Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ahmadinejad

Inside the Mind of the Iranian Regime

The Open Source Center has translated remarks made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the evening of August 1 to a gathering of ambassadors from Islamic countries serving in Iran:

For about 400 years a horrifying Zionist group have been managing world affairs by being behind the scene of main power, politics, media, monetary and banking centers in the world; so much so that candidates of a huge country with great economic power and over 300 million population need to go and kiss the Zionists’ feet in order to win the elections.

When Ahmadinejad talks about the “Zionists” 400-year grip on power perhaps it’s time to put aside the silly notion that he is describing political rather than anti-Semitic antipathies. Ahmadinejad may not be the top official in Iran, but he does come out of an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and an education system which inculcates such vitriol.

The Open Source Center has translated remarks made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the evening of August 1 to a gathering of ambassadors from Islamic countries serving in Iran:

For about 400 years a horrifying Zionist group have been managing world affairs by being behind the scene of main power, politics, media, monetary and banking centers in the world; so much so that candidates of a huge country with great economic power and over 300 million population need to go and kiss the Zionists’ feet in order to win the elections.

When Ahmadinejad talks about the “Zionists” 400-year grip on power perhaps it’s time to put aside the silly notion that he is describing political rather than anti-Semitic antipathies. Ahmadinejad may not be the top official in Iran, but he does come out of an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and an education system which inculcates such vitriol.

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Will Obama Take Ahmadinejad’s Bait?

Optimists may interpret Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call for new talks with the United States and Europe about his country’s nuclear program as a sign that international sanctions are working. But the notion that Tehran is looking for a way out of the nuclear standoff is exactly what Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs who actually run Iran want Washington to believe. With pressure mounting on the Obama administration to implement sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank–a measure that would set in motion a limited embargo on the country’s export of oil–the Islamist regime is hoping to give the president an excuse to back away from the confrontation.

Despite his tough rhetoric on the issue, the Iranians know Obama is caught between two competing dynamics that are both linked to his re-election.

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Optimists may interpret Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call for new talks with the United States and Europe about his country’s nuclear program as a sign that international sanctions are working. But the notion that Tehran is looking for a way out of the nuclear standoff is exactly what Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs who actually run Iran want Washington to believe. With pressure mounting on the Obama administration to implement sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank–a measure that would set in motion a limited embargo on the country’s export of oil–the Islamist regime is hoping to give the president an excuse to back away from the confrontation.

Despite his tough rhetoric on the issue, the Iranians know Obama is caught between two competing dynamics that are both linked to his re-election.

On the one hand, the president knows if he fails to ramp up the pressure on Iran to disavow its nuclear ambitions, he will be handing the Republicans a cudgel with which they can beat him during the campaign as well as endangering his hold on the Jewish vote. Yet on the other hand, implementing an oil embargo–something the administration has already signaled it is uncomfortable with–could result in a spike in oil and gas prices and help send an already shaky economy into another tailspin. Since the president has already sent notes to Iran asking them to return to talks, it could be the Iranians are hoping they can parlay a new round of pointless diplomacy into another year of delay they can use to enrich more uranium and get closer to their nuclear goal. They are clearly hoping Obama will seize upon new talks as a way to finesse his way out of his re-election dilemma.

Given the increasingly muscular tone the administration has taken toward Iran lately that would seem to be a vain hope. But the Iranians remember that Obama came into office convinced the power of his personality could transform the issue. It took the president a full year before he realized this “engagement” policy with Iran would get nowhere. What followed was two years of diplomatic efforts to forge an international coalition to pressure Iran. Though the president again took credit in his State of the Union speech for accomplishing this task, Russia, China and Turkey have all refused to play along and remain opposed to further sanctions, a factor the Iranians are counting on to restrain Obama’s actions. The Iranians have always treated negotiations as a tactic with which they hope to run out the diplomatic clock until the day when they can announce a successful nuclear test, an achievement that may render them invulnerable to pressure.

The administration has, in effect, painted itself into a corner on Iran. It can’t back down now without appearing weak and perhaps obligating Israel to undertake a unilateral attack to prevent Iran from building a bomb. Yet, it fears further sanctions and seems at times to be more worried about the use of force against Iran — by Israel or the West — than it is about the Iranian nuclear threat. Thus, it may hope to try to talk its way out of this problem even if it only means putting off a decision until after November.

That scenario is exactly what Ahmadinejad is hoping will prevail in administration counsels. If it does, it will be a signal victory for Iranian diplomacy and their nuclear ambitions.

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Iranian Nukes? Cue the Laugh Track in Caracas

The friendly relationship between the dictatorial regimes in Iran and Venezuela has long troubled the United States, but the latest expression of this bizarre alliance has implications for Washington’s efforts to isolate Tehran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in Caracas this week for another love fest with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. The highlight of their exchange was when Chavez referred to a grassy knoll in front of his palace. “That hill will open up and a big atomic bomb will come out,” said Chavez as the two authoritarians laughed about the big joke.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are no laughing matter for those who fear the Islamist regime being able to put a nuclear umbrella over its terrorist allies Hezbollah and Hamas or being able to threaten Israel with extinction. But the importance of Chavez to Iran is not his ability to provide them with moral support. The only real lever short of the use of force for the West to stop Iran’s nuclear program is an oil embargo. This week’s visit to South America is a reminder that Tehran has allies, including oil producers like Venezuela who may be willing to help them in the event President Obama finds the will to try to enforce a tough sanctions policy.

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The friendly relationship between the dictatorial regimes in Iran and Venezuela has long troubled the United States, but the latest expression of this bizarre alliance has implications for Washington’s efforts to isolate Tehran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in Caracas this week for another love fest with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. The highlight of their exchange was when Chavez referred to a grassy knoll in front of his palace. “That hill will open up and a big atomic bomb will come out,” said Chavez as the two authoritarians laughed about the big joke.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are no laughing matter for those who fear the Islamist regime being able to put a nuclear umbrella over its terrorist allies Hezbollah and Hamas or being able to threaten Israel with extinction. But the importance of Chavez to Iran is not his ability to provide them with moral support. The only real lever short of the use of force for the West to stop Iran’s nuclear program is an oil embargo. This week’s visit to South America is a reminder that Tehran has allies, including oil producers like Venezuela who may be willing to help them in the event President Obama finds the will to try to enforce a tough sanctions policy.

Ahmadinejad will also be visiting Cuba, Nicaragua and Ecuador, but Venezuela is the key to Iran’s effort to find friends in the Western Hemisphere. Along with friendly nations like Turkey, Venezuela can help Iran evade Western sanctions and may exercise enough economic muscle to ameliorate the effects of an embargo.

But the one piece of good news for the West is the absence of Brazil from Ahmadinejad’s itinerary. The Holocaust-denying Iranian got a good reception there during his last trip to the continent, and the failure of the Iranians to secure another visit may reflect a limited diplomatic victory for the United States. It may also show that for all of its usual willingness to jeer at Washington, Brazil has no appetite for a confrontation, especially with Iran threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz and shut off all oil exports from the Persian Gulf.

This should be a signal to President Obama that, Venezuelan jokes notwithstanding, he will be backed, or at least not actively opposed, by much of the Third World should he decide to impose an oil embargo on Iran. The Iranians are counting on their ability to make friends abroad and Obama’s demonstrated predilection for delay to give them another year or two to complete their nuclear plans. With Iran already enriching uranium in its new mountain bunker at Fordow, time is running out for the West to act.

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How’s Syrian Engagement Working out?

As we’ve noted, the Obami recently sent the U.S. ambassador back to Syria, in an effort, we are told, to engage Damascus and wean Syria away from Iran. It’s not working too well. Not at all, really:

The U.S. administration has asked Syrian President Bashar Assad to immediately stop transferring arms to Hezbollah. American officials made the request during a meeting Friday with the Syrian ambassador to Washington. …

The move was described as an opportunity to discuss the next steps following the visit to Damascus by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns on February 17.

The administration also said the meeting was part of its efforts to achieve a direct dialogue with Syria on issues of interest to both sides.

Haaretz has learned that Burns’ visit to Damascus ended unsatisfactorily for the U.S. administration. During Burns’ meeting with Assad, the Syrian leader denied all American claims that his regime was providing military aid to terrorists in Iraq, or to Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups.

Assad essentially told Burns that he had no idea what the American was talking about.

Well, why would it be, do you think, that Assad is playing dumb? After all, we sent our ambassador back without asking for anything in return, and we have been so mute… er… respectful of the Syrian government on the subject of human rights. Oh, wait. Could it be that having given Assad pretty much all he wants up front, we have no leverage to extract anything further from him? Could be.

