Commentary Magazine


Topic: Green Movement

Could an Attack on Iran Facilitate Regime Change?

An Iranian op-ed writer recently urged his country to emulate Israel. Of course the “Zionist regime” is illegitimate, wrote Seyed Ammar Kalantari, but the fact that “this small group of around seven million people who only about 60 years ago moved to this small spot from all sorts of different cultures and nationalities” has managed to survive, despite repeated attacks by Palestinians and various Arab armies, shows it must be doing something right. That something, Kalantari argued, is Israel’s willingness to criticize its leaders.

What makes this remarkable isn’t just that Israel is being touted as a shining example in the very country whose leader regularly pledges to annihilate it as “a cancerous tumor.” It’s that the article appeared on a website closely affiliated with Mohsen Rezaee, a former Revolutionary Guards commander who now serves as secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, a key organ of the regime. It’s one of numerous recent reminders that most Iranians are vastly more open-minded than the thugs who run their country.

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An Iranian op-ed writer recently urged his country to emulate Israel. Of course the “Zionist regime” is illegitimate, wrote Seyed Ammar Kalantari, but the fact that “this small group of around seven million people who only about 60 years ago moved to this small spot from all sorts of different cultures and nationalities” has managed to survive, despite repeated attacks by Palestinians and various Arab armies, shows it must be doing something right. That something, Kalantari argued, is Israel’s willingness to criticize its leaders.

What makes this remarkable isn’t just that Israel is being touted as a shining example in the very country whose leader regularly pledges to annihilate it as “a cancerous tumor.” It’s that the article appeared on a website closely affiliated with Mohsen Rezaee, a former Revolutionary Guards commander who now serves as secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, a key organ of the regime. It’s one of numerous recent reminders that most Iranians are vastly more open-minded than the thugs who run their country.

Just this week, a leading Iranian opposition cleric publicly urged the regime to “do everything to prevent a Zionist attack on Iran, because if that happens, Iran will be severely damaged, even if the Zionist regime is damaged even more.” The regime “must not act as warmongers,” warned Ayatollah Yousef Sanei: “The country is currently facing a unique situation, and the most important thing to do is to shut the mouth of the Zionist regime with our thoughts, our pens and an effort to take the right actions.” While Sanei didn’t specify said “right actions,” the meaning seems clear: steps to allay international, and especially Israeli, concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

In fact, an online poll published in June found that a decisive majority of Iranians – 63 percent – favor giving up uranium enrichment in exchange for an end to sanctions. And another poll, published in May, found that Iranians are much more supportive of basic liberal values than, say, Egyptians, Jordanians and Moroccans, or even residents of some Asian and eastern European democracies. Fully 94% of respondents, for instance, deemed “freedom to choose” an important value, and 71% deemed tolerance important.

All this shows what an incredible opportunity was wasted when U.S. President Barack Obama failed to support the Green Revolution in 2009, preferring instead to pursue negotiations with the mullahs: In Iran – unlike, say, Egypt – a successful revolution might well have produced a better government rather than a worse one, because most Iranians would genuinely rather build a decent society at home than foment mayhem abroad.

Today, however, this very decency is frequently used as an argument against attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities: An attack, we are told, will cause ordinary Iranians to rally round the mullahs, thereby setting the prospect of regime change back decades.

Personally, I think the data indicates that any such effect would be short-lived. People who value freedom of choice and tolerance aren’t likely to become permanent mullah-lovers, nor will opposition leaders long laud the regime for provoking the very attack they warned against.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has an additional argument: the Ugandan precedent. Yoweri Museveni, who became Uganda’s president after Idi Amin’s downfall, told him that Israel’s 1976 Entebbe raid “strengthened Amin’s rivals because it revealed how vulnerable his regime was,” Netanyahu related this month.

There’s no way to know for sure who’s right. But we do know the Green Revolution failed primarily because the regime’s brute-force tactics eventually convinced the demonstrators it was too strong to be toppled. Thus showing that the regime isn’t as powerful as it seems may actually be the very spark needed to finally send the mullahs toppling.

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Syria Policy in Shambles

The suckuppery by John Kerry was for naught. The effort to send a new ambassador has fizzled. The shuttling by top diplomats was a waste. Sipping frappuccinos with the thugs didn’t help matters. Syria is chummier than ever with the Iranian regime:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad assured his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Saturday that their ties were solid — a view unlikely to please Washington which is working to isolate the Islamic state.

“We have stood beside Iran in a brotherly way from the very beginning of the (Iranian Islamic) revolution,” Assad said during a one-day visit to Tehran. Ahmadinejad awarded Assad Iran’s highest medal of honor in recognition of his support for Palestinians and Lebanon and his resistance to “global arrogance” — a term which usually refers to the United States and its allies. “We are two governments and nations which are brothers,” Ahmadinejad said at the televised ceremony where the two presidents smiled and held their hands aloft for the cameras.

Assad said the medal was in appreciation of “the continuing and eternal stance of Syria to be on the side of Iran. … The two countries’ close and continuing contacts are in the interest of the region.”

The United States has tried to improve its relations with Damascus, something analysts say is in part aimed at distancing the country from Iran which Washington sees as a threat to Israel and other countries in the region.

As the U.S. distanced itself from Israel, as provocations (e.g., rearming Hezbollah) went unchecked, and as the Iranian nuclear program moved steadily ahead, Syria cozied up to the mullahs. Could it have been that Bashar al-Assad perceived Iran as the rising power in the region? Could he have interpreted Obama’s overtures as a sign of weakness? Hmm.

In its approach to the Middle East, the Obama team has gotten virtually everything wrong. Syria is closer to Iran than ever before. Iran was unmoved by engagement, encouraged by our indifference to the Green Movement, and unaffected by our sanctions. The Israelis and Palestinians are not even talking to each other. Bibi is unmoved by Obama’s publicly released plead-a-thon letter imploring him to return to the non-peace talks. Alienating friends and throwing ourselves at our enemies’ feet turned out not to be “smart” diplomacy at all.

The suckuppery by John Kerry was for naught. The effort to send a new ambassador has fizzled. The shuttling by top diplomats was a waste. Sipping frappuccinos with the thugs didn’t help matters. Syria is chummier than ever with the Iranian regime:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad assured his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Saturday that their ties were solid — a view unlikely to please Washington which is working to isolate the Islamic state.

“We have stood beside Iran in a brotherly way from the very beginning of the (Iranian Islamic) revolution,” Assad said during a one-day visit to Tehran. Ahmadinejad awarded Assad Iran’s highest medal of honor in recognition of his support for Palestinians and Lebanon and his resistance to “global arrogance” — a term which usually refers to the United States and its allies. “We are two governments and nations which are brothers,” Ahmadinejad said at the televised ceremony where the two presidents smiled and held their hands aloft for the cameras.

Assad said the medal was in appreciation of “the continuing and eternal stance of Syria to be on the side of Iran. … The two countries’ close and continuing contacts are in the interest of the region.”

The United States has tried to improve its relations with Damascus, something analysts say is in part aimed at distancing the country from Iran which Washington sees as a threat to Israel and other countries in the region.

As the U.S. distanced itself from Israel, as provocations (e.g., rearming Hezbollah) went unchecked, and as the Iranian nuclear program moved steadily ahead, Syria cozied up to the mullahs. Could it have been that Bashar al-Assad perceived Iran as the rising power in the region? Could he have interpreted Obama’s overtures as a sign of weakness? Hmm.

In its approach to the Middle East, the Obama team has gotten virtually everything wrong. Syria is closer to Iran than ever before. Iran was unmoved by engagement, encouraged by our indifference to the Green Movement, and unaffected by our sanctions. The Israelis and Palestinians are not even talking to each other. Bibi is unmoved by Obama’s publicly released plead-a-thon letter imploring him to return to the non-peace talks. Alienating friends and throwing ourselves at our enemies’ feet turned out not to be “smart” diplomacy at all.

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Religious Freedom Beyond Ground Zero

Obama’s indifference toward international religious freedom is well known – especially when it concerns despotic regimes of the Middle East. It is not as if the pervasive abuses are a secret.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom earlier this year put both Egypt and Turkey on its watch list. Egypt has received billions in new aid and a pass on re-implementation of its so-called Emergency Laws from the Obama administration, despite the Commission’s findings:

Serious problems of discrimination, intolerance, and other human rights violations against members of religious minorities, as well as disfavored Muslims, remain widespread in Egypt. The reporting period marked a significant upsurge in violence targeting Coptic Orthodox Christians. The Egyptian government has not taken sufficient steps to halt the repression of and discrimination against Christians and other religious believers, or, in many cases, to punish those responsible for violence or other severe violations of religious freedom. This increase in violence, and the failure to prosecute those responsible, fosters a growing climate of impunity. … Disfavored Muslims continue to face discrimination and repression. The government has not responded adequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

In the wake of the Flotilla incident, the administration treated Turkey (from which the weapon-wielding terrorists embarked, and home to the terrorist-connected IHH “charity” ) with kid gloves, refraining from public criticism. Nor does it have much to say about the Commission’s findings:

Serious limitations on the freedom of religion or belief continue to occur in Turkey. … An additional factor influencing the climate during the past year includes the alleged involvement of state and military officials in the Ergenekon plot, which included alleged plans to assassinate the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox patriarchs and to bomb mosques.

And just yesterday, writing in the Washington Post, Roxana Saberi (herself a captive in Iran’s notorious Evin prison) described the persecution of Bahais in Iran and the hellish experience of two Bahai mothers, sentenced to 20 years on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel as well as “insulting religious sanctities and, later, ‘spreading corruption on earth.’” They were shipped off to Rajai Shahr, a facility “known for torture, unsanitary conditions and inadequate medical care for inmates, who include murderers, drug addicts and thieves.” Obama, however, came into office determined to bet on his “engagement” prowess, ignored the Green Movement, and still declines to spotlight the mullahs’ abominable record on religious (and every other) freedom.

It is regrettable that Obama’s Iftar speech not only mangled the Ground Zero mosque issue (which is a matter of discretion and comity, not legality) but ignored the massive deprivation of religious rights in the Middle East. But that would be like going to Cairo and talking about religious freedom for Copts or state-encouraged anti-Semitism. It is, in a word, inconceivable.

Obama’s indifference toward international religious freedom is well known – especially when it concerns despotic regimes of the Middle East. It is not as if the pervasive abuses are a secret.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom earlier this year put both Egypt and Turkey on its watch list. Egypt has received billions in new aid and a pass on re-implementation of its so-called Emergency Laws from the Obama administration, despite the Commission’s findings:

Serious problems of discrimination, intolerance, and other human rights violations against members of religious minorities, as well as disfavored Muslims, remain widespread in Egypt. The reporting period marked a significant upsurge in violence targeting Coptic Orthodox Christians. The Egyptian government has not taken sufficient steps to halt the repression of and discrimination against Christians and other religious believers, or, in many cases, to punish those responsible for violence or other severe violations of religious freedom. This increase in violence, and the failure to prosecute those responsible, fosters a growing climate of impunity. … Disfavored Muslims continue to face discrimination and repression. The government has not responded adequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

In the wake of the Flotilla incident, the administration treated Turkey (from which the weapon-wielding terrorists embarked, and home to the terrorist-connected IHH “charity” ) with kid gloves, refraining from public criticism. Nor does it have much to say about the Commission’s findings:

Serious limitations on the freedom of religion or belief continue to occur in Turkey. … An additional factor influencing the climate during the past year includes the alleged involvement of state and military officials in the Ergenekon plot, which included alleged plans to assassinate the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox patriarchs and to bomb mosques.

