Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

What Neoconservatives Know

Despite a reputation for bluster, neoconservatives take their lumps better than most. As has been acknowledged repeatedly, we overestimated the contact infectiousness of democracy in Iraq. Similarly, we underestimated the task of its implementation. A willingness to acknowledge mistakes was behind neoconservative support for the strategy change in Iraq known as the Surge. But once the Surge happened, neoconservatives overestimated the American political will to secure our gains in the long term.

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Despite a reputation for bluster, neoconservatives take their lumps better than most. As has been acknowledged repeatedly, we overestimated the contact infectiousness of democracy in Iraq. Similarly, we underestimated the task of its implementation. A willingness to acknowledge mistakes was behind neoconservative support for the strategy change in Iraq known as the Surge. But once the Surge happened, neoconservatives overestimated the American political will to secure our gains in the long term.

If critics won’t hear our confession, so be it.

But they should still listen to our warnings. For if we’ve been too optimistic about freedom’s allies, we’ve been depressingly accurate about its enemies. Neoconservatives warned that if Barack Obama pulled out of Iraq according to his timeline, the country would fall into dangerous hands. Obama did so and ISIS gained a state. For years, while realists and liberals swore that Bashar al-Assad was a reasonable target for U.S. engagement, neoconservatives pegged him as an unflippable servant of both Baathist and Shiite terror. When the Arab Spring came to Syria, Assad devoted himself to mass atrocity and became the main engine of instability in the Middle East. Once the Syrian civil war began, we warned that jihadists would exert control over the rebels unless the United States assisted the non-radicals among them. Washington choked while ISIS and the Nusra Front took the lead in the fight against Assad.

Neoconservatives warned against placing faith in Vladimir Putin (even as George W. Bush claimed to see the good in Putin’s soul). We said Obama’s attempted reset policy was a fool’s errand and Putin was an aggressor by nature. That policy is now in a shambles and Putin, like a modern-day Catherine the Great, has seized Crimea and put the region on notice. Neoconservatives warned that the Palestinian leadership had no interest in peace with Israel. The Obama administration doggedly pursued peace talks that tottered on up until and even through the point that Hamas launched a new round of violence and murder, sparking a war. Neoconservatives have long warned that a premature U.S. exit from Afghanistan will invite an unmanageable Taliban resurgence. On this point, Obama seems to be relenting, having recently approved plans to broaden the role of American forces in that country after 2014.

Then there’s Iran. Elite opinion has invented a new position in the Iranian government: the Office of The Moderate. If you think I’m exaggerating, do a Google search for “the moderate Hassan Rouhani.” Describing Iran’s president thus, you’ll get 113,000 hits. Then search “the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei,” the descriptive title of the real Iranian leader. You’ll get a meager 32,800 hits. Iran’s elections may be fixed but there’s no rigging the global court of elite wisdom. President Obama is the most consequential proponent of the notion that Iran is becoming a moderate power open to diplomatic negotiations on its nuclear program. The administration has entered into its second extension of the P5+1 talks with Tehran ostensibly aimed at denying the mullahs a bomb.

Now, the neoconservative warning: The Islamic Republic of Iran is founded on a delusional theocratic hatred for the West. A nuclear weapon is the longstanding desideratum of a regime that has made “Death to America” a plank of national self-affirmation. For Ali Khamenei, the idea of being defanged by the Great Satan lies somewhere between impossible and unthinkable. Rouhani is a false moderate with false authority. All told, Iran’s leaders are more dangerous and more implacable than any of those mentioned above, and the consequences of taking them lightly are almost too grave to countenance.

Nothing about the Obama administration’s recent dealings with Iran suggests this characterization is wrong. From the few reports that have leaked out, Tehran has been unwilling to budge on any major aspect of a deal to halt its march toward a nuclear weapon. Last week, in the wake of the extension announcement, the New York Times reported, “In the Iranian Parliament, lawmakers erupted in their usual chants of ‘Death to America’ after a lawmaker commenting on the deadline extension spoke of ‘the U.S.’s sabotaging efforts and its unreliability.’” Yesterday, Khamenei called for an arms buildup. “Peacetime offers great opportunities for our armed forces to … build up on preemptive capacities,” he said.

It would be nice if the neocons got this one wrong.

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Why Won’t Iran Take a Favorable Deal?

The mullahs are saving us from ourselves. Or more specifically Ayatollah Khamenei is saving us from President Obama’s desperation to achieve a nuclear deal.

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The mullahs are saving us from ourselves. Or more specifically Ayatollah Khamenei is saving us from President Obama’s desperation to achieve a nuclear deal.

Obama’s desperation is evident to all–he needs some foreign-policy achievement–to balance against the whole litany of failures (Iraq, Syria, ISIS, Ukraine, Yemen, Libya, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, etc.) that are dragging his foreign policy into Carteresque realms–or possibly even beyond that into hitherto unknown realms of foreign-policy failure. That is why he has been willing to grant Iran a nuclear deal on such generous terms and why, even though Iran won’t take those generous terms, he is willing to keep extending the deadline for talks time after time.

As Michael Gordon of the New York Times helpfully explicated: “The United States long ago dropped the goal of eliminating Iran’s enrichment ability, a demand that Israel has long insisted was the surest way to guarantee Iran did not maintain an option to pursue the development of nuclear arms.” The more modest goal American negotiations sought to achieve was an agreement that would “slow the Iranian nuclear program enough that it would take Iran at least a year to make enough material for a nuclear bomb if it decided to ignore the accord.”

It would surely be in Iran’s interests to sign such a deal in which the mullahs would pledge to stop operating some of their 19,000 centrifuges (10,000 of them are currently operational) and in return they would receive billions of dollars in sanctions relief that would save the Iranian economy from ruin–and save Iran’s theocratic dictators from being overthrown by their increasingly disgruntled people. And then, having signed the accord, Iran could proceed quietly and secretly to cheat, perhaps by building a plutonium-based bomb enabled by their new heavy water facility at Arak.

That is pretty much what North Korea did after signing the 1994 Agreed Framework. The Bush administration, which wasn’t as wedded to the Agreed Framework as Bill Clinton, confronted North Korea with evidence of its cheating in 2002. North Korea then pulled out all the stops and tested a nuclear weapon in 2006. By then it was too late for the U.S. to do anything about it.

Iran has had a full year to conclude such a favorable deal and yet it refuses to close the deal. Why not? And what will change in the next seven months?

My theory–and I admit it’s only a theory–is that Ayatollah Khamenei simply can’t swallow doing any deal with the Great Satan, no matter how favorable, because to do so would undercut the revolutionary legitimacy of his regime. Ever since the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979, Iran’s theocratic regime has defined itself in opposition to the United States. Thanks in no small measure to Obama’s lack of response, Tehran is closer than ever to realizing its ambitions to dominate the entire region stretching to the Mediterranean–including Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Oh, and Iran is also advancing in Yemen. Perhaps Khamenei simply can’t stomach the thought of reaching any kind of accommodation with the United States because it would hobble Iran’s offensive abroad and undermine his own claim to rule at home.

In short, Khamenei may be even more dedicated to his destructive ideology than Obama is to his. And that may be the only thing saving us from a catastrophically bad Iran deal–although not from having the negotiations dragged out endlessly.

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White House Ignores Khamenei Response to Letters

The always excellent Jay Solomon and Carol Lee have a scoop in the Wall Street Journal regarding the latest letter which President Obama has sent to Supreme Leader Khamenei.

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The always excellent Jay Solomon and Carol Lee have a scoop in the Wall Street Journal regarding the latest letter which President Obama has sent to Supreme Leader Khamenei.

While we can debate the wisdom of this correspondence–and I think Obama is being extremely naïve–at least he seems to recognize that it is the supreme leader who makes decisions and not the Iranian president, no matter how smiley that president might be.

