Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Iran

Ron Paul's grandfatherly advice for Iowans

Ron Paul in Iowa
Ron Paul's going to win in Iowa. Mitt Romney's going to win the GOP presidential nomination. Newt Gingrich is going to blow his stack.

There. Now you don't have to pay attention for the next few months to the Republican presidential race.

But you will. And so will I. Why?  Because it's like watching a car wreck: You know what's going to happen, but you can't turn away.

Plus, because one of the "drivers" is Ron Paul, it heightens the surreal aspect of it all. It's as if your eccentric grandfather suddenly ran for president, and people actually started paying attention to what he said.

For Paul, no problem is so complex that there isn't a simple solution. Take this excerpt from a Times story Wednesday on a speech he gave in Iowa:

He drew applause for his attacks on foreign aid and overseas entanglements ("Stop the wars. Stop the spending. Bring our troops home"), a federal government assault on individual liberty ("I'd like to repeal the Patriot Act."), big banks ("The people who got bailed out, they should suffer. They should go bankrupt, not us") and federal spending (cut $1 trillion at the outset and eliminate the Education Department and other federal agencies).

Forget 100 days. President Paul would solve our nation's problems by lunch on the first day. Wonder what he'd find to do by the end of the week?

But Romney isn't taking any chances. Ever the daring campaigner, he took after Paul over his stance on --  Iran. Romney said he believes Tehran poses a great security threat, despite what a certain unnamed rival (Paul) says.

He made his comments at a coffee shop in Muscatine, Iowa. I'm sure it set the place abuzz. Having once worked in Iowa, I can tell you from personal experience that the folks there are mighty concerned about Iran, its leadership, its pursuit of nuclear weapons and so on.  Those kind of stories are usually high up on the radio and TV news shows, right after pork belly prices, beef prices, the grain report and the weather.

As for Gingrich, he was somewhat less subtle about Paul: "I think Ron Paul's views are totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American."

Ouch. Of course, Gingrich -– or rather, a pro-Gingrich Super PAC, which he doesn't control, wink wink -- isn't much happier with Romney.  It put out a flier this week in Iowa that labels Romney  "the second most dangerous man in America." (After President Obama.)

Imagine what he'd say if he hadn't decided to run a totally positive campaign. Or what he'll say once he loses in Iowa.

But I'll let next week's winner have the final say. Call it Grandpa's thought for the day:

Paul closed his remarks by reminding Iowans that "a message is going to be sent" from next week's caucuses, the first voter test of the 2012 nomination contest.

"It's going to go one way or the other," he said.

How true.

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--Paul Whitefield

Photo: Ron Paul speaks during a campaign stop in Dubuque, Iowa, earlier this month. Credit: Charlie Riedel / Associated Press

New U.S. bomb gives Iran something to think about

Massive Ordnance Penetrator

Remember "the mother of all bombs"?

Well, there's a whole new mama in town.

The Air Force's Massive Ordnance Penetrator, developed by Boeing, is more than 20 feet long, weighs in at 30,000 pounds (by comparison, the "mother" GBU-43 MOAB is a trim 22,600 pounds) and is packed with 5,300 pounds of explosives.

The  Air Force ordered 20, at a total cost of $314 million, and started taking delivery in September.

The Massive Ordnance Penetrator (wonder if anyone calls it the MOP?) has one job: pulverize underground enemy hide-outs.

Hmmm, wonder which country we don't like that has stuff hidden in underground bunkers?

From Times staff writer W.J. Hennigan's story:

"The Massive Ordnance Penetrator is a weapon system designed to accomplish a difficult, complicated mission of reaching and destroying our adversaries' weapons of mass destruction located in well-protected facilities," Lt. Col. Melinda F. Morgan, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Experts took note of the fact that the military disclosed delivery of the new bunker-busting bomb less than a week after a United Nations agency warned that Iran was secretly working to develop a nuclear weapon. That country is known to have hidden nuclear complexes that are fortified with steel and concrete, and buried under mountains.

This week, Times columnist Doyle McManus wrote that both President Obama and his Republican rivals  have made similar statements on Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon:

Obama and all the likely Republican nominees for president have long said they consider a nuclear-capable Iran unacceptable. There's no wiggle room in that word; no president could back down from that warning without major damage to U.S. influence.

Obama has favored sanctions. The GOP's Mitt Romney has offered saber-rattling, writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he said that "I won't let Iran get nukes."

Romney's prescription? Increase military aid to Israel and send more ships to the Persian Gulf to convince Iran that when the United States threatens to use force, it means it.

