September 14, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
(Preface: This is a Note of mine at Facebook, based on my comment there on Avner Cohen’s link to a recent LA Times article.)
“I wonder if Iran’s modern cinema has reached American and Israeli audiences easily. I am introduced to it quite recently myself on India’s cable TV — e.g. “White Balloon”, “The Circle”, “Song of Sparrows” etc… It seems to me to be compulsory viewing for anyone wishing to make war on Iran…It is surely among the best cinema there is. Nothing like it coming out of Hollywood, Bollywood etc.
The films reflect the society. “Offside”, about the six female soccer fans not allowed to enter the stadium, is especially brilliant in its candour. Nothing like it anywhere in the world at the moment. If society is so candid about itself, the politics cannot be all bad. I fear there is a massive cultural miscommunication between Iran and the rest of the world, caused of course by rather thick diplomacy on all sides. Is there not a master diplomat in the world who can get Iran and Israel to the point of diplomatic recognition? Zubin Mehta (an Indian of Iranian origin beloved in Israel) might be my choice as the initial/symbolic leader of such a diplomatic team!”
November 5, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
Does America need a Prime Minister and a longer-lived Legislature?
First published in The Sunday Statesman
Editorial Page Special Article Nov 5 2006
The politics of the United States in the last few decades has become so opaque, it is hard to see what goes on, beyond the banal superficialities. Competitive commercial television, an American institutional invention, is hardly the most suitable keeper of any nation’s historical and political heritage, nor a source of accurate collective political memory, and without political memory it is not possible to understand the present or anticipate the future. Yet most modern Americans are compelled by circumstances to comprehend the national or state-level politics of their enormous variegated land of 300 million people only through the very coarse filter provided by commercial television.
Television obviously demands passivity, dissipating a viewer’s ability to reason about or reflect on any information being offered. A newspaper report “Plane crash kills 120” in a front-page column, causes the information to be absorbed in context along with the rest of the day’s news. If the radio says “An aeroplane crashed today, and all 120 passengers aboard are feared dead”, the same event is felt through the invisible newsreader’s voice, the listener being left to imagine the awfulness of what happened. But for TV to report the same event requires pompous self-conscious studio-anchors, helicopters at the scene, interviews with weeping relatives, and instant analyses of the crash’s causes, all under a banner of “Breaking News”. The average viewer is left not so much sympathising with the victims as feeling enervated and anxious about air-travel and the world in general — besides being left ignorant of the rest of the day’s happenings.
In reaching mass-audiences with advertisements of commercial products, TV quickly obtained the general surrender of radio in American homes, though radio still controls what modern Americans hear in the time they spend in their automobiles (and they spend a larger fraction there than any other people). Newspapers signalled their abject surrender to TV by “dumbing down” their front-pages with large photographs as pathetic reminders of yesterday’s TV events, or headlines that sound racy, sensational, glamorous or with-it. Given the transient nature of all news and expense of printing it on newsprint, actually reading newspapers (as opposed to looking at advertising supplements) has become in the age of TV a minor middle class indulgence, although the editorial pages of a handful of “national” newspapers remains the last refuge of serious political discussion in the USA and elsewhere.
American politics filtered through commercial television has caused all issues and politicians, whether national, state and/or local, to tend to become like products and brands available to be bought and sold at the right price. Yet American television also produced a serious reaction to its own banalities by starting in the early 1980s news-reporting and analysis on “Public Television” and also on “C-Span”. “Public Television” (as opposed to commercial or cable networks) produced what came to be known as the “MacNeill-Lehrer NewsHour”, which set the benchmark for all political news and commentary in the USA and indeed across the globe to this day. C-Span took the unusual step of sending television cameras to silently record all political events, especially the seemingly least significant and most tedious of legislative committee meetings or political speeches, and then broadcasting these endlessly 24 hours a day along with very dry political analysis and comment. Both provided a little (“highbrow”) sobriety to the otherwise drunken political culture created by American commercial television. Along with a small number of newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor and USA Today, MacNeill-Lehrer and C-Span and the odd Sunday morning news-show on commercial TV, gave America’s politically conscious classes their access to information and analysis about their own country and what was being done in its name in the wider world. At least that was so until the 2003 attack on Iraq — during which acceptance of the US military procedure of “embedded reporters” ruined America’s traditions of a free press. Since 2003, growth of political coverage on the Internet especially via “blogging” has caused more candour to penetrate American politics and to explode the dissimulations of the “mainstream media”.
