Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 24, 2013

Countdown to the Iranian Bomb?

USA Today has published a frightening story this evening that suggests Iranian centrifuges are so numerous and so technologically able that it would take no more than a month for the country to go nuclear once it decides to do so. The details are here. The story has to be seen as part of the struggle in Washington between senators who want to stiffen sanctions against Iran and the Obama administration, which is so intent on its outreach to the mullah regime that it stands opposed to toughening the sanctions regime until after new negotiations begin next month. Remember that the president has said on numerous occasions that Iran cannot be allowed to get the bomb.

You might say it’s a real red line for him.

 

USA Today has published a frightening story this evening that suggests Iranian centrifuges are so numerous and so technologically able that it would take no more than a month for the country to go nuclear once it decides to do so. The details are here. The story has to be seen as part of the struggle in Washington between senators who want to stiffen sanctions against Iran and the Obama administration, which is so intent on its outreach to the mullah regime that it stands opposed to toughening the sanctions regime until after new negotiations begin next month. Remember that the president has said on numerous occasions that Iran cannot be allowed to get the bomb.

You might say it’s a real red line for him.

 

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The Bizarro Doctrine

American foreign policy in the Middle East has now entered Bizarro World–a place made humorously famous by comedian Jerry Seinfeld, describing a parallel universe where “up is down, down is up,” and where the opposite of what one expects occurs. Seinfeld was riffing off the comic book character Bizarro, the parallel character to Superman, who lived on a strange planet called Htrae (Earth spelled backwards).

Well, welcome to the Elddim Tsae. It’s a place where long-standing state sponsors of terrorism Iran, Syria, and Sudan are basking in the warmth of America’s evolving Middle East policies, while long-standing American allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and others are increasingly sidelined.

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American foreign policy in the Middle East has now entered Bizarro World–a place made humorously famous by comedian Jerry Seinfeld, describing a parallel universe where “up is down, down is up,” and where the opposite of what one expects occurs. Seinfeld was riffing off the comic book character Bizarro, the parallel character to Superman, who lived on a strange planet called Htrae (Earth spelled backwards).

Well, welcome to the Elddim Tsae. It’s a place where long-standing state sponsors of terrorism Iran, Syria, and Sudan are basking in the warmth of America’s evolving Middle East policies, while long-standing American allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and others are increasingly sidelined.

Iran, a country that has sponsored nearly every terrorist group on the planet and is now hurtling toward a nuclear weapon, is the biggest winner in the Elddim Tsae. Newly elected President Hassan Rouhani has Washington eating out of his hands after a charm offensive consisting of 140-character vows promising moderation, even as his boss, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, keeps the centrifuges spinning. The Obama administration is now mulling a grand nuclear bargain, which will provide Iran sanctions relief in exchange for vague promises of change.

Syria is also benefiting from America’s Bizarro Doctrine. In the span of days, America went from threatening punitive strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s regime for launching a chemical-weapons attack on his own people to enlisting Assad as a partner in his own disarmament, and then praising him for compliance he has yet to deliver on. Even if Assad does fully disarm, he will effectively have a green light to get back to the business of mowing down the Syrian opposition, which fights to end his family’s decades-long dictatorship.

Then there is Sudan, where the leadership has been indicted for genocide and which provided a headquarters to al-Qaeda in the 1990s. Khartoum is now indicating that ties with Washington are warming. This comes after two cordial meetings between Sudan’s foreign minister and Secretary of State John Kerry, first in New York and then Washington.

On the flip side of our parallel universe is Saudi Arabia. Admittedly, Riyadh is more of a frenemy. But America’s Saudi policy, designed to maintain good ties to the ruling family and access to an affordable and steady supply of their oil, has never wavered–until now. Riyadh is outwardly displeased with America’s warming ties to its arch-foe Iran, with fears that an ascendant Iran could pose a direct threat to the Kingdom’s stability. Washington’s recent lifeline to Syria, after months of calling for Assad’s removal, also has the Saudis seething.

Turkey and Qatar, it should be noted, are equally vexed by Washington’s Syria policy, prompting both countries to consider charting their own courses, which may involve the co-opting of jihadi groups to fight the Assad regime.