What struck me, however, was this statement in Solomon and Lee’s report:

Mr. Khamenei never directly responded to the overtures, according to U.S. officials. And Iran’s security forces cracked down hard that year on nationwide protests that challenged the re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Actually, Khamenei did respond. On the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy, he said this, in a mocking tone which is even more apparent in the Persian version of this speech:

The new US President made some beautiful comments. He also repeatedly asked us in writing and orally to turn a new page and help him change the present situation. He asked us to cooperate with him to solve global issues. He went as far as that.

Now, Khamenei continued to say he gave Obama a chance, but Obama didn’t come around. Khamenei then gloated about the strength of the Islamic Republic, a perception which Obama’s groveling tone has bolstered:

I wonder why they do not learn a lesson from what has happened. I do not understand why they are not prepared to get to know our nation. Do they not know that this nation is the one that resisted and brought the two superpowers – that is, the Soviet Union and America – to their knees? When there were two superpowers in the world, they were opposed to one another in almost all areas except in their enmity towards the Islamic Republic. This enmity was the only thing these two superpowers had in common. Why do you not learn your lesson? Today you are not even as powerful as you used to be. The Islamic Republic is several times more powerful today than those days, and yet you are speaking with the same tone? That is arrogance – talking to a nation arrogantly and using threats to get what they want. They threaten us. And our nation says it will resist.

Khamenei then warned the United States not to put its hope in reformers, as Obama seems keen to do:

Just because a handful of naïve or malevolent individuals have confronted the Islamic Republic does not mean that they can roll out the red carpet for Americans in our country. These individuals either had ulterior motives or had naively misunderstood the events without having very bad intentions – I do not want to be judgmental about their malevolence. Americans should know that the nation is resisting firmly.

The point of this is not to criticize the Wall Street Journal report which only relates what Obama administration officials said. But it is symptomatic of the problems of Obama administration diplomacy with Iran: Simply put, Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry imagine sincerity where none exists and ignore any response that is not too their liking. Rather than acknowledge that Khamenei responded with a message Obama did not like, the White House and State Department would rather put the response down the memory hole, all the better to keep the process alive. The reality is this, however: No really does mean no.

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Kerry’s False Iran Talks Narrative

Who are the obstacles to a new nuclear deal between the West and Iran? According to the New York Times, it’s the extremists on both sides: Iranian mullahs and members of Congress, both of whom are said to want the negotiations to fail. But the problem here is that both the newspaper and the anonymous U.S. officials who were the sources for the piece assume the object of the exercise is a deal of any sort. Their American critics have a different goal: stopping Iran from getting a bomb.

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Who are the obstacles to a new nuclear deal between the West and Iran? According to the New York Times, it’s the extremists on both sides: Iranian mullahs and members of Congress, both of whom are said to want the negotiations to fail. But the problem here is that both the newspaper and the anonymous U.S. officials who were the sources for the piece assume the object of the exercise is a deal of any sort. Their American critics have a different goal: stopping Iran from getting a bomb.

The Times article advances the administration’s agenda in which it has sought to portray critics of the Iran talks as warmongers determined to thwart progress in the same way that hard-line ayatollahs might. But the facile analogy tells us more about Kerry’s mindset than anything else. Like Cold War-era liberals who urged the U.S. not to be too tough on Moscow, lest the real hardliners in the Kremlin get the best of the liberal Communists, the assumption that there is any real support in Tehran for reconciliation or willingness to give up their nuclear quest is probably a pointless diversion. Contrary to the Times, the recent statements of Iran’s supreme leader–in which he stated that his country intends to increase the number of centrifuges enriching uranium, not reduce them–did not so much blindside his envoys as it made clear that the belief that they would accommodate Western demands was always a delusion. The supposed leader of the Iranian moderates, President Hassan Rouhani, is a loyal servant of Ayatollah Khamenei and helped deceive the West in the past. Whatever issues divide the Iranians, they are united in an effort to bluff the Obama administration into giving them another diplomatic victory.

On the other hand, the members of the House and the Senate that have warned the White House that they will oppose any deal that leaves Iran with a nuclear capability are not the problem. There is no difference between the stated positions of Democrat Robert Menendez, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and President Obama. Both have said they will not settle for an agreement that will allow Iran to get a bomb. Menendez and the broad bipartisan majority of both Houses of Congress have put on record their opposition to a weak deal that would leave Iran’s infrastructure in place with no credible guarantees to stop them from resuming their nuclear quest. But the motivation for the congressional critiques is not opposition to diplomacy per se so much as their understanding that administration diplomats have succumbed before to their zeal for a deal and may yet again.

At the heart of this dynamic is not the meme of extremists on both sides opposing compromise but the direction that the negotiations have taken. Kerry threw away the West’s formidable economic and military leverage over Iran last fall and signed an interim nuclear deal that tacitly recognized its right to enrich uranium and loosened sanctions in exchange for concessions that could be easily reversed. The Iranians had every expectation that this pattern would be repeated in the current round of talks and have understandably refused to back down and agree to anything that would really limit their ability to go nuclear.

This places Kerry in a bind. The administration desperately needs an agreement because neither President Obama nor America’s European allies have any appetite for continuing the existing sanctions on Iran’s economy, let alone toughening them (as Congress would like to do) in order to bring Tehran to its knees. Having started the process of unraveling support for sanctions last fall, getting the international community to agree to a genuine boycott of Iranian oil may be beyond the capacity of this administration.

That’s what Iran is counting on as it plays out the clock on the talks denying they will give Kerry any extra time during which he can somehow craft a deal. That leaves the U.S. vulnerable to a nuclear shakedown in which an agreement that would place no real obstacles in Iran’s place might be presented to the American people as proof that Obama kept his word to stop Iran. While most Americans are hazy about the details of these talks, they should not be deceived into thinking this is an issue on which reasonable people can split the difference. An agreement that allows Iran to keep its nuclear program (something that the president specifically vowed not to let happen) and gives it access to its nuclear stockpile with only a brief “break out” period standing between the ayatollahs and the bomb is not a compromise. It is a Western surrender that will put nuclear weapons within reach of the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.

As time winds down toward the moment when another Kerry cave-in becomes the only way a deal gets done, it is imperative that Congress sends a clear message that it will never pass any bill lifting sanctions on Iran unless the negotiations produce an accord that is something more than a Western fig leaf covering Iran’s nuclear ambition.

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Khamenei Loves Carter’s Book on Women

Love Jimmy Carter or hate him, one thing is certain: The Iranian hostage crisis paralyzed his presidency and contributed heavily to his political downfall. A chapter of my new book examines in detail Carter administration outreach to Iran in the wake of the hostage crisis and while Carter made many mistakes, too often his critics ignore the very real belief at the time that Iran’s revolutionary authorities could do anything, including trying American diplomats before revolutionary tribunals and executing them.

The Islamic Revolution, of course, did many things. Despite the rhetoric of social justice that infuses the Islamic Republic’s religious rhetoric, it ushered in an increase in sectarianism and a rollback of basic human rights across Iranian society. Whereas women in Middle Eastern countries have long fought for new rights, the Islamic Republic was unique—at least until recently with the Islamist hijacking of the Arab Spring and the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—in that women had to fight for rights which had been taken away from them. Nor are there many countries whose governments take pride in imprisoning and perhaps even executing rape victims.

So, it’s always slightly ironic when senior Iranian officials extol the Utopia they say their country has become for women. And so it was with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader and the self-professed deputy of the messiah on Earth, who gave a speech on women’s rights recently. The values the Islamic Republic hold dear in women?

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Love Jimmy Carter or hate him, one thing is certain: The Iranian hostage crisis paralyzed his presidency and contributed heavily to his political downfall. A chapter of my new book examines in detail Carter administration outreach to Iran in the wake of the hostage crisis and while Carter made many mistakes, too often his critics ignore the very real belief at the time that Iran’s revolutionary authorities could do anything, including trying American diplomats before revolutionary tribunals and executing them.

