Commentary Magazine


Topic: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

FPI Conference (Part 2): Defending the Indefensible

Jackson Diehl moderated a panel on the administration’s human-rights policy. A human-rights activist from Burma (Win Min), Michele Dunne from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Amb. Michael Kozak from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, politely discussed the Obama administration’s dismal record. The crowd, filled with human-rights activists and scholars, reacted with restraint and even sympathy to Kozak’s plight: he was there to defend the indefensible and to take arrows for the administration. He is a well-traveled and respected foreign-policy figure and emerged with his reputation intact. The administration’s reputation is another matter.

Kozak stated the case: the administration cares deeply about human rights. Obama talked about it at the UN, is actively discussing democracy promotion in Egypt, and has joined the UN Human Rights Council to “speak truth” and engage on human rights. His fellow panelists were cordial but, to put it mildly, skeptical. The crowd sat in stony silence.

Win Min spoke with optimism about the recent release of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest but explained this was an effort to “deflect criticism” from the recent elections, which the U.S. and the West have roundly condemned. He urged the administration to step up sanctions, not relax them.

Dunne was quite tough on the administration. She reminded the audience that the Bush administration had made considerable progress on democracy in Egypt, but the perception now is that Egypt has been dropped or severely downgraded by the Obama team. She wryly noted that, after all, we have given the Mubarak government $1.5 billion in aid without any improvement, and indeed some deterioration, of human rights in that country. In the Q&A, Dunne was even more blunt. She accused the Obama team of coming into office with an “anything-but-Bush” mentality that derided the Bush freedom agenda. She explained that only now is the administration beginning to treat democracy promotion with seriousness, but having frittered away nearly two years, the administration is “behind zero.”

What could Kozak say? Well, he tried his best. We really are talking to Egypt about democracy, and although Hillary Clinton didn’t mention human rights or democracy promotion last week in her news conference with the foreign minister, we have to understand there are lots of issues on the table. On Iran, where was the administration with respect to the Green Revolution? Well, there was a concern that it would be like Hungary in 1956 — we’d encourage people to take to the streets but not be able to help them. (But weren’t they already in the streets?)

The problem with the administration’s human-rights policy lies not with the dedicated professionals charged with carrying it out. The problem is the president — who occasionally talks a good game but, when the chips are down, relegates human rights to the bottom of the list. Until there is a new president, Kozak’s job won’t get any easier.

After the session, I asked Kozak if the administration was conducting any evaluation of its decision to participate in the UN Human Rights Council. Weren’t we doing more harm than good by legitimizing the thugocracies? He smiled. He paused. No, there wasn’t any talk like that. But we had taken away the argument that the UNHRC is dysfunctional because we weren’t there! (Umm, so now it’s dysfunction with us there?) We’re going to see if we can make it better. One suspected that even he didn’t buy that answer.

Jackson Diehl moderated a panel on the administration’s human-rights policy. A human-rights activist from Burma (Win Min), Michele Dunne from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Amb. Michael Kozak from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, politely discussed the Obama administration’s dismal record. The crowd, filled with human-rights activists and scholars, reacted with restraint and even sympathy to Kozak’s plight: he was there to defend the indefensible and to take arrows for the administration. He is a well-traveled and respected foreign-policy figure and emerged with his reputation intact. The administration’s reputation is another matter.

Kozak stated the case: the administration cares deeply about human rights. Obama talked about it at the UN, is actively discussing democracy promotion in Egypt, and has joined the UN Human Rights Council to “speak truth” and engage on human rights. His fellow panelists were cordial but, to put it mildly, skeptical. The crowd sat in stony silence.

Win Min spoke with optimism about the recent release of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest but explained this was an effort to “deflect criticism” from the recent elections, which the U.S. and the West have roundly condemned. He urged the administration to step up sanctions, not relax them.

Dunne was quite tough on the administration. She reminded the audience that the Bush administration had made considerable progress on democracy in Egypt, but the perception now is that Egypt has been dropped or severely downgraded by the Obama team. She wryly noted that, after all, we have given the Mubarak government $1.5 billion in aid without any improvement, and indeed some deterioration, of human rights in that country. In the Q&A, Dunne was even more blunt. She accused the Obama team of coming into office with an “anything-but-Bush” mentality that derided the Bush freedom agenda. She explained that only now is the administration beginning to treat democracy promotion with seriousness, but having frittered away nearly two years, the administration is “behind zero.”

