Commentary Magazine


Topic: Geneva

Russia’s ‘Green Men’ Unmasked

The Russian subterfuge that the armed gunmen (known as green men) who appeared first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine were simply local protesters, rather than Russian soldiers and intelligence operatives, has never been particularly convincing to anyone who has not been brainwashed by the Kremlin. Now the Russian cover story has been definitively dispelled. As the New York Times reports:

Photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces — equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February. Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.

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The Russian subterfuge that the armed gunmen (known as green men) who appeared first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine were simply local protesters, rather than Russian soldiers and intelligence operatives, has never been particularly convincing to anyone who has not been brainwashed by the Kremlin. Now the Russian cover story has been definitively dispelled. As the New York Times reports:

Photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces — equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February. Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.

Next to fall will be the subterfuge that the green men do not really answer to Moscow—the ostensible explanation for why they are ignoring the Geneva accord reached last week between the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and the EU, which calls for the pro-Moscow militants to give up the public buildings they have occupied. This is no spontaneous, local protest. It is nothing less than a slow-motion Russian invasion of a neighboring state.

The cover story adopted by Putin’s men may not be convincing but it serves its purpose—to allow the EU and the United States a fig leaf of deniability to avoid the kind of response that such unwarranted and illegal aggression warrants. What kind of response? Everything from crippling sanctions on the Russian economy to sending U.S. army brigades—not the army companies currently being contemplated—to Poland and the Baltic States. But the fig leaf is blowing away as fast as the leaves of fall, and it is exposing the West’s response to aggression to be scandalously feckless.

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Iranian Nuclear Threat: Plan A Might Not Be Working

The hope harbored for talks with Iran continues to baffle me. This weekend, on the eve of the new round of talks in Geneva, Iran once again made a provocative announcement about its nuclear accomplishments, reporting that its uranium-processing facility had taken delivery of the nation’s first locally produced yellowcake. The West has been aware of the Iranians’ indigenous uranium-mining effort for at least two years (I wrote about it here in March); U.S. officials could not have been surprised by the declaration. But all its implications point to one melancholy truth: the current process of negotiation and inspection is worse than irrelevant. It is counterproductive — because it gives Iran time.

The use Iran has made of that time promises to make the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection regime pointless. Western analysts have known since 2008 that Iran was trying to produce its own yellowcake — and that once it could, accountability on the Iranian stockpile of uranium might quickly be lost. The IAEA doesn’t inspect uranium ore at the mining or milling sites. The agency’s first look at stocks of uranium occurs at Esfahan, where yellowcake is turned into uranium hexafluoride. To inspect the milling process or the raw ore as it is mined, the UN would have to get Iran to honor the “Additional Protocol” to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, something the Islamic Republic has repeatedly declined to do.

With the vast tunneling projects at both Esfahan and Natanz, to which inspectors have not been admitted since 2005, Iran has the underground space to potentially process uranium outside IAEA supervision. If Iran can mill its own yellowcake, it doesn’t even have to divert portions of the known uranium stockpile to a separate, unsupervised processing cycle: it can circumvent the IAEA inspection regime entirely.

The news media have focused on the fact that Iran’s indigenous uranium is scarce and less pure than is cost-effective for commercial use. These factors mean that indigenous uranium won’t support a network of nuclear power plants. Therefore, pressing forward with local yellowcake production is probably a means of pursuing nuclear weapons. But frankly, we knew that already. The real “news” here is that Iran is on the threshold of circumventing IAEA inspection accountability altogether — and that the Iranians thought it was in their interest to announce that rather than keeping it a secret.

The move looks like Iran is pulling a “North Korea”: hoping to increase the stakes and buy a fresh round of time-wasters from the West. It is foolish at this point to keep giving this adversary the one thing it wants most: time. There’s no time like the present to recognize a reality we should have confronted years ago. Giving ourselves time gives Iran time, too, and every extra month imposes a cost on us. Today that cost includes Iran’s posting all its biggest weapons-program triumphs after UN sanctions were first imposed in 2006. Ultimately, the cost is likely to be much higher.

The hope harbored for talks with Iran continues to baffle me. This weekend, on the eve of the new round of talks in Geneva, Iran once again made a provocative announcement about its nuclear accomplishments, reporting that its uranium-processing facility had taken delivery of the nation’s first locally produced yellowcake. The West has been aware of the Iranians’ indigenous uranium-mining effort for at least two years (I wrote about it here in March); U.S. officials could not have been surprised by the declaration. But all its implications point to one melancholy truth: the current process of negotiation and inspection is worse than irrelevant. It is counterproductive — because it gives Iran time.

The use Iran has made of that time promises to make the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection regime pointless. Western analysts have known since 2008 that Iran was trying to produce its own yellowcake — and that once it could, accountability on the Iranian stockpile of uranium might quickly be lost. The IAEA doesn’t inspect uranium ore at the mining or milling sites. The agency’s first look at stocks of uranium occurs at Esfahan, where yellowcake is turned into uranium hexafluoride. To inspect the milling process or the raw ore as it is mined, the UN would have to get Iran to honor the “Additional Protocol” to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, something the Islamic Republic has repeatedly declined to do.

With the vast tunneling projects at both Esfahan and Natanz, to which inspectors have not been admitted since 2005, Iran has the underground space to potentially process uranium outside IAEA supervision. If Iran can mill its own yellowcake, it doesn’t even have to divert portions of the known uranium stockpile to a separate, unsupervised processing cycle: it can circumvent the IAEA inspection regime entirely.

The news media have focused on the fact that Iran’s indigenous uranium is scarce and less pure than is cost-effective for commercial use. These factors mean that indigenous uranium won’t support a network of nuclear power plants. Therefore, pressing forward with local yellowcake production is probably a means of pursuing nuclear weapons. But frankly, we knew that already. The real “news” here is that Iran is on the threshold of circumventing IAEA inspection accountability altogether — and that the Iranians thought it was in their interest to announce that rather than keeping it a secret.

The move looks like Iran is pulling a “North Korea”: hoping to increase the stakes and buy a fresh round of time-wasters from the West. It is foolish at this point to keep giving this adversary the one thing it wants most: time. There’s no time like the present to recognize a reality we should have confronted years ago. Giving ourselves time gives Iran time, too, and every extra month imposes a cost on us. Today that cost includes Iran’s posting all its biggest weapons-program triumphs after UN sanctions were first imposed in 2006. Ultimately, the cost is likely to be much higher.

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Human Rights Policy Gone Mad

Lost in the post-election coverage last week was the latest development concerning the Obama administration’s inexplicable decision to let four of the world’s worst human rights abusers off the hook for employing children as soldiers:

Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers. The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials.

Nor is this the only instance in which the administration’s occasionally more robust rhetoric on human rights departs from its actions. Recall that we joined the UN Human Rights Council (from which George W. Bush had properly extracted the U.S.) in order to have some impact on the world’s thugs and despots. But now we are under the microscope:

The United Nations Human Rights Council, a conclave of 47 nations that includes such notorious human rights violators as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia, met in Geneva on Friday, to question the United States about its human rights failings.

It heard, among other things, that the U.S. discriminates against Muslims, that its police are barbaric and that it has been holding political prisoners behind bars for years.

Russia urged the U.S. to abolish the death penalty. Cuba and Iran called on Washington to close Guantanamo prison and investigate alleged torture by its troops abroad. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, told the U.S. it must better promote religious tolerance. Mexico complained that racial profiling had become a common practice in some U.S. states.

This is what comes from empowering and taking seriously the world’s most notorious human rights abusers. And if all that were not enough, the State Department is taking all the criticism to heart:

“Our taking the process seriously contributes to the universality” of the human rights process, one State Department official told Fox News. “It’s an important opportunity for us to showcase our willingness to expose ourselves in a transparent way” to human rights criticism.

“For us, upholding the process is very important.”

The same official, however, declared that the “most important” part of the process is “the dialogue with our own citizens.”

There is no better example of the cul-de-sac of leftist anti-Americanism — that insatiable need to paint the U.S. as the source of evil in the world — than Obama’s human rights policy, which is, quite simply, obscene. The bipartisan revulsion at this policy is the regrettable but reassuring result. At least there remains a strong consensus rejecting the idea that cooling tensions with despots is more important than robustly defending our own values and the lives and rights of oppressed peoples around the world.

Lost in the post-election coverage last week was the latest development concerning the Obama administration’s inexplicable decision to let four of the world’s worst human rights abusers off the hook for employing children as soldiers:

Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers. The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials.

Nor is this the only instance in which the administration’s occasionally more robust rhetoric on human rights departs from its actions. Recall that we joined the UN Human Rights Council (from which George W. Bush had properly extracted the U.S.) in order to have some impact on the world’s thugs and despots. But now we are under the microscope:

The United Nations Human Rights Council, a conclave of 47 nations that includes such notorious human rights violators as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia, met in Geneva on Friday, to question the United States about its human rights failings.

It heard, among other things, that the U.S. discriminates against Muslims, that its police are barbaric and that it has been holding political prisoners behind bars for years.

Russia urged the U.S. to abolish the death penalty. Cuba and Iran called on Washington to close Guantanamo prison and investigate alleged torture by its troops abroad. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, told the U.S. it must better promote religious tolerance. Mexico complained that racial profiling had become a common practice in some U.S. states.

This is what comes from empowering and taking seriously the world’s most notorious human rights abusers. And if all that were not enough, the State Department is taking all the criticism to heart:

“Our taking the process seriously contributes to the universality” of the human rights process, one State Department official told Fox News. “It’s an important opportunity for us to showcase our willingness to expose ourselves in a transparent way” to human rights criticism.

“For us, upholding the process is very important.”

The same official, however, declared that the “most important” part of the process is “the dialogue with our own citizens.”

There is no better example of the cul-de-sac of leftist anti-Americanism — that insatiable need to paint the U.S. as the source of evil in the world — than Obama’s human rights policy, which is, quite simply, obscene. The bipartisan revulsion at this policy is the regrettable but reassuring result. At least there remains a strong consensus rejecting the idea that cooling tensions with despots is more important than robustly defending our own values and the lives and rights of oppressed peoples around the world.

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The Un-Peace Talks

It would be bad enough if these talks were merely unproductive. But five people (I refuse to adopt the Obami’s counting system, which denies the death of the pregnant woman’s child) have died at the hands of terrorists. Should the talks break down (a strong possibility if Israel does not knuckle under to the demand for the settlement-moratorium extension), the potential for widespread violence is great. Neither in the short or long term do the peace talks offer a realistic chance for peace; quite the opposite.

Meanwhile, efforts to delegitimize Israel continue apace in international bodies. As Eli Lake reports, Israel is bracing for “Black September”:

To start, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to release a report on the Memorial Day flotilla incident in which nine pro-Palestinian activists aboard a Turkish aid ship seeking to break a blockade of Gaza were killed in a battle with Israeli commandos. Activists in Lebanon have said they are trying to launch another flotilla to challenge the Gaza sea embargo in the coming weeks.

Then the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council is expected to issue a follow-up on a report issued in 2009 by Judge Richard Goldstone regarding the Gaza war in late 2008 and early 2009. . . On top of all of this, Turkey — whose foreign minister said Israel’s raid on the aid flotilla last spring was his country’s Sept. 11 — takes its spot as the rotating chairman of the United Nations Security Council.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency later in September, Arab states are expected to press their case for Israel to publicly acknowledge its undeclared nuclear arsenal.

The peace talks afford Obama personally something, but what is Israel getting out of this? Precious little. And meanwhile, the centrifuges are whirling in Tehran.