The Islamic Revolution, of course, did many things. Despite the rhetoric of social justice that infuses the Islamic Republic’s religious rhetoric, it ushered in an increase in sectarianism and a rollback of basic human rights across Iranian society. Whereas women in Middle Eastern countries have long fought for new rights, the Islamic Republic was unique—at least until recently with the Islamist hijacking of the Arab Spring and the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—in that women had to fight for rights which had been taken away from them. Nor are there many countries whose governments take pride in imprisoning and perhaps even executing rape victims.

So, it’s always slightly ironic when senior Iranian officials extol the Utopia they say their country has become for women. And so it was with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader and the self-professed deputy of the messiah on Earth, who gave a speech on women’s rights recently. The values the Islamic Republic hold dear in women?

A mother who has offered two, three, four martyrs in the way of God and who has stood firm despite this, advises us to stand firm as well. One really feels humility in the face of such greatness. These are the realities about the women of our society which are very glorious and important realities. Well, this is thankfully the bright and shining part of the issue of women in our country.

He continues to lament women’s suffrage and the growing role in society that women have played in the West since the Industrial Revolution. He continues to cite none other than Jimmy Carter to describe the supposedly horrible state of women in the West:

I found it to be a very important writing. I have brought it to this meeting to read it for you. A book written by Jimmy Carter – the former president of America – has been published which is named “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, And Power”. Jimmy Carter says in this book, “Every year, 100,000 girls are sold as slaves in America where the owner of a brothel can buy girls – who are usually Latin American or African – at only 1000 dollars.” He also refers to the rapes which occur in colleges where only one case out of 25 cases is reported. He goes on to say that only one percent of rapists are put to trial in the army. One cries when one reads such things. We can see many such writings in newspapers. I see such writings as well, but I never base my opinions on them. However, these are realities. Jimmy Carter is a well-known personality after all and this is his book.

Khamenei is referring to Carter’s new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power. While Carter is right to point out a lack of progress in some aspects of Western society, he has little perspective or sense of balance about relative rights. He exaggerates or uses unreliable or discredited statistics to bash the West, and tends to embrace cultural relevancy and downplay the horrific violence and discrimination women face in the Middle East and broader Islamic world.

For example, he describes Saudi women as “bubbl[ing] over with pleasure as they extolled their enhanced status in Saudi society, with its special protection, plus freedom and privilege.” Indeed, he then observed “women in the Kingdom relish some customs that Westerners consider deprivations.” How unfortunate it is that a man who was once leader of the free world so readily considers individual liberty and freedom to choose how to live one’s life such a burden.

Carter also includes some potted history with regard to Iran, but he fails to mention the repressions Iranian women face. The closest he comes is to lament that Tehran—along with Sudan, Somalia, the island nations of Palau and Tonga, and the United States—have not ratified the UN’s The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. He neglects to realize that many Arab countries have ratified but then moved to exempt themselves from the Convention’s provisions, or ignored them altogether, nor mentions the reasons why the United States has not ratified the treaty, which have more to do with sovereignty than misogyny. Bashing Western freedom and whitewashing abuses in the Islamic world does not make an individual enlightened; it makes him or her a bigot, willing to condemn others to tyranny based on the location of their birth.

The arrogance of power—and life in an echo chamber—can lead to the moral miscalibration that appears to afflict our nation’s 39th president. But, if there was ever a time to stand up and engage in some serious introspection, it is probably when Iran’s supreme leader seems so enthusiastic to endorse your latest book.

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Khamenei Stays A Step Ahead of the West

Critics of the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, and proponents of sanctions more generally, have been making a simple argument: any substantial sanctions relief will be difficult to undo if Iran doesn’t comply with the terms of the deal. That means Iran gets a cash infusion with no risk, and a foot in the door of sanctions relief could be enough to throw it wide open, considering the overall lack of appetite in the West for the sanctions regime.

Critics cannot prove what the administration will do after this deal runs its initial course. But they can demonstrate that the other part–the financial windfall Iran’s leaders stand to gain right away–is already taking place. That’s the upshot of yesterday’s Reuters piece on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s financial empire and how the nuclear deal is already paying off for him. But first, it’s necessary to refer to the background of this story, which was exposed by Reuters in November.

Khamenei, Reuters revealed, controls an “economic empire” under the organization Setad. Reuters estimated the holdings of the company to be worth nearly $100 billion, but the combination of how Setad makes its money and what that organization enables Khamenei to accomplish are the more important details:

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Critics of the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, and proponents of sanctions more generally, have been making a simple argument: any substantial sanctions relief will be difficult to undo if Iran doesn’t comply with the terms of the deal. That means Iran gets a cash infusion with no risk, and a foot in the door of sanctions relief could be enough to throw it wide open, considering the overall lack of appetite in the West for the sanctions regime.

Critics cannot prove what the administration will do after this deal runs its initial course. But they can demonstrate that the other part–the financial windfall Iran’s leaders stand to gain right away–is already taking place. That’s the upshot of yesterday’s Reuters piece on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s financial empire and how the nuclear deal is already paying off for him. But first, it’s necessary to refer to the background of this story, which was exposed by Reuters in November.

Khamenei, Reuters revealed, controls an “economic empire” under the organization Setad. Reuters estimated the holdings of the company to be worth nearly $100 billion, but the combination of how Setad makes its money and what that organization enables Khamenei to accomplish are the more important details:

But Setad has empowered him. Through Setad, Khamenei has at his disposal financial resources whose value rivals the holdings of the shah, the Western-backed monarch who was overthrown in 1979.

How Setad came into those assets also mirrors how the deposed monarchy obtained much of its fortune – by confiscating real estate. A six-month Reuters investigation has found that Setad built its empire on the systematic seizure of thousands of properties belonging to ordinary Iranians: members of religious minorities like Vahdat-e-Hagh, who is Baha’i, as well as Shi’ite Muslims, business people and Iranians living abroad.

Setad has amassed a giant portfolio of real estate by claiming in Iranian courts, sometimes falsely, that the properties are abandoned. The organization now holds a court-ordered monopoly on taking property in the name of the supreme leader, and regularly sells the seized properties at auction or seeks to extract payments from the original owners.

The supreme leader also oversaw the creation of a body of legal rulings and executive orders that enabled and safeguarded Setad’s asset acquisitions. “No supervisory organization can question its property,” said Naghi Mahmoudi, an Iranian lawyer who left Iran in 2010 and now lives in Germany.

Land, resources, legal power, money–Setad gave Khamenei unparalleled access to it in Iran. Setad invests, as would be expected, in Iran’s energy industry. The Treasury Department wasn’t fooled, and specifically targeted Setad and dozens of companies it is believed to oversee as part of an attempt to close off financial escape hatches that enabled the Iranian leadership to get around sanctions.

Now, as Reuters reports, some of those escape hatches have been reopened:

Khamenei controls a massive business empire known as Setad that has invested in Iran’s petrochemical industry, which is now permitted to resume exports. Under a six-month deal between Iran and world powers, Tehran has promised to scale back its nuclear development program in exchange for the suspension of certain economic sanctions, including curbs on the export of petrochemicals.

On Monday, the day the suspension of the restrictions took effect, the U.S. Treasury Department published a list of 14 Iranian petrochemical companies that previously had been sanctioned but are now permitted to do business abroad. The list includes three firms that the department said last year are controlled by Setad – Ghaed Bassir Petrochemical Products Co, Marjan Petrochemical Co and Sadaf Petrochemical Assaluyeh Co.

The Treasury Department responded to this latest report by saying Iran’s leaders won’t gain much from petrochemical exports during the next six months, probably not more than $1 billion. But that’s not nothing, and it also misses the point of the story: the Iranian leadership appears to be a step ahead of its Western counterparts on this score. And who knows what they’ll be able to work out given six months’ time.

And it’s what makes press briefings like today’s from Jay Carney so troubling. As the Washington Examiner reports, Carney was asked about the latest comments from the Iranian foreign minister that they “did not agree to dismantle anything.” Carney called it “spin.” Perhaps, but that means, according to Carney, the Iranians are lying about their obligations. So what makes this administration think Iran’s government can be trusted to fulfill obligations it says don’t exist? Meanwhile, as the two sides argue in public over what they actually agreed to, the sanctions relief remains in place.