What could Kozak say? Well, he tried his best. We really are talking to Egypt about democracy, and although Hillary Clinton didn’t mention human rights or democracy promotion last week in her news conference with the foreign minister, we have to understand there are lots of issues on the table. On Iran, where was the administration with respect to the Green Revolution? Well, there was a concern that it would be like Hungary in 1956 — we’d encourage people to take to the streets but not be able to help them. (But weren’t they already in the streets?)

The problem with the administration’s human-rights policy lies not with the dedicated professionals charged with carrying it out. The problem is the president — who occasionally talks a good game but, when the chips are down, relegates human rights to the bottom of the list. Until there is a new president, Kozak’s job won’t get any easier.

After the session, I asked Kozak if the administration was conducting any evaluation of its decision to participate in the UN Human Rights Council. Weren’t we doing more harm than good by legitimizing the thugocracies? He smiled. He paused. No, there wasn’t any talk like that. But we had taken away the argument that the UNHRC is dysfunctional because we weren’t there! (Umm, so now it’s dysfunction with us there?) We’re going to see if we can make it better. One suspected that even he didn’t buy that answer.

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Obama’s Lonely Nuclear-Free-World Fantasy

Washington Post reporter Mary Beth Sheridan reports that no one is much interested in Obama’s nuclear-free-world fantasy. She writes:

George Perkovich, a prominent nuclear expert, noted in a recent report that nuclear powers such as Russia, China and France had not rallied behind the idea of moving toward global disarmament.

“The result is a talented president ready to lead a long-term campaign to remove the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons, but as yet lacking sufficient colleagues and followers to make it happen,” wrote Perkovich, who is at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In other words, Obama’s wasting his time on something not likely to bear any fruit. Next up on the agenda is another summit — “200 countries are to gather at the United Nations to review the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).” But alas that seems to be a time waster, too (the same 200 are not, of course, scheduled to consider “crippling sanctions” against Iran):

The NPT is a bargain that gives all signatories the right to nuclear power while barring them from getting a bomb; the original five nuclear powers could keep their weapons but were to take steps toward disarming. India, Pakistan and Israel, all nuclear weapons states, did not sign the treaty and North Korea quit it in 2003.

But it will be difficult to get tougher penalties because the NPT conference operates by consensus. Iran, which is a signatory and maintains that its nuclear program is peaceful, could block changes. To critics, the forum often becomes a place where nuclear have-nots bash the nuclear haves, no matter what they do.

And then at home, the response to the START treaty — another Obama nuclear “accomplishment” — has been underwhelming. The agreement is not likely to be ratified absent confirmation that the treaty doesn’t actually do what it apparently claims to do — namely, put restrictions on U.S. development of missile defense systems.

It wouldn’t be such a source of concern to have a president spinning his wheels if we weren’t experiencing serious threats to our national security. So one can’t help but think that our foes perceive this as confirmation that Obama is indifferent to real provocations and can be diverted into focusing instead on these sorts of largely useless endeavors. An aura of fecklessness, if not foolishness, surrounds this administration. And foes can’t help but take notice — and take advantage.

Washington Post reporter Mary Beth Sheridan reports that no one is much interested in Obama’s nuclear-free-world fantasy. She writes:

George Perkovich, a prominent nuclear expert, noted in a recent report that nuclear powers such as Russia, China and France had not rallied behind the idea of moving toward global disarmament.

“The result is a talented president ready to lead a long-term campaign to remove the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons, but as yet lacking sufficient colleagues and followers to make it happen,” wrote Perkovich, who is at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In other words, Obama’s wasting his time on something not likely to bear any fruit. Next up on the agenda is another summit — “200 countries are to gather at the United Nations to review the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).” But alas that seems to be a time waster, too (the same 200 are not, of course, scheduled to consider “crippling sanctions” against Iran):

The NPT is a bargain that gives all signatories the right to nuclear power while barring them from getting a bomb; the original five nuclear powers could keep their weapons but were to take steps toward disarming. India, Pakistan and Israel, all nuclear weapons states, did not sign the treaty and North Korea quit it in 2003.

