Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 28, 2012

Obama Falling for Iran Deception Again?

During the last decade both the Obama administration and its predecessor went down the garden path with Iran several times. Yet every time Washington believed the Islamist regime was finally embracing diplomacy and that a solution to the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions was imminent, the ayatollahs pulled the rug out from under its gullible Western adversaries. This has happened so many times that one would think it would be impossible for the Iranians to pull off this trick again, but it appears that the United States is about to play Charlie Brown to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Lucy Van Pelt and her football again.

Using its usual anonymous sources within the Obama administration, the New York Times is claiming that Iran has sent a clear signal to the West that it is ready negotiate about its nuclear program. The paper reports that according to unnamed government officials Iran has slowed down its enrichment of uranium in recent months. The use of what is described as a “significant amount” of material for a small medical reactor may affect Iran’s nuclear timetable. This has led the U.S. to believe that the Iranians are sending a signal to the West that they are ready to negotiate rather than to continue to stonewall the world on the issue:

One American official said the move amounted to trying to “put more time on the clock to solve this,” characterizing it as a step “you have to assume was highly calculated, because everything the Iranians do in a negotiation is highly calculated.”

No doubt it was calculated, but there is plenty of reason to doubt that calculation has anything to do with a desire to negotiate an end to their program—the goal that President Obama said was the only sort of compromise he would accept during his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney.

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During the last decade both the Obama administration and its predecessor went down the garden path with Iran several times. Yet every time Washington believed the Islamist regime was finally embracing diplomacy and that a solution to the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions was imminent, the ayatollahs pulled the rug out from under its gullible Western adversaries. This has happened so many times that one would think it would be impossible for the Iranians to pull off this trick again, but it appears that the United States is about to play Charlie Brown to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Lucy Van Pelt and her football again.

Using its usual anonymous sources within the Obama administration, the New York Times is claiming that Iran has sent a clear signal to the West that it is ready negotiate about its nuclear program. The paper reports that according to unnamed government officials Iran has slowed down its enrichment of uranium in recent months. The use of what is described as a “significant amount” of material for a small medical reactor may affect Iran’s nuclear timetable. This has led the U.S. to believe that the Iranians are sending a signal to the West that they are ready to negotiate rather than to continue to stonewall the world on the issue:

One American official said the move amounted to trying to “put more time on the clock to solve this,” characterizing it as a step “you have to assume was highly calculated, because everything the Iranians do in a negotiation is highly calculated.”

No doubt it was calculated, but there is plenty of reason to doubt that calculation has anything to do with a desire to negotiate an end to their program—the goal that President Obama said was the only sort of compromise he would accept during his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney.

The diversion to the medical reactor was reportedly the reason why Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak thought that the deadline for stopping Iran had been moved back to late spring/early summer 2013. But since even according to these estimates Iran will have enough fuel for a weapon in only a few months, that doesn’t really alter President Obama’s dilemma.

The international sanctions imposed on Iran have created a great deal of pain for ordinary Iranians but haven’t altered the regime’s determination to press ahead toward a nuclear weapon one jot. The increased pace of enrichment and the move of most of their material to a hardened underground mountain facility at Fordow have been a flagrant demonstration of the regime’s contempt for the West’s calls for them to stop. In this context, the diversion to the medical reactor seems more like a tactical move designed to generate more U.S. confidence in diplomacy—boosted by articles in the Times—then a strategic decision to back away from their nuclear goal. If so, it has achieved exactly what they wanted at the cost of only a slight delay in their schedule.

So long as the administration and its European allies are convinced their diplomatic efforts have hope—no matter how faint or unrealistic that hope might be—the Iranians can rest assured that there is little danger of the president making good on his promise to do whatever it is necessary in order to forestall this threat.

After so many examples in recent years of Iran gulling the West on this issue, it is difficult to understand why the administration would even think about falling for the same trick again. The only possible reason to grasp onto such a hope would be the fact that neither the president nor any of his current foreign policy team or their second-term replacements are really interested in a confrontation with Tehran even over an issue as serious as this.

That’s why, as was the case in the past with similar diplomatic dead-ends pursued by first the George W. Bush administration and then its successor, a willingness to believe in the possibility of a diplomatic opening with Iran has more to do with a desire to punt on the issue rather than any sincere belief that a deal is even possible. It remains to be seen whether President Obama really means what he says about keeping all options on the table if diplomacy with Iran conclusively fails. But so long as his administration is determined to fall for every  Iranian  deception, there is little likelihood that promise will ever be put to the test until it is already too late to do anything about the threat.

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Senate GOP to Hold Kerry Confirmation Until Clinton Testifies?

Hillary Clinton is returning to work next week, and apparently some Senate Republicans are considering holding John Kerry’s confirmation vote hostage unless she testifies on Benghazi. Sounds to me like an empty threat, but over to Josh Rogin

Clinton has pledged to remain in the job until Kerry is confirmed, which Obama said he was confident would happen “quickly.” The Senate is expected to take up Kerry’s nomination in early January, but multiple Republican senators have already said they won’t agree to a vote on Kerry’s nomination until Clinton testifies about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Illness and a concussion has prevented Clinton from appearing thus far.

