tag: Iran

Dec 2014

Low oil prices – a threat to the dollar

I’m on an email discussion list that includes a bunch of people in the oil industry. On an average day the ratio of shop-talk to global conspiracy stuff is 10:1… and really, there’s only so many times you can read the same impassioned arguments about the merits of different fluid injection methodologies. But every now and then a discussion about a wider political issue gains traction. By and large these are sober, conservative (small ‘c’) engineers not taken to flights of fancy. So when they start saying things like “there’s only a 60% chance the US dollar will still be a viable currency in 18 months”, it piques my interest.

For the past couple of months there has been an almost complete consensus among these people that the Gulf States are driving down the price of oil in order to destabilise Iran. There’s even a guy who – having spent some time chatting with a staffer in the UAE oil ministry – claims that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE are targeting $40 per barrel by the middle of 2015 and they intend to keep it there for a year.

As an aside, I read a message from a guy who said he expects 5 year oil futures to drop below $85 any day now. That there… that’s as close to a sure thing investment as the modern financial industry is capable of. What’s more, given the short-sightedness of the financial industry, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could buy November 2020 oil futures for less than $70 by this time next year. Pretty crazy.

Anyway, there’s no doubt that Iran’s economy is utterly buggered if this continues for much longer. Even if the $40 for a year thing is exaggeration, this is presenting Tehran with very serious problems.

Thing is, Iran isn’t the only place this is hitting hard. The Gulf States can weather this storm, but almost no other major oil exporter can. And while oil importers are quite enjoying this period of temporary price-fixing, places like Venezuela and Nigeria are suffering. The fracking industry in the United States is also in trouble (though this price drop is only one of the reasons for that) but America isn’t too worried about that because they like seeing the squeeze put on Iran, while the damage being done to the Russian economy is being seen – curiously enough – through the lens of Ukraine, the Malaysia Airliner disaster and what’s being viewed as Putin’s increasingly aggressive stance towards the west. So the Americans are offering their explicit support to the Gulf States in order to put Russia under pressure.

Now, let’s be under no illusions here… Putin is a dangerous man. I’ve noticed more and more western liberals buying into the Russia Today narrative and viewing Putin with a kind of grudging, “enemy of my enemy” respect. Which is madness, because this guy should be viewed as at least as big an enemy as western capitalist imperialism. Anyway, it’s simply inconceivable that Russia won’t respond dramatically to this very real threat to their national economy. And what response will that be?

Well, according to the mailing list people, Putin is getting ready to announce a major shift in policy. Early next year he will be switching all of Russia’s petroleum trading to roubles. That’s what they’re saying on the grapevine anyway.

A lot of people – even economically literate ones – don’t fully understand the important link between the US dollar and the global oil trade. The pricing of oil in dollars isn’t just a matter of convenience. All trade in oil actually takes place in dollars. Dollars get exchanged for oil. Not euro, or roubles or yen. This ensures a constant demand for dollars as anyone who wants oil… i.e. everyone… needs to buy dollars before they can buy that oil.

Not sure if you’ve noticed the huge collapse in the value of the rouble in the past week? And the huge Russian interest rate hike? Well, according to some people Russia has deliberately torpedoed their currency in order to buy back roubles, from anyone who has them, at a bargain price. Because if Putin goes through with this and demands roubles in exchange for oil and gas? He will instantly make the rouble into a European reserve currency. Demand will rocket and the dollar flight will begin.

Unlike other countries, the US will not be able to intimidate Russia into backing down on this. Especially given the huge hardship being caused to Russia by this US-supported Gulf strategy. And if it turns out to be a success for Putin (which I think it will do) then there’s really nothing to prevent other countries doing the same.

The Saudis, with the support of the US, are playing a very risky game right now. And one that could result in the end of the dollar as global reserve currency. Sleep tight.

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Nov 2014

Oil at 80 dollars

Those who keep an eye on such things will know that something very strange has been happening with the oil price over the past few months. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the Emirates have been aggressively driving down the price of oil (and have just signalled their intent to continue doing so). This fall has not coincided with an equally precipitous drop in demand, and it is not – except tangentially, in a manner I’ll discuss in the fifth paragraph – related to the “unconventional oil” coming out of America thanks to the fracking boom. That whole fracking thing is smoke and mirrors of the first order by the way.

No, what’s happening with the oil price right now is geopolitical. What’s more, it heralds an era of increased geopolitical tension.. something that’s only starting to filter through into the mainstream. There’s a big wake-up call coming folks.

What do I mean when I say the price drop is geopolitical? Well, it’s important to understand that when it comes to oil, the Saudis (and the other Gulf Kingdoms) are very astute. Right now they possess a large enough share of the oil export market to effectively drag the global price any direction they choose. And this has a massive effect on the global economy. However, it is extremely unlikely they will still possess this influence in 20 years (even 10 years from now there’s no guarantee). Based on depletion profiles that they take very seriously (even if the western media does not), they will never possess as great a global influence as they do today.