But it will be difficult to get tougher penalties because the NPT conference operates by consensus. Iran, which is a signatory and maintains that its nuclear program is peaceful, could block changes. To critics, the forum often becomes a place where nuclear have-nots bash the nuclear haves, no matter what they do.

And then at home, the response to the START treaty — another Obama nuclear “accomplishment” — has been underwhelming. The agreement is not likely to be ratified absent confirmation that the treaty doesn’t actually do what it apparently claims to do — namely, put restrictions on U.S. development of missile defense systems.

It wouldn’t be such a source of concern to have a president spinning his wheels if we weren’t experiencing serious threats to our national security. So one can’t help but think that our foes perceive this as confirmation that Obama is indifferent to real provocations and can be diverted into focusing instead on these sorts of largely useless endeavors. An aura of fecklessness, if not foolishness, surrounds this administration. And foes can’t help but take notice — and take advantage.

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The Best Available Defense of Obama’s Foreign Policy

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

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Iran and Its Friends

While the mullahs, apparently, have many friends in American universities and plenty of mileage to be gained out of NIAC, they also have the benefit of eager spinners who seem to be intent on creating a sort of Journo-list for the pro-Iranian-regime position. A series of e-mails has come my way that makes clear just how politically active some think-tank members are as they plot to “educate” American opinion makers: Read More

While the mullahs, apparently, have many friends in American universities and plenty of mileage to be gained out of NIAC, they also have the benefit of eager spinners who seem to be intent on creating a sort of Journo-list for the pro-Iranian-regime position. A series of e-mails has come my way that makes clear just how politically active some think-tank members are as they plot to “educate” American opinion makers:

—–Original Message—–
From: Trita Parsi

Sent: Thursday, December 01, 2005 3:45 PM
To: ‘Siamak Namazi'; ‘Hadi Semati'; ‘Karim Sadjadpour';
Subject: RE: Our Group Meeting
Sounds good to me

—–Original Message—–
From: Siamak Namazi
Sent: Thursday, December 01, 2005 3:38 PM
To: Hadi Semati; tparsi XXXX; Karim Sadjadpour; molaviXXX;
sanamvakilXXX; rtakyeh XXX
Subject: Our Group Meeting
Lady and Gents,

If you all agree, let’s gear up for the second discussion session.
Hopefully this time Sanam and Afshin will also be able to attend. (Sanam
jan, my apologies on behalf of all of us for forgetting to ask you to
attend the first session.)

Trita is out to Mexico and Afshin is back in a few days. Perhaps we can
mark our calendars now for the second week in Dec.  How about Wed 14
December, 2:00-4:00 pm?  Venue: whatever works best for the group. I can
try to reserve a room at NED, if you like.

Topics for discussion in our signature informal, chaotic way:

1- Iran-US: what did Burns try to say with this speech?  After so much
anticipation, why was there nothing new?

2- Nukes: this is going to be staple diet for discussion for a while to
come, I suppose.

3- Latest on the domestic side: Maybe we can think about the politics of
selecting the oil minister and what it all means.

Of course, all the above is a suggestion.

Best,
Sia

—–Original Message—–
From: Siamak Namazi
Sent: Tuesday, November 15, 2005 3:27 PM
To: Hadi Semati; tparsi XXX; ksadj XXX
Subject: tomorrow

Gentlemen,

So, here’s the plan for tomorrow.  We meet at 1:30 sharp (even for you Karim).  Regarding the venue, Trita and Karim to decide whether they prefer NED or Wilson Center, since Hadi and I would obviously prefer to stay put.  In general, Hadi’s office is bigger and the Wilson Center has nice couches where we can also sit and talk, if you prefer.  But, NED is closer to you two…

Format:  I suggest we discuss two issues tomorrow, each for roughly 30 minutes: (1) The nuclear file; (2) the domestic struggle for power – Is the system really worried about A-N?

After this discussion/update, we move to think through, collectively, what we think the US/EU should do in response to these issues?  Again, we might have disagreements, which is fine. But, if we can develop a list of 3 main points that we all believe in, it would be great; we can all make sure to make these points at various venues.