Egypt, another ally of the United States, has also recently fallen victim to the Bizarro Doctrine. To be sure, Egypt has brought many of its problems upon itself. The military’s toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was not its finest moment. But Washington has now taken it upon itself to cut aid to Egypt, dismantling an alliance that could require years to properly rebuild.

Then there is Israel, which is reeling from America’s decision to cut aid to Egypt. That aid was a cornerstone of the 1978 Camp David Accords, a peace agreement that has kept Israel’s southern flank quiet since the Accords were inked. It now is entirely unclear whether Cairo will want to uphold that agreement. The Israelis are further unnerved by America’s backtracking on Syria, particularly after Washington enlisted its help in calling for military intervention. And finally, the rapprochement with Iran has the Israelis wondering whether America will have its back when Tehran invariably makes that final dash for the bomb.

Fittingly, Bizarro World was first depicted by DC Comics in 1960. Today, Washington D.C. has become a parallel universe of a superpower’s foreign policies of the past.

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Nixon’s Ghost and the Specter of Hypocrisy

In August 2008, the New York Times checked in on the celebrities expected to attend the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions, and came to an unsurprising tally: “When it comes to big name entertainment and partying, it looks like the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month might have an edge over the Republican gathering in St. Paul in early September.”

One of the many stars lining up on the Democratic side to spread the gospel of Barack was the actor Maggie Gyllenhaal, who continued to support President Obama in his bid for reelection again four years later. But Gyllenhaal is suddenly not so enthusiastic about the government. She is unnerved by the revelations about the NSA, and has joined an organization to rally this weekend called Stop Watching Us. She and other Hollywood celebrities, such as John Cusack, released a promotional video, which the ACLU is enthusiastically sharing. There’s one curious element to the video, however: it targets, repeatedly, one president: Richard Nixon.

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In August 2008, the New York Times checked in on the celebrities expected to attend the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions, and came to an unsurprising tally: “When it comes to big name entertainment and partying, it looks like the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month might have an edge over the Republican gathering in St. Paul in early September.”

One of the many stars lining up on the Democratic side to spread the gospel of Barack was the actor Maggie Gyllenhaal, who continued to support President Obama in his bid for reelection again four years later. But Gyllenhaal is suddenly not so enthusiastic about the government. She is unnerved by the revelations about the NSA, and has joined an organization to rally this weekend called Stop Watching Us. She and other Hollywood celebrities, such as John Cusack, released a promotional video, which the ACLU is enthusiastically sharing. There’s one curious element to the video, however: it targets, repeatedly, one president: Richard Nixon.

Now in fairness, the video also includes appearances and commentary by Oliver Stone, so perhaps it’s not meant to be taken seriously anyway. But it’s a good example of the cognitive dissonance this president has inspired in his followers. Nixon, who takes a starring role in the video, remains the mascot for government intrusion and overreach.

At the rally, Michigan Republican Congressman Justin Amash will join such luminaries as Noami Wolf and Dennis Kucinich to speak about the dangers of, presumably, the Nixon administration’s crackdown on domestic liberty, his failing strategy in Vietnam, his belligerence toward Cuba, and his outdated anti-Communism. Oliver Stone does not appear slated to speak at the rally, so Harry Truman will be spared the Nixon treatment.

But at least Cusack and Co.’s outrage seems genuine. While the ACLU rallies against Nixon, our allies abroad are complaining about more phone-tapping allegations, specifically against France and Germany. Marc Ambinder throws some cold water on the outrage there too:

Of course, Brazil, France, Germany, and Mexico do exactly the same thing. They want their leaders to gain a decision advantage in the give and take between countries. They want to know what U.S. policymakers will do before the Americans do it. And in the case of Brazil and France, they aggressively spy on the United States, on U.S. citizens and politicians, in order to collect that information. The difference lies in the scale of intelligence collection: The U.S. has the most effective, most distributed, most sophisticated intelligence community in the West. It is Goliath. And other countries, rightly in their mind, are envious.

“The magnitude of the eavesdropping is what shocked us,” former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France Info radio. “Let’s be honest, we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else.”