Saudi Arabia is taking the lead on this, and is being backed by Kuwait and Qatar (with the United Arab Emirates a more reluctant fellow-traveller… this hurts their economy more than it hurts the others for a bunch of reasons). It’s important to realise that it is not an OPEC thing. In fact… OPEC is bloody furious. And with good reason; a number of OPEC nations are going to end up as collateral damage in all this (Venezuela and Nigeria are both being crucified).

Russia is also feeling the pinch. And the fracking boom in America is being hit very hard. That entire industry is a pipe-dream. It can only exist thanks to massive government subsidy in tandem with a very high oil price. Both of which can be arranged, it’s true, but more importantly… there just isn’t as much of it as has been suggested. Nowhere near as much. And ramping up production to cover the drop in conventional crude production simply isn’t going to happen.

Now, it’s unlikely the Saudis are willing to take such a large economic hit themselves simply to undermine the US fracking industry. That Financial Times article suggests that the low price could put a strain on US / Saudi relations, but as an overall economy the United States benefits from a low oil price. So I don’t see that being the case. Besides which, the US and Saudi Arabia are firm allies and they share a common enemy… Iran.

The real reason the global oil price is low* right now is because Saudi Arabia is waging economic warfare on Iran.

When a country gains a large proportion of its income from oil exports, it is possible to calculate a “breakeven oil price” for that country. That is, the price at which they must sell oil to cover government spending. Different economists tend to come up with different numbers (no surprise there) but if you see them as a guideline rather than an absolute value then they can be illuminating. CitiGroup say Saudi Arabia’s breakeven number is $89. The IMF says it’s $80. Deutsche Bank say $78. So you can see that having oil down below $80 per barrel is going to hurt the Saudis, but it’s something they can live with – this is not a nation that finds credit hard to come by. Qatar’s down in the mid-70s. While Kuwait’s breakeven is between $54 and $75 depending on who you listen to.

Not so Iran. According to CitiGroup they have a breakeven price of $130. The IMF suggests it could be as high as $140. And if you hear an analyst on the news try to explain the current fall in oil prices in terms other than an outright economic assault by Saudi Arabia against Iran, they simply do not know what they’re talking about. Because this is shattering the Iranian economy. It’s also giving a proper kicking to a bunch of other oil exporters. Nigeria and Russia both have notional breakevens above $110 and Venezuela is right up there with Iran when it comes to exposure to low oil prices. As for Iraq… if the country is to have any chance of surviving as a united entity it needs a reliable income stream, and with a breakeven price around the $100 mark, it doesn’t have that right now.

The effect on Russia is particularly concerning, especially if you’re a European like me who has just witnessed Putin sign a contract to sell a whole bunch of gas to the Chinese and can see the spectre of European gas shortages should this looming Cold War escalate (when the normally taciturn Finns start complaining about something, it’s a good idea to listen). The notion that “they need our money as much as we need their gas” has simply never been true (the Russian capacity for belt-tightening far surpasses the capacity of European governments to survive power-cuts and cold winters… so European governments will always cave first). And it’s especially not true now when the Asian economies can provide an alternate source of income. Falling oil prices puts additional pressure on Russia and is likely to drive Putin towards a more aggressive foreign policy (in my view).

But Iran is the target, and while nobody outside Gulf aristocracy knows how long they plan to keep up this assault, it is likely to only be the first in a series of oil price manipulations over the next few years. And as a result, we’re likely to see the kind of geopolitical brinkmanship that has the potential to end very very badly indeed.

* Incidentally, describing $80 as a “low” price for oil would have been dystopian madness just a decade ago.

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Jan 2012

Politics, religion and the United States

Earlier today the TV news broadcast a report about the victory of Mitt Romney in the Iowa Caucus. This signals the beginning of the 2012 US Presidential Election and is the first step taken by the Republican Party in choosing who will run against Barack Obama in November. The report on RTÉ included short clips of the two front-runners, Romney and Santorum, speaking to their supporters. I was fascinated by Romney’s veiled reference to Manifest Destiny when he described America as the “hope of the world”, and by the openly religious language used by both candidates. In fact, in the case of Santorum I found the phrase “aggressively religious” leaping unbidden to mind.

