Commentary Magazine


Topic: Howard Berman

Round Two: Jerusalem Is Not a Settlement

Never let it be said that Obama has learned from past errors. He is not a man to divert course based on mere experience. No sir. His standoff with Israel earlier this year led to a war of words, strained relations with American Jewish groups, and a fraying of the U.S.-Israel relationship? Oh, well. Let’s try that again!

It does seem like deja vu all over again. This report bears an eerie resemblance to those from March of this year:

The US State Department on Tuesday responded immediately to claims made in a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office that east Jerusalem construction had no bearing on the peace process.

“There clearly is a link in the sense that it is incumbent upon both parties … they are responsible for creating conditions for a successful negotiation,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

“To suggest that this kind of announcement would not have an impact on the Palestinian side I think is incorrect.”

The back-and-forth of statements between the Obama administration and the Prime Minister’s Office was over Israeli plans to advance 1,345 housing units in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.

For his part, Bibi was having none of the same old, same old from Obama:

Netanyahu, in turn, sharply defended Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem, which it claims as its eternal united capital, even as the Palestinians claim the eastern party of the city as the capital of their future state.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the government had never agreed to place any restrictions on construction in Jerusalem, which has 800,000 residents.

So now we have a test of sorts — for pro-Israel congressmen of both parties, for Jewish groups, and for the administration. The last time around, Democratic congressmen and pro-Israel groups gave Obama a wide berth to go after the Israeli government. But the world has changed since then — and Obama is no longer in a commanding position domestically. So Chuck Schumer, Howard Berman, et al. — what say you? Now’s the time to dispel the image that you place partisan toadying above principled defense of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Never let it be said that Obama has learned from past errors. He is not a man to divert course based on mere experience. No sir. His standoff with Israel earlier this year led to a war of words, strained relations with American Jewish groups, and a fraying of the U.S.-Israel relationship? Oh, well. Let’s try that again!

It does seem like deja vu all over again. This report bears an eerie resemblance to those from March of this year:

The US State Department on Tuesday responded immediately to claims made in a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office that east Jerusalem construction had no bearing on the peace process.

“There clearly is a link in the sense that it is incumbent upon both parties … they are responsible for creating conditions for a successful negotiation,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

“To suggest that this kind of announcement would not have an impact on the Palestinian side I think is incorrect.”

The back-and-forth of statements between the Obama administration and the Prime Minister’s Office was over Israeli plans to advance 1,345 housing units in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.

For his part, Bibi was having none of the same old, same old from Obama:

Netanyahu, in turn, sharply defended Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem, which it claims as its eternal united capital, even as the Palestinians claim the eastern party of the city as the capital of their future state.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the government had never agreed to place any restrictions on construction in Jerusalem, which has 800,000 residents.

So now we have a test of sorts — for pro-Israel congressmen of both parties, for Jewish groups, and for the administration. The last time around, Democratic congressmen and pro-Israel groups gave Obama a wide berth to go after the Israeli government. But the world has changed since then — and Obama is no longer in a commanding position domestically. So Chuck Schumer, Howard Berman, et al. — what say you? Now’s the time to dispel the image that you place partisan toadying above principled defense of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

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Israel, Iran, and Senate Races

To his credit, Ron Kampeas reverses course and supports Mark Kirk’s push-back against the assertions made by Democratic surrogates that Kirk had nothing to do with the sanctions bill. It seems as though other reports had the goods:

Let me revise my assessment Monday of the smackdown between Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), running for Illinois’ open U.S. Senate seat, is not a win for Kirk on points — it’s a knockout, for Kirk.

Folks intimately involved in preparing Kirk’s  bill sanctioning Iran’s energy sector have contacted me (and not Republicans) — and they say it indeed provided the template for Berman’s original sanctions bill. Berman says Kirk’s claims that he framed the bill are wrong, and that Kirk had nothing to do with the bill.

He continues that “I gather some of the same folks reached out to Foreign Policy The Cable’s Josh Rogin, and he had the more thorough version up first” — which actually cited JTA’s own reporting. Kudos for reversing field, but perhaps next time Kampeas can reach out to the out-reachers to confirm the facts before he writes his column.

Kampeas might consider a walk-back on his assessment of Joe Sestak as well. Kampeas thinks the newest ECI ad is too tough, asserting: “Sestak is a consistent yes vote on pro-Israel legislation so ‘record of hostility’ would seem to overstate it, even for a partisan release.” It’s really not. In fact, when Sestak asserted that he had a 100 percent pro-AIPAC voting record, Jewish officials struck back hard. A Jewish official reached out to Ben Smith on that one:

“There are serious concerns about Joe Sestak’s record related to Israel throughout the pro-Israel community,” said an official with a major pro-Israel organization in Washington. “Not only has he said that Chuck Hagel is the Senator he admires most, which is unusual enough, but when comes to actual decisions that have affected Israel and our relationship with them, he has gone the wrong way several times. It’s the height of chutzpah for him to suggest he has a good record, let alone a 100 percent one, on these issues.”

Are the ECI and RJC ads tough? Yes. Do they accurately depict Sestak and reflect deep concern regarding his record by pro-Israel activists, including many Democrats? Absolutely.

To his credit, Ron Kampeas reverses course and supports Mark Kirk’s push-back against the assertions made by Democratic surrogates that Kirk had nothing to do with the sanctions bill. It seems as though other reports had the goods:

Let me revise my assessment Monday of the smackdown between Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), running for Illinois’ open U.S. Senate seat, is not a win for Kirk on points — it’s a knockout, for Kirk.

Folks intimately involved in preparing Kirk’s  bill sanctioning Iran’s energy sector have contacted me (and not Republicans) — and they say it indeed provided the template for Berman’s original sanctions bill. Berman says Kirk’s claims that he framed the bill are wrong, and that Kirk had nothing to do with the bill.

He continues that “I gather some of the same folks reached out to Foreign Policy The Cable’s Josh Rogin, and he had the more thorough version up first” — which actually cited JTA’s own reporting. Kudos for reversing field, but perhaps next time Kampeas can reach out to the out-reachers to confirm the facts before he writes his column.

Kampeas might consider a walk-back on his assessment of Joe Sestak as well. Kampeas thinks the newest ECI ad is too tough, asserting: “Sestak is a consistent yes vote on pro-Israel legislation so ‘record of hostility’ would seem to overstate it, even for a partisan release.” It’s really not. In fact, when Sestak asserted that he had a 100 percent pro-AIPAC voting record, Jewish officials struck back hard. A Jewish official reached out to Ben Smith on that one:

“There are serious concerns about Joe Sestak’s record related to Israel throughout the pro-Israel community,” said an official with a major pro-Israel organization in Washington. “Not only has he said that Chuck Hagel is the Senator he admires most, which is unusual enough, but when comes to actual decisions that have affected Israel and our relationship with them, he has gone the wrong way several times. It’s the height of chutzpah for him to suggest he has a good record, let alone a 100 percent one, on these issues.”