And it’s not like this should come as any surprise. Last August, Elliott Abrams wrote that the Obama policy of unilateral diplomatic gestures was bearing no fruit:

Syria continues to support Hezbollah’s blocking of the formation of a government in Lebanon, backing Hezbollah in its demand for a “blocking third” that would prevent any decisions Hezbollah opposes in any new Cabinet. The Palestinian terrorist groups remain headquartered in Damascus, and under no visible restraints. And on August 19, President Bashar Asad paid a visit to President Ahmadinejad in Tehran, to showcase his support of the latter during the current Iranian political crisis.

So we tossed in more goodies – the return of Ambassador Ford — and lo and behold, still no results. In fact, Assad seems emboldened to defy American requests, secure in the knowledge there will be no downside to his snubbing of the administration. (What — we’re going to pull Ford out the week after he was sent? Hardly.) This is the appeasement game in action, of course. Defenders of the Obama policy, as they would do for all such gambits, insist we simply aren’t trying hard enough and have to do even more to encourage the Assad regime.

If we had not already sent Ford back to Damascus, would we have been more successful? Hard to know. But at least we would not have looked foolish in the process and convinced Assad he has the upper hand. And in the meantime, had we not been ingratiating ourselves with Damascus, we might have given some moral and political support to those Syrians under the boot of the despotic regime. Now we have the worst of all worlds — a defiant Assad, no leverage, and further erosion of America’s moral standing. That’s a regrettably familiar pattern with Obama’s “smart” diplomacy.

As we’ve noted, the Obami recently sent the U.S. ambassador back to Syria, in an effort, we are told, to engage Damascus and wean Syria away from Iran. It’s not working too well. Not at all, really:

The U.S. administration has asked Syrian President Bashar Assad to immediately stop transferring arms to Hezbollah. American officials made the request during a meeting Friday with the Syrian ambassador to Washington. …

The move was described as an opportunity to discuss the next steps following the visit to Damascus by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns on February 17.

The administration also said the meeting was part of its efforts to achieve a direct dialogue with Syria on issues of interest to both sides.

Haaretz has learned that Burns’ visit to Damascus ended unsatisfactorily for the U.S. administration. During Burns’ meeting with Assad, the Syrian leader denied all American claims that his regime was providing military aid to terrorists in Iraq, or to Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups.

Assad essentially told Burns that he had no idea what the American was talking about.

Well, why would it be, do you think, that Assad is playing dumb? After all, we sent our ambassador back without asking for anything in return, and we have been so mute… er… respectful of the Syrian government on the subject of human rights. Oh, wait. Could it be that having given Assad pretty much all he wants up front, we have no leverage to extract anything further from him? Could be.

And it’s not like this should come as any surprise. Last August, Elliott Abrams wrote that the Obama policy of unilateral diplomatic gestures was bearing no fruit:

Syria continues to support Hezbollah’s blocking of the formation of a government in Lebanon, backing Hezbollah in its demand for a “blocking third” that would prevent any decisions Hezbollah opposes in any new Cabinet. The Palestinian terrorist groups remain headquartered in Damascus, and under no visible restraints. And on August 19, President Bashar Asad paid a visit to President Ahmadinejad in Tehran, to showcase his support of the latter during the current Iranian political crisis.

So we tossed in more goodies – the return of Ambassador Ford — and lo and behold, still no results. In fact, Assad seems emboldened to defy American requests, secure in the knowledge there will be no downside to his snubbing of the administration. (What — we’re going to pull Ford out the week after he was sent? Hardly.) This is the appeasement game in action, of course. Defenders of the Obama policy, as they would do for all such gambits, insist we simply aren’t trying hard enough and have to do even more to encourage the Assad regime.

If we had not already sent Ford back to Damascus, would we have been more successful? Hard to know. But at least we would not have looked foolish in the process and convinced Assad he has the upper hand. And in the meantime, had we not been ingratiating ourselves with Damascus, we might have given some moral and political support to those Syrians under the boot of the despotic regime. Now we have the worst of all worlds — a defiant Assad, no leverage, and further erosion of America’s moral standing. That’s a regrettably familiar pattern with Obama’s “smart” diplomacy.

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Iran, Israel, and the GOP Senate Primary Race

Carly Fiorina, who is in a tough Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate in California, has raised a key foreign-policy issue. In a released statement, she notes:

President Ahmadinejad’s order yesterday to begin enriching uranium far past levels needed to power nuclear plants reveals the regime’s true intentions for its nuclear technology. Today’s news only further confirms that Iran is not serious about complying with the international nuclear nonproliferation treaty to which they are a party.

It is abundantly clear: engagement with Iran has failed. Negotiations have shown no progress. We cannot afford to talk any longer. We must act now to implement tough, crippling sanctions to persuade the Iranian regime to suspend its nuclear program and engage in serious negotiations.

Both the Senate and the House have passed strong versions of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act. I urge our leaders in Congress to reconcile quickly their differences and present a bill to the President for his immediate signature and immediate implementation.

It will be interesting to see how significant an issue this becomes in the primary race. Her two opponents have yet to weigh in on this issue, but foreign policy — specifically, their stance toward Israel and the existential threat to the Jewish state’s existence posed by a nuclear-armed Iran — may well play a role in the race. One of her opponents, Chuck Devore, has in the past voiced strong support for Israel’s right of self-defense.

Tom Campbell, who has zipped into the lead in early polls, is quite another story. During his time in the House, Campbell was one of the few Republicans with a consistent anti-Israel voting record. In 1999, he introduced an amendment to cut foreign aid to Israel. This amendment, titled the Campbell Amendment, was defeated overwhelmingly on the House floor by a vote of 13-414. In 1999, Campbell was one of just 24 House members to vote against a resolution expressing congressional opposition to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. In 1997, Rep. Tom Campbell authored an amendment (also titled the Campbell Amendment) to cut foreign aid to Israel. The resolution failed 9-32 in committee. In 1990, Campbell was one of just 34 House members to vote against a resolution expressing support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  The resolution passed the House 378-34. But Campbell has taken positions on more than just aid that have raised concerns about his views on Israel. As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2000, Campbell, in his losing race against Dianne Feinstein, “told numerous crowds–including Jewish groups–that he believes Palestinians are entitled to a homeland and that Jerusalem can be the capital of more than one nation.”

By making Iran and foreign policy a focus of her campaign, Fiorina is most likely inviting comparisons with her opponents. We’ll see how California Republicans size up the candidates and whether their stance Iran and Israel become a major source of contention.

Carly Fiorina, who is in a tough Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate in California, has raised a key foreign-policy issue. In a released statement, she notes:

President Ahmadinejad’s order yesterday to begin enriching uranium far past levels needed to power nuclear plants reveals the regime’s true intentions for its nuclear technology. Today’s news only further confirms that Iran is not serious about complying with the international nuclear nonproliferation treaty to which they are a party.

It is abundantly clear: engagement with Iran has failed. Negotiations have shown no progress. We cannot afford to talk any longer. We must act now to implement tough, crippling sanctions to persuade the Iranian regime to suspend its nuclear program and engage in serious negotiations.

Both the Senate and the House have passed strong versions of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act. I urge our leaders in Congress to reconcile quickly their differences and present a bill to the President for his immediate signature and immediate implementation.

It will be interesting to see how significant an issue this becomes in the primary race. Her two opponents have yet to weigh in on this issue, but foreign policy — specifically, their stance toward Israel and the existential threat to the Jewish state’s existence posed by a nuclear-armed Iran — may well play a role in the race. One of her opponents, Chuck Devore, has in the past voiced strong support for Israel’s right of self-defense.

Tom Campbell, who has zipped into the lead in early polls, is quite another story. During his time in the House, Campbell was one of the few Republicans with a consistent anti-Israel voting record. In 1999, he introduced an amendment to cut foreign aid to Israel. This amendment, titled the Campbell Amendment, was defeated overwhelmingly on the House floor by a vote of 13-414. In 1999, Campbell was one of just 24 House members to vote against a resolution expressing congressional opposition to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. In 1997, Rep. Tom Campbell authored an amendment (also titled the Campbell Amendment) to cut foreign aid to Israel. The resolution failed 9-32 in committee. In 1990, Campbell was one of just 34 House members to vote against a resolution expressing support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  The resolution passed the House 378-34. But Campbell has taken positions on more than just aid that have raised concerns about his views on Israel. As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2000, Campbell, in his losing race against Dianne Feinstein, “told numerous crowds–including Jewish groups–that he believes Palestinians are entitled to a homeland and that Jerusalem can be the capital of more than one nation.”