Besides politics via television, the other main factor affecting the attention-deficit disorder, short time-horizon and lack of perspective and depth afflicting modern American discourse, has been the rigid time-table of a Constitution written for a long gone era. Every even-numbered year is an election year in America, and that election is held in the first week of November. Hence on 7 November 2006 America will go to the polls, as it did in November 2004 and as it will again in November 2008. Each requires the entire lower legislative house to be newly elected.
Now two years may have been a long time in the late 18th Century when the US Constitution was written, and transport and communications between the Capitol and the new States was hazardous or time-consuming. But in modern times two years are over in the blink of an eyelid. Members of the American House of Representatives must then spend their time either talking about public money and how to spend it (as only they are authorized to do), or private money and how to earn it in order to stay elected and be able to talk about how to spend the public money. Inevitably, these two activities get confused with each other. The two year term of the American lower house may well be the shortest anywhere in the world, and may deserve to be doubled at least.
The upper house elects two senior politicians from each of the 50 States (regardless of its size or importance) for a 6 year term each, with one-third of the house returning to face the electorate at each of the biennial national elections. These 100 Senators at any given time have often constituted a fine deliberative body, and, along with the executive governors of the larger States, the pool from which America’s presidents and vice-presidents get to be chosen. Yet the Senate has also often enough palpably failed in its “advice and consent” role vis-à-vis the American President — whether in the matter of America never becoming a member of the League of Nations because of Senate isolationism despite Woodrow Wilson having invented it (something the British and French found so bewildering and frustrating), or the modern Senate caving in to the jingoism unleashed by the father-son Bush Presidencies only to then say “Oops, we’ve made a mistake”.
Another fundamental institutional problem at the root of modern American politics today is the lack of separation between the Head of State and Head of Government. This not merely causes people with the wrong ambitions and abilities to want to become President (because they lust in juvenile fashion to fire cruise missiles or fly onto aircraft carriers), it also causes the business of serious governance to frequently stop getting done because of endless paralysis between the President and Legislature. Churchill perspicaciously observed: “The rigid Constitution of the United States, the gigantic scale and strength of its party machinery, the fixed terms for which public officers and representatives are chosen, invest the President with a greater measure of autocratic power than… by the Head of any great State. The vast size of the country, the diverse types, interests and environments of its enormous population, the safety-valve function of the legislatures of fifty Sovereign States, make the focussing of national public opinion difficult, and confer upon the Federal Government exceptional independence of it except at fixed election times. Few modern Governments need to concern themselves so little with the opinion of the party they have beaten at the polls; none secures to its supreme executive officer, at once the Sovereign and the Party Leader, such direct personal authority.” There is an argument to be made for the American President to become more of a constitutional figurehead representing the thoughtful will of the Union and all the 50 States, while an American Prime Minister comes to be elected by the Legislature as a more subdued, sober and competent Head of Government. It would be a healthy development for America’s domestic and international politics, and hence better for the rest of the world as well.
February 24, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
WAR OR PEACE
By SUBROTO ROY
First published in The Statesman
Editorial Page Special Article, February 23-24, 2006
An American Attack On Iran Will End The Post-1945 System Of Nation-States
The relevance of the Iran-USA conflict to India’s energy, nuclear and strategic future is obvious, yet it appears ill understood by New Delhi’s bureaucrats and politicians, whether neo-communist or neo-fascist. It is understood even less by Islamabad’s army generals, all of whose official brainpower has been perpetually consumed by one subject alone: how to obtain J&K for Pakistan by hook or by crook from India. Yet Iran’s potential nuclear weapons arose entirely thanks to sales by Pakistan’s AQ Khan and the ISI — friends or allies of the USA, just like Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein once had been. We may surmise that a possible war will be quite catastrophic for the world, and India’s and Pakistan’s region of it in particular.