Are the ECI and RJC ads tough? Yes. Do they accurately depict Sestak and reflect deep concern regarding his record by pro-Israel activists, including many Democrats? Absolutely.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Stu Rothenberg doesn’t think much of the Dems’ Chamber of Commerce gambit: “This is what we call the political version of ‘jumping the shark’ — a desperate-looking charge that a campaign or a party hopes could be a game-changer. It’s pretty early for Democrats to jump the shark, and you have to wonder whether this is really the best shot they have in their arsenal. Yes, it might get some folks agitated, but not many. And it reeks of desperation.”

Voters don’t think much of it either: “Election Day is just two weeks away, and Republican candidates hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, October 17, 2010. … Even more worrisome for Democrats, however, is the finding that among the voters who are most closely following the midterm elections Republicans hold a 55% to 36% lead.”

CNN voters don’t think much of the Parker-Spitzer show, and Vic Matus thinks even less of Spitzer’s likening himself to Icarus: “Putz. He doesn’t even know the quotation. …It ends, ‘… they first make mad.’ As in insane. Which is precisely the case with Spitzer. … Sorry. I knew Icarus—Icarus was a friend of mine. Eliot Spitzer is no Icarus.”

Charles Lane doesn’t think much of Democrats’ excessive dependence on public-employee unions. “But in an era of increasing discontent over taxes, government spending and the perks of government employees, these are not necessarily the allies you want to have. A party that depends on the public employees to get elected will have trouble reaching out to the wider electorate — i.e., the people who pay the taxes that support public employee salaries and pensions. In politics, you never want to find yourself beholden to a minority whose core interests often clash with the interests of voters.”

Josh Rogin doesn’t think much of Jon Stewart’s claim that Sen. Tom Coburn is holding up aid to Haiti. “The problem is that Coburn’s hold is not responsible for delaying the $1.15 billion Congress already appropriated in late July to help Haiti. … Even the State Department acknowledges that Coburn is not responsible for the delay in this tranche of funds for Haiti.”

ABC doesn’t think much of Dems’ chances of holding the House majority: “In the House, many key House races have seen some tightening, but it’s not enough to make Democrats feel all that much better. Democrats have 63 seats in serious danger compared to just four for Republicans.”

Anyone who lives in the VA-11 (like me!) doesn’t think much of Marc Ambinder’s spin that Rep. Gerry Connolly “knows this district inside and out.” If he did, he would have maintained a moderate voting record like his predecessor Tom Davis, instead of rubber-stamping the Obama agenda and putting his seat at risk.

The liberal JTA doesn’t think much of Howard Berman’s claim that Mark Kirk didn’t have anything to do with the Iran-sanctions bill: “Kirk gets this one, I think, on points — as the Sun Times notes, Berman thanked [co-sponsor Rep. Rob] Andrews for his work, a hint that the bill he and Kirk shaped played a role in the final bill. So did AIPAC when the bill passed. And, the sanctions are pretty much identical.”

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee doesn’t think much of its party’s chances in at least five races. A fundraising appeal, Ben Smith explains, “seems to concede what many on both sides now see as nearly done: Five open GOP-held seats, in Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida, and Kansas, have slipped pretty near out of reach.”

Stu Rothenberg doesn’t think much of the Dems’ Chamber of Commerce gambit: “This is what we call the political version of ‘jumping the shark’ — a desperate-looking charge that a campaign or a party hopes could be a game-changer. It’s pretty early for Democrats to jump the shark, and you have to wonder whether this is really the best shot they have in their arsenal. Yes, it might get some folks agitated, but not many. And it reeks of desperation.”

Voters don’t think much of it either: “Election Day is just two weeks away, and Republican candidates hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, October 17, 2010. … Even more worrisome for Democrats, however, is the finding that among the voters who are most closely following the midterm elections Republicans hold a 55% to 36% lead.”

CNN voters don’t think much of the Parker-Spitzer show, and Vic Matus thinks even less of Spitzer’s likening himself to Icarus: “Putz. He doesn’t even know the quotation. …It ends, ‘… they first make mad.’ As in insane. Which is precisely the case with Spitzer. … Sorry. I knew Icarus—Icarus was a friend of mine. Eliot Spitzer is no Icarus.”

Charles Lane doesn’t think much of Democrats’ excessive dependence on public-employee unions. “But in an era of increasing discontent over taxes, government spending and the perks of government employees, these are not necessarily the allies you want to have. A party that depends on the public employees to get elected will have trouble reaching out to the wider electorate — i.e., the people who pay the taxes that support public employee salaries and pensions. In politics, you never want to find yourself beholden to a minority whose core interests often clash with the interests of voters.”

Josh Rogin doesn’t think much of Jon Stewart’s claim that Sen. Tom Coburn is holding up aid to Haiti. “The problem is that Coburn’s hold is not responsible for delaying the $1.15 billion Congress already appropriated in late July to help Haiti. … Even the State Department acknowledges that Coburn is not responsible for the delay in this tranche of funds for Haiti.”

ABC doesn’t think much of Dems’ chances of holding the House majority: “In the House, many key House races have seen some tightening, but it’s not enough to make Democrats feel all that much better. Democrats have 63 seats in serious danger compared to just four for Republicans.”

Anyone who lives in the VA-11 (like me!) doesn’t think much of Marc Ambinder’s spin that Rep. Gerry Connolly “knows this district inside and out.” If he did, he would have maintained a moderate voting record like his predecessor Tom Davis, instead of rubber-stamping the Obama agenda and putting his seat at risk.

The liberal JTA doesn’t think much of Howard Berman’s claim that Mark Kirk didn’t have anything to do with the Iran-sanctions bill: “Kirk gets this one, I think, on points — as the Sun Times notes, Berman thanked [co-sponsor Rep. Rob] Andrews for his work, a hint that the bill he and Kirk shaped played a role in the final bill. So did AIPAC when the bill passed. And, the sanctions are pretty much identical.”

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee doesn’t think much of its party’s chances in at least five races. A fundraising appeal, Ben Smith explains, “seems to concede what many on both sides now see as nearly done: Five open GOP-held seats, in Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida, and Kansas, have slipped pretty near out of reach.”

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Not Charming, Are They?

For those who imagine that the Obama team is finally “getting it” with regard to the Middle East or that it has taken to heart the complaints of Jewish supporters, it will be a surprise when the president and his crack diplomatic crew repeat precisely the same error and employ the identical tactics that have been their modus operandi for nearly two years.