And just yesterday, writing in the Washington Post, Roxana Saberi (herself a captive in Iran’s notorious Evin prison) described the persecution of Bahais in Iran and the hellish experience of two Bahai mothers, sentenced to 20 years on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel as well as “insulting religious sanctities and, later, ‘spreading corruption on earth.’” They were shipped off to Rajai Shahr, a facility “known for torture, unsanitary conditions and inadequate medical care for inmates, who include murderers, drug addicts and thieves.” Obama, however, came into office determined to bet on his “engagement” prowess, ignored the Green Movement, and still declines to spotlight the mullahs’ abominable record on religious (and every other) freedom.

It is regrettable that Obama’s Iftar speech not only mangled the Ground Zero mosque issue (which is a matter of discretion and comity, not legality) but ignored the massive deprivation of religious rights in the Middle East. But that would be like going to Cairo and talking about religious freedom for Copts or state-encouraged anti-Semitism. It is, in a word, inconceivable.

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Krauthammer and Dean Agree: Obama Blew It

Charles Krauthammer, as he is wont to do, makes a salient observation. On Obama’s Iftar speech at the White House, which begat arguably the worst week of his presidency, he writes:

It takes no courage whatsoever to bask in the applause of a Muslim audience as you promise to stand stoutly for their right to build a mosque, giving the unmistakable impression that you endorse the idea. What takes courage is to then respectfully ask that audience to reflect upon the wisdom of the project and to consider whether the imam’s alleged goal of interfaith understanding might not be better achieved by accepting the New York governor’s offer to help find another site.

In his own way (with the required sneers at conservatives), Howard Dean, of all people, makes the same point:

This center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but it will not be perceived that way unless a dialogue with a real attempt to understand each other happens. That means the builders have to be willing to go beyond what is their right and be willing to talk about feelings whether the feelings are “justified” or not. No doubt the Republic will survive if this center is built on its current site or not. But I think this is a missed opportunity to try to have an open discussion about why this is a big deal, because it is a big deal to a lot of Americans who are not just right-wing politicians pushing the hate button again. I think those people need to be heard respectfully, whether they are right or whether they are wrong.

But not Obama — the great healer, the no-Blue-America-no-Red-America politician. In reality, Obama is stymied when he can’t charm his opposition or shame them into accepting his position.

We have seen this consistently in his Middle East policy. In fact, it is his habitual mode of Muslim outreach — whether in his fawning engagement of Iran (which demanded neglect of the Green Movement), his failed attempt to dispatch an ambassador to Syria, his Cairo speechifying, or his appointing an envoy, who voiced suspicion of the prosecution of terrorists by his own government, to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Obama imagines that by simply telling Muslim leaders (certainly, not democracy advocates or human-rights protesters) what they want to hear, we will improve our image and cool their ire toward the U.S. But this is childlike and shortsighted.

If one is really going to advance our interests or mediate successfully between parties with conflicting interests and values, it won’t do to simply stamp your foot and simply insist everyone show empathy toward and defer to the Muslims’ point of view (or that of one segment of Muslims). It’s not going to win over the 68 percent of Americans. It’s not going to bring peace to the Middle East. It’s not going to make Obama an effective or popular president.

Of course I don’t believe Obama is a Muslim. But his excessive deference to Muslim states abroad and now to the American Muslim community has set many Americans’ teeth on edge and fueled conspiratorialists’ suspicions. There’s not much he should or can do about the latter. But the American people, not to mention our allies, sense that there is something very much amiss in all the genuflecting. That, in part, is why the mosque controversy has been so devastating for Obama.

Charles Krauthammer, as he is wont to do, makes a salient observation. On Obama’s Iftar speech at the White House, which begat arguably the worst week of his presidency, he writes:

It takes no courage whatsoever to bask in the applause of a Muslim audience as you promise to stand stoutly for their right to build a mosque, giving the unmistakable impression that you endorse the idea. What takes courage is to then respectfully ask that audience to reflect upon the wisdom of the project and to consider whether the imam’s alleged goal of interfaith understanding might not be better achieved by accepting the New York governor’s offer to help find another site.

In his own way (with the required sneers at conservatives), Howard Dean, of all people, makes the same point:

This center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but it will not be perceived that way unless a dialogue with a real attempt to understand each other happens. That means the builders have to be willing to go beyond what is their right and be willing to talk about feelings whether the feelings are “justified” or not. No doubt the Republic will survive if this center is built on its current site or not. But I think this is a missed opportunity to try to have an open discussion about why this is a big deal, because it is a big deal to a lot of Americans who are not just right-wing politicians pushing the hate button again. I think those people need to be heard respectfully, whether they are right or whether they are wrong.

But not Obama — the great healer, the no-Blue-America-no-Red-America politician. In reality, Obama is stymied when he can’t charm his opposition or shame them into accepting his position.

We have seen this consistently in his Middle East policy. In fact, it is his habitual mode of Muslim outreach — whether in his fawning engagement of Iran (which demanded neglect of the Green Movement), his failed attempt to dispatch an ambassador to Syria, his Cairo speechifying, or his appointing an envoy, who voiced suspicion of the prosecution of terrorists by his own government, to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Obama imagines that by simply telling Muslim leaders (certainly, not democracy advocates or human-rights protesters) what they want to hear, we will improve our image and cool their ire toward the U.S. But this is childlike and shortsighted.

If one is really going to advance our interests or mediate successfully between parties with conflicting interests and values, it won’t do to simply stamp your foot and simply insist everyone show empathy toward and defer to the Muslims’ point of view (or that of one segment of Muslims). It’s not going to win over the 68 percent of Americans. It’s not going to bring peace to the Middle East. It’s not going to make Obama an effective or popular president.

Of course I don’t believe Obama is a Muslim. But his excessive deference to Muslim states abroad and now to the American Muslim community has set many Americans’ teeth on edge and fueled conspiratorialists’ suspicions. There’s not much he should or can do about the latter. But the American people, not to mention our allies, sense that there is something very much amiss in all the genuflecting. That, in part, is why the mosque controversy has been so devastating for Obama.

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Tough on Iran?

This morning, I took President Obama and his senior staff to task for expressing unwarranted optimism about the prospects of negotiations with Iran. It seems I might have been mislead by news accounts of a meeting between the president and some columnists at the White House.

Robert Kagan, one of the best analysts and historians in the foreign-policy business, was present at the meeting and writes that it was called because “the administration wanted everyone to know how tough it was being on Iran. … What was striking was the president’s sobriety about the issue,” Kagan writes, “his evident pride in the global diplomatic efforts that produced the latest resolution and his determination to pressure the Tehran regime as much as possible.”

That wasn’t the message that go out, however. As Kagan explains:

[Obama] did make clear that the door was, of course, open to the Iranians to change their minds, that sanctions did not preclude diplomacy and engagement, and that if the Iranians ever decide they wanted to “behave responsibly” by complying with the demands of the international community, then the United States was prepared to welcome them.

It is here that this very straightforward briefing took a bizarre and amusing turn. Some of the journalists present, upon hearing the president’s last point about the door still being open to Iran, decided that he was signaling a brand-new diplomatic initiative. They started peppering Obama with questions to ferret out exactly what “new” diplomatic actions he was talking about and, after the president left, they continued probing the senior officials. This put the officials in an awkward position: They didn’t want to say flat out that the administration was not pursuing a new diplomatic initiative because this might suggest that the administration was not interested in diplomacy at all. But they made perfectly clear — in a half-dozen artful formulations — that, no, there was no new diplomatic initiative in the offing.

So it seems the president and his top aides have learned something in the past year and a half about the futility of reaching out to the Iranians. I apologize for mischaracterizing their views. But I still remain highly skeptical that the sanctions they’ve pushed through will cause Iran to give up its nuclear program. I am still concerned that the administration has not done enough to help the Green Movement and that it has done too much to take the military option of the table, thereby removing our best leverage against Iran. Bottom line: the administration is still failing to stop a major threat — the Iranian nuclear program. In fairness, as I’ve said before, the Bush administration also failed to stop the Iranians. But  it is Obama who is now in office, and time is running out.

This morning, I took President Obama and his senior staff to task for expressing unwarranted optimism about the prospects of negotiations with Iran. It seems I might have been mislead by news accounts of a meeting between the president and some columnists at the White House.

Robert Kagan, one of the best analysts and historians in the foreign-policy business, was present at the meeting and writes that it was called because “the administration wanted everyone to know how tough it was being on Iran. … What was striking was the president’s sobriety about the issue,” Kagan writes, “his evident pride in the global diplomatic efforts that produced the latest resolution and his determination to pressure the Tehran regime as much as possible.”

That wasn’t the message that go out, however. As Kagan explains:

[Obama] did make clear that the door was, of course, open to the Iranians to change their minds, that sanctions did not preclude diplomacy and engagement, and that if the Iranians ever decide they wanted to “behave responsibly” by complying with the demands of the international community, then the United States was prepared to welcome them.

It is here that this very straightforward briefing took a bizarre and amusing turn. Some of the journalists present, upon hearing the president’s last point about the door still being open to Iran, decided that he was signaling a brand-new diplomatic initiative. They started peppering Obama with questions to ferret out exactly what “new” diplomatic actions he was talking about and, after the president left, they continued probing the senior officials. This put the officials in an awkward position: They didn’t want to say flat out that the administration was not pursuing a new diplomatic initiative because this might suggest that the administration was not interested in diplomacy at all. But they made perfectly clear — in a half-dozen artful formulations — that, no, there was no new diplomatic initiative in the offing.

So it seems the president and his top aides have learned something in the past year and a half about the futility of reaching out to the Iranians. I apologize for mischaracterizing their views. But I still remain highly skeptical that the sanctions they’ve pushed through will cause Iran to give up its nuclear program. I am still concerned that the administration has not done enough to help the Green Movement and that it has done too much to take the military option of the table, thereby removing our best leverage against Iran. Bottom line: the administration is still failing to stop a major threat — the Iranian nuclear program. In fairness, as I’ve said before, the Bush administration also failed to stop the Iranians. But  it is Obama who is now in office, and time is running out.

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“Victory Lap” Failure

Another “victory lap”? Really? Earlier this week, President Obama gave a speech on Iraq that was supposed to be part of a “victory lap” on making good his withdrawal from that country. Of course, we’ve seen before the problem with premature declarations of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. The situation is obviously much more stable now than it was in 2003, but it could still unravel if the U.S. doesn’t stay committed. Why take a “victory lap” now, when all indications of American disengagement weaken our leverage in Baghdad?

The question becomes even more acute in the case of Iran. The president held a White House meeting with some friendly columnists to discuss Iran. Jeff Goldberg, who was there, describes the session, as, yes, another “victory lap.” Marc Ambinder, also present, summed it up this way: “President Obama has detected ‘rumblings’ that global sanctions against Iran are slowly prodding the country to rethink its nuclear ambitions, though he conceded that Iran continues to pursue a fully-fledged nuclear weapons program.”

What rumblings are these? Other administration officials who were present explained “that Iran was recently forced to abandon an effort to develop an oil field because the IRGC didn’t have the expertise and the country could find no subcontractors who were willing to risk the penalties imposed by the sanctions.”

Good to hear that Iran is feeling some pressure, but there is, to put it mildly, no evidence that it is willing to abandon its nuclear ambitions — especially because Obama continues to talk of his burning desire to strike a deal with the mullahs, which only encourages their sense of invulnerability. In fact, in this very meeting, Obama indicated he has not given up his hope for negotiations, something that the Iranians have spurned as undiplomatically as possible. They are sure to see his groveling, continued even after their insulting refusals to talk, as a sign of weakness — as indeed it is.

Goldberg left the meeting unconvinced. His doubts are worth quoting:

I am skeptical, though, about the possibilities of a diplomatic breakthrough, for two reasons, one structural, and one related to the state of Iran’s opposition: The structural reason is simple; one of the pillars of Islamic Republic theology is anti-Americanism, and it would take an ideological earthquake to upend that pillar. And then there’s the problem of the Green Movement. If the Iranian opposition were vibrant and strong, the regime might have good reason to be sensitive to the economic impact of the new sanctions package. But the opposition is weak and divided. The regime has shown itself to be fully capable of suppressing dissent through terror. So I’m not sure how much pressure the regime feels to negotiate with the West.