But as McManus points out:

If the Iranians called his bluff, a President Romney would all too quickly face that same stark choice: go to war, or back down.

Which is when, yes, the MOP might come in really handy.

But would we use it? Should we use it?

No one can say now, of course.  But certainly the option of a non-nuclear weapon with such destructive power seems a sensible precaution. 

Iran's leaders now know that their nuclear facilities are at risk. That, coupled with sanctions, might persuade them to abandon their efforts to build the bomb.

If not? Well, then the United States has one big saber it can rattle.

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--Paul Whitefield

Image: An artist's rendering of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 30,000-pound bomb. Credit: Boeing Co.

Iraq is 'liberated' enough. Goodbye and good riddance

Iraqi woman
Want a brief history of the Iraq War?  Here it is, in two quotes:

"I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators."  — Vice President Dick Cheney, "Meet the Press," Sunday, March 16, 2003.

"I was so happy to hear that the Americans are leaving our country. They destroyed our country. They created so much tension among Iraqis." — Firs Fertusi, a former fighter in the now-disbanded Mahdi Army, Los Angeles Times, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011.

All the costs — the more than 4,000 American casualties, the untold thousands of Iraqis killed, the billions of dollars spent, the ascendancy of Iran — are reflected in the yawning gap between Cheney's unbridled confidence on the eve of war and the grim reality of what happened.

In the end, not even really a "thank you."  Rather, it's more, "Don't let the door hit you in the behind on the way out."

So a Democratic president is ending a Republican president's war — a war based on faulty intelligence at best and lies at worst. And as my colleague Paul Thornton pointed out, today's GOP presidential candidates are using that decision to withdraw all U.S. troops by year's end to try to score cheap political points. 

How cheap? Consider this.  These same candidates have no problem vowing to overturn "Obamacare" if they are elected.  So if they really disagree with Obama's decision to withdraw  U.S. troops, all they have to do is say that on the stump:  "If elected, I'll send U.S. troops back to Iraq."

I wouldn't hold my breath for that one, though.

Yes, Iran's influence in the region is growing.  And yes, it's possible that Iraq's government won't be pro-U.S.

It's also likely that Islamist parties in Iraq, as well as elsewhere in the Middle East, will gain from the Arab Spring revolts and the toppling of Libya's Moammar Kadafi.  (For a good analysis of that, check out Doyle McManus' column in Sunday’s Times.

But let's face facts.  The U.S. is stretched militarily by the war in Afghanistan. Our economy is struggling. If, as some Republicans in Congress insist, even domestic programs such as disaster aid must be paid for by cuts in other programs, how can the GOP possibly call for continuing a costly military presence in a country that doesn't even want us there?

The bottom line: We weren't seen as liberators. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has a functioning government.

Enough is enough. It's time for us to go. 

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— Paul Whitefield

Photo: A woman walks near the site of a car bomb attack in Baghdad on June 20, 2010. Credit: Hadi Mizban / Associated Press

Agreeing with Ahmadinejad

Ahmadinejad

In his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad  cemented his reputation for craziness by railing about "hidden elements" in 9/11, an event he described as "mysterious."  For good measure, he assailed Western media who "threaten anyone who questions the Holocaust and the Sept. 11 event with sanctions and military actions."

Given Ahmadinejad's other views, it's not surprising that he's a 9/11 "truther." What is surprising is how many Americans agree with him.  A 2006 poll by Scripps-Howard News Service found that 36% of Americans considered it "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that government officials either allowed the attacks to be carried out or carried out the attacks themselves.

Wonder what Ahmadinejad thinks about President Obama's birth certificate?

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--Michael McGough

Photo: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses the 66th session of the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday. Credit: Richard Drew / Associated Press

Most commented: Those dumb Americans who went hiking in Iran

Sarah ShourdFor her Thursday column, Meghan Daum writes about the American hikers who were imprisoned in 2009 when they accidentally found themselves on the wrong side of the Iran-Iraq border. More to the point, Daum talks about the contempt for these three hikers, who're perceived by some as careless, entitled and arrogant liberals. One hiker, Sarah Shourd, was released in September, but her companions Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal are still detained in Tehran, with no end in sight. To revive interest in their release, Shourd is promoting a "rolling hunger strike," which has drummed up attention but also has agitated what Daum calls the "hiker haters."