It would be bad enough if these talks were merely unproductive. But five people (I refuse to adopt the Obami’s counting system, which denies the death of the pregnant woman’s child) have died at the hands of terrorists. Should the talks break down (a strong possibility if Israel does not knuckle under to the demand for the settlement-moratorium extension), the potential for widespread violence is great. Neither in the short or long term do the peace talks offer a realistic chance for peace; quite the opposite.

Meanwhile, efforts to delegitimize Israel continue apace in international bodies. As Eli Lake reports, Israel is bracing for “Black September”:

To start, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to release a report on the Memorial Day flotilla incident in which nine pro-Palestinian activists aboard a Turkish aid ship seeking to break a blockade of Gaza were killed in a battle with Israeli commandos. Activists in Lebanon have said they are trying to launch another flotilla to challenge the Gaza sea embargo in the coming weeks.

Then the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council is expected to issue a follow-up on a report issued in 2009 by Judge Richard Goldstone regarding the Gaza war in late 2008 and early 2009. . . On top of all of this, Turkey — whose foreign minister said Israel’s raid on the aid flotilla last spring was his country’s Sept. 11 — takes its spot as the rotating chairman of the United Nations Security Council.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency later in September, Arab states are expected to press their case for Israel to publicly acknowledge its undeclared nuclear arsenal.

The peace talks afford Obama personally something, but what is Israel getting out of this? Precious little. And meanwhile, the centrifuges are whirling in Tehran.

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Obama Administration Cheers Iran — Really

Aside from Rep. Peter King’s resolution, Congress has been mute on Obama’s decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council. Jewish groups have similarly refused to confront Obama. We now see that meekness has not paid off. Far from confronting the thugocracies, the Obama team has sat idly by, if not encouraged, the despots. When the Human Rights Council condemned Israel for the flotilla, the U.S. did nothing. Now we learn:

On June 10, with the active involvement and approval of the Obama administration, the Council adopted a decision on human rights in Iran that was a sentence long and contained no condemnation whatsoever.

The context was a review by the Council of Iran’s human rights record, as part of the Council’s consideration of all 192 UN states. The review featured a vigorous defense by Iranian representatives of Iran’s stellar human rights achievements, followed by Iran’s rejection of a host of “recommendations” made to improve its actual behavior. The “outcome” was a sentence identical for dictatorships and democracies alike, in which the Council merely refers to a bundle of documents containing praise, criticisms and responses without drawing any conclusion attributable to the Council itself.

It gets worse:

The reaction from the Obama administration was to declare victory and to manufacture something positive to say about Iran. On June 10, U.S. Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe rushed to the UN microphones in Geneva to announce repeatedly: “I have to emphasize that we are very pleased that Iran was willing to participate at all. … In the case of Iran, we applaud the willingness to participate at all. … We’re pleased that at least they were willing to show up.”

Praising Iran despite its total disregard of the fundamentals of human decency is the antithesis of the supposed liberal human rights mantra. Instead of buoying the Human Rights Council’s performance, the Obama administration is sinking with it.

This is shameful. It’s time Congress and pro-Israel groups demanded that the Obama administration withdraw from the Council.

Aside from Rep. Peter King’s resolution, Congress has been mute on Obama’s decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council. Jewish groups have similarly refused to confront Obama. We now see that meekness has not paid off. Far from confronting the thugocracies, the Obama team has sat idly by, if not encouraged, the despots. When the Human Rights Council condemned Israel for the flotilla, the U.S. did nothing. Now we learn:

On June 10, with the active involvement and approval of the Obama administration, the Council adopted a decision on human rights in Iran that was a sentence long and contained no condemnation whatsoever.

The context was a review by the Council of Iran’s human rights record, as part of the Council’s consideration of all 192 UN states. The review featured a vigorous defense by Iranian representatives of Iran’s stellar human rights achievements, followed by Iran’s rejection of a host of “recommendations” made to improve its actual behavior. The “outcome” was a sentence identical for dictatorships and democracies alike, in which the Council merely refers to a bundle of documents containing praise, criticisms and responses without drawing any conclusion attributable to the Council itself.

It gets worse:

The reaction from the Obama administration was to declare victory and to manufacture something positive to say about Iran. On June 10, U.S. Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe rushed to the UN microphones in Geneva to announce repeatedly: “I have to emphasize that we are very pleased that Iran was willing to participate at all. … In the case of Iran, we applaud the willingness to participate at all. … We’re pleased that at least they were willing to show up.”

Praising Iran despite its total disregard of the fundamentals of human decency is the antithesis of the supposed liberal human rights mantra. Instead of buoying the Human Rights Council’s performance, the Obama administration is sinking with it.

This is shameful. It’s time Congress and pro-Israel groups demanded that the Obama administration withdraw from the Council.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

But Obama said unemployment would remain under 8 percent if Congress passed the stimulus. “Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said the U.S. recovery probably won’t quickly bring down the unemployment rate, which is likely to stay ‘high for a while.’ … The June 4 Labor Department report ‘shows we are still in a jobless recovery,’ Allen Sinai, chief global economist at Decision Economics in New York, said in an interview on Bloomberg Radio. ‘Ex-census we are only 41,000. That is terrible. … The unemployment rate is going to stay 9.5 to ten percent. We are not going to generate a lot of jobs.'”

But Newsweek told us he was “sort of a God.” Gallup has Obama at 45 percent approval, 46 percent disapproval.

But Obama said it was a good idea to join the UN Human Rights Council. “Meeting today in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council heard the following statement from the Syrian representative, First Secretary Rania Al Rifaiy:  ‘Israel … is a state that is built on hatred. … Let me quote a song that a group of children on a school bus in Israel sing merrily as they go to school and I quote ‘With my teeth I will rip your flesh. With my mouth I will suck your blood.’ The Obama administration chose to join this Council, the UN’s lead human rights body, and its representative was present. But they said nothing after hearing this blood libel.”

But Obama is still torn between Turkey and Israel: “The Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla sounded ‘the death knell of the Zionist regime,’ Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told an enthusiastic crowd at Istanbul’s Abou Ayyoub Ansari Mosque on Tuesday. He accused Israel of ‘unmatched crimes in the course of sixty some years of its history, that have been unprecedented in the history of mankind, the last of which has been invading the Gaza Peace Flotilla,’ IRNA reported, added that the crowd responded with ‘Allahu akbar.'” And that’s what Major Hasan shouted before he killed 13 people.

But the real fun would be watching the liberal blogosphere completely melt down. Jay Nordlinger: “If [John] Bolton is president, Elliott Abrams can be secretary of state.”

But 78 percent of them voted for the president who is doing nothing about it: “In indignant statements to the media, in Op-Eds and at rallies around the country, American Jews jumping to Israel’s defense are casting the fallout to last week’s flotilla incident — and the mounting opposition to Israel’s blockade of Gaza — as part of a campaign to delegitimize Israel’s right to defend itself.”

But was she quizzed on the part about Islam being the “religion of peace“? “Israeli left-wing activist Tali Fahima has converted to Islam, according to the website of the Islamic Movement in Israel. Fahima is said to have converted at a mosque in Umm al-Fahm in the presence of sheikhs who tested her knowledge of the principles of Islam. … Fahima was released from prison in 2007 after completing a three-year sentence for passing information to the enemy, having contact with a foreign agent and supporting a terrorist organization. … In May 2004, Fahima entered the Jenin area and met with operatives of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the armed wing of the Fatah movement. She met with Zakaria Zubeidi, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade leader in Jenin. Fahima declared that she would serve as a human shield for Zubeidi, who was wanted by Israeli security forces.”

But Obama said unemployment would remain under 8 percent if Congress passed the stimulus. “Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said the U.S. recovery probably won’t quickly bring down the unemployment rate, which is likely to stay ‘high for a while.’ … The June 4 Labor Department report ‘shows we are still in a jobless recovery,’ Allen Sinai, chief global economist at Decision Economics in New York, said in an interview on Bloomberg Radio. ‘Ex-census we are only 41,000. That is terrible. … The unemployment rate is going to stay 9.5 to ten percent. We are not going to generate a lot of jobs.'”

But Newsweek told us he was “sort of a God.” Gallup has Obama at 45 percent approval, 46 percent disapproval.

But Obama said it was a good idea to join the UN Human Rights Council. “Meeting today in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council heard the following statement from the Syrian representative, First Secretary Rania Al Rifaiy:  ‘Israel … is a state that is built on hatred. … Let me quote a song that a group of children on a school bus in Israel sing merrily as they go to school and I quote ‘With my teeth I will rip your flesh. With my mouth I will suck your blood.’ The Obama administration chose to join this Council, the UN’s lead human rights body, and its representative was present. But they said nothing after hearing this blood libel.”

But Obama is still torn between Turkey and Israel: “The Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla sounded ‘the death knell of the Zionist regime,’ Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told an enthusiastic crowd at Istanbul’s Abou Ayyoub Ansari Mosque on Tuesday. He accused Israel of ‘unmatched crimes in the course of sixty some years of its history, that have been unprecedented in the history of mankind, the last of which has been invading the Gaza Peace Flotilla,’ IRNA reported, added that the crowd responded with ‘Allahu akbar.'” And that’s what Major Hasan shouted before he killed 13 people.

But the real fun would be watching the liberal blogosphere completely melt down. Jay Nordlinger: “If [John] Bolton is president, Elliott Abrams can be secretary of state.”

But 78 percent of them voted for the president who is doing nothing about it: “In indignant statements to the media, in Op-Eds and at rallies around the country, American Jews jumping to Israel’s defense are casting the fallout to last week’s flotilla incident — and the mounting opposition to Israel’s blockade of Gaza — as part of a campaign to delegitimize Israel’s right to defend itself.”

But was she quizzed on the part about Islam being the “religion of peace“? “Israeli left-wing activist Tali Fahima has converted to Islam, according to the website of the Islamic Movement in Israel. Fahima is said to have converted at a mosque in Umm al-Fahm in the presence of sheikhs who tested her knowledge of the principles of Islam. … Fahima was released from prison in 2007 after completing a three-year sentence for passing information to the enemy, having contact with a foreign agent and supporting a terrorist organization. … In May 2004, Fahima entered the Jenin area and met with operatives of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the armed wing of the Fatah movement. She met with Zakaria Zubeidi, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade leader in Jenin. Fahima declared that she would serve as a human shield for Zubeidi, who was wanted by Israeli security forces.”

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What Obama Has Done Wrong in the Middle East

In a fascinating interview, former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, who oversaw George W. Bush’s Israel policy (remember — when we treated our ally with affection and respect?), details Obama’s errors regarding Israel (yes, it’s a lengthy interview), gives some insight into the Bush administration, and offers some predictions and suggestions. The program should be watched in full or the transcript read, but there are certain sections that are especially noteworthy.

Topping the list of Obama’s errors, Abrams explains, is the peace-process fixation:

First, I guess, and — and — most significant. They seem to think that peace between Israel and the Palestinians comes top-down. It is created someplace at a conference table in — in Taba or Camp David or Annapolis or Geneva. And that’s wrong. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be created between them, on the ground, in the real world. And it will depend on essentially what happens on the West Bank, on creating the institutions of Palestinian — self-government. And the fight against terrorism, I guess — critical things on the Palestinian side. So — concentrating on diplomacy, concentrating on the settlements is just wrong. That’s not what’s critical. What’s critical is what happens in the so — in the West Bank.

This leads to a glimpse inside the Bush White House:

I thought Annapolis was a mistake because — obviously, President Bush didn’t agree with me. I thought they were not going to reach an agreement. It seemed to me that — that if you look at the terms that were out there, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders were ready to accept those terms. I thought we were putting the emphasis in the wrong place, again, on conferences and conference tables and flying flags and all, rather than on the pretty — undramatic but critically important work of building institutions on the ground.