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What Does Iran’s Demographic Precipice Mean?

When Iran’s supreme leader speaks, Iranians listen. Deference is less a sign of respect than fear but, regardless, Iranians understand that the supreme leader runs the show. He sets the tone for the regime and is the only figure who can affect policy. One should expect nothing less from the self-declared “deputy of the Messiah on Earth.”

American policymakers notoriously focus on short-term issues. Within the State Department, Pentagon, and even the Central Intelligence Agency, the majority of staff are focused on the next week’s events and petty bureaucratic tasks rather than long-term strategy. Hence, in 2009, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to support the Iranian people rising up against Khamenei’s repression, because they feared that to do so would make less likely a response to the letter Obama had penned to the supreme leader. (In a subsequent November 3, 2009 speech, Khamenei mocked Obama’s letters.) Likewise, in recent weeks, the Obama administration in various briefings to Congress has argued that the Iran nuclear deal will make a nuclear breakout less likely in the next six months, even if the same deal might hasten Tehran’s breakout ability in the period that follows.

There is little U.S. consideration, however, about what Iran might or could be like in the coming decades. In short, however, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has, in recent months, increased his focus on demography. For example, in a speech earlier this autumn, Khamenei declared:

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When Iran’s supreme leader speaks, Iranians listen. Deference is less a sign of respect than fear but, regardless, Iranians understand that the supreme leader runs the show. He sets the tone for the regime and is the only figure who can affect policy. One should expect nothing less from the self-declared “deputy of the Messiah on Earth.”

American policymakers notoriously focus on short-term issues. Within the State Department, Pentagon, and even the Central Intelligence Agency, the majority of staff are focused on the next week’s events and petty bureaucratic tasks rather than long-term strategy. Hence, in 2009, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to support the Iranian people rising up against Khamenei’s repression, because they feared that to do so would make less likely a response to the letter Obama had penned to the supreme leader. (In a subsequent November 3, 2009 speech, Khamenei mocked Obama’s letters.) Likewise, in recent weeks, the Obama administration in various briefings to Congress has argued that the Iran nuclear deal will make a nuclear breakout less likely in the next six months, even if the same deal might hasten Tehran’s breakout ability in the period that follows.

There is little U.S. consideration, however, about what Iran might or could be like in the coming decades. In short, however, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has, in recent months, increased his focus on demography. For example, in a speech earlier this autumn, Khamenei declared:

You should consider the different aspects of this issue. You should see what things make our society lose interest in bearing children. This lack of interest in bearing children is a malady. Otherwise, one naturally likes to have children. Why do a number of people prefer to have only one child? Why do they prefer to have only two children? Why do women and men avoid – in different ways – having children? You should look at these issues and see what factors play a role in this. You should identify these factors and ask experts and thinkers to think about finding a cure for these pathological factors. I believe that these factors are pathological and problematic.

Simply put, Iranian families are shrinking. The person who has most followed the trend over time is Farzaneh Roudi, program director for the Middle East and North Africa region at Population Reference Bureau but, in short, the proportion of the Iranian population under five years old plummeted from 18 percent in 1986 to 10 percent a decade later. The Institut National d’Etudes Demographiques in Paris estimated that Iran’s total fertility rate fell from 6.2 children per woman in 1986 to just 3.5 seven years later. By 2000 it was 2.0, which is below the replacement rate of 2.1.

I have gone into this in a bit more detail for my monthly “Operational Environment Watch” analysis for the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office but, in short, while population changes might suggest that ordinary Iranians are embracing more Western attitudes about families and perhaps life in general, an aging population both bodes poorly for the Islamic Republic’s already teetering economy and suggests that the Islamic Republic seeks to shift from having a quantitative military edge to a qualitative military edge in the coming decades, notwithstanding any agreement Secretary of State John Kerry believes he has achieved.

If the Islamic Republic will face severe structural problems and strains in the coming years, then the last thing the United States or Europe should do is throw the current regime an economic lifeline. After all, the most stable outcome for the Middle East would be the re-emergence of an Iran which isn’t subject to clerical rule. That should be the long-term outcome for which the United States strives. That it is also the outcome most Iranians seem to prefer should cement the case.

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Election of “Moderate” Helps Iran’s Tyrant

Say what you will about Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He may lead a totalitarian theocracy that squelches freedom and threatens the region with its nuclear program and spews anti-Western and anti-Semitic filth at the world. But he is not incapable of learning a simple lesson about international politics. Four years ago, he stood back and allowed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to steal the country’s presidential election thus consigning Iran to four more years of being represented to the world by a vulgar buffoon. The violent suppression of protesters in Tehran worsened Iran’s already terrible reputation and Ahmadinejad’s role as the regime’s most visible figure made it easier to rally international support for sanctions against Iran to force it to drop its nuclear ambitions. But this time around, Khamenei wasn’t going to make the same mistake. Rather than taking action to ensure the election of a candidate more closely identified with him, he allowed a cleric who is a strong supporter of the Islamist government but not one of his personal followers to breeze to an easy victory in Friday’s election. It’s the smartest thing he’s done in years.

Hassan Rowhani is the new president of Iran, but though the vote is seen as a setback for Khamenei, the supreme leader is actually the big winner. Having seen how Ahmadinejad’s antics and open expression of hatred made it easier to sell Western governments on the necessity of taking the Iranian threat seriously, Khamenei is right to think Rowhani’s victory will be interpreted by many in the Western foreign policy establishment as a chance to see if Iran is taking a step back from the nuclear precipice. But as with past “moderates” who won the presidency, Rowhani may be the new face of the regime but it won’t change a thing about who runs Iran, its support for Bashar Assad and Hezbollah terrorism, or its drive for nuclear weapons. The alleged moderate—whose views on those issues don’t deviate a whit from those of Khamenei anyway—won’t have any influence on those matters.

Rowhani’s election will make it more complicated for those who want to press Iran harder to give up its nuclear program and strengthen the voices of those useful idiots in the West (like the editorial board of the New York Times) who will argue that Rowhani’s election is a good reason to devote another year or two or three to dead-end diplomatic efforts that will do nothing but give Iran more time to achieve its nuclear goal.

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Say what you will about Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He may lead a totalitarian theocracy that squelches freedom and threatens the region with its nuclear program and spews anti-Western and anti-Semitic filth at the world. But he is not incapable of learning a simple lesson about international politics. Four years ago, he stood back and allowed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to steal the country’s presidential election thus consigning Iran to four more years of being represented to the world by a vulgar buffoon. The violent suppression of protesters in Tehran worsened Iran’s already terrible reputation and Ahmadinejad’s role as the regime’s most visible figure made it easier to rally international support for sanctions against Iran to force it to drop its nuclear ambitions. But this time around, Khamenei wasn’t going to make the same mistake. Rather than taking action to ensure the election of a candidate more closely identified with him, he allowed a cleric who is a strong supporter of the Islamist government but not one of his personal followers to breeze to an easy victory in Friday’s election. It’s the smartest thing he’s done in years.

Hassan Rowhani is the new president of Iran, but though the vote is seen as a setback for Khamenei, the supreme leader is actually the big winner. Having seen how Ahmadinejad’s antics and open expression of hatred made it easier to sell Western governments on the necessity of taking the Iranian threat seriously, Khamenei is right to think Rowhani’s victory will be interpreted by many in the Western foreign policy establishment as a chance to see if Iran is taking a step back from the nuclear precipice. But as with past “moderates” who won the presidency, Rowhani may be the new face of the regime but it won’t change a thing about who runs Iran, its support for Bashar Assad and Hezbollah terrorism, or its drive for nuclear weapons. The alleged moderate—whose views on those issues don’t deviate a whit from those of Khamenei anyway—won’t have any influence on those matters.