Rick SantorumOf course, I’ve long been aware that the United States, for all its superficial similarities, is very much “a foreign country” from a European perspective*. I don’t mean that in any pejorative sense, but simply as a description of the experience I had when I lived there. Just as with the time I spent in Egypt or Brazil, there was a real sense of being “outside Europe” when I worked in the US heartland, which is pretty odd considering the wide gulf that exists between many European cultures. I’ve lived in five European countries and I married a woman from a sixth. Yet despite the language barriers and the clear cultural differences, I felt much more of an alien when I lived in the English-speaking American Midwest than when I lived in Athens or Berlin.

No amount of US sitcoms or Hollywood movies can prepare a European for time spent in Ottumwa or Des Moines or Columbus. There’s a sense of dislocation precisely because everything seems so familiar on the surface, and yet the people you work with and spend time with clearly possess a very different value system. There’s the strange ideological attachment to gun-ownership, which I found quite disconcerting at times. And there’s the extreme patriotism, which in most European countries would be considered close to the dodgy end of nationalism despite being part of the mainstream of US society. And most of all there’s the heavily religious aspect of American life. Even coming from an Irish Catholic background, I found the seriousness with which many Americans take religious belief to be remarkable.

Although the United States is clearly in decline, it remains the only superpower at this moment in time; certainly the only superpower capable of projecting military and economic power around the world. One imagines that China or India might be at the stage where they could flex their muscles should they so wish, and test the dominance of the United States. But right now they haven’t done so, and so long as that’s the case, the US remains the only global superpower. Which is why US policy matters to the rest of the world. And why we should never forget – particularly when they have a Republican president – that US policy is not necessarily guided by the same considerations as those of European governments.

Witness, for example, the stark contrast between otherwise bosom-buddies Tony Blair and George ‘Dubya’ Bush when it came to their faith. Both professed to be religious Christians. But while Bush spoke proudly of leading his staff in daily White House bible readings, Blair’s irritation when asked by Jeremy Paxman if he ever “prayed together” with the US president (50 seconds into this video) was palpable. Blair clearly viewed the very premise of the question as being an attempt to ridicule him; as indeed, from a European sense, it probably was. But Bush would never have reacted in such a way and would almost certainly have taken the question at face value. That clip of Blair’s discomfort – almost embarrassment – when faced with questions about his faith (a faith that, let us not forget, he expressed openly in his writing) always calls to mind Matthew 26:31-75.

Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice…

Take the – admittedly more extreme than most – Rick Santorum who, having made it clear that he was running on an anti-abortion platform and “the sanctity of the American family” (which is almost certainly a reference to his profoundly homophobic views), came out with the following…

… America is a moral enterprise. Our founders understood that for the constitution to work, it had to be based on something deeper, something grounded. Our rights came from a creator [Santorum points upwards to heaven] and the creator has rules… ‘Nature and Nature’s God’, that was another phrase in the declaration of independence. They understood that through reason and through faith we could build a strong country from the ground up, based on a moral society. John Adams said our constitution was made for ‘a moral and a religious people; it is wholly inadequate for the governance of any other’. That is the mission of America

Prior to the report on the Iowa Caucus, the RTÉ news had run a story about the increasing tensions between Iran and the west, complete with a clip of President Ahmadinejad working himself into an impressive fury and shaking his fist at America. So when the Santorum clip was shown, Citizen S who was sitting next to me, wondered aloud, “how is that any different to the rhetoric of the Iranian government?” My reply… “it’s not”.

Indeed this point is made rather well by Ronald Wright, author of What is America? A Short History of the New World Order in this interview…

It’s well worth watching that clip. Wright lucidly explains how America developed as a nation riven with tension between religious fundamentalism and predatory capitalism, and how it has somehow managed to combine the two into a strange hybrid that has antecedents in the ‘frontier spirit’ of the 17th and 18th century and still looks forward with evangelical zeal to a world reshaped in its own image. The fact is, there are few things more dangerous than a powerful person who believes God is on their side. It makes them reckless with the lives of others and it provides them with a spurious justification for idiotic decisions. And it’s all the worse when that person feels backed into a corner, as the decline of the debt-ridden American Empire must surely do to future presidents.

Having said all that, and it pains me that religious discussion has become so polarised that I feel obliged to add this disclaimer; none of this is meant to be an attack on religion in and of itself. I believe the mytho-poetic aspects of religion and religious faith are of genuine importance to the future well-being of humanity. I believe the sterile atheism currently in fashion is also extremely dangerous in the long run; though in a different way to the various flavours of religious fundamentalism that grips much of humanity today. I believe that those “intellectuals” who are making a living tearing at the fabric of religion are doing terrible damage to our culture and our collective psyche. Yes, we need to radically re-evaluate our relationship with religion, but it needs to be done constructively and with subtlety and sensitivity. The boorish attacks of the new atheists are as unimaginative and unintelligent as the fundamentalist literalism of Rick Santorum or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

* Incidentally, I would exclude New York from that “foreign country”. Just as London is in no way representative of much of the rest of the UK, so New York feels more like an island off the coast of America than a part of the place.