Israel resumes building in its capital, in a “Jewish neighborhood.” (The term is objectionable, of course, because it implies Jews can’t live where they please.) This is not some remote “settlement.” This is the sort of building in Jerusalem that has gone on under multiple prime ministers. But the Obami are frustrated and embarrassed, so they double down, reiterating their insistence that Israel cough up more concessions (a building freeze) while the Palestinians freely announce they won’t be recognizing a “Jewish state.” This report explains:

“We were disappointed by the announcement of new tenders in east Jerusalem yesterday. It is contrary to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley to assembled reporters at a weekly briefing.

However, Israel has already announced it won’t be reimposing a settlement freeze, certainly not in Jerusalem. The Obami are mute on whether the walk-out by Abbas is “contrary to [their] efforts” as well.

Now no nation can be less peeved than the U.S., so Jordan chirps up:

Jordan’s State Minister for Media Affairs and Communications Ali Ayed issued a statement condemning building plans, and calling on the international community to “stop Israeli provocations” and do whatever possible to resume and see through successful negotiations.

But things have changed here in the U.S. since the Obama team “condemned” such building last March. Obama now is politically toxic, the American Jewish community has had it with the bully-boy-ism, and liberal elected officials have discovered that there really is no there there on J Street (i.e., no alternative pro-Israel faction — other than Soros and the Hong Kong mystery gal — that approves of Obama’s approach).

Don’t take my word for it. A J Street endorsee and liberal Democrat Gary Ackerman blasts away in a statement:

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It is not a settlement. As such, the resumption of construction in Jerusalem is not a justification for a crisis, a showdown, a meltdown or even a hissy fit. Ramot and Pisgat Zeev are going to be part of Israel in any conceivable final status deal and to pretend otherwise is pointless.

As I have said, those who earlier complained about the inadequacy of Israel’s unilateral and uncompensated settlement freeze, who chose to waste those ten months instead of diving aggressively into direct talks on peace, cannot reasonably now turn around and complain that the end of the freeze and the resumption of Israeli construction in Jerusalem—Israel’s capital, and the singular geographic center of the hopes and aspirations of the Jewish people for three millennia—is either a shock or an insurmountable obstacle to  peace.

Israeli construction in Jerusalem, in two already well-established neighborhoods is neither a show of bad faith, nor a justification for avoiding negotiations aimed at achieving a final status agreement. The legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians are not going to be achieved by violence and they’re not going to be achieved by the equivalent of holding their breath until their lips turn blue. Direct negotiations are sole pathway to their goal and the sooner they recognize this fact, the better.”

I don’t think Soros is getting his money’s worth from Ackerman. He sounds like he’s echoing the position of the Emergency Committee for Israel.

As belated as Ackerman’s outspokenness may be, it is still welcomed. And it is, I would suggest, the silver lining in the Obama era. There is now the opportunity for Democrats to correct course and demonstrate that their pro-Israel bona fides are just as sound as their Republican colleagues. In the new Congress, perhaps Ackerman and other prominent Democrats (Chuck Schumer, Howard Berman, etc.) will cease carrying water for the Obama administration’s flawed Israel policy. The Congress has the power of the purse, the duty of oversight, and the ability to use resolutions and public statements to push back on the administration. All of that is long overdue. Let’s hope Ackerman’s reaction is the beginning of a trend and not simply pre-election political expediency.

For those who imagine that the Obama team is finally “getting it” with regard to the Middle East or that it has taken to heart the complaints of Jewish supporters, it will be a surprise when the president and his crack diplomatic crew repeat precisely the same error and employ the identical tactics that have been their modus operandi for nearly two years.

Israel resumes building in its capital, in a “Jewish neighborhood.” (The term is objectionable, of course, because it implies Jews can’t live where they please.) This is not some remote “settlement.” This is the sort of building in Jerusalem that has gone on under multiple prime ministers. But the Obami are frustrated and embarrassed, so they double down, reiterating their insistence that Israel cough up more concessions (a building freeze) while the Palestinians freely announce they won’t be recognizing a “Jewish state.” This report explains:

“We were disappointed by the announcement of new tenders in east Jerusalem yesterday. It is contrary to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley to assembled reporters at a weekly briefing.

However, Israel has already announced it won’t be reimposing a settlement freeze, certainly not in Jerusalem. The Obami are mute on whether the walk-out by Abbas is “contrary to [their] efforts” as well.

Now no nation can be less peeved than the U.S., so Jordan chirps up:

Jordan’s State Minister for Media Affairs and Communications Ali Ayed issued a statement condemning building plans, and calling on the international community to “stop Israeli provocations” and do whatever possible to resume and see through successful negotiations.

But things have changed here in the U.S. since the Obama team “condemned” such building last March. Obama now is politically toxic, the American Jewish community has had it with the bully-boy-ism, and liberal elected officials have discovered that there really is no there there on J Street (i.e., no alternative pro-Israel faction — other than Soros and the Hong Kong mystery gal — that approves of Obama’s approach).

Don’t take my word for it. A J Street endorsee and liberal Democrat Gary Ackerman blasts away in a statement:

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It is not a settlement. As such, the resumption of construction in Jerusalem is not a justification for a crisis, a showdown, a meltdown or even a hissy fit. Ramot and Pisgat Zeev are going to be part of Israel in any conceivable final status deal and to pretend otherwise is pointless.

As I have said, those who earlier complained about the inadequacy of Israel’s unilateral and uncompensated settlement freeze, who chose to waste those ten months instead of diving aggressively into direct talks on peace, cannot reasonably now turn around and complain that the end of the freeze and the resumption of Israeli construction in Jerusalem—Israel’s capital, and the singular geographic center of the hopes and aspirations of the Jewish people for three millennia—is either a shock or an insurmountable obstacle to  peace.

Israeli construction in Jerusalem, in two already well-established neighborhoods is neither a show of bad faith, nor a justification for avoiding negotiations aimed at achieving a final status agreement. The legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians are not going to be achieved by violence and they’re not going to be achieved by the equivalent of holding their breath until their lips turn blue. Direct negotiations are sole pathway to their goal and the sooner they recognize this fact, the better.”

I don’t think Soros is getting his money’s worth from Ackerman. He sounds like he’s echoing the position of the Emergency Committee for Israel.