Goldberg, with whom I don’t always agree, is being realistic. What’s scary is that the illusions about “outreach” in the upper reaches of this administration have still not been dispelled, despite a year and a half of experience (to say nothing of the previous 30 years of experience), which would suggest that the mullahs aren’t misunderstood moderates who are committed to “peaceful co-existence.”

Another “victory lap”? Really? Earlier this week, President Obama gave a speech on Iraq that was supposed to be part of a “victory lap” on making good his withdrawal from that country. Of course, we’ve seen before the problem with premature declarations of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. The situation is obviously much more stable now than it was in 2003, but it could still unravel if the U.S. doesn’t stay committed. Why take a “victory lap” now, when all indications of American disengagement weaken our leverage in Baghdad?

The question becomes even more acute in the case of Iran. The president held a White House meeting with some friendly columnists to discuss Iran. Jeff Goldberg, who was there, describes the session, as, yes, another “victory lap.” Marc Ambinder, also present, summed it up this way: “President Obama has detected ‘rumblings’ that global sanctions against Iran are slowly prodding the country to rethink its nuclear ambitions, though he conceded that Iran continues to pursue a fully-fledged nuclear weapons program.”

What rumblings are these? Other administration officials who were present explained “that Iran was recently forced to abandon an effort to develop an oil field because the IRGC didn’t have the expertise and the country could find no subcontractors who were willing to risk the penalties imposed by the sanctions.”

Good to hear that Iran is feeling some pressure, but there is, to put it mildly, no evidence that it is willing to abandon its nuclear ambitions — especially because Obama continues to talk of his burning desire to strike a deal with the mullahs, which only encourages their sense of invulnerability. In fact, in this very meeting, Obama indicated he has not given up his hope for negotiations, something that the Iranians have spurned as undiplomatically as possible. They are sure to see his groveling, continued even after their insulting refusals to talk, as a sign of weakness — as indeed it is.

Goldberg left the meeting unconvinced. His doubts are worth quoting:

I am skeptical, though, about the possibilities of a diplomatic breakthrough, for two reasons, one structural, and one related to the state of Iran’s opposition: The structural reason is simple; one of the pillars of Islamic Republic theology is anti-Americanism, and it would take an ideological earthquake to upend that pillar. And then there’s the problem of the Green Movement. If the Iranian opposition were vibrant and strong, the regime might have good reason to be sensitive to the economic impact of the new sanctions package. But the opposition is weak and divided. The regime has shown itself to be fully capable of suppressing dissent through terror. So I’m not sure how much pressure the regime feels to negotiate with the West.

Goldberg, with whom I don’t always agree, is being realistic. What’s scary is that the illusions about “outreach” in the upper reaches of this administration have still not been dispelled, despite a year and a half of experience (to say nothing of the previous 30 years of experience), which would suggest that the mullahs aren’t misunderstood moderates who are committed to “peaceful co-existence.”

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RE: Missing George Bush

Pete, there are many reasons to miss George Bush. There is no greater and more tragic contrast between Obama and his predecessor than in the human-rights field. This eloquent piece should be read in full, but Bush’s moral clarity on the subject and his determination to name names bear repeating:

People living in tyranny need to know they are not forgotten. North Koreans live in a closed society where dissent is brutally suppressed, and they are cut off from their brothers and sisters to the south. The Iranians are a great people who deserve to chart their own future, but they are denied their liberty by a handful of extremists whose pursuit of nuclear weapons prevents their country from taking its rightful place amongst the thriving. The Cubans are desperate for freedom — and as that nation enters a period of transition, we must insist on free elections and free speech and free assembly. (Applause.) And in Sudan, freedom is denied and basic human rights are violated by a government that pursues genocide against its own citizens. My message to all those who suffer under tyranny is this: We will never excuse your oppressors. We will always stand for your freedom. (Applause.)

It’s not just many Americans who miss him, but Coptic Christians, the Green Movement, ravaged masses in Darfur, brutalized women of the Middle East, Egyptian democracy protesters, and scores of others who no longer have a forceful voice in the White House or an American foreign policy which considers them a high priority.

Pete, there are many reasons to miss George Bush. There is no greater and more tragic contrast between Obama and his predecessor than in the human-rights field. This eloquent piece should be read in full, but Bush’s moral clarity on the subject and his determination to name names bear repeating:

People living in tyranny need to know they are not forgotten. North Koreans live in a closed society where dissent is brutally suppressed, and they are cut off from their brothers and sisters to the south. The Iranians are a great people who deserve to chart their own future, but they are denied their liberty by a handful of extremists whose pursuit of nuclear weapons prevents their country from taking its rightful place amongst the thriving. The Cubans are desperate for freedom — and as that nation enters a period of transition, we must insist on free elections and free speech and free assembly. (Applause.) And in Sudan, freedom is denied and basic human rights are violated by a government that pursues genocide against its own citizens. My message to all those who suffer under tyranny is this: We will never excuse your oppressors. We will always stand for your freedom. (Applause.)

It’s not just many Americans who miss him, but Coptic Christians, the Green Movement, ravaged masses in Darfur, brutalized women of the Middle East, Egyptian democracy protesters, and scores of others who no longer have a forceful voice in the White House or an American foreign policy which considers them a high priority.

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Beyond Sanctions

There was bipartisan praise for the sanctions resolution that emerged from the long-delayed House-Senate conference committee. AIPAC cheered the passage of the “toughest sanctions ever passed.” Its news release asserted:

The new legislation seeks to exploit Iranian economic vulnerabilities in order to persuade Iran’s regime to curtail its nuclear ambitions and support of terrorism. CISAD [the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act] explicitly targets the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), requiring financial sanctions on entities that facilitate any IRGC activity. CISAD also mandates broad financial sanctions on any entity involved with Iran’s nuclear weapons program or support for terrorism. CISAD seeks to limit investments in Iran’s energy sector by sanctioning offending companies and barring them from federal contracts. The bill presumes denial of export licenses to countries permitting sensitive technology diversions to Iran. CISAD also prohibits U.S. nuclear technology export licenses to any country assisting Iran’s nuclear weapons pursuit.

CISAD provides the President with a narrow diplomatic window to significantly curb Iran’s refined petroleum imports and its ability to expand its own refinery operations; if diplomacy fails, the President must impose sanctions on companies in violation of CISAD.

But what do sanctions really mean at this stage? Not all that much, as this report explains:

Senior US officials have acknowledged that newly imposed sanctions against Iran would not be enough to end its quest for nuclear capabilities, but told Congress that the approach was bearing fruit.

“It will certainly not change the calculations of the Iranian leadership overnight, nor is it a panacea,” William Burns, under-secretary for political affairs at the State Department, said of US-backed sanctions passed by the UN Security Council earlier this month during testimony Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “But it is a mark of the potential effect that Iran has worked so hard in recent months to avert action in the Security Council and tried so hard to deflect or divert the steps that are now under way.”

And the administration still wishes to see changes to the sanctions deal:

“We will continue to work with the Congress over the coming days as it finalizes work on this important bill, and in our ongoing efforts to hold Iran accountable,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs in a statement.

The administration has long had reservations that the legislation would restrict the president’s ability to provide exemptions to countries considered helpful on international sanctions and which he would not want to alienate.

“It is no secret that our international partners contain their enthusiasm for extra-territorial applications of US legislation, and that’s why we continue to work closely with you and your colleagues to try to ensure that the measures are going to be targeted in a way that maximizes the goal here,” Burns told the Senate panel.

So to sum up, we have UN sanctions and are on the verge of passing unilateral sanctions. What we don’t have is an effective, timely means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear program. As Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative explained via e-mail, “The bottom line with this is that it is good it is finally moving and will become law, but in reality, the impact will be minimal.”

We had other options — vigorous support for the Green Movement, a full-court press to isolate Iran diplomatically, and the use of force (or the realistic threat of force) — but instead Obama chose prolonged “engagement” and sanctions that are unlikely to slow progress on Iran’s nuclear program.

The administration must now be pressed to answer two questions: how will we know if sanctions are working? And what are we prepared to do if they don’t? One suspects the administration doesn’t have a ready answer for either and that neither Congress nor Jewish groups are all that eager to pose them. But both lawmakers and Jewish groups need to keep their eyes on the ball. The goal here was not to pass sanctions; the goal was to stop Iran from going nuclear. The former is means to the end, although “smart” diplomats often get confused when asked to distinguish between lovely paper documents and effective policy.

Those who cannot conceive of an effective “containment” policy for a nuclear Iran had better think ahead. Unless they begin to forcefully press the administration to think about options if and when sanctions fail and to commit to supporting Israel in the event that the Jewish state is forced to act on its own, they will be ill prepared for the day when Obama, as he certainly will,  moves from deterrence to containment and announces: “We tried everything we could but we told you sanctions might not work.”

There was bipartisan praise for the sanctions resolution that emerged from the long-delayed House-Senate conference committee. AIPAC cheered the passage of the “toughest sanctions ever passed.” Its news release asserted:

The new legislation seeks to exploit Iranian economic vulnerabilities in order to persuade Iran’s regime to curtail its nuclear ambitions and support of terrorism. CISAD [the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act] explicitly targets the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), requiring financial sanctions on entities that facilitate any IRGC activity. CISAD also mandates broad financial sanctions on any entity involved with Iran’s nuclear weapons program or support for terrorism. CISAD seeks to limit investments in Iran’s energy sector by sanctioning offending companies and barring them from federal contracts. The bill presumes denial of export licenses to countries permitting sensitive technology diversions to Iran. CISAD also prohibits U.S. nuclear technology export licenses to any country assisting Iran’s nuclear weapons pursuit.

CISAD provides the President with a narrow diplomatic window to significantly curb Iran’s refined petroleum imports and its ability to expand its own refinery operations; if diplomacy fails, the President must impose sanctions on companies in violation of CISAD.

But what do sanctions really mean at this stage? Not all that much, as this report explains:

Senior US officials have acknowledged that newly imposed sanctions against Iran would not be enough to end its quest for nuclear capabilities, but told Congress that the approach was bearing fruit.

“It will certainly not change the calculations of the Iranian leadership overnight, nor is it a panacea,” William Burns, under-secretary for political affairs at the State Department, said of US-backed sanctions passed by the UN Security Council earlier this month during testimony Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “But it is a mark of the potential effect that Iran has worked so hard in recent months to avert action in the Security Council and tried so hard to deflect or divert the steps that are now under way.”

And the administration still wishes to see changes to the sanctions deal:

“We will continue to work with the Congress over the coming days as it finalizes work on this important bill, and in our ongoing efforts to hold Iran accountable,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs in a statement.

The administration has long had reservations that the legislation would restrict the president’s ability to provide exemptions to countries considered helpful on international sanctions and which he would not want to alienate.

“It is no secret that our international partners contain their enthusiasm for extra-territorial applications of US legislation, and that’s why we continue to work closely with you and your colleagues to try to ensure that the measures are going to be targeted in a way that maximizes the goal here,” Burns told the Senate panel.

So to sum up, we have UN sanctions and are on the verge of passing unilateral sanctions. What we don’t have is an effective, timely means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear program. As Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative explained via e-mail, “The bottom line with this is that it is good it is finally moving and will become law, but in reality, the impact will be minimal.”

We had other options — vigorous support for the Green Movement, a full-court press to isolate Iran diplomatically, and the use of force (or the realistic threat of force) — but instead Obama chose prolonged “engagement” and sanctions that are unlikely to slow progress on Iran’s nuclear program.