By making Iran and foreign policy a focus of her campaign, Fiorina is most likely inviting comparisons with her opponents. We’ll see how California Republicans size up the candidates and whether their stance Iran and Israel become a major source of contention.

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The Policy of Condolence Cards

The death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali and the ensuing enormous public demonstrations in Iran raise once again a troubling question about the incoherence of Obama’s Iran policy. Gerald Seib, ever so mildly, raises the issue:

Thus, the chance that Ayatollah Montazeri may take on in death an opposition role greater than the one he was playing in the final weeks of life. Odds are equally good that Mr. Ahmadinejad will try, perhaps brutally, to suppress that impulse. In either case, the developments pose a new test for President Barack Obama. He continues to try to deal with the Iranian regime while showing sympathy for the opposition movement that wants to be rid of it. That balancing act will get tougher as the U.S. moves next month toward more economic sanctions against Iran’s government to protest its nuclear program.

Translation: it’s hard to square Obama’s heartfelt words six months after the June 12 election with his consistent pattern of undermining the protesters and engaging — that is, bestowing legitimacy upon — their jailers.

The editors of Seib’s paper are more direct:

The foundation stones of Iran’s Islamic Republic were shaken again yesterday, showing that the largest antigovernment movement in its 30 years may be one of the biggest stories of next year as well. Now imagine the possibilities if the Obama Administration began to support Iran’s democrats. … Throughout this turbulent year in Iran, the White House has been behind the democratic curve. When the demonstrations started, Mr. Obama abdicated his moral authority by refusing to take sides, while pushing ahead with plans to negotiate a grand diplomatic bargain with Mr. Ahmadinejad that trades recognition for suspending the nuclear program.

So what are we doing? We’ve sent condolences to “Montazeri’s friends and family, which is what passes for democratic daring in this Administration.” But the administration still holds out hope that we can get the regime back to the bargaining table, if only they’d take us seriously. The obvious way to square Obama’s supposed concern for the democracy advocates and his alleged determination to halt Iran’s nuclear program would be to assist the Iranian people in obtaining a new government for themselves. So perhaps neither goal is really high on the Obami’s priority list. Perhaps they simply intend to “manage” the situation and will try to “deter” the rabid revolutionary regime. It seems unimaginable — except that it explains all their policy choices and rhetoric to date.

For now, we have a policy resting on insincerity and feebleness. The mullahs will act accordingly.

The death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali and the ensuing enormous public demonstrations in Iran raise once again a troubling question about the incoherence of Obama’s Iran policy. Gerald Seib, ever so mildly, raises the issue:

Thus, the chance that Ayatollah Montazeri may take on in death an opposition role greater than the one he was playing in the final weeks of life. Odds are equally good that Mr. Ahmadinejad will try, perhaps brutally, to suppress that impulse. In either case, the developments pose a new test for President Barack Obama. He continues to try to deal with the Iranian regime while showing sympathy for the opposition movement that wants to be rid of it. That balancing act will get tougher as the U.S. moves next month toward more economic sanctions against Iran’s government to protest its nuclear program.

Translation: it’s hard to square Obama’s heartfelt words six months after the June 12 election with his consistent pattern of undermining the protesters and engaging — that is, bestowing legitimacy upon — their jailers.

The editors of Seib’s paper are more direct:

The foundation stones of Iran’s Islamic Republic were shaken again yesterday, showing that the largest antigovernment movement in its 30 years may be one of the biggest stories of next year as well. Now imagine the possibilities if the Obama Administration began to support Iran’s democrats. … Throughout this turbulent year in Iran, the White House has been behind the democratic curve. When the demonstrations started, Mr. Obama abdicated his moral authority by refusing to take sides, while pushing ahead with plans to negotiate a grand diplomatic bargain with Mr. Ahmadinejad that trades recognition for suspending the nuclear program.

So what are we doing? We’ve sent condolences to “Montazeri’s friends and family, which is what passes for democratic daring in this Administration.” But the administration still holds out hope that we can get the regime back to the bargaining table, if only they’d take us seriously. The obvious way to square Obama’s supposed concern for the democracy advocates and his alleged determination to halt Iran’s nuclear program would be to assist the Iranian people in obtaining a new government for themselves. So perhaps neither goal is really high on the Obami’s priority list. Perhaps they simply intend to “manage” the situation and will try to “deter” the rabid revolutionary regime. It seems unimaginable — except that it explains all their policy choices and rhetoric to date.

For now, we have a policy resting on insincerity and feebleness. The mullahs will act accordingly.

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Slow-Motion Train-Wreck Watch

If train wrecks really happened in slow motion, observers might have time to note carelessness and irrelevance in the human actors involved. Metaphorical train wrecks certainly afford us such opportunities. The State Department bracketed a busy weekend for the Iran problem with a bit of both. In the daily briefing on Friday, spokesman Robert Wood responded to a point-blank question on why we are stretching out the time line on negotiations with this affirmation:

QUESTION: Then why stretch it out? I mean, isn’t it quite clear that they’re not going to do this?

MR. WOOD: Look, we are — we have said from the beginning, we’re willing to go the extra mile with regard to diplomacy. The President and the Secretary have been very clear about that. Iran has had plenty of time to consider this proposal. We still hope that they will reconsider and give the IAEA Director General a yes. But that’s up to Iran.

Iran had already, last week, given the IAEA director general a “no,” rejecting the P5+1 proposal to ship Tehran’s low-enriched uranium out of the country and offering a counterproposal: to exchange higher-enriched uranium for Iran’s current stock, simultaneously and inside Iran. In support of this negotiating ploy, the regime launched a major joint-forces exercise over the weekend, punctuating it with air-defense drills around the nuclear sites. In case the message was unclear, a senior Revolutionary Guard official emphasized the “deterrence power” of Iran’s ballistic missiles and threatened Tel Aviv with them. Meanwhile, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, with Ahmadinejad at his side, affirmed Iran’s right to civil nuclear technology and criticized “attempts to isolate Iran,” a condemnation that included the imposition of further sanctions.

So it’s not clear what gave Wood hope that Iran might reconsider. Monday’s laconic briefing from Ian Kelly projected a peculiar air of detachment, revealing mainly that there was no new policy guidance on Iran since Friday. There were some laughs, however. Kelly alluded, in suggesting that Iran seize a “fleeting opportunity,” to Friday’s thrice-repeated theme that the diplomatic window for Iran won’t be open forever. This led to a humorous exchange in which the word “fleeting” was suggested to amount to “new guidance.”

Surreal levity aside, Iran’s strategic wisdom in making a counterproposal, to which the P5+1 will have to take time in responding, has probably guaranteed that “fleeting” will not accurately describe the window bounded by negotiations. What the State Department has to show for eight years of business-as-usual negotiations is an Iran much closer to a working nuclear weapon. Robert Wood, in that sense, was exactly right: as long as we have a diplomacy-only approach, it is up to Iran. The only way to change that is to pose the credible threat of involving a different department of the U.S. government.

If train wrecks really happened in slow motion, observers might have time to note carelessness and irrelevance in the human actors involved. Metaphorical train wrecks certainly afford us such opportunities. The State Department bracketed a busy weekend for the Iran problem with a bit of both. In the daily briefing on Friday, spokesman Robert Wood responded to a point-blank question on why we are stretching out the time line on negotiations with this affirmation:

QUESTION: Then why stretch it out? I mean, isn’t it quite clear that they’re not going to do this?

MR. WOOD: Look, we are — we have said from the beginning, we’re willing to go the extra mile with regard to diplomacy. The President and the Secretary have been very clear about that. Iran has had plenty of time to consider this proposal. We still hope that they will reconsider and give the IAEA Director General a yes. But that’s up to Iran.

Iran had already, last week, given the IAEA director general a “no,” rejecting the P5+1 proposal to ship Tehran’s low-enriched uranium out of the country and offering a counterproposal: to exchange higher-enriched uranium for Iran’s current stock, simultaneously and inside Iran. In support of this negotiating ploy, the regime launched a major joint-forces exercise over the weekend, punctuating it with air-defense drills around the nuclear sites. In case the message was unclear, a senior Revolutionary Guard official emphasized the “deterrence power” of Iran’s ballistic missiles and threatened Tel Aviv with them. Meanwhile, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, with Ahmadinejad at his side, affirmed Iran’s right to civil nuclear technology and criticized “attempts to isolate Iran,” a condemnation that included the imposition of further sanctions.