Rowhani’s election will make it more complicated for those who want to press Iran harder to give up its nuclear program and strengthen the voices of those useful idiots in the West (like the editorial board of the New York Times) who will argue that Rowhani’s election is a good reason to devote another year or two or three to dead-end diplomatic efforts that will do nothing but give Iran more time to achieve its nuclear goal.

Ahmadinejad has been the most visible Iranian on the international stage since the death of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the implacable cleric who led the revolution that drove out the shah and plunged the country into the long nightmare of Islamic rule. Though something of a populist in terms of Iranian politics, his willingness to openly express hatred for Jews and denial of the Holocaust made it easy for those in the West who are not normally interested in foreign affairs to understand the nature of the Islamist regime and why it posed a threat to the rest of the world. But as president of Iran the last eight years Ahmadinejad had no say in Tehran’s drive for nuclear weapons or its negotiating strategy with the West. In Iran’s system the supreme leader has the real power while the elected president and his government are responsible for picking up the garbage and running the bureaucracy. As Walter Russell Mead writes in his always insightful American Interest blog, the Iranian system gives the people a way to blow off steam about the government without diminishing the rule of the ayatollahs. Letting Ahmadinejad steal an extra four years as president deprived the Iranian people of that limited solace and Khamenei won’t make that mistake again. Rowhani, who was a devoted supporter of Khomeini, is no reformist. But while he will bear the burden of the Iranian people’s resentment for their desperate economic plight, he won’t be able to do anything to take the sort of action that might end the country’s isolation.

Nor is there any reason to believe that he will be a force for a change in nuclear policy inside Tehran’s councils. As the New York Times noted last month, Rowhani fiercely defended his reputation against attacks that he had undermined Iran’s nuclear program during his past service as a nuclear negotiator with the West. If anything, memory of his role in the talks between Iran and the West during the George W. Bush administration should chasten those who expect that Rowhani’s triumph will be an opportunity for a breakthrough in the nuclear talks. As a diplomat, Rowhani followed the same pattern as every other nuclear negotiator for the Islamist regime by looking to drag out talks while playing with the gullibility of those Westerners who are desperate to achieve some sort of agreement. This allowed Iran to buy more time for its nuclear program to get closer to its goal.

Replacing Ahmadinejad with Rowhani will make it easier for those who want to live with a nuclear Iran to argue against tightening sanctions as well as to oppose the eventual use of force. But as repellent as Ahmadinejad was, he was never the real problem about Iran. Should President Obama be persuaded to waste more time on an already failed policy that relies on sanctions and diplomacy to force Iran to drop its nuclear dream, he will be playing right into Khamenei’s hands.

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The Supreme Leader’s “State of the Union”

On March 21, the Persian New Year, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the Islamic Republic gave an address at a shrine in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city. The speech should be a must-read for any American policymaker who believes that now is the time to strike a deal with the Islamic Republic. Ideology can be an insurmountable obstacle, and Khamenei’s speech is simultaneously paranoid and xenophobic, blustering and aggressive, and ranting and fabulist. While many American officials place faith in negotiations, it is clear that Khamenei sees Obama’s letters and outreach as alternately irrelevant and pitiful. While advisers whispering in Obama’s ear suggest that the U.S. must foreswear regime change, Khamenei really doesn’t care. And when it comes to negotiations, Khamenei really doesn’t see any reason to compromise: Either the U.S. agrees with Iran’s position, or Khamenei will refuse to deal.

The whole speech is here, but below are some snippets, organized with sub-headings in bold which I inserted.

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On March 21, the Persian New Year, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the Islamic Republic gave an address at a shrine in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city. The speech should be a must-read for any American policymaker who believes that now is the time to strike a deal with the Islamic Republic. Ideology can be an insurmountable obstacle, and Khamenei’s speech is simultaneously paranoid and xenophobic, blustering and aggressive, and ranting and fabulist. While many American officials place faith in negotiations, it is clear that Khamenei sees Obama’s letters and outreach as alternately irrelevant and pitiful. While advisers whispering in Obama’s ear suggest that the U.S. must foreswear regime change, Khamenei really doesn’t care. And when it comes to negotiations, Khamenei really doesn’t see any reason to compromise: Either the U.S. agrees with Iran’s position, or Khamenei will refuse to deal.

The whole speech is here, but below are some snippets, organized with sub-headings in bold which I inserted.

On The Media: Today there is a massive propaganda network in the world with thousands of different types of media outlets whose goal is to prove that there are no advances in Iran, to deny the victories that the Iranian has achieved, to magnify the existing weaknesses and attract everybody’s attention to them, and to hide the strengths that exist in different parts of the country and are visible to just and impartial people.

On America: As I said, we have certain enemies. Who are these enemies? Where is the main den of designing machinations against the Iranian nation? It is not difficult to answer this question. It is 34 years that whenever the word “enemy” is mentioned, the Iranian nation immediately thinks of the American government. It would be good if American officials paid attention to this point and tried to understand that over the past 34 years, the Iranian people have witnessed things and gone through stages that whenever the word “enemy” is mentioned, they immediately think of America. This is a very important issue for a government that wants to have pride in the world. This is an issue that deserves careful attention. They should focus on this issue. America is the center of enmity and designing plots against the Iranian nation.

The Enemies List: There is the Zionist enemy, but the Zionist regime is too small to be considered among the first row of the Iranian nation’s enemies… The English government is among the old enemies of the Iranian nation, but in this arena it plays a complementary role as the follower of America. The English government is not independent, so one cannot consider them a separate enemy. It is a follower of America… I would like to take this opportunity to point out that officials of the French government have been openly hostile towards the Iranian nation over the past few years and this is not a clever move by French government officials.

On What Iran Can Do to Israel: I believe even they themselves know – and if they do not, they should know – that if they make a wrong move, the Islamic Republic will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground.

On Promised to Bring Iran into the Global Community: The Americans speak about “the global community” in their statements. What they call “the global community” is a few countries, whose main leader is America, followed by the Zionists, the English government and certain other small governments. The global community is not at all determined to oppose Iran, Iranians and Islamic Iran.

On Obama’s Outreach: I should mention that the Americans started their new plans from the beginning of the year 1391. They announced that they were our friends. Sometimes they sent letters, messages and other such things and told us they were our friends and other times they announced in the media that they were friends of the Iranian people, but despite these false claims, in practice they tried to be harsh towards Iran and the Iranian nation…  A few years ago in my speech on the first day of Farvardin, I said here at Ali ibn Musa ar-Ridha’s shrine that you [Americans] should be careful, that your proclaimed affection and friendship should not mean that you are wearing a velvet glove over an iron fist, pretending that you are our friends while being hostile in your hearts…

On Nuclear Negotiations: The Americans send messages to us through different channels, asking us to negotiate with them regarding the nuclear issue. They both send messages to us and discuss the proposal in their global propaganda. High- and middle-ranking officials of America repeatedly say that alongside the P5+1 talks regarding the nuclear issue, America and the Islamic Republic should hold one-on-one negotiations over the issue.  I am not optimistic about such negotiations. Why? Because our past experiences show that in the logic of the American gentlemen, negotiation does not mean sitting down together to try to reach a rational solution. This is not what they mean by negotiation. What they mean is that we should sit down together and talk so that Iran accepts their views… The Americans constantly send us messages, telling us that they are sincere in their offers of rational negotiation. They claim that they sincerely want to have rational negotiations with Iran – that is to say, they claim that they do not want imposition. In response, I would say, we have told you many times that we are not after nuclear weapons and you say that you do not believe us. Why would we believe your statements then…? I would like to give a piece of advice to American officials: if they are after a rational solution, the rational solution is that they should rectify their policies. They should rectify the way they act and they should stop being hostile towards the Iranian nation.

On Regime Change: The Americans constantly send messages – sometimes in writing – that they are not after regime change in Iran. This is what they are telling us. The answer is that we are not concerned about whether or not you have intentions of overthrowing the Islamic Republic although you constantly insist that you do not have such intentions. Even the day when you had intentions of overthrowing the Islamic Republic and you announced this openly, you could not do anything, and you will not be able to do anything in the future either.