(In a prior interview with the Jerusalem Post, Abrams made clear that Condoleezza Rice pushed for the peace process, failing to provide the president with a full array of options.) It is a candid admission that presidents of both parties have fallen prey to peace-process-itis — the ailment characterized by a deep aversion to candidly assessing reality. But unlike the current president, Bush, to his credit, did not make a settlement freeze the cornerstone of his policy or escalate the issue of Jerusalem:

Since 1967, Israel has been building in — the West Bank, at one point in Gaza. Of course, that’s over now. And in Jerusalem, which is under Israeli law, the capital of Israel. It’s not occupied territory. In the Bush Administration, we reached a kind of agreement with Israel, under which they would build up and in but not out in the settlements.

In other words, no more land would be taken. The idea was, let’s not disadvantage the Palestinians by taking — an olive grove or a road.  And let’s not create a new issue for final settle — status talks someday.  If you want to build for more people to live in the middle of a settlement, fine. That doesn’t hurt Palestinians. I thought the Obama administration would accept that deal.

But Bush’s successor trashed that agreement and embarked on a new tactic: bullying Israel and trying to topple Bibi. (Abrams speculates: “It’s a reasonable theory that he thought, ‘We’ll continue to escalate the tension. Sooner or later, this coalition in Israel will crack.'”)

Abrams also takes a look at Iran, assessing the chance of an Israeli military action at “above 50-50. I think they really mean it when they say an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Britain, France, England, Germany, the US, China, Russia, everybody says unacceptable. I don’t think we really mean unacceptable. I think we really mean not good. I think the Israelis mean unacceptable.” The interview took place before the UN sanctions deal, and Abrams correctly predicted that we would not obtain the kind of sanctions needed to deter the mullahs from pursuing their nuclear plans.

What impact on the U.S. would result from the failure to prevent Iran from going nuclear? “[I]t is a threat to the American position in the entire Middle East and therefore in the entire world. American’s strategic credibility is deeply damaged, I think, if after all these speeches we’ve given, we let them get a nuclear weapon.”

Since Obama is plainly not getting those crippling sanctions. what would Abrams advise? In addition to an all-out effort to bolster the Green Movement, he invokes John McCain’s 2008 campaign line:

“The only thing worse than bombing Iran is an Iranian bomb.” I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon. I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon.

In private, many self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish state voice the same views as those of Abrams. When will they pipe up?

In a fascinating interview, former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, who oversaw George W. Bush’s Israel policy (remember — when we treated our ally with affection and respect?), details Obama’s errors regarding Israel (yes, it’s a lengthy interview), gives some insight into the Bush administration, and offers some predictions and suggestions. The program should be watched in full or the transcript read, but there are certain sections that are especially noteworthy.

Topping the list of Obama’s errors, Abrams explains, is the peace-process fixation:

First, I guess, and — and — most significant. They seem to think that peace between Israel and the Palestinians comes top-down. It is created someplace at a conference table in — in Taba or Camp David or Annapolis or Geneva. And that’s wrong. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be created between them, on the ground, in the real world. And it will depend on essentially what happens on the West Bank, on creating the institutions of Palestinian — self-government. And the fight against terrorism, I guess — critical things on the Palestinian side. So — concentrating on diplomacy, concentrating on the settlements is just wrong. That’s not what’s critical. What’s critical is what happens in the so — in the West Bank.

This leads to a glimpse inside the Bush White House:

I thought Annapolis was a mistake because — obviously, President Bush didn’t agree with me. I thought they were not going to reach an agreement. It seemed to me that — that if you look at the terms that were out there, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders were ready to accept those terms. I thought we were putting the emphasis in the wrong place, again, on conferences and conference tables and flying flags and all, rather than on the pretty — undramatic but critically important work of building institutions on the ground.

(In a prior interview with the Jerusalem Post, Abrams made clear that Condoleezza Rice pushed for the peace process, failing to provide the president with a full array of options.) It is a candid admission that presidents of both parties have fallen prey to peace-process-itis — the ailment characterized by a deep aversion to candidly assessing reality. But unlike the current president, Bush, to his credit, did not make a settlement freeze the cornerstone of his policy or escalate the issue of Jerusalem:

Since 1967, Israel has been building in — the West Bank, at one point in Gaza. Of course, that’s over now. And in Jerusalem, which is under Israeli law, the capital of Israel. It’s not occupied territory. In the Bush Administration, we reached a kind of agreement with Israel, under which they would build up and in but not out in the settlements.

In other words, no more land would be taken. The idea was, let’s not disadvantage the Palestinians by taking — an olive grove or a road.  And let’s not create a new issue for final settle — status talks someday.  If you want to build for more people to live in the middle of a settlement, fine. That doesn’t hurt Palestinians. I thought the Obama administration would accept that deal.

But Bush’s successor trashed that agreement and embarked on a new tactic: bullying Israel and trying to topple Bibi. (Abrams speculates: “It’s a reasonable theory that he thought, ‘We’ll continue to escalate the tension. Sooner or later, this coalition in Israel will crack.'”)

Abrams also takes a look at Iran, assessing the chance of an Israeli military action at “above 50-50. I think they really mean it when they say an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Britain, France, England, Germany, the US, China, Russia, everybody says unacceptable. I don’t think we really mean unacceptable. I think we really mean not good. I think the Israelis mean unacceptable.” The interview took place before the UN sanctions deal, and Abrams correctly predicted that we would not obtain the kind of sanctions needed to deter the mullahs from pursuing their nuclear plans.

What impact on the U.S. would result from the failure to prevent Iran from going nuclear? “[I]t is a threat to the American position in the entire Middle East and therefore in the entire world. American’s strategic credibility is deeply damaged, I think, if after all these speeches we’ve given, we let them get a nuclear weapon.”

Since Obama is plainly not getting those crippling sanctions. what would Abrams advise? In addition to an all-out effort to bolster the Green Movement, he invokes John McCain’s 2008 campaign line:

“The only thing worse than bombing Iran is an Iranian bomb.” I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon. I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon.

In private, many self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish state voice the same views as those of Abrams. When will they pipe up?

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Encouraging the Mullahs, Not Iranian Democracy Activists

Roxana Saberi, who was locked up in Evin prison for 100 days, writes — pleads, really — for the West to take human rights seriously. She explains that on Sunday, five Kurdish political activists were executed. You might have missed it (I did) because, as usual, our government is mute. She argues:

If the international community fails to condemn such atrocities, Iran’s regime will continue to trample on the basic rights of individuals, many of whom have been detained simply for peacefully standing up for universal human rights. It is common for Tehran’s prisoners — including journalists, bloggers, women’s rights campaigners, student activists and adherents of the minority Baha’i faith — to be held in prolonged solitary confinement without access to an attorney as they try to defend themselves against fabricated charges such as espionage and “propaganda against Islam” or the regime.

She makes a key point: Tehran cares what is said about it in the free media and struggles to keep negative accounts from its own citizens. In other words, our quietude only aids in the regime’s repression. See, the West doesn’t care. How bad can things be if the Obama administration still wants to talk to us? Our silence both emboldens the oppressor and disheartens the oppressed.

Saberi makes an excellent suggestion:

As the international community focuses on Iran’s nuclear program, it should also make human rights a first-tier issue. When the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva next month, Washington and the European Union should lead calls for a resolution setting up a mechanism to investigate human rights atrocities in Iran during the past year. A bigger push should be made to send a U.N. special envoy on human rights to Iran and to aid Iranians, including the many journalists forced to flee their country out of fear of persecution.

But perhaps even more important than government efforts is the outcry of ordinary people worldwide. When everyday citizens speak out against Iran’s human rights violations, Tehran has a tougher time asserting that their calls have been masterminded by foreign governments.

But what are the chances that is going to happen? This administration let Iran into the Commission on the Status of Women with nary a peep. We continue to explain that sanctions are only a means to get the regime back to the bargaining table. The notion that we should undermine the mullahs or attempt to make the regime a pariah in the international community appears not to be under consideration. So rather than empower Iranian political dissidents and encourage journalists and activists, we encourage the mullahs to continue their reign of brutality. After all, if the West isn’t going to object, why not?

Roxana Saberi, who was locked up in Evin prison for 100 days, writes — pleads, really — for the West to take human rights seriously. She explains that on Sunday, five Kurdish political activists were executed. You might have missed it (I did) because, as usual, our government is mute. She argues:

If the international community fails to condemn such atrocities, Iran’s regime will continue to trample on the basic rights of individuals, many of whom have been detained simply for peacefully standing up for universal human rights. It is common for Tehran’s prisoners — including journalists, bloggers, women’s rights campaigners, student activists and adherents of the minority Baha’i faith — to be held in prolonged solitary confinement without access to an attorney as they try to defend themselves against fabricated charges such as espionage and “propaganda against Islam” or the regime.

She makes a key point: Tehran cares what is said about it in the free media and struggles to keep negative accounts from its own citizens. In other words, our quietude only aids in the regime’s repression. See, the West doesn’t care. How bad can things be if the Obama administration still wants to talk to us? Our silence both emboldens the oppressor and disheartens the oppressed.

Saberi makes an excellent suggestion:

As the international community focuses on Iran’s nuclear program, it should also make human rights a first-tier issue. When the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva next month, Washington and the European Union should lead calls for a resolution setting up a mechanism to investigate human rights atrocities in Iran during the past year. A bigger push should be made to send a U.N. special envoy on human rights to Iran and to aid Iranians, including the many journalists forced to flee their country out of fear of persecution.

But perhaps even more important than government efforts is the outcry of ordinary people worldwide. When everyday citizens speak out against Iran’s human rights violations, Tehran has a tougher time asserting that their calls have been masterminded by foreign governments.

But what are the chances that is going to happen? This administration let Iran into the Commission on the Status of Women with nary a peep. We continue to explain that sanctions are only a means to get the regime back to the bargaining table. The notion that we should undermine the mullahs or attempt to make the regime a pariah in the international community appears not to be under consideration. So rather than empower Iranian political dissidents and encourage journalists and activists, we encourage the mullahs to continue their reign of brutality. After all, if the West isn’t going to object, why not?

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Dreams of Disarmament

Mark Steyn predicts future historians will marvel at the omission of any discussion of Iran at this week’s Nuclear Security Summit:

For once, the cheap comparisons with 1930s appeasement barely suffice: To be sure, in 1933, the great powers were meeting in Geneva and holding utopian arms-control talks even as Hitler was taking office in Berlin. But it’s difficult to imagine Neville Chamberlain in 1938 hosting a conference on the dangers of rearmament, and inviting America, France, Brazil, Liberia, and Thailand . . . but not even mentioning Germany.

For the proper historical analogy, we may have to look back even further – to the 1921 Washington Conference on naval disarmament in the Pacific, which Churchill described in the opening chapter of “The Gathering Storm:”

At the Washington Conference of 1921 far-reaching proposals for naval disarmament were made by the United States, and the British and American governments proceeded to sink their battleships and break up their military establishments with gusto. It was argued in odd logic that it would be immoral to disarm the vanquished unless the victors also stripped themselves of their weapons.

Chalk it up to the early twentieth century belief that it was ships that killed people. Churchill wrote that Japan, then just becoming a rising Pacific power, “watched with an attentive eye.” Two decades later, the U.S. ended a world war in the Pacific with bombs not yet invented when the U.S. had led the world in dreaming of disarmament.