Hopefully, if this small study group continues, we could meet once a month to update one another on news of Iran and fine tune our policy recs.  The first meeting is a bit tricky since there are so many topics. In the future, perhaps we can come up with one single issue, and one person can assume the responsibility of giving a 10 min brief on it, then others enter the discussion by taking time.

Over all, I would think that these meetings have 3 main purposes:

1-       To get this group to bring to the table their various pieces of the puzzle so that we all see a clearer picture of what is happening in/about Iran;
2-       To develop a common list of policy recommendation to enhance our ability to influence decision-makers;
3-       To help “train” people like Haghighatjoo
who will get a lot of attention but don’t nec have a good understanding of how things work in the USA

With due respect to seniority, I hope Hadi accepts to Chair the session tomorrow and basically kick-start the discussions.

If you like, we can take 10 mins in the beginning to discuss the best format too.

So, Trita, Karim – please confirm the preferred venue.

Hadi – please see if Haghighatjoo is interested in joining in.

Cheers,
sia

Siamak Namazi
Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

So here we have “experts” Karim Sadjadpour (of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) and Afshin Molavi (of the New America Foundation), who are treated as independent gurus by the likes of NPR and CNN, spending their time consulting and plotting with NIAC to spin American public opinion in the direction of the mullahs’ party line. Nor is the effort to hush up or “train” Fatemeh Haghighatjoo (a prominent reformist who resigned from the Iranian parliament in protest and who has spoken of the need for U.S. assistance to the democracy movement) anything new. But what is new, perhaps, is an increased appreciation for how much coordination is going on to project the spin of the Iranian regime.

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Iran, Running Free

Yesterday, an Iranian nuclear official announced that his country will inaugurate a uranium ore processing facility in Ardakan, in the central part of the country, within a year. On Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran had begun to install 6,000 centrifuges at its enrichment plant at Natanz. These machines are in addition to the 3,000 centrifuges that are already operating there. While in Natanz, he also commemorated the National Day of Nuclear Technology and inspected the country’s “new generation” centrifuges at a research facility.

So what is the world doing to stop Iran? The five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany will meet sometime this month, possibly next week in Shanghai, to discuss sweetening incentives to Iran to stop enrichment. The international community offered a package of benefits in June 2006, but Iran has refused to discuss it. In short, the world, by sweetening its last offer, is negotiating with itself while Tehran continues its efforts to enrich uranium. “The Iranians have not been negotiating since at least the summer of 2005 and they don’t feel like they have to start now,” says George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Why should Ahmadinejad even talk to us when we are, as Perkovich notes, still in the process of outbidding ourselves?

While the members of the international community talk to each other, Ahmadinejad feels safe threatening the West with a “bloody nose,” as he did yesterday. And as a crowd chanted “Death to America,” the Iranian president said “The nation will slap you in the mouth.”

Where is the Bush administration while Iran is running free? I can understand why the President does not want to answer Ahmadinejad’s insulting comments, but he has an obligation to respond to the Iranian’s accelerated efforts to build an atomic device. And that’s exactly what Michael Hayden believes Iran is trying to do, as he told NBC’s Meet the Press at the end of last month. The CIA director reasons that, whether or not Iran dropped its bomb-building plans in the past, it looks like it is pursuing them now because it is willing “to pay the international tariff” to develop the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.

If Hayden is correct—and common sense says he is—then Bush administration inaction is especially troubling. Is the President staying quiet about the Iranians’ nuclear program so they will cooperate on Iraq? Has the White House given up and passed the Iran portfolio to Russia and China? Is Bush simply too tired to lead? The President at least owes the American public—and those who look to America for leadership—some answers.

Yesterday, an Iranian nuclear official announced that his country will inaugurate a uranium ore processing facility in Ardakan, in the central part of the country, within a year. On Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran had begun to install 6,000 centrifuges at its enrichment plant at Natanz. These machines are in addition to the 3,000 centrifuges that are already operating there. While in Natanz, he also commemorated the National Day of Nuclear Technology and inspected the country’s “new generation” centrifuges at a research facility.

So what is the world doing to stop Iran? The five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany will meet sometime this month, possibly next week in Shanghai, to discuss sweetening incentives to Iran to stop enrichment. The international community offered a package of benefits in June 2006, but Iran has refused to discuss it. In short, the world, by sweetening its last offer, is negotiating with itself while Tehran continues its efforts to enrich uranium. “The Iranians have not been negotiating since at least the summer of 2005 and they don’t feel like they have to start now,” says George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Why should Ahmadinejad even talk to us when we are, as Perkovich notes, still in the process of outbidding ourselves?