On Sanctions: Of course, as I said a few months ago, the Americans expressed joy and said that I have confessed to the effect of the sanctions. Yes, the sanctions have not been inconsequential. If they are happy about this, let them be happy. After all, the sanctions have had an effect, which is because of an essential flaw that we are suffering from. The flaw that our economy is suffering from is that it is dependent on oil. We need to distance our economy from oil. Our governments should include this among their basic plans.

On Hamas and Gaza: In the case of the Zionist regime’s invasion of Gaza, the powerful presence of the Islamic Republic behind the scenes caused them to admit that they had been defeated by Palestinian combatants. We did not announce this: it was they themselves who announced and insisted that if it had not been for the presence of the Islamic Republic and its show of power, Palestinian combatants could not have even put up a resistance against Israel, let alone bring Israel to its knees. In the 8-day war, the Palestinians managed to bring Israel to its knees, and this was the first time in the history of the fake and usurping Zionist regime.

On Launching a Monkey into Space: When this living creature was sent into space and was returned safely, international scientists and observers were so surprised that they first denied it. Then when they realized that they had no choice but to accept the truth and after witnessing reality and the evidence, they were forced to acknowledge it.

On Iran’s Medical Progress: We achieved the first rank in the region in the area of biotechnology. Outstanding technical achievements were made in this area which led to the production of different kinds of pharmaceuticals. All these achievements were made in a year in which the enemies were determined to be harsh towards the Iranian nation in order to deprive it from a good life and from all the products of human talent.

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Should We Be Rooting for Ahmadinejad?

The New York Times devotes considerable space on its front page this morning to a fascinating rundown on the contest to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran. Though this will involve voting and attempts to gain popular support, as Ahmadinejad’s re-election proved in 2009, the Iranian electoral system should not be confused with democracy. Just as the Iranian president is actually subordinate to the grand ayatollah who functions as a permanent supreme leader in terms of governing, the choices and the outcome of the Iranian election are also subject to the dictates of the ruling cleric and his fellow ayatollahs. That doesn’t mean that the infighting within the regime is not significant or that it shouldn’t be monitored closely. The differences between Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are, no doubt, quite real. But they ought not to be interpreted as a sign that the regime is in danger of falling or there is any significant divergence between them and their followers about keeping an Islamist government or maintaining the country’s dangerous nuclear ambitions.

But unfortunately that is probably the conclusion that many of the Times’s liberal readers will jump to after reading the piece since it brands Ahmadinejad and his faction as the “opposition” to the supreme leader. That may be true in the literal sense but, as even the article points out, that is the result of the fact that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei worked together to wipe out any real opposition to Islamist hegemony in 2009 as the United States stood silent. Like the Kremlinologists who spent decades trying to interpret the factions among the rulers of the Soviet Union before its fall, the point of much of the speculation about dissension among the ruling class in Iran is to try to throw cold water on policies intended to pressure the Islamist government. There is nothing wrong with keeping up on which of the tyrants of Tehran is gaining the upper hand on his colleagues. But the problem is that such discussions inevitably tempt Westerners to imagine that outreach to the supposed doves or liberals inside the regime will ameliorate its differences with the rest of the world. A sober look at the nature of this “opposition” and its goals ought to put an end to such foolishness.

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The New York Times devotes considerable space on its front page this morning to a fascinating rundown on the contest to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran. Though this will involve voting and attempts to gain popular support, as Ahmadinejad’s re-election proved in 2009, the Iranian electoral system should not be confused with democracy. Just as the Iranian president is actually subordinate to the grand ayatollah who functions as a permanent supreme leader in terms of governing, the choices and the outcome of the Iranian election are also subject to the dictates of the ruling cleric and his fellow ayatollahs. That doesn’t mean that the infighting within the regime is not significant or that it shouldn’t be monitored closely. The differences between Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are, no doubt, quite real. But they ought not to be interpreted as a sign that the regime is in danger of falling or there is any significant divergence between them and their followers about keeping an Islamist government or maintaining the country’s dangerous nuclear ambitions.

But unfortunately that is probably the conclusion that many of the Times’s liberal readers will jump to after reading the piece since it brands Ahmadinejad and his faction as the “opposition” to the supreme leader. That may be true in the literal sense but, as even the article points out, that is the result of the fact that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei worked together to wipe out any real opposition to Islamist hegemony in 2009 as the United States stood silent. Like the Kremlinologists who spent decades trying to interpret the factions among the rulers of the Soviet Union before its fall, the point of much of the speculation about dissension among the ruling class in Iran is to try to throw cold water on policies intended to pressure the Islamist government. There is nothing wrong with keeping up on which of the tyrants of Tehran is gaining the upper hand on his colleagues. But the problem is that such discussions inevitably tempt Westerners to imagine that outreach to the supposed doves or liberals inside the regime will ameliorate its differences with the rest of the world. A sober look at the nature of this “opposition” and its goals ought to put an end to such foolishness.

Though, as the Times rightly notes, Ahmadinejad has not budged from the offensive positions that have made him an apt symbol of the aggressively anti-Semitic nature of the Iranian government, he has made a few small gestures that are being interpreted as shifts away from the regime’s Islamist fundamentalism. His public embrace of Hugo Chavez’s mother at the Venezuelan strongman’s funeral was seen as an astonishing break from the rigid separation of the sexes advocated by Iran.

The Times also reports that:

Despite his early advocacy of Islam’s role in daily affairs, the president is now positioning himself as a champion of citizens’ rights. …

In speeches, he favors the “nation” and the “people” over the “ummah,” or community of believers, a term preferred by Iran’s clerics, who constantly guard against any revival of pre-Islamic nationalism. He has also said he is ready for talks with the United States, something other Iranian leaders strongly oppose under current circumstances.

But all this probably has a lot more to do with his maneuverings to gain some leverage against Khamenei than any interest in democracy or even in fighting corruption, another theme he has sounded recently.

It is tempting to imagine that this dissension within the ranks of Tehran’s rulers can serve to loosen up a tyrannical regime or to make a deal with Iran over its nuclear program more likely. But it is important to remind those who succumb to such fantasies that this is, after all, the same Ahmadinejad who is the leading proponent of Holocaust denial in the world as well as the same man who has regularly threatened Israel with extinction and treated the country’s nuclear program as a personal cause to be defended at all costs.

The outcome of any struggle between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei cannot produce a more moderate Iran because both are radical Islamists for whom hatred of the West and of Jews is so integral to their worldview that it is inconceivable that either has the capacity to lead the country to a more rational approach. While it is arguable whether division inside Tehran helps increase Western leverage over the regime, the idea that America and its allies have any rooting interest in Ahmadinejad prevailing in this struggle is absurd.

The true danger here is not the likelihood that Khamenei will suppress any opposition so much as it is the possibility that Western governments, and in particular the United States, will be deceived into believing that strengthening Ahmadinejad will make Iran more democratic or less dangerous to its neighbors, Israel and the West. If President Obama is to make good on his repeated pledges never to allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapon, now is the time for greater pressure, not easing up on Iran in the hopes of helping Ahmadinejad’s “opposition.”

In past generations, there have always been those who clung to myths about missed U.S. opportunities to make friends with tyrants like Ho Chi Minh or Fidel Castro when in fact no such options were ever available. Just because some murderous tyrants sometimes quarrel with rivals for power doesn’t mean there is an opening for rapprochement with the West. That’s a lesson that some people never seem to learn.

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Iran Genocide Threat Shows Danger Is Downplayed, Not Overhyped

President Obama reaffirmed his pledge never to allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapon today in Israel while also urging his listeners to give diplomacy more time to succeed. But the one person in the world whom the president needs to persuade to listen to reason on the issue apparently has other ideas.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated in a message aired on Iranian TV that if the West attacked Iran, it would violently retaliate against Israel:

“The heads of the Zionist regime should know that in case of any mistake against Iran, Iran will level down Tel Aviv and Haifa,” Khamenei said in a message from the city of Mashhad aired on state television to mark the Nowrouz festival, the start of the Iranian new year.