The 2010 Washington Conference was an idea President Obama announced last year in his Prague disarmament speech, which set forth his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. The speech featured the odd logic that America had a moral responsibility to disarm, as “the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon.” The speech was marred by North Korea’s firing, on the morning of the speech, rockets designed to demonstrate a long-range missile capability, and neither Iran nor North Korea found the speech particularly persuasive: a year later, they still resist Obama’s solution to their nuclear weapons programs – talks.

Future historians may find the Prague speech a useful guide to the themes that pervaded the Obama administration. Obama began by noting that, when he was born, “few people would have predicted that someone like me would one day become the President of the United States” – an observation he would repeat in the video he sent as the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall without him. He noted the Czechs’ Velvet Revolution had “showed us that peaceful protest could shake the foundations of an empire, and expose the emptiness of an ideology,” proving “moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon” – but stood by in silence months later as he watched regime-threatening demonstrations in Iran.

He provided another trademark “let me be clear” moment – one the Czechs learned several months later was not quite as clear as they thought:

So let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles.  As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.)

The balance of the speech set forth a lengthy series of proposals – arms reductions, treaties that would be “sufficiently bold,” strengthened international inspections, “real and immediate consequences” for rule-breakers, a global summit, etc. – ending with an applause-producing assertion that “Yes, we can.”

It was all there: the self-referential view of history, the rhetoric divorced from reality, the disingenuous let-me-be-clear assurance, the implicit denigration of his country for its supposed sins, the celebration of the moral leadership he would bring to the world, the panoply of proposals – all delivered while rockets were fired and centrifuges were spun, with no U.S. response other than a conference at which the rockets and centrifuges were not discussed.

Mark Steyn predicts future historians will marvel at the omission of any discussion of Iran at this week’s Nuclear Security Summit:

For once, the cheap comparisons with 1930s appeasement barely suffice: To be sure, in 1933, the great powers were meeting in Geneva and holding utopian arms-control talks even as Hitler was taking office in Berlin. But it’s difficult to imagine Neville Chamberlain in 1938 hosting a conference on the dangers of rearmament, and inviting America, France, Brazil, Liberia, and Thailand . . . but not even mentioning Germany.

For the proper historical analogy, we may have to look back even further – to the 1921 Washington Conference on naval disarmament in the Pacific, which Churchill described in the opening chapter of “The Gathering Storm:”

At the Washington Conference of 1921 far-reaching proposals for naval disarmament were made by the United States, and the British and American governments proceeded to sink their battleships and break up their military establishments with gusto. It was argued in odd logic that it would be immoral to disarm the vanquished unless the victors also stripped themselves of their weapons.

Chalk it up to the early twentieth century belief that it was ships that killed people. Churchill wrote that Japan, then just becoming a rising Pacific power, “watched with an attentive eye.” Two decades later, the U.S. ended a world war in the Pacific with bombs not yet invented when the U.S. had led the world in dreaming of disarmament.

The 2010 Washington Conference was an idea President Obama announced last year in his Prague disarmament speech, which set forth his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. The speech featured the odd logic that America had a moral responsibility to disarm, as “the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon.” The speech was marred by North Korea’s firing, on the morning of the speech, rockets designed to demonstrate a long-range missile capability, and neither Iran nor North Korea found the speech particularly persuasive: a year later, they still resist Obama’s solution to their nuclear weapons programs – talks.

Future historians may find the Prague speech a useful guide to the themes that pervaded the Obama administration. Obama began by noting that, when he was born, “few people would have predicted that someone like me would one day become the President of the United States” – an observation he would repeat in the video he sent as the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall without him. He noted the Czechs’ Velvet Revolution had “showed us that peaceful protest could shake the foundations of an empire, and expose the emptiness of an ideology,” proving “moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon” – but stood by in silence months later as he watched regime-threatening demonstrations in Iran.

He provided another trademark “let me be clear” moment – one the Czechs learned several months later was not quite as clear as they thought:

So let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles.  As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.)

The balance of the speech set forth a lengthy series of proposals – arms reductions, treaties that would be “sufficiently bold,” strengthened international inspections, “real and immediate consequences” for rule-breakers, a global summit, etc. – ending with an applause-producing assertion that “Yes, we can.”

It was all there: the self-referential view of history, the rhetoric divorced from reality, the disingenuous let-me-be-clear assurance, the implicit denigration of his country for its supposed sins, the celebration of the moral leadership he would bring to the world, the panoply of proposals – all delivered while rockets were fired and centrifuges were spun, with no U.S. response other than a conference at which the rockets and centrifuges were not discussed.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: President Obama’s Priorities: Human Rights Be Damned

The UN Human Rights Council’s month-long session ended in Geneva on Friday, along with any justification for believing that President Obama is a champion of human rights. The president insisted that America join the UN’s lead human-rights body for the first time very early in his presidency, and the consequences are now painfully clear. The enemies of democracy and freedom are having a field day at the expense of American interests and values.

The Council is the personal playground of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. They hold the balance of power by controlling the Asian and African regional groups, which together form a majority at the Council. The Council’s agenda is accordingly fixated on issues of priority to the Islamic bloc — number one, delegitimizing Israel; number two, trumping free speech in the name of Islam; and number three, avoiding any criticism of human-rights violations in their own backyards. None of which has anything to do with protecting human rights.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

The UN Human Rights Council’s month-long session ended in Geneva on Friday, along with any justification for believing that President Obama is a champion of human rights. The president insisted that America join the UN’s lead human-rights body for the first time very early in his presidency, and the consequences are now painfully clear. The enemies of democracy and freedom are having a field day at the expense of American interests and values.

The Council is the personal playground of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. They hold the balance of power by controlling the Asian and African regional groups, which together form a majority at the Council. The Council’s agenda is accordingly fixated on issues of priority to the Islamic bloc — number one, delegitimizing Israel; number two, trumping free speech in the name of Islam; and number three, avoiding any criticism of human-rights violations in their own backyards. None of which has anything to do with protecting human rights.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Actions vs. a Pretty AIPAC Speech

Let’s talk about the gulf between Obama’s policies and rhetoric. On the one hand, the Obami reversed a Bush-era decision to exit the notorious UN Human Rights Council, where the likes of Libya (and maybe Iran!) will make pronouncements on Israel’s human-rights record. Today this report emphasizes the antics of three-ring circus that now carries the U.S. stamp of legitimacy:

Israel charged Monday that the United Nations Human Rights Council does not believe it has the right to self defense against the rockets which Gaza Palestinians launch against its citizens on the southern border.

“You have done nothing about it and you expect that Israel do nothing either,” said Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva. Roni Leshno Yaar.

He spoke during a day-long debate about Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza. Later this week the council is expected to vote on four resolutions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One resolution affirms the Palestinian right to self determination. A second initiates the creation of an independent committee to monitor compliance by Israel and the Palestinians with the Goldstone Report call for both parties to hold independent transparent investigations into human rights abuses during Israel’s military incursion in Gaza in January 2009 and the Palestinian rocket attacks against Israeli citizens.

Two other resolutions accuse Israel of a host of human rights abuses against Palestinians and take it to task for continued settlement building, including east Jerusalem.

Hillary today waxed lyrical about standing with Israel and declared: “The United States has also led the fight in international institutions against anti-Semitism and efforts to challenge Israel’s legitimacy. We led the boycott of the Durban Conference and repeatedly voted against the deeply flawed Goldstone Report. This administration will always stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself.” But by their policy choices, the Obami have — in fact — empowered the “efforts to challenge Israel’s legitimacy.” Why not walk out of the UN Human Rights Council once and for all? Or is that too great a price to pay for being a friend to Israel?

AIPAC is encouraging the administration to take issues of concern behind closed doors. Fair enough. No ally deserves to be publicly humiliated. But the real goal, to which Howard Kohr alluded, should be something far more ambitious. The administration has to end its bad policies, not simply its hysterical rhetoric. Until it recognizes that the policy of ingratiating ourselves with the Muslim World and distancing ourselves from Israel is fundamentally flawed, the rest is just atmospherics.

Let’s talk about the gulf between Obama’s policies and rhetoric. On the one hand, the Obami reversed a Bush-era decision to exit the notorious UN Human Rights Council, where the likes of Libya (and maybe Iran!) will make pronouncements on Israel’s human-rights record. Today this report emphasizes the antics of three-ring circus that now carries the U.S. stamp of legitimacy:

Israel charged Monday that the United Nations Human Rights Council does not believe it has the right to self defense against the rockets which Gaza Palestinians launch against its citizens on the southern border.

“You have done nothing about it and you expect that Israel do nothing either,” said Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva. Roni Leshno Yaar.

He spoke during a day-long debate about Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza. Later this week the council is expected to vote on four resolutions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One resolution affirms the Palestinian right to self determination. A second initiates the creation of an independent committee to monitor compliance by Israel and the Palestinians with the Goldstone Report call for both parties to hold independent transparent investigations into human rights abuses during Israel’s military incursion in Gaza in January 2009 and the Palestinian rocket attacks against Israeli citizens.

Two other resolutions accuse Israel of a host of human rights abuses against Palestinians and take it to task for continued settlement building, including east Jerusalem.

Hillary today waxed lyrical about standing with Israel and declared: “The United States has also led the fight in international institutions against anti-Semitism and efforts to challenge Israel’s legitimacy. We led the boycott of the Durban Conference and repeatedly voted against the deeply flawed Goldstone Report. This administration will always stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself.” But by their policy choices, the Obami have — in fact — empowered the “efforts to challenge Israel’s legitimacy.” Why not walk out of the UN Human Rights Council once and for all? Or is that too great a price to pay for being a friend to Israel?

AIPAC is encouraging the administration to take issues of concern behind closed doors. Fair enough. No ally deserves to be publicly humiliated. But the real goal, to which Howard Kohr alluded, should be something far more ambitious. The administration has to end its bad policies, not simply its hysterical rhetoric. Until it recognizes that the policy of ingratiating ourselves with the Muslim World and distancing ourselves from Israel is fundamentally flawed, the rest is just atmospherics.

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Iran to the UN Human Rights Council?!

You think the UN can’t become more of a farce? You think the Obami can’t look any sillier for showing deference to the three-ring circus, most particularly the UN Human Rights Council? Think again. Claudia Rosett tells us:

While Iran’s regime bloodies its dissidents, the nuclear weapons-loving mullahs are seeking a treat for themselves at the United Nations: Iran is running for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Utterly perverse though it would be, Iran might snag that prize. The 47 seats on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council are parceled out among regional groups of UN member states. This year the Asian bloc has four seats opening up. Five contenders have stepped forward: Malaysia, Maldives, Qatar, Thailand—and Iran.

Why, how special that would be! As Rosett observes, “If Iran’s government wins a seat on this council, it would send a horrifying message to Iranian dissidents. They have been enduring mass arrests, beatings and murders in their quest for genuine human rights inside Iran.” And one can only imagine the new stream of Israel-bashing and anti-American venom that would spew forth should Tehran capture a seat.

But this is what comes from extending recognition to a murderous regime—one must then accept it as the legitimate representative of a member of the “international community.” And when one combines that with the fiction that the UN Human Rights Council is actually about human rights, then one winds up in the perverse world in which Ahmadinejad gets to pronounce on human rights and introduce all manner of resolutions that almost certainly will not be aimed at regimes that steal away protesters in the middle of the night, or at those those nations that turn a blind eye to honor killings, but rather to Israel, of course.

This development—indeed the potential of this ever coming to pass—should remind us how inept and foolhardy has been Obama’s engagement policy as well as his decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council. Rosett notes that on February 15, a report detailing Iran’s atrocities will come before the Council along with the mullahs’ own “Orwellian” report “claiming metiulous respect for human rights, as redefined by Tehran’s lights—arguing that because ‘the system of government in Iran is based on principles of Islam, it is necessary that Islamic standards and criteria prevail in society.'” It is a preview of things to come.