Here's Daum, in defense of the hikers:

As locals have explained to reporters, venturing beyond the waterfall was nearly unheard of. The trio's decision to do it anyway represents not just a spirit of adventure but what seems like a particularly American form of hubris, one that, ironically enough, is common to those with an interest in defying the "ugly American" stereotype. They're the types who learn the native language and never take organized tours, the types who smile politely at photos from your Princess cruise and then whip out a snapshot they took of child soldiers in Sierra Leone.

So is hiker hate about blue versus red politics? About America-right-or-wrong patriotism? Or maybe the annoying earnestness of UC Berkeley graduates (Cat Stevens doesn't help).

To some extent, sure, but I think deep down it's it's about justifying the American reluctance to travel outside our comfort zones.

And here are the "hiker haters." From our discussion board:

My grandfather had a saying: "If you decide to lay down on railroad tracks, don't act surprised if you get hit by a train."

Bauer, Fattal and Shourd behaved irresponsibly and stupidly, and then acted surprised when something bad happened. What's next on their agenda... fly fishing in North Korea? 

--tomdavis


You missed the point.  The issue is self-responsibility.  Someone who goes hiking in a war zone where they are in close proximity to a police state runs the risk and bears the responsibility for their actions.  Don't come crying to us if you get thrown in prison and used as pawns by zealots.  As you raised the red-blue issue, we'll note that conservatives believe in self-responsibility while liberals tend to look for others to blame. 

It is what it is.

-- TimBowman


Hunkered down, and afraid of losing their jobs to outsourcing to exotic locales in Thailand or India, some Americans may see these hikers as "elitists" who should be pursuing jobs and careers and families, buying American-made cars, and eating at McDonalds.  Love of conspiracy theories also seems to be part of this picture.

-- stephesthe


While I don't think they were CIA operatives sneaking into Iran as part of some big conspiracy.  I do think they were a little irresponsible being in the area in the first place.  There is a war going on in Iraq and the Iranians hate us and they state that fact on a daily basis.  You would think, taking a hike along a trail between the previously listed would not be such a good idea.  It would be like me packing up the family and heading down to Juarez for a weeklong vacation.  I am sure that I could go if I really wanted to, but it wouldn't be a very smart idea.

-- abo42000


Three American Jews vacationing in Iraq?  And then klutzing their way over the Iranian border?  I'm sorry, but the word "morons" forces its way to the surface.  Talk about needlessly sticking one's head into the lion's mouth.  And they thought they were immune because they are Americans?  Such mindless arrogance, these people need their heads examined.

--789012


"The trio's decision to do it anyway represents...a spirit of adventure...defying the 'ugly American' stereotype. They're the types who learn the native language and never take organized tours..."

I don't hate the hikers, but I do find it irritating that Daum cannot seem to resist the temptation to romanticize their reckless stupidity.

It is patently absurd to refer to the $500,000 payment to the Iranian government on behalf of Shourd as "bail", because everybody KNOWS what it really was: a ransom, which means the remaining two hikers are hostages.  Had she returned for trial, thus forcing the Iranian government to return the "bail", what do you suppose the likelihood of an acquittal would have been?

The Iranian government has, in the past, captured British sailors in Iraqi waters and held THEM as hostages.  This is the same theocracy that held 52 members of the American embassy in Tehran hostage for 444 days.   What made these three misguided souls think they would be treated any differently?

Iran is one of only a few self-described enemies of the United States.  If you are an American bent on indulging in nature hikes near the Iranian border, you'd better make damned sure you know where the border is and not cross it.

THAT is the lesson that needs to be instilled into the minds of the bewildered here, nothing more. 

-- GregMaragos

*Spelling errors in the above comments were corrected.

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Photo: Sarah Shourd speaks to the media in Oakland on Oct. 9, 2010. Shourd and Bauer, on right behind her, are engaged. Credit: Dino Vournas / AP Photo, File

Air traffic controllers: The Assyrian fix for the late-night blues

Air Traffic Controller What does the Royal Game of Ur have to do with America's air traffic controllers? More than you might think.

Actually, first you're probably asking:  What the heck is the Royal Game of Ur?  So here's a history lesson, just in case you were asleep the day your college professor covered Ur: 

The Royal Game of Ur, also known as the Game of Twenty Squares, was widely played in the ancient world. It's basically a board game with dice and tokens. A famous example is found in the British Museum. As the museum's website explains:

This game board is one of several with a similar layout found by Leonard Woolley in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. The wood had decayed but the inlay of shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli survived in position so that the original shape could be restored. The board has twenty squares made of shell:  Five squares each have flower rosettes, 'eyes', and circled dots. The remaining five squares have various designs of five dots. According to references in ancient documents, two players competed to race their pieces from one end of the board to another. Pieces were allowed on to the board at the beginning only with specific throws of the dice. We also know that rosette spaces were lucky.