So it’s not clear what gave Wood hope that Iran might reconsider. Monday’s laconic briefing from Ian Kelly projected a peculiar air of detachment, revealing mainly that there was no new policy guidance on Iran since Friday. There were some laughs, however. Kelly alluded, in suggesting that Iran seize a “fleeting opportunity,” to Friday’s thrice-repeated theme that the diplomatic window for Iran won’t be open forever. This led to a humorous exchange in which the word “fleeting” was suggested to amount to “new guidance.”

Surreal levity aside, Iran’s strategic wisdom in making a counterproposal, to which the P5+1 will have to take time in responding, has probably guaranteed that “fleeting” will not accurately describe the window bounded by negotiations. What the State Department has to show for eight years of business-as-usual negotiations is an Iran much closer to a working nuclear weapon. Robert Wood, in that sense, was exactly right: as long as we have a diplomacy-only approach, it is up to Iran. The only way to change that is to pose the credible threat of involving a different department of the U.S. government.

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McCain on Iran

In his AIPAC speech this morning, John McCain talked tough on Iran:

[W]e hear talk of a meeting with the Iranian leadership offered up as if it were some sudden inspiration, a bold new idea that somehow nobody has ever thought of before. Yet it’s hard to see what such a summit with President Ahmadinejad would actually gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants, and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting another. Such a spectacle would harm Iranian moderates and dissidents, as the radicals and hardliners strengthen their position and suddenly acquire the appearance of respectability. Rather than sitting down unconditionally with the Iranian president or supreme leader in the hope that we can talk sense into them, we must create the real-world pressures that will peacefully but decisively change the path they are on. Essential to this strategy is the UN Security Council, which should impose progressively tougher political and economic sanctions. Should the Security Council continue to delay in this responsibility, the United States must lead like-minded countries in imposing multilateral sanctions outside the UN framework. I am proud to have been a leader on these issues for years, having coauthored the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act. Over a year ago I proposed applying sanctions to restrict Iran’s ability to import refined petroleum products, on which it is highly dependent, and the time has come for an international campaign to do just that. A severe limit on Iranian imports of gasoline would create immediate pressure on Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to change course, and to cease in the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

On the subject of Iraq he did not mince words:

It’s worth recalling that America’s progress in Iraq is the direct result of the new strategy that Senator Obama opposed. It was the strategy he predicted would fail, when he voted cut off funds for our forces in Iraq. He now says he intends to withdraw combat troops from Iraq – one to two brigades per month until they are all removed. He will do so regardless of the conditions in Iraq, regardless of the consequences for our national security, regardless of Israel’s security, and in disregard of the best advice of our commanders on the ground. This course would surely result in a catastrophe. If our troops are ordered to make a forced retreat, we risk all-out civil war, genocide, and a failed state in the heart of the Middle East. Al Qaeda terrorists would rejoice in the defeat of the United States. Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel, and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq’s neighbors, including an emboldened Iran. We must not let this happen. We must not leave the region to suffer chaos, terrorist violence and a wider war.

But the speech was more than a series of public policy pronouncements. It was in many ways a tender, heart-filled tribute to Israel. He concludes:

If there are ties between America and Israel that critics of our alliance have never understood, perhaps that is because they do not fully understand the love of liberty and the pursuit of justice. But they should know those ties cannot be broken. We were brought together by shared ideals and by shared adversity. We have been comrades in struggle, and trusted partners in the quest for peace. We are the most natural of allies. And, like Israel itself, that alliance is forever.

If there has been a sweeter public expression of affection for and solidarity with Israel I would be hard pressed to recollect it.

In his AIPAC speech this morning, John McCain talked tough on Iran:

[W]e hear talk of a meeting with the Iranian leadership offered up as if it were some sudden inspiration, a bold new idea that somehow nobody has ever thought of before. Yet it’s hard to see what such a summit with President Ahmadinejad would actually gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants, and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting another. Such a spectacle would harm Iranian moderates and dissidents, as the radicals and hardliners strengthen their position and suddenly acquire the appearance of respectability. Rather than sitting down unconditionally with the Iranian president or supreme leader in the hope that we can talk sense into them, we must create the real-world pressures that will peacefully but decisively change the path they are on. Essential to this strategy is the UN Security Council, which should impose progressively tougher political and economic sanctions. Should the Security Council continue to delay in this responsibility, the United States must lead like-minded countries in imposing multilateral sanctions outside the UN framework. I am proud to have been a leader on these issues for years, having coauthored the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act. Over a year ago I proposed applying sanctions to restrict Iran’s ability to import refined petroleum products, on which it is highly dependent, and the time has come for an international campaign to do just that. A severe limit on Iranian imports of gasoline would create immediate pressure on Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to change course, and to cease in the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

On the subject of Iraq he did not mince words:

It’s worth recalling that America’s progress in Iraq is the direct result of the new strategy that Senator Obama opposed. It was the strategy he predicted would fail, when he voted cut off funds for our forces in Iraq. He now says he intends to withdraw combat troops from Iraq – one to two brigades per month until they are all removed. He will do so regardless of the conditions in Iraq, regardless of the consequences for our national security, regardless of Israel’s security, and in disregard of the best advice of our commanders on the ground. This course would surely result in a catastrophe. If our troops are ordered to make a forced retreat, we risk all-out civil war, genocide, and a failed state in the heart of the Middle East. Al Qaeda terrorists would rejoice in the defeat of the United States. Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel, and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq’s neighbors, including an emboldened Iran. We must not let this happen. We must not leave the region to suffer chaos, terrorist violence and a wider war.

But the speech was more than a series of public policy pronouncements. It was in many ways a tender, heart-filled tribute to Israel. He concludes:

If there are ties between America and Israel that critics of our alliance have never understood, perhaps that is because they do not fully understand the love of liberty and the pursuit of justice. But they should know those ties cannot be broken. We were brought together by shared ideals and by shared adversity. We have been comrades in struggle, and trusted partners in the quest for peace. We are the most natural of allies. And, like Israel itself, that alliance is forever.

If there has been a sweeter public expression of affection for and solidarity with Israel I would be hard pressed to recollect it.

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Might Experience Matter?

Kimberley Strassel reviews the last week or so of the presidential foreign policy debate:

And so it goes, as Mr. Obama shifts and shambles, all the while telling audiences that when voting for president they should look beyond “experience” to “judgment.” In this case, whatever his particular judgment on Iran is on any particular day. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Democrats entered this race confident national security wouldn’t be the drag on the party it has in the past. With an unpopular war and a rival who supports that war, they planned to wrap Mr. McCain around the unpopular Mr. Bush and be done with it. . . . .Then again, 9/11 and five years of Iraq debate have educated voters. Mr. McCain is certainly betting they can separate the war from the urgent threat of an Iranian dictator who could possess nukes, and whose legitimization would encourage other rogues in their belligerence. This is a debate the Arizonan has been preparing for all his life and, note, Iranian diplomacy is simply the topic du jour.Mr. McCain has every intention of running his opponent through the complete foreign-policy gamut. Explain again in what circumstances you’d use nuclear weapons? What was that about invading Pakistan? How does a policy of engaging the world include Mr. Ahmadinejad, but not our ally Colombia and its trade pact?

It may have been that in the fog of “Yes we can”-mania and Hillary Clinton’s phony foreign policy credentials many pundits grossly underestimated the importance of “experience,” at least in the realm of national security. Clinton didn’t have any more real experience than Obama with regard to national security, so one can hardly fault Democrats for choosing him. The contrast was simply not great enough, nor was Clinton a credible enough candidate to convince voters that Obama simply wasn’t up to the task of being commander-in-chief. And, of course, we have been in a primary dominated by voters in the Democratic base pushing the candidates ever farther to the Left.

But in the general election, the voters, including independents and non-primary voting Democrats, may still expect the next president to clear the national security bar in terms of knowledge, competence and, most importantly, toughness. 9/11 punctured the fantasy for many Americans that the world is a benign place, simply waiting for our good deeds and open hand.

And that, I think, is where Obama may have faltered this week. Somewhere between the muddled history lessons (no, the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit isn’t an argument for unconditional talks and no, Roosevelt never met with Hilter or Tojo) and the flip-floppery on unconditional negotiations with state sponsors of terror, Obama raised more questions than he answered. What does he hope to gain from these face-to-face encounters? Could he rhetorically carry the banner for the West on the world stage? And as a former competitor of McCain for the GOP nomination lays out here, are Obama’s instincts (he is, after all, running on “judgment”) sound when it comes to assessing and counteracting the threats America faces?