And from the Obami, can we expect robust opposition to Iran’s membership, a principled walk-out should Iran secure its seat, and a re-statement of our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon? No, no! That would only send the democracy protesters rushing into the arms of the regime and fritter away all the goodwill we have racked up (doing nothing to aid them), don’t you see? Welcome to the Alice-in-Wonderland diplomacy of the Obami. Feel safer yet?

You think the UN can’t become more of a farce? You think the Obami can’t look any sillier for showing deference to the three-ring circus, most particularly the UN Human Rights Council? Think again. Claudia Rosett tells us:

While Iran’s regime bloodies its dissidents, the nuclear weapons-loving mullahs are seeking a treat for themselves at the United Nations: Iran is running for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Utterly perverse though it would be, Iran might snag that prize. The 47 seats on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council are parceled out among regional groups of UN member states. This year the Asian bloc has four seats opening up. Five contenders have stepped forward: Malaysia, Maldives, Qatar, Thailand—and Iran.

Why, how special that would be! As Rosett observes, “If Iran’s government wins a seat on this council, it would send a horrifying message to Iranian dissidents. They have been enduring mass arrests, beatings and murders in their quest for genuine human rights inside Iran.” And one can only imagine the new stream of Israel-bashing and anti-American venom that would spew forth should Tehran capture a seat.

But this is what comes from extending recognition to a murderous regime—one must then accept it as the legitimate representative of a member of the “international community.” And when one combines that with the fiction that the UN Human Rights Council is actually about human rights, then one winds up in the perverse world in which Ahmadinejad gets to pronounce on human rights and introduce all manner of resolutions that almost certainly will not be aimed at regimes that steal away protesters in the middle of the night, or at those those nations that turn a blind eye to honor killings, but rather to Israel, of course.

This development—indeed the potential of this ever coming to pass—should remind us how inept and foolhardy has been Obama’s engagement policy as well as his decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council. Rosett notes that on February 15, a report detailing Iran’s atrocities will come before the Council along with the mullahs’ own “Orwellian” report “claiming metiulous respect for human rights, as redefined by Tehran’s lights—arguing that because ‘the system of government in Iran is based on principles of Islam, it is necessary that Islamic standards and criteria prevail in society.'” It is a preview of things to come.

And from the Obami, can we expect robust opposition to Iran’s membership, a principled walk-out should Iran secure its seat, and a re-statement of our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon? No, no! That would only send the democracy protesters rushing into the arms of the regime and fritter away all the goodwill we have racked up (doing nothing to aid them), don’t you see? Welcome to the Alice-in-Wonderland diplomacy of the Obami. Feel safer yet?

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The Engagement That Never Ends

You knew this was coming:

A long-dormant proposal to remove the bulk of Iran’s enriched uranium from the Islamic republic appeared to be revived Tuesday as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran had “no problem” with a deal initially brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The deal, which Iran formally rejected weeks ago, would swap low-enriched uranium for fuel for a research reactor that produces medical isotopes. “If we allow them to take it, there is no problem,” Ahmadinejad said on state TV. “We sign a contract to give 3.5 percent enriched uranium and receive 20 percent enriched one after four or five months.”

The mullahs have long since figured out that they have willing partners on the other side of the table ready, desperate in fact, to continue the charade of engagement. And quite predictably, the Obami revealed once again that they are eager to hold off the building domestic pressure for sanctions and stem the rising tide of disgust with their year-long quest to talk the mullahs out of their nukes. We are told the administration reacted “cautiously”:

“There is a still a deal on the table. The question is: Is he prepared to say yes,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. He noted that when Iranian diplomats met with U.S. officials in Geneva in October, “they said yes, and then they said no.”

Crowley said he was “unaware of a formal response” by Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency, changing its stance. “If Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments reflect an updated Iranian position, we look forward to Iran informing the IAEA,” said White House spokesman Mike Hammer.

Surprised that the Obami are willing to be trifled with some more? You shouldn’t be. Recall that the crippling sanctions they promised us in the event that engagement didn’t work were being unilaterally negotiated downward as Hillary Clinton and others dutifully explained that their aim was to “leave the door open.” Open for what? More flimflammery by the Iranian regime, of course. Read More

You knew this was coming:

A long-dormant proposal to remove the bulk of Iran’s enriched uranium from the Islamic republic appeared to be revived Tuesday as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran had “no problem” with a deal initially brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The deal, which Iran formally rejected weeks ago, would swap low-enriched uranium for fuel for a research reactor that produces medical isotopes. “If we allow them to take it, there is no problem,” Ahmadinejad said on state TV. “We sign a contract to give 3.5 percent enriched uranium and receive 20 percent enriched one after four or five months.”

The mullahs have long since figured out that they have willing partners on the other side of the table ready, desperate in fact, to continue the charade of engagement. And quite predictably, the Obami revealed once again that they are eager to hold off the building domestic pressure for sanctions and stem the rising tide of disgust with their year-long quest to talk the mullahs out of their nukes. We are told the administration reacted “cautiously”:

“There is a still a deal on the table. The question is: Is he prepared to say yes,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. He noted that when Iranian diplomats met with U.S. officials in Geneva in October, “they said yes, and then they said no.”

Crowley said he was “unaware of a formal response” by Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency, changing its stance. “If Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments reflect an updated Iranian position, we look forward to Iran informing the IAEA,” said White House spokesman Mike Hammer.

Surprised that the Obami are willing to be trifled with some more? You shouldn’t be. Recall that the crippling sanctions they promised us in the event that engagement didn’t work were being unilaterally negotiated downward as Hillary Clinton and others dutifully explained that their aim was to “leave the door open.” Open for what? More flimflammery by the Iranian regime, of course.

Meanwhile, the regime continues its murderous rule. On the same day they were luring the Obama team back to the table, we got a reminder of just who it is we are dealing with:

The [Iranian] president spoke about nuclear plans on the same day Iran said it would soon hang nine more rioters over unrest that erupted after a disputed presidential vote in June last year. Opposition protesters said the poll was rigged.

“Nine others will be hanged soon. The nine, and the two who were hanged on Thursday, were surely arrested in the recent riots and had links to anti-revolutionary groups,” said senior judiciary official Ebrahim Raisi, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

The two men hanged last week were among 11 people sentenced to death on charges including “waging war against God.”

The June election gave Ahmadinejad a second term, but sparked the worst internal crisis in the Islamic Republic’s history. The government denied any fraud in the voting.

Opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, a former prime minister, said the repression showed the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah “had not achieved its goals.”

“Filling the prisons and brutally killing protesters show that the root of … dictatorship remain from the monarchist era,” he said on his Kalemeh website.

Well, that might suggest to practioners of “realism” that the mullahs are not the sort to give up their nukes and that the latest offer is just the sort of distraction one might use to keep the West at bay. But wouldn’t regime change make more sense? Joe Biden on MSNBC had this to say on the subject: “The people of Iran are thinking about, the very people marching, they’re thinking about regime change.” Translation: they are on their own.

The Obami, you see, have a new lease on engagement, another excuse (as if they needed more) to refrain from taking action that might imperil the Iranian regime and deny it the international breathing room it craves. Oh, and are we going to be “bearing witness” to the nine upcoming hangings? No word yet. We eagerly await the next heartfelt statement of sympathy from Foggy Bottom on the deaths of those who can no longer count on the U.S. to aid in the fight for democracy.

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Incentives for Terrorists

Reader Ben Orlanski weighed in yesterday with a key point on the treatment of Guantanamo detainees. His e-mail to Max Boot and me reads, in part:

The principal danger is further undermining the Geneva Conventions. These were, as you two know better than anyone, conventions to protect innocents by incentivizing decent behavior in war. Hence, protections are granted to those who fight decently, and are denied to those who don’t. The great danger here is that, by treating the indecent with decency, we undermine the very distinction the Geneva Conventions were designed to uphold, which, therefore, makes indecency (i.e., terrorism) more attractive, because it has more benefits and fewer disadvantages. … Obama’s plans to move terrorists to the US mainland is just another step in the same direction that has us trying KSM in civilian court.

Ben notes that some of the blurring of distinctions has already occurred thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court but argues it would be a mistake to compound the error. He directs our attention to a recent column by Bill McGurn, who detailed this argument in connection with the KSM trial:

We don’t often speak of incentives in war. That’s a loss, because the whole idea of, say, Geneva rights is based on the idea of providing combatants with incentives to do things that help limit the bloodiness of battle. These include wearing a uniform, carrying arms openly, not targeting civilians, and so on. Terrorists recognize none of these things. …

Why fight the Marines and risk getting killed yourself or locked up in Bagram forever when you can blow up American citizens on their own streets and gain the legal protections that give you a chance to go free? With this one step, Mr. Holder is giving al Qaeda a ghastly incentive: to focus more of their attacks on American civilians on American home soil.

And the argument, as Ben points out, is equally applicable to the planned closing of Guantanamo and the relocation of its detainees to U.S. prisons. Indeed, it seems to be the Obama team’s motive to eradicate the distinction between common criminals and the terrorists/detainees, not to mention the distinction (now partially eradicated) between terrorists and those who historically have been afforded protection under the Geneva Convention. The Obami intend to give the terrorists civilian trials, place them within the geographic jurisdiction of federal courts, house them in American prisons, and, as we saw with Richard Reid, afford them all the rights and privileges of ordinary criminals should they complain about their treatment.

In doing so, the administration not only provides perverse incentives to terrorists. It also conveys to them that, while they see this as a war, we do not. And that is the worst message we can possibly send.

Reader Ben Orlanski weighed in yesterday with a key point on the treatment of Guantanamo detainees. His e-mail to Max Boot and me reads, in part:

The principal danger is further undermining the Geneva Conventions. These were, as you two know better than anyone, conventions to protect innocents by incentivizing decent behavior in war. Hence, protections are granted to those who fight decently, and are denied to those who don’t. The great danger here is that, by treating the indecent with decency, we undermine the very distinction the Geneva Conventions were designed to uphold, which, therefore, makes indecency (i.e., terrorism) more attractive, because it has more benefits and fewer disadvantages. … Obama’s plans to move terrorists to the US mainland is just another step in the same direction that has us trying KSM in civilian court.

Ben notes that some of the blurring of distinctions has already occurred thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court but argues it would be a mistake to compound the error. He directs our attention to a recent column by Bill McGurn, who detailed this argument in connection with the KSM trial:

We don’t often speak of incentives in war. That’s a loss, because the whole idea of, say, Geneva rights is based on the idea of providing combatants with incentives to do things that help limit the bloodiness of battle. These include wearing a uniform, carrying arms openly, not targeting civilians, and so on. Terrorists recognize none of these things. …

Why fight the Marines and risk getting killed yourself or locked up in Bagram forever when you can blow up American citizens on their own streets and gain the legal protections that give you a chance to go free? With this one step, Mr. Holder is giving al Qaeda a ghastly incentive: to focus more of their attacks on American civilians on American home soil.

And the argument, as Ben points out, is equally applicable to the planned closing of Guantanamo and the relocation of its detainees to U.S. prisons. Indeed, it seems to be the Obama team’s motive to eradicate the distinction between common criminals and the terrorists/detainees, not to mention the distinction (now partially eradicated) between terrorists and those who historically have been afforded protection under the Geneva Convention. The Obami intend to give the terrorists civilian trials, place them within the geographic jurisdiction of federal courts, house them in American prisons, and, as we saw with Richard Reid, afford them all the rights and privileges of ordinary criminals should they complain about their treatment.

In doing so, the administration not only provides perverse incentives to terrorists. It also conveys to them that, while they see this as a war, we do not. And that is the worst message we can possibly send.