Iran’s threats can be dismissed as mere boasting intended for a domestic audience. The Iranians aren’t believed to have the capability of attacking Israel in this manner, let alone leveling cities. But the willingness of the ayatollah to speak openly about an act that could only be described as genocide only makes the argument for the use of force against Iran’s nuclear facilities all the more defensible, if not necessary.

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President Obama reaffirmed his pledge never to allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapon today in Israel while also urging his listeners to give diplomacy more time to succeed. But the one person in the world whom the president needs to persuade to listen to reason on the issue apparently has other ideas.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated in a message aired on Iranian TV that if the West attacked Iran, it would violently retaliate against Israel:

“The heads of the Zionist regime should know that in case of any mistake against Iran, Iran will level down Tel Aviv and Haifa,” Khamenei said in a message from the city of Mashhad aired on state television to mark the Nowrouz festival, the start of the Iranian new year.

Iran’s threats can be dismissed as mere boasting intended for a domestic audience. The Iranians aren’t believed to have the capability of attacking Israel in this manner, let alone leveling cities. But the willingness of the ayatollah to speak openly about an act that could only be described as genocide only makes the argument for the use of force against Iran’s nuclear facilities all the more defensible, if not necessary.

The statement is clearly intended as a riposte to Obama, who said both yesterday and today that the U.S. would do whatever was necessary to stop Iran, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who said yesterday that Israel reserved the right to “defend itself, by itself.” Khamenei is prepared to continue to negotiate with the West on the nuclear question. But he is counting on the president and his negotiating partners in the P5+1 group backing down about Iran’s continuing nuclear development, which makes the prospect of a diplomatic solution seem highly unlikely.

The concessions made by Western negotiators in the last round of talks with Iran about allowing Tehran to keep its nuclear toys and to drop sanctions appears to be encouraging the Islamist regime to dig in its heels even further, certain in the knowledge that President Obama is all talk and no action. After more than four years of feckless attempts at engagement and dead-end diplomacy, convincing the Iranians this is mistake is a formidable task. But if the president means what he says, the escalating threats from Iran make it easier for Americans to understand what the stakes are in this conflict.

Khamenei’s talk of destroying cities makes the notion of containing a nuclear Iran—a policy that President Obama has explicitly rejected but which continues to draw support from foreign policy “realists” who support him—indefensible. For all of the common ground on the issue between Israel and the United States that has been on display this week, the question of how long the West has until it will be too late to take military action to forestall the threat is one that remains unresolved. If, as the president said last week, Iran had a year or more before a weapon could be produced, his caveat that he didn’t want to “cut it too close” with that margin should be taken to heart.

For years, apologists of Iran and critics of Israel have portrayed this issue as one that Jerusalem has blown out of proportion. But the blithe threat of annihilation of cities by the fanatic religious leader of a country bent on acquiring nuclear weapons illustrates the reality that, if anything, advocates of action on Iran have soft-pedaled rather than over-hyped the danger.

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Ban Didn’t Redeem Himself in Tehran

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has rightly been subjected to some tough criticism for going to Tehran this week to attend the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Much like the meeting of the 120-member nation group itself, Ban’s presence in Iran shows how ineffective American efforts to isolate the Islamist regime have been. His presence there is an implicit stamp of approval for Tehran’s defiance of efforts to halt their drive for nuclear weapons as well as for the recent spate of anti-Semitic statements made by Iran’s leaders. But Ban’s defenders have claimed he would make up for it by making strong statements in Iran.

Ban has apparently made good on that promise by using a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop making offensive and inflammatory comments about Israel being eliminated. He also used a separate meeting with Ayatollah Ali Khaminei to tell him that Iran needs to take “concrete steps” to prove to the world that its nuclear program is not a threat to world peace. Those are good statements, but the idea that this redeems Ban’s decision to travel to the rogue regime is dead wrong. The Iranians have already been told these things numerous times by people more important than Ban. With the clock ticking down to the day when the ayatollahs can announce they have a nuclear weapon, the Iranians need to understand that they will be subjected to complete isolation if they don’t reverse course. More scolding won’t do the trick.

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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has rightly been subjected to some tough criticism for going to Tehran this week to attend the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Much like the meeting of the 120-member nation group itself, Ban’s presence in Iran shows how ineffective American efforts to isolate the Islamist regime have been. His presence there is an implicit stamp of approval for Tehran’s defiance of efforts to halt their drive for nuclear weapons as well as for the recent spate of anti-Semitic statements made by Iran’s leaders. But Ban’s defenders have claimed he would make up for it by making strong statements in Iran.

Ban has apparently made good on that promise by using a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop making offensive and inflammatory comments about Israel being eliminated. He also used a separate meeting with Ayatollah Ali Khaminei to tell him that Iran needs to take “concrete steps” to prove to the world that its nuclear program is not a threat to world peace. Those are good statements, but the idea that this redeems Ban’s decision to travel to the rogue regime is dead wrong. The Iranians have already been told these things numerous times by people more important than Ban. With the clock ticking down to the day when the ayatollahs can announce they have a nuclear weapon, the Iranians need to understand that they will be subjected to complete isolation if they don’t reverse course. More scolding won’t do the trick.

When compared to the feckless behavior of the members of the Non-Aligned Movement such as Egypt, whose new President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood also journeyed to Tehran, Ban’s behavior looks good. Those other countries were happy to accept the hospitality of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and to say nothing about their vicious anti-Semitism and threats to wipe out a fellow member state of the United Nations, let alone condemn Iran’s nuclear program. That this conclave would occur at a time when Iran is actively supplying its ally Syrian dictator Bashar Assad with weapons to kill his own people is equally outrageous. Ban at least put himself on record as opposing these things.

But the Iranians were happy to accept Ban’s remonstrations in exchange for being able to play host to the NAM as well as the head of the UN. Just by being there, Ban made it clear that the West’s sanctions were not a serious impediment to normal intercourse between Iran and the rest of the world. At this point, it matters less what people say to the Iranians than what they do with them. Going to Tehran was a gift that exposed the unimportance of the international coalition that Secretary of State Clinton has bragged about organizing. Ban’s statements, however praiseworthy, don’t change the fact that this has been a very good week for the Iranian regime and a bad one for those who still insist against all the evidence that diplomacy and sanctions are enough to stop them.

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Iran Declares Victory in Nuclear Talks

Since the beginning of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, foreign policy establishment figures have been bubbling with optimism about the negotiations leading to a deal that will settle the crisis. The inauguration of the talks is considered a master stroke that will head off the possibility of a Western or Israeli attack on Iran and allow the European Union to back off its pledge to implement an oil embargo on the Islamist regime. All that will be needed, we are told, is a little patience, and then EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will broker an agreement that will involve the removal of refined uranium from Iran but allow Iran to continue its “peaceful” nuclear research.

But if President Obama thinks the negotiations are the perfect way to kick the nuclear can down the road while he is running for re-election, the Iranians think the talks are a triumph for their nuclear ambitions. As Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated in a startlingly frank interview with the New York Times, the regime’s stalling tactics have been an unmitigated success, allowing them to transgress every red line set by the West and forcing them to accept Iran’s terms. As the Times notes:

In continually pushing forward the nuclear activities — increasing enrichment and building a bunker mountain enrichment facility — Iran has in effect forced the West to accept a program it insists is for peaceful purposes. Iranians say their carefully crafted policy has helped move the goal posts in their favor by making enrichment a reality that the West has been unable to stop — and may now be willing, however grudgingly, to accept.

Taraghi is, of course, absolutely right. The opening of the talks in Istanbul gave the Iranians reason to believe the international community was prepared to accept their nuclear enrichment program as well as buying the fiction that Iran’s Supreme Leader had issued a fatwa against a nuclear weapon. The question these conclusions pose for President Obama is whether he is really prepared to allow Ashton and the Europeans to broker a deal while he is running for re-election that will, in effect, give the international seal of approval to an Iranian nuclear program that is likely, deal or no deal, to lead to a nuclear weapon?