His supporters are shifting in their seats, trying to cover for the slips and bobbles, but sometimes they make it worse. Senator Joe Biden says Obama “has learned a hell of a lot.” That would be swell if this were all a graduate course in international relations. But at some point he’ll have to demonstrate he’s cleared the bar to be president.

Kimberley Strassel reviews the last week or so of the presidential foreign policy debate:

And so it goes, as Mr. Obama shifts and shambles, all the while telling audiences that when voting for president they should look beyond “experience” to “judgment.” In this case, whatever his particular judgment on Iran is on any particular day. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Democrats entered this race confident national security wouldn’t be the drag on the party it has in the past. With an unpopular war and a rival who supports that war, they planned to wrap Mr. McCain around the unpopular Mr. Bush and be done with it. . . . .Then again, 9/11 and five years of Iraq debate have educated voters. Mr. McCain is certainly betting they can separate the war from the urgent threat of an Iranian dictator who could possess nukes, and whose legitimization would encourage other rogues in their belligerence. This is a debate the Arizonan has been preparing for all his life and, note, Iranian diplomacy is simply the topic du jour.Mr. McCain has every intention of running his opponent through the complete foreign-policy gamut. Explain again in what circumstances you’d use nuclear weapons? What was that about invading Pakistan? How does a policy of engaging the world include Mr. Ahmadinejad, but not our ally Colombia and its trade pact?

It may have been that in the fog of “Yes we can”-mania and Hillary Clinton’s phony foreign policy credentials many pundits grossly underestimated the importance of “experience,” at least in the realm of national security. Clinton didn’t have any more real experience than Obama with regard to national security, so one can hardly fault Democrats for choosing him. The contrast was simply not great enough, nor was Clinton a credible enough candidate to convince voters that Obama simply wasn’t up to the task of being commander-in-chief. And, of course, we have been in a primary dominated by voters in the Democratic base pushing the candidates ever farther to the Left.

But in the general election, the voters, including independents and non-primary voting Democrats, may still expect the next president to clear the national security bar in terms of knowledge, competence and, most importantly, toughness. 9/11 punctured the fantasy for many Americans that the world is a benign place, simply waiting for our good deeds and open hand.

And that, I think, is where Obama may have faltered this week. Somewhere between the muddled history lessons (no, the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit isn’t an argument for unconditional talks and no, Roosevelt never met with Hilter or Tojo) and the flip-floppery on unconditional negotiations with state sponsors of terror, Obama raised more questions than he answered. What does he hope to gain from these face-to-face encounters? Could he rhetorically carry the banner for the West on the world stage? And as a former competitor of McCain for the GOP nomination lays out here, are Obama’s instincts (he is, after all, running on “judgment”) sound when it comes to assessing and counteracting the threats America faces?

His supporters are shifting in their seats, trying to cover for the slips and bobbles, but sometimes they make it worse. Senator Joe Biden says Obama “has learned a hell of a lot.” That would be swell if this were all a graduate course in international relations. But at some point he’ll have to demonstrate he’s cleared the bar to be president.

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Klein’s Mad Again

Joe Klein is upset yet again–this time at Senator Joseph Lieberman. The source of his consternation is an interview Lieberman gave to Wolf Blitzer on CNN. When asked about a Hamas spokesman’s endorsement of Obama, Lieberman said that

John McCain obviously knows and has said that Senator Obama clearly doesn’t support any of the values or goals of Hamas. But the fact that the spokesperson for Hamas would say they would welcome the election of Senator Obama really does raise the question “Why?” and it suggests the difference between these two candidates.

According to Klein, Lieberman is

smearing Barack Obama re Hamas. He is entitled to his views about the Middle East, but for the past five years he has taken those Likudnik views a step beyond propriety–saying that those who disagree with him (i.e.–the Democratic Party, which nominated him for the Vice Presidency in 2000) are counseling “defeat” and “surrender.” And now this.  I wish Blitzer had been a bit more dogged and asked: “What could you possibly mean by that, Senator Lieberman–and please be specific. Why do you think Hamas “favors” Obama over McCain? What are you implying here, Senator?

Now one might believe Lieberman is wrong in what he said, but it is hardly a smear. In fact, Lieberman goes out of his way to stress that Obama does not share the values or goals of Hamas. His argument is a completely legitimate one: Obama would pursue policies that would (unintentionally) advance the aims of Hamas. It’s the flipside of an argument I presume Klein endorses: Bush’s policies–from Iraq to Guantanamo Bay to water-boarding–have helped the jihadists cause rather than hurt it.

It’s not a smear to make the argument that the policies of a President will have real-world consequences–in some instances making life easier for our enemies, and in some instances making life harder for our enemies. Is it unreasonable to conclude that the leaders of the Soviet Union were rooting for Carter in 1980 and Mondale in 1984?

Likewise, it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that the policy Barack Obama embraces would lead to an American surrender and defeat in Iraq–just as it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that McCain’s policies would harm American interests. Political campaigns are supposed to be about such matters.

This is all part of what is becoming an increasingly tiresome reflex within the media and which Klein embodies as well as anyone. When Lanny Davis said that Obama’s relationship to Jeremiah Wright was a legitimate, troubling issue, Klein accused Davis of “spreading the poison.” Now Lieberman’s argument that it’s worth asking why Hamas would rather see Obama than McCain as President is a “smear.” And next week if Lindsey Graham criticizes Obama’s willingness to meet with President Ahmadinejad without preconditions, I suppose we can expect Klein to charge Graham with “character assassination.”

For a fellow who likes to rip the hide off of his critics, Klein has developed some fairly thin skin. Years ago Bob Dole asked, “Where’s the outrage?” The answer, is appears, can be found in the writing of Joe Klein. Outrage seems to be a perennial state for him these days.

Joe Klein is upset yet again–this time at Senator Joseph Lieberman. The source of his consternation is an interview Lieberman gave to Wolf Blitzer on CNN. When asked about a Hamas spokesman’s endorsement of Obama, Lieberman said that

John McCain obviously knows and has said that Senator Obama clearly doesn’t support any of the values or goals of Hamas. But the fact that the spokesperson for Hamas would say they would welcome the election of Senator Obama really does raise the question “Why?” and it suggests the difference between these two candidates.

According to Klein, Lieberman is

smearing Barack Obama re Hamas. He is entitled to his views about the Middle East, but for the past five years he has taken those Likudnik views a step beyond propriety–saying that those who disagree with him (i.e.–the Democratic Party, which nominated him for the Vice Presidency in 2000) are counseling “defeat” and “surrender.” And now this.  I wish Blitzer had been a bit more dogged and asked: “What could you possibly mean by that, Senator Lieberman–and please be specific. Why do you think Hamas “favors” Obama over McCain? What are you implying here, Senator?

Now one might believe Lieberman is wrong in what he said, but it is hardly a smear. In fact, Lieberman goes out of his way to stress that Obama does not share the values or goals of Hamas. His argument is a completely legitimate one: Obama would pursue policies that would (unintentionally) advance the aims of Hamas. It’s the flipside of an argument I presume Klein endorses: Bush’s policies–from Iraq to Guantanamo Bay to water-boarding–have helped the jihadists cause rather than hurt it.

It’s not a smear to make the argument that the policies of a President will have real-world consequences–in some instances making life easier for our enemies, and in some instances making life harder for our enemies. Is it unreasonable to conclude that the leaders of the Soviet Union were rooting for Carter in 1980 and Mondale in 1984?

Likewise, it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that the policy Barack Obama embraces would lead to an American surrender and defeat in Iraq–just as it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that McCain’s policies would harm American interests. Political campaigns are supposed to be about such matters.

This is all part of what is becoming an increasingly tiresome reflex within the media and which Klein embodies as well as anyone. When Lanny Davis said that Obama’s relationship to Jeremiah Wright was a legitimate, troubling issue, Klein accused Davis of “spreading the poison.” Now Lieberman’s argument that it’s worth asking why Hamas would rather see Obama than McCain as President is a “smear.” And next week if Lindsey Graham criticizes Obama’s willingness to meet with President Ahmadinejad without preconditions, I suppose we can expect Klein to charge Graham with “character assassination.”