Examples of this 'Game of Twenty Squares' date from about 3000 BC to the first millennium AD and are found widely from the eastern Mediterranean and Egypt to India.

What the British Museum also has (among so many treasures it makes you tired just thinking of them) are the "colossal winged bulls from the Palace of Sargon II."

These "human-headed winged bulls [are] magical figures which once guarded an entrance to the citadel of the Assyrian king Sargon II (721-705 BC)."

Trust me, they're amazing.  And trust me, I'm getting to the air traffic controllers.

A close examination of the museum's prize bulls revealed this:

Between the legs of the winged bull there is a long cuneiform inscription listing Sargon's titles, ancestry and achievements. Roughly scratched on the plinth is a grid for the 'Game of Twenty Squares', a descendant of the Royal Game of Ur. This may have been scratched in by palace guards.

Amazing. Just think:  Thousands of years ago, a couple of guys guarding Sargon II's palace scratched a game board into one of his statues.   Probably they were bored.  Probably they were just working stiffs trying to do a job. Maybe it was late at night, and they needed a way to stay awake.

And that's where today's sleeping air traffic controllers come in.  Thousands of years have gone by, yet no one today thought that maybe, if you want someone to be up all night, it would be better to give them some companionship? 

Sargon II could afford more than one guard at his palace gates.  There's a game board on a statue that proves it.  And all they had to do was keep a few gate-crashers at bay.

We have jet planes full of people hurtling toward airports, but someone thinks one guy is plenty to keep us safe?

On Sunday, the FAA announced changes to keep controllers alert on the job.   

Air traffic controllers will be required to take at least nine hours off between shifts — one more hour than the current practice — and supervisors will work more overnight hours under new rules announced Sunday.

Which is good.  But why not take a page from Sargon II and make sure that there is more than one controller in a tower? 

Heck, we could even let them play the Royal Game of Ur.  The British Museum has an online version.

Who knows, it might even be better than the movie that one controller was caught watching  instead of doing his job.   

 -- Paul Whitefield

Photo: An air traffic controller in a terminal radar approach control room in Peachtree City, Ga. Credit: David Goldman / Associated Press / April 18, 2011

Evading the I-word

The Washington Times on Friday has an interesting story about the Obama administration's assiduous avoidance of the terms "Islam," "Islamic" and "Islamist" in two studies of the threat  from terrorists. I know: Consider the source. Conservatives have been railing forever about President Obama's aversion to calling a Muslim a Muslim in discussions of the war on terror. But it's still a fascinating factoid.

I think terms like "Islamofascism" are ahistorical as well as inflammatory. All analogies limp, including the comparison George W. Bush tried to draw between Osama bin Laden and Hitler. It's also true that we are not at war against Islam and that the omission of "Islamic" from official descriptions of terrorist isn't at all misleading. We know who's being talked about, and they aren't Catholics or Scientologists.

Moreover, there is danger of giving aid and comfort to patriotic Americans like the evangelist Franklin Graham, who once said:   "The God of Islam is not the same God of the Christian or the Judeo-Christian faith. It is a different God, and I believe a very evil and a very wicked religion." (He later "clarified" his position in a statement that suggested that some of his best friends were Muslims!)

Still,  there ought to a way to acknowledge that the fundamentalism that drives the terrorists we're most afraid of is Islamic fundamentalism -- without encouraging the notion that Islam is the enemy or that most Muslims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. If nothing else, it would silence conservatives who insist that Obama is clueless about the war on terror.

--Michael McGough

Another sign of desperation in Tehran: 'Neda's killing was staged'

MahmoudThe Times editorialized last week that the killings of Iranian opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi's nephew and several other opposition signal how increasingly desperate the Tehran regime is in stopping opposition forces. How quickly the government provides another example of its desperation:

Iranian state television has made a documentary about the death of Neda Agha Soltan, a young Iranian woman who was shot dead during the June postelection protests in Tehran, suggesting she was an agent of the United States and Britain who staged her own death. ...

The state-television documentary suggests the video of Neda's dying moments merely depicted her pouring blood on her own face from a special bottle she was carrying. Later, the documentary alleges that 27-year-old Neda was shot dead in the car that was taking her to a hospital. ...

"While Neda is [pretending] she is injured and is lying on the back seat of the car on their lap, they bring out a handgun from their pockets," the documentary's narrator says.

