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Post Is Soleimani Irreplaceable for the IRI?
Created by John Eipper on 01/12/20 3:26 AM

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Is Soleimani Irreplaceable for the IRI? (A. J. Cave, USA, 01/12/20 3:26 am)

In response to John E's question, Soleimani is certainly not irreplaceable. Even though both he and his Iraqi counterpart were killed in the drone attack, their plan can certainly be carried out by others and it still might.

I suspect that probably the US intelligence and national security boys didn't expect the president to greenlight the mission to begin with. He did. Then, they probably didn't want him to open his kimono and quickly claim responsibility for it publicly. He did. This an election year and this is too big a PR opportunity to look presidential to pass up. It might not come again anytime soon.

However, now IRI operatives know that not only US knows what they're up to, they would not hesitate to take decisive action.  (There's a new sheriff in town.)

As I mentioned, IRI is good at being secretive, since they can spin the outcome any which way that suits them publicly. Now that everyone expects IRI to do something, it's no longer possible to control the fallout from secret activities, especially if and when they fail. The element of surprise is gone.

We just have to wait and see how the Chinese and Russians would react. I can't say about the Russians, but the Chinese won't like to be connected to any "terrorist" activities by their allies. They're not that desperate for cheap oil. They're already distancing themselves from IRI. They have their hands full with more pressing issues and won't put terrorism on their plates.

JE comments:  We awoke this morning to reports of massive protests in Iran, in response to the Iranian military's admission that it accidentally shot down the Ukrainian commercial flight.  A. J., what type of response do you expect from the authorities in Tehran?

Who's the luckiest man alive at present?  That would be none other than Donald J. Trump.  At least we were spared the images when he opened his kimono...


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  • Two Ukrainegates (A. J. Cave, USA 01/13/20 4:04 AM)
    It must be the hand of fate that both President Trump and IRI officials are having their Ukrainegates.

    It's interesting to see how the events are unfolding as more information is coming online. Reportedly even the British ambassador to the Islamic Republic was detained for "participating" in anti-government demonstrations along with Iranian protesters around the country, including students who have refused to walk on US and Israel flags painted on the street in defiance of the regime.


    It has been reported that on board the fateful Ukrainian plane, there were also Iranians, Canadians, British and Swedish passengers among others, all of whom were sadly killed.


    Both Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have demanded accountability from Iran.


    IRI initially denied any wrongdoing, but as international pressure mounted and evidence to the contrary started to come to light, they had to take responsibility and own up to "accidentally" shooting down the Ukrainian plane. That plane had just left Tehran airport and was leaving Iranian airspace. There's no rational way to justify mistaking its call sign for an incoming threat.


    We just have to wait and see as the events continue to unfold and how IRI's ruling mullahs and military would respond to protesters internally while trying to do damage control internationally. They have finally met their match in President Trump, and they are running out of options.


    JE comments: After the world lost interest in the Crimea crisis, nobody predicted that Ukraine would become the epicenter of geopolitics in 2019-'20. A. J., what have you heard about the reports that Trump sent a back-channel communication through the Swiss, asking the Iranians not to retaliate too severely to the Soleimani assassination? An invitation, as it were, to "take a swing at me, but not too hard?"


    Anyone ever play the game of "who can hit the softest" with a childhood friend or sibling?

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    • Who Calls the Shots (Literally) in US Foreign Policy? (Paul Pitlick, USA 01/14/20 4:33 AM)
      I always enjoy A. J. Cave's WAIS posts.

      In her post of January 12th, A. J. mentioned China and Russia (or as Eugenio Battaglia refers to them, Empires 2 and 3), who might have an interest in events in Iran/Persia. Mr. Trump doesn't seem to have much confidence in the traditional American structure for advice and consent, relying on a small inner mob of advisors, and completely bypassing Congress and the UN.


      Any speculation about who else he might have discussed the Soleimani assassination with--Putin? Erdogan? Netanyahu? Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud?


      JE comments: Good questions. The final two candidates seem the most likely, although the reports tend to agree that the decision to strike Soleimani was a split-second one.


      Isn't Putin generally a fan of the IRI-US showdown--especially because his nemesis neighbor, Ukraine, has now been dragged in?