While the members of the international community talk to each other, Ahmadinejad feels safe threatening the West with a “bloody nose,” as he did yesterday. And as a crowd chanted “Death to America,” the Iranian president said “The nation will slap you in the mouth.”

Where is the Bush administration while Iran is running free? I can understand why the President does not want to answer Ahmadinejad’s insulting comments, but he has an obligation to respond to the Iranian’s accelerated efforts to build an atomic device. And that’s exactly what Michael Hayden believes Iran is trying to do, as he told NBC’s Meet the Press at the end of last month. The CIA director reasons that, whether or not Iran dropped its bomb-building plans in the past, it looks like it is pursuing them now because it is willing “to pay the international tariff” to develop the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.

If Hayden is correct—and common sense says he is—then Bush administration inaction is especially troubling. Is the President staying quiet about the Iranians’ nuclear program so they will cooperate on Iraq? Has the White House given up and passed the Iran portfolio to Russia and China? Is Bush simply too tired to lead? The President at least owes the American public—and those who look to America for leadership—some answers.

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Not Hawkish Enough for the Doves

It’s not only conservatives who are troubled by the new National Intelligence Estimate. So are many liberals. According to this Los Angeles Times article, the ranks of the critics include my Council on Foreign Relations colleagues Ray Takeyh and Gary Samore as well as Sharon Squassoni of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Clinton National Security Adviser Tony Lake.

They make essentially the same point that I and other, more conservative skeptics have made: The NIE puts too much stock in Iran stopping its “nuclear weapons program” while downplaying the fact that Iran continues to enrich uranium as part of a supposedly civilian nuclear-energy program that could, in reality, be turned to military use fairly easily.

The NIE seems to let Iran off the hook, thereby undercutting efforts to push tough sanctions and perhaps to make a diplomatic breakthrough. Ironically, the net result of the NIE may be to make military action more, not less, likely. If the international community slacks off on efforts to contain Iran—as now seems increasingly likely—a future U.S. president is more likely to be confronted with the unpalatable alternatives of either allowing Iran to go nuclear or ordering air strikes to stop it.

It’s not only conservatives who are troubled by the new National Intelligence Estimate. So are many liberals. According to this Los Angeles Times article, the ranks of the critics include my Council on Foreign Relations colleagues Ray Takeyh and Gary Samore as well as Sharon Squassoni of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Clinton National Security Adviser Tony Lake.

They make essentially the same point that I and other, more conservative skeptics have made: The NIE puts too much stock in Iran stopping its “nuclear weapons program” while downplaying the fact that Iran continues to enrich uranium as part of a supposedly civilian nuclear-energy program that could, in reality, be turned to military use fairly easily.

The NIE seems to let Iran off the hook, thereby undercutting efforts to push tough sanctions and perhaps to make a diplomatic breakthrough. Ironically, the net result of the NIE may be to make military action more, not less, likely. If the international community slacks off on efforts to contain Iran—as now seems increasingly likely—a future U.S. president is more likely to be confronted with the unpalatable alternatives of either allowing Iran to go nuclear or ordering air strikes to stop it.

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Is Russia Our Enemy?

In New York on Tuesday, Intelligence Squared, a British-based debate forum, sponsored a discussion on one of today’s critical issues: Is Russia becoming our enemy again?

The debaters who took the benign view—especially Robert Legvold of Columbia University and Mark Medish of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace—argued that we should not call Russia an enemy because that might make it one. There is, of course, a dose of logic in this simple proposition. After all, we don’t need to create another antagonist at this moment, especially if it’s a large nation with a chip on its shoulder and a finger on the button.

Yet a mutually self-destructive spat of name-calling is not the problem we face at this time. “Just last week George W. Bush insisted in a speech that Russia is not an enemy of the United States,” said the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, as he argued that Moscow is indeed becoming an adversary. “Now if that does not convince this audience that our side is right, I don’t know what will.”