Israel’s piecemeal strategy
The Americans and Israelis may be assumed to have developed over years contingency plans to attack Iran by air and/or sea, though Israel is unlikely to take any offensive role in view of the circumstances of the end of Ariel Sharon’s political career. For one hundred years, the security and prosperity of the Zionist migration to Palestine, which came to be transmuted into the Israeli Republic in the middle of the 20th Century, has been defined as a matter of vital national interest first by Britain and then by America. Badly outnumbered by hostile Muslim countries, Israel after the 1973 Yom Kippur war adopted a long-term piecemeal strategy of diplomacy with Egypt, Jordan and North Africa; co-existence with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf; battle with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians leading to co-existence; and indirect war, using the USA and UK as proxies, with Iraq and Iran leading in due course to co-existence.
Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolution in 1978-1979 caused Iran’s Islamic Republic to start to pose a major ideological threat to Israel. But during the decade of the Iran-Iraq war that started immediately after the Iranian Revolution, neither could pose any possible military threat to Israel. Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait was a result of the Iran-Iraq war, and since then Saddam has been neutralised by the Americans as a military threat to Israel. A new Iran, torn between a modern future for itself and a return to its revolutionary origins, is the last Muslim nation-state that could possibly threaten Israel. Pakistan would never dare to do so, nor wish to do so in view of its single-minded obsession for almost sixty years with trying to obtain J&K from India, or to dominate India any which way it can. The Pakistanis — having been Indians previously (even A Q Khan was born in Bhopal) — want to rule or dominate Delhi, or at least display their self-styled superiority to Hindus. They are uninterested from a psychological perspective in what happens to European and American Jews in the Middle East because they are mostly of Indian origin themselves.
Pakistanis’ explicit hatred (or implicit love) of India is at least in part a hatred (or love) of themselves. The US State Department and Pentagon have realised that as long as they tilt towards Pakistan on J&K now and then, the Pakistani Government will stay obsessed with its relationship with India alone, and also remain an American ally.
Possible nuclear strike
The questions to be asked now are when the Americans will make an attack on Iran, what manner it will take, and what Iranian and Muslim and world reaction will be. Israel’s attack on Iraq’s nuclear facilities a quarter century ago taught the Iranians to go underground and disperse their facilities around the country. Conventional heavy B52, B2 or Stealth bombing or cruise-missile attacks using ships, submarines and carrier-based aircraft from American forward bases in Diego Garcia, the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Germany, Turkey or former Soviet Republics will kill at least 10,000 Iranians even if there are American warnings to evacuate human populations. Much physical havoc will be caused to Iran’s two dozen main nuclear installations, delaying or crippling Iran’s ambitions by years. But it is unlikely such attacks will succeed in wiping out Iran’s capacity. America’s warplans may thus include exploding small nuclear warheads on Iran’s suspected installations. If that happens, it would be the first use of atomic weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is doubtful if the world as a whole will actually condemn American use of heavy bombing or even small nuclear weapons against Iran in anything but words. Permanent changes in the post-1945 system of international institutions will certainly result. Kofi Annan (or his successor) will resign, ending the UN staff’s effete pontificating. Indeed, all the inefficient, corrupt international bureaucracies in New York, Washington, Geneva and elsewhere may come to close down. The Japanese Left will weep and wring their hands while the Right will renew calls for Japan’s re-militarization. North Korea’s Kim will issue warnings of how crazy he is. India’s PMO and MEA will express deepest concern, sorrow and tears; after the communists bluster about in Delhi and Kolkata, this will be enlarged to unequivocal condemnation. But India’s anti-Muslim brigades will remain silent and smiling and the VHP/Bajrang Dal will say it is revenge for Nadir Shah and assorted other Iranian plunderers in India’s past. JNU, AMU etc. historians and Bollywood and Tollywood showbiz personalities will hold seminars and processions and shake their fists at America. Pakistan’s Government will issue strong condemnations and call in the American Ambassador for a talking to, then explain to the Karachi street-mobs how important it is to continue the alliance with America so that J&K may be gained for Pakistan one day. The Hurriyat and other friends of Pakistan will agree with Pakistan and demonstrate in Srinagar against India and America. Russia will privately regret its impotence while Putin will refuse to turn up at a G-8 meeting in protest. The Chinese will shake their heads, warning Taiwan not to think itself as loved by America as Israel is. Muslim countries will rant and rave Death to America, and recruit thousands of new suicide bombers. France and Britain will look for new reconstruction or weapons contracts once the smoke clears. Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, Canada and New Zealand will hold candle-light peace vigils. South America’s leftists will decry Il Nord from high in the Andes or deep in the Amazon. Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Dalai Lama and the Pope will condemn the inhumanity of it all. Australia will agree with America. That may be just about all, except the oil price will reach $200 a barrel momentarily, then settle at $150 for ever, causing large macroeconomic problems for several years in the world economy.