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      • Does Russia Benefit from the US-Iran Showdown? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 01/15/20 3:00 AM)
        In contrary to what John E wrote, the reports are not that the Soleimani assassination was a spur-of-the-moment decision. Apparently it was ordered seven months ago. See:

        https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2020/01/mil-200113-presstv01.htm


        As to whether a conflict between the US and Iran would be profitable to Russia, I did read the article in The Hill expressing this point of view:


        https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/442843-russia-is-the-real-winner-in-any-us-iran-conflict


        I agree rather with this analysis:


        Although Moscow could financially gain from a politically isolated and less economically competitive Iran, the geopolitical fallout from a regime change in Tehran will significantly outweigh the potential economic benefits.


        Particularly, a direct confrontation between Tehran and Washington that could bring back major US military build-up is a geopolitical challenge that threatens Russia's interests in the Middle East. Moscow has already blamed the US for provoking Iran and has shown its opposition to the US tightening pressure on Tehran's defense program by recognizing Iran's legitimate defense interests.


        https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2019/05/28/russia-unlikely-to-stay-neutral-if-us-and-iran-go-to-war-a65771


        The Russians are allergic to instability, which is why regime change by external forces makes them crazy.


        As to Ukraine's being Russia's "Nemesis"--that is not true at all. Ukraine is Russia's most important post-Soviet relationship; Russia needs Ukraine for deep-seated economic reasons, for strategic reasons, and even political reasons--a huge number of Russians are related to people across the border. What is Russia's nemesis is the US meddling in Ukraine and turning Ukraine into a hostile state. The current situation with Ukraine is very dangerous for Putin; look for him to find any decent way out of it which leaves Ukraine something other than a hostile power with Western weapons. The new Ukrainian president seems to be a reasonable person, and carries no Ukrainian nationalist baggage--he's a Russian-speaking Jew from the East. Let's hope they will come to some agreement--the whole world will benefit.


        By the way, on a rather different topic, loosely related to this one only because it deals with Russians occupying other countries, have any WAISers seen the Norwegian series Occupied on Netflix? I have been enjoying this enormously. There are lots of clues to Nordic mentality in this delightful thriller. The premises is that the new young Prime Minister of Norway has decided that climate change demands decisive action, and has decided to shut down Norway's oil industry overnight. Norway is the biggest oil producer in Europe and in some years has been the world's biggest exporter. In order to make up for the lost energy, he plans to build massive nuclear power plants based on a new technology, thorium (actually this technology is quite similar to ordinary nuclear fission power generation). But Norway's neighbors are having none of this crazy earth-saver--the EU sends some slimy Belgian bureaucrats to threaten the PM in vague Eurocrat language, and then the Evil Swedes do the deed--with the collusion of the EU, the Swedes persuade the Russians to invade and occupy Norway and send their oil technicians in to get the taps turned on again.


        Follows all kinds of drama, including resistance movements, negotiations, and various human stories. It's superbly well done with three-dimensional characters (except the Evil Swedes and the Eurocrats, who are proper villains); the Russians are portrayed with subtlety. The occupation is a "silk glove" action with no fighting, and the PM is trying to compromise to fulfill the demands of the EU and get the Russians out peacefully.


        Highly recommended.


        JE comments:  The Hill essay points out another potential benefit for Russia:  an increasingly dangerous Middle East renders Arctic Sea shipping more attractive.  Moreover, climate change must be making these frigid routes more usable--although, as veteran mariner Eugenio Battaglia pointed out last February, there are still numerous risks, both to the ships and (perhaps especially) the environment:


        https://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=123308&objectTypeId=89565&topicId=160


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    • Trump-IRI Communication through Swiss Intermediaries (A. J. Cave, USA 01/14/20 4:57 AM)
      John E asked about Trump's back-channel communication through the Swiss with the IRI.

      There was a fairly detailed piece on January 12th about the recent parlay in the online Wall Street Journal:


      Here is the link for those who have a subscription:


      https://www.wsj.com/articles/swiss-back-channel-helped-defuse-u-s-iran-crisis-11578702290


      There are lots of other online sources as well, with similar information.


      Channels of communication:


      Using the Swiss as the go-between US and IRI is nothing new. It has been in effect since 1980 when US and IRI broke diplomatic relations, under what is called "protective power mandate." Historically it has been used as a handy confidential channel of "direct" communication between the two countries.


      Briefly:


      After the Soleimani assassination, the Swiss envoy in Tehran relayed the US message: "Don't escalate!" In response, IRI officials complained about Twitter threats against Iranian sites and called US a bully. After the missile attack on US bases in Iraq, IRI communicated to the US via the Swiss envoy that they were done.


      Downing of the Ukrainian plane must have confused all the parties and the IRI's knee-jerk reaction was to deny, deny, deny, until they finally decided to throw some guy (a fictional lone and isolated missile operator) under the bus (or the plane).


