Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran nuclear talks

The Iran Talks’ Gaza Connection

Lost amid the understandable focus on the fighting in Gaza was a major Middle East news story. On July 18, the U.S. and its Western allies agreed to extend the Iran nuclear talks for four months. But rather than the fighting between Hamas and Israel allowing the negotiations to continue under the radar, the events unfolding in Gaza ought to make it harder rather than easier for the Obama administration to evade its obligation to deal with this threat.

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Lost amid the understandable focus on the fighting in Gaza was a major Middle East news story. On July 18, the U.S. and its Western allies agreed to extend the Iran nuclear talks for four months. But rather than the fighting between Hamas and Israel allowing the negotiations to continue under the radar, the events unfolding in Gaza ought to make it harder rather than easier for the Obama administration to evade its obligation to deal with this threat.

The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee groused in public yesterday about the way the Iran talks are proceeding with little public accountability. Both Democratic Chair Senator Robert Menendez and ranking Republican Bob Corker expressed dismay about the way the supposedly finite period for negotiations with Iran had effortlessly transitioned into injury time with every possibility that the four-month period could be extended again in November. There was no appetite on the committee for a rerun of the bruising and losing fight Menendez waged against the administration on behalf of tougher sanctions on Iran in order to strengthen the West’s hand in the talks. Yet the frustration about the P5+1 process is clear.

While their comments didn’t get much attention, Menendez and Corker are right to be worried. More to the point, the Gaza crisis ought to be causing more concern about the Iran talks rather than allowing Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiating team a free pass to continue to work toward an agreement that will both legalize Tehran’s nuclear program and fail to curb its support for terrorism.

It is important to understand that without Iran much of what is happening in Gaza wouldn’t be possible. Iran supplied Hamas with advanced rockets and money for years enabling it to create the infrastructure of terror that has plunged the region into conflict. Iran and Hamas had a very public spat in recent years when the Islamist terrorists chose to oppose Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war. But the breach between the two may be over. Yesterday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he supported replenishing Iran’s arsenal. If, due to international pressure and the desire of the Obama administration to halt the current fighting, Hamas is left standing and in control of Gaza, the odds are good that Khamenei will make good on his pledge.

Economic sanctions on Iran made it harder for the regime to divert money to Hamas as well as to Islamic Jihad, which has stayed in Tehran’s good graces these past few years. But if Kerry gets the deal he is looking for, the sanctions that were weakened in the interim deal concluded last November would be eviscerated. At that point, Hamas may be able to count on refinancing and resupply from Iran as well as from their ally Qatar.

What has this to do with the nuclear talks?

The assumption on the part of most foreign-policy observers is that these are two separate issues. But that belief is a mistake. Iran’s status as the leading state sponsor of international terrorism through its support of Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and perhaps Hamas again makes it imperative that the P5+1 process not limit itself to talks that ignore the threat that Tehran’s auxiliaries pose to the West.

Kerry signed a weak deal with Iran last fall because, as he publicly admitted, the secretary decided sticking to the West’s demands for Iran to dismantle its nuclear program was not possible. Instead, he appeased Iran and granted tacit recognition to their “right” to enrich uranium in exchange for concessions that do little to retard the Islamist regime’s nuclear ambitions. The willingness of the West to go into overtime with an Iranian negotiating partner that has clearly signaled their unwillingness to agree to measures that would make it impossible for them to build a weapon may herald another retreat by Kerry. If so, that will bring us closer to the day when Iran will not only be able to threaten the West with a nuke after a brief “breakout” period but also hasten the moment when it can extend a nuclear umbrella over its allies in Lebanon and Gaza.

While the prospect of such a dismal outcome to these negotiations raises the possibility that Israel will decide at some point to act on their own to stop the Iranians, it also raises the stakes in Gaza. The U.S. decision not to keep its word about limiting negotiations with Iran makes it even more imperative for Israel not to allow Hamas to escape the current fighting with its arsenal and control of the strip intact. Just as Iran’s nuclear dream poses an existential threat to Israel, the American willingness to kick the can down the road on the nuclear issue makes it more vital that Israel finