Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hassan Rouhani

For Our Arab Allies, It’s “East of Suez” All Over Again

Evelyn Gordon is absolutely correct when she writes that the U.S. romance with Iran “terrifies” our Arab allies, but she hits only the tip of the iceberg. Obama’s “bromance” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is only the latest in a long line of presidential statements, decisions, and actions which have antagonized America’s Arab allies.

Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and the Sultanate of Oman have quietly but steadily supported the United States for years. Bahrain and Kuwait host important U.S. military contingents (I write this from the Louisville, Kentucky airport where I am returning from a brief with a Fort Knox-based U.S. Army unit heading to Kuwait in a few months). The Sultanate of Oman has been a force for moderation and quiet backchannel diplomacy for years, and played a crucial role in the months after 9/11 as action neared in Afghanistan. The United Arab Emirates has been at the forefront of the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood, the most dangerous group to both democracy and stability in the Arab Middle East.

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Evelyn Gordon is absolutely correct when she writes that the U.S. romance with Iran “terrifies” our Arab allies, but she hits only the tip of the iceberg. Obama’s “bromance” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is only the latest in a long line of presidential statements, decisions, and actions which have antagonized America’s Arab allies.

Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and the Sultanate of Oman have quietly but steadily supported the United States for years. Bahrain and Kuwait host important U.S. military contingents (I write this from the Louisville, Kentucky airport where I am returning from a brief with a Fort Knox-based U.S. Army unit heading to Kuwait in a few months). The Sultanate of Oman has been a force for moderation and quiet backchannel diplomacy for years, and played a crucial role in the months after 9/11 as action neared in Afghanistan. The United Arab Emirates has been at the forefront of the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood, the most dangerous group to both democracy and stability in the Arab Middle East.

Imagine how the “Pivot to Asia” sounded to Gulf Arab leaders who, in their childhoods, heard British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s “East of Suez” speech and then saw the British military promptly abandon their Arab allies. It was against the backdrop of the British withdrawal that the United Arab Emirates, for example, experienced Iranian aggression firsthand when the Iranian military (with President Richard Nixon’s tacit approval) seized the disputed Tonb islands and Abu Musa.

Then, early in Obama’s first term, Hillary Clinton floated a trial balloon to extend a nuclear umbrella over the Gulf states should Iran ever go nuclear. Privately, our Gulf partners asked how they could ever trust such a guarantee since Obama and Clinton had been so willing to abandon the previous rock-solid guarantee that Iran would never go nuclear.

The Obama doctrine is a doctrine of betrayal. Just ask Georgia, Israel, Taiwan, South Korea, Honduras, Poland, and every Gulf Arab ally. Maybe pundits can spin, but there is no denying it in the perception of our Gulf allies. Alas, the reverberations of so quickly dispensing with commitments to allies will last long after Obama retires, and will be an insurmountable burden for U.S. diplomacy for decades to come.

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Iran’s Imprisoned Ayatollah Suffers Heart Attack

In July, I reported on the grave situation of Hossein Bourojerdi, one of Iran’s most courageous dissidents. Bourojerdi, who carries the honorific Shia Muslim title of “ayatollah,” is a veteran opponent of Iran’s ruling system of velayat e faqih, whereby Islamic jurists exercise total control over society and its institutions.

Bourojerdi was first incarcerated in 2006. At the time, hundreds of the ayatollah’s supporters valiantly attemped to stop him from being dragged out of his south Tehran home by the police. Since then, reports of Bourojerdi’s failing health have regularly surfaced. Now, Iranian human-rights activists have passed on the news that Bourojerdi, who is languishing in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, began experiencing heart failure last Sunday.

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In July, I reported on the grave situation of Hossein Bourojerdi, one of Iran’s most courageous dissidents. Bourojerdi, who carries the honorific Shia Muslim title of “ayatollah,” is a veteran opponent of Iran’s ruling system of velayat e faqih, whereby Islamic jurists exercise total control over society and its institutions.

Bourojerdi was first incarcerated in 2006. At the time, hundreds of the ayatollah’s supporters valiantly attemped to stop him from being dragged out of his south Tehran home by the police. Since then, reports of Bourojerdi’s failing health have regularly surfaced. Now, Iranian human-rights activists have passed on the news that Bourojerdi, who is languishing in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, began experiencing heart failure last Sunday.

Only after Bourojerdi coped with extreme pain and shortness of breath for a full day did the Evin guards finally escort him from his cell for what passes for medical attention, by which point the ayatollah had undergone a heart attack. “Not only was he not given any medication while at the infirmary,” noted the latest bulletin on Bourojerdi’s plight, “the prison authorities continued to refuse his family’s delivery of medication that he had been prescribed before.”

A few days before his heart attack, Bourojerdi sent a thunderous appeal to the United Nations General Assembly urging the international body to once and for all confront the issue of human-rights abuse by the Iranian regime:

I sit here, at the start of my eighth year of captivity; jailed by a religious dictatorship and charged with defending the freedom of thought, speech and expression and refusing to align with tyrants who forcibly lord over Iran… Has the time not come for your assembly to demand that these brutal totalitarians respond to how they dare to speak of Bahrain, Syria and Palestine, under the guise of sympathy, when they have plundered and stolen the wealth and national income of every Iranian, rendering them impoverished and putting them in the ultimate financial and economic crisis?

That time, of course, has not come. Bourojerdi’s missive passed unnoticed amidst all the cooing over the charm offensive launched by Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new and–as we are endlessly informed–”moderate” president. While President Obama did, in his phone call with Rouhani, raise the continuing imprisonment of Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor with American citizenship who has also been detained in Evin for the last year, the suffering of a Muslim cleric who has tirelessly advocated for the separation of mosque and state was deemed unworthy of even a mention.

But Bourojerdi’s case may yet receive the attention it warrants from an unexpected source. Ahmad Shaheed, the former foreign minister of the Maldives who presently serves as the UN’s “Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” has won plaudits from Iranian democracy activists for his forthright reports on the mullah’s human-rights abuses. Shaheed is certainly aware of Bourojerdi’s situation, having received a letter from supporters and family members of the ayatollah in 2011, in which they asserted that an “illegal ban” on prison visits was designed to compel Bourojerdi to confess to fabricated crimes.

In his most recent report, Shaheed carefully traced the regime’s repression of religious minorities, citing the predicament of Christians and Bahais who are especially vulnerable to legal charges of heresy and apostasy. Significantly, Shaheed concluded that:

There has been an apparent increase in the degree of seriousness of human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran…alarming reports of retributive State action against individuals suspected of communicating with UN Special Procedures raises serious concern about the Government’s resolve to promote respect for human rights in the country (my emphasis.)

In other words, as well as refusing cooperation with UN nuclear inspectors, the regime is also criminalizing those who talk to the international body’s human-rights investigators. So far, Rouhani has given no indication that he will curb this intimidation. Indeed, his appointment of a hardliner with strong ties to Iran’s security apparatus, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, as the country’s minister of justice, does not bode well for Ayatollah Boroujerdi or any of the other activists that have run afoul of the Tehran regime.

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NYT’s Anti-Bibi Editorial Not Aging Well

Yesterday’s edition of the New York Times featured the paper’s very silly editorial attacking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for advocating on behalf of his country’s fundamental rights–a basic responsibility of political leadership and one that should not be considered controversial. But the editorial was unwise not only for its inanity but also because it was the kind of editorial that would most likely rot rather than ripen with age.

And it only took a day for that process to emerge, as several stories today make clear. But first, it’s instructive to review the point of the editorial, which can be understood in one of the paragraphs helpfully placed early on in the editorial:

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Yesterday’s edition of the New York Times featured the paper’s very silly editorial attacking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for advocating on behalf of his country’s fundamental rights–a basic responsibility of political leadership and one that should not be considered controversial. But the editorial was unwise not only for its inanity but also because it was the kind of editorial that would most likely rot rather than ripen with age.

And it only took a day for that process to emerge, as several stories today make clear. But first, it’s instructive to review the point of the editorial, which can be understood in one of the paragraphs helpfully placed early on in the editorial:

Mr. Netanyahu has legitimate reasons to be wary of any Iranian overtures, as do the United States and the four other major powers involved in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. But it could be disastrous if Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters in Congress were so blinded by distrust of Iran that they exaggerate the threat, block President Obama from taking advantage of new diplomatic openings and sabotage the best chance to establish a new relationship since the 1979 Iranian revolution sent American-Iranian relations into the deep freeze.

They are not Netanyahu’s supporters in Congress but rather supporters of preventing a nuclear Iran. But acknowledging that would disrupt, of course, the leftist media’s obsession with the idea that Netanyahu is ever meddling where the New York Times thinks he doesn’t belong, namely American politics. The editors also stop just shy of calling the Israeli prime minister a liar, but indicate that they expect him to manipulate Congress into spreading false information. They also seem to think the American political system is powerless to stop Netanyahu from controlling American foreign policy even when the president of the United States disagrees with him.

And that’s only the third paragraph. “Wait till I get going,” a Times editorialist might say, echoing Vizzini. A day later, however, it’s appearing that the Times’s faith in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s willingness to negotiate in good faith is baffling to … Hassan Rouhani:

Elsewhere, Rouhani elaborated on the achievements of his recent visit to New York during which he attended and addressed the UN General Assembly session, held meetings with different world leaders, and had a phone talk with US President Barack Obama, and said, “During the recent visit to the UN, we strove to prevent a new war in the region and we came to be successful in the trip.”

Referring to his phone talk with Obama on the way back to Iran from New York, he said, “Before my trip (to New York), the Americans had sent 5 messages to arrange a meeting between me and Obama, but I turned them down.”

Now, Rouhani did not, according to this report in the Iranian news agency, rule out the very idea of a “meeting,” though he does not get any more specific about the details of such a meeting. But he’s basically bragging about turning down the American president, who appears desperate to meet with him in this account. If Rouhani is telling the truth, then he assesses communication with the Obama administration strictly through its propaganda value. And if he’s not telling the truth, then he assumes he can make up stories designed to embarrass Obama with no consequences. Because Rouhani’s past does not reveal an inclination toward peaceful statesmanship, none of this will come as a surprise to those familiar with recent history.

And as Michael Rubin noted this morning, Rouhani is also apparently ruling out the contours of any reasonable deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, it appears that even John Kerry thinks Netanyahu was making sense:

Secretary of State John Kerry, in his first remarks about Iran since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel warned the United States to be wary of talks with the country, said on Thursday that the United States would negotiate with Tehran only if it provided proof that it would not pursue nuclear defense programs.

“Our hope is that there is a way forward,” Mr. Kerry said at a news conference here after a meeting with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the Japanese defense and foreign ministers, adding that he could assure Israel that “nothing we do is going to be based on trust. It’s going to be based on steps,” in which Iran must prove it is not going to pursue a nuclear program, or it will face a cold shoulder from the United States. “A country that generally wants to have a peaceful program does not have difficulty proving that it’s peaceful,” he said.

If the Times has lost John Kerry, Benjamin Netanyahu should be the least of their worries.

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Rouhani Declares Enrichment Non-Negotiable

Last Friday, President Obama surprised the press when he announced that he had a telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the first direct conversation between the U.S. and Iranian presidents since the Islamic Revolution. Obama expressed his optimism after his conversation that a nuclear deal was possible.

Perhaps someone should tell that to Rouhani. On October 2, Rouhani spoke to the Iranian press and gave his summary of the conversation. According to a translation provided by the Open Source Center, Voice of the Islamic Republic Radio 1 reported: “Speaking to journalists after a cabinet meeting on 2 October, Rouhani assured his countrymen that there will be no talks about the issue of nuclear technology and enrichment inside Iran.”

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Last Friday, President Obama surprised the press when he announced that he had a telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the first direct conversation between the U.S. and Iranian presidents since the Islamic Revolution. Obama expressed his optimism after his conversation that a nuclear deal was possible.

Perhaps someone should tell that to Rouhani. On October 2, Rouhani spoke to the Iranian press and gave his summary of the conversation. According to a translation provided by the Open Source Center, Voice of the Islamic Republic Radio 1 reported: “Speaking to journalists after a cabinet meeting on 2 October, Rouhani assured his countrymen that there will be no talks about the issue of nuclear technology and enrichment inside Iran.”

Rouhani’s statements are not the exception, but the rule. Over at the Iran Tracker, analysts Will Fulton and Amir Touraj have catalogued a number of Iranian officials’ press statements in the past day or two walking back some of the flexibility that Rouhani implied.

Oops. Just as Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat once said one thing to American officials and quite the opposite to his domestic audience, so it seems that Rouhani is now doing the same. President Clinton for too long was willing to ignore Arafat’s duplicity, ultimately leading to a foreign policy train wreck. Let us hope that Obama has learned that a real change of Iranian policy would require saying the same thing to American and Iranian journalists. The White House should accept nothing less.

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Iran Danger Is Delay, Not Deal

President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today and reportedly sought to reassure him that the Iranian charm offensive wasn’t working. Despite the way the administration welcomed the alleged moderation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and its determined efforts to initiate some form of dialogue with Tehran—Rouhani refused to meet or shake hands with the president in New York last week but deigned to accept a phone call from Obama before he left New York—the president is trying to convince Netanyahu that he isn’t budging from his pledge that Iran won’t be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and he won’t be fooled by Iran’s negotiating strategies. Despite expressing a desire for accelerated talks with the Iranians, the White House and the State Department are also trying to calm down Israelis and others who rightly see the way much of the mainstream media swoon for Rouhani as indicative of a desire to appease Tehran.

But the problem here isn’t just the obsequious manner with which the administration has pursued Iran but the cost of the diplomatic process they are trying to reboot. Iran’s intransigence on the nuclear issue—openly expressed by Rouhani—may well make a deal impossible. Iran has had many such offers in the past decade, including some that were highly favorable to the Islamist regime that would have enabled them to go on enriching uranium and to keep up the pretense that this activity was aimed at peaceful uses of atomic energy and always turned them down in the end. It is also possible that a principled and tough-minded American negotiating strategy would eventually expose the Rouhani initiative as a fraud.

But by going down the garden path with Iran again, President Obama is both buying time and lending much-needed credibility to an Islamic regime that deserves none. In doing so, he will make it even more likely that the Iranians will be able to reach their nuclear goal and is undermining support for any future action that would hold them accountable for their actions. Even if the talks fail, by falling prey to the Rouhani gambit, the president has already handed Iran a crucial victory.

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President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today and reportedly sought to reassure him that the Iranian charm offensive wasn’t working. Despite the way the administration welcomed the alleged moderation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and its determined efforts to initiate some form of dialogue with Tehran—Rouhani refused to meet or shake hands with the president in New York last week but deigned to accept a phone call from Obama before he left New York—the president is trying to convince Netanyahu that he isn’t budging from his pledge that Iran won’t be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and he won’t be fooled by Iran’s negotiating strategies. Despite expressing a desire for accelerated talks with the Iranians, the White House and the State Department are also trying to calm down Israelis and others who rightly see the way much of the mainstream media swoon for Rouhani as indicative of a desire to appease Tehran.

But the problem here isn’t just the obsequious manner with which the administration has pursued Iran but the cost of the diplomatic process they are trying to reboot. Iran’s intransigence on the nuclear issue—openly expressed by Rouhani—may well make a deal impossible. Iran has had many such offers in the past decade, including some that were highly favorable to the Islamist regime that would have enabled them to go on enriching uranium and to keep up the pretense that this activity was aimed at peaceful uses of atomic energy and always turned them down in the end. It is also possible that a principled and tough-minded American negotiating strategy would eventually expose the Rouhani initiative as a fraud.

But by going down the garden path with Iran again, President Obama is both buying time and lending much-needed credibility to an Islamic regime that deserves none. In doing so, he will make it even more likely that the Iranians will be able to reach their nuclear goal and is undermining support for any future action that would hold them accountable for their actions. Even if the talks fail, by falling prey to the Rouhani gambit, the president has already handed Iran a crucial victory.

It is entirely plausible to argue, as Aaron David Miller does in Foreign Policy today, that it would be very difficult if not impossible for President Obama to get away with an accord with Iran that would enable the Iranians to continue on their nuclear path. After the Syria fiasco where his indecisiveness led him to hand a victory to Russia and its ally Bashar Assad, the president can’t afford to “play the fool” on Iran. He has staked his credibility on the issue. Given his domestic political problems and the growing signs that he is becoming a lame duck, Obama would also be foolish to pick another fight with Israel and its supporters. Moreover, even with the press and much of the foreign-policy establishment cheering the idea of backing away from confrontation with Iran, as Miller notes, “the mullahs aren’t going to charm anyone for very long, let alone transform public attitudes in Israel or America without significant and tangible deliverables.”

So what’s wrong with making nice with Rouhani and giving diplomacy another try? Plenty.

It should first be understood what Iran is seeking to accomplish. Their primary goal is to separate the U.S. from Europe on the nuclear issue. The Europeans have always been more eager to compromise with Iran than the U.S., and if they can weaken international support for the economic sanctions that were belatedly implemented by President Obama, they will do so. They also want to drive a wedge between Obama and the Israelis.

Equally important is that after repeatedly demonstrating their unwillingness to negotiate in good faith, the Iranians’ charm offensive looks like it will gain them more precious time to get closer to their nuclear goal. The Iranians are past masters at drawing out diplomatic proceedings and one should expect that the talks that Obama and Kerry say must be “swift” would undoubtedly drag on for many months and perhaps longer than that, with no guarantee of a successful outcome. The president is already prepared to wait until mid-October for an Iranian response to his outreach. That will be followed by more delays that will lead us into 2014 and beyond.

Then there is also the damage the willingness to buy into Rouhani’s faux moderation does to the Western consensus about eventually holding Iran accountable. His defenders argue that by giving diplomacy more chances, he will strengthen his ability to increase sanctions or even use force once the initiative is seen to have failed. But in the world of Barack Obama, diplomacy never really fails even if that is the only rational conclusion to be drawn from events. Each diplomatic failure will lead to another try that will also fail with the only result being that more time will be wasted, just as the president wasted his first five years in office on tactics that played into Tehran’s hands. Moreover, having allowed Rouhani to get away with playing the moderate even when it is obvious that this is a ruse, the president feeds the perception that Iran is the victim of Western pressure rather than a sponsor of terrorism that is seeking to expand the reach of its tyrannical regime.

So even if an administration desperate for a compromise solution is unlikely to get one from Rouhani, the charm offensive is still working very nicely to achieve Iranian goals. The danger here is not so much a deal but the delays that will bring us that much closer to an Iranian bomb. 

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Diplomatic Progress–Real or Imagined?

If good intentions and soaring rhetoric were enough to translate into diplomatic achievements, the Obama administration would have wracked up more achievements in the past week than any preceding presidency since Woodrow Wilson attended the Versailles conference.

First Syria agrees to give up its chemical weapons. Now Obama chats with Hassan Rouhani in the first direct conversation between an American and Iranian leader since the 1970s. Add in a domestic achievement of sorts–goading House Republicans into an ill-advised showdown over Obama’s health-care plan that could result in a government shutdown that the president will try to wrap around the Republicans’ elephant ears–and it’s easy to see why White House aides are jubilant. Only a few weeks ago the president was being written off as a lame duck; now he has suddenly been transformed into a candidate for another Nobel Peace Prize.

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If good intentions and soaring rhetoric were enough to translate into diplomatic achievements, the Obama administration would have wracked up more achievements in the past week than any preceding presidency since Woodrow Wilson attended the Versailles conference.

First Syria agrees to give up its chemical weapons. Now Obama chats with Hassan Rouhani in the first direct conversation between an American and Iranian leader since the 1970s. Add in a domestic achievement of sorts–goading House Republicans into an ill-advised showdown over Obama’s health-care plan that could result in a government shutdown that the president will try to wrap around the Republicans’ elephant ears–and it’s easy to see why White House aides are jubilant. Only a few weeks ago the president was being written off as a lame duck; now he has suddenly been transformed into a candidate for another Nobel Peace Prize.

Alas, it remains far from clear that the diplomatic breakthroughs of recent days will result in concrete changes on the ground. Rouhani certainly charmed politicians and pundits on his recent New York visit (I was among many who saw him speak) but he also refused to admit that Iran is trying to acquire a nuclear weapon or to offer a halt in enrichment, which is drawing Tehran closer to its long-cherished goal. The phone call with Obama was nice, but there has been no sign of Iranian concessions yet, notwithstanding Rouhani’s promises to conclude a peace deal within months.

Over at the Weekly Standard, Reuel Gerecht makes a compelling case for skepticism about Rouhani’s intentions, noting that he has a long record as a regime stalwart and proponent of the nuclear program. As a tactical matter, Rouhani may well be willing to stop short of a nuclear weapon for now in return for a relaxation of sanctions, but it is doubtful he will abandon the revolutionary regime’s desire for the ultimate weapon which the mullahs see as the ultimate guarantor of their Islamic revolution.

Then there is Syria. The UN passed a resolution calling on Assad to give up his chemical weapons. This was hailed as a “milestone after years of inertia,” which it arguably was, but the impact of this milestone was considerably vitiated by the fact that it was a Chapter VI resolution, not a Chapter VII, which means there are no automatic penalties for Syrian noncompliance. Getting authorization to compel compliance would require another UN Security Council vote which Assad’s buddy, Vladimir Putin, would almost certainly block.

Meanwhile the Syrian civil war continues unabated. At Foreign Policy’s website, Oubai Shahbandar of the Syrian Support Group, a pro-rebel organization, points out at that the Putin-brokered deal at the UN has unleashed Assad’s conventional military forces:

The Syrian regime’s Russian-manufactured battle tanks and Sukhoi air-to-ground attack aircraft, once hidden away when Western air strikes seemed imminent, are now once again relentlessly pounding towns and villages in liberated areas. Bombs are yet again being dropped on bakeries in rebel-held regions and residents in Damascus have noted the thunderous bombardments from Assad’s batteries as they target the eastern Ghouta district — the district hit in the horrific chemical attack of August 21.

Mass gassing has now been replaced by a systemic ghetto eradication campaign to close off, isolate, starve, and pummel the inhabitants of rebel neighborhoods.

In the past Obama has spoken of the need for the U.S. government to stop atrocities abroad; he even created an Atrocities Prevention Board for this purpose. But in Syria he has confined his attention to preventing one small set of atrocities–those committed with chemical weapons–while ignoring the far more pervasive atrocities carried out with conventional weaponry which might at least partially been stopped by American air strikes. The White House may be claiming success in its diplomatic offensive, but it is doubtful that many ordinary Syrians see it that way.

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Rouhani’s Holocaust Weasel Words

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may have snubbed President Obama yesterday but almost everyone is still giving him full credit for not being Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The West’s favorite “moderate” mullah met with a gaggle of liberal mainstream media types Wednesday morning for a mostly off-the-record gathering and, despite being unwilling to pander much to their sensibilities, still left them thinking, in the words of New Yorker editor David Remnick, “That at least on the surface this is somebody who above all is interested in reversing the really consequential damage to the economy that sanctions have wrought over time.”

I’ve no doubt that is true, as the conceit of Rouhani’s mission is apparently to persuade the West that because he isn’t a raving lunatic like his predecessor Ahmadinejad, that should be enough to earn Iran the world’s trust. And the chief proof of this is his willingness to say that it was a bad thing that the Nazis killed Jews. At Remnick’s prodding, Rouhani said as much today. As Politico reports:

Toward the end of the meeting, Remnick, who had sparred with Ahmadinejad in past meetings, demanded to know if Rouhani would unequivocally reject his predecessor’s denial of the Holocaust.

Through an interpreter, Rouhani told Remnick and the other journalists that he condemned the “massacre” of Jews that took place during World War II but would leave it to historians to decide how many Jews had been killed.

While stopping short of condemning the Holocaust outright, Rouhani left Remnick with the impression that he was serious about improving Iran’s relationship with the West.

That’s nice and no doubt Rouhani’s dignified manner and trademark white turban are a big improvement over Ahmadinejad’s MAD magazine style charm, but if we’re really interested in the question of repudiating Holocaust denial, Rouhani’s response doesn’t quite cut it. Nor does his equally cagey answer to a similar question posed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in which he segued from a pro-forma condemnation of the “taking of human life, whether that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim” into saying his non-support of Nazi genocide shouldn’t be interpreted as being willing to recognize living Jews have rights, since that “does not mean that on the other hand you can say Nazis committed crimes against a group, now, therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it.” The point is, if you are agnostic about the scale of the Holocaust, you are, in effect, a denier. If you are against killing Jews but unwilling to grant that they may have rights to a country or the right to defend it, your supposedly moderate good intentions are meaningless.

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may have snubbed President Obama yesterday but almost everyone is still giving him full credit for not being Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The West’s favorite “moderate” mullah met with a gaggle of liberal mainstream media types Wednesday morning for a mostly off-the-record gathering and, despite being unwilling to pander much to their sensibilities, still left them thinking, in the words of New Yorker editor David Remnick, “That at least on the surface this is somebody who above all is interested in reversing the really consequential damage to the economy that sanctions have wrought over time.”

I’ve no doubt that is true, as the conceit of Rouhani’s mission is apparently to persuade the West that because he isn’t a raving lunatic like his predecessor Ahmadinejad, that should be enough to earn Iran the world’s trust. And the chief proof of this is his willingness to say that it was a bad thing that the Nazis killed Jews. At Remnick’s prodding, Rouhani said as much today. As Politico reports:

Toward the end of the meeting, Remnick, who had sparred with Ahmadinejad in past meetings, demanded to know if Rouhani would unequivocally reject his predecessor’s denial of the Holocaust.

Through an interpreter, Rouhani told Remnick and the other journalists that he condemned the “massacre” of Jews that took place during World War II but would leave it to historians to decide how many Jews had been killed.

While stopping short of condemning the Holocaust outright, Rouhani left Remnick with the impression that he was serious about improving Iran’s relationship with the West.

That’s nice and no doubt Rouhani’s dignified manner and trademark white turban are a big improvement over Ahmadinejad’s MAD magazine style charm, but if we’re really interested in the question of repudiating Holocaust denial, Rouhani’s response doesn’t quite cut it. Nor does his equally cagey answer to a similar question posed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in which he segued from a pro-forma condemnation of the “taking of human life, whether that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim” into saying his non-support of Nazi genocide shouldn’t be interpreted as being willing to recognize living Jews have rights, since that “does not mean that on the other hand you can say Nazis committed crimes against a group, now, therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it.” The point is, if you are agnostic about the scale of the Holocaust, you are, in effect, a denier. If you are against killing Jews but unwilling to grant that they may have rights to a country or the right to defend it, your supposedly moderate good intentions are meaningless.

That these stands are calculated to convince Western elites that Rouhani is a decent person while still giving him cover at home is a tribute to the cleverness of the Iranian tactic. After all, contrary to some other statements uttered during the charm offensive, there is more to Iranian anti-Semitism than just Ahmadinejad’s personal obsessions. Iranian TV often broadcasts material that merges the two topics by claiming that Jews have exaggerated the extent of the Holocaust in order to “steal” Palestine from the Arabs and hoodwink the United States out of money. Rouhani’s mention of the doubts about how many Jews died is a signal to Iranians and other Islamists that he is very much on the same page as Ahmadinejad but knows how to talk to Westerners.

Seen in that context, far from Rouhani’s statements being a measure of his sanity or moderation, they are, in fact, an indicator that he is very much part of the same Islamist mentality that produced Ahmadinejad and his boss Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. What is going on here is a carefully calculated ruse that is, even after Rouhani’s snub of Obama, working well to disarm the West of any sense of outrage about Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear capability.

That the mainstream media is willing to go along with this game shows just how uncomfortable many of them are with the need to honestly confront the issue of Iran’s nuclear capability and the transparently dishonest manner in which it has negotiated with the West for over a decade. 

UPDATE:

It turns out that Rouhani’s so-called condemnation of the Holocaust is even flimsier than we thought. After CNN broadcast its interview with Rouhani conducted by Christiane Amanpour, the FARS News Agency condemned their translation of his remarks about the Holocaust as largely a fabrication. The official organ of the Iranian government provided an exact translation of what he said and matched it with what CNN broadcast and then published on their website. When the two are compared it is clear that the network expanded on what he said to help convey the impression that he was condemning Holocaust denial when it is clear that he did no such thing.

Here’s the CNN account:

CNN Question: “One of the things your predecessor (President Ahmadinejad) used to do from this very platform was deny(ing) the holocaust and pretend(ing) it was a myth, I want to know you, your position on the holocaust, do you accept what it was, and what was it?”

CNN’s Translation: “I’ve said before that I am not a historian and then, when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect on it. But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime that Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews is reprehensible and condemnable. Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn, the taking of human life is contemptible, it makes no difference whether that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim, for us it is the same, but taking the human life is something our religion rejects but this doesn’t mean that on the other hand you can say Nazis committed crime against a group now therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it. This too is an act that should be condemned. There should be an even-handed discussion”.

Here’s what Rouhani actually said:

“I have said before that I am not a historian and historians should specify, state and explain the aspects of historical events, but generally we fully condemn any kind of crime committed against humanity throughout the history, including the crime committed by the Nazis both against the Jews and non-Jews, the same way that if today any crime is committed against any nation or any religion or any people or any belief, we condemn that crime and genocide. Therefore, what the Nazis did is condemned, but the aspects that you talk about, clarification of these aspects is a duty of the historians and researchers, I am not a history scholar.”

While the two have similarities, there is no doubt that the news outlet airbrushed Rouhani’s comments to the point where they are far more acceptable for a Western audience. The actual remarks make it clear that Rouhani is as much of an agnostic about the extent of the Holocaust as Ahmadinejad. After all, Rouhani’s predecessor never said that no Jews were killed but said it was vastly exaggerated, the false argument that all Holocaust deniers try to make.

It is up to CNN to explain this attempt to falsify the content of the interview that goes beyond the usual discrepancies that often pop up in translations and crosses over into editorial malfeasance.

Added together with the other remarks uttered by Rouhani, this makes the claims of those who say Rouhani represents a genuine change in Iran even less credible than before.

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Obama’s Confused Foreign Policy

If there is one point that President Obama’s defenders have made in favor of his muddled Syria policy, it is its popularity. Not so fast. A new New York Times/CBS News poll finds “that 52 percent disapproved of the way Mr. Obama was handling the situation in Syria.”

Moreover, Americans aren’t happy with Obama’s foreign policy in general: “Forty-nine percent disapproved of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy efforts, up 10 points since early June, and 40 percent approved. The president’s negative rating on foreign policy has grown among Americans of all political stripes, with disapproval up 8 points among Democrats, 10 points among Republicans and 13 points among independents.”

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If there is one point that President Obama’s defenders have made in favor of his muddled Syria policy, it is its popularity. Not so fast. A new New York Times/CBS News poll finds “that 52 percent disapproved of the way Mr. Obama was handling the situation in Syria.”

Moreover, Americans aren’t happy with Obama’s foreign policy in general: “Forty-nine percent disapproved of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy efforts, up 10 points since early June, and 40 percent approved. The president’s negative rating on foreign policy has grown among Americans of all political stripes, with disapproval up 8 points among Democrats, 10 points among Republicans and 13 points among independents.”

With his mishandling of Syria, Obama appears to have thrown away, at least for now, the foreign-policy advantage he had wrested away from Republicans largely with the SEAL raid to kill Osama bin Laden.

I have previously written that presidents must not make foreign-policy decisions based on public opinion polls, so simply because the public thinks the Obama administration’s foreign policy is wrong doesn’t necessarily make it so. But in this case I think the public is onto something. What the public perceives–the same thing that much of the world perceives–is that Obama is weak and vacillating, deliberative but indecisive.

Obama’s plan to launch cruise missiles against Syria may not have been particularly popular, but pretty much everyone is still dismayed to see a president lay down a “red line” and then not enforce it. Instead, the president has grabbed a face-saving but probably unenforceable deal to rid Syria of its chemical weapons while making a de facto commitment to keep the murderous Bashar Assad regime in power.

Obama’s defenders claimed that his flexibility on Syria would encourage a deal with Iran, but he was stiffed at the UN where Hassan Rouhani delivered a hardline speech and then refused to attend a luncheon where he might have shaken Obama’s hand–a handshake that the White House fervently desired. Administration insiders pooh-poohed this small defeat, explaining that Rouhani has to cater to his own domestic opinion and can’t be seen as being too eager to reach out to the United States. But if that’s the case–if Rouhani can’t even risk a handshake with Obama–what makes Obama think he will sign off on some kind of grand bargain that will force Iran to renounce its long-held goal of acquiring nuclear weapons? The general public is actually more realistic than the White House on the prospect of better relations with Iran: “Fewer than 1 in 4 think they will get better in the next few years, while a third think they will get worse, and 4 in 10 think they will stay about the same.”

Ironically, in pursuit of chimerical results in the Middle East, Obama has abandoned his long-standing desire to “pivot” or “rebalance” to the Pacific. Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group counted the number of time that in his UN speech Obama mentioned the following countries:

Iran 25
Syria 20
Israel 15
Palestine 11

Compare this with mentions of Asian countries:

China 1
Japan 0
India 0
Koreas 0

The focus on the Middle East isn’t wrong–I have long been skeptical of Obama’s professed desire to disengage from the region. But the fact that he is ignoring East Asia, something he attacked his predecessor for doing, is yet another sign of how confused his foreign policy has become. That’s something that Americans instinctively understand even if they don’t follow every nuance of foreign policy.

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Rouhani Treats Obama Like a Chump

Yesterday, President Obama was left with egg on his face. Administration officials had been telling the press for days that the president would meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations. But when it came time for the two to come together or to bump into each other and shake hands in an accidentally-on-purpose arranged encounter, the Iranians said nothing doing. The Iranians told the press that it was “too complicated” for the meeting to take place and administration officials were reduced to explaining the snub by saying that it would have caused political problems for Rouhani at home. Combined with Rouhani’s speech to the General Assembly of the U.N. that was something less than the olive branch that those hoping for a rapprochement with the Islamic Republic were expecting, the Iranians sent the administration an unmistakable message. If you want to appease us, don’t think we’ll make it easy on you.

There are many good reasons to distrust the Iranian charm offensive and Jeffrey Goldberg gives a few in his column at Bloomberg today. Rouhani’s goal is to lift the international sanctions on Iran while preserving its right to go on enriching uranium (as well as developing a plutonium option) and supporting terrorism around the globe, not to help Barack Obama bring peace to the Middle East. But yesterday’s events didn’t tell us as much about whether Rouhani is a sincere advocate of change as it did about the way the Iranians think about President Obama. The president’s apologists like Goldberg believe the Rouhani gambit we’ve been debating recently is the product of Obama’s toughness, much as they also cling to the illusion that the debacle in Syria stems from the president’s strength rather than weakness. But Rouhani’s behavior in New York yesterday showed that he did not come to the UN as a supplicant but as someone who knows that he has Obama just where he wants him. By demonstrating that he isn’t a cheap date but must instead be wooed by the West with concessions, Rouhani gave us a good idea of the course of the next round of negotiations that the United States is about to embark upon with Iran. Instead of being eager to embrace Obama in order to prove their desire for diplomacy and to avert the threat of Western force being employed to end their nuclear dreams, the Iranians know that Obama has already swallowed the bait. This wasn’t the first time Rouhani had humiliated the West since he is a veteran of past deceptive diplomatic encounters, but we also know it won’t be the last.

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Yesterday, President Obama was left with egg on his face. Administration officials had been telling the press for days that the president would meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations. But when it came time for the two to come together or to bump into each other and shake hands in an accidentally-on-purpose arranged encounter, the Iranians said nothing doing. The Iranians told the press that it was “too complicated” for the meeting to take place and administration officials were reduced to explaining the snub by saying that it would have caused political problems for Rouhani at home. Combined with Rouhani’s speech to the General Assembly of the U.N. that was something less than the olive branch that those hoping for a rapprochement with the Islamic Republic were expecting, the Iranians sent the administration an unmistakable message. If you want to appease us, don’t think we’ll make it easy on you.

There are many good reasons to distrust the Iranian charm offensive and Jeffrey Goldberg gives a few in his column at Bloomberg today. Rouhani’s goal is to lift the international sanctions on Iran while preserving its right to go on enriching uranium (as well as developing a plutonium option) and supporting terrorism around the globe, not to help Barack Obama bring peace to the Middle East. But yesterday’s events didn’t tell us as much about whether Rouhani is a sincere advocate of change as it did about the way the Iranians think about President Obama. The president’s apologists like Goldberg believe the Rouhani gambit we’ve been debating recently is the product of Obama’s toughness, much as they also cling to the illusion that the debacle in Syria stems from the president’s strength rather than weakness. But Rouhani’s behavior in New York yesterday showed that he did not come to the UN as a supplicant but as someone who knows that he has Obama just where he wants him. By demonstrating that he isn’t a cheap date but must instead be wooed by the West with concessions, Rouhani gave us a good idea of the course of the next round of negotiations that the United States is about to embark upon with Iran. Instead of being eager to embrace Obama in order to prove their desire for diplomacy and to avert the threat of Western force being employed to end their nuclear dreams, the Iranians know that Obama has already swallowed the bait. This wasn’t the first time Rouhani had humiliated the West since he is a veteran of past deceptive diplomatic encounters, but we also know it won’t be the last.

The White House’s disappointment at Rouhani being unwilling to shake hands with the president was absurd enough. But even the New York Times was unable to spin the Iranian’s speech to the GA as anything but a disappointment to those who have invested so heavily in the notion that he represents an opportunity for genuine change in Iran.

Rouhani’s address can only be seen as “moderate” when compared to the wacky rants of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He didn’t deny the Holocaust nor openly threaten Israel with destruction. But he gave little satisfaction to those expecting him to inaugurate a new age of understanding with a lengthy litany of complaints about the West as well as an almost impenetrable barrage of double talk about Syria, nukes, and terrorism.

Rouhani’s appeal for “tolerance” rang false, coming as it did from a government that persecutes religious minorities and continues to be a font of anti-Semitic incitement aimed at Israel and its supporters. The same can be said of his denunciation of terrorism, coming as it did from an official of a government that is the leading state sponsor of terror in the world.

Iran’s real boss, Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was wise to back Rouhani’s play since the charm offensive has given the Obama administration the excuse it needed to begin the process of backing away from its promise to confront Iran on the nuclear issue. But the snub and the cold speech show they have no intention of making it easy for Obama to appease them. The Iranians show every sign of understanding that the way to draw out the next round of talks is to play hard to get and make the Americans bid against themselves in an effort to entice them to play ball. By portraying Rouhani as being squeezed by hardliner rivals, they have provided the justification for Western concessions and excuses that will be portrayed as necessary in order to help him.

For five years the Iranians have been acting as if they thought President Obama was a paper tiger whose threats should be discounted. But yesterday they showed they think he isn’t just weak but a chump who can be played and reeled in slowly as they buy more time to achieve their nuclear ambitions.

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Rouhani Fever at the UN

I am old enough to remember how some hardline conservatives criticized Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for concluding that Mikhail Gorbachev was someone they could do business with. For their temerity, Reagan and Thatcher were denounced in some quarters as dupes and sell-outs–but they were absolutely right: Gorbachev really was a new kind of Russian leader. Arms-control deals that had been concluded with his hardline predecessors were worthless, but Gorbachev really was interested in reducing tensions and cutting the USSR’s defense budget. Even so, Reagan didn’t give away the house–remember that he refused to trade away SDI (“Star Wars”) at the 1988 Reykjavik summit even in return for major cuts in nuclear forces.

All this history needs to be kept in mind as Washington is gripped by Rouhani fever, with expectations spiking that the presidents of Iran and the United States will meet for the first time since the Iranian Revolution and that a deal might be concluded to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Reagan’s experience should teach us that we can’t dismiss the possibility that Rouhani is serious about a deal–but that we shouldn’t get so giddy about achieving that goal that we lose sight of the bottom line: One way or another, we need to stop Iran from going nuclear.

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I am old enough to remember how some hardline conservatives criticized Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for concluding that Mikhail Gorbachev was someone they could do business with. For their temerity, Reagan and Thatcher were denounced in some quarters as dupes and sell-outs–but they were absolutely right: Gorbachev really was a new kind of Russian leader. Arms-control deals that had been concluded with his hardline predecessors were worthless, but Gorbachev really was interested in reducing tensions and cutting the USSR’s defense budget. Even so, Reagan didn’t give away the house–remember that he refused to trade away SDI (“Star Wars”) at the 1988 Reykjavik summit even in return for major cuts in nuclear forces.

All this history needs to be kept in mind as Washington is gripped by Rouhani fever, with expectations spiking that the presidents of Iran and the United States will meet for the first time since the Iranian Revolution and that a deal might be concluded to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Reagan’s experience should teach us that we can’t dismiss the possibility that Rouhani is serious about a deal–but that we shouldn’t get so giddy about achieving that goal that we lose sight of the bottom line: One way or another, we need to stop Iran from going nuclear.

The tentative outreach from Hassan Rouhani since his election is welcome; certainly it’s preferable to the poisonous hostility of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But let’s keep in mind that Rouhani hasn’t made any real concessions yet–he has certainly not done anything as dramatic as Anwar Sadat did when he flew to Israel to prove his commitment to peace. Wishing Jews a happy Rosh Hashanah isn’t quite on the same level.

Moreover, even if we were to assume that Rouhani really is a Gorbachev-like figure who is committed to a deal, we need to keep in mind that he doesn’t wield Gorbachev-like power. Real authority in the Iranian system is vested in the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, whom no one would mistake for a born-again moderate.

Indeed, the New York Times today has a bracing exposition of the supreme leader’s views courtesy of regime insider Hamid-Reza Taraghi:

“We have no intention to change,” said Mr. Taraghi. “Our ideology will remain the same. Iran will remain the same even after possible talks.”

By this he meant that Iran would never recognize the state of Israel or stop supporting Palestinian groups fighting what it calls “the Zionist entity.” In nuclear matters, it means accepting nothing less than full recognition of what Iran says is its “right” to a nuclear program under its own control. Support for the Syrian government will continue, as will Iran’s overall confrontational stance toward the West.

Given such thinking in Tehran, the odds are that those who expect rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran are likely to be disappointed. Khamenei seems to be calculating that the U.S. is so weak now (see recent events in Syria) that it will drop sanctions and accept Iran’s ambitions to dominate the Middle East in return for a cosmetic slowdown in its nuclear development. It is critical that President Obama stick to a high standard for any possible deal, as outlined by the Foreign Policy Institute’s Robert Zarate.

What does this mean in practice? “1. Any Iranian nuclear deal should require ‘zero enrichment’ to close off Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb using centrifuges to produce weapons-usable high enriched uranium…. 2. Any Iranian nuclear deal should require ‘zero reprocessing’ to close off Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb using plutonium that could be separated from a reactor’s spent nuclear fuel…. 3. Any Iranian nuclear deal should require Iran to fully comply with its international obligations through ‘complete and total transparency’—that is, by allowing nuclear inspection activities far beyond those required by its NPT-required IAEA safeguards agreement.”

If Rouhani can agree to such terms and get the rest of the Iranian establishment, led by Ayatollah Khamenei, to go along, then he is what he seems to be–a true moderate who is interested in de-escalating the confrontation between Iran and the West. If not, Rouhani is up to his old tricks–using negotiations to buy time for the nuclear program to develop, as he has previously admitted to doing.

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Obama Talks From Weakness, Not Strength

After flubbing his plan for an attack on Syria and being trapped into a Russian-sponsored process designed to preserve the Assad regime, President Obama doesn’t have much foreign-policy credibility these days. But what little he has left is about to be spent on a new diplomatic initiative with Iran that will apparently be kicked off this week in New York with a face-to-face meeting between the leader of the free world and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Perhaps even more than Obama’s effective handing off of responsibility for Syria’s chemical weapons to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the appointment with Rouhani will make it clear that this administration has no appetite for a confrontation with its enemies, signaling a new era in the Middle East in which the tyrants of Tehran and Damascus and their terrorist auxiliaries need not fear the United States.

That is a conclusion that the president’s defenders reject absolutely. They claim that whatever the provenance of the Russian proposal or the lack of “style” points (to use the president’s own words) in his fumbling approach to Congress on Syria, if it results in Assad losing his chemical weapons it is still a good thing. They argue that Obama’s inability to pull the trigger on Syria will have no impact on Iran’s evaluation of American intentions on its nuclear ambitions. Further, they say the U.S. has nothing to lose in talking to Iran and much to gain, since failure in negotiations will simply strengthen the president’s hand when he then decides to use force.

If the administration was operating from a position of strength and with its intentions to uphold its interests undoubted, then these arguments might make sense. But the problem with both the Syrian fiasco and the opening to Iran is that it is no secret that the president has agreed to them out of weakness, not strength. What’s more, both the Syrians and the Iranians know it. The United States may be still be the world’s sole superpower and Syria and Iran midgets by comparison. But so long as these countries and their Russian friend know America is led by a man who choked when he could have struck Syria and is desperate for excuses to avoid the confrontation he has long threatened Iran with, they know who has the upper hand in talks.

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After flubbing his plan for an attack on Syria and being trapped into a Russian-sponsored process designed to preserve the Assad regime, President Obama doesn’t have much foreign-policy credibility these days. But what little he has left is about to be spent on a new diplomatic initiative with Iran that will apparently be kicked off this week in New York with a face-to-face meeting between the leader of the free world and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Perhaps even more than Obama’s effective handing off of responsibility for Syria’s chemical weapons to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the appointment with Rouhani will make it clear that this administration has no appetite for a confrontation with its enemies, signaling a new era in the Middle East in which the tyrants of Tehran and Damascus and their terrorist auxiliaries need not fear the United States.

That is a conclusion that the president’s defenders reject absolutely. They claim that whatever the provenance of the Russian proposal or the lack of “style” points (to use the president’s own words) in his fumbling approach to Congress on Syria, if it results in Assad losing his chemical weapons it is still a good thing. They argue that Obama’s inability to pull the trigger on Syria will have no impact on Iran’s evaluation of American intentions on its nuclear ambitions. Further, they say the U.S. has nothing to lose in talking to Iran and much to gain, since failure in negotiations will simply strengthen the president’s hand when he then decides to use force.

If the administration was operating from a position of strength and with its intentions to uphold its interests undoubted, then these arguments might make sense. But the problem with both the Syrian fiasco and the opening to Iran is that it is no secret that the president has agreed to them out of weakness, not strength. What’s more, both the Syrians and the Iranians know it. The United States may be still be the world’s sole superpower and Syria and Iran midgets by comparison. But so long as these countries and their Russian friend know America is led by a man who choked when he could have struck Syria and is desperate for excuses to avoid the confrontation he has long threatened Iran with, they know who has the upper hand in talks.

Jeffrey Goldberg remains one of the more sensible of Obama’s defenders and he has rightly derided the president’s record on Syria as “disturbing.” He also rightly puts down Rouhani’s charm offensive as “nothing more than public relations until proven otherwise.” But he also continues to cling to the notion that what has brought about the unsatisfactory deal with Russia on Syria and enticed Rouhani to come calling was Obama’s “toughness.” But for any objective observer to categorize the U.S. stance in the Middle East as “tough” requires us to come up with a new definition for the word.

Goldberg concedes Obama looked bad on Syria but still insists that his threat of force made any deal possible. But what happened was damaging not just because it has resulted in what looks to be U.S. acquiescence to Assad remaining in power indefinitely but because it showed that the president wouldn’t follow through once he had threatened force. In other words, the world now knows the president lacks the will to act on his own authority and is also sadly aware that there is a bipartisan congressional majority opposing any use of force. That’s a worse blow to U.S. credibility than if he had never issued any threats at all. The notion that Obama will now be empowered to strike if the Syrians and Russians thwart accountability on chemical weapons is absurd. They know very well that no matter what John Kerry says, the administration has moved on and will never attack Syria.

As for Iran, Goldberg also gives Obama credit for imposing tough sanctions on Iran that has created pressure on the regime. He also thinks the team of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu playing “bad cop” to Obama’s “ambivalent cop” can force Iran to make a nuclear deal that will work. But the record of the last five years in which Obama’s actions have never matched his rhetoric has convinced the real boss in Tehran—Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—that what was needed was a soft voice to entice Obama into endless negotiations, not the cartoonlike harshness of Rouhani’s predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. By meeting with Rouhani, Obama is signaling that he is falling for this tactic. But rather than Rouhani being on the spot as Goldberg insists, it is actually President Obama who will feel the need to make concessions to keep the talks going so as to avoid being put in a position where he will be forced to act.

Iran wants sanctions lifted, but there is no evidence that the supreme leader is the one who thinks he’s in a corner. The ayatollahs have already observed that the one place Obama never wants to be is in a corner where he is forced to back up his threats. Meeting with Rouhani and treating this more presentable thug as an equal and a negotiating partner will send a signal throughout the Middle East that Iran is emerging from its diplomatic isolation. Combined with its triumph in Syria where, along with the Russians, it has saved Assad, that allows the Islamist regime to believe it can string out the West for as long as it needs to achieve its nuclear ambitions with no real fear that the U.S. will ever pull the plug on the talks or back up its threats.

Goldberg is right when he says that the only constant in the world is change. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned it is that President Obama and his foreign-policy team are incapable of reacting to the shifting sands of the Middle East or to present their positions to the world in a way that makes dangerous regimes fear us. Whatever follows from these diplomatic initiatives will be the result of the president’s weakness, not his strength.

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A Brief History of Iranian Holocaust Denial

Iranian Holocaust denial—while the stuff of international headlines—during the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presidency neither began when Ahmadinejad took office nor did it end when Ahmadinejad’s term ended. Some journalists believe that the bedrock ideology of the Islamic Republic has changed since Hassan Rouhani’s election. Some American journalists appear to have given more credence to Rouhani’s alleged Rosh Hashanah tweet than they do the Islamic Republic’s record.

When it comes to Iranian Holocaust denial and revisionism, George Michael, author of The Enemy of my Enemy, had an informative article in the Middle East Quarterly several years back:

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Iranian Holocaust denial—while the stuff of international headlines—during the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presidency neither began when Ahmadinejad took office nor did it end when Ahmadinejad’s term ended. Some journalists believe that the bedrock ideology of the Islamic Republic has changed since Hassan Rouhani’s election. Some American journalists appear to have given more credence to Rouhani’s alleged Rosh Hashanah tweet than they do the Islamic Republic’s record.

When it comes to Iranian Holocaust denial and revisionism, George Michael, author of The Enemy of my Enemy, had an informative article in the Middle East Quarterly several years back:

Holocaust denial was an outgrowth of Iranian anti-Semitism, propelled by the Islamic Republic’s antipathy toward Israel. Long before Ahmadinejad shocked the West with his blunt rhetoric, Supreme Leader ‘Ali Khamenei suggested the Holocaust to be an exaggeration. ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an Iranian figure often labeled a pragmatist by Western journalists, voiced morale support for Holocaust revisionists in the West, suggesting the West persecuted one prominent denier for “the doubt he cast on Zionist propaganda.” However, it was during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, whose rhetorical calls for a dialogue of civilizations won European and U.N. plaudits, that the Islamic Republic became a sanctuary for revisionists. Tehran granted asylum not only to [Swiss Holocaust denier Jürgen] Graf but also to Wolfgang Fröhlick, an Austrian engineer who argued in court under oath that Zyklon-B could not be used to kill humans. Indeed, it was under Khatami that Iranian policy shifted from anti-Zionism to unabashed anti-Semitism.

In August 2003, the Iranian government invited Frederick Töben, a retired German school teacher living in Australia, to speak before the International Conference on the Palestinian Intifada held in Tehran in which he impugned the Holocaust by contending that Auschwitz concentration camp was physically too small for the mass killing of Jews….

Of course, this was at a time when Rouhani was a top regime official and when pundits now singing Rouhani’s praises in the New York Times and elsewhere actually worked in the Foreign Ministry’s “Institute for Political and International Studies,” a sponsor of the Holocaust revisionism.

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What to Make of Rouhani’s Letter?

Over at AEI-Ideas, I take a look at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s op-ed in today’s Washington Post and argue that, while we shouldn’t be afraid to take “yes” for an answer, Rouhani’s sincerity is extremely unclear. Both the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi made grand gestures to demonstrate their respective changes of heart.

Alas, reading the tea leaves back in Tehran does not give cause for optimism. As Will Fulton points out in his invaluable “Iran News Round Up,” on September 17, Rouhani suggested creating a commission “to pursue spiritual and material compensation” from the United States and United Kingdom for their role in the 1953 coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq.

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Over at AEI-Ideas, I take a look at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s op-ed in today’s Washington Post and argue that, while we shouldn’t be afraid to take “yes” for an answer, Rouhani’s sincerity is extremely unclear. Both the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi made grand gestures to demonstrate their respective changes of heart.

Alas, reading the tea leaves back in Tehran does not give cause for optimism. As Will Fulton points out in his invaluable “Iran News Round Up,” on September 17, Rouhani suggested creating a commission “to pursue spiritual and material compensation” from the United States and United Kingdom for their role in the 1953 coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq.

While that might sound good to a self-flagellating audience of American intellectuals, putting aside whether the coup was wise or not given the Cold War context, the simple fact is that the Iranian clergy was complicit in the coup and, indeed, had made an alliance of convenience with the U.S., British, and Iranian military: All feared Mosaddeq’s populism, which, to be frank, was about as democratic as Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s in Haiti.

That Rouhani wants the United States to pay Iran for the 1953 coup which his teachers and predecessors supported shows just how manipulative and insincere he is in his populist games in Tehran and Washington.

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Trust Iran’s No Nuke Pledge?

It’s quite amazing how many pundits and journalists treat Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s promise that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons with anything besides great skepticism.

First of all, Iranian leaders have a history of making sweeping promises to Western audiences and then violating the same promises. Several years ago, I chronicled a number of these promises, here. My favorite? Promising to lift the fatwa ordering British author Salman Rushdie’s murder. On May 18, 1999, the Iranian government finally promised to lift the fatwa in return for the British reopening their embassy in Tehran. The British obliged. The next day, the Iranian government re-imposed its bounty on Rushdie. Indeed, killing Rushdie remains one of the missions listed on this recent Iranian application to be a suicide bomber.

That Rouhani is making the vow should give pause, given how Rowhani once expounded on a strategy to feint concession while advancing Iran’s nuclear program. More on Iranian strategy, here.

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It’s quite amazing how many pundits and journalists treat Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s promise that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons with anything besides great skepticism.

First of all, Iranian leaders have a history of making sweeping promises to Western audiences and then violating the same promises. Several years ago, I chronicled a number of these promises, here. My favorite? Promising to lift the fatwa ordering British author Salman Rushdie’s murder. On May 18, 1999, the Iranian government finally promised to lift the fatwa in return for the British reopening their embassy in Tehran. The British obliged. The next day, the Iranian government re-imposed its bounty on Rushdie. Indeed, killing Rushdie remains one of the missions listed on this recent Iranian application to be a suicide bomber.

That Rouhani is making the vow should give pause, given how Rowhani once expounded on a strategy to feint concession while advancing Iran’s nuclear program. More on Iranian strategy, here.

Now, some analysts point to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s alleged fatwa banning nuclear weapons. Alas, while Khamenei lists his fatwas on his website, the so-called nuclear fatwa is not among them. Why bother putting something in writing if diplomats are willing to embrace what they have neither seen nor read?

Diplomats often put process against substance. Giddiness at the possibility of sitting down with adversaries too often trumps the results of such meetings. Until Supreme Leader Khamenei publicly and unequivocally announces the suspension of Iran’s illicit uranium enrichment, forfeiture of its more highly-enriched stockpiles, and an opening of all facilities, both declared and undeclared to inspectors, then Rowhani’s outreach must be interpreted as more a tactic for delay than sincere.

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Rouhanimania Will Upstage Bibi at UN

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu outlined his agenda for his trip to New York for the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations this month. Netanyahu will hope to remind both his American ally and the international community of the nuclear threat from Iran and, as the New York Times reports, restated a four point plan that would take the world back from the brink of a confrontation:

Mr. Netanyahu told his cabinet that Iran must stop enriching uranium, remove enriched uranium from the country, close its nuclear plant near Qum and stop what he called “the plutonium track.”

“Until all four of these measures are achieved, the pressure on Iran must be increased and not relaxed, and certainly not eased,” the prime minister said in a statement released by his office.

Netanyahu’s right that these are exactly the measures needed to ensure that Iran really is stopped from developing a nuclear weapon but the chances of this argument getting much of a hearing next week are slim and none. Even if Netanyahu brings cartoon characters in costume with him to the U.N. podium to illustrate the imminent danger of Iran’s growing stockpile of refined uranium as well as their plutonium alternative in a follow-up to the cartoon red line straight out of Wiley Coyote’s Acme catalogue that he drew last year, it’s almost certain he will be overshadowed by the appearance of the West’s great hope for peace with Iran: the Islamic regime’s new President Hassan Rouhani. Though evidence of Rouhani’s alleged moderation is still lacking, the contrast with his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is so great that many in the media and official Washington are starting to speak of him as an Iranian version of Bobby Kennedy. With Rouhanimania in full bloom in New York, the Israeli insistence on telling the truth about Tehran’s intentions and the need for the West to not get suckered into another round of dead-end negotiations with the Iranians will make Netanyahu appear to be a party-pooper.

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Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu outlined his agenda for his trip to New York for the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations this month. Netanyahu will hope to remind both his American ally and the international community of the nuclear threat from Iran and, as the New York Times reports, restated a four point plan that would take the world back from the brink of a confrontation:

Mr. Netanyahu told his cabinet that Iran must stop enriching uranium, remove enriched uranium from the country, close its nuclear plant near Qum and stop what he called “the plutonium track.”

“Until all four of these measures are achieved, the pressure on Iran must be increased and not relaxed, and certainly not eased,” the prime minister said in a statement released by his office.

Netanyahu’s right that these are exactly the measures needed to ensure that Iran really is stopped from developing a nuclear weapon but the chances of this argument getting much of a hearing next week are slim and none. Even if Netanyahu brings cartoon characters in costume with him to the U.N. podium to illustrate the imminent danger of Iran’s growing stockpile of refined uranium as well as their plutonium alternative in a follow-up to the cartoon red line straight out of Wiley Coyote’s Acme catalogue that he drew last year, it’s almost certain he will be overshadowed by the appearance of the West’s great hope for peace with Iran: the Islamic regime’s new President Hassan Rouhani. Though evidence of Rouhani’s alleged moderation is still lacking, the contrast with his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is so great that many in the media and official Washington are starting to speak of him as an Iranian version of Bobby Kennedy. With Rouhanimania in full bloom in New York, the Israeli insistence on telling the truth about Tehran’s intentions and the need for the West to not get suckered into another round of dead-end negotiations with the Iranians will make Netanyahu appear to be a party-pooper.

Full credit should be given to Iran for doing everything possible to feed the Rouhanimania of a Western foreign policy establishment and media eager to help President Obama back down from his repeated promises to stop Iran. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, the real boss of Iran, Supreme Leader Grant Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed Rouhani’s outreach by saying it was time for “heroic leniency.” The regime also freed 11 political prisoners in an effort to weaken the critique of Iran’s appalling human rights policy.

But the main centerpiece of the Iranian charm offensive remains Rouhani, a veteran Islamist who was one of Ayatollah Khomeini’s foot soldiers and later served as part of the country’s security apparatus when it began sponsoring international terrorism such as the attack on the Jewish communal building in Buenos Aires, Argentina that took the lives of 85 persons. Rouhani has exchanged letters with President Obama and has become the almost obsessive focus of many in the West on the idea that Iran is about to change its policies. As I wrote yesterday, Rouhani’s statements about accepting Syria’s wishes about its future and offer of closing one of its nuclear facilities are being interpreted as signs that his presidency can provide a reset of relations with Iran.

While prisoner release and nuclear reactor shutdowns would be welcome, those who buy into Rouhanimania need to understand whom it is they are dealing with and put his strategy into the context of Iran’s long-term goals.

Permitting Rouhani to run in the fake presidential election that Iran held was a masterstroke by Khameini. Though a rigid Islamist tyrant, he seems to have a grasp of international public opinion. Allowing Ahmadinejad to become the public face of Iran around the world was a terrible mistake. The former Iranian president’s public embrace of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial made it easier for Westerners to understand just how brutal the Islamist state really is. Removing him from the picture and replacing him with someone that can be represented as a moderate who desires peace changes nothing of substance in Tehran but it is just the excuse to embark on a new round of diplomacy with Iran that the Obama administration desired.

As long as Rouhani surrenders nothing of value to the West — including its right to pursue nuclear capability — he will serve a useful purpose for a regime that has suffered from the international sanctions applied against it in recent years. But those who buy into Rouhanimania need to understand that his goal is the lifting of those sanctions, not stepping back Iran’s sponsoring of international terrorism, ceasing its military intervention in the Syrian civil war or giving up its nuclear options. Moreover, as long as he keeps the West engaged in diplomacy there is no chance the U.S. or Israel will be able to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before it is too late.

It may be too much to hope for the U.S. to see through this charade but these are points to remember as we watch Rouhani become everyone’s favorite Iranian in the UN media crush.

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Rouhani’s Ruses: Syria and Nukes

Washington and the West remain infatuated with new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The supposed moderate is set to make his debut on the international stage later this month at the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York where the comparison to his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will work to his advantage. All the hopes of those who wish to avoid a confrontation with the Islamist regime rest on the notion that Rouhani’s election in a faux democratic presidential vote represents a chance for real change in Iran. Though Iranians might hope genuine change might bring a less repressive theocracy—a proposition that it is difficult to imagine would hold much allure for a fundamentalist follower of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini such as Rouhani—for the West it means an Iran that will abandon its nuclear ambitions and cease sponsoring terrorism or intervening in the affairs of other nations in the region. And it is to those hopes that Rouhani is doing his best to pander.

On the nuclear front, there are reports claiming that Rouhani is prepared to allow Western inspectors into Iran’s key Fordow nuclear plant and even remove the centrifuges that are refining more uranium that adds to the ayatollah’s stockpile. Such concessions in exchange for a lifting of Western sanctions are said to reflect Rouhani’s desire for rapprochement in order to save his country’s economy. As for Syria, as the New York Times reports today, Rouhani told Revolutionary Guard commanders yesterday that Iran will support whomever Syria wants as their leader even if it is not Bashar Assad. But as even that article is forced to acknowledge, Rouhani’s statement is directly contradicted by the facts on the ground in Syria as Iranian forces have become a key element of the Assad regime’s murderous and successful war against rebels. As Michael Rubin noted earlier today, the surfacing of a video showing Iranians taking part in the fighting gives the lie to Rouhani’s statement.

The Times attempted to argue that the contradiction between Rouhani’s moderation and the policies of the regime he represents is a question of dueling interests or alternative tracks that show cracks in the regime’s solid front. But a more sensible reading of these contrasts shows that Rouhani’s feelers to the West are merely talk intended to fool the gullible, as it has successfully done repeatedly in the last decade.

After Ahmadinejad’s unrepentant anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, Rouhani’s apparent desire to make nice is a welcome change for those who view confrontation with Iran as a greater evil than the threat from their nuclear program and sponsorship of terrorism. But talk is cheap.

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Washington and the West remain infatuated with new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The supposed moderate is set to make his debut on the international stage later this month at the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York where the comparison to his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will work to his advantage. All the hopes of those who wish to avoid a confrontation with the Islamist regime rest on the notion that Rouhani’s election in a faux democratic presidential vote represents a chance for real change in Iran. Though Iranians might hope genuine change might bring a less repressive theocracy—a proposition that it is difficult to imagine would hold much allure for a fundamentalist follower of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini such as Rouhani—for the West it means an Iran that will abandon its nuclear ambitions and cease sponsoring terrorism or intervening in the affairs of other nations in the region. And it is to those hopes that Rouhani is doing his best to pander.

On the nuclear front, there are reports claiming that Rouhani is prepared to allow Western inspectors into Iran’s key Fordow nuclear plant and even remove the centrifuges that are refining more uranium that adds to the ayatollah’s stockpile. Such concessions in exchange for a lifting of Western sanctions are said to reflect Rouhani’s desire for rapprochement in order to save his country’s economy. As for Syria, as the New York Times reports today, Rouhani told Revolutionary Guard commanders yesterday that Iran will support whomever Syria wants as their leader even if it is not Bashar Assad. But as even that article is forced to acknowledge, Rouhani’s statement is directly contradicted by the facts on the ground in Syria as Iranian forces have become a key element of the Assad regime’s murderous and successful war against rebels. As Michael Rubin noted earlier today, the surfacing of a video showing Iranians taking part in the fighting gives the lie to Rouhani’s statement.

The Times attempted to argue that the contradiction between Rouhani’s moderation and the policies of the regime he represents is a question of dueling interests or alternative tracks that show cracks in the regime’s solid front. But a more sensible reading of these contrasts shows that Rouhani’s feelers to the West are merely talk intended to fool the gullible, as it has successfully done repeatedly in the last decade.

After Ahmadinejad’s unrepentant anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, Rouhani’s apparent desire to make nice is a welcome change for those who view confrontation with Iran as a greater evil than the threat from their nuclear program and sponsorship of terrorism. But talk is cheap.

The Iranian intervention in Syria implicated them in the atrocities committed by the government they are propping up. Any investigation into war crimes committed in the Syrian civil war, as more than 100,000 were slaughtered in the last two years, will inevitably involve Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard and their Hezbollah auxiliaries. For Rouhani to speak of Iran accepting the verdict of the Syrian people after they have assisted the dictator’s murderous repression is more than hypocritical. It is merely a rhetorical gloss on a criminal policy.

The same kind of skeptical analysis should be applied to the reports of Rouhani’s promises to shut down the centrifuges that are currently spinning Iran toward a nuclear weapon.

The West has, after all, already gone down the garden path with Rouhani on this front when he served as Iran’s nuclear negotiator only to realize later that his moderate promises and willingness to make deals were merely a ruse intended to buy the regime more time. Any nuclear arrangement that leaves in place Iran’s ability to refine uranium—the current position of the administration’s Russian partner on the issue—as well as their efforts to create a plutonium track to a weapon does nothing to avert the threat. While shutting down Fordow would be a productive step, after nuclear inspectors have been kept out of Iran for so long the possibility for deception is great. So is the likelihood that the entire discussion is merely one more attempt to string out negotiations until it is too late to stop Iran.

In his less guarded moments, Rouhani continues to remind us that he is an ardent supporter of the Islamist regime that is really run by Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Any faith placed in his moderation speaks more to Western hopes than Iranian reality. While we should expect that Rouhani’s New York appearance will continue to boost his stock among those already inclined to appease Tehran, there is very little reason to believe his dual track is anything other than a deception.

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Iran Should Come Clean on Missing Jews

I’ve been traveling in Poland and Romania over the last week or so, without steady access to the Internet and so I was not able immediately to add my two cents to the flurry of discussion over Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s alleged Rosh Hashanah greeting. The Wall Street Journal’s Sohrab Ahmari put the reports in context and called out some of the usual suspects in the press who are far more willing to embrace a random tweet than take seriously the pattern of decades of Iranian terrorism and anti-Semitism.

I spent a good deal of time with the Jews in Iran back in the later 1990s, in trips I took during the administrations of Presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. While Iran does have a sizeable Jewish community, it is but a shadow of its pre-revolutionary self. To brag that “Iranian Jews have it so good” because they’ve only lost 80 percent of their population isn’t something that any academic, analyst, or journalist should claim with a straight face. Nor is it true that Iranians have always been tolerant toward their Jewish minority. Iran suffered its fair share of pogroms and religious violence; to pretend otherwise is to whitewash history. The best book on more modern Jewish history in Iran is Daniel Tsadik’s Between Foreigners and Shi’is; Habib Levy’s now-outdated Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran is the most comprehensive, though it ends more than a decade ago.

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I’ve been traveling in Poland and Romania over the last week or so, without steady access to the Internet and so I was not able immediately to add my two cents to the flurry of discussion over Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s alleged Rosh Hashanah greeting. The Wall Street Journal’s Sohrab Ahmari put the reports in context and called out some of the usual suspects in the press who are far more willing to embrace a random tweet than take seriously the pattern of decades of Iranian terrorism and anti-Semitism.

I spent a good deal of time with the Jews in Iran back in the later 1990s, in trips I took during the administrations of Presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. While Iran does have a sizeable Jewish community, it is but a shadow of its pre-revolutionary self. To brag that “Iranian Jews have it so good” because they’ve only lost 80 percent of their population isn’t something that any academic, analyst, or journalist should claim with a straight face. Nor is it true that Iranians have always been tolerant toward their Jewish minority. Iran suffered its fair share of pogroms and religious violence; to pretend otherwise is to whitewash history. The best book on more modern Jewish history in Iran is Daniel Tsadik’s Between Foreigners and Shi’is; Habib Levy’s now-outdated Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran is the most comprehensive, though it ends more than a decade ago.

At any rate, Iran’s new foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif eventually took credit for the Twitter stunt. By doing so, he not only seems to guarantee himself an appointment at Princeton or Harvard should he ever end up on the foul side of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, but he appears to be pushing a strategy that Rouhani and former Khatami-era spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh once bragged about: Speak softly until the West lowers its guard, and then use the easing of pressure to push forward with Iran’s own special projects.

Perhaps I’m being too cynical, having studied for too long patterns of Iranian deception for a chapter of my forthcoming book. So, it would be nice if those willing to grasp Iran’s outstretched hands would ask Zarif, Rouhani, and the true leadership of Iran—Khamenei and Gen. Qasem Suleimani—to resolve the problem of Iran’s missing Jews.

During the 1990s—the reign of “pragmatist” Rafsanjani and “reformist” Khatami—security forces arrested several Jews who sought to flee Iran into Pakistan. Several were spotted subsequently in Iranian prisons. Here is the Simon Wiesenthal Center action alert from several years ago:

Between 1994 and 1997, 11 Jews, at the time ranging from 15 years of age to 57, were detained while attempting to cross the border from Iran into Pakistan seeking to be reunited with their families and in hopes of finding a secure future and a life of freedom. In addition, in February 1997, a Jewish businessman living in Tehran disappeared while visiting a provincial capital and has not been heard from since. The families of the disappeared have been virtually unable to get any information from the authorities as to the whereabouts of their loved ones. Several eyewitnesses (former Iranian intelligence officials who are now living in the West) claim they have seen some of the missing in Iranian jails and others in a detention center, but to date nothing has been substantiated. Several years ago, two credible Iranian officials privately assured a family member in Iran that the men were alive and had been transported to a prison in Tehran.

The appeal was delivered to Zarif while he was still Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations. While it’s all well and good to applaud Zarif’s tweet, perhaps those who are seeking to draw broad conclusions from it might consider demanding the new government put its money where its tweets are, and come clean about what they have done to the missing Jews.

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Want to Appease Iran? Demonize Israel

The willingness of much of the foreign-policy establishment and the mainstream media to embrace any opportunity to avoid conflict with Iran has never been much of a secret. Throughout the last five years, the administration has been able to count on unflinching support for its efforts to keep investing precious time and energy in a diplomatic process with Tehran that was dead in the water even before President Obama took office in 2009. After years of “engagement,” and two rounds of P5+1 talks that accomplished absolutely nothing, there’s no reason to believe the Iranians view negotiations as anything other than a clever tactic to buy more time to get close to their nuclear goal. But the election of a new Iranian president in June set off a new round of calls for yet more diplomacy. Hassan Rouhani’s false reputation as a “moderate” isn’t based on much; he’s a veteran of the Khomeini revolution, the regime’s involvement with foreign terror, and someone who has boasted of his success in fooling the West in nuclear talks. But as far as the New York Times editorial page is concerned, it’s enough to put on hold any toughening of sanctions on Iran, let alone talk about the use of force.

That the Times is eager to promote Rouhani as the solution to the nuclear question is not a surprise. But what it is a surprise is just how desperate they are to justify their position. In an editorial published today under the astonishingly obtuse headline of “Reading Tweets From Iran,” the newspaper seeks to treat the Iranian regime’s social media offensive as evidence of a genuine change in Tehran. To invest that much importance in what Rouhani’s staff says on Twitter in posts that are directed solely toward the West is laughable. No journalist at the paper would ever take the tweets produced by the official accounts of American politicians as anything but spin.

But far worse is the Times’s attempt to shift blame for the standoff from an anti-Semitic regime that is directly involved in atrocities in Syria and terrorist attacks around the globe onto Israel and its supporters in Congress. In doing so, the newspaper and the chattering classes whose views it represents are attempting to lay the foundation for President Obama to break his promises about stopping Iran and to treat those who object to such appeasement as opponents of peace. The editorial is right about one thing. If the administration is to betray its principles and appease Iran, it will require it to stop focusing on that regime’s record and instead lash out at those who are pointing out the truth about the threat it constitutes to the region and the world.

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The willingness of much of the foreign-policy establishment and the mainstream media to embrace any opportunity to avoid conflict with Iran has never been much of a secret. Throughout the last five years, the administration has been able to count on unflinching support for its efforts to keep investing precious time and energy in a diplomatic process with Tehran that was dead in the water even before President Obama took office in 2009. After years of “engagement,” and two rounds of P5+1 talks that accomplished absolutely nothing, there’s no reason to believe the Iranians view negotiations as anything other than a clever tactic to buy more time to get close to their nuclear goal. But the election of a new Iranian president in June set off a new round of calls for yet more diplomacy. Hassan Rouhani’s false reputation as a “moderate” isn’t based on much; he’s a veteran of the Khomeini revolution, the regime’s involvement with foreign terror, and someone who has boasted of his success in fooling the West in nuclear talks. But as far as the New York Times editorial page is concerned, it’s enough to put on hold any toughening of sanctions on Iran, let alone talk about the use of force.

That the Times is eager to promote Rouhani as the solution to the nuclear question is not a surprise. But what it is a surprise is just how desperate they are to justify their position. In an editorial published today under the astonishingly obtuse headline of “Reading Tweets From Iran,” the newspaper seeks to treat the Iranian regime’s social media offensive as evidence of a genuine change in Tehran. To invest that much importance in what Rouhani’s staff says on Twitter in posts that are directed solely toward the West is laughable. No journalist at the paper would ever take the tweets produced by the official accounts of American politicians as anything but spin.

But far worse is the Times’s attempt to shift blame for the standoff from an anti-Semitic regime that is directly involved in atrocities in Syria and terrorist attacks around the globe onto Israel and its supporters in Congress. In doing so, the newspaper and the chattering classes whose views it represents are attempting to lay the foundation for President Obama to break his promises about stopping Iran and to treat those who object to such appeasement as opponents of peace. The editorial is right about one thing. If the administration is to betray its principles and appease Iran, it will require it to stop focusing on that regime’s record and instead lash out at those who are pointing out the truth about the threat it constitutes to the region and the world.

The Times concludes its editorial in the following manner:

President Rouhani is sending strong signals that he will dispatch a pragmatic, experienced team to the table when negotiations resume, possibly next month. That’s when we should begin to see answers to key questions: How much time and creative thinking are he and President Obama willing to invest in a negotiated solution, the only rational outcome? How much political risk are they willing to take, which for Mr. Obama must include managing the enmity that Israel and many members of Congress feel toward Iran?

The notion that Rouhani’s tweets and other PR measures intended to deceive the West constitute “strong signals” that Rouhani will abandon a nuclear ambition that both he and the real power in Tehran—Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—are committed to is not a serious argument. If President Obama is going to break his promises to stop Iran’s nuclear program and to refuse to countenance a policy of “containment” of it, he and his cheering section at the Times are going to have to do better than this.

But far more insidious is the way the Times seeks to goad Obama into treating the “enmity” of supporters of Israel toward Iran as the real problem.

Of course, the reason why so many Americans don’t trust Iran isn’t the “enmity” they feel toward the ayatollahs. It is due to Iran’s record of tyranny and anti-Semitism at home and terrorism abroad. But those who are bound and determined to ignore Iran’s record in order to justify not merely another round of diplomacy but a deal that would allow it to continue its nuclear program understand that whitewashing Iran requires demonizing its opponents.

Israel’s efforts to call attention to the dwindling time available to the West to do something about Iran have long been subjected to attack from venues like the Times as alarmist or rooted in some other agenda than preventing a genocidal regime from obtaining a weapon that would give them a chance to put their fantasies into action. But the cries of alarm emanating from Israel and Congress about Iran are not based in mindless hatred, as the Times implies. Instead they are based on a far more realistic assessment of Iran’s behavior and the ideology that drives people like Khamenei and Rouhani. But since telling the truth about Iran doesn’t help build support for more feckless diplomacy, the newspaper brands it as irrational antagonism.