The difference, he added, is that “we don’t have the same means as the United States — which makes us jealous.”

But there’s a limit to the utility of pointing out others’ hypocrisy. A Foreign Affairs essay making the rounds today is from Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore, arguing that the real damage from the WikiLeaks and Snowden revelations is that they will expose America’s hypocrisy. And acting hypocritically, they write, is a crucial and underappreciated strategic necessity:

Of course, the United States is far from the only hypocrite in international politics. But the United States’ hypocrisy matters more than that of other countries. That’s because most of the world today lives within an order that the United States built, one that is both underwritten by U.S. power and legitimated by liberal ideas. American commitments to the rule of law, democracy, and free trade are embedded in the multilateral institutions that the country helped establish after World War II, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and later the World Trade Organization. Despite recent challenges to U.S. preeminence, from the Iraq war to the financial crisis, the international order remains an American one.

This system needs the lubricating oil of hypocrisy to keep its gears turning. To ensure that the world order continues to be seen as legitimate, U.S. officials must regularly promote and claim fealty to its core liberal principles; the United States cannot impose its hegemony through force alone. But as the recent leaks have shown, Washington is also unable to consistently abide by the values that it trumpets. This disconnect creates the risk that other states might decide that the U.S.-led order is fundamentally illegitimate.

I remain skeptical, however. It’s not just that our allies act hypocritically; it’s that they want us to act hypocritically. If nations cater first and foremost to their interests, then they care about the policies of the United States, not the gap between public rhetoric and action. The same is true for the domestic audience: most Americans were happy that President Obama continued many of the anti-terrorism methods used by the Bush administration, because they are vital to national security.

Obama’s hypocrisy was and continues to be noted by conservatives. But conservatives don’t oppose the policies that result from that hypocrisy, because the policies matter more than campaign promises. That is not to say that the public approves of politicians being dishonest to gain office: Obama may have genuinely thought what Bush was doing was wrong and unnecessary until he began getting intelligence briefings. Politicians who don’t have access to all the information are not liars just because they later discovered that their initial instincts were wrong.

Likewise, our allies abroad benefit tremendously from the American national-security infrastructure. They might be angered by the Snowden leaks, but that’s because they’re hypocrites too, and the leaks open them up to domestic criticism for their own hypocrisy. The leaks are plenty damaging to national security, but it’s unlikely they’re going to lose the U.S. the cooperation and support of allies who rely on American power projection and won’t presume to pretend otherwise.

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The Enduring Value of Enduring Questions

In an October 22 letter to Carole Watson, Acting Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, questions grants the agency has issued to consider questions like “What is the good life and how do I live it?” Sessions “[affirms] the value of the humanities” but insists that “care and discipline must be exercised by any government agency that decides to favor some projects over others.”

I am surprised and disappointed that a conservative who “[affirms] the value of the humanities” would target the Enduring Questions program, which supports the development of courses that enable “undergraduates and teachers to grapple with a fundamental concern of human life addressed by the humanities, and to join together in a deep and sustained program of reading in order to encounter influential thinkers over the centuries and into the present day.” In my own Enduring Questions course–“What is Love?”–which I offer at Ursinus College, students and faculty read, in their entirety, among other things, Plato’s Symposium, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and Romeo and Juliet. The grant, of a little less than $25,000, freed me up to develop, assess, and improve the course, not a part of my regular offerings as a professor in our politics department, over a two-year period.

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In an October 22 letter to Carole Watson, Acting Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, questions grants the agency has issued to consider questions like “What is the good life and how do I live it?” Sessions “[affirms] the value of the humanities” but insists that “care and discipline must be exercised by any government agency that decides to favor some projects over others.”

I am surprised and disappointed that a conservative who “[affirms] the value of the humanities” would target the Enduring Questions program, which supports the development of courses that enable “undergraduates and teachers to grapple with a fundamental concern of human life addressed by the humanities, and to join together in a deep and sustained program of reading in order to encounter influential thinkers over the centuries and into the present day.” In my own Enduring Questions course–“What is Love?”–which I offer at Ursinus College, students and faculty read, in their entirety, among other things, Plato’s Symposium, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and Romeo and Juliet. The grant, of a little less than $25,000, freed me up to develop, assess, and improve the course, not a part of my regular offerings as a professor in our politics department, over a two-year period.