As belated as Ackerman’s outspokenness may be, it is still welcomed. And it is, I would suggest, the silver lining in the Obama era. There is now the opportunity for Democrats to correct course and demonstrate that their pro-Israel bona fides are just as sound as their Republican colleagues. In the new Congress, perhaps Ackerman and other prominent Democrats (Chuck Schumer, Howard Berman, etc.) will cease carrying water for the Obama administration’s flawed Israel policy. The Congress has the power of the purse, the duty of oversight, and the ability to use resolutions and public statements to push back on the administration. All of that is long overdue. Let’s hope Ackerman’s reaction is the beginning of a trend and not simply pre-election political expediency.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not going to happen: “Specifically, the smartest thing Obama could do in replacing outgoing Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel would be to pick an outsider who can address some of the obvious weaknesses his administration has. … It is critically important that Emanuel’s replacement have strong ties to the business community, a history of good relations with both parties in Congress, and the independence and integrity to be able to tell the president ‘no’ when he is wrong.”

Not going to be a good Election Day for Virginia Democrats. Three of the  four at-risk House Democrats trail GOP challengers, two by double digits. The fourth Republican trails narrowly.

Not close: “Republican Marco Rubio continues to hold an 11-point lead over independent candidate Charlie Crist in Florida’s race for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Florida finds Rubio with 41% support, while Crist, the state’s current governor, picks up 30% of the vote. Democrat Kendrick Meek comes in third with 21%.”

Not even handpicked audiences like him. In Iowa: “Holding the latest in a series of backyard meetings with middle-class voters, Obama heard one small businessman’s fears that his tax plans could ‘strangle’ job creation. The president also fielded concerns about high unemployment and the impact of his healthcare overhaul. It was a marked contrast to the enthusiastic university crowd that greeted Obama on Tuesday in Wisconsin when he sought to fire up his youthful base of support, and showed the obstacles his Democratic Party faces in the Nov. 2 elections.”

Not only Sen. Joe Lieberman is calling for Obama to get tough on Iran: “Barack Obama’s policy to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability is under pressure from members of Congress, who argue that Washington should make clear it will consider military action unless sanctions yield swift results. … Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, said recently the administration had ‘months, not years’ to make sanctions work. He added that military action was preferable to accepting an Iran with nuclear weapons capability.”

Not encouraging: “One of the most remarkable aspects of Bob Woodward’s new book, ‘Obama’s Wars,’ is its portrait of a White House that has all but resigned itself to failure in Afghanistan.” In fact, it is reprehensible for the commander in chief to order young Americans into war without confidence and commitment in their mission.

Not a fan. David Brooks on Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski: “I can’t imagine what Murkowski is thinking. The lady must have too many admiring conversations with the mirrors in her house.” Ouch.

Not a vote of confidence from one of Soros Street’s more sympathetic observers: “Will J Street even be around in its current form in coming days, now that it is enveloped in a scandal (more of a cover-up than a crime, in the traditional Washington style)?”

Not going to happen: “Specifically, the smartest thing Obama could do in replacing outgoing Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel would be to pick an outsider who can address some of the obvious weaknesses his administration has. … It is critically important that Emanuel’s replacement have strong ties to the business community, a history of good relations with both parties in Congress, and the independence and integrity to be able to tell the president ‘no’ when he is wrong.”

Not going to be a good Election Day for Virginia Democrats. Three of the  four at-risk House Democrats trail GOP challengers, two by double digits. The fourth Republican trails narrowly.

Not close: “Republican Marco Rubio continues to hold an 11-point lead over independent candidate Charlie Crist in Florida’s race for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Florida finds Rubio with 41% support, while Crist, the state’s current governor, picks up 30% of the vote. Democrat Kendrick Meek comes in third with 21%.”

Not even handpicked audiences like him. In Iowa: “Holding the latest in a series of backyard meetings with middle-class voters, Obama heard one small businessman’s fears that his tax plans could ‘strangle’ job creation. The president also fielded concerns about high unemployment and the impact of his healthcare overhaul. It was a marked contrast to the enthusiastic university crowd that greeted Obama on Tuesday in Wisconsin when he sought to fire up his youthful base of support, and showed the obstacles his Democratic Party faces in the Nov. 2 elections.”

Not only Sen. Joe Lieberman is calling for Obama to get tough on Iran: “Barack Obama’s policy to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability is under pressure from members of Congress, who argue that Washington should make clear it will consider military action unless sanctions yield swift results. … Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, said recently the administration had ‘months, not years’ to make sanctions work. He added that military action was preferable to accepting an Iran with nuclear weapons capability.”

Not encouraging: “One of the most remarkable aspects of Bob Woodward’s new book, ‘Obama’s Wars,’ is its portrait of a White House that has all but resigned itself to failure in Afghanistan.” In fact, it is reprehensible for the commander in chief to order young Americans into war without confidence and commitment in their mission.

Not a fan. David Brooks on Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski: “I can’t imagine what Murkowski is thinking. The lady must have too many admiring conversations with the mirrors in her house.” Ouch.

Not a vote of confidence from one of Soros Street’s more sympathetic observers: “Will J Street even be around in its current form in coming days, now that it is enveloped in a scandal (more of a cover-up than a crime, in the traditional Washington style)?”

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RE: Western Inaction on Lebanon

Kudos to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) — who, as Jonathan noted, used her post as head of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid today to put a hold on $100 million in American assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which was approved for 2010 but not yet disbursed — and to House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), who had applied a hold on the aid even before last Tuesday’s deadly border incident, out of concern about reported Hezbollah influence on the LAF. It’s encouraging that Congress recognizes the dangers, which I had outlined here earlier, of not responding to Lebanon’s naked aggression against Israel last week.

Nevertheless, it’s worrying that the administration clearly doesn’t share this understanding. The 2009 aid that remained in the pipeline is still being handed over as scheduled, because, a State Department official told the Jerusalem Post, the U.S. is still trying to determine the facts of the incident.

Yet on Wednesday, a day after the incident occurred, UNIFIL — an organization not known for its pro-Israel bias — had already confirmed that the Lebanese soldiers fired first, without provocation, and that no Israeli soldiers had strayed into Lebanese territory, contrary to Lebanon’s claim. Moreover, the Lebanese government has vociferously endorsed the attack and, as I noted earlier, even justified it on the grounds that Beirut no longer recognizes the UN-demarcated international border. Are any other facts really necessary to grasp that this is not behavior Washington should be encouraging by making it cost-free?

But it gets even worse. The official also told the Post, “we continue to believe that our support to the LAF and ISF [Internal Security Forces] will contribute toward improving regional security.” How exactly does supporting an army that has just launched an unprovoked, deadly, cross-border attack on a neighbor — and whose government has just announced that it no longer recognizes the international border, thereby implying that more such attacks are likely to follow — “contribute toward improving regional security”?

Continuing the pretense that Lebanon’s government is the West’s ally against Hezbollah won’t make it true. It will merely make it easier for Beirut to launch additional attacks against Israel by sparing it any need to consider the costs.