In just a few words Stephens identified perhaps the most important shortcoming of American foreign policy of this era. We don’t have to worry about making Russia an enemy by calling it one. On the contrary, we have to be concerned that we will permit Russia to become an enemy by failing to speak plainly.

In recent months, Moscow has been supporting the atomic aspirations of the Iranians, bombing the Georgians, upgrading Syria’s air defenses, poisoning and shooting foreign nationals on foreign soil, seizing foreign-owned energy investments without justification, threatening to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, harassing the Estonian government, and resuming cold war patrols of heavy bombers far from its shores (and close to our shores and those of our allies). In short, the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin has tried to upend the international system by taking down the post-cold war architecture.

And what is America doing? We call the Russian autocrat a friend and trustworthy partner. Methinks we do not protest enough.

In New York on Tuesday, Intelligence Squared, a British-based debate forum, sponsored a discussion on one of today’s critical issues: Is Russia becoming our enemy again?

The debaters who took the benign view—especially Robert Legvold of Columbia University and Mark Medish of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace—argued that we should not call Russia an enemy because that might make it one. There is, of course, a dose of logic in this simple proposition. After all, we don’t need to create another antagonist at this moment, especially if it’s a large nation with a chip on its shoulder and a finger on the button.

Yet a mutually self-destructive spat of name-calling is not the problem we face at this time. “Just last week George W. Bush insisted in a speech that Russia is not an enemy of the United States,” said the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, as he argued that Moscow is indeed becoming an adversary. “Now if that does not convince this audience that our side is right, I don’t know what will.”

In just a few words Stephens identified perhaps the most important shortcoming of American foreign policy of this era. We don’t have to worry about making Russia an enemy by calling it one. On the contrary, we have to be concerned that we will permit Russia to become an enemy by failing to speak plainly.

In recent months, Moscow has been supporting the atomic aspirations of the Iranians, bombing the Georgians, upgrading Syria’s air defenses, poisoning and shooting foreign nationals on foreign soil, seizing foreign-owned energy investments without justification, threatening to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, harassing the Estonian government, and resuming cold war patrols of heavy bombers far from its shores (and close to our shores and those of our allies). In short, the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin has tried to upend the international system by taking down the post-cold war architecture.

And what is America doing? We call the Russian autocrat a friend and trustworthy partner. Methinks we do not protest enough.

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“War Control”?

China thinks it can, on its own, modulate the scale, intensity, and pace of a war with Taiwan, according to a senior U.S. intelligence officer. On Tuesday, Lonnie Henley, an East Asia specialist in the office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that Beijing’s confidence in “war control” is “probably misplaced,” and argued that this view “is dangerous for all concerned.”

Given the overwhelming superiority of American forces in the Pacific, Beijing is probably thinking it can force the Taiwanese to surrender before the United States shows up on the scene. Yet there is one other, far more disturbing, possibility. Chinese officials might believe they can prevent the United States from even trying to defend Taiwan, despite the clear Congressional intent behind the Taiwan Relations Act. After all, Beijing has been surprisingly successful in recent years in getting the Bush administration to side with it in matters involving the island republic, a democracy of 23 million citizens.

President Bush apparently no longer stands behind his initial “whatever it takes” approach to defending Taiwan. (He’s reverted, it would seem, to the more nuanced “strategic ambiguity” policy of his predecessors.) The Chinese have noted (and welcomed) this shift. America’s failing to confront Beijing’s autocrats has made them overconfident, as Henley’s assessment shows. Washington, by wavering in the face of Chinese aggressiveness, is helping to create precisely the kind of unstable, dangerous conditions it seeks to avoid. Bush needs to start acting like Bush.

China thinks it can, on its own, modulate the scale, intensity, and pace of a war with Taiwan, according to a senior U.S. intelligence officer. On Tuesday, Lonnie Henley, an East Asia specialist in the office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that Beijing’s confidence in “war control” is “probably misplaced,” and argued that this view “is dangerous for all concerned.”

Given the overwhelming superiority of American forces in the Pacific, Beijing is probably thinking it can force the Taiwanese to surrender before the United States shows up on the scene. Yet there is one other, far more disturbing, possibility. Chinese officials might believe they can prevent the United States from even trying to defend Taiwan, despite the clear Congressional intent behind the Taiwan Relations Act. After all, Beijing has been surprisingly successful in recent years in getting the Bush administration to side with it in matters involving the island republic, a democracy of 23 million citizens.