My course is not an anomaly. The Enduring Questions grant program exists, as the description shows, to put students in touch with fundamental human questions and those who offer help in pursuing them. As the National Association of Scholars (NAS), an organization founded to “confront the rise of campus political correctness” has recognized, the Enduring Questions program is the opposite of politically correct because it engages students in a struggle “over the core issues of the human condition,” in “debating, weighing evidence, and conversing with others” about those issues. And as NAS President Peter Woods reminds us, the NAS journal Academic Questions includes the question how “do we recenter liberal education on the enduring questions of the human condition?” in its statement of editorial purpose. Enduring Questions is the very program critics of the politicization of higher education have been looking for.

Of course, some classes recommended by faculty review committees will fulfill the purpose of the program much better than others. But there is no question that over the history of the Enduring Questions program, more undergraduates than would otherwise have been reached have been engaged in challenging courses, asked to reflect on important, timeless questions, and encouraged to take seriously what great books have to say about them.

So when Senator Sessions asks whether $25,000 should be spent so that students can ask “what is the good life, and how do I live it?” the NEH and conservatives should, for once, be of one mind in answering “Hell yes.”

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Kerry’s Syria Conference Is Falling Apart

The desire to be a great–or at least memorable–secretary of state is a classic “be careful what you wish for” bind. When William Seward finally agreed to accept Abraham Lincoln’s offer to serve as his secretary of state, Seward told his wife “It is inevitable. I will try to save freedom and my country.” Seward thought he should have been president instead, much as James Byrnes a century later thought himself entitled to succeed FDR.

Seward is, in the end, remembered as a great secretary of state and someone who indeed at least helped save freedom and his country. But it was the Civil War, tearing the country apart, that presented the opportunity: you can’t save something that doesn’t need saving. You also can’t be “present at the creation” of a new world, as was Dean Acheson, unless the old world had crumbled at your feet. And so it is somewhat unfair to compare secretaries of state to their predecessors; yet it is also, for this reason, a red flag when secretaries of state try to “look busy” in the absence of major developments.

That is exactly what Hillary Clinton did, in racking up the miles for the sake of being able to say she racked up the miles, which stood in place of impressive accomplishments, of which she had none. And now John Kerry is doing something similar, in pushing obsessively for peace conferences that no one believes will have any impact but which will allow Kerry to have his picture taken with lots and lots of people. Unfortunately for Kerry, he can’t even do that if he throws a peace conference and no one shows up. Yochi Dreazen reports:

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The desire to be a great–or at least memorable–secretary of state is a classic “be careful what you wish for” bind. When William Seward finally agreed to accept Abraham Lincoln’s offer to serve as his secretary of state, Seward told his wife “It is inevitable. I will try to save freedom and my country.” Seward thought he should have been president instead, much as James Byrnes a century later thought himself entitled to succeed FDR.

Seward is, in the end, remembered as a great secretary of state and someone who indeed at least helped save freedom and his country. But it was the Civil War, tearing the country apart, that presented the opportunity: you can’t save something that doesn’t need saving. You also can’t be “present at the creation” of a new world, as was Dean Acheson, unless the old world had crumbled at your feet. And so it is somewhat unfair to compare secretaries of state to their predecessors; yet it is also, for this reason, a red flag when secretaries of state try to “look busy” in the absence of major developments.

That is exactly what Hillary Clinton did, in racking up the miles for the sake of being able to say she racked up the miles, which stood in place of impressive accomplishments, of which she had none. And now John Kerry is doing something similar, in pushing obsessively for peace conferences that no one believes will have any impact but which will allow Kerry to have his picture taken with lots and lots of people. Unfortunately for Kerry, he can’t even do that if he throws a peace conference and no one shows up. Yochi Dreazen reports:

Secretary of State John Kerry is at odds with several senior State Department officials over whether to press ahead with plans for a high-profile peace conference next month that is designed to put negotiators from Syria’s main opposition groups and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into the same room for the first time.