The new ideology
Iran itself will be plunged into greater political and economic disarray than it is in already. It is unlikely to be intimidated into accepting Western conditions straightaway. Nor will it experience any kind of “regime-change” with Non-Resident Iranian-Americans coming back from Los Angeles to try their hand at a little government and money-making at home. Iran would launch conventional war against the 140,000 American infantry in Iraq as well as missiles against Israel, but is unlikely to make much successful war against American or Israeli interests. But Iraq’s Shia majority would join with them, and make America’s departure more prompt from an anarchic, chaotic and disintegrating Iraq, hanging Saddam Hussein before they go. Essentially, Iran’s ability to pose any conceivable military threat to Israel will have been militarily neutralized, just as has happened to Iraq recently, and to Egypt, Jordan etc. by diplomacy and foreign aid ever since Jimmy Carter’s Sadat-Begin summit in 1978. Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah will remain but Israel can on its own battle them defensively anytime.
The cost of having eliminated all possible military threats to Israel permanently will have been rendering chaos and immense destruction upon the erstwhile Republics of Iran and Iraq. But that is not a cost that America’s public cares very much about, and so will not appear much on American TV screens or America’s public memory for very long. Iraq and Iran will have been neutralised and destroyed as legal entities and modern nation-states, being left instead as large oil-fields and chaotic/anarchic polities and societies under sway of American and Western military forces. The return in the 21st Century to the pre-1945 world of imperialism would entail an end of the system of worldwide nation-states that was attempted with the United Nations experiment (the progeny of US President Woodrow Wilson’s “League of Nations”), and the imposition of a new ideology of the West vs. the Rest.
A Mature Israel Is The Key To Averting An American Attack On Iran
It would be better for everyone in the world, including Israel and America, if an American attack against Iran could somehow be averted. Muslim cultures have much long-term patience — a virtue modern American culture most conspicuously lacks. There are Iraqi mothers who have promised their unborn sons for vengeance against America and Iranian mothers may well join them. America’s TV-driven culture can barely remember who said or did what last week, whereas ideological Muslims rehearse and revisit endlessly every day what supposedly happened in Muslim history over 1200 years ago. Indeed ideological Muslims and their orthodox Jewish and Christian fundamentalist adversaries have all tended to be obsessed with the purported ancient histories of the three faiths that arose in the deserts of Palestine and Arabia — though none of these religious histories or any other may be able to withstand very much rigorous academic or scientific scrutiny.
What has been forgotten too has been the early joint history of Zionists and Palestinians together. Founders of Zionism, including Theodor Herzl himself, who began his campaign in Vienna about 1897 in response to European anti-Jewish behaviour, envisioned “brotherhood” and “cooperation” with the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, where new Jewish immigrants were to find refuge from the decades of tyranny against them in Europe long before Hitler arose. Martin Buber, the profound Hasidic philosopher and Zionist, corresponded with Rabindranath Tagore about the need to build a strong “federative” structure among all the peoples of the East — because the peoples of the West seemed to Buber to have become lost and aimless. (It is not impossible America’s entry into the First World War in 1917, which thwarted a possible German victory, was part of a complicated trade-off in which the Balfour Declaration by Britain promising creation of an Israel, living peacefully with the Arabs in Palestine, was another part.) It was only later revisionist Zionists, led by Vladimir Jabotinsky, who proposed a complete separation of Jew from Arab in that small land — which is where we seem to have been headed now decades later. Israel and Pakistan were the only two countries created in the 20th Century, and about the same time, supposedly as “homelands” for people based on religious definitions alone. The Zionist Movement was ongoing by the early 1930s, and young Rahmat Ali, the lonely ideological inventor of the term “PAKSTAN” on the top floor of a London bus in 1934, might well have been influenced by what he heard of it.