The administration must now be pressed to answer two questions: how will we know if sanctions are working? And what are we prepared to do if they don’t? One suspects the administration doesn’t have a ready answer for either and that neither Congress nor Jewish groups are all that eager to pose them. But both lawmakers and Jewish groups need to keep their eyes on the ball. The goal here was not to pass sanctions; the goal was to stop Iran from going nuclear. The former is means to the end, although “smart” diplomats often get confused when asked to distinguish between lovely paper documents and effective policy.

Those who cannot conceive of an effective “containment” policy for a nuclear Iran had better think ahead. Unless they begin to forcefully press the administration to think about options if and when sanctions fail and to commit to supporting Israel in the event that the Jewish state is forced to act on its own, they will be ill prepared for the day when Obama, as he certainly will,  moves from deterrence to containment and announces: “We tried everything we could but we told you sanctions might not work.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Elections have consequences: “The White House was slow to embrace the movement — so much so that protesters held up signs last year asking President Obama, ‘Are you with them or with us?’ Lately, Mr. Obama has made some stronger statements, including one on Thursday that was delivered in his name by an aide before the National Endowment for Democracy, which gave its annual award to the Green Movement. But as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pointed out in a powerful speech before the group also on Thursday, the president has hesitated to ‘unleash America’s full moral power to support the Iranian people.’ Mr. Obama clings to the hope that the radical clique in Tehran will eventually agree to negotiate in good faith — ‘an assumption,’ Mr. McCain noted, that ‘seems totally at odds with the character of this Iranian regime.'”

The House Democrats have a shellacking coming their way. Realclearpolitics shows 201 “safe” or “leans Democratic” seats for Nancy Pelosi and company, 199 “safe” or “leans Republican” for the GOP, and 35 toss-ups.

Labor bosses have nothing to show — first, for their expensive efforts on card check, and now, in the Arkansas Democratic primary. On the latter, Chris Cillizza writes: “Organized labor, you had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.” When do you think union members will insist their hard-earned dollars not be wasted on these political larks?

The EU countries have every reason to go after Israel if the U.S. isn’t standing up for the Jewish state: “Spain will propose the European Union exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, the country’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Saturday. The Spanish prime minister said at a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Spain wants to ‘forge a strong common position’ with EU countries in the face of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

Republican establishment types have none of the influence of Sarah Palin in a GOP primary: “[Nikki] Haley’s attacks on the party caught Palin’s attention last summer. A fan sent Palin a YouTube clip of the candidate speaking at a July 4 tea party rally. ‘Who is that?’ Palin asked, according to a Haley adviser. ‘I want to help her.’ Palin kept an eye on Haley’s progress and then flew last month to Columbia, where she appeared on the steps of the Capitol with Haley and gave the candidate her blessing. … Palin’s endorsement worked: Haley’s poll numbers jumped.”

We have a means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions: “Some in Washington seem resigned to letting Israel take action. But a U.S. failure to act in response to what is perhaps the greatest threat to American interests in decades would be irresponsible. Israel, moreover, lacks our full capabilities to do the job. Despite our global commitments and our engagement in two ongoing wars, the U.S. military is fully able to carry out such a mission. Indeed, the success of President Bush’s 2007 surge of forces into Iraq and of President Obama’s sending additional resources to Afghanistan means we are on better footing to deal with Iran’s nuclear program than we were a few years ago.” What we don’t have is a president with the will to do it.

The mainstream news outlets have standards, unlike the blogospheric riffraff, they keep telling us. From its own ombudsman: “Too often it seems The [Washington] Post grants anonymity at the drop of a hat. … By casually agreeing to conceal the identities of those who provide non-critical information, the Post erodes its credibility and perpetuates Washington’s insidious culture of anonymity.”

Elections have consequences: “The White House was slow to embrace the movement — so much so that protesters held up signs last year asking President Obama, ‘Are you with them or with us?’ Lately, Mr. Obama has made some stronger statements, including one on Thursday that was delivered in his name by an aide before the National Endowment for Democracy, which gave its annual award to the Green Movement. But as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pointed out in a powerful speech before the group also on Thursday, the president has hesitated to ‘unleash America’s full moral power to support the Iranian people.’ Mr. Obama clings to the hope that the radical clique in Tehran will eventually agree to negotiate in good faith — ‘an assumption,’ Mr. McCain noted, that ‘seems totally at odds with the character of this Iranian regime.'”

The House Democrats have a shellacking coming their way. Realclearpolitics shows 201 “safe” or “leans Democratic” seats for Nancy Pelosi and company, 199 “safe” or “leans Republican” for the GOP, and 35 toss-ups.

Labor bosses have nothing to show — first, for their expensive efforts on card check, and now, in the Arkansas Democratic primary. On the latter, Chris Cillizza writes: “Organized labor, you had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.” When do you think union members will insist their hard-earned dollars not be wasted on these political larks?

The EU countries have every reason to go after Israel if the U.S. isn’t standing up for the Jewish state: “Spain will propose the European Union exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, the country’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Saturday. The Spanish prime minister said at a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Spain wants to ‘forge a strong common position’ with EU countries in the face of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

Republican establishment types have none of the influence of Sarah Palin in a GOP primary: “[Nikki] Haley’s attacks on the party caught Palin’s attention last summer. A fan sent Palin a YouTube clip of the candidate speaking at a July 4 tea party rally. ‘Who is that?’ Palin asked, according to a Haley adviser. ‘I want to help her.’ Palin kept an eye on Haley’s progress and then flew last month to Columbia, where she appeared on the steps of the Capitol with Haley and gave the candidate her blessing. … Palin’s endorsement worked: Haley’s poll numbers jumped.”

We have a means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions: “Some in Washington seem resigned to letting Israel take action. But a U.S. failure to act in response to what is perhaps the greatest threat to American interests in decades would be irresponsible. Israel, moreover, lacks our full capabilities to do the job. Despite our global commitments and our engagement in two ongoing wars, the U.S. military is fully able to carry out such a mission. Indeed, the success of President Bush’s 2007 surge of forces into Iraq and of President Obama’s sending additional resources to Afghanistan means we are on better footing to deal with Iran’s nuclear program than we were a few years ago.” What we don’t have is a president with the will to do it.

The mainstream news outlets have standards, unlike the blogospheric riffraff, they keep telling us. From its own ombudsman: “Too often it seems The [Washington] Post grants anonymity at the drop of a hat. … By casually agreeing to conceal the identities of those who provide non-critical information, the Post erodes its credibility and perpetuates Washington’s insidious culture of anonymity.”

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RE: Why Israel Can’t Rely on American Jewish “Leaders”

Rabbi Jack Moline in an online bulletin board has this to say about my post from yesterday:

My argument with the piece is not disagreement but its gratuitous nastiness. That is especially true because the author elected not to go to the source (my contact info is part of what was distributed), a distressing choice being made by ideologues on both sides of many issues.

Most amusing has been the responses of some contrary colleagues (not only Conservative). It boils down to: the meetings should never have taken place and I should have been invited.

First, Moline offers no substantive response to my post, no indication that it misrepresented his original report, and no reason to believe he can engage successfully in a battle of ideas. He has “no disagreement with it,” and he has no real bone to pick with Obama’s Iran policy. Huh? Well, this only serves to confirm the take of one of my readers, who concluded that the rabbis “were out of their league.” Second, he’s “amused” by his colleagues who think the meeting should never have taken place. Such contempt for colleagues — from a rabbi no less! And bravo for the savvy contrary colleagues, who were just the type Moline no doubt screened out from the meeting. Those who questioned the value of the meeting were right that the attendees were enabling the president and his policies, which are inimical to the interests of Israel.

In reply to the outpouring of condescension from Moline, one rabbi responded with this:

I did not want my comments to be amusing but rather challenging and thought provoking. … I served as advisor to the Governor of New Jersey and as legislative assistant to the ranking Senator in New York, as well as a commissioner in New Jersey for six years. I mention this to let you know  I know a little about the game of politics. When Rabbis meet as a group with the president, Governor, Senator,  Congressman, etc. it is because the presidents’ advisors feel comfortable with those who were invited. I know I will be criticized by saying this, but it is the way I see it. I arranged enough meetings for clergy of all faiths to know how the game is played. I had and have no wish to meet with Pres. Obama unless I know I can make a difference. I am not jealous but I am curious if the President left feeling informed or if he felt he used the guests in attendance — and won them over. I did meet a number of times with Presidents Bush, father and son. Not bragging. They were happy to use me. This is the game of politics.

Well that rabbi at least understands what Moline does not — that Moline was being used. More than that, Moline is using his position not to represent his community and confront the president but rather to give comfort and aid to the only president to condemn Israel and to attempt to reorient American policy away from its democratic ally and toward the Muslim despots who threaten the Jewish state. Did Moline try to extract a promise from Obama to use military force to remove an existential threat to Israel if other options failed? Did he take the opportunity to demand that Obama vow to resupply Israel if need be in a military confrontation with Iran? Did he quiz the president on why he has snubbed and undermined the Green Movement (by defunding Iranian human rights groups and engaging their oppressors)? Did he ask Obama why we have tolerated the transfer of missiles to Hezbollah? No.

Moline is quite concerned about his own critics and those of the administration, whom he dismisses as “nasty.” These critics are not nearly as harsh as history will be to those who failed to stand up for Israel in its moment of need.

Rabbi Jack Moline in an online bulletin board has this to say about my post from yesterday:

My argument with the piece is not disagreement but its gratuitous nastiness. That is especially true because the author elected not to go to the source (my contact info is part of what was distributed), a distressing choice being made by ideologues on both sides of many issues.

Most amusing has been the responses of some contrary colleagues (not only Conservative). It boils down to: the meetings should never have taken place and I should have been invited.

First, Moline offers no substantive response to my post, no indication that it misrepresented his original report, and no reason to believe he can engage successfully in a battle of ideas. He has “no disagreement with it,” and he has no real bone to pick with Obama’s Iran policy. Huh? Well, this only serves to confirm the take of one of my readers, who concluded that the rabbis “were out of their league.” Second, he’s “amused” by his colleagues who think the meeting should never have taken place. Such contempt for colleagues — from a rabbi no less! And bravo for the savvy contrary colleagues, who were just the type Moline no doubt screened out from the meeting. Those who questioned the value of the meeting were right that the attendees were enabling the president and his policies, which are inimical to the interests of Israel.

In reply to the outpouring of condescension from Moline, one rabbi responded with this:

I did not want my comments to be amusing but rather challenging and thought provoking. … I served as advisor to the Governor of New Jersey and as legislative assistant to the ranking Senator in New York, as well as a commissioner in New Jersey for six years. I mention this to let you know  I know a little about the game of politics. When Rabbis meet as a group with the president, Governor, Senator,  Congressman, etc. it is because the presidents’ advisors feel comfortable with those who were invited. I know I will be criticized by saying this, but it is the way I see it. I arranged enough meetings for clergy of all faiths to know how the game is played. I had and have no wish to meet with Pres. Obama unless I know I can make a difference. I am not jealous but I am curious if the President left feeling informed or if he felt he used the guests in attendance — and won them over. I did meet a number of times with Presidents Bush, father and son. Not bragging. They were happy to use me. This is the game of politics.

Well that rabbi at least understands what Moline does not — that Moline was being used. More than that, Moline is using his position not to represent his community and confront the president but rather to give comfort and aid to the only president to condemn Israel and to attempt to reorient American policy away from its democratic ally and toward the Muslim despots who threaten the Jewish state. Did Moline try to extract a promise from Obama to use military force to remove an existential threat to Israel if other options failed? Did he take the opportunity to demand that Obama vow to resupply Israel if need be in a military confrontation with Iran? Did he quiz the president on why he has snubbed and undermined the Green Movement (by defunding Iranian human rights groups and engaging their oppressors)? Did he ask Obama why we have tolerated the transfer of missiles to Hezbollah? No.