Kerry is strongly committed to holding the talks and has spent the past several days prodding key Syrian opposition figures to take part in the negotiations. But according to several senior State Department officials, some of Kerry’s top advisors believe that the conference should be called off because the most important of those opposition leaders are unlikely to come.

“The only person who wants the Geneva conference to happen is the secretary,” a senior U.S. official told The Cable. “Who’s going to show up? Will they actually represent anyone? If not, why take the risk?”

Here is a helpful hint for Kerry: if the State Department thinks a conference is useless, it’s probably useless. As the article notes, this isn’t Kerry’s fault: the splintering of the Syrian rebel factions has made it nearly impossible to provide realistic representation for the rebels at such a conference.

Even if the interests of those rebels could be represented, they would likely choose not to participate. That’s because they want Bashar al-Assad to facilitate a transitional government and then step aside. Assad won’t do that, so the rebels are being realistic: if Assad won’t give up power, what could possibly be accomplished at a conference intended to get him to voluntarily agree to give up power?

Additionally, recent events have only encouraged Assad to hold on. The American threat of force was exposed as empty: President Obama’s one-eighty on striking Syria revealed a president desperate for a way out of his own bluff. It also put Assad in control and enabled him to buy time by making the bloodthirsty tyrant a partner in ridding Syria of chemical weapons.

The rebels, then, can be forgiven for thinking the U.S. is only exacerbating their disadvantage by making Assad suddenly indispensable–or close to it. Hence the rebels’ increasing support for making a commitment to Assad’s departure a precondition for talks. If the West isn’t committed to removing Assad, what hope could the rebels possibly have for Kerry’s negotiations? It was hoped by some in the administration that Obama’s threat of force would better enable a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. But his hasty retreat from that threat had the opposite effect:

The disarray among the Syrian opposition leaves Kerry in a bind. The Obama administration has decided not to intervene militarily in Syria or make much of an effort to train or equip the rebels. U.S. backing in the peace talks is about all Washington is willing to provide. The rebel groups have to decide whether that’s enough.

Kerry’s best hope is that when presented with only one option, the rebels will take it. Officials at the State Department are being surprisingly clear-eyed about the chances the rebels will grasp at that straw, even if Kerry isn’t.

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Healthcare.gov Isn’t First Botched Government Website

Beyond the acrimony and debates about the wisdom of ObamaCare, there is bipartisan recognition that the Healthcare.gov website has been a disaster. That the government spent $500 million developing the dysfunctional site compounds the scandal, which will be examined in coming days as representatives from the companies responsible testify in Congress later today.

That the government could invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a dysfunctional website should not surprise. After all, it has done it once before. Beginning in the late 1990s, the Defense Department began investing in the Defense Travel System (DTS), a website which was to enable Defense Department travelers to book their flights, hotels, and rental cars online using pre-negotiated rates. It was supposed to save the government money since it would enable the government to cut out the middlemen otherwise aiding official travel.

By 2006, the government had spent $500 million on the system. Here is an assessment from the time, written by a young Josh Rogin:

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Beyond the acrimony and debates about the wisdom of ObamaCare, there is bipartisan recognition that the Healthcare.gov website has been a disaster. That the government spent $500 million developing the dysfunctional site compounds the scandal, which will be examined in coming days as representatives from the companies responsible testify in Congress later today.

That the government could invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a dysfunctional website should not surprise. After all, it has done it once before. Beginning in the late 1990s, the Defense Department began investing in the Defense Travel System (DTS), a website which was to enable Defense Department travelers to book their flights, hotels, and rental cars online using pre-negotiated rates. It was supposed to save the government money since it would enable the government to cut out the middlemen otherwise aiding official travel.

By 2006, the government had spent $500 million on the system. Here is an assessment from the time, written by a young Josh Rogin:

The Defense Travel System has cost taxpayers almost $500 million in the past eight years. Lawmakers are vocal critics of the program, and many Defense Department executives, travel company officials and employees who are directed to use the system are dissatisfied with it… “It’s a fiasco,” said a senior DOD official who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic. Each ticket booked through DTS requires the intervention of a commercial travel agent instead of being the touchless transaction system that DOD wanted, the senior official said. The intervention creates added fees and prevents travelers from making timely changes to existing reservations. Senior-level DOD officials are the people most affected by the transaction problems because they often travel on short notice. “You have a very dissatisfied, very senior-level user base, but you can’t change it because of the political realities,” the senior official said. Those realities include the way DOD manages the program and the contractors’ role in travel transactions.