Rick Santorum photo courtesy of salon.com

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Dec 2011

Hey Mister, can we have our drone back please?

Even as western capitalism teeters on the edge of an abyss of debt, tensions between the United States and Iran are increasing… threatening yet another international crisis. I’m pretty convinced that sometime during the next couple of years we will awaken one morning to the news of a “pre-emptive” Israeli strike on Iran. This will almost inevitably drag the United States into yet another war in the region. Which in turn will almost inevitably see British forces (and perhaps some Aussies and others) – even if only a token contingent – killing and dying in Asia once again. What it will do to a global economy already on life-support is anybody’s guess.

It’s a grim prospect and one that will – I’m almost certain – have a far worse outcome than either the Iraq or Afghanistan invasions. Israel’s involvement (and I can’t see them not being involved, given the escalating rhetoric on both sides) will make it a lot more messy than it would otherwise be, and Iran won’t be shocked or awed quite so easily as other recent targets of the US military. On top of that, the rise of political Islam (which I suggested would be a likely consequence of the Arab uprisings) is likely to shift the balance of power in the region and exacerbate any conflict; particularly one that involves Israel.

As I stressed in a piece on the North African revolutions, my problem with the rise of political Islam is nothing to do with Islam specifically and everything to do with the influence of any religious fundamentalism on the political landscape. From my perspective, given their access to massive military might, Israel (with their increasingly Orthodox approach to both domestic and foreign policy) and America (with the rise of the religious right) are far more worrying than any individual Islamic nation. But the ‘clash of civilisations’ that US neoconservatives appeared to relish so much during the Bush years could finally become a reality should Arabic nations that were once relatively secular (despite being brutal dictatorships) shift towards theocracy during a period of US / Israeli involvement in Iran.

It is against this worrying backdrop that one of the most farcical news stories of recent weeks has been playing out. The story began about eight days ago when the US military admitted that it had “lost a drone” over Iran. This alone caused me some degree of consternation. I appreciate that the official US position on Iran is that it’s a rogue state, actively developing Weapons of Mass Destruction, and guilty of destabilising the region. Yet by carrying out military incursions (whether manned or unmanned is surely academic) into Iranian airspace the United States is effectively acting like a rogue state and further destabilising the region. How can it not see this? I guess the big difference is that the US has already developed (and deployed) WMD rather than – allegedly – merely contemplating it.

US drone captured by IranIncidentally, can you imagine the US response if an unmanned Iranian military aircraft had crashed / been brought down while flying over Texas? Seems to me that in this instance, unlike with their decision to send warships through the Suez canal, the Iranians have been a model of restraint.

Still, despite the surely criminal actions of the US military (am I wrong in thinking that sending military aircraft into the airspace of a sovereign nation without prior clearance is a crime?) we were assured by defence analyst Loren Thompson that at least the drone would not be offering up any military secrets… “This is a high-flying unmanned aircraft that malfunctioned and then fell to earth. It’s likely to be broken up into hundreds of pieces”, said Loren.

A couple of days later, however, Iranian news media showed images of the drone. Far from being broken up into hundreds of pieces, the unmanned aircraft appeared in pristine condition. Moreover, claimed the Iranians, it didn’t malfunction but was in fact “hijacked” by their electronic-warfare experts who over-rode the control system and landed the drone intact. The United States is scornful of such a suggestion, but frankly the machine doesn’t look like it recently plummeted to the ground from high altitude… so until we have further evidence either way, I’m leaning towards the Iranian version of events.

I guess this possibility is giving the US military a bout of the heebie-jeebies… “if they can remotely over-ride our drones”, they’re probably wondering, “then what about our cruise missiles? Even worse!… what about the electronic systems on our manned aircraft? Just how safe are they?” I guess this new development has resulted in a lot of late nights at The Pentagon. People with job titles like “Deputy Assistant to the Director of Electronic Warfare” are producing lengthy reports, risk assessments and flow-charts. I wager that in the executive summary of one such report there appeared a statement along the lines of, “Of course, without access to the captured drone, we may never know precisely how – or even whether – the remote flight system was compromised”. And I suspect it was as result of such a statement that the truly farcical element of this story was born.

Ludicrously, the day after the Iranians had displayed the drone on TV, the United States government formally requested that the Iranians return the captured aircraft. It’s pretty unusual for me to actually laugh at something on the internet… lots of smiles but few proper laughs… and it’s even rarer for me to laugh at a story involving a US military incursion into Iran. But upon reading that headline – US asks Iran to return captured drone – laugh I most certainly did. The story gets even better when Hillary Clinton gets involved (and how often can you say that?)…

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that she did not think it likely that the drone would be returned.