Moline is quite concerned about his own critics and those of the administration, whom he dismisses as “nasty.” These critics are not nearly as harsh as history will be to those who failed to stand up for Israel in its moment of need.

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UN Deal Has Giant Loophole

We suspected that the UN sanctions deal was toothless, and now Eli Lake reveals just how toothless it is:

A draft U.N. resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran, including limits on global arms transfers, will not block the controversial transfer of Russian S-300 missiles to the Iranian military, according to U.S. and Russian officials.

The Obama administration had opposed the S-300 sale because the system is highly effective against aircraft and some missiles. The CIA has said the S-300 missiles, which have been contracted by Tehran but not delivered, will be used to defend Iranian nuclear facilities. . .

Asked about S-300s, a senior State Department official said the draft “would not impose a legally binding obligation not to transfer S-300 to Iran” since the register does not cover defensive missiles.

I think it’s clear why the Obama administration agreed to this: Hillary Clinton had to rush a deal through to head off the Brazil-Turkey gambit and had no bargaining leverage with Russia. It seems the Obama foreign-policy team is just stalling for time now — which would make sense if we were furiously assisting the Green Movement. But we aren’t.

The gaping loophole is not escaping notice:

John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, criticized the Obama administration for not closing the sanctions resolution loophole on the S-300, calling it “diplomatic malpractice.” …

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, an Illinois Republican running for the Senate, is circulating a letter calling on Mr. Obama to close the loophole.

And just to turn the knife, Lake quotes a State Department spokesman who back in October declared that “we do not believe that this is the time to sell Iran this kind of sophisticated defense capability. … And we’ve understood from the Russian government that they have no plans to ship this sophisticated system to Iran at this time.” Uh, guess that unacceptable sale is now acceptable.

It will be interesting to see the reaction of lawmakers, candidates, and Jewish groups to this latest confirmation that Obama’s Iran policy is entirely unserious. Will Democrats push back against Obama? Maybe now Jewish organizations will pipe up rather than merely pass “their whispered worries from one to another.” The window of time to turn up the heat on the administration is closing fast.

We suspected that the UN sanctions deal was toothless, and now Eli Lake reveals just how toothless it is:

A draft U.N. resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran, including limits on global arms transfers, will not block the controversial transfer of Russian S-300 missiles to the Iranian military, according to U.S. and Russian officials.

The Obama administration had opposed the S-300 sale because the system is highly effective against aircraft and some missiles. The CIA has said the S-300 missiles, which have been contracted by Tehran but not delivered, will be used to defend Iranian nuclear facilities. . .

Asked about S-300s, a senior State Department official said the draft “would not impose a legally binding obligation not to transfer S-300 to Iran” since the register does not cover defensive missiles.

I think it’s clear why the Obama administration agreed to this: Hillary Clinton had to rush a deal through to head off the Brazil-Turkey gambit and had no bargaining leverage with Russia. It seems the Obama foreign-policy team is just stalling for time now — which would make sense if we were furiously assisting the Green Movement. But we aren’t.

The gaping loophole is not escaping notice:

John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, criticized the Obama administration for not closing the sanctions resolution loophole on the S-300, calling it “diplomatic malpractice.” …

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, an Illinois Republican running for the Senate, is circulating a letter calling on Mr. Obama to close the loophole.

And just to turn the knife, Lake quotes a State Department spokesman who back in October declared that “we do not believe that this is the time to sell Iran this kind of sophisticated defense capability. … And we’ve understood from the Russian government that they have no plans to ship this sophisticated system to Iran at this time.” Uh, guess that unacceptable sale is now acceptable.

It will be interesting to see the reaction of lawmakers, candidates, and Jewish groups to this latest confirmation that Obama’s Iran policy is entirely unserious. Will Democrats push back against Obama? Maybe now Jewish organizations will pipe up rather than merely pass “their whispered worries from one to another.” The window of time to turn up the heat on the administration is closing fast.

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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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Iran Engagement Lives

The Washington Post reports:

In a highly unusual move, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki hosted a dinner Thursday for the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council, including a senior U.S. diplomat, at the Iranian mission’s sumptuous Fifth Avenue townhouse in New York, according to Security Council diplomats. … The United States was represented at the dinner, but not by its top diplomat, Susan E. Rice. Alejandro D. Wolff, the second-ranking ambassador at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, attended instead.

The administration hastens to add that this doesn’t signal that we are backing away from sanctions (albeit the itty-bitty ones we are negotiating), and we should, I suppose, be thankful that Rice herself didn’t attend. But the administration can’t help but reveal its muddled approach: “The United States maintained that its presence at the dinner should not be interpreted as a sign that it is backing away from sanctions. ‘This is a dual-track strategy of engagement on one hand and pressure on the other,’ the U.S. official said.” The result is, of course, a mixed message — and an ineffective policy. We can’t commit to regime change — for that might anger the mullahs or smear the Green Movement. We can’t pass crippling sanctions, because that would cause too much pain and impair our ability to resume engagement.

So we seek halfhearted sanctions that have no hope of success, as we signal — plead, in fact — for the Iranians to return to the bargaining table, where they can resume the stalling tactics that have bought them months and months of time to pursue their nuclear program. The notion that we should isolate Iran, engage in a full-court press to make it a pariah state, and push for, at the very least, petroleum sanctions is alien to this administration. We shouldn’t then worry about a dinner party. We should worry that the administration has given up on preventing the mullahs from getting the bomb.

The Washington Post reports:

In a highly unusual move, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki hosted a dinner Thursday for the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council, including a senior U.S. diplomat, at the Iranian mission’s sumptuous Fifth Avenue townhouse in New York, according to Security Council diplomats. … The United States was represented at the dinner, but not by its top diplomat, Susan E. Rice. Alejandro D. Wolff, the second-ranking ambassador at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, attended instead.

The administration hastens to add that this doesn’t signal that we are backing away from sanctions (albeit the itty-bitty ones we are negotiating), and we should, I suppose, be thankful that Rice herself didn’t attend. But the administration can’t help but reveal its muddled approach: “The United States maintained that its presence at the dinner should not be interpreted as a sign that it is backing away from sanctions. ‘This is a dual-track strategy of engagement on one hand and pressure on the other,’ the U.S. official said.” The result is, of course, a mixed message — and an ineffective policy. We can’t commit to regime change — for that might anger the mullahs or smear the Green Movement. We can’t pass crippling sanctions, because that would cause too much pain and impair our ability to resume engagement.

So we seek halfhearted sanctions that have no hope of success, as we signal — plead, in fact — for the Iranians to return to the bargaining table, where they can resume the stalling tactics that have bought them months and months of time to pursue their nuclear program. The notion that we should isolate Iran, engage in a full-court press to make it a pariah state, and push for, at the very least, petroleum sanctions is alien to this administration. We shouldn’t then worry about a dinner party. We should worry that the administration has given up on preventing the mullahs from getting the bomb.

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Talking Down the Military Option

The Washington Post‘s editors observe that the administration is so averse to the use of force or even the threat of the use of force that it is leaving itself no real option to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. They write:

President Obama’s official position is that “all options are on the table,” including the use of force. But senior officials regularly talk down the military option in public — thereby undermining its utility even as an instrument of intimidation. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered more reassurance to Iran on Sunday, saying in a forum at Columbia University that “I worry … about striking Iran. I’ve been very public about that because of the unintended consequences.”

Adm. Mullen appeared to equate those consequences with those of Iran obtaining a weapon. “I think Iran having a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. I think attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome,” he was quoted as saying. Yet Israel and other countries in the region would hardly regard those “outcomes” as similar.

The editors say they don’t favor a military strike, but they find the Obami’s “squishiness” about the use of force “worrisome” because sanctions are going nowhere. And let’s be clear, the Obami hope sanctions will get the Iranians back to the bargaining table, where, of course, we’ll have months more of stalling and antics by the mullahs, with eager administration negotiators refusing to take “no” for an answer.

The editors say they’d prefer support for the Green Movement. “But the administration has so far shrunk from supporting sanctions such as a gasoline embargo that might heighten popular anger against the regime.” Indeed, the administration insists that the only meaningful sanctions, the aforementioned gasoline embargo, for example, are out of the question, because we’d get the Iranian people — who are pleading for our help and dying in the streets to overthrow a brutal regime — mad at us. (Equally probable is that the Obami don’t believe this hooey but instead are parroting the line for the sake of agreement with the Russians and others in the “international community” who don’t want to agree to anything effective.)

The editors conclude by quoting Gates: “‘There should be no confusion by our allies and adversaries,’ he added, ‘that the United States is … prepared to act across a broad range of contingencies in support of our interests.’ If allies and adversaries are presently confused, that would be understandable.” But let’s not pretend to be “confused.” It is very clear what the administration is up to — nothing. Having eliminated viable options to stop the mullahs’ nuclear program, it is playing out the charade of assembling wishy-washy international sanctions. It seems quite implausible that Obama, after Gates and Mullen have both talked down the military option in public for some time, would turn on a dime and decide to strike Iran.

That leaves two possibilities: Obama is either cynically hoping (after much carrying on) that Israel will take care of the problem or he is prepared to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. The former is a bit improbable given the Obami’s onslaught against Israel (although the truly cynical would say given how much animosity they’ve injected into the U.S.-Israel relationship, they would have a plausible-deniability defense if Israel launched a military strike). The latter — resignation to a nuclear-armed Iran — is more frightening, and more probable. They’ll have to finesse the whole “unacceptable” line, but for this crew, that’s just a “messaging” problem. After all, they already told us they weren’t upset at all to get Gates’s memo articulating what we already knew to be true — that there’s no actual plan to prevent the “unacceptable” from happening.

The Washington Post‘s editors observe that the administration is so averse to the use of force or even the threat of the use of force that it is leaving itself no real option to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. They write:

President Obama’s official position is that “all options are on the table,” including the use of force. But senior officials regularly talk down the military option in public — thereby undermining its utility even as an instrument of intimidation. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered more reassurance to Iran on Sunday, saying in a forum at Columbia University that “I worry … about striking Iran. I’ve been very public about that because of the unintended consequences.”

Adm. Mullen appeared to equate those consequences with those of Iran obtaining a weapon. “I think Iran having a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. I think attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome,” he was quoted as saying. Yet Israel and other countries in the region would hardly regard those “outcomes” as similar.

The editors say they don’t favor a military strike, but they find the Obami’s “squishiness” about the use of force “worrisome” because sanctions are going nowhere. And let’s be clear, the Obami hope sanctions will get the Iranians back to the bargaining table, where, of course, we’ll have months more of stalling and antics by the mullahs, with eager administration negotiators refusing to take “no” for an answer.

The editors say they’d prefer support for the Green Movement. “But the administration has so far shrunk from supporting sanctions such as a gasoline embargo that might heighten popular anger against the regime.” Indeed, the administration insists that the only meaningful sanctions, the aforementioned gasoline embargo, for example, are out of the question, because we’d get the Iranian people — who are pleading for our help and dying in the streets to overthrow a brutal regime — mad at us. (Equally probable is that the Obami don’t believe this hooey but instead are parroting the line for the sake of agreement with the Russians and others in the “international community” who don’t want to agree to anything effective.)

The editors conclude by quoting Gates: “‘There should be no confusion by our allies and adversaries,’ he added, ‘that the United States is … prepared to act across a broad range of contingencies in support of our interests.’ If allies and adversaries are presently confused, that would be understandable.” But let’s not pretend to be “confused.” It is very clear what the administration is up to — nothing. Having eliminated viable options to stop the mullahs’ nuclear program, it is playing out the charade of assembling wishy-washy international sanctions. It seems quite implausible that Obama, after Gates and Mullen have both talked down the military option in public for some time, would turn on a dime and decide to strike Iran.