      Significance:


      The significance of the admission is probably lost on the folks not familiar with the history of hostilities between the two countries. In 1988, US Navy shot down an Iran Air passenger flight to Dubai over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people. It was another case of human error. IRI sued, and in 1996, US agreed to pay over $130 million in damages without admitting any wrongdoing. Over the years, IRI has maintained that the tragic accident was intentional. Now, the shoe is on the other foot.


      The "lie" by the regime triggered the demonstrations in the streets, just as the demonstrations in Hong Kong were initially triggered by the proposed extradition bill. They signal a host of underlying causes and grievances, and could quickly burn out of control like wildfires.


      JE comments:  With today's instantaneous communication, the need for two quarreling nations to communicate through a neutral intermediary is a throwback to the 19th century--or earlier.  If the stakes weren't so high, it would be quaint that diplomacy maintains these venerable traditions.


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      • A Lesson on Usage: Parlay and Parley, Lakes and Seas (David Duggan, USA 01/14/20 8:28 AM)
        Parlay (see A. J. Cave, January 14th) didn't look right and I looked it up. Parley is the conversation. Parlay is a betting maneuver (typically on horse races with win-place-show options).

        I surmise John E didn't like what I had to say about "international waters" in lakes between two sovereigns? (Four of the Great Lakes, lakes along the mid-African ridge [Tanganyika], Geneva.)


        Literally those lakes are "between two nations."


        JE comments: A few days back David Duggan responded to my remark on whether the Caspian is a sea or a lake. I had originally written, "there is no international jurisdiction over a lake." David replied:


        No international jurisdiction over Lakes Superior, Erie, Ontario or Huron? Or the lakes along the borders of the nations on the mid-African ridge?


        Sorry, David!  I had been meaning to reply, but procrastinated.  I wanted to reference the late Bob Gibbs's presentation at WAIS '13, Adrian.  In his analysis of oil politics and pipelines, Bob discussed the real-world implications of whether the Caspian is a sea or a lake.  If the former, then it falls under the jurisdiction of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  If the latter, even if shared by two or more countries, the entirety of the lake can be divided into bordered-off national waters.  As the article below explains, lake or sea is not just a question of sea-mantics:


        https://www.businessdestinations.com/destinations/more-than-sea-mantics-the-legal-status-of-the-caspian-sea/


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      • Par-ley and Par-lay... and Bamboozle (A. J. Cave, USA 01/15/20 4:00 PM)
        A response to David Duggan (January 14th) on my English:

        Admittedly it is awful and gets worse when I write quickly. And there's also that tug of war between various helpful spellchecks offered by Microsoft, Google, Grammerly, and the rest. So, I am always grateful for any corrections or comments. Thanks.


        However:


        In this particular context, I meant parlay, not parley. It wasn't one of those "in the eye of the beholder" cases.


        Let's unpack:


        Both parlay and parley can be used as nouns or verbs.


        As I understand it with my limited English, parley is a conversation (noun) or negotiating or discussing terms (verb) between opposing parties or enemies, in order to reach an agreement. The end game is chattering until you hammer out an agreement, or die trying.


        Whereas parlay is a betting or a gambling (Wall Street) term. It means a series of cumulative winning bets (noun), or using the winnings from a bet to make another bet (verb). The end game is winning over and over. There's nothing to negotiate.


        So, the key question (context) is whether US and IRI were/are engaging in a negotiation to reach some sort of an agreement via the Swiss intermediaries, or are they just posturing and blowing hot air and gambling on their abilities to intimidate or trick each other (called bam'boo'zel in Persian) into a "win"?


        What do you think?


        Since the messages are secretive (encrypted), it's impossible to tell without an encryption key.


        Bonus:


        I was going to call it "parlor games" initially (referencing Hunger Games), but I thought if you haven't read the popular teen (or young adults) fiction, or seen the movies, it would be lost in translation.


        JE comments:  Is bamboozle a Persian word, or are you bamboozling us, A. J?  I confess here to my bamboozlement.  The online etymological dictionaries don't give us much information.  Tom Sawyer, through the pen of Mark Twain, was a virtuoso in the art of bamboozling.  Prof. Hilton was also fond of the sonorous trisyllable, as evidenced by this post from way back in 2001:


        https://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=64270&objectTypeId=58520&topicId=239


        A. J., can you help us trace the etymology?  It would be a fascinating journey.  Oh, and by the way, let me disagree with your self-appraisal on English.  Your prose is outstanding.