Over the intervening seven years, the system hasn’t gotten much better. I use it frequently when I travel on government projects and, on a good day, it’s like using Expedia.com on a Commodore 64. Many military commands have had to hire permanent employees simply to handle DTS problems. Let’s put aside that tickets I could get on Expedia for $900 have cost $4,400 through the system: that’s a tremendous waste of taxpayer money but it’s more the fault of the bureaucrats who negotiate the airlines’ government contracts. Government tickets can be cancelled and changed without penalty, but simple quirks cost money: Several times I have changed or cancelled flights, only to notice that DTS rebooked the flights but charged for both new and old. Had I not pointed this out to DTS managers, the government simply would have paid the airlines double. Likewise, the DTS one-touch cancellation on travel authorizations still does not work.

Other problems are irritants: No one has updated realistic taxi fares limits in years, so what DTS allows for a taxi from Dulles airport to my home in suburban Maryland doesn’t conform to reality and regularly needs a supervisor’s override. Part of the reason it takes a huge time investment to book through DTS or file vouchers is that the system crashes inexplicably and saves work only periodically. True, unlike Healthcare.gov, DTS works at least 70 percent of the time, so I guess I should count my blessings. But I’m sure that DTS customers who read this blog can chime in with their own stories—I’ve seldom met a Defense Department employee who doesn’t have horror stories.

Why is government contracting so bad, and why does the government always settle for such sub-standard products? Here the problems are deeper. My colleague William Greenwalt last week had an insightful essay in the Wall Street Journal examining one problem, “The lunacy of fairness in government contracting.” He explains:

Earlier this year, in one of its first forays into government contracting, Amazon was awarded a large cloud-computing contract from the Central Intelligence Agency. However, IBM, one of the losing contractors, protested the award. The lawyers circled the wagons, and the Government Accountability Office overturned the contract award. What was Amazon’s mistake? It had the audacity to propose something better than what the government had originally requested. The CIA, to its credit, recognized the better solution and went for it. Isn’t that what the procurement process is supposed to do—get the best solution? Not in the Mad Hatter world of government contracting…

Healthcare.gov is a disaster. In the private sector, heads would roll if anyone spent a half billion dollars for such a dysfunctional product. That the government has now done the same thing twice, however, suggests the true fix must go beyond political posturing, and must begin to focus on some serious systematic reform.

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Israel Can’t Take Kerry at His Word on Iran

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met for seven hours with Secretary of State Kerry in Rome. Prior to the meeting, most of the speculation about it centered on whether Kerry would use the time pressuring the Israeli leader to make concessions to somehow breathe life into the peace negotiations with the Palestinians that the secretary has worked so hard to bring about. Details of the lengthy get-together are scarce. But what little we do know about it seems to indicate that most of it was spent dealing with another topic altogether: the U.S. negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

Just as it has been since the first moment President Obama entered office, the rhetoric from the administration on the issue remains solid. Kerry appears to have gone to great lengths to reassure the Israelis that they will not be sold down the river by a Western diplomatic process that has been restarted as a result of Iran’s charm offensive led by its new President Hassan Rouhani. Few Israelis or friends of Israel, even those most concerned about the administration’s eagerness to try another round of engagement with Tehran, could take issue with the statement made by Kerry prior to this meeting with Netanyahu, as reported by the Times of Israel:

“We will need to know that actions are being taken, which make it clear, undeniably clear, fail-safe to the world, that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program,” Kerry told reporters in a brief press statement at the start of the meeting, which was originally scheduled for seven hours.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” he added, echoing a statement he made earlier this month.