I have to say that I rarely find myself in whole-hearted agreement with Mrs. Clinton, but on this issue we are definitely of one mind. She went on…

“We are very clearly making known our concerns. We submitted a formal request for the return of our lost equipment, as we would in any situation. Given Iran’s behaviour to date, we do not expect them to reply,” she said.

She said that despite numerous “provocations” from Iran, the US would continue to pursue a “diplomatic approach”.

I hate to perpetuate a lazy stereotype, but the Americans really don’t understand irony, do they?

Photo courtesy of Reuters

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Feb 2011

Israel, Iran and what’s not reported

The first thing to point out is that I’m no fan of either Israeli or Iranian government policy. Both nations appear (to me at least) to be suffering their own collective psychoses. Israel’s is a type of post-traumatic stress exacerbated by decades surrounded by hostile neighbours, so that it’s developed into a paranoid psychosis. Iran, on the other hand, spent decades trapped within a classic double-bind and has now found itself in the grip of religious fundamentalism. I have a great deal of sympathy for the ordinary people of both nations, terrorised as they are by enemies internal and external; real and imagined.

That said, I have very little sympathy for the actions of either government, who appear hell-bent on bringing the region as close to the brink of war as possible. The current civil uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, while to be lauded for ending tyrannical regimes, are likely to make Israel (in particular) more jittery than usual and serve, in that sense, to ratchet tensions up even further.

Let me be clear; this is not an attempted justification or a call for the continuation of these regimes. Tyrants need to be overthrown, and while we all hope this happens with a minimal increase in regional instability, we do not expect a people to remain in oppressive conditions merely to ensure that their twitchy neighbours don’t get spooked. At the same time, we should collectively face up to the likelihood of an increase in regional instability and explore ways to mitigate it.

Because it seems we can’t expect nations in the region to do so. While dictators topple and political vacuums beckon — or else “the army” takes over, which is rarely a good sign no matter what assurances of a future transition to civilian rule are offered — Israel and Iran appear intent on sabre-rattling at what must surely be the least appropriate time to do so.

Warships through The Suez Canal

Middle East map

Today the BBC carries a news story about two Iranian warships passing through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea. As someone who objects to the routine projection of military power beyond national borders (I’m even dubious about the projection of military power within national borders, but that’s an issue of national sovereignty and, within reason, should be left to each nation to decide), I unconditionally condemn this action by Iran. Just as I condemn the US, British (and any other) fleets patrolling the oceans of the world as though someone appointed them custodians of us all. I understand the current need to keep warships in certain areas to help deal with piracy (though this itself is part of a wider issue, and those ships should be flying a UN flag). But I don’t believe the world should accept national navies adopting threatening positions just outside the territorial waters of nations they don’t like.

And Iran’s claim to be conducting exercises with the Syrian navy is farcical. Despite not being a physical threat to Israel, a fact that’s acknowledged in the BBC article, these ships are clearly entering the Mediterranean to piss off the Israelis. No other reason. And a nation like Israel, in the grip of paranoid psychosis, rarely deals with provocation in a rational or proportional manner. Look at their response to the Gaza aid flotilla. Witness their policy of collective punishment whenever Palestinian militants attack — or just threaten to attack — Israel. Provoking Israel is a dumb thing to do, because it can quickly create a situation that spirals out of control.

This is hinted at by the Israeli Foreign Minister himself in that BBC story, when he says:

To my regret, the international community is not showing readiness to deal with the recurring Iranian provocations. The international community must understand that Israel cannot forever ignore these provocations.

Avigdor Lieberman (Israeli Foreign Minister)

It’s familiar rhetoric all right, but no less ominous because of that. And it neglects a crucial element in this “Iranian warships in the Mediterranean” narrative that is currently ongoing. An element that is simply ignored in the four different news stories I’ve read about this issue today. Despite describing this act by Iran as “unprecedented”, why has much of the western media chosen to gloss over the fact that it’s nothing of the kind? Isn’t the fact that Iran’s action is clearly and unambiguously a response to Israel’s 2009 decision to send two warships the other direction through The Suez Canal worthy of reporting?

I’m not saying that “they did it first” is an adequate response to criticism of Iran’s action. It’s certainly a pathetic justification for something that clearly increases the likelihood of a military engagement between two heavily-armed nations. But without that crucial piece of information, Iran’s naval manoeuvre looks like a unilateral act of provocation, when in fact it’s actually another chapter in an ongoing tit-for-tat escalation between two psychotic nations. It must be viewed in that context, and whatever the western response to Iran may be, it must be made in that context.

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Apr 2007

No! Not the comfy chair!