Kudos to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) — who, as Jonathan noted, used her post as head of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid today to put a hold on $100 million in American assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which was approved for 2010 but not yet disbursed — and to House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), who had applied a hold on the aid even before last Tuesday’s deadly border incident, out of concern about reported Hezbollah influence on the LAF. It’s encouraging that Congress recognizes the dangers, which I had outlined here earlier, of not responding to Lebanon’s naked aggression against Israel last week.

Nevertheless, it’s worrying that the administration clearly doesn’t share this understanding. The 2009 aid that remained in the pipeline is still being handed over as scheduled, because, a State Department official told the Jerusalem Post, the U.S. is still trying to determine the facts of the incident.

Yet on Wednesday, a day after the incident occurred, UNIFIL — an organization not known for its pro-Israel bias — had already confirmed that the Lebanese soldiers fired first, without provocation, and that no Israeli soldiers had strayed into Lebanese territory, contrary to Lebanon’s claim. Moreover, the Lebanese government has vociferously endorsed the attack and, as I noted earlier, even justified it on the grounds that Beirut no longer recognizes the UN-demarcated international border. Are any other facts really necessary to grasp that this is not behavior Washington should be encouraging by making it cost-free?

But it gets even worse. The official also told the Post, “we continue to believe that our support to the LAF and ISF [Internal Security Forces] will contribute toward improving regional security.” How exactly does supporting an army that has just launched an unprovoked, deadly, cross-border attack on a neighbor — and whose government has just announced that it no longer recognizes the international border, thereby implying that more such attacks are likely to follow — “contribute toward improving regional security”?

Continuing the pretense that Lebanon’s government is the West’s ally against Hezbollah won’t make it true. It will merely make it easier for Beirut to launch additional attacks against Israel by sparing it any need to consider the costs.

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What if Sanctions Don’t Work?

The Senate passed its toughest sanctions to date by a 99-0 vote. Sen. Joe Lieberman had praise for the measure:

This bill represents the most powerful and comprehensive package of Iran sanctions ever passed by Congress. I am grateful to the leadership of Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Howard Berman for guiding the development of this complex and critically important legislation, as well as the leadership of Senator Reid and Senator McConnell in ensuring its swift passage by the Senate.

I hope and believe that the House will now act swiftly to pass this vital legislation, and that President Obama will sign it into law. Just as importantly, it is critical that these provisions are forcefully and proactively implemented once they become law.

The measures imposed by this legislation—together with sanctions adopted at the UN and, even more importantly, by like-minded nations around the world—offer our last, best hope of peacefully preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. Time is of the essence.

But Lieberman made clear that sanctions are not an end in themselves. And in contrast to the president’s que sera, sera attitude, Lieberman was emphatic that if the sanctions don’t work (and more about that below), we must use other options, including force:

While we hope that our combined sanctions will change the calculus of the Iranian regime, we must also recognize that every day that passes brings Iran closer to the point of nuclear no return. Ultimately, we must do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability—through peaceful and diplomatic means if we possibly can, but through military force if we absolutely must.

This is precisely what the president and his advisers have refused to say, and indeed have intimated is not in the cards.

But there is another problem. We aren’t likely to know whether sanctions are “working,” and the Iranians are quite likely to exploit the additional time to stave off other measures. How are we to know if work stops on the mullahs’ nuclear programs? And if the Iranians declare that they will return to the bargaining table, what is to prevent them, as they did last year, from practicing the same game of delay as they continue with their plans? The problem, it seems, is not merely the absence of effective tools to force a change in the Iranians’ conduct but also the will and determination to use those tools in a meaningful way.

Obama set the pattern last year — withholding support for the Green movement, muting the reaction to the Qom revelation, and allowing deadline after deadline to pass. From all this the mullahs have learned that very little is required to hold the U.S. at bay and that we are overeager to avoid confrontation. At every turn, they have bested Obama and the “international community” and bought themselves breathing room.

The sanctions, therefore, are not the solution to the Iranian threat. Rather than congratulating the administration for passing sanctions after nearly a year and a half, Congress and pro-Israel groups must make clear that “containment” is not an option and that we will use military force and provide Israel with unconditional support if necessary. “Passed useless sanctions and allowed Iran to go nuclear” is not a result from which the president, lawmakers, or American Jewry will recover. And it is not an outcome Israelis can tolerate.

The Senate passed its toughest sanctions to date by a 99-0 vote. Sen. Joe Lieberman had praise for the measure:

This bill represents the most powerful and comprehensive package of Iran sanctions ever passed by Congress. I am grateful to the leadership of Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Howard Berman for guiding the development of this complex and critically important legislation, as well as the leadership of Senator Reid and Senator McConnell in ensuring its swift passage by the Senate.

I hope and believe that the House will now act swiftly to pass this vital legislation, and that President Obama will sign it into law. Just as importantly, it is critical that these provisions are forcefully and proactively implemented once they become law.

The measures imposed by this legislation—together with sanctions adopted at the UN and, even more importantly, by like-minded nations around the world—offer our last, best hope of peacefully preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. Time is of the essence.

But Lieberman made clear that sanctions are not an end in themselves. And in contrast to the president’s que sera, sera attitude, Lieberman was emphatic that if the sanctions don’t work (and more about that below), we must use other options, including force:

While we hope that our combined sanctions will change the calculus of the Iranian regime, we must also recognize that every day that passes brings Iran closer to the point of nuclear no return. Ultimately, we must do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability—through peaceful and diplomatic means if we possibly can, but through military force if we absolutely must.

This is precisely what the president and his advisers have refused to say, and indeed have intimated is not in the cards.

But there is another problem. We aren’t likely to know whether sanctions are “working,” and the Iranians are quite likely to exploit the additional time to stave off other measures. How are we to know if work stops on the mullahs’ nuclear programs? And if the Iranians declare that they will return to the bargaining table, what is to prevent them, as they did last year, from practicing the same game of delay as they continue with their plans? The problem, it seems, is not merely the absence of effective tools to force a change in the Iranians’ conduct but also the will and determination to use those tools in a meaningful way.

Obama set the pattern last year — withholding support for the Green movement, muting the reaction to the Qom revelation, and allowing deadline after deadline to pass. From all this the mullahs have learned that very little is required to hold the U.S. at bay and that we are overeager to avoid confrontation. At every turn, they have bested Obama and the “international community” and bought themselves breathing room.