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        • Fake News, or the Art of Bamboozling (A. J. Cave, USA 01/16/20 4:05 AM)
          I can't think of any writer worth her salt who doesn't love word play.

          To answer JE's question, "bamboozle" is indeed not a Persian word. It's a hook. In principle, this is how "fake news" is written. It has to be mostly true or factual to be believable, with some minor fake twist. Contrary to the current brouhaha over "fake news," it's not the invention of some Macedonian kids on Facebook during the last presidential elections. It goes all the way back to Herodotus and his disruptive Persian "history." Most of what he wrote was close enough to the actual events to be believable, so the parts that he invented are now indistinguishable from the rest.


          (As a side note, Bamboozled was a Spike Lee movie [Line Cinema, 2000] about race relations in US.)


          A lighthearted bluff or fib for fun is called: chaakhan kardan in Persian. The annual WAIS April Fool's day posts fall into this bucket.


          Serious deceiving or fooling (or bamboozling) someone is called: kolaah sar gozaashdan--meaning, put a hat on someone, sort of equivalent of pulling the wool over someone's eyes. It is used to indicate taking advantage of others (even ruining them) for personal gains.


          Lying in Persian is called: dorough goftan--lie telling (telling lies). The root of Persian dorough goes back to druj, an ancient Mazdaen/Zoroastrian word, meaning false or deceit. This duality of right vs wrong, good vs evil, asha (or artha) vs druj, is at the heart of all the Iranian religions. It's embedded in the Iranian psyche. Historically, once the Iranians decide that a king or a regime or a ruling class is a liar (evil), the fate of the regime is sealed. It's the old biblical "writing on the wall."


          JE comments:  You really had us there, A. J!  I fully believed that to our extensive list of Persian inventions--trousers, beer, horseback riding, the concept of human rights--we could add bamboozling.


          Here's an example of WAIS Word Power® (WWP) in action:  "Francine parlayed her gift for bamboozling into a lucrative political career."

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        • Fun with Etymologies (Timothy Ashby, Spain 01/16/20 10:03 AM)
          Ain't etymology a hoot!

          In my research delving deeply into the Tudor era, I have been amused to discover many words that I had assumed were modern but were actually in use nearly half a millennium ago. As an example, in January 1555, Bishop Gardiner ("Bloody" Mary's Lord Chancellor) wrote to the "Mayor and his Brethren of Leicester" admonishing them for abolishing "ancient and laudable" Catholic customs and for "being rather desirous of newfanglenes." I had assumed that "newfangled" dated from the late 19th or early 20th centuries.


          To shift subjects--while religious and political dissenters were horribly executed throughout the Tudor century, Queen Mary was truly "Bloody" (or more accurately, deeply charred). She ordered hundreds burned at the stake, including John Leaf, an "apprentice tallow chandler"; Richard Hook, "a lame man"; Ann Snoth, "A poor widow"; and John Apprice and Tom Drowy, "a blind man and a blind boy," both of whom were immolated on May 15, 1556, in the marketplace in the town of Gloucester.


          JE comments:  Yikes!  Let us honor the memory of Leaf, Hook and Snoth, and applaud the newfangled custom in (most) civilized countries of proscribing the death penalty.


          In my younger years, I always confused etymology with entomology--as well as proscribe vs prescribe.  And don't get us started on euthanasia.  I never understood why youth in Asia were so controversial.

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          • Gallows Eloquence: "We Shall This Day Light a Candle" (David Duggan, USA 01/18/20 4:38 AM)

            Be of good comfort and play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.


            --Hugh Latimer, Anglican Bishop of Worcester to Nicholas Ridley, Anglican Bishop of London on the pyre as they were both to be immolated by order of Mary, whose claim to the throne was dependent not on her immediate predecessor Edward VI, Henry VIII's only surviving son, but on Henry's Third Act of Succession which put his "bastard" daughters Mary and Elizabeth in line for the throne after Edward.


            Although the Church of England has erred and strayed from God's ways over the last 485 years, it remains the Mother Church for all who believe in the primacy of scripture, the merit of reason, and the value of the traditions of the church over 1990 years.


            JE comments:  Wow.  Gallows (or here, pyre) speeches are the ultimate test of poise and character.  Hope I'll never have to deliver one.  If you choke up, you don't get a "re-do."



            David, I am a bit taken aback by the "all" of your second paragraph.  WAIS strives to be an ecumenical space that welcomes all religions, as well as the freedom to practice none.  Does Anglican theology teach that no other denomination embraces scriptural primacy, reason and tradition?

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