For a fellow who likes to rip the hide off of his critics, Klein has developed some fairly thin skin. Years ago Bob Dole asked, “Where’s the outrage?” The answer, is appears, can be found in the writing of Joe Klein. Outrage seems to be a perennial state for him these days.

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Lieberman Explains

The McCain camp has been struggling to explain why Hamas’ endorsement of Barack Obama is relevant and why it is not a “smear” for John McCain to have raised it. Joe Lieberman explained it succinctly on Late Edition on Sunday:

But the fact that the spokesperson for Hamas would say they would welcome the election of Senator Obama really does raise the question, “Why?” And it suggests the difference between these two candidates. And I think Hamas and Hezbollah, which is now control of Beirut, apparently, are proxies, are wards of Iran, which is the very same country that constantly shouts “Death to America, death to Israel.”So I think one of John’s strengths, John McCain’s strength as president, frankly, is that our allies and friends around the world will trust him. And our enemies like Hamas and Iran will fear him. And I think they need to fear him. . . Senator Obama has said he would sit down, without condition, with Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. That not only gives prestige to a terrible America and Israel- hater but it also threatens our allies in the region. Look, I’ll give you another example. This is an indirect step that could undermine our position in the Middle East. Earlier this year, Senator Kyl and I introduced the resolution in the Senate which called on the administration to impose economic sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that is training and equipping Iraqis that are going back into Iraq and killing American soldiers, hundreds of them. Senator McCain and Senator Clinton voted for that resolution. About three quarters of the Senate did. Senator Obama did not.

Perhaps Lieberman should head the rapid response team on this issue. This point is, after all, central to McCain’s argument that Americans should trust him, rather than Barack Obama, to be commander-in-chief. McCain’s team has to make sure voters understand why.

The McCain camp has been struggling to explain why Hamas’ endorsement of Barack Obama is relevant and why it is not a “smear” for John McCain to have raised it. Joe Lieberman explained it succinctly on Late Edition on Sunday:

But the fact that the spokesperson for Hamas would say they would welcome the election of Senator Obama really does raise the question, “Why?” And it suggests the difference between these two candidates. And I think Hamas and Hezbollah, which is now control of Beirut, apparently, are proxies, are wards of Iran, which is the very same country that constantly shouts “Death to America, death to Israel.”So I think one of John’s strengths, John McCain’s strength as president, frankly, is that our allies and friends around the world will trust him. And our enemies like Hamas and Iran will fear him. And I think they need to fear him. . . Senator Obama has said he would sit down, without condition, with Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. That not only gives prestige to a terrible America and Israel- hater but it also threatens our allies in the region. Look, I’ll give you another example. This is an indirect step that could undermine our position in the Middle East. Earlier this year, Senator Kyl and I introduced the resolution in the Senate which called on the administration to impose economic sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that is training and equipping Iraqis that are going back into Iraq and killing American soldiers, hundreds of them. Senator McCain and Senator Clinton voted for that resolution. About three quarters of the Senate did. Senator Obama did not.

Perhaps Lieberman should head the rapid response team on this issue. This point is, after all, central to McCain’s argument that Americans should trust him, rather than Barack Obama, to be commander-in-chief. McCain’s team has to make sure voters understand why.

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Raising Money Off Obama’s Foreign Policy

In case you thought the Hamas endorsement of Barack Obama had escaped notice by John McCain, think again. John McCain’s team sent out a fundraising appeal with this:

Wednesday’s Democratic debate provided insight into Barack Obama’s positions on key foreign policy issues. As president he says he would immediately withdraw our troops from Iraq- even if he were strongly advised against this by our nation’s top military commanders. He would also hold direct talks with the Iranian regime- a regime that does not recognize Israel and is the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Iran’s president has even called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” During the debate, Barack Obama once again refused to condemn former President Jimmy Carter- who publicly supports Obama- for holding talks with the Hamas terrorist group, a group supported financially, politically and military by Iran. Barack Obama’s foreign policy plans have even won him praise from Hamas leaders. Ahmed Yousef, chief political adviser to the Hamas Prime Minister said, “We like Mr. Obama and we hope he will win the election. He has a vision to change America.” We need change in America, but not the kind of change that wins kind words from Hamas, surrenders in Iraq and will hold unconditional talks with Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

It appears this issue will not disappear, at least if McCain can help it.

In case you thought the Hamas endorsement of Barack Obama had escaped notice by John McCain, think again. John McCain’s team sent out a fundraising appeal with this:

Wednesday’s Democratic debate provided insight into Barack Obama’s positions on key foreign policy issues. As president he says he would immediately withdraw our troops from Iraq- even if he were strongly advised against this by our nation’s top military commanders. He would also hold direct talks with the Iranian regime- a regime that does not recognize Israel and is the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Iran’s president has even called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” During the debate, Barack Obama once again refused to condemn former President Jimmy Carter- who publicly supports Obama- for holding talks with the Hamas terrorist group, a group supported financially, politically and military by Iran. Barack Obama’s foreign policy plans have even won him praise from Hamas leaders. Ahmed Yousef, chief political adviser to the Hamas Prime Minister said, “We like Mr. Obama and we hope he will win the election. He has a vision to change America.” We need change in America, but not the kind of change that wins kind words from Hamas, surrenders in Iraq and will hold unconditional talks with Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

It appears this issue will not disappear, at least if McCain can help it.

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Buchanan’s Iran Pretzel

Today in World Net Daily, Pat Buchanan ties himself into a knot about the prospects of a war with Iran. He begins, “The neocons may yet get their war on Iran,” and then runs through the signs of impending military action:

Iran, Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee, has “fueled the recent violence in a particularly damaging way through its lethal support of the special groups.”

These “special groups” are “funded, trained, armed and directed by Iran’s Quds Force with help from Lebanese Hezbollah. It was these groups that launched Iranian rockets and mortar rounds at Iraq’s seat of government (the Green Zone) … causing loss of innocent life and fear in the capital.”

Is the Iranian government aware of this – and behind it?

“President Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders” promised to end their “support for the special groups,” said the general, but the “nefarious activities of the Quds force have continued.”

Are Iranians then murdering Americans, asked Joe Lieberman:

“Is it fair to say that the Iranian-backed special groups in Iraq are responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians?”

“It certainly is. . . . That is correct,” said Petraeus.

The following day, Petraeus told the House Armed Services Committee, “Unchecked, the ‘special groups’ pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.”
Translation: The United States is now fighting the proxies of Iran for the future of Iraq.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is a convincing case that Iran has already started a war with the U.S. Next, Buchanan takes some shots at the Iraq War and declares “Iran has nothing to gain by war.” He concludes:

No, it is not Iran that wants a war with the United States. It is the United States that has reasons to want a short, sharp war with Iran.

So, in Buchanan’s vision, the ill-conceived Iraq War has enabled the Iranians to engage in an undeclared war with the U.S. But the Iranians also, somehow, don’t want war with us. He may be right about the increasing likelihood of U.S. military action against Iran: the case against it has never looked so topsy-turvy.

Today in World Net Daily, Pat Buchanan ties himself into a knot about the prospects of a war with Iran. He begins, “The neocons may yet get their war on Iran,” and then runs through the signs of impending military action:

Iran, Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee, has “fueled the recent violence in a particularly damaging way through its lethal support of the special groups.”

These “special groups” are “funded, trained, armed and directed by Iran’s Quds Force with help from Lebanese Hezbollah. It was these groups that launched Iranian rockets and mortar rounds at Iraq’s seat of government (the Green Zone) … causing loss of innocent life and fear in the capital.”

Is the Iranian government aware of this – and behind it?

“President Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders” promised to end their “support for the special groups,” said the general, but the “nefarious activities of the Quds force have continued.”

Are Iranians then murdering Americans, asked Joe Lieberman:

“Is it fair to say that the Iranian-backed special groups in Iraq are responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians?”

“It certainly is. . . . That is correct,” said Petraeus.

The following day, Petraeus told the House Armed Services Committee, “Unchecked, the ‘special groups’ pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.”
Translation: The United States is now fighting the proxies of Iran for the future of Iraq.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is a convincing case that Iran has already started a war with the U.S. Next, Buchanan takes some shots at the Iraq War and declares “Iran has nothing to gain by war.” He concludes:

No, it is not Iran that wants a war with the United States. It is the United States that has reasons to want a short, sharp war with Iran.

So, in Buchanan’s vision, the ill-conceived Iraq War has enabled the Iranians to engage in an undeclared war with the U.S. But the Iranians also, somehow, don’t want war with us. He may be right about the increasing likelihood of U.S. military action against Iran: the case against it has never looked so topsy-turvy.