The sanctions, therefore, are not the solution to the Iranian threat. Rather than congratulating the administration for passing sanctions after nearly a year and a half, Congress and pro-Israel groups must make clear that “containment” is not an option and that we will use military force and provide Israel with unconditional support if necessary. “Passed useless sanctions and allowed Iran to go nuclear” is not a result from which the president, lawmakers, or American Jewry will recover. And it is not an outcome Israelis can tolerate.

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King’s Resolution — Where Are the Democrats?

Rep. Peter King has introduced his resolution on Israel, the “America Stands With Israel” Act. It is a model of clarity. The resolution begins by stating that there is an “armed conflict” between Hamas and Israel, that Hamas has launched 10,000 rockets into Israel and that it is smuggling in more weapons. It states that Hamas is a terrorist organization funded and directed by Iran “as a proxy to fight Israel.” It affirms that Israel has a right to self-defense and to impose a military blockade. It goes on to recite some information about the flotilla, including the fact that its main organizer was the IHH, which is tied to Hamas and al-Qaeda. It reminds us that Israel has allowed 15,000 tons of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza each day.

The resolution then turns to the UN Human Rights Council, which includes such despotic regimes such as China, Egypt, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. It states that the Council passed a deeply flawed resolution condemning Israel for the flotilla and that it has passed 27 resolutions attacking Israel.

It calls on the administration to withdraw from the Council, to refuse to pay for any UN investigation of Israel, and to oppose any UN investigation of Israel.

Seems pretty straightforward. And yet all 37 co-sponsors at the time of this posting are Republicans. Do Democrats oppose these things? One imagines the Democrats are scrambling for cover. Indeed, a source on Capitol Hill today says that Rep. Howard Berman is working on a watered-down version, which would be far less objectionable to the administration (“softer on the administration, softer on the UN”). One wonders whether Berman is getting some J Street help in that regard. Isn’t that where you turn if you want cover for the administration when it’s doing something antithetical to the interests of Israel?

Rep. Peter King has introduced his resolution on Israel, the “America Stands With Israel” Act. It is a model of clarity. The resolution begins by stating that there is an “armed conflict” between Hamas and Israel, that Hamas has launched 10,000 rockets into Israel and that it is smuggling in more weapons. It states that Hamas is a terrorist organization funded and directed by Iran “as a proxy to fight Israel.” It affirms that Israel has a right to self-defense and to impose a military blockade. It goes on to recite some information about the flotilla, including the fact that its main organizer was the IHH, which is tied to Hamas and al-Qaeda. It reminds us that Israel has allowed 15,000 tons of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza each day.

The resolution then turns to the UN Human Rights Council, which includes such despotic regimes such as China, Egypt, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. It states that the Council passed a deeply flawed resolution condemning Israel for the flotilla and that it has passed 27 resolutions attacking Israel.

It calls on the administration to withdraw from the Council, to refuse to pay for any UN investigation of Israel, and to oppose any UN investigation of Israel.

Seems pretty straightforward. And yet all 37 co-sponsors at the time of this posting are Republicans. Do Democrats oppose these things? One imagines the Democrats are scrambling for cover. Indeed, a source on Capitol Hill today says that Rep. Howard Berman is working on a watered-down version, which would be far less objectionable to the administration (“softer on the administration, softer on the UN”). One wonders whether Berman is getting some J Street help in that regard. Isn’t that where you turn if you want cover for the administration when it’s doing something antithetical to the interests of Israel?

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You Don’t Have to Be a Weatherman . . .

As Jen noted this morning, it’s obvious how the Obama administration “understands” its role on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Last month, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, sent a letter to every member of Congress asserting that the Obama administration’s “sustained engagement” with the UNHRC  had “reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel” and proved that “engagement works.” He described the “hard-fought” victory of keeping Iran off the UNHRC, adding that Iran’s assumption of a seat would have delivered “a fatal blow to the UN’s credibility.”

Having saved the UNHRC from a fatal blow to its credibility, the Obama administration has continued to treat it as if it were a bona fide organization. Yesterday, the UNHRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel and initiate a new Goldstone-type “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned. The key portion of the State Department news conference that Jen cites is the repeated statement by spokesman P.J. Crowley that the U.S. “understands” the action:

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we understand that. One of the reasons why we joined the Human Rights Council was that we hope that over time that it would take a more balanced and appropriate response to urgent situations. … And as our statement indicated, we believe that this particular resolution is a rushed judgment. It risks further politicizing a sensitive and volatile situation. …  But we respect the fact that other countries may have a different view.

QUESTION: So in the 18 months that – or 15, 16 months that you’ve been on the council, have you seen it improve?

MR. CROWLEY: We think our presence on the council is positive and constructive.

QUESTION: And how did that manifest itself in this vote?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there was – I mean, all we can do – we have a vote. (Laughter.) We don’t dictate what the Human Rights Council —

QUESTION: Well, the previous administration didn’t – I mean, didn’t – they basically ignored the whole council because of situations like this.

MR. CROWLEY: And we don’t think ignoring these issues —

QUESTION: So your no vote is enough?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the no vote is what we’re empowered to do as part of the Human Rights Council. We will continue to work – I mean, we’ll engage in the Human Rights Council just as we’re engaging on the margins of the International Criminal Court Review Conference. … But we understand that there’ll be times where our view may carry the day, and there’ll be times where our – other countries have different points of view.

The prior administration would not have joined the UNHRC in the first place; it would have quit after the Goldstone Report demonstrated the Council’s nature beyond dispute; and it would have quit after the Council voted yesterday to do it again. In contrast, the current administration “understands” the vote and will just keep on “engaging” and congratulating itself for its “positive and constructive” contributions.

You don’t have to be a horseman to spot a weak horse.

As Jen noted this morning, it’s obvious how the Obama administration “understands” its role on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Last month, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, sent a letter to every member of Congress asserting that the Obama administration’s “sustained engagement” with the UNHRC  had “reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel” and proved that “engagement works.” He described the “hard-fought” victory of keeping Iran off the UNHRC, adding that Iran’s assumption of a seat would have delivered “a fatal blow to the UN’s credibility.”

Having saved the UNHRC from a fatal blow to its credibility, the Obama administration has continued to treat it as if it were a bona fide organization. Yesterday, the UNHRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel and initiate a new Goldstone-type “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned. The key portion of the State Department news conference that Jen cites is the repeated statement by spokesman P.J. Crowley that the U.S. “understands” the action:

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we understand that. One of the reasons why we joined the Human Rights Council was that we hope that over time that it would take a more balanced and appropriate response to urgent situations. … And as our statement indicated, we believe that this particular resolution is a rushed judgment. It risks further politicizing a sensitive and volatile situation. …  But we respect the fact that other countries may have a different view.

QUESTION: So in the 18 months that – or 15, 16 months that you’ve been on the council, have you seen it improve?