That leaves two possibilities: Obama is either cynically hoping (after much carrying on) that Israel will take care of the problem or he is prepared to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. The former is a bit improbable given the Obami’s onslaught against Israel (although the truly cynical would say given how much animosity they’ve injected into the U.S.-Israel relationship, they would have a plausible-deniability defense if Israel launched a military strike). The latter — resignation to a nuclear-armed Iran — is more frightening, and more probable. They’ll have to finesse the whole “unacceptable” line, but for this crew, that’s just a “messaging” problem. After all, they already told us they weren’t upset at all to get Gates’s memo articulating what we already knew to be true — that there’s no actual plan to prevent the “unacceptable” from happening.

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Obama’s Priorities

Obama’s dismal record on human rights and democracy promotion is increasingly evident to those on the Right and the Left. It extends from major policy decisions (indifference and hostility to the Green Movement) to appointments, or lack thereof. For example, 15 months into his term, he has yet to name an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom despite the pleas of advocacy groups. We know that anti-Semitic incidents doubled last year and Christian advocacy groups have likewise tracked “a surge in incidents of violence against Christians.” Obama did however appoint an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. But the post of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom goes unfilled.

Writing last month, Thomas Farr explained:

Almost 14 months into the Obama presidency, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom — a position mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act — has not been named, even though other positions of less weight and importance to our national interests have long been filled.

The leading candidate for the religious freedom job is said to be a highly intelligent and charismatic pastor, an author and a thoroughly good person who has the friendship of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Those are important attributes. Indeed, having the trust of the Secretary is vital. But more is needed. To be successful, this ambassador at large needs foreign policy experience. Without it, it will be extremely difficult to succeed within Foggy Bottom’s notoriously thorny bureaucracy, let alone deal with foreign officials who believe (as many do) that U.S. international religious freedom policy is a vehicle of cultural imperialism.

Worse, it appears that the new ambassador will be demoted before she is even nominated. Like her predecessors under Presidents Clinton and Bush, she will not be treated as an ambassador at large at all, but will report to a lower ranking official – the assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Her placement alone will signal to American diplomats and foreign governments that they need not take U.S. religious freedom policy seriously.

And then there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the National Holocaust Museum. General David Petraeus spoke at the National Day of Remembrance sponsored by the museum. (His moving speech is worth reading in full here.) But Obama has yet to fill open slots on the Council, an informed observer tells me. Again, the disinterest in the organization is hard to miss.

Presidents make policy both by affirmative action as well as by signaling what is of little or no importance. When it comes to religious freedom and the Jewish community in particular, Obama’s actions and lack thereof are unmistakable, running from indifferent to hostile. So much for his campaign effort to make headway in the “faith based community.” One would have to show some dedication to the community he holds dear in order to do that.

UPDATE: A Council spokesman tells me there have been ten openings for four months.

Obama’s dismal record on human rights and democracy promotion is increasingly evident to those on the Right and the Left. It extends from major policy decisions (indifference and hostility to the Green Movement) to appointments, or lack thereof. For example, 15 months into his term, he has yet to name an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom despite the pleas of advocacy groups. We know that anti-Semitic incidents doubled last year and Christian advocacy groups have likewise tracked “a surge in incidents of violence against Christians.” Obama did however appoint an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. But the post of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom goes unfilled.

Writing last month, Thomas Farr explained:

Almost 14 months into the Obama presidency, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom — a position mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act — has not been named, even though other positions of less weight and importance to our national interests have long been filled.

The leading candidate for the religious freedom job is said to be a highly intelligent and charismatic pastor, an author and a thoroughly good person who has the friendship of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Those are important attributes. Indeed, having the trust of the Secretary is vital. But more is needed. To be successful, this ambassador at large needs foreign policy experience. Without it, it will be extremely difficult to succeed within Foggy Bottom’s notoriously thorny bureaucracy, let alone deal with foreign officials who believe (as many do) that U.S. international religious freedom policy is a vehicle of cultural imperialism.

Worse, it appears that the new ambassador will be demoted before she is even nominated. Like her predecessors under Presidents Clinton and Bush, she will not be treated as an ambassador at large at all, but will report to a lower ranking official – the assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Her placement alone will signal to American diplomats and foreign governments that they need not take U.S. religious freedom policy seriously.

And then there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the National Holocaust Museum. General David Petraeus spoke at the National Day of Remembrance sponsored by the museum. (His moving speech is worth reading in full here.) But Obama has yet to fill open slots on the Council, an informed observer tells me. Again, the disinterest in the organization is hard to miss.

Presidents make policy both by affirmative action as well as by signaling what is of little or no importance. When it comes to religious freedom and the Jewish community in particular, Obama’s actions and lack thereof are unmistakable, running from indifferent to hostile. So much for his campaign effort to make headway in the “faith based community.” One would have to show some dedication to the community he holds dear in order to do that.

UPDATE: A Council spokesman tells me there have been ten openings for four months.

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What’s the Obami’s End Game?

Charles Krauthammer refuses to fall for Obama’s game of misdirection. He writes this about the recently concluded nuclear summit:

So what was the major breakthrough announced by Obama at the end of the two-day conference? That Ukraine, Chile, Mexico and Canada will be getting rid of various amounts of enriched uranium. What a relief. I don’t know about you, but I lie awake nights worrying about Canadian uranium. I know these people. I grew up there. You have no idea what they’re capable of doing.

As Krauthammer notes, it’s a good but minor thing to secure nuclear material in such a fashion, unworthy of all the hoopla — unless you’re trying to distract attention from the lack of serious focus on the real threats of nuclear proliferation — Iran and Pakistan, for example. While the 47 countries met, one moved ahead with its plans:

All this during a week when top U.S. military officials told Congress that Iran is about a year away from acquiring the fissile material to make a nuclear bomb. Then, only a very few years until weaponization. At which point the world changes irrevocably: The regional Arab states go nuclear, the Non-Proliferation Treaty dies, the threat of nuclear transfer to terror groups grows astronomically.

Obama chose to concentrate on one of the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran — the transfer to terror groups. This, we can surmise, is another hint (sanctions are “no magic wand” is another) that the Obami are already working on their explanations and excuses when the “unacceptable” becomes reality. They will pronounce that, really, the threat from Iran is not, in and of itself, catastrophic, and a new diplomatic effort will be underway to secure Iran’s agreement not to disseminate their nuclear prize. Yes, it’s just the sort of thing they would manage to say with straight faces.

As with so many of Obama’s foreign policy feints and gambits, one is left wondering: what next? Surely they realize now that the chance of the itty-bitty sanctions working to deter the mullahs is minimal. And they certainly have decided not to invest any hope in the Green Movement. So what do they do in a year when the Iranians announce “we have the bomb”? The policy question is daunting enough, for “containing” Iran after they have a nuclear weapon will be more problematic than before, and we’ve done a poor job of that (e.g., failing to respond to the deaths of Americans in Iraq resulting from Iran’s handiwork). But the political fallout will be devastating. The Left will deplore the entire collapse of the NPT, and most everyone else will be in an uproar over the egregious national security failure.

It’s a mystery, really, how the Obami think this will all turn out. They’ve eliminated the most logical avenues for thwarting Iran’s nuclear program (military action, crippling sanctions, and regime change), and they’re doing everything they can to restrain Israel from taking up the slack. Maybe in all the misdirection, they’ve spun themselves and lost track of the legal danger — to the country and to their political standing — that a nuclear-armed Iran poses. They, then, are in for quite a shock when reality overtakes them.

Charles Krauthammer refuses to fall for Obama’s game of misdirection. He writes this about the recently concluded nuclear summit:

So what was the major breakthrough announced by Obama at the end of the two-day conference? That Ukraine, Chile, Mexico and Canada will be getting rid of various amounts of enriched uranium. What a relief. I don’t know about you, but I lie awake nights worrying about Canadian uranium. I know these people. I grew up there. You have no idea what they’re capable of doing.

As Krauthammer notes, it’s a good but minor thing to secure nuclear material in such a fashion, unworthy of all the hoopla — unless you’re trying to distract attention from the lack of serious focus on the real threats of nuclear proliferation — Iran and Pakistan, for example. While the 47 countries met, one moved ahead with its plans:

All this during a week when top U.S. military officials told Congress that Iran is about a year away from acquiring the fissile material to make a nuclear bomb. Then, only a very few years until weaponization. At which point the world changes irrevocably: The regional Arab states go nuclear, the Non-Proliferation Treaty dies, the threat of nuclear transfer to terror groups grows astronomically.

Obama chose to concentrate on one of the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran — the transfer to terror groups. This, we can surmise, is another hint (sanctions are “no magic wand” is another) that the Obami are already working on their explanations and excuses when the “unacceptable” becomes reality. They will pronounce that, really, the threat from Iran is not, in and of itself, catastrophic, and a new diplomatic effort will be underway to secure Iran’s agreement not to disseminate their nuclear prize. Yes, it’s just the sort of thing they would manage to say with straight faces.

As with so many of Obama’s foreign policy feints and gambits, one is left wondering: what next? Surely they realize now that the chance of the itty-bitty sanctions working to deter the mullahs is minimal. And they certainly have decided not to invest any hope in the Green Movement. So what do they do in a year when the Iranians announce “we have the bomb”? The policy question is daunting enough, for “containing” Iran after they have a nuclear weapon will be more problematic than before, and we’ve done a poor job of that (e.g., failing to respond to the deaths of Americans in Iraq resulting from Iran’s handiwork). But the political fallout will be devastating. The Left will deplore the entire collapse of the NPT, and most everyone else will be in an uproar over the egregious national security failure.

It’s a mystery, really, how the Obami think this will all turn out. They’ve eliminated the most logical avenues for thwarting Iran’s nuclear program (military action, crippling sanctions, and regime change), and they’re doing everything they can to restrain Israel from taking up the slack. Maybe in all the misdirection, they’ve spun themselves and lost track of the legal danger — to the country and to their political standing — that a nuclear-armed Iran poses. They, then, are in for quite a shock when reality overtakes them.

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How We Slow Walk to Containment

Back on March 21 at an AIPAC Conference panel, Elliott Abrams wondered aloud what the Obami meant by the oft-repeated declaration that a nuclear-armed Iran was “unacceptable”: “But do they mean it’s unacceptable or just that it is a bummer?” Now, several weeks later, we have a good idea that it means the latter. For one thing Obama now has twice suggested that really, who can guarantee that Iran won’t go nuclear? Bill Kristol notes Obama’s que sera, sera attitude toward Iranian nukes:

Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America, Obama told George Stephanopoulos:

“If the question is do we have a guarantee [that] the sanctions we are able to institute at this stage are automatically going to change Iranian behavior, of course we don’t. I mean, the history of the Iranian regime, like the North Korean regime, is that, you know, you apply international pressure on these countries, sometimes they choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.”

You try to do your thing with your buddies in the international community, and, you know, sometimes people choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.

This was not unlike his statement a few days earlier in a New York Times interview: “‘We’re not naïve that any single set of sanctions automatically is going to change Iranian behavior,’ he said, adding ‘there’s no light switch in this process.'” Translation: it would be a bummer, but we’re not doing anything decisive.

Had Obama not tipped his hand, it would nevertheless have been obvious that “unacceptable” meant something considerably less ironclad than wishful listeners imagined. When the means for achieving a goal are so wildly at odds with the goal, one of two things is going on: either the goal isn’t the goal or the means are designed by incompetent, un-serious people. In either case, the goal isn’t going to be reached. Here, Obama’s advisers have loudly disclaimed interest in military action (i.e., the ultimate “light switch”). And neither he nor his advisers will refer to planned sanctions as “crippling”; they instead seem to have settled for the lowest-common-denominator sort of sanctions that might attract the support of Russia and, if we are very fortunate,  the Chinese support as well.