For the sake of accountability, Clinton should testify—but to be honest, she probably wouldn’t add much more than what her deputies have already said. The real benefit of her testimony for Republicans would be that she might say something self-incriminating that could be used when she runs for president in 2016. She probably knows this, which is why she’d be crazy to do it unless she’s compelled to. After all, if the GOP wants her to testify badly enough, the House foreign affairs committee can always issue a subpoena.

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Hillary Clinton is returning to work next week, and apparently some Senate Republicans are considering holding John Kerry’s confirmation vote hostage unless she testifies on Benghazi. Sounds to me like an empty threat, but over to Josh Rogin

Clinton has pledged to remain in the job until Kerry is confirmed, which Obama said he was confident would happen “quickly.” The Senate is expected to take up Kerry’s nomination in early January, but multiple Republican senators have already said they won’t agree to a vote on Kerry’s nomination until Clinton testifies about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Illness and a concussion has prevented Clinton from appearing thus far.

For the sake of accountability, Clinton should testify—but to be honest, she probably wouldn’t add much more than what her deputies have already said. The real benefit of her testimony for Republicans would be that she might say something self-incriminating that could be used when she runs for president in 2016. She probably knows this, which is why she’d be crazy to do it unless she’s compelled to. After all, if the GOP wants her to testify badly enough, the House foreign affairs committee can always issue a subpoena.

Republicans have already used up a lot of their chips opposing Susan Rice and Chuck Hagel, so it seems like an overreach to try to tinker with Kerry’s nomination, too. Plus, I find it hard to believe there’s much support for this idea among Senate Republicans. Senate Republicans were the ones lobbying for Kerry’s nomination. They already have their scalp from Susan Rice. Why fritter away a victory by choosing a fight they’d probably lose?

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Cliff Deal Could Shift Public Opinion

If reports filtering out of Washington are to be believed there is a fair chance that a compromise will be reached sometime over the next three days that will head off the most unpopular aspect of the impending financial crisis: across the board tax increases for all Americans. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the compromise which may be crafted between the White House and the leaders of the House and Senate will avoid dealing with the spending cuts mandated by the sequestration process including devastating decreases for the nation’s defense.

President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have given every indication that they think it is in their interest to see the nation head over the fiscal cliff making any sort of compromise appear like a last minute rescue no matter how unfortunate its terms might be. Most Americans are of the opinion that any deal that would limit the scope of a tax increase is better than no action at all. They are right about that but the fact that it appears impossible to do anything about spending either in the short term or the long right now represents a massive failure on the part of the government. While up until now much of the public still appears to be blaming the mess on recalcitrant Republicans who oppose any tax increases, the unwillingness of the president and Senate Democrats to budge on entitlement spending even in the shadow of potential disaster may eventually lead to a shift in opinion.

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If reports filtering out of Washington are to be believed there is a fair chance that a compromise will be reached sometime over the next three days that will head off the most unpopular aspect of the impending financial crisis: across the board tax increases for all Americans. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the compromise which may be crafted between the White House and the leaders of the House and Senate will avoid dealing with the spending cuts mandated by the sequestration process including devastating decreases for the nation’s defense.

President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have given every indication that they think it is in their interest to see the nation head over the fiscal cliff making any sort of compromise appear like a last minute rescue no matter how unfortunate its terms might be. Most Americans are of the opinion that any deal that would limit the scope of a tax increase is better than no action at all. They are right about that but the fact that it appears impossible to do anything about spending either in the short term or the long right now represents a massive failure on the part of the government. While up until now much of the public still appears to be blaming the mess on recalcitrant Republicans who oppose any tax increases, the unwillingness of the president and Senate Democrats to budge on entitlement spending even in the shadow of potential disaster may eventually lead to a shift in opinion.

If some sort of narrow deal is reached in the coming days, it will make it all the more necessary for Republicans to be even more determined to do something about spending in January. It is at that point that an overconfident President Obama may discover that once he has his long sought after tax hike on the wealthy, the GOP stand against more government spending may start looking a lot more reasonable to most Americans.

The president has been able to demagogue the issue of the rich paying what he says is their fair share and thereby avoided being held accountable for the massive increase in the national debt on his watch. Yet once taxes cease to be the sticking point, it will be difficult if not impossible for him and his party to use the soak-the-rich theme to evade a discussion about how to pay for out-of-control entitlement spending.

House Speaker John Boehner seemed to lose control of the Republican caucus last week in a battle in which conservatives opposed to a tax increase on anyone were numerous enough to prevent his Plan B compromise from passing. That was a blow to his prestige and leadership. But in the coming weeks he could recoup his losses as a united GOP will have the chance to stand up to the Democrats on entitlement reform.

It is that prospect of a new debate in which he will no longer be able to rely on the hoary claims of fairness that Obama rightly fears. It can only be hoped that there are enough Democrats in the House and the Senate who are sufficiently concerned about the impact of the fiscal cliff on their constituents in order to override the desire of the president and Reid to send the country over it.

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