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Since the beginning of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, foreign policy establishment figures have been bubbling with optimism about the negotiations leading to a deal that will settle the crisis. The inauguration of the talks is considered a master stroke that will head off the possibility of a Western or Israeli attack on Iran and allow the European Union to back off its pledge to implement an oil embargo on the Islamist regime. All that will be needed, we are told, is a little patience, and then EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will broker an agreement that will involve the removal of refined uranium from Iran but allow Iran to continue its “peaceful” nuclear research.

But if President Obama thinks the negotiations are the perfect way to kick the nuclear can down the road while he is running for re-election, the Iranians think the talks are a triumph for their nuclear ambitions. As Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated in a startlingly frank interview with the New York Times, the regime’s stalling tactics have been an unmitigated success, allowing them to transgress every red line set by the West and forcing them to accept Iran’s terms. As the Times notes:

In continually pushing forward the nuclear activities — increasing enrichment and building a bunker mountain enrichment facility — Iran has in effect forced the West to accept a program it insists is for peaceful purposes. Iranians say their carefully crafted policy has helped move the goal posts in their favor by making enrichment a reality that the West has been unable to stop — and may now be willing, however grudgingly, to accept.

Taraghi is, of course, absolutely right. The opening of the talks in Istanbul gave the Iranians reason to believe the international community was prepared to accept their nuclear enrichment program as well as buying the fiction that Iran’s Supreme Leader had issued a fatwa against a nuclear weapon. The question these conclusions pose for President Obama is whether he is really prepared to allow Ashton and the Europeans to broker a deal while he is running for re-election that will, in effect, give the international seal of approval to an Iranian nuclear program that is likely, deal or no deal, to lead to a nuclear weapon?

That the Iranians have played the West for fools for a decade is no secret. For this, President Bush bears as much responsibility as President Obama or the Europeans. By allowing the Iranians to stall diplomatic efforts for years and for refusing until the last few months to set in place meaningful economic sanctions, the Western powers have encouraged the Iranians to think they can get away with doing what they like, safe in the knowledge there will be no serious repercussions.

Every red line has been transgressed. The West had opposed the opening of a nuclear plant, the construction of heavy water facilities as well as uranium enrichment. But Iran has them all now and has good reason to think a deal will not force them to surrender any of it.

Mr. Taraghi and other officials say their policy has forced the United States to accept enrichment, though five resolutions by the United Nations Security Council have called for it to suspend it. Obama administration officials dispute that view.

But some Iranian and Western officials have hinted that the White House may now be willing to accept some level of enrichment activity …

Iran’s negotiators left the Istanbul meeting believing they had scored a major victory. “We have managed to get our rights,” said Mr. Taraghi in his office in downtown Tehran. “All that remains is a debate over the percentage of enrichment.”

President Obama has talked very tough about stopping Iran and even convinced some otherwise savvy observers (like Jeffrey Goldberg) that he means it. But the Iranians clearly believe Obama is a paper tiger who has no stomach for a conflict with them. They think he will be talked into going along with the Europeans and letting the Iranians keep their nuclear program while abandoning the crippling sanctions that the president never showed much appetite for enforcing.

The proposed deal will also give them relative impunity against a pre-emptive attack by Israel to forestall the creation of an Iranian bomb. Despite the fact that the West is already in possession of evidence of a weapons program, once it is put in place and the sanctions are lifted, the deal will allow Iran to quickly pivot to the construction of a bomb whenever they like.

That the Iranians believe they have defeated Obama on this issue is now no secret. The only question is whether the president and his credulous Jewish supporters will let this taunt go unanswered as the P5+1 talks head inevitably toward an agreement that will give international sanction to Iran’s nuclear goal.

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Will Iran Heed Netanyahu’s Warning?

Much of the attention devoted to U.S.-Israel diplomacy in recent months has been on whether the United States will seek to prevent the Jewish state from acting on its own to forestall an Iranian nuclear weapon. The differences between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu over the utility of sanctions or diplomacy and how much more time these measures should be allowed before force can be used have not been resolved. Nevertheless, it is more likely than not that the Israelis are going to give the president a bit more time before launching their own strike.

But despite the near obsessive focus on the fractious Obama-Netanyahu relationship, the most important messages being sent from the speeches at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington were not those exchanged between those two leaders. Instead, it was the clear warning to Iran by Netanyahu that the Jewish people will not live under the shadow of annihilation. For all of the justified concern about what Obama will or will not do to try to impede the Israelis as he hangs on to the forlorn hope of a diplomatic solution to the problem, the fate of the Middle East hangs on whether Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, comprehended Netanyahu’s clarion call to action during his Monday night speech to the conference. Tehran must either stand down on its nuclear ambition or face an Israeli attack at some point in the not too distant future.

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Much of the attention devoted to U.S.-Israel diplomacy in recent months has been on whether the United States will seek to prevent the Jewish state from acting on its own to forestall an Iranian nuclear weapon. The differences between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu over the utility of sanctions or diplomacy and how much more time these measures should be allowed before force can be used have not been resolved. Nevertheless, it is more likely than not that the Israelis are going to give the president a bit more time before launching their own strike.

But despite the near obsessive focus on the fractious Obama-Netanyahu relationship, the most important messages being sent from the speeches at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington were not those exchanged between those two leaders. Instead, it was the clear warning to Iran by Netanyahu that the Jewish people will not live under the shadow of annihilation. For all of the justified concern about what Obama will or will not do to try to impede the Israelis as he hangs on to the forlorn hope of a diplomatic solution to the problem, the fate of the Middle East hangs on whether Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, comprehended Netanyahu’s clarion call to action during his Monday night speech to the conference. Tehran must either stand down on its nuclear ambition or face an Israeli attack at some point in the not too distant future.

By stating unequivocally that Israel will always be master of its own fate when it comes to its security, Netanyahu was making it crystal clear that Obama’s misgivings about force will not preclude an Israeli assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities before the program is rendered invulnerable. However much time Netanyahu may give Obama, it is also easily understood that this is not an open-ended commitment. He is rightly convinced that neither renewed diplomatic activity nor even the stepped-up sanctions Obama now contemplates will convince the Iranians they must give in.

As Netanyahu said, Israel has waited patiently for years as Western diplomatic initiatives intended to cajole or buy off the Iranians have flopped. It has also looked on as the half-hearted sanctions against Iran were tried and has seen they will not answer the problem. And the Israeli leader is well aware that even the oil embargo mooted by some Western European nations and reluctantly seconded by Obama will also certainly fail due to lack of cooperation from China and Russia.

All of this renders much of the speculation about Obama’s intentions moot. He may argue that Israel must give diplomacy another chance to work, but few even in the administration believe any such initiative will succeed. It has already been amply demonstrated that the Iranians interpret any opening for talks as an invitation for delaying tactics that only serve to get them closer to their nuclear goal. As it is unlikely the president will let go of his illusions about diplomacy or engagement with Iran working until it is too late to do anything about their nuclear program, that puts the ball squarely in Israel’s court.

That is why the most important message delivered this week was not the exchange between Obama and Netanyahu so much as it was the one delivered to Iran. The Iranians may be laboring under their own set of delusions in which they cling to the notion that the United States can exercise a veto over Israeli self-defense. But Netanyahu’s speech, which drew a direct parallel between the current impasse over Iran and the refusal by the Allies to attack the rail lines to Auschwitz in 1944, is a signal that Obama is ultimately powerless to prevent the Jewish state from acting to prevent another Holocaust.

Iran has conducted itself in the last several years as if it believed it had impunity from retribution should it acquire a genocidal weapon to be used against the Jewish state it has sworn to destroy. It has also acted as if it believed, not unreasonably, that President Obama wasn’t serious about stopping them. But if Iran wishes to avoid having its nuclear facilities attacked, it needs to understand that Netanyahu was speaking in deadly earnest when he warned them of the consequences of their actions.

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