MR. CROWLEY: We think our presence on the council is positive and constructive.

QUESTION: And how did that manifest itself in this vote?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there was – I mean, all we can do – we have a vote. (Laughter.) We don’t dictate what the Human Rights Council —

QUESTION: Well, the previous administration didn’t – I mean, didn’t – they basically ignored the whole council because of situations like this.

MR. CROWLEY: And we don’t think ignoring these issues —

QUESTION: So your no vote is enough?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the no vote is what we’re empowered to do as part of the Human Rights Council. We will continue to work – I mean, we’ll engage in the Human Rights Council just as we’re engaging on the margins of the International Criminal Court Review Conference. … But we understand that there’ll be times where our view may carry the day, and there’ll be times where our – other countries have different points of view.

The prior administration would not have joined the UNHRC in the first place; it would have quit after the Goldstone Report demonstrated the Council’s nature beyond dispute; and it would have quit after the Council voted yesterday to do it again. In contrast, the current administration “understands” the vote and will just keep on “engaging” and congratulating itself for its “positive and constructive” contributions.

You don’t have to be a horseman to spot a weak horse.

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Obama Slows Sanctions Bill

You knew this was coming:

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Ca.), the co-chairs of the Iran sanctions conference committee, have agreed to slow down Congressional Iran sanctions until the end of June, given the progress the Obama administration has shown getting consensus from all the permanent members for a new United Nations Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran.

Despite the carve-outs and the thin gruel in the UN sanctions resolution, the two self-described friends of Israel are just delighted with the result:

Dodd and Berman added: “With the progress in negotiations at the Security Council, we believe that our overriding goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is best served by providing a limited amount of time for those efforts — and expected follow-on action by the EU at its mid-June summit — to reach a successful conclusion before we send our bill to the President.”

AIPAC has applauded the slowdown. Maybe they all know something the rest of us don’t; maybe there’s some other sanctions proposal floating around the UN, because this sure doesn’t sound like anything we’ve seen already:

AIPAC also calls for quick U.N. Security Council passage of tough sanctions, and calls on our government and our European allies — individually and collectively thru the European Union — to press ahead urgently and immediately with complementary and crippling sanctions to stop Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability before it is too late.

But the UN sanctions aren’t tough, and the sanctions under consideration in the U.S. Congress need carve-outs for China and Russia, the Obama team argues. So where are we heading? And why is AIPAC cheering?

There are two possibilities. One is that there’s a game plan for super-duper EU sanctions and a commitment by the administration to use force to stop Iran from going nuclear if that fails. Doesn’t sound like what we’ve been hearing for a year and a half, but we can hope. The other is that this is another dangerous stall and a slow walk to containment, and the Obama team has successfully snowed Congress and pro-Israel groups into playing along with the charade. I sure hope I’m wrong about which it is.

You knew this was coming:

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Ca.), the co-chairs of the Iran sanctions conference committee, have agreed to slow down Congressional Iran sanctions until the end of June, given the progress the Obama administration has shown getting consensus from all the permanent members for a new United Nations Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran.

Despite the carve-outs and the thin gruel in the UN sanctions resolution, the two self-described friends of Israel are just delighted with the result:

Dodd and Berman added: “With the progress in negotiations at the Security Council, we believe that our overriding goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is best served by providing a limited amount of time for those efforts — and expected follow-on action by the EU at its mid-June summit — to reach a successful conclusion before we send our bill to the President.”

AIPAC has applauded the slowdown. Maybe they all know something the rest of us don’t; maybe there’s some other sanctions proposal floating around the UN, because this sure doesn’t sound like anything we’ve seen already:

AIPAC also calls for quick U.N. Security Council passage of tough sanctions, and calls on our government and our European allies — individually and collectively thru the European Union — to press ahead urgently and immediately with complementary and crippling sanctions to stop Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability before it is too late.

But the UN sanctions aren’t tough, and the sanctions under consideration in the U.S. Congress need carve-outs for China and Russia, the Obama team argues. So where are we heading? And why is AIPAC cheering?

There are two possibilities. One is that there’s a game plan for super-duper EU sanctions and a commitment by the administration to use force to stop Iran from going nuclear if that fails. Doesn’t sound like what we’ve been hearing for a year and a half, but we can hope. The other is that this is another dangerous stall and a slow walk to containment, and the Obama team has successfully snowed Congress and pro-Israel groups into playing along with the charade. I sure hope I’m wrong about which it is.

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Too Busy to Enforce Sanctions

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered revealing remarks yesterday during the first meeting of the Iran sanctions conference committee.

Berman noted that there have been five UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and end its nuclear-weapons-related programs; that Iran has continued its march toward nuclear weapons and may already have enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb; and that “it remains to be seen when and whether a [UN] resolution will emerge.”

Then he gave a description of enforcement by the U.S. of prior sanctions legislation, indicating that it has had no effect whatsoever:

And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton’s determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports – and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website – have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran’s energy sector of sanctionable levels.

Berman argues that the pending bill needs to require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, determine whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, “if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.” But Berman knows that the Obama administration opposes even that:

I know the Administration officials don’t want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don’t want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don’t want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns.

Workload concerns.

Perhaps the administration could free up some people now reviewing housing permits in Jerusalem to work on this.

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered revealing remarks yesterday during the first meeting of the Iran sanctions conference committee.

Berman noted that there have been five UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and end its nuclear-weapons-related programs; that Iran has continued its march toward nuclear weapons and may already have enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb; and that “it remains to be seen when and whether a [UN] resolution will emerge.”

Then he gave a description of enforcement by the U.S. of prior sanctions legislation, indicating that it has had no effect whatsoever:

And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton’s determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports – and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website – have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran’s energy sector of sanctionable levels.

Berman argues that the pending bill needs to require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, determine whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, “if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.” But Berman knows that the Obama administration opposes even that:

I know the Administration officials don’t want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don’t want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don’t want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns.

Workload concerns.

Perhaps the administration could free up some people now reviewing housing permits in Jerusalem to work on this.

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Finally Moving on a Sanctions Bill?

Ben Smith reports:

A source notes that the House Foreign Affairs Committee is, according to the Congressional Record, selecting conferees for legislation aimed at imposing tough sanctions on Iran, despite the notable lack of White House enthusiasm.

A letter calling for “crippling sanctions” now has the support of more than 80% of the members of both bodies, but the White House continues to try to rally support for sanctions from Russia and China, which appear reluctant to impose sanctions.

The move toward conference suggests that chairman Howard Berman and the House leadership are ready to push ahead on sanctions in Congress, which could add pressure to the international negotiations.

