Commentary Magazine


Calling ‘Em Like You See ‘Em on the Middle East

James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations writes of the UN sanctions against Iran:

These are not the crippling sanctions that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had promised about a year ago. To the contrary. As the price of their support, veto-holding members China and Russia insisted that the resolution contain nothing that would impose broad costs on the Iranian economy — or damage Chinese and Russian commercial interests in the country.

The Obama administration calculates that even a watered-down resolution will put pressure on Tehran to return to the negotiating table. The resolution shows that the Security Council’s permanent members remain united in their demand that Iran come clean on its nuclear program, makes it harder for Iran to acquire nuclear technology, and opens the door to additional sanctions by the European Union and others.

Tehran will likely read the resolution’s passage differently. The weaker-than-threatened sanctions came only after months of haggling, making the prospect of tougher sanctions down the road look remote. Moreover, Brazil and Turkey voted against new sanctions (and Lebanon abstained). No country had voted against any of the three previous resolutions.

So if a mainstream foreign-policy guru can readily reach this conclusion, why aren’t Jewish groups sounding the alarm? It’s because they have bought into a strategy — or rather refuse to give up on a strategy — which amounts to “don’t annoy those in power.” That works fine when those in power have pro-Israel instincts and a basic understanding of the history and motivations of the players in the Middle East. However, with this administration, it is counterproductive — if not disastrous — both for the course of American foreign policy and for the reputation and integrity of pro-Israel groups. The inevitable result is to ignore bad news, cheer the unacceptable, and provide cover for an administration badly in need of scrutiny.

In sum, if the CFR refuses to make excuses for the administration, why should American Jewish groups? The former is rightly concerned with maintaining its intellectual credibility; the latter should start being so.