President Bush apparently no longer stands behind his initial “whatever it takes” approach to defending Taiwan. (He’s reverted, it would seem, to the more nuanced “strategic ambiguity” policy of his predecessors.) The Chinese have noted (and welcomed) this shift. America’s failing to confront Beijing’s autocrats has made them overconfident, as Henley’s assessment shows. Washington, by wavering in the face of Chinese aggressiveness, is helping to create precisely the kind of unstable, dangerous conditions it seeks to avoid. Bush needs to start acting like Bush.

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Dangerous Dialogue

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, spent a couple of hours gabbing with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, on Monday. According to the prevailing political wisdom in Washington—and within large sectors of the newly-chastened Bush administration itself—this kind of “dialogue” will somehow transform the situation in Iraq for the better. It will also, the theory runs, lead gradually to the resolution of our other major differences with Iran, such as its implacable pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The prevailing wisdom in Tehran is rather different. There, it seems, such talks merely provide another opportunity to humiliate the United States and underline our inability to stop the Iranian quest for regional dominance. In case anyone didn’t get the memo, the Iranian government charged three Iranian-Americans with spying the day after this grand dialogue convened in Baghdad. As noted by the Washington Post, “The three individuals charged are prominent Washington scholar Haleh Esfandiari, social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh of the New York-based Open Society Institute, and correspondent Parnaz Azima of U.S.-funded Radio Farda.”

None of them, needless to say, is an actual spy. But grabbing hostages has by now become a well-entrenched tradition in Iran—one proven to work over the years in bringing the West to its knees, whether through the seizure of the U.S. Embassy personnel in 1979, numerous Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980’s, or the more recent detention of British sailors in the Persian Gulf.

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The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, spent a couple of hours gabbing with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, on Monday. According to the prevailing political wisdom in Washington—and within large sectors of the newly-chastened Bush administration itself—this kind of “dialogue” will somehow transform the situation in Iraq for the better. It will also, the theory runs, lead gradually to the resolution of our other major differences with Iran, such as its implacable pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The prevailing wisdom in Tehran is rather different. There, it seems, such talks merely provide another opportunity to humiliate the United States and underline our inability to stop the Iranian quest for regional dominance. In case anyone didn’t get the memo, the Iranian government charged three Iranian-Americans with spying the day after this grand dialogue convened in Baghdad. As noted by the Washington Post, “The three individuals charged are prominent Washington scholar Haleh Esfandiari, social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh of the New York-based Open Society Institute, and correspondent Parnaz Azima of U.S.-funded Radio Farda.”

None of them, needless to say, is an actual spy. But grabbing hostages has by now become a well-entrenched tradition in Iran—one proven to work over the years in bringing the West to its knees, whether through the seizure of the U.S. Embassy personnel in 1979, numerous Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980’s, or the more recent detention of British sailors in the Persian Gulf.

To make this “up yours” a little more explicit, Ali Larijani, the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, told the world’s press that he “rejected the possibility of Iran suspending its uranium enrichment program.” This, coming on the eve of talks between Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, will hardly improve the atmosphere for negotiations.

The only people who could possibly be surprised by the Iranian attitude are the architects of the Iraq Study Group report and other conveyors of wishful thinking in Washington. Naturally, their response will be that we should make even more concessions to Iran to overcome their “suspicions” about American behavior. What this rather naïve reasoning ignores are the big benefits that many in the Iranian leadership, especially in the Revolutionary Guard Corps, derive from the continuing Iranian policy of isolation and hostility. Not only does enmity with the West help to maintain their justification for a theocratic dictatorship, but, as Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace explains in this interview, it also helps well-connected Iranians to profit by looting the economy.

It takes quite an effort of will to convince oneself that the real issue between the U.S. and Iran is a lack of understanding. The reality is that the U.S. and Iran have radically divergent interests. In the case of Iraq, Iran’s interest is to foment strife that will weaken the U.S. and our democratic allies and expand its sphere of control. It is currently achieving that goal. Why would it, suddenly, want to help the U.S. achieve its objectives in Iraq? Until someone can answer that question convincingly, perhaps we should hold off on any further coffee klatches with the mullahs.

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