Do we believe this? After all, it’s April, and we’ve still not had a conference. Berman fancies himself as a great defender of Israel who is very concerned about the existential threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran, yet he’s been foot-dragging for months, no doubt at the behest of the White House. So now we’re maybe going to have a meeting? And then there is the Senate side, where Sens. Kerry, Dodd, Durbin, and Reid were noticeably absent from the letters calling for movement on the sanctions bill. One supposes they are throwing sand in the gears, as well. Let’s see how quickly the conference moves forward and whether something hits the president’s desk before the expected completion of UN sanctions. (June? Six months from never?)

Ben Smith reports:

A source notes that the House Foreign Affairs Committee is, according to the Congressional Record, selecting conferees for legislation aimed at imposing tough sanctions on Iran, despite the notable lack of White House enthusiasm.

A letter calling for “crippling sanctions” now has the support of more than 80% of the members of both bodies, but the White House continues to try to rally support for sanctions from Russia and China, which appear reluctant to impose sanctions.

The move toward conference suggests that chairman Howard Berman and the House leadership are ready to push ahead on sanctions in Congress, which could add pressure to the international negotiations.

Do we believe this? After all, it’s April, and we’ve still not had a conference. Berman fancies himself as a great defender of Israel who is very concerned about the existential threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran, yet he’s been foot-dragging for months, no doubt at the behest of the White House. So now we’re maybe going to have a meeting? And then there is the Senate side, where Sens. Kerry, Dodd, Durbin, and Reid were noticeably absent from the letters calling for movement on the sanctions bill. One supposes they are throwing sand in the gears, as well. Let’s see how quickly the conference moves forward and whether something hits the president’s desk before the expected completion of UN sanctions. (June? Six months from never?)

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Not So Fast on Sanctions

The House voted overwhelmingly, 412-12, in favor of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act authorizing the president to impose penalties on foreign companies that sell oil to Iran or that help the country with its oil-producing capacity. AIPAC applauded the move. (“The United States and our allies must do everything we can to use crippling diplomatic and economic pressure to peaceably prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and avoid confronting more distressing alternatives.”) The J Street crowd was quiet because the administration isn’t thrilled with the move. (Whatever the most dovish position in the administration might conceivably be, we have learned, will bear an uncanny resemblance to the line of the day from J Street.) Wait — didn’t we turn a corner? Isn’t the administration hinting at sanctions? For now, at least, the administration is pulling back on the reins. This report explains:

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, said the Obama administration was “entering a critical period of intense diplomacy to impose significant international pressure on Iran.” Sanctions legislation “might weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for our efforts,” Steinberg’s letter said.

This is a crowd that’s allergic to leverage. Because the Foggy Bottom team is pleading or getting ready to plead with Russia, China, and the rest, the administration doesn’t even want the authority to act on its own should the “international community” wimp out. Such authority, never mind action, might rattle or annoy our sanctions “partners.” Rep. Howard Berman, who sponsored the measure, doesn’t buy that. (“The House passage of this legislation empowers the administration to point out that, ‘Here is a way a lot of people in Congress want to go, and we think there is a better way, but this issue will not go away.’ “) Berman diplomatically said that the administration neither encouraged or discouraged him, leaving unsaid that the administration is doing what it can to halt any Senate action.

Meanwhile, one gets the sense that the Obami haven’t quite turned that corner yet. We learn:

One European diplomat said a senior White House official had recently told him that the Obama White House seeks to use what it calls the pressure track to try to get Iran back on the engagement track over the next several months. The senior White House official also said that U.S. and international credibility would be hurt if they didn’t demonstrate that they were serious after weeks of telegraphing the end of the year deadline for Iran to show progress on the engagement track, or face consequences.

Yes, if we can only get the mullahs back to the bargaining table, then we can certainly solve this! There’s a pathetic and deeply unserious quality to all this, an afraid-of-our-own-shadow feel to the administration’s efforts. Don’t want to make the Europeans mad. Don’t want to look like we mean business. It doesn’t bode well for vigorous action that would convey to the Iranian regime the negative consequences of proceeding with its nuclear program. But after a year of dithering, engagement, and playing dumb at the bargaining table, we’ve already left an impression of irresolution and weakness with the mullahs. It’s not one the administration seems eager to undo.

The House voted overwhelmingly, 412-12, in favor of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act authorizing the president to impose penalties on foreign companies that sell oil to Iran or that help the country with its oil-producing capacity. AIPAC applauded the move. (“The United States and our allies must do everything we can to use crippling diplomatic and economic pressure to peaceably prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and avoid confronting more distressing alternatives.”) The J Street crowd was quiet because the administration isn’t thrilled with the move. (Whatever the most dovish position in the administration might conceivably be, we have learned, will bear an uncanny resemblance to the line of the day from J Street.) Wait — didn’t we turn a corner? Isn’t the administration hinting at sanctions? For now, at least, the administration is pulling back on the reins. This report explains:

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, said the Obama administration was “entering a critical period of intense diplomacy to impose significant international pressure on Iran.” Sanctions legislation “might weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for our efforts,” Steinberg’s letter said.

This is a crowd that’s allergic to leverage. Because the Foggy Bottom team is pleading or getting ready to plead with Russia, China, and the rest, the administration doesn’t even want the authority to act on its own should the “international community” wimp out. Such authority, never mind action, might rattle or annoy our sanctions “partners.” Rep. Howard Berman, who sponsored the measure, doesn’t buy that. (“The House passage of this legislation empowers the administration to point out that, ‘Here is a way a lot of people in Congress want to go, and we think there is a better way, but this issue will not go away.’ “) Berman diplomatically said that the administration neither encouraged or discouraged him, leaving unsaid that the administration is doing what it can to halt any Senate action.

Meanwhile, one gets the sense that the Obami haven’t quite turned that corner yet. We learn:

One European diplomat said a senior White House official had recently told him that the Obama White House seeks to use what it calls the pressure track to try to get Iran back on the engagement track over the next several months. The senior White House official also said that U.S. and international credibility would be hurt if they didn’t demonstrate that they were serious after weeks of telegraphing the end of the year deadline for Iran to show progress on the engagement track, or face consequences.

Yes, if we can only get the mullahs back to the bargaining table, then we can certainly solve this! There’s a pathetic and deeply unserious quality to all this, an afraid-of-our-own-shadow feel to the administration’s efforts. Don’t want to make the Europeans mad. Don’t want to look like we mean business. It doesn’t bode well for vigorous action that would convey to the Iranian regime the negative consequences of proceeding with its nuclear program. But after a year of dithering, engagement, and playing dumb at the bargaining table, we’ve already left an impression of irresolution and weakness with the mullahs. It’s not one the administration seems eager to undo.

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