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It’s the Coherence

Listening to the West Point and Copenhagen speeches, many conservatives have been pleased or surprised, to varying degrees, by what they hope is a turn by the president away from a leftist, academic bent in foreign policy and toward a more muscular and mature assertion of American power. His decision to deploy 30,000 troops was enthusiastically received. As one conservative on Capitol Hill described his Nobel Peace Prize speech, “Grading on a curve, it was his best yet.” Others were even more enthusiastic.

But there is now, I would suggest, a problem of credibility and coherence that Obama must overcome. On the credibility front, the non-deadline deadline of his West Point speech raised questions about whether the president signaled a less than fulsome commitment to the difficult counterinsurgency. Will this war of necessity gain his full attention and elicit from him the robust leadership that is essential to maintaining public support and convincing friends and foes that we mean to stick it out even when casualties increase and antiwar voices scream for retreat? Obama will need to make it explicit that the transition out of Afghanistan, as his secretary of defense put it, “will be the same kind of gradual conditions-based transition, province by province, district by district, that we saw in Iraq … [and] will be made by our commanders on the ground, not here in Washington.”

There is also a problem of coherence. In his two major speeches, Obama has talked about human rights. However, his record in this regard has been appalling. Obama, as Jackson Diehl noted, couldn’t bring himself to mention Neda Agha-Soltan at Oslo, a fact which Jackson believes reflects “a continuing failure of nerve or judgment.” So will the president now come out forcefully for the funding of Iranian advocates of democracy? And will he rethink his engagement of Burma and Sudan, as well as his reticence regarding human rights in China?

Likewise, Obama’s moral preening on the war on terror — no enhanced interrogations, shuttling detainees off to terrorist laboratories like Yemen, a public trial for KSM, a war against the CIA — is badly out of sync with the nature of the enemy we face. Obama has conceded that we’re dealing with evil. Do we give an evil man free cable-news time in the “trial of the century,” as the president described in Oslo, “to justify the murder of innocents”? Can we not even slap evil men’s faces to save innocents?

And then there are the rogue states bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. At Oslo, Obama declared that “it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.” But we’ve been doing a lot of standing by idly and, by keeping mum about the secret Qom site and refusing to hear “no” for an answer in Geneva, we have assisted Iran in gaming the system. We did nothing to enforce international agreements that the mullahs violated with the construction of the Qom plant. As for North Korea, we’re engaging them once again, giving them the prestige and refuge from sanctions that go with endless talks. (Even the New York Times concedes that “American and South Korean officials remain unconvinced that the North would give up its nuclear weapons, fearing that it wants to use a new round of talks to escape sanctions and obtain aid.”) With regard to Obama’s Oslo rhetoric, we’re left wondering: what is he talking about?

So the rhetoric, to the delight of many conservatives, has improved. Yet it’s also wildly at odds with the administration’s conduct. Cynics will call it hypocrisy. Optimists will call it a leading indicator of a shift in policy. We simply don’t know at this stage. What we do know is that the Left’s favored approach — incessant apologizing, bullying and betraying of friends, and vision of American un-exceptionalism — has proved to be a colossal failure. Observers as diverse as Leslie Gelb and Dick Cheney agree that we have nothing to show for all the bowing and scraping. So it may be that the Obami are preparing to pivot and leave their hippy-dippy, we-are-the-worldism behind. We’ll know when Obama’s actions better match his more mature rhetoric. And not before.

Listening to the West Point and Copenhagen speeches, many conservatives have been pleased or surprised, to varying degrees, by what they hope is a turn by the president away from a leftist, academic bent in foreign policy and toward a more muscular and mature assertion of American power. His decision to deploy 30,000 troops was enthusiastically received. As one conservative on Capitol Hill described his Nobel Peace Prize speech, “Grading on a curve, it was his best yet.” Others were even more enthusiastic.

But there is now, I would suggest, a problem of credibility and coherence that Obama must overcome. On the credibility front, the non-deadline deadline of his West Point speech raised questions about whether the president signaled a less than fulsome commitment to the difficult counterinsurgency. Will this war of necessity gain his full attention and elicit from him the robust leadership that is essential to maintaining public support and convincing friends and foes that we mean to stick it out even when casualties increase and antiwar voices scream for retreat? Obama will need to make it explicit that the transition out of Afghanistan, as his secretary of defense put it, “will be the same kind of gradual conditions-based transition, province by province, district by district, that we saw in Iraq … [and] will be made by our commanders on the ground, not here in Washington.”

There is also a problem of coherence. In his two major speeches, Obama has talked about human rights. However, his record in this regard has been appalling. Obama, as Jackson Diehl noted, couldn’t bring himself to mention Neda Agha-Soltan at Oslo, a fact which Jackson believes reflects “a continuing failure of nerve or judgment.” So will the president now come out forcefully for the funding of Iranian advocates of democracy? And will he rethink his engagement of Burma and Sudan, as well as his reticence regarding human rights in China?

Likewise, Obama’s moral preening on the war on terror — no enhanced interrogations, shuttling detainees off to terrorist laboratories like Yemen, a public trial for KSM, a war against the CIA — is badly out of sync with the nature of the enemy we face. Obama has conceded that we’re dealing with evil. Do we give an evil man free cable-news time in the “trial of the century,” as the president described in Oslo, “to justify the murder of innocents”? Can we not even slap evil men’s faces to save innocents?

And then there are the rogue states bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. At Oslo, Obama declared that “it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.” But we’ve been doing a lot of standing by idly and, by keeping mum about the secret Qom site and refusing to hear “no” for an answer in Geneva, we have assisted Iran in gaming the system. We did nothing to enforce international agreements that the mullahs violated with the construction of the Qom plant. As for North Korea, we’re engaging them once again, giving them the prestige and refuge from sanctions that go with endless talks. (Even the New York Times concedes that “American and South Korean officials remain unconvinced that the North would give up its nuclear weapons, fearing that it wants to use a new round of talks to escape sanctions and obtain aid.”) With regard to Obama’s Oslo rhetoric, we’re left wondering: what is he talking about?

So the rhetoric, to the delight of many conservatives, has improved. Yet it’s also wildly at odds with the administration’s conduct. Cynics will call it hypocrisy. Optimists will call it a leading indicator of a shift in policy. We simply don’t know at this stage. What we do know is that the Left’s favored approach — incessant apologizing, bullying and betraying of friends, and vision of American un-exceptionalism — has proved to be a colossal failure. Observers as diverse as Leslie Gelb and Dick Cheney agree that we have nothing to show for all the bowing and scraping. So it may be that the Obami are preparing to pivot and leave their hippy-dippy, we-are-the-worldism behind. We’ll know when Obama’s actions better match his more mature rhetoric. And not before.

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Obama’s Foreign-Policy Naivete Is Making War More Likely

John has already commented on the news that Iran has announced plans to build 10 more uranium-enrichment facilities. I want to stress how humiliating this news is, or should be, for the Obama administration, indeed for the entire Democratic party’s foreign-policy establishment. For years the Democrats’ wise men and wise women were bitterly critical of the Bush administration’s alleged failure to reach out to Iran, even though in the second term there was actually quite a bit of outreach, with U.S. representatives meeting with Iranian officials in Geneva and Baghdad. But never mind. The Democratic establishment somehow talked itself into believing that the real problem was American enmity toward Iran. If only the U.S. would reach out some more, they suggested, Iran would surely give up or at least suspend its nuclear ambitions. Barack Obama’s genius during the campaign was to take the most extreme version of this position, with his promise to meet personally with the leaders of Iran and other anti-American dictatorships during his first year in office — another campaign pledge that, mercifully, appears unlikely to be fulfilled. Hillary Clinton, back when she was a presidential candidate, criticized Obama correctly for his naiveté, but she too put her faith in diplomacy with Iran.

Now after almost a year in office we see where Obama’s outreach has gotten us: nowhere. Actually that’s not quite accurate. The administration has made an impact: if the latest pronouncements from Tehran are to be believed, Obama’s policies are making the problem worse, not better, because they are leading to an expansion of the Iranian nuclear program. This should hardly be a surprise. Toothless as the Bush policy was toward Iran, at least there was an element of deterrence as long as George W. Bush himself was in the White House. The mullahs could always sweat a little as they imagined that they might be next in line to feel American military power after Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, there was evidence that they temporarily suspended parts of their nuclear program after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There is no such concern now. The odds of U.S. military action against the Iranian nuclear program — probably the only thing that could serve as serious deterrent — have gone from remote to nonexistent. Obama’s efforts at glad-handing have been interpreted, correctly, as evidence of American weakness and a further spur to nuclear development. Khameini and Ahmadinejad & Co. aren’t even bothering to be polite as they brush aside offers, such as the one to export their uranium for enrichment abroad. They wear their contempt for the West quite openly because they are not afraid of suffering any repercussions.

It is just possible that the Iranians have overplayed their hand. Perhaps the latest Iranian outrages will prompt a rethink in the White House as occurred during the Carter administration when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan shocked another naive president into realizing that his own goodwill would not be enough to overcome determined adversaries. But at the moment, that is a faint hope. The best we can expect in the short term is more toothless Security Council resolutions with sanctions that will do nothing to slow down the Iranian march toward its nuclear dreams. That, in turn, means that an Israeli strike against Iran is getting more likely, even though Israel probably does not have the capability to disrupt the Iranian program for more than a limited period. In sum: through his determination to avoid a conflict with Iran, Obama is making war more likely.

John has already commented on the news that Iran has announced plans to build 10 more uranium-enrichment facilities. I want to stress how humiliating this news is, or should be, for the Obama administration, indeed for the entire Democratic party’s foreign-policy establishment. For years the Democrats’ wise men and wise women were bitterly critical of the Bush administration’s alleged failure to reach out to Iran, even though in the second term there was actually quite a bit of outreach, with U.S. representatives meeting with Iranian officials in Geneva and Baghdad. But never mind. The Democratic establishment somehow talked itself into believing that the real problem was American enmity toward Iran. If only the U.S. would reach out some more, they suggested, Iran would surely give up or at least suspend its nuclear ambitions. Barack Obama’s genius during the campaign was to take the most extreme version of this position, with his promise to meet personally with the leaders of Iran and other anti-American dictatorships during his first year in office — another campaign pledge that, mercifully, appears unlikely to be fulfilled. Hillary Clinton, back when she was a presidential candidate, criticized Obama correctly for his naiveté, but she too put her faith in diplomacy with Iran.

Now after almost a year in office we see where Obama’s outreach has gotten us: nowhere. Actually that’s not quite accurate. The administration has made an impact: if the latest pronouncements from Tehran are to be believed, Obama’s policies are making the problem worse, not better, because they are leading to an expansion of the Iranian nuclear program. This should hardly be a surprise. Toothless as the Bush policy was toward Iran, at least there was an element of deterrence as long as George W. Bush himself was in the White House. The mullahs could always sweat a little as they imagined that they might be next in line to feel American military power after Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, there was evidence that they temporarily suspended parts of their nuclear program after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There is no such concern now. The odds of U.S. military action against the Iranian nuclear program — probably the only thing that could serve as serious deterrent — have gone from remote to nonexistent. Obama’s efforts at glad-handing have been interpreted, correctly, as evidence of American weakness and a further spur to nuclear development. Khameini and Ahmadinejad & Co. aren’t even bothering to be polite as they brush aside offers, such as the one to export their uranium for enrichment abroad. They wear their contempt for the West quite openly because they are not afraid of suffering any repercussions.