Netanyahu welcomed these assurances. But Israel’s problem is not eliciting strong rhetoric about the nuclear peril from Iran out of Kerry or President Obama. Rather, it is in a process that, even if successful rather than merely yet another stalling tactic on the part of the Iranians, seems geared to produce a result that will not do what Kerry says is his goal. Taking him at his word that he won’t let down his guard in talks with the Islamist regime is a meaningless exercise if the agreement Kerry is striving for won’t end the threat.

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Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met for seven hours with Secretary of State Kerry in Rome. Prior to the meeting, most of the speculation about it centered on whether Kerry would use the time pressuring the Israeli leader to make concessions to somehow breathe life into the peace negotiations with the Palestinians that the secretary has worked so hard to bring about. Details of the lengthy get-together are scarce. But what little we do know about it seems to indicate that most of it was spent dealing with another topic altogether: the U.S. negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

Just as it has been since the first moment President Obama entered office, the rhetoric from the administration on the issue remains solid. Kerry appears to have gone to great lengths to reassure the Israelis that they will not be sold down the river by a Western diplomatic process that has been restarted as a result of Iran’s charm offensive led by its new President Hassan Rouhani. Few Israelis or friends of Israel, even those most concerned about the administration’s eagerness to try another round of engagement with Tehran, could take issue with the statement made by Kerry prior to this meeting with Netanyahu, as reported by the Times of Israel:

“We will need to know that actions are being taken, which make it clear, undeniably clear, fail-safe to the world, that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program,” Kerry told reporters in a brief press statement at the start of the meeting, which was originally scheduled for seven hours.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” he added, echoing a statement he made earlier this month.

Netanyahu welcomed these assurances. But Israel’s problem is not eliciting strong rhetoric about the nuclear peril from Iran out of Kerry or President Obama. Rather, it is in a process that, even if successful rather than merely yet another stalling tactic on the part of the Iranians, seems geared to produce a result that will not do what Kerry says is his goal. Taking him at his word that he won’t let down his guard in talks with the Islamist regime is a meaningless exercise if the agreement Kerry is striving for won’t end the threat.

If Iran is allowed to go on enriching uranium and the aspects of its nuclear program that are clearly oriented toward military application, including its hardened mountainside bunkers, are not dismantled, then it will be child’s play for them to evade any promises made to the West in exchange for relaxing or dismantling the sanctions imposed on its economy.

But the U.S. is not asking for that kind of shutdown of Iran’s increasingly vast and complex network of nuclear facilities. Instead, the P5+1 group appears to be pursuing, as it has in the past, a deal that would give Iran the right to go on enriching uranium, albeit at levels that should make it unusable as fuel for a bomb. Nor is it clear that the West will insist on the export of all of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium or the closure of even those plants whose military application is most obvious.

The problem with the negotiations going on with Iran is not the fact of diplomacy or the administration’s decision to give it yet another try after so many previous failures. Even those who are most worried about the direction of the talks do not oppose them in principle.

The problem is the impetus for the talks seem to be the very same illusions about Iran’s intentions that Kerry claims to want no part of. The belief that Rouhani represents a genuine break with Iran’s past is entirely the result of wishful thinking by the West and good public relations by the Islamist regime. But it is not only raising expectations for the talks but also creating a dynamic in which assumptions about Iran’s good intentions are being rapidly transformed into conclusions about them that are unsupported by facts. If Washington believes the lies being fed to it by Tehran it is because this administration is desperate to believe in them and to avoid fulfilling its responsibility to act against Iran.

The Israelis are not alone and as the New York Times reports, the Saudis are just as, if not more, adamant in their opposition to what appears to be a determined effort on the part of the U.S. to reach a rapprochement with Iran.

In reaching out to Iran in this fashion and showing a willingness to grant legitimacy to its nuclear program, the administration is strengthening Iran’s regional status at time when the victories of its Syrian ally are already dismaying the rest of the region.

The problem for those countries threatened by Iran is not so much whether they can trust Kerry but whether Iran can be trusted to keep any agreement it signs with the U.S. Since they know very well that it will never honor any nuclear treaty and will instead seek to go the route of North Korea at the first opportunity, there is little reason to place any faith in the P5+1 talks even if Kerry was telling Netanyahu what he believes to be the truth. The deeper the U.S. is sucked into a diplomatic dance with Iran, the more the world should worry.

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