The use of chemical weapons by Iran’s ally Bashar Assad is more proof that Iran represents a cancer in the Middle East. The Iranian regime’s goal is to establish its hegemony over the regime via its Syrian and Hezbollah allies. As much as we might wish it otherwise, there is nothing reasonable about this quest, nor is it remotely likely that the “strong forces” the Times imagines pulling the two sides to a deal will persuade Iran’s leaders to negotiate in good faith. But to those who wish to avoid conflict with Iran at any price, any justification—including blaming Israel for the problem—will do.

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Rouhani’s Cabinet Isn’t “Moderate” Either

When new leaders want to appear moderate in the Middle East, there are generally three ways to do so: table the hate speech, surround themselves with a balanced cabinet, and show a history of restraint on matters of interstate violence. (Note: These rules do not apply if you are Benjamin Netanyahu, who has followed them carefully and is still described in more extreme terms than his Palestinian counterpart by the media.)

So it remains a mystery why the Western press thinks anyone will fall for the idea that new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a moderate. As Jonathan has noted, Rouhani has not tabled the hate speech, even since his election. As Sohrab Ahmari pointed out, Rouhani spent part of the 1990s on a government committee that oversaw the assassination of enemies of the state, so he cannot pretend he has a history of peaceful conduct. And now he has put quite the cabinet together, the latest controversial addition to which has a fairly notorious incident on his resume.

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When new leaders want to appear moderate in the Middle East, there are generally three ways to do so: table the hate speech, surround themselves with a balanced cabinet, and show a history of restraint on matters of interstate violence. (Note: These rules do not apply if you are Benjamin Netanyahu, who has followed them carefully and is still described in more extreme terms than his Palestinian counterpart by the media.)

So it remains a mystery why the Western press thinks anyone will fall for the idea that new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a moderate. As Jonathan has noted, Rouhani has not tabled the hate speech, even since his election. As Sohrab Ahmari pointed out, Rouhani spent part of the 1990s on a government committee that oversaw the assassination of enemies of the state, so he cannot pretend he has a history of peaceful conduct. And now he has put quite the cabinet together, the latest controversial addition to which has a fairly notorious incident on his resume.

The Washington Free Beacon reports that Rouhani has selected Hossein Dehghan as his defense minister. Dehghan “was implicated in the 1983 bombing that killed 241 American servicemen in Lebanon, according to an Israeli intelligence official.” That official is retired IDF Brig. Gen. Shimon Shapira, who is now with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Over the weekend, Shapira explained the background:

After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982, Dehghan was sent to Lebanon. He served as commander of the training corps of the Revolutionary Guard, first in Syria and soon after in Lebanon. This role made him responsible for building up the military force of Hizbullah, which also was established at that time. After most of the Revolutionary Guard force returned from Lebanon to Iran, and the force’s commander, Ahmad Motevasselian, was kidnapped along with three other Iranians in the summer of 1982 by the Christian militia – the Lebanese Forces, Ahmad Kanani was appointed commander of the Revolutionary Guard force in Lebanon.

About a year later Hossein Dehghan replaced Kanani in that position. One of his first goals was to set up a central command for the Iranian force, which at that time was scattered among small towns and villages in the Baalbek region. At the beginning of September 1983, Hizbullah, with the help of the Revolutionary Guard headed by Dehghan, took over the Sheikh Abdullah barracks, which was seized in the course of a procession led by three Hizbullah sheikhs: Abbas Mussawi, Subhi Tufayli, and Muhammad Yazbek. It had been the main base of the Lebanese army in the Beqaa Valley and now became the Imam Ali barracks, the main headquarters of the Revolutionary Guard.

It was from this headquarters that Iran controlled Hizbullah’s military force and planned, along with Hizbullah, the terror attacks on the Beirut-based Multinational Force and against IDF forces in Lebanon. The attacks were carried out by the Islamic Jihad organization, headed by Imad Mughniyeh, which was actually a special operational arm that acted under the joint direction of Tehran and Hizbullah until it was dismantled in 1992.

That does not appear to be an exception to the rest of the cabinet. As Ali Alfoneh of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies explains, in selecting his cabinet Rouhani hasn’t exactly emboldened the reformers:

Rouhani chose his cabinet nominees under pressure, but not from the quarter the Kayhan editor warned against. Rather than reflecting the wishes of the Green Movement, Khatami-era reformists or Rafsanjani’s network, some of the new president’s nominees were imposed upon him by even more powerful quarters:  Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani (Judiciary head), Ali Larijani (Speaker of the Majles) and the former’s brother, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Ali Teyyebnia, economy and finance minister, is a selection of the Supreme Leader, and so was Mahmoud Alavi, Iran’s new intelligence minister. Hassan Qazizadeh Hashemi, Rouhani’s health minister, and Abd al-Reza Rahmani Fazli, the next interior minister, were imposed by the Larijani brothers. Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, justice minister, is a selection of Sadeq Larijani, but also the Supreme Leader. Hossein Dehqan, defense minister, is the IRGC’s man in the cabinet, and Ja’far Mili Monfared, science minister, is believed to be closer to the Larijanis than to the reformist camp.

Now, it can be argued that Rouhani can’t really prove his moderate credentials without full control of his appointments. After all, the point Alfoneh is making is that Rouhani’s most important deputies were preselected. And further, the subtext of Alfoneh’s post is that Rouhani would never be viewed as being in charge of his appointments no matter who he picks. If he appointed reformists, he would be viewed as being the puppet of the reformists. Instead, his cabinet is a reformist’s nightmare–but no one believes he acted independently.

But that is really the point that Rouhani’s skeptics have been making from the beginning. The “give Rouhani a chance” chorus tried to argue that the doubters were being ungenerous in reading the election of the more moderate candidate as a farce set up by Khamenei and his fellow backseat drivers. Now that Rouhani’s cabinet is conforming to the expectations of his Western critics, expect his boosters in the press to begin making a version of the very same argument about a powerless stooge and a meaningless election.

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How Moderate Are Iran’s Missiles?

Complacence about Iran’s nuclear program is based on three assumptions that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. All of them are, at best, questionable and are embraced by some in the foreign policy establishment and the left largely because to believe in them absolves one of any obligation to act to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear ambition. They are: that Iran is either not really building a nuke or that it can be talked or bargained out of it; that even if Iran gets nukes it would never use them; and lastly that even if Iran had nukes, they couldn’t effectively deliver one to a target, whether in Israel, a moderate Arab nation, or somewhere in the West.

The growing stockpile of evidence of nuclear weapons-grade uranium and work on military uses of nuclear power such as triggers make the first assumption ridiculous, as does the more than a decade of failed negotiations that illustrated that Iran only views talks as a method to gain time and to deceive the West. The brutal nature of the regime, its willingness to fund terrorism, and the fanatical theocratic views of its leaders, at the very least, cast doubt on the second assumption.

As for the third argument, that was actually the strongest argument in favor of complacence, but a report published by the Times of Israel now makes that assumption seem like a bad bet:

Western intelligence analysts say a new missile launching facility in Iran will likely be used for testing ballistic missiles, not for launching satellites into space as claimed by the Iranians.

The IHS Jane’s Military and Security Assessments Intelligence Centre published a photo taken last month of the newly discovered site, which is located 25 miles south east of the city of Shahrud in northern Iran.

Analysts at the Centre said the unfinished site has no storage for the liquid rocket fuel used in Iran’s domestic satellite program, suggesting it is built for ballistic missiles using solid fuel.

Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute who has written about the Iranian missile program, told The Telegraph: “We often talk about Iran’s nuclear program, but what really spooks countries in the region is the ballistic missiles that could act as a delivery system.

Like the claims that their nuclear program’s purpose is for power production (in an oil rich country?) or medical research, the notion that Iran is building missiles for space was always laughable. But there is nothing funny about the prospect of a nation that is getting closer every day to nuclear weapons capability being able to build a ballistic missile that could, at least in theory, reach Europe or even the United States. While worries about Iranian missiles are not new, this latest report should put any decision to invest another year in fruitless diplomacy with Iran because of the election of a supposed moderate as president in perspective.

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Complacence about Iran’s nuclear program is based on three assumptions that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. All of them are, at best, questionable and are embraced by some in the foreign policy establishment and the left largely because to believe in them absolves one of any obligation to act to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear ambition. They are: that Iran is either not really building a nuke or that it can be talked or bargained out of it; that even if Iran gets nukes it would never use them; and lastly that even if Iran had nukes, they couldn’t effectively deliver one to a target, whether in Israel, a moderate Arab nation, or somewhere in the West.

The growing stockpile of evidence of nuclear weapons-grade uranium and work on military uses of nuclear power such as triggers make the first assumption ridiculous, as does the more than a decade of failed negotiations that illustrated that Iran only views talks as a method to gain time and to deceive the West. The brutal nature of the regime, its willingness to fund terrorism, and the fanatical theocratic views of its leaders, at the very least, cast doubt on the second assumption.

As for the third argument, that was actually the strongest argument in favor of complacence, but a report published by the Times of Israel now makes that assumption seem like a bad bet:

Western intelligence analysts say a new missile launching facility in Iran will likely be used for testing ballistic missiles, not for launching satellites into space as claimed by the Iranians.

The IHS Jane’s Military and Security Assessments Intelligence Centre published a photo taken last month of the newly discovered site, which is located 25 miles south east of the city of Shahrud in northern Iran.

Analysts at the Centre said the unfinished site has no storage for the liquid rocket fuel used in Iran’s domestic satellite program, suggesting it is built for ballistic missiles using solid fuel.

Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute who has written about the Iranian missile program, told The Telegraph: “We often talk about Iran’s nuclear program, but what really spooks countries in the region is the ballistic missiles that could act as a delivery system.

Like the claims that their nuclear program’s purpose is for power production (in an oil rich country?) or medical research, the notion that Iran is building missiles for space was always laughable. But there is nothing funny about the prospect of a nation that is getting closer every day to nuclear weapons capability being able to build a ballistic missile that could, at least in theory, reach Europe or even the United States. While worries about Iranian missiles are not new, this latest report should put any decision to invest another year in fruitless diplomacy with Iran because of the election of a supposed moderate as president in perspective.

The report about the missile notes that in the past the United States has worried that Iran could be able to test a ballistic missile by the end of 2015. That hasn’t been a priority for Western intelligence up until this point. But once Iran has weapons capability—and they may well have accumulated more than enough enriched uranium to that purpose long before that moment—the question of Iran’s delivery capacity will become paramount.

Right now, the world is focused on new President Hassan Rouhani and the Obama administration seems determined to give him a chance to prove his alleged moderation by giving diplomacy another try. Rouhani’s personal role in using talks as a delaying tactic is a matter of record. But the latest news about Iran’s military research illustrates the fact that the costs of months or even years of delay before the United States decides that it must act could be considerable.

A nuclear weapon would not make Iran a superpower or anything like it. But a nuclear Iran with missiles that can reach not just regional targets but those on other continents changes the equation of this problem. Though Israel is the understandable focus of much of the concerns about Iranian weapons, the development of sophisticated weapons should serve as reminder to Americans that their security is as much at stake in this standoff as that of the Jewish state. The idea of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei possessing both missiles and potential nuclear weapons ought to scare the daylights out of all Americans. It should also help dispel the illusions fostered by the false assumptions that buttress the complacence that so many in Washington exhibit on this issue. 

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