It is just possible that the Iranians have overplayed their hand. Perhaps the latest Iranian outrages will prompt a rethink in the White House as occurred during the Carter administration when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan shocked another naive president into realizing that his own goodwill would not be enough to overcome determined adversaries. But at the moment, that is a faint hope. The best we can expect in the short term is more toothless Security Council resolutions with sanctions that will do nothing to slow down the Iranian march toward its nuclear dreams. That, in turn, means that an Israeli strike against Iran is getting more likely, even though Israel probably does not have the capability to disrupt the Iranian program for more than a limited period. In sum: through his determination to avoid a conflict with Iran, Obama is making war more likely.

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The Perils of Freelance Diplomacy

Shaul Mofaz has spent the past two weeks hawking his peace plan overseas. He has met with Obama administration officials Dennis Ross, Dan Shapiro, and Jeffrey Feltman; U.S. congressmen; UN officials; and the American, Turkish, Russian, Egyptian, and Jordanian ambassadors to Israel. But unless you follow Israeli politics closely, you’re probably wondering, “Who?”

And that’s the point: Mofaz isn’t a member of Israel’s government or even a party leader; he’s the No. 2 man in the largest opposition party, Kadima — which has yet to even discuss his plan. In other words, the plan he’s marketing abroad is one he hasn’t yet managed to sell even to his own party, much less to the Israeli public; moreover, he occupies no post that would enable him to implement it.

Nor is this unprecedented: other freelance Israeli diplomats have received equal or greater attention overseas. Yossi Beilin, for instance, met with high-ranking officials worldwide about his Geneva Initiative (a proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement) in 2003, though he held no public office at the time. And when he did run for the Knesset three years later, the party he headed won five seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence from Israel’s public.

Were these foreign officials merely wasting their time, nobody would care. But this behavior has two pernicious effects.

First, it feeds the illusion among overseas governments that they don’t have to contend seriously with the positions of actual Israeli governments elected by actual Israeli voters; they can just sit and wait until the inconvenient incumbents are replaced by their pet opposition politician. Barack Obama’s failure to realize that treating Israel’s capital as a “settlement” would bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than weaken him, since Netanyahu’s positions on Jerusalem in fact reflect those of Israel’s majority, is a classic example of the pitfalls of such illusions.

In reality, people freelance precisely because they are unable to convince their own public to put them in power. Beilin, for instance, went freelance after failing to make it into the Knesset in 2003; Mofaz is freelancing now because he lost Kadima’s leadership contest last fall. And there is no reason to believe such freelancers will be more electable in the future.

Second, international backing for freelancers can panic Israeli governments into moves that undermine the world’s stated goals. Global enthusiasm for the Geneva Initiative, for instance, helped push Ariel Sharon to unilaterally quit Gaza: he considered Geneva disastrous and wanted to distract attention from it. Yet the disengagement, which Palestinians considered a victory for terror, led to Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006 and its subsequent takeover of Gaza in 2007, both of which complicated peacemaking efforts.

Thus the proper response to freelance diplomats should be “first, convince your own public; then we’ll talk.” Granted, that would force world leaders to deal with actual Israeli positions rather than unelectable fantasies. But since Israel must ultimately approve any deal, a plan that can’t command an Israeli majority isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on anyway.

Shaul Mofaz has spent the past two weeks hawking his peace plan overseas. He has met with Obama administration officials Dennis Ross, Dan Shapiro, and Jeffrey Feltman; U.S. congressmen; UN officials; and the American, Turkish, Russian, Egyptian, and Jordanian ambassadors to Israel. But unless you follow Israeli politics closely, you’re probably wondering, “Who?”

And that’s the point: Mofaz isn’t a member of Israel’s government or even a party leader; he’s the No. 2 man in the largest opposition party, Kadima — which has yet to even discuss his plan. In other words, the plan he’s marketing abroad is one he hasn’t yet managed to sell even to his own party, much less to the Israeli public; moreover, he occupies no post that would enable him to implement it.

Nor is this unprecedented: other freelance Israeli diplomats have received equal or greater attention overseas. Yossi Beilin, for instance, met with high-ranking officials worldwide about his Geneva Initiative (a proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement) in 2003, though he held no public office at the time. And when he did run for the Knesset three years later, the party he headed won five seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence from Israel’s public.

Were these foreign officials merely wasting their time, nobody would care. But this behavior has two pernicious effects.

First, it feeds the illusion among overseas governments that they don’t have to contend seriously with the positions of actual Israeli governments elected by actual Israeli voters; they can just sit and wait until the inconvenient incumbents are replaced by their pet opposition politician. Barack Obama’s failure to realize that treating Israel’s capital as a “settlement” would bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than weaken him, since Netanyahu’s positions on Jerusalem in fact reflect those of Israel’s majority, is a classic example of the pitfalls of such illusions.

In reality, people freelance precisely because they are unable to convince their own public to put them in power. Beilin, for instance, went freelance after failing to make it into the Knesset in 2003; Mofaz is freelancing now because he lost Kadima’s leadership contest last fall. And there is no reason to believe such freelancers will be more electable in the future.

Second, international backing for freelancers can panic Israeli governments into moves that undermine the world’s stated goals. Global enthusiasm for the Geneva Initiative, for instance, helped push Ariel Sharon to unilaterally quit Gaza: he considered Geneva disastrous and wanted to distract attention from it. Yet the disengagement, which Palestinians considered a victory for terror, led to Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006 and its subsequent takeover of Gaza in 2007, both of which complicated peacemaking efforts.

Thus the proper response to freelance diplomats should be “first, convince your own public; then we’ll talk.” Granted, that would force world leaders to deal with actual Israeli positions rather than unelectable fantasies. But since Israel must ultimately approve any deal, a plan that can’t command an Israeli majority isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on anyway.

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How NIAC Lobbied Against Dennis Ross

As revealed in Eli Lake’s bombshell story, the National Iranian-American Council has often acted as an advocate for the interests of the Iranian regime, especially in the early days of the Obama administration and before the Iranian election in June. As Lake documents, the leader of this “Iranian-American” organization, Trita Parsi, is not an American citizen. And the council, which claims to speak on behalf of the 1-million-strong Iranian-American community, has only a few thousand members.

It is also a 501(c)(3), which means that its mission and operation must be nonpartisan — no lobbying allowed. But as information obtained in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by NIAC against a critic shows, the organization has been deeply involved in political advocacy. What follows is but one example.

When it became clear in early January that President-elect Obama intended to pick Dennis Ross to oversee Iran policy at the State Department, NIAC sprung into action to scuttle the nomination.

In a Google group called the “New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee,” where several political allies of NIAC, including lobbying groups, participated, Patrick Disney, NIAC’s acting policy director, wrote that “I should be clear — I think we can still influence the [Ross] selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible.” He continued: “NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. … I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.”

This was followed by e-mail from Mike Amitay, who is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, a George Soros–funded 501(c)(4) — a lobby. Amitay agreed on the need for action against Ross and added that “a most troubling aspects [sic] of [Ross’s] limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.”

So, involvement in United Against a Nuclear Iran was a disqualification for the New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee. UANI’s goal is to “promote efforts that focus on vigorous national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures” in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Its leadership consists of a bipartisan cast of foreign-policy leaders — it is an utterly, even conspicuously, centrist organization. But for NIAC, even an organization that so much as expresses concern about the nuclear program is unacceptable.

This e-mail exchange shows not just the political radicalism of NIAC and its advocacy of Iranian-regime interests but also the way the organization skates blithely across some very thin ice. Here we have an employee of NIAC acting in his official capacity and using his NIAC e-mail address to help organize a campaign to undermine an Obama-administration nominee. NIAC claims, and its tax status requires, that it is not a lobby and spends zero percent of its time lobbying. Yet Disney is joined by Amitay, a lobbyist, in organizing what is clearly a lobbying campaign. Nowhere is there an attempt to distinguish between the activities of the two groups or to assume roles consistent with their legal statuses. In fact, just the opposite — it is Disney who seeks to spearhead the campaign.

And this comes in the context of a litany of other incriminating revelations — that Parsi set up meetings between U.S. congressmen and the Iranian ambassador to the UN, that members of NIAC attended meetings explicitly devoted to establishing lobbying agendas and tactics, and so on. And all this, it must be added, in order to help the Iranian regime get sanctions lifted and end American opposition to its nuclear ambitions.

Below the jump is a copy of the e-mail exchange in question.
Read More

As revealed in Eli Lake’s bombshell story, the National Iranian-American Council has often acted as an advocate for the interests of the Iranian regime, especially in the early days of the Obama administration and before the Iranian election in June. As Lake documents, the leader of this “Iranian-American” organization, Trita Parsi, is not an American citizen. And the council, which claims to speak on behalf of the 1-million-strong Iranian-American community, has only a few thousand members.

It is also a 501(c)(3), which means that its mission and operation must be nonpartisan — no lobbying allowed. But as information obtained in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by NIAC against a critic shows, the organization has been deeply involved in political advocacy. What follows is but one example.

When it became clear in early January that President-elect Obama intended to pick Dennis Ross to oversee Iran policy at the State Department, NIAC sprung into action to scuttle the nomination.

In a Google group called the “New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee,” where several political allies of NIAC, including lobbying groups, participated, Patrick Disney, NIAC’s acting policy director, wrote that “I should be clear — I think we can still influence the [Ross] selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible.” He continued: “NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. … I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.”

This was followed by e-mail from Mike Amitay, who is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, a George Soros–funded 501(c)(4) — a lobby. Amitay agreed on the need for action against Ross and added that “a most troubling aspects [sic] of [Ross’s] limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.”

So, involvement in United Against a Nuclear Iran was a disqualification for the New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee. UANI’s goal is to “promote efforts that focus on vigorous national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures” in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Its leadership consists of a bipartisan cast of foreign-policy leaders — it is an utterly, even conspicuously, centrist organization. But for NIAC, even an organization that so much as expresses concern about the nuclear program is unacceptable.

This e-mail exchange shows not just the political radicalism of NIAC and its advocacy of Iranian-regime interests but also the way the organization skates blithely across some very thin ice. Here we have an employee of NIAC acting in his official capacity and using his NIAC e-mail address to help organize a campaign to undermine an Obama-administration nominee. NIAC claims, and its tax status requires, that it is not a lobby and spends zero percent of its time lobbying. Yet Disney is joined by Amitay, a lobbyist, in organizing what is clearly a lobbying campaign. Nowhere is there an attempt to distinguish between the activities of the two groups or to assume roles consistent with their legal statuses. In fact, just the opposite — it is Disney who seeks to spearhead the campaign.

And this comes in the context of a litany of other incriminating revelations — that Parsi set up meetings between U.S. congressmen and the Iranian ambassador to the UN, that members of NIAC attended meetings explicitly devoted to establishing lobbying agendas and tactics, and so on. And all this, it must be added, in order to help the Iranian regime get sanctions lifted and end American opposition to its nuclear ambitions.

Below the jump is a copy of the e-mail exchange in question.

—–Original Message—–
From: Mike Amitay [mailto:mamitay@osi-dc.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:35 PM
To: jparillo@psr.org; PDisney@niacouncil.org; new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com
Subject: RE: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

Ross has not worked extensively on Iran, though his most recent employer WINEP, is a “think-tank” created by AIPAC leadership in the 1980s. As Jill points out, a most troubling aspects of his limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran. (Holbrooke also serves on this body). UANI is a right-wing “pro-Israel” PR effort established to push a more militant US policy towards Iran. If in fact Ross appointment confirmed, I find this deeply troubling. One question to consider, however, is whether publicly objecting to Ross would damage our ability to work with him and others in USG in the future.