We therefore have new goals — ones that the Obami will insist are intermediary to the final objective of stopping Iran’s nuclear program, but in fact are diversions and barriers to that objective. First, we want to block unilateral action by Israel. So we set about to isolate Israel, rough up the prime minister, and create ambiguity as to whether the U.S. would endorse or countenance such a move. Second, we prepare the groundwork for a sanctions agreement by the “international community” that will be trumpeted as a great “success” — because, after all, it’s international and it’s an agreement. That it will be greeted with derision and ignored by the mullahs is irrelevant. The Obami will make the case that they delivered on the promise of sanctions and can’t really be blamed if Iran doesn’t “choose to change behavior.” But the passage of the new sanctions will, the Obami insist, require that we give them time “to work,” so, in the meantime, no unilateral sanctions by Congress and definitely no unilateral military action by Israel. In other words, the intermediary goal — an international agreement — becomes a barrier to decisive action to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions.

When looking back on the last fifteen months, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a better designed plan to delay confrontation and lay the ground work for the acceptance of a nuclear armed Iran. The nonsensical engagement policy, a series of ephemeral deadlines, the quietude on the Green Movement, the watering down of sanctions, and the warnings to Israel are all means that fit a specific end — not that of preventing a nuclear armed Iran, but rather that of preventing a confrontation with a regime desirous of obtaining nuclear weapons. If that wasn’t the game plan all along, it’s a remarkable coincidence that it all lines up so neatly. And in the final analysis, it doesn’t matter whether this was the primary plan or the back-up plan. We have reached the point in which the only chance to block Iran’s nuclear plans is a change of heart by a recalcitrant Obama administration convinced of its own virtue, or an Israeli military strike. We better hope there is a workable plan for the latter, for the former is exceptionally unlikely.

Back on March 21 at an AIPAC Conference panel, Elliott Abrams wondered aloud what the Obami meant by the oft-repeated declaration that a nuclear-armed Iran was “unacceptable”: “But do they mean it’s unacceptable or just that it is a bummer?” Now, several weeks later, we have a good idea that it means the latter. For one thing Obama now has twice suggested that really, who can guarantee that Iran won’t go nuclear? Bill Kristol notes Obama’s que sera, sera attitude toward Iranian nukes:

Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America, Obama told George Stephanopoulos:

“If the question is do we have a guarantee [that] the sanctions we are able to institute at this stage are automatically going to change Iranian behavior, of course we don’t. I mean, the history of the Iranian regime, like the North Korean regime, is that, you know, you apply international pressure on these countries, sometimes they choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.”

You try to do your thing with your buddies in the international community, and, you know, sometimes people choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.

This was not unlike his statement a few days earlier in a New York Times interview: “‘We’re not naïve that any single set of sanctions automatically is going to change Iranian behavior,’ he said, adding ‘there’s no light switch in this process.'” Translation: it would be a bummer, but we’re not doing anything decisive.

Had Obama not tipped his hand, it would nevertheless have been obvious that “unacceptable” meant something considerably less ironclad than wishful listeners imagined. When the means for achieving a goal are so wildly at odds with the goal, one of two things is going on: either the goal isn’t the goal or the means are designed by incompetent, un-serious people. In either case, the goal isn’t going to be reached. Here, Obama’s advisers have loudly disclaimed interest in military action (i.e., the ultimate “light switch”). And neither he nor his advisers will refer to planned sanctions as “crippling”; they instead seem to have settled for the lowest-common-denominator sort of sanctions that might attract the support of Russia and, if we are very fortunate,  the Chinese support as well.

We therefore have new goals — ones that the Obami will insist are intermediary to the final objective of stopping Iran’s nuclear program, but in fact are diversions and barriers to that objective. First, we want to block unilateral action by Israel. So we set about to isolate Israel, rough up the prime minister, and create ambiguity as to whether the U.S. would endorse or countenance such a move. Second, we prepare the groundwork for a sanctions agreement by the “international community” that will be trumpeted as a great “success” — because, after all, it’s international and it’s an agreement. That it will be greeted with derision and ignored by the mullahs is irrelevant. The Obami will make the case that they delivered on the promise of sanctions and can’t really be blamed if Iran doesn’t “choose to change behavior.” But the passage of the new sanctions will, the Obami insist, require that we give them time “to work,” so, in the meantime, no unilateral sanctions by Congress and definitely no unilateral military action by Israel. In other words, the intermediary goal — an international agreement — becomes a barrier to decisive action to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions.

When looking back on the last fifteen months, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a better designed plan to delay confrontation and lay the ground work for the acceptance of a nuclear armed Iran. The nonsensical engagement policy, a series of ephemeral deadlines, the quietude on the Green Movement, the watering down of sanctions, and the warnings to Israel are all means that fit a specific end — not that of preventing a nuclear armed Iran, but rather that of preventing a confrontation with a regime desirous of obtaining nuclear weapons. If that wasn’t the game plan all along, it’s a remarkable coincidence that it all lines up so neatly. And in the final analysis, it doesn’t matter whether this was the primary plan or the back-up plan. We have reached the point in which the only chance to block Iran’s nuclear plans is a change of heart by a recalcitrant Obama administration convinced of its own virtue, or an Israeli military strike. We better hope there is a workable plan for the latter, for the former is exceptionally unlikely.

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Liz Cheney: Maybe We Should Be Nice to Our Allies

Liz Cheney at the Republican Southern Leadership Conference issued a searing indictment of Obama’s treatment of our allies:

In the era of Obama, American allies have their loyalty met with humiliation, arrogance and incompetence. The shabby reception Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu received in Washington a few weeks ago — being treated as an uninvited guest at the White House — was disgraceful. President Obama must not understand the most fundamental point about US-Israeli relations — the world is safer when there is no daylight between America and the state of Israel.

Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East and one of our strongest and most important allies in the world. Barack Obama is playing a reckless game that could have deadly consequences if he continues on the path of diminishing America’s ties to Israel. Israel is not the only ally to have felt Obama’s wrath — last year the Obama Administration pulled the rug out from under leaders in Poland and the Czech Republic by abruptly canceling a missile defense system they had committed to host. We did so because the Russians complained.

Afghan President Karzai, whose support we need if we are going to succeed in Afghanistan, is being treated to an especially dangerous and juvenile display from this White House. They dress him down publicly almost daily and refuse to even say that he is an ally. There is a saying in the Arab world: “It is more dangerous to be America’s friend than to be her enemy.” In the age of Obama, that is proving true.

Although Cheney is undeniably one of the most popular conservatives and the Left’s second-favorite bogeywoman, her message should not be controversial and is anything but extreme. Presidents of both parties at least tried to maintain robust alliances with like-minded democracies. It is extraordinary to have a president now who by design seeks to distance himself from loyal allies for the purpose of proving our bona fides to our foes.

Nor was Cheney’s critique of Obama’s Iran policy particularly controversial. Given the mullahs’ behavior for more than a year, it’s hard to dispute this:

Ultimately, the only way diplomacy will succeed in halting Iran’s nuclear ambitions is if the mullahs understand, beyond a doubt, that America will take military action if they don’t comply peacefully. No enticements can work — there is nothing the international community can offer Iran that is worth more to them than a nuclear weapon. And watered down sanctions carry their own danger — they buy time for Iran while imposing no cost. The dangers grow to us and our allies with every hour we waste.

And it’s equally clear that our quietude over the repression of the Green Movement has “lost the respect of all concerned — both the oppressors and the oppressed.”

It is a measure of how feckless the Obama policies have become that commonsense notions previously embraced by presidents of both parties — treat allies well, don’t foreswear the use of American force, support democracy movements — are now anathema to the White House. Had Obama run on a platform of Israel-bashing, Iran appeasement, and retreat on human rights, it is questionable whether he would have cleared the bar of acceptability for a novice on the world stage. But that’s the course he’s on — one that is proving treacherous and leaves many more Americans agreeing with Cheney than with their president when it comes to national security.

Liz Cheney at the Republican Southern Leadership Conference issued a searing indictment of Obama’s treatment of our allies:

In the era of Obama, American allies have their loyalty met with humiliation, arrogance and incompetence. The shabby reception Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu received in Washington a few weeks ago — being treated as an uninvited guest at the White House — was disgraceful. President Obama must not understand the most fundamental point about US-Israeli relations — the world is safer when there is no daylight between America and the state of Israel.

Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East and one of our strongest and most important allies in the world. Barack Obama is playing a reckless game that could have deadly consequences if he continues on the path of diminishing America’s ties to Israel. Israel is not the only ally to have felt Obama’s wrath — last year the Obama Administration pulled the rug out from under leaders in Poland and the Czech Republic by abruptly canceling a missile defense system they had committed to host. We did so because the Russians complained.

Afghan President Karzai, whose support we need if we are going to succeed in Afghanistan, is being treated to an especially dangerous and juvenile display from this White House. They dress him down publicly almost daily and refuse to even say that he is an ally. There is a saying in the Arab world: “It is more dangerous to be America’s friend than to be her enemy.” In the age of Obama, that is proving true.

Although Cheney is undeniably one of the most popular conservatives and the Left’s second-favorite bogeywoman, her message should not be controversial and is anything but extreme. Presidents of both parties at least tried to maintain robust alliances with like-minded democracies. It is extraordinary to have a president now who by design seeks to distance himself from loyal allies for the purpose of proving our bona fides to our foes.

Nor was Cheney’s critique of Obama’s Iran policy particularly controversial. Given the mullahs’ behavior for more than a year, it’s hard to dispute this:

Ultimately, the only way diplomacy will succeed in halting Iran’s nuclear ambitions is if the mullahs understand, beyond a doubt, that America will take military action if they don’t comply peacefully. No enticements can work — there is nothing the international community can offer Iran that is worth more to them than a nuclear weapon. And watered down sanctions carry their own danger — they buy time for Iran while imposing no cost. The dangers grow to us and our allies with every hour we waste.

And it’s equally clear that our quietude over the repression of the Green Movement has “lost the respect of all concerned — both the oppressors and the oppressed.”

It is a measure of how feckless the Obama policies have become that commonsense notions previously embraced by presidents of both parties — treat allies well, don’t foreswear the use of American force, support democracy movements — are now anathema to the White House. Had Obama run on a platform of Israel-bashing, Iran appeasement, and retreat on human rights, it is questionable whether he would have cleared the bar of acceptability for a novice on the world stage. But that’s the course he’s on — one that is proving treacherous and leaves many more Americans agreeing with Cheney than with their president when it comes to national security.

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Obama’s Perfect Record of Foreign Policy Failure

Obama has a knack for devising national security policies that do the opposite of what he intends — or at least tells us he intends. He engaged the Iranians to pierce through all that “mistrust”; they have come to view him with contempt. He avoided support for the Green Movement to prevent accusations of “foreign meddling”; the protesters hold up signs pleading with the U.S. not to legitimize the regime. He bashes Israel to ingratiate himself with the Palestinians; they resort to rock throwing and dig in their heels, awaiting the next round of concessions to be delivered to their doorstep. He announces the return of our ambassador to Syria; Bashar al-Assad cozies up to Iran and refuses any cooperation on human rights, Hezbollah support, or the Middle East “peace process.” Obama has a perfect record: our national interests are always undermined.

And now he declares a “no nuclear retaliation” stance against any Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty signatory that might hit us with chemical or biological weapons. As Charles Krauthammer points out:

Apart from being morally bizarre, the Obama policy is strategically loopy. Does anyone believe that North Korea or Iran will be more persuaded to abjure nuclear weapons because they could then carry out a biological or chemical attack on the United States without fear of nuclear retaliation?

The naivete is stunning. Similarly the Obama pledge to forswear development of any new nuclear warheads, indeed, to permit no replacement of aging nuclear components without the authorization of the president himself. This under the theory that our moral example will move other countries to eschew nukes.