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Brooks on Clinton

David Brooks has a fascinating and important column today. In it he recounts how in 1992 Jim Cooper, a Democratic congressman from Tennessee, came up with a health care reform plan that drew bipartisan support but differed from Hillary Clinton’s plan (Cooper’s plan did not include employer mandates to force universal coverage). When Cooper met with Mrs. Clinton to discuss their differences, he found her “ice cold,” in his words. “It was the coldest reception of my life,” he said. “I was excoriated.”

When on June 15, 1993 Cooper told Mrs. Clinton (correctly) that her plan would never get through Congress, Clinton’s response, according to Cooper, was, “We’ll crush you. You’ll wish you never mentioned this to me.”

A war room was set up to oppose Cooper, who was planning to run for the Senate in 1994. His motivations were questioned by the Clinton crowd. People were dispatched to Tennessee to attack his plan. Mrs. Clinton denounced the Cooper plan as “dangerous and threatening” – and according to Newsweek, she brought an aide with a video camera to a meeting with senators and asked the senators to denounce Cooper on the spot.

“We’ll crush you” is an anthem for the Clintons. It, and “war rooms,” embody their approach to politics and governing. The record on this matter is clear and overwhelming: Team Clinton will try to destroy people whom they oppose and believe are a threat to their “political viability.” Of all the reasons to oppose Mrs. Clinton for president, this one ranks near the top. People like her and her husband should not be entrusted with power – and especially with the power of the presidency.

I would add this observation to David’s column. He uses his opening paragraph to declare he is not a “Hillary-hater” – and he supports this declaration by writing this:

She’s been an outstanding senator. She hung tough on Iraq through the dark days of 2005. In this campaign, she has soldiered on bravely even though she has most of the elected Democrats, news media and the educated class rooting against her.

David clearly isn’t a Hillary-hater – he’s not a hater, period, which is one of the reasons he’s liked and respected by so many people – but he overstates things in order to purchase the right to criticize her. Brooks may feel Hillary Clinton is a fine senator – but to say she is “outstanding” is not warranted. If her name was Hillary Jones (D-Idaho) instead of Hillary Clinton, she would be viewed as a capable, liberal-leaning person who has served in the Senate for less than eight years and has no great legislative achievements to her name. On the merits, she probably ranks near the middle or slightly above among the 100 senators.

Beyond that, Brooks writes that she “hung tough on Iraq through the dark days of 2005.” Except that 2005 was not viewed as dark at the time. That was the year, after all, of the Iraqi elections and the “purple finger.” It was a year in which it appeared as if political progress was being made (in fact, the progress was largely illusory). The really dark year in Iraq was 2006 – and that is the year when Senator Clinton began to waiver and then went south on the war she once supported. Worse, she (along with Senator Obama) now supports a withdrawal of American troops and a counterinsurgency strategy that would undercut the enormous gains we have made since General Petraeus began his secure-the-population counter-insurgency operation. She wants to leave Iraq, come what may. It is a reckless plan that would do enormous damage to America, lead to mass death among Iraqis, and be a huge victory for everyone from jihadists to President Ahmadinejad.

As for soldiering on “bravely” in the campaign: she is, after all, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination and probably the favorite to be the next President. She travels well, her campaign is flush with cash, she speaks before mostly-adoring audiences, and for much of the campaign she has not endured harsh criticism. To the degree that she has, most of it is due to her and the words and actions of her husband. The fact that she is a dogged campaigner is impressive – but not anymore so than anyone else in the campaign. And to invoke the adverb “bravely” for what she is doing devalues the word.

But those are minor points in an excellent and illuminating column. It is a reminder, if we needed one, why her and her husband’s brand of politics ought to be put on the ash-heap.

David Brooks has a fascinating and important column today. In it he recounts how in 1992 Jim Cooper, a Democratic congressman from Tennessee, came up with a health care reform plan that drew bipartisan support but differed from Hillary Clinton’s plan (Cooper’s plan did not include employer mandates to force universal coverage). When Cooper met with Mrs. Clinton to discuss their differences, he found her “ice cold,” in his words. “It was the coldest reception of my life,” he said. “I was excoriated.”

When on June 15, 1993 Cooper told Mrs. Clinton (correctly) that her plan would never get through Congress, Clinton’s response, according to Cooper, was, “We’ll crush you. You’ll wish you never mentioned this to me.”

A war room was set up to oppose Cooper, who was planning to run for the Senate in 1994. His motivations were questioned by the Clinton crowd. People were dispatched to Tennessee to attack his plan. Mrs. Clinton denounced the Cooper plan as “dangerous and threatening” – and according to Newsweek, she brought an aide with a video camera to a meeting with senators and asked the senators to denounce Cooper on the spot.

“We’ll crush you” is an anthem for the Clintons. It, and “war rooms,” embody their approach to politics and governing. The record on this matter is clear and overwhelming: Team Clinton will try to destroy people whom they oppose and believe are a threat to their “political viability.” Of all the reasons to oppose Mrs. Clinton for president, this one ranks near the top. People like her and her husband should not be entrusted with power – and especially with the power of the presidency.

I would add this observation to David’s column. He uses his opening paragraph to declare he is not a “Hillary-hater” – and he supports this declaration by writing this:

She’s been an outstanding senator. She hung tough on Iraq through the dark days of 2005. In this campaign, she has soldiered on bravely even though she has most of the elected Democrats, news media and the educated class rooting against her.

David clearly isn’t a Hillary-hater – he’s not a hater, period, which is one of the reasons he’s liked and respected by so many people – but he overstates things in order to purchase the right to criticize her. Brooks may feel Hillary Clinton is a fine senator – but to say she is “outstanding” is not warranted. If her name was Hillary Jones (D-Idaho) instead of Hillary Clinton, she would be viewed as a capable, liberal-leaning person who has served in the Senate for less than eight years and has no great legislative achievements to her name. On the merits, she probably ranks near the middle or slightly above among the 100 senators.

Beyond that, Brooks writes that she “hung tough on Iraq through the dark days of 2005.” Except that 2005 was not viewed as dark at the time. That was the year, after all, of the Iraqi elections and the “purple finger.” It was a year in which it appeared as if political progress was being made (in fact, the progress was largely illusory). The really dark year in Iraq was 2006 – and that is the year when Senator Clinton began to waiver and then went south on the war she once supported. Worse, she (along with Senator Obama) now supports a withdrawal of American troops and a counterinsurgency strategy that would undercut the enormous gains we have made since General Petraeus began his secure-the-population counter-insurgency operation. She wants to leave Iraq, come what may. It is a reckless plan that would do enormous damage to America, lead to mass death among Iraqis, and be a huge victory for everyone from jihadists to President Ahmadinejad.

As for soldiering on “bravely” in the campaign: she is, after all, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination and probably the favorite to be the next President. She travels well, her campaign is flush with cash, she speaks before mostly-adoring audiences, and for much of the campaign she has not endured harsh criticism. To the degree that she has, most of it is due to her and the words and actions of her husband. The fact that she is a dogged campaigner is impressive – but not anymore so than anyone else in the campaign. And to invoke the adverb “bravely” for what she is doing devalues the word.

But those are minor points in an excellent and illuminating column. It is a reminder, if we needed one, why her and her husband’s brand of politics ought to be put on the ash-heap.

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The Tittering at Columbia

There are no homosexuals in Iran, Iran’s president said yesterday at Columbia University, and there are also no—or there will not ever be any—nuclear weapons.

Although Columbia’s president said that the purpose of inviting the Iranian leader was to foster dialogue and the clash of ideas, as Bret Stephens points out in a brilliant column in today’s Wall Street Journal, it is questionable whether the university president’s “confidence in ‘dialogue and reason’ is well placed.” It is even more questionable “whether confronting ideas is a sufficient condition for understanding the world,” let alone for protecting ourselves from the menace represented by those ideas as they are expressed in the strategic and theological aspirations of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Of course, it pays to listen to Ahmadinejad’s statements—including his false ones—with great care. But is it required of us to listen to them at the podium of an Ivy League university? And to pretend to be engaging in an academic “dialogue” with the Holocaust-denying, homosexual-denying, nuclear-weapons-denying, genocide-bent Iranian leader is something even worse.

The English language has a rich supply of words to label the Columbia dean, John Coatsworth, who said, in defending the invitation, that the university would also have been happy to invite Hitler to a debate in 1939. Which is the best term?

