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Time for Honesty from Obama on Iran

How far are Democrats willing to go to squelch efforts to put a chill on the administration’s headlong rush to embrace Iran? We got a taste of just how important the effort to prevent the enactment of tougher sanctions on Iran is to the president this week when he assigned his Jewish surrogates the job of smearing mainstream Jewish groups that have been lobbying for the bill.

As JTA reports, Rabbi Jack Moline, the head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, slammed both AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee for engaging in what he called “strong-arm tactics, essentially threatening people that if they don’t vote a particular way, that somehow that makes them anti-Israel or means the abandonment of the Jewish community.” That was enough to prompt David Harris, the head of the liberal-leaning AJC to wonder what exactly Moline was up to by engaging in that kind of invective on the issue:

“We support the Iran sanctions bill, as do a bipartisan majority of U.S. senators,” he said. “Can a group differ with him on a critically important issue like Iran, where potentially existential issues are at stake, without being maligned or misrepresented, or is that the price we’re supposed to pay for honest disagreement?”

Yes, that is exactly the price. Especially when the stakes involve anything that would potentially upset the administration’s effort to create a new détente with Iran. Though it is highly unlikely that proponents of the measure have enough votes to override a threatened presidential veto, the administration is not only doing its utmost to spike the effort, it is calling out the dogs in yet another attempt to intimidate those determined to speak out in favor of stricter sanctions.

The NJDC’s stand is particularly discreditable since the group is trying to have it both ways on the issue. As JTA notes:

The National Jewish Democratic Council, in an effort to back a Democratic president while not expressly opposing intensified sanctions, issued a mixed verdict on the bill, saying it does not support its passage at present though the option of intensified sanctions should remain open down the road if the president seeks it.

This is utterly disingenuous since the sanctions bill wouldn’t go into effect until the interim nuclear deal signed in November runs its full course, during which the Iranians will have six months to negotiate another agreement with the West and during which they will be able to continue refining uranium. Passage of the legislation will only strengthen President Obama’s hand in his dealings with Tehran and will underscore the point that he and Secretary of State John Kerry have continually made about the Geneva accord not fundamentally weakening the economic restrictions that brought the Islamist regime to the table in the first place.

However, the context of this dispute isn’t merely a spat among Jewish groups. The administration’s position on Iran has fundamentally shifted in the last several months during which secret talks with representatives of the ayatollahs were conducted. As articles in publications like the New York Times have made clear, Washington now regards Iran as a useful partner in Syria (where Tehran has ensured the survival of its ally Bashar Assad) and in Iraq. The move to step back from confrontation with Iran over its nuclear quest predated the election of faux moderate Hassan Rouhani last summer, but it has now reached the point where the White House considers any move to put more pressure on the regime as a threat to the hopes for better relations with the ayatollahs.

Just as chief White House flack Jay Carney has falsely implied that support for more sanctions is tantamount to a desire for war with Iran, Moline seems to be reading from the same playbook when he claims Jewish groups that won’t keep quiet are misbehaving. Far from stepping out of line, AIPAC and the AJC are reminding members of Congress that they can’t have it both ways. If they are sincere about their campaign pledges to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons they can’t also refuse to back more sanctions. The same point applies to the president since the position that the sanctions are not only unnecessary but a hindrance to diplomacy is illogical.

It should be remembered that this administration opposed the current sanctions regime they claim is sufficient for their purposes. But while those who back the new bill hope diplomacy succeeds, they rightly understand that nothing short of a complete shutdown of all business with Tehran, including the embargo of Iranian oil, will be enough to convince the regime that it must abandon its nuclear dream. Having already sanctioned Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium, there seems little chance that the current diplomatic track will succeed in shutting down the centrifuges or the dismantling of its nuclear infrastructure.

Contrary to the White House spin, Iran is already showing signs that it is shaking off the problems created by the existing sanctions. As Mark Dubowitz and Rachel Ziemba wrote in a piece published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the improvement in the Iranian economy—a trend that may be rooted in a belief that the sanctions will soon be lifted—is weakening the West’s leverage over Tehran at the very moment when the president needs it the most in order to get a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff with Iran.

As such, the enactment of new tougher sanctions could help convince Tehran that its efforts to stall the West on the nuclear issue will fail. But the president seems more afraid of “breaking faith” with a terror-supporting, anti-Semitic regime that remains a potent strategic threat to America’s Middle East allies than he is of appearing too solicitous of the feelings of the ayatollahs.

But the administration is still nervous about appearing to have openly abandoned efforts to isolate Iran. That’s why the White House is hoping the president’s veto threats as well as the attacks on sanctions supporters by attack dogs like Moline will prevent him from having to veto a measure that bolsters his stated policy aims.

Supporters of sanctions shouldn’t be intimidated by innuendo from either Carney or Moline. It is time for the administration to be honest with the American people about its Iran policy. If it is serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear threat, it should stop opposing the new bill. If not, the administration should end its prevarications and make a straightforward, public case for détente with the tyrants of Tehran—if they dare.


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