The one way war may be preventable today is if Israel’s political centre and right-wing (i.e. the Kadima and Likud parties) came to obtain and declare a clear and justifiable view that (a) an American attack on Iran would be counter- productive; and/or (b) that an Iran, even a nuclear armed Iran, shall not be a tangible threat to Israel. If an American attack on Iran is ultimately premised on the defence of Israel, and if the Israelis themselves come to justifiably believe such an attack overall could be a very bad thing and told the Americans so publicly or privately, there would no longer be reason for the Americans to be preparing to make such an attack, and instead could keep their almost 600 warships and submarines in harbour or on normal patrol around the world.
Israeli security assessment
There may be enough reason on both these points for Israel’s toughest hawks to agree that superior alternatives to war need to be and can be found. On the first, Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, has recently said that Israel may yet come to regret the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. His confidential speech to students preparing for military service came to be secretly recorded and was then broadcast on Israeli TV. “When you dismantle a system in which there is a despot who controls his people by force, you have chaos… I’m not sure we won’t miss Saddam”, saying a strong dictatorship may have been better than the present “chaos” in Iraq. Israeli security assessments are likely to be far more astute than what gets to be produced in America’s East Coast think tanks. The near-chaos the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq in 2003 has caused will be multiplied several fold if there was now a major attack on Iran, let aside use of atomic bombs against it. Such an attack may be in fact wholly counterproductive.
Secondly, Israel needs to abandon her feigned immaturity and coyness with respect to her erstwhile Anglo-American guardians, and instead demonstrate to the world and her neighbours in particular that she is a mature and responsible adult in international politics. Avner Cohen and Thomas Graham Jr. have said in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists May/June 2004 that Israel had promised the USA “it [would] not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East…A taboo was created… By September 1969, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and President Richard Nixon had reached a new secret understanding of the issue. Meir pledged that Israel would not declare its nuclear status, would not test its weapons, and would not use its nuclear capability for diplomatic gains. Rather, the Israeli bomb would be kept in the basement, for use only as a last resort. Israel would not join the NPT, but it would not defy it either. What had begun as a taboo turned into a symbiotic policy. The United States stopped pressuring Israel and accepted a de facto policy of `don’t ask, don’t tell’. …Today … Israel’s policy of nuclear secrecy stands in profound tension with the basic values upon which the country’s democracy rests: the principles of accountability, oversight, and the public’s right to know. In the absence of public debate (and public debate requires some factual information) the taboo only reinforces and perpetuates itself….By becoming more transparent and by associating itself in some way with the nonproliferation regime — from which it indirectly benefits — Israel could gain an important element of legitimacy for its program and for its security posture…. The basic technology needed to create nuclear weapons is increasingly available. Capabilities once possessed only by a few governments can now be purchased in stores and marketplaces around the world. If nuclear weapon states are ever to achieve deep cuts in their nuclear stockpiles — an important part of the basic bargain of the NPT and essential to the long-term viability of the treaty — some account has to be taken of Israel, India, and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. They must be integrated into the non- proliferation regime”.
The road to peace
Israel declaring itself a nuclear weapons power of long-standing with an independent deterrent the size of France or Britain (with perhaps 500 nuclear warheads, more than China, India and Pakistan combined), would be more than enough by way of military warning to its potential adversaries. Indeed even if Iran (having bought from Pakistan’s programme which itself had bought from North Korea and China) was allowed over the next dozen years to crawl towards half a dozen nuclear warheads of its own, recognition and normal diplomatic relations between Israel and Iran, and Israel and Pakistan, could be followed by a new protocol between Israel, India, Pakistan and Iran. Israel, India and Pakistan are not signatories to the existing NPT and Iran has now declared its intent, as a sovereign signatory, to exit the NPT as well. To get Iran and Israel to recognise one another and establish diplomatic relations would be of course a masterly feat of international diplomacy. But it is not impossible if adequate knowledge and determination can be mustered in good time before it becomes too late. Finally of course, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower had warned in his Farewell Address to the American people in 1961, an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” must also rein in America’s “military industrial complex”.
see also https://independentindian.com/2006/04/06/irans-nationalism/