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There are no homosexuals in Iran, Iran’s president said yesterday at Columbia University, and there are also no—or there will not ever be any—nuclear weapons.

Although Columbia’s president said that the purpose of inviting the Iranian leader was to foster dialogue and the clash of ideas, as Bret Stephens points out in a brilliant column in today’s Wall Street Journal, it is questionable whether the university president’s “confidence in ‘dialogue and reason’ is well placed.” It is even more questionable “whether confronting ideas is a sufficient condition for understanding the world,” let alone for protecting ourselves from the menace represented by those ideas as they are expressed in the strategic and theological aspirations of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Of course, it pays to listen to Ahmadinejad’s statements—including his false ones—with great care. But is it required of us to listen to them at the podium of an Ivy League university? And to pretend to be engaging in an academic “dialogue” with the Holocaust-denying, homosexual-denying, nuclear-weapons-denying, genocide-bent Iranian leader is something even worse.

The English language has a rich supply of words to label the Columbia dean, John Coatsworth, who said, in defending the invitation, that the university would also have been happy to invite Hitler to a debate in 1939. Which is the best term?

“Imbecile,” according to Webster’s, suggests someone “incapable of earning a living”—so that is not right because our Columbia dean’s accounts at TIAA-CREF are undoubtedly doing quite well.

Is “idiot” better? Perhaps, because it is defined as someone who is “incapable of avoiding the common dangers of life.” But since the term also refers to someone who is “incapable of connected speech,” it too is inaccurate. Coatsworth’s words may be deficient in various ways, but they are certainly connected; indeed, as Stephens shows, they are a constituent element of an entire worldview.

“Simpleton” implies “silliness or lack of sophistication,” and while Coatsworth is worse than silly, he is certainly sophisticated; indeed, he is a dean at one of our leading universities.

In the end, perhaps “fool”—a person “lacking in judgment or prudence”—is the most appropriate word. But as Webster’s points out, when all of these terms are used in their most general way, they all fit the bill insofar as they are often applied interchangeably to refer “to anyone regarded as lacking sense or good judgment.”

Fortunately, there are other and better solutions being developed than anything in the works at Columbia to deal with Ahmadinejad’s nuclear-weapons program, elements of which are buried deep underground in hardened facilities across Iran.

Defense Daily reports today that Northrop-Grumman is making rapid progress in bringing on board a new weapon. Here is its dispatch based upon an interview with Harry Heimple, a company spokesman:

By next year a 30,000-pound bomb capable of blasting into subterranean tunnels will begin operating in the Air Force’s bomber fleet, according to industry officials.

The Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) built by Boeing will be integrated by Northrop Grumman on both the B-2A Spirit stealth bomber and the B-52 Stratofortress. . .

The B-2A can carry two MOPs, one in each of its weapon bays. The munition Northrop Grumman calls “like” the Joint Direct Attack Munition with a guidance system aided by the Global Positioning System, MOP contains more than 5,300 pounds of conventional explosives inside of a 20.5-foot-long steel enclosure. The weapon is said to be able to penetrate up to about 60 feet of dirt and concrete.

The mass makes it three and a half times as powerful as the Air Force’s heaviest weapons, Heimple said. After extensive testing to gauge whether it is better to drop multiple bombs in the same spot or to drop one enormous bomb, the Air Force has opted for the MOP, saying more mass is the right answer, Heimple said.

The first lethality test of the weapon took place at the end of March at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in a tunnel complex with helicopters and jeeps inside. The bomb was placed nose-down in the complex and fired. The Air Force measured the blast for pressure and temperature.

“The results were pretty amazing,” Heimple said.

The private sector is thus doing things that are far more significant than the laughter on Morningside Heights which greeted the Iranian president’s remarks about homosexuality. Since Columbia continues to exclude ROTC from campus, the complacent tittering at Ahmadinejad is the university’s only contribution, thus far, to our common defense.

 

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Iran’s Long War

There has been a surge of alarmism about Iran within the U.S. foreign-policy community. Many experts fear that belligerent fanatics will soon use their fearsome arsenals to put the entire world at risk with unprovoked aggression.

Makes sense, you might say. Except that in the view of some analysts, the fanatics are in Washington not Tehran. Some of our most eminent foreign-policy thinkers seem to think that supposedly trigger-happy hawks in America are a bigger threat to world peace than terrorism-sponsoring mullahs in Iran.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 1, Zbigniew Brzezinski warned of a looming conflict with Iran “and much of the world of Islam at large” in which he sees the U.S. as the culprit: “A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a ‘defensive’ U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.” Note the skeptical quotes around “defensive.” In Brzezinski’s telling, a U.S. attack on Iran could resemble Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, which was preceded by a staged provocation in which SS soldiers in Polish uniforms pretended to attack a German radio station.

Stanford political scientists Larry Diamond and Leonard Weiss take up a similar refrain in the Los Angeles Times, urging Congress to use “its power of the purse to prevent an American attack on Iran.” Weiss and Diamond concede that “Iran is not innocent of dangerous and provocative behavior” but go on to assert that “war is not yet justified, except in the minds of those who have been lobbying for it for years.” Whoever they are.

As it happens, I agree with Weiss and Diamond—and with Edward Luttwak—that it’s not time to bomb, at least not yet. But I take exception to the premise of their argument and of Brzezinski’s, which is that if the U.S. were to bomb Iran, this would amount to starting a war out of the blue. In reality, Iran has been waging war on the U.S. for a quarter century, from the 1979 hostage crisis to the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut to its present policy of supplying Explosively Formed Projectiles—i.e., highly potent landmines—to Shiite and possibly even Sunni insurgents in Iraq who use them to blow up American armored vehicles, killing or injuring the occupants. A U.S. attack on Iran would not represent the beginning of a war; it would merely represent belated recognition on our part that a war is going on.

That isn’t to say that military action is the right course. For the time being, I would prefer more political, economic, and diplomatic pressure, which already seems to be taking a toll on President Ahmadinejad’s popularity with the Iranian political class. But my fear is not that we will respond too belligerently but that, as in years past (including during the first six years of the Bush administration), we will respond too supinely—that we will continue to do nothing, beyond a few tartly worded statements, about the growing Iranian threat. That really will make war more likely.

There has been a surge of alarmism about Iran within the U.S. foreign-policy community. Many experts fear that belligerent fanatics will soon use their fearsome arsenals to put the entire world at risk with unprovoked aggression.

Makes sense, you might say. Except that in the view of some analysts, the fanatics are in Washington not Tehran. Some of our most eminent foreign-policy thinkers seem to think that supposedly trigger-happy hawks in America are a bigger threat to world peace than terrorism-sponsoring mullahs in Iran.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 1, Zbigniew Brzezinski warned of a looming conflict with Iran “and much of the world of Islam at large” in which he sees the U.S. as the culprit: “A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a ‘defensive’ U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.” Note the skeptical quotes around “defensive.” In Brzezinski’s telling, a U.S. attack on Iran could resemble Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, which was preceded by a staged provocation in which SS soldiers in Polish uniforms pretended to attack a German radio station.

Stanford political scientists Larry Diamond and Leonard Weiss take up a similar refrain in the Los Angeles Times, urging Congress to use “its power of the purse to prevent an American attack on Iran.” Weiss and Diamond concede that “Iran is not innocent of dangerous and provocative behavior” but go on to assert that “war is not yet justified, except in the minds of those who have been lobbying for it for years.” Whoever they are.

As it happens, I agree with Weiss and Diamond—and with Edward Luttwak—that it’s not time to bomb, at least not yet. But I take exception to the premise of their argument and of Brzezinski’s, which is that if the U.S. were to bomb Iran, this would amount to starting a war out of the blue. In reality, Iran has been waging war on the U.S. for a quarter century, from the 1979 hostage crisis to the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut to its present policy of supplying Explosively Formed Projectiles—i.e., highly potent landmines—to Shiite and possibly even Sunni insurgents in Iraq who use them to blow up American armored vehicles, killing or injuring the occupants. A U.S. attack on Iran would not represent the beginning of a war; it would merely represent belated recognition on our part that a war is going on.

That isn’t to say that military action is the right course. For the time being, I would prefer more political, economic, and diplomatic pressure, which already seems to be taking a toll on President Ahmadinejad’s popularity with the Iranian political class. But my fear is not that we will respond too belligerently but that, as in years past (including during the first six years of the Bush administration), we will respond too supinely—that we will continue to do nothing, beyond a few tartly worded statements, about the growing Iranian threat. That really will make war more likely.

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