"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

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The Emerging Axis of Iran and Venezuela

From Robert M. Morgetnheu writing for the Wall Street Journal.

The diplomatic ties between Iran and Venezuela go back almost 50 years and until recently amounted to little more than the routine exchange of diplomats. With the election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, the relationship dramatically changed.

Today Mr. Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez have created a cozy financial, political and military partnership rooted in a shared anti-American animus. Now is the time to develop policies in this country to ensure this partnership produces no poisonous fruit.

Why should we be concerned?

The public needs to be aware of Iran's growing presence in Latin America. Moreover, the U.S. and the international community must strongly consider ways to monitor and sanction Venezuela's banking system. Failure to act will leave open a window susceptible to money laundering by the Iranian government, the narcotics organizations with ties to corrupt elements in the Venezuelan government, and the terrorist organizations that Iran supports openly.

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Khatami: Referendum can end Iran's election crisis

From AP via Yahoo.

Former president Mohammad Khatami has called for a nationwide referendum on the legitimacy of the government, saying Iranians have lost faith in their political leaders after last month's disputed election, according to reports posted Monday on several reformist Web sites.

It seems the forces in Iran are beginning to take sides. Between Rafsanjani's sermon Friday and now Khatami calling for a nationwide referendum, things are not going well for the regime. The fact that both are publicly stating these things like this show how much power and control the regime has lost in Ahmadinejad's bid for reelection.

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Iran on Its Heels

From Vali Nasr writing for the Wasington Post.

For the first time since 2003, Iran has stumbled in Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to confront Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Basra and Sadr City last month caught Tehran off guard. The Mahdi Army lost more than face: It surrendered large caches of arms, and many of its leaders fled or were killed or captured. Crucially, the militias lost strategic terrain -- Basra and its chokehold on the causeway between Kuwait and Baghdad and Iraq's oil exports; Sadr City and the threat it posed to Baghdad security.

Mr. Nasr ends with,

It is a frequent refrain in Washington that the United States needs leverage before it can talk to Iran. In Iraq, Washington is getting leverage. America has the advantage while Iran is on its heels. Engaging Iran now could even influence who wins the Iraq debate in Tehran.

I could not agree more.

For a full read, click here.

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PROFILE: Ali Larijani - New strong man in Iran's parliament

From Monsters and Critics.

With his imminent election as speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani will not only become the head of the legislature but also the main challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad....

Larijani's main political career started in the mid 1980s as culture minister under president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. In 1994, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made him head of the state television network IRIB. A decade later, Khamenei appointed him as his advisor in the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).

An opponent of the reform movement led by president Mohammad Khatami, Larijani ran in the 2005 presidential elections but failed to make it into the second round. Nevertheless, election winner Ahmadinejad appointed him secretary of the SNSC and chief nuclear negotiator.

Larijani is an up and coming leader in Iranian politics. While a conservative, he disagreed with Ahmadinejad on how to deal with Iranian nuclear development and eventually resigned his post as chief nuclear negotiator under Ahmadinejad. He created an alternative conservative movement which won the most votes in parliament. He is also an opponent of the reform movement led by president Mohammad Khatami. He is suspected to challenge Ahmadinejad for the presidency in 2009.

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Ahmadinejad battles on the home front

From Asia Times Online.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has garnered headlines around the world for his defiance of Washington, as well as his rhetorical grandstanding on Palestinian issues, Israel and his government's alleged support of Shi'ite militias in Iraq.

Still, it appears that Iran's parliamentary elections in March will be determined less by debates over the country's foreign policy than by rising criticism of incompetence and economic mismanagement of conservatives and hardliners in the legislature and in Ahmadinejad's office.

For a full read, click here.

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Prelude to War

From Amir Taheri.

When he first provoked a confrontation with the United Nations over Iran's nuclear programme, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was visibly counting on a sharp but short clash that would strengthen the Islamic Republic in the long run.

In defiant mood, the firebrand leader based his policy on the Nietzschean dictum: What cannot kill me makes me stronger!

Mr. Taheri goes on to explain the dramatic effects sanctions are having on Iran. The only reason their economy is currently afloat is $100 per barrel oil prices. He also notes, the only thing which will stop the current crisis in Iran is,

the Islamic Republic must stop uranium enrichment and place its centrifuges under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It is clear that Ahmadinejad cannot agree to such a move.

For him to do so would be tantamount to committing political suicide.

Mr. Taheri hits the nail on the head. Almadinejad expected a swift clash with the west. President Bush and the EU have stayed in for the long term sucking the life out of the Iranian economy. Now Iranian leaders have a choice to make since Almadinejad cannot make it for himself.

But removing Ahmadinejad from power is not easy. Nor is it certain that the star-chambre of Khimeinism in Tehran could prevent the firebrand president from winning a second term.

Whether anyone likes it or not, and I certainly don't, Ahmadinejad remains popular with that shrinking constituency that still believes in the Khomeinist revolution. In the absence of normal freedoms, it is hard to establish the actual strength of that constituency.

Finally, Mr. Taheri points out the similarity between the current Iranian situation and several other countries and past leaders.

Regimes that lack domestic mechanisms for policy change are bound to have change imposed on them by external force.

Mr. Taheri seems to show that regime change in Iran can only come by external forces. Unfortunately, I believe the same.

For a full read, click here.

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Is Ahmadinejad setting a trap for Israel and the US?

From James Lewis at The American Thinker.

Like the Jedi Knights in Star Wars, much of Israel's safety depends on an absurdly small number of daring pilots and their jet planes. The Israel Air Force has managed to use that capacity with amazing skill and daring, as it showed last September when a dozen fighter bombers and support aircraft jammed Syria's Russian-supplied air defenses and destroyed a secret nuclear facility on the Euphrates river --- not far from Iran. The nature of that target has still not been revealed, but it must have been important enough to risk triggering a missile attack from Syria. That means the target was believed to be very important: most likely a joint Iranian-Syrian-North Korean nuclear facility.

Mr. Lewis believes Ahmadinejad, with Russian assistance, is attempting to trap the Israeli airforce.

The whole thing smells like an Ahmadi-Nejad shell game, with Russian help: put your nuclear materials under a dozen different giant concrete shelters, and dare the enemy to attack all of them, without knowing which one has nuke materials. All of the sites would be heavily defended with state-of-the-art Russian anti-aircraft missiles. Not just one trap for attacking aircraft, but a dozen or more.

For a full read, click here.

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