individuals withdrew her request for police assistance. Choi Ka Ping said she had heard from her husband that day and no longer needed help.

The police, however, said they would continue the investigation into the disappearance of the husband, Lee Bo.

The first to disappear was Gui Minhai, owner of Mighty Current, a publishing house that since 2012 has released about 80 books highly critical of China’s Communist Party. The last known contact from him was an e-mail message sent on October 15 to a printer from the Thai resort of Pattaya.

The Saudi-Iranian Eruption

Saudi Arabia has severed diplomatic ties with Iran after a mob set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, stormed the compound and trashed its offices while Iranian security personnel stood aside.

This is hardly anything new. The Iranian government has been violently contemptuous of worldwide norms of diplomacy ever since it seized power in 1979. The Iranian hostage crisis, where Islamist revolutionaries held 52 foreign servicemen and women hostage at the American Embassy for 444 days, was just the beginning.

Four years later, Iran’s terrorist proxies in Lebanon used to a suicide truck bomb to destroy the American embassy in Beirut.

Ten years later they blew up the Israeli embassy in Argentina, also with a suicide truck bomb.

In 2012, Azerbaijan arrested 22 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah for plotting attacks on the American and Israeli embassies in Baku.

Like Iran, Azerbaijan is a Shia-majority nation, but unlike Iran, its government has normal and even warm relations with the United States and Israel. And like most of the world, Azerbaijanis understand and respect the sovereignty of foreign embassies. The Iranians don’t, so the Saudis are calling everyone home and giving the Iranians 48 hours to leave the country or else.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have been enemies since the 1979 revolution, but their hatred for each other is far older than either regime. It stretches all the way back to the time of the Persian Empire.

It’s slightly amazing that they’ve had diplomatic relations at all. They have more grievances against each other—some of them reasonable, others bigoted, sectarian and hysterical—than anyone outside the region could ever keep track of.

The Iranians didn’t torch and sack the Saudi embassy just because they woke up in the morning and felt like it, though. The Saudis kicked off the latest round when they executed Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Nimr lived in Saudi Arabia’s enormous Eastern Province. It’s where most of the oil fields are. It’s also—inconveniently for Riyadh—the one place where Shia Muslims make up the majority in an otherwise Sunni-dominated kingdom. Nimr had been calling for democratic elections and for the Shias to secede if their rights weren’t better respected.

He was right to complain. Saudi Arabia is the most backward and medieval society in the entire world outside ISIS- and Taliban-occupied territory. Tehran is like Amsterdam compared with Riyadh despite the Iranian government’s theocratic regulations and draconian enforcers.

During a series of protests in 2011 and 2012, Nimr called on Shia demonstrators to resist the Saudi government with words rather than violence. “The weapon of the word is stronger than the power of lead,” he said.

The Saudis called him a terrorist and cut off his head.

Unless the Saudi government knows something about him that the rest of us don’t, this is pretty outrageous.

The Iranians are almost right to be furious, but not quite. They’re furious for the wrong reasons. They’d be just as furious if the guy was really a terrorist. They’d be just as furious if he’d been dispatching squads of suicide bombers to Riyadh and Medina. The Iranian regime murdered its way into power and tortures and murders to keep itself in power. It doesn’t care about human rights any more than Kim Jong-un of North Korea. 

Tehran’s rulers are just bent out of shape because Nimr was a fellow Shia who could have been useful if the global Sunni-Shia war—which Iran does everything in its power to keep ablaze—were to engulf Saudi Arabia as it has just about everywhere else Sunnis and Shias live next to each other.

Which isn’t to say the Saudi rulers aren’t violating anyone’s human rights. Of course they are. They do so as a matter of course. Their absolute monarchy isn’t drastically different from the ISIS “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq except that Riyadh plays well with others diplomatically and pushes back hard against Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Saudis do so for entirely self-interested reasons, of course. They don’t care about human rights any more than the Iranians do. They’re the world biggest proponents of hardline Sunni fanaticism. The only reason they’re bothered by ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood is because ISIS and the Brotherhood threaten the Saudi royal family’s stranglehold on absolute power.

Americans can be excused for watching the Saudis and Iranians slug it out as if they were Hitler and Stalin beating the crap out of each other in Europe.

We have to stick with the Saudis, though, like it or not, the same way we stuck with the Soviet Union against the Nazis.

The Washington-Riyadh alliance is strictly transactional. We have common enemies and common economic interests, and that’s it. There is no warmth there, no real friendship, on either side. We rightly find the Saudis distasteful. They find us distasteful, too, because they’re a thousand years behind us. They’re a thousand years behind almost everyone in the world, including much of the Arab world.

But we have to stand by them—and not just because they have oil—because they don’t actively work against us like the Iranians do despite the negotiated nuclear “deal” between Tehran and Washington earlier this year.

So: good on the Saudis for kicking the Iranians out even though the Saudis instigated the recent unpleasantness with their usual appalling behavior.


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