The result? Certainly, it won’t be to deter North Korea or Iran from pursuing their own nuclear plans, which in turn will encourage others to do the same. Instead, as Krauthammer sums up, the more likely consequence of all this is: “Fend for yourself. Get yourself your own WMDs. Go nuclear if you have to. Do you imagine they are not thinking that in the Persian Gulf?” And we certainly must expect that Israel has gotten the “fend for yourself” part loud and clear. His nonproliferation will proliferate nuclear weapons, just as his Middle East “peace effort” foments violence and heightened tension.

So why is it that Obama is so often unproductive in his foreign policy forays? After all, with George W. Bush out of the way, Obama’s arrival was supposed to herald a new era of international cooperation. Alas, the kumbaya moment is fast becoming a dangerous food fight. Well, it turns out there aren’t “shared values” between the U.S. and its foes. It turns out that Obama’s personal charm is lost on despots. It turns out that American military force and the threat of it are the best guarantors of international peace and security. It turns out that downplaying human rights encourages thuggish behavior. It turns out that turning on our allies does not impress our enemies. In sum, nearly everything Obama believes about foreign policy is wrong and has been disproved by history and the current behavior of our adversaries. So until his vision aligns with reality, expect Obama’s “perfect” track record to continue.

Obama has a knack for devising national security policies that do the opposite of what he intends — or at least tells us he intends. He engaged the Iranians to pierce through all that “mistrust”; they have come to view him with contempt. He avoided support for the Green Movement to prevent accusations of “foreign meddling”; the protesters hold up signs pleading with the U.S. not to legitimize the regime. He bashes Israel to ingratiate himself with the Palestinians; they resort to rock throwing and dig in their heels, awaiting the next round of concessions to be delivered to their doorstep. He announces the return of our ambassador to Syria; Bashar al-Assad cozies up to Iran and refuses any cooperation on human rights, Hezbollah support, or the Middle East “peace process.” Obama has a perfect record: our national interests are always undermined.

And now he declares a “no nuclear retaliation” stance against any Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty signatory that might hit us with chemical or biological weapons. As Charles Krauthammer points out:

Apart from being morally bizarre, the Obama policy is strategically loopy. Does anyone believe that North Korea or Iran will be more persuaded to abjure nuclear weapons because they could then carry out a biological or chemical attack on the United States without fear of nuclear retaliation?

The naivete is stunning. Similarly the Obama pledge to forswear development of any new nuclear warheads, indeed, to permit no replacement of aging nuclear components without the authorization of the president himself. This under the theory that our moral example will move other countries to eschew nukes.

The result? Certainly, it won’t be to deter North Korea or Iran from pursuing their own nuclear plans, which in turn will encourage others to do the same. Instead, as Krauthammer sums up, the more likely consequence of all this is: “Fend for yourself. Get yourself your own WMDs. Go nuclear if you have to. Do you imagine they are not thinking that in the Persian Gulf?” And we certainly must expect that Israel has gotten the “fend for yourself” part loud and clear. His nonproliferation will proliferate nuclear weapons, just as his Middle East “peace effort” foments violence and heightened tension.

So why is it that Obama is so often unproductive in his foreign policy forays? After all, with George W. Bush out of the way, Obama’s arrival was supposed to herald a new era of international cooperation. Alas, the kumbaya moment is fast becoming a dangerous food fight. Well, it turns out there aren’t “shared values” between the U.S. and its foes. It turns out that Obama’s personal charm is lost on despots. It turns out that American military force and the threat of it are the best guarantors of international peace and security. It turns out that downplaying human rights encourages thuggish behavior. It turns out that turning on our allies does not impress our enemies. In sum, nearly everything Obama believes about foreign policy is wrong and has been disproved by history and the current behavior of our adversaries. So until his vision aligns with reality, expect Obama’s “perfect” track record to continue.

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Obama’s Iran Policy: A Dead End

Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, Danielle Pletka of AEI, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations held a lively discussion, moderated by Bob Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy Initiative, at the FPI’s Iran program. It was, to say the least, a sobering discussion.

Takeyh led off by explaining that the Obama team has not yet given up on negotiations and sees sanctions now as means of getting the Iranians back to the bargaining table. However, Takeyh, like the other panelists, thinks that there is “no sanctions solution” to the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions. And even if Iran returns to the table, at best we will have an inconclusive result. The ability of economic sanctions, especially of the modest type currently being contemplated, he contends, will not affect the calculation of the regime’s self-interest. Pletka concurred, “At this point sanctions are not going to deliver.”

She pointed out that rather than preparing for the Iranians’ inevitable rejection of our negotiating efforts, we seemingly frittered away the time. We are now “gobsmacked” that the Iranians have said no to our bargaining offers, and we are only now trying to cobble together a sanctions effort. Abrams pointed out that a sanctions approach might have made sense last Labor Day — our original deadline, when Obama was still fresh on the scene. But now the “U.S. position has been diminished,” and our relations with Britain, France, and India are worse, making a cohesive effort harder. As for unilateral sanctions, Pletka reports that the administration is putting pressure on “skeptics” in Congress to slow down the reconciliation process between the House and Senate sanctions bills. She doubts Congress is “willing to take on the administration,” which is adverse to a unilateral effort. The U.N. is where the action is for the administration.

The consensus of the group was that the watered-down sanctions, for which we are struggling to obtain Russian and Chinese agreement, will have no effect on the Iranians’ nuclear plans. Would a ban on importation of Iranian oil and on export to Iran of refined gasoline? Takeyh says yes, but the “international community won’t do it.”

Likewise, the panelists agreed that containment is a nonstarter. Abrams pointed out that the difference between deterrence before Iran gets the bomb and containment after is critical. (“Containment doesn’t guarantee anything, ” he noted.) After five years of saying a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, any containment policy, which would by necessity require use of force or threat of force to deter aggressive Iranian action, Abrams explained, would certainly lack credibility. Kagan summed up: “If they don’t want to use [military force] now, why would they use it when Iran has the bomb?”

Pletka argued that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance the regime’s staying power and deter efforts to undermine the regime. As for the Green Movement, Abrams noted allowing the regime to get the bomb would have a huge impact on morale. “The world would have been defeated,” he explains, and the regime would have achieved a great victory.

Abrams made several key points. First, he notes Israel desperately would prefer not to launch a military strike, but only if “there is another way to keep Iran from getting the bomb.” He notes that the Israelis are amazed at “how stupid” the U.S. has been in taking the military option off the table. “What leverage do you have?” he asked. “Even if you don’t believe it [that force would be used], why isn’t he saying” a military option would be no big deal? He imagines that some in the administration do not want to see the entire Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system break down and would be willing to employ force, but this is not a view shared by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or the U.S. military.

Second, he notes that by inaction both under the Bush and Obama administrations, we have conveyed to Iran that there “is no price to be paid for killing Americans.” He said that despite Iranians killing Americans directly and indirectly in Iraq, “there was absolute insistence by the U.S. military” not to act against Iran, presumably on the theory that “there was already too much on the table.” The lesson learned by the Iranians, therefore, was that they can impose a price on the U.S. without brining any suffering on themselves.

Finally, he argues that we should be making an “all-fronts” effort to contest Iranian behavior in all international bodies — whether on the mullahs’ arming of Hezbollah, human rights atrocities, or violation of nuclear agreements. We should urge European parliaments to denounce the regime. “Put the regime on the defensive everywhere. Make it a pariah state,” he argues, noting ruefully that instead, Israel has become the pariah nation.

The conclusion one draws from the panel is not an optimistic one. The Obama team wasted a year on engagement, only serving to undermine the Green Movement’s effort to delegitimize the regime. The sanctions currently contemplated are too puny and too late. The administration has disclaimed use of force. So while the administration is not officially stating that its policy is to accept the “unacceptable,” the inevitable result of its policy decision is precisely that. We now face what was thought to be unimaginable: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration — a world infinitely more dangerous and unstable.

Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, Danielle Pletka of AEI, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations held a lively discussion, moderated by Bob Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy Initiative, at the FPI’s Iran program. It was, to say the least, a sobering discussion.

Takeyh led off by explaining that the Obama team has not yet given up on negotiations and sees sanctions now as means of getting the Iranians back to the bargaining table. However, Takeyh, like the other panelists, thinks that there is “no sanctions solution” to the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions. And even if Iran returns to the table, at best we will have an inconclusive result. The ability of economic sanctions, especially of the modest type currently being contemplated, he contends, will not affect the calculation of the regime’s self-interest. Pletka concurred, “At this point sanctions are not going to deliver.”

She pointed out that rather than preparing for the Iranians’ inevitable rejection of our negotiating efforts, we seemingly frittered away the time. We are now “gobsmacked” that the Iranians have said no to our bargaining offers, and we are only now trying to cobble together a sanctions effort. Abrams pointed out that a sanctions approach might have made sense last Labor Day — our original deadline, when Obama was still fresh on the scene. But now the “U.S. position has been diminished,” and our relations with Britain, France, and India are worse, making a cohesive effort harder. As for unilateral sanctions, Pletka reports that the administration is putting pressure on “skeptics” in Congress to slow down the reconciliation process between the House and Senate sanctions bills. She doubts Congress is “willing to take on the administration,” which is adverse to a unilateral effort. The U.N. is where the action is for the administration.

The consensus of the group was that the watered-down sanctions, for which we are struggling to obtain Russian and Chinese agreement, will have no effect on the Iranians’ nuclear plans. Would a ban on importation of Iranian oil and on export to Iran of refined gasoline? Takeyh says yes, but the “international community won’t do it.”

Likewise, the panelists agreed that containment is a nonstarter. Abrams pointed out that the difference between deterrence before Iran gets the bomb and containment after is critical. (“Containment doesn’t guarantee anything, ” he noted.) After five years of saying a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, any containment policy, which would by necessity require use of force or threat of force to deter aggressive Iranian action, Abrams explained, would certainly lack credibility. Kagan summed up: “If they don’t want to use [military force] now, why would they use it when Iran has the bomb?”

Pletka argued that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance the regime’s staying power and deter efforts to undermine the regime. As for the Green Movement, Abrams noted allowing the regime to get the bomb would have a huge impact on morale. “The world would have been defeated,” he explains, and the regime would have achieved a great victory.

Abrams made several key points. First, he notes Israel desperately would prefer not to launch a military strike, but only if “there is another way to keep Iran from getting the bomb.” He notes that the Israelis are amazed at “how stupid” the U.S. has been in taking the military option off the table. “What leverage do you have?” he asked. “Even if you don’t believe it [that force would be used], why isn’t he saying” a military option would be no big deal? He imagines that some in the administration do not want to see the entire Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system break down and would be willing to employ force, but this is not a view shared by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or the U.S. military.

Second, he notes that by inaction both under the Bush and Obama administrations, we have conveyed to Iran that there “is no price to be paid for killing Americans.” He said that despite Iranians killing Americans directly and indirectly in Iraq, “there was absolute insistence by the U.S. military” not to act against Iran, presumably on the theory that “there was already too much on the table.” The lesson learned by the Iranians, therefore, was that they can impose a price on the U.S. without brining any suffering on themselves.

Finally, he argues that we should be making an “all-fronts” effort to contest Iranian behavior in all international bodies — whether on the mullahs’ arming of Hezbollah, human rights atrocities, or violation of nuclear agreements. We should urge European parliaments to denounce the regime. “Put the regime on the defensive everywhere. Make it a pariah state,” he argues, noting ruefully that instead, Israel has become the pariah nation.

The conclusion one draws from the panel is not an optimistic one. The Obama team wasted a year on engagement, only serving to undermine the Green Movement’s effort to delegitimize the regime. The sanctions currently contemplated are too puny and too late. The administration has disclaimed use of force. So while the administration is not officially stating that its policy is to accept the “unacceptable,” the inevitable result of its policy decision is precisely that. We now face what was thought to be unimaginable: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration — a world infinitely more dangerous and unstable.

Read Less




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