"A handgun that they obtained from their Western and Iranian friends to water the tree of reforms and kill people and create divisions within society. Neda, for a moment, realizes their wicked plan and struggles to escape, but they quickly shoot her from behind."

The narrator adds that this is how "deceived and deceitful" Neda was killed.

This kind of farcical propaganda -- and this is an especially gruesome example -- reminds me of some of communist Eastern Europe's greatest hits, namely, calling the Berlin Wall the "Anti-Fascist Protection Wall." (Remember that the East German government, too, resorted to such a measure at a moment of desperation, when Easterners were fleeing West in great numbers.)

Historical comparisons aside, Tehran will also put five protesters arrested during last week's demonstrations on trial for warring against God, a charge that carries an automatic death sentence upon conviction. In addition, several members of the Bahai faith, which is outlawed in Iran, were arrestedbecause "they played a role in organizing the Ashura protests and namely for having sent abroad pictures of the unrest," according to Tehran's prosecutor general.

The question, of course, is whether the regime's actions will have a chilling effect on opposition forces. The killing of Mousavi's nephew certainly didn't scare away protesters, and as The Times' editorial notes, the pro-reform movement "appears to have grown into a politically and geographically diverse grass-roots uprising. Its challenge of the election results has expanded into a challenge to the very legitimacy of the Islamic government." Best of luck (but not, really) fighting against that.

-- Paul Thornton

Photo: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Credit: Farnood / Sipa.

In today's pages: healthcare bill deals, a tarmac deadline and President Obama's rhetoric

Benson In exchange for his deciding vote on the Senate's healthcare bill, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) managed to insert some language giving his home state and one of its insurance companies special treatment. Such carve-outs are routinely granted to lawmakers whose votes are considered crucial, but just because the practice is common doesn't mean we have to like it, The Times concludes.

Today's editorial page also weighs in on the Department of Transportation's new order that airlines must unload passengers from planes delayed on the tarmac for more than three hours, a simplistic solution to a complex problem that in some cases will only worsen delays. And Times editorial page editor Nicholas Goldberg recalls the time in 1997 when he tried to get an interview with recently deceased Iranian cleric Hossein Ali Montazeri.

On the Op-Ed page, columnist Jonah Goldberg explains why President Obama has already proved to be a failure: His accomplishments haven't come close to living up to his change-the-world rhetoric.

Biographer Sally Denton, meanwhile, tells the story of Helen Gahagan Douglas, a California candidate for U.S. Senate in 1950 who blazed a trail for prominent female politicians such as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin, only to run up against the ferocious chauvinism of Richard Nixon. And former Times staff writer Jocelyn Stewart pens an ode to newspaper delivery drivers like her father, Simeon Stewart.

Cartoon by Lisa Benson / Washington Post Writers Group

In today's pages: LAUSD, Guantanamo detainees and fig trees

Fig tree

The Times editorial board laments the departure of Guy Mehula, the man who oversaw the recent surge construction for the Los Angeles Unified School District. That program operated with an efficiency and competence rarely found at LAUSD, the board asserts, and those qualities are threatened by Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines' reported plans to supervise the unit more closely:

It's not a coincidence that Mehula's division has operated with an unusual amount of independence and freedom from school board politics and central office bureaucracy. Mehula's resignation on Monday, and the loss of a measure of that independence, are discouraging signs not only for the future of school construction but for the district as a whole.

Elsewhere on the editorial page, the board defends Facebook's handling of a user-generated poll asking whether President Obama should be assassinated. And it urges lawmakers to grow spines and stop blocking the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to maximum security federal prisons in the U.S.

On the Op-Ed side of the fold, columnist Tim Rutten runs through the list of policy challenges facing President Obama -- the jobless recovery, rising health insurance premiums, the war in Afghanistan, the Iranian leadership's nuclear ambitions -- and finds no easy choices. Nina Hachigian, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, says the Chinese government is sending mixed signals about its willingness to play ball with international organizations to address global problems: And writer Kathryn Wilkens of Upland muses about the life and death of the mission fig tree that had anchored her garden for decades:

My fig tree was flawed but beautiful in its own way. It didn't reach for the sky; the four main branches were almost parallel to the earth. But its gnarly gray bark and long branches gave it an elephantine dignity. And, like an elephant, it never forgot -- each June and August, it produced hundreds of figs.

Insert your ironic comment about this article appearing in dead tree media here.

Illustration: Blair Thornley / For The Times

-- Jon Healey

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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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