###########################################

Mike Amitay – Senior Policy Analyst
Middle East, North Africa and Central Eurasia
Open Society Institute / Open Society Policy Center
1120 19th Street, NW – 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20036
202-721-5625 (direct) 202-530-0138 (fax)
www.soros.org / www.opensocietypolicycenter.org

—–Original Message—–
From: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com [mailto:new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of Jill Parillo
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:03 PM
To: PDisney@niacouncil.org; new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com; IranPWG@yahoogroups.com
Subject: RE: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

On Ross, I sent an email earlier, but I would like to add:
Engagement with Iran is aimed at reducing tension in US-Iranian relations, to avoid war and build confidence, so to get to a point where together we can develop common policies that will US and Iranian concerns.

If someone is sent to the talks (like when Burns was) who could increase tension, the policy of engagement as a solution to the Iran challenge will not be a success.
We should talk to those that know Ross well and his policies, and ability to negotiate in a peaceful fair manner.

In spending time as part of the Department of Disarmament Affairs and at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, I sat through several high level negotiations where country Ambassadors walked out of the room because of Bush Administration officials being very rude. The right person and the right policy are important.

We need to also pay attention to who the envoy will report to, in this case it is Clinton, not Obama.
I have never met Ross in person, so I will not judge if he is a good or bad pick. However, I can say I have concerns, since he signed onto the attached paper which says, “WE BELIEVE A MILITARY STRIKE IS A FEASIBLE OPTION…..the United States will need to augment its military presence in the region. This should commence the first day the new President enters office.” I am taking this out of context, so please look at this section for yourself, but in any case, it is concerning.

Best,

Jill

PS. I am off to speak in Italy until Jan 19-Pugwash Conference, so I may not be available for much of the next 10 days. Thanks

—–Original Message—–
From: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com [mailto:new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of pdisney@niacouncil.org
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 1:33 PM
To: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com; IranPWG@yahoogroups.com
Subject: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

All,

As the rumors appear to be more substantiated by the hour, I think we should start a conversation about what our response will be if Dennis Ross is named Iran envoy.

I should be clear–I think we can still influence the selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible. However, if it does prove to be Ross, we have to make a choice as to how to respond.

NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. We would make it clear that we prefer to work with Obama, and that Ross does not align with Obama’s plan to change America’s approach. Obviously, there are pro’s and con’s to any strategy, but if it’s simply impossible for us to work with Ross, we should be in a position to say I told you so after he messes everything up. But I’d like to hear others’ thoughts.

Again, this is a brainstorm rather than a concrete plan. I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.
Thanks very much.
-p

January 7, 2009, 10:21 AM
Obama
Picks Foreign Envoys

Posted by Michelle

Levi

Transition officials confirm to CBS News’ Marc Ambinder that President-elect Obama has asked Dennis Ross, Richard Haas, and Richard Holbrooke, to serve as his chief emissaries to world hot spots. Ross and Holbrooke both served in senior Clinton administration roles. Haas had senior posts in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2003 and in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

It’s expected that Ross will be assigned the Iran portfolio, that Holbrooke, the hard-headed architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, will take the difficult Southwest Asia portfolio, including India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that Haas will deal with the Middle East.

Each men’s turf is still in flux, so these early assignments are not firm.
Read More Posts In Transition

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Read Less

Vulnerable North Korea

“There’s a growing understanding of the issues that need to be resolved,” said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill after meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Geneva late last week. Washington’s chief negotiator at the six-party talks was doing his best to show progress in the inconclusive negotiations to disarm Kim Jong Il’s abhorrent state. To date, Pyongyang has shown little inclination to provide a full accounting of its nuclear weapons programs in compliance with a prior agreement to do so by the end of last year.

A weakened Bush administration appears to be at a loss as to what to do in the face of the North’s recent intransigence. In the first week of this month, Hill imposed a March-end deadline on Pyongyang to honor its commitments, but it is apparent that the announced due date is meaningless and that the United States will impose no penalty for a failure to meet his timeline.

Diplomacy may require patience, but it certainly works best with the threat of coercion, especially where rogues armed with dangerous weapons are involved. Analysts say there is no military option against North Korea. Even if this notion is correct—which it is not—the tolerance of the President is a fundamental mistake. Events over the past several weeks show that Washington is not playing its strongest cards at an important moment.

An unseasonably warm and dry winter is adversely affecting the North’s autumn crop of wheat and barley. This abnormal weather comes on top of last August’s devastating floods. As a result, the UN’s World Food Program expects a larger-than-usual shortfall in North Korea’ harvest. Surging grain prices on global markets do not help Kim Jong Il. Moreover, both China and South Korea have substantially reduced shipments of food and fertilizer to the North Korean regime. “For Kim Jong Il, this will be his most difficult year,” says Park Syung-je of the Asia Strategy Institute in Seoul.

The key is the new South Korean government. President Lee Myung-bak has announced that Seoul’s aid will be closely tied to Pyongyang’s adherence to its pledges of disarmament. Moreover, Lee, who travels to Washington in the middle of April, wants to align his North Korean polices with Washington’s. This means that the South will largely abandon the approaches of his predecessors, namely the Sunshine Policy of Kim Dae Jung and the nearly identical Peace and Prosperity Policy of Roh Moo-hyun. Seoul’s new approach isolates China and makes it the sole supporter of North Korea. This permits the United States to put Beijing on the spot.

So the Bush administration has new tools to coerce Pyongyang and, more importantly, Beijing. The main issue, therefore, is whether Washington has the will to use them.

“There’s a growing understanding of the issues that need to be resolved,” said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill after meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Geneva late last week. Washington’s chief negotiator at the six-party talks was doing his best to show progress in the inconclusive negotiations to disarm Kim Jong Il’s abhorrent state. To date, Pyongyang has shown little inclination to provide a full accounting of its nuclear weapons programs in compliance with a prior agreement to do so by the end of last year.

A weakened Bush administration appears to be at a loss as to what to do in the face of the North’s recent intransigence. In the first week of this month, Hill imposed a March-end deadline on Pyongyang to honor its commitments, but it is apparent that the announced due date is meaningless and that the United States will impose no penalty for a failure to meet his timeline.

Diplomacy may require patience, but it certainly works best with the threat of coercion, especially where rogues armed with dangerous weapons are involved. Analysts say there is no military option against North Korea. Even if this notion is correct—which it is not—the tolerance of the President is a fundamental mistake. Events over the past several weeks show that Washington is not playing its strongest cards at an important moment.

An unseasonably warm and dry winter is adversely affecting the North’s autumn crop of wheat and barley. This abnormal weather comes on top of last August’s devastating floods. As a result, the UN’s World Food Program expects a larger-than-usual shortfall in North Korea’ harvest. Surging grain prices on global markets do not help Kim Jong Il. Moreover, both China and South Korea have substantially reduced shipments of food and fertilizer to the North Korean regime. “For Kim Jong Il, this will be his most difficult year,” says Park Syung-je of the Asia Strategy Institute in Seoul.

The key is the new South Korean government. President Lee Myung-bak has announced that Seoul’s aid will be closely tied to Pyongyang’s adherence to its pledges of disarmament. Moreover, Lee, who travels to Washington in the middle of April, wants to align his North Korean polices with Washington’s. This means that the South will largely abandon the approaches of his predecessors, namely the Sunshine Policy of Kim Dae Jung and the nearly identical Peace and Prosperity Policy of Roh Moo-hyun. Seoul’s new approach isolates China and makes it the sole supporter of North Korea. This permits the United States to put Beijing on the spot.

So the Bush administration has new tools to coerce Pyongyang and, more importantly, Beijing. The main issue, therefore, is whether Washington has the will to use them.

Read Less

Look Who’s Talking

Michael Ledeen offers a rejoinder to one of the sillier promises Barack Obama makes about his approach to Iran and Syria:

We have been talking to Iran virtually non-stop for nearly 30 years. This most definitely includes the Bush administration, which has used open and back channels, including dispatching former Spanish President Felipe Gonzales to Tehran on our behalf. You can judge the results for yourself.

Let’s try it again: We have been talking to Iran. We are talking to Iran right now. The proposal that we talk to Iran is neither new nor does it represent any change in American policy. There is apparently a great desire to deny the facts in this matter.

It is also true that we have been talking to Syria. Well, maybe if we talked more earnestly? And at a higher level of representation? That’s exactly what has distinguished our engagement with Syria from that with Iran. And it hasn’t mattered.

The big push started immediately following the first Gulf War, with James Baker in Damascus promising Hafez Assad the return of the Golan plus an American security guarantee of the border if he would only submit himself to the peace process. Assad, after a great deal of drawn-out, exasperating back-and-forth, finally told Baker to take a hike. Clinton went even further, holding, among other parleys, an eight-day summit in Shepardstown, West Virginia, with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and a Syrian delegation headed by the Foreign Minister, and later a one-on-one meeting in Geneva at which Assad brazenly betrayed the terms of a deal to which he had previously agreed.

The Syrian modus operandi both for Hafez and Bashar has been the same: talk and bargain, but give nothing and in the end agree to nothing. This has been the pattern whether the subject of the talks has been Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syrian support for the insurgency in Iraq, or peace with Israel. The latest western leader to get suckered is Nicolas Sarkozy, who this December grew so frustrated trying to negotiate an end to the Lebanese presidential impasse that he declared to the press, “I have reached the end of the road with Assad.”

Obama appears to either not know these details, or thinks that nobody will notice the utter falsity of his claim that we haven’t been “talking to our enemies.” There is thus a Grand Canyon-sized opening for McCain to pummel Obama on the foolishness of this particular trope — an attack that would perfectly complement the wider charge that Obama seems proudly intent on sending the United States wandering naively into the Middle Eastern bazaar.

Michael Ledeen offers a rejoinder to one of the sillier promises Barack Obama makes about his approach to Iran and Syria:

We have been talking to Iran virtually non-stop for nearly 30 years. This most definitely includes the Bush administration, which has used open and back channels, including dispatching former Spanish President Felipe Gonzales to Tehran on our behalf. You can judge the results for yourself.

Let’s try it again: We have been talking to Iran. We are talking to Iran right now. The proposal that we talk to Iran is neither new nor does it represent any change in American policy. There is apparently a great desire to deny the facts in this matter.

It is also true that we have been talking to Syria. Well, maybe if we talked more earnestly? And at a higher level of representation? That’s exactly what has distinguished our engagement with Syria from that with Iran. And it hasn’t mattered.

The big push started immediately following the first Gulf War, with James Baker in Damascus promising Hafez Assad the return of the Golan plus an American security guarantee of the border if he would only submit himself to the peace process. Assad, after a great deal of drawn-out, exasperating back-and-forth, finally told Baker to take a hike. Clinton went even further, holding, among other parleys, an eight-day summit in Shepardstown, West Virginia, with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and a Syrian delegation headed by the Foreign Minister, and later a one-on-one meeting in Geneva at which Assad brazenly betrayed the terms of a deal to which he had previously agreed.

The Syrian modus operandi both for Hafez and Bashar has been the same: talk and bargain, but give nothing and in the end agree to nothing. This has been the pattern whether the subject of the talks has been Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syrian support for the insurgency in Iraq, or peace with Israel. The latest western leader to get suckered is Nicolas Sarkozy, who this December grew so frustrated trying to negotiate an end to the Lebanese presidential impasse that he declared to the press, “I have reached the end of the road with Assad.”

Obama appears to either not know these details, or thinks that nobody will notice the utter falsity of his claim that we haven’t been “talking to our enemies.” There is thus a Grand Canyon-sized opening for McCain to pummel Obama on the foolishness of this particular trope — an attack that would perfectly complement the wider charge that Obama seems proudly intent on sending the United States wandering naively into the Middle Eastern bazaar.

Read Less




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