Just over a week ago, fifteen British service personnel were captured by the Iranian navy. Iran claims the British soldiers were half a kilometre inside Iranian territory and — according to the recording function on their GPS navigation — had regularly entered Iranian waters as part of their patrols. The captured soldiers confirm this version of events. Of course, the British response is “you’re fooling nobody, Mahmoud”. The troops were in Iraqi waters, goes the British argument, and are now being fed scripted lines to speak on-camera by the dastardly Iranians!

Clearly there’s only a handful of people who know the truth, and neither you nor I, dear reader, will ever be among them. Long after these troops are released (as certainly they will be) the UK will claim they did nothing wrong and Iran will claim they illegally entered their territory. So that particular fact is unlikely to ever be resolved. Mind you, it’s worth pointing out that as far as Iran is concerned, US/UK troops in Iraqi territory constitute an illegal army of occupation. Nonetheless, the incident has highlighted some intriguing differences in the manner in which Iran has treated these soldiers and how the US/UK coalition treats captured “enemy combatants”.

There are those who will dismiss the comparison. We’re not at war with Iran, they’ll point out, so British troops aren’t “enemy combatants” as far as Iran should be concerned. Which would be a good point if it wasn’t such bullshit. Under Tony Blair, the British military has been transformed into an extension of U.S. foreign policy. And it’s not just any U.S. administration we’re talking about. It’s the regime of George W. Bush; a man who announced that Iran was part of an axis of evil and then bombed the hell out of its neighbours to the east (Afghanistan) and to the west (Iraq). According to one estimate, between 2 and 3 percent of the Iraqi population has died violently since the US/UK launched their invasion.

If China openly announced that it considered the UK to be “evil” and then launched massive bombing campaigns and invasions of France and Ireland, followed up by routine patrols right along the edge of British waters while all the time urging the rest of the world to impose crippling sanctions against Britain as response to their nuclear programme; then I submit to you that any captured Chinese military personnel would be treated as ‘the enemy’.

I also submit to you, based upon the recent track-record of Britain and the United States, that the captured Chinese would receive far worse treatment than the British soldiers have so far received in Iran.

We do not, of course, know how the British personnel have been treated while the cameras have been turned off. We don’t know whether they’ve been stripped naked except for the bags over their heads and then forced to simulate sex with one another. We don’t know whether they’ve had to huddle naked in the corner of a tiny cell while Iranian soldiers held massive snarling dogs just inches away. We don’t know whether they’ve had electric wires held to their genitals or were piled high so that Iranian guards could laugh at them and take souvenir snaps.

Conversely, I suppose you could argue that we only saw the worst of Abu Ghraib. We didn’t see the detainees sitting around in comfy chairs, sharing a cigarette and a joke, before being fed good meals and asked nicely to apologise for whatever wrongs they were accused of. I wonder why.

Iran has thus far resisted the temptation to make the captured soldiers “disappear” into a shadowy system of unofficial prisons and rendition flights. They haven’t dumped them into an illegal and immoral prison camp in Cuba to rot without representation. They haven’t decided to hold them for years without charge.

Incidentally, did anyone else notice this report from a couple of weeks ago… Escape from UK-run prison in Iraq…? There’s a line in the report, about halfway in, that completely overshadows the relatively mundane story in the headline… A security source told the agency that the prisoners had been held without charge for the past two years. It seems that Britain’s reluctance to criticise Guantanamo Bay too loudly is now explained… the British government is running one or more similar institutions itself. And why is it that we only hear about Britain locking people up for years without charge when the prisoners stage an escape?

If Iran treated these prisoners the way Britain and America treat enemy prisoners, we wouldn’t have heard about them once they’d been captured. They’d have disappeared into some anonymous camp to be degraded, terrorised and tortured. Within a couple of years, some of them may have been driven to suicide. An act that the Iranians would describe as “a good PR move“.

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Sep 2006

George Dubya's "Letters From America"

As has been hinted in the past, here at the Anarcho-Syndicalist Broadcasting Corporation we employ so-called “half-asleep agents” in key positions in many of the world’s mainstream media organisations. Along with our half-asleep agents in various governments and militaries, this allows us to develop a relatively accurate picture of who’s suppressing what and why. As Johann Rissle, co-founder of the ASBC, is fond of saying, “It ain’t worth knowing unless someone’s suppressing it.”

Now, you may recall some months ago the president of Iran (religious mentalist, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) sent a letter to the president of America (religious mentalist, George Bush). At the time, I mentioned that there’d been a response from Dubya and that I was hoping to publish it on this blog.

Unfortunately the ASBC agent within the White House was compromised just prior to faxing a copy of the letter to us (in retrospect, the decision to use the Oval Office fax machine probably wasn’t the best one he’s ever made). I believed that was the end of the story and Dubya’s letter would remain a secret. You see, unlike Ahmadinejad, Bush wanted to keep his response out of the public eye. According to a leaked memo from the White House, President Bush was concerned “it might look a bit faggy” for him to be seen writing a letter to another man.

However fortune favours the lucky. A few days ago, thanks to the hard work of our half-asleep agent in the Shoraye Negahban, a copy of the letter has made it from Iran to ASBC HQ. Johann and myself have decided – despite the elapsed time – to leak it via this blog.

Dear Mahmoud,

Thanks for asking after Laura and the girls. Laura is fine. She’s just back from a short break in Costa Rica. I’d love to have gone with her as I hear the fishing is great down there. Unfortunately business kept me in Washington. I tell you Mahmoud, I work six, sometimes seven, hours a day, and even put in a half day some Saturdays, and still I can’t keep up with it all. Who’d have thought being president would be so time-consuming? I guess with Iran being so much smaller, you can probably get away with a three day week. It must be a bit like running a ball team or an oil company I imagine.

As for the kids… well Jenna and Barbara are a bit of a handful to be honest. They seem to have stayed out of trouble with the law recently, but I’m not sure how much of that’s down to the Secret Service hushing things up. Nobody tells me anything around here.

You know, I’ve often said that despite being evil and everything, you guys do have some good ideas. When I think of the trouble the twins have caused, I really believe we could learn a bit about treating womenfolk from you. Don’t mention I said that if you’re talking to Condi though. When I suggested it at a cabinet meeting a few weeks ago, she threw a right strop and stormed out. But as Rummy said later, she was probably having her period.

But look here Mahmoud, as nice as it is shooting the breeze with you and all, let’s get down to brass tacks. The United States of America has a sacred mission to safeguard truth, justice and democracy throughout the world. We shoulder this mission willingly, even though it is not without its burdens. At times many around the world (and at home) disagree with the methods we use to safeguard truth, justice and democracy. We become an object of distrust… even hatred. But we know our mission is vital to the future of the world, and we will continue to safeguard democracy no matter how many people disagree. We will continue until we have accomplished this mission.

For if not us, then who? The Russkis? I know you get on fairly well with them but come on Mahmoud! That place is on the verge of collapse. If they can’t get their own house in order, how can they be expected to safeguard democracy around the world? Their military is falling to pieces; nuclear subs sinking and the entire Red Navy unable to do anything about the stranded sailors; the naval base in Murmansk having the electricity cut off for non-payment of bills; and missile silos regularly left unguarded over the weekend. Their economy has been passed from one gangster to the next and now Putin is going all commie with nationalisation and what have you. And you can’t get a decent slice of pecan pie in the whole damn country.

The Chinese? Well, I think we can both agree that the world would be in a bad way if it was relying on China to safeguard truth and justice. They’re friends with North Korea; a place even more evil than your country (which is saying something). They have a human rights record that makes Gitmo – heck, even Abu Ghraib! – look tame. There was that Tiananmen Square thing. And we’re frankly rather unhappy with the way they’re driving up oil prices. Although I guess that’s one area you and me will have to agree to differ.

So you see Mahmoud, it really is up to us – the US – to be the world’s policeman, umpire and guardian. And I have to say that you folks in Iran are making that job far more difficult than it needs to be. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say “But what are we going to do about Iran, Mr. President?” I’d be slightly richer than I already am (which is also saying something). It’s no secret that the people I was elected to serve want to see decisive action. In fact they told me that in no uncertain terms last time I met with them. “Mr. President”, they said, “we at the Halliburton Corporation want to see decisive action”.

And it’d be damned undemocratic of me to go against the wishes of my constituents, though I guess you wouldn’t understand that over in Iran. Nevertheless Mahmoud, as a Christian I’ve a duty to seek a peaceful solution to a problem before sending in the 5th Fleet. So here it is. Me, Rummy and Dick spent almost a full hour coming up with this list of demands. If you agree to implement them, I can almost guarantee that I won’t launch a series of devastating land, sea and air strikes against your major population centres and national infrastructure. Not only that, but I’ll try to talk the Israelis out of wiping you off the map with their nukes.

Here at the White House we feel these demands are more than fair (heck, you should hear some of Dick’s ideas that we ruled out). Firstly, it goes without saying that you cease all further nuclear research. It’s unacceptable for that technology to fall into the hands of evil Islamic fundamentalists. Secondly, your High Council of clerics must be disbanded. Political power needs to rest in the hands of those who have been elected, freely and fairly. I couldn’t honestly call myself a guardian of democracy if I didn’t insist on that one. Thirdly, you need to step down and allow exactly those free and fair elections I’m talking about to occur. Rummy has drawn up a shortlist of pro-democracy Iranian-Americans who will be glad to return to Iran, get elected, and take responsibility for the future of their homeland.

Once these three demands have been met it’ll be a cinch for the new, sensible, pro-democracy government of Iran to implement demands 4 through 62.

I hope you’ll agree that this plan is in the best interests of the people of Iran. After all, it does them no good at all to be a member of the Axis of Evil.

You take care of yourself, Mahmoud, and I look forward to your response.

All the best, George W. Bush (President).

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May 2006

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "Letters From Iran"

I’m fascinated by the news that the Iranian president (religious mentalist, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) has sent an 18-page letter to the American president (religious mentalist, George Bush). As yet the letter hasn’t been published publicly, but the leaks make it sound just as weird as I could have imagined. Of course all the leaks are coming from the US end of things, but in these days of internets and whatnot, it’ll be easy enough for the Iranians to disseminate an accurate copy should fabrications begin to appear…

I got hold of what Reuters are calling “an abridged version”. Make of it what you will:

Dear George (or may I call you “Dubya”),

America has been a force for evil in the world. For years you have blundered about the globe meddling in the affairs of everyone else. In 1979 we decided to have nothing more to do with you and have had no official contact since then. Sadly that is no longer possible now that you have flattened and invaded half our neighbours, called us part of “the axis of evil” and your administration has begun pointedly denying that an invasion is planned every time they’re asked about bombing Iran. This has us all a bit worried here in Tehran.

Frankly we think it’s about time you pissed off out of the middle east and central asia. No seriously. You’ve no business being here, and we think it’s about time you left. Your unwavering support for unelected dictatorships and royal families in the name of democracy whilst you napalm villages in the name of peace was embarrassing to watch while you were doing it to other countries. Now that you seem to be looking at us with those war-room eyes, I felt it was time to contact you directly and ask whether you’ve completely taken leave of your senses?

Look, so long as you’re willing to pay the market price (in euros), we here in the middle east don’t mind sending shipfuls of our oil across the oceans to be burnt in American cars. We’ll sell as long as you can afford to buy. We just don’t like the idea of you stealing the stuff by setting up client governments all over the place.

So in the interests of stability – something you seem to value so much – we feel it’d be a good idea to get rid of the majority of the weapons and bombs currently in the region. We’ve done a lot of consultation, focus groups and research and discovered that everyone would feel a lot less twitchy around here if you, therefore, took all your soldiers and tanks and guns and planes home to America. Or go save the Sudanese maybe? We honestly don’t care just as long as you’re moving in a direction that is “away” from us. And they do seem to genuinely need assistance.

Oh another thing… and I know this is a bit of a touchy subject, but this being our first chance to chat in 27 years, I’d be a fool if I didn’t take the opportunity… would you mind taking Israel back home with you? Yes, yes, I know all that stuff about them being the chosen people and God giving them that piece of land. But here’s the thing… we don’t actually believe that, and there’s no hard evidence to support it. So from where we stand, it looks like – far from being God-given – the modern state of Israel was actually created by a bunch of colonial powers stealing Palestinian land under pressure from Zionist terrorism in order to assuage their feelings of guilt about the holocaust.

Frankly – despite the bad press I get over in the West – I don’t have a problem with a homeland for the jewish people. But we in Iran do have to wonder why the Palestinians should pay for the atrocities of the Germans. Would it not make more sense to give, say, Bavaria to the jewish people? Or if you Americans are really that concerned, well you’ve got plenty of land. Give them North Dakota. Who’d notice?

I know, that’s probably a bit much to expect. But honestly, it’s difficult to see how better to improve stability than by removing US and Israeli influence from the region.

Oh and listen up George. You going around calling yourself a “Man of God” is starting to give us genuine “Men of God” a bad name. Either shape up, or ship out. Hear what I’m saying? America’s “separation of church and state” tells us all we need to know about how much a Man of God you are. Right? And let that be a warning to you by the way. Saddam Hussein was a secular dictator. Of course God chose your side in that war. But if you try to take us on, well… you’ll be cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and no mistake.

This is a religious state for crying out loud! We’ve got clerics who can kick me out of office if they want. That’s proper “Man of God” stuff let me tell you. Whose side do you think God would be on if it came to a straight choice between you and me? Eh? Seriously George, I’d think twice before pissing off Allah The Most Merciful. He can be a right ruthless bastid when He gets going.

Anyways, I’ve got more to say but I’ve just noticed the time and Buffy is on in 10 minutes and I want to catch the last post before it comes on (they’re repeating Season 5 on satellite. Glory is a fantastic ‘Big Bad’, but I still think I like The Mayor best). I hope I hear back from you soon; particularly re: the whole pulling your military out of the region thing that I mentioned. Love to Laura and the kids.


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

PS: That whole nuke issue? We’ve decided to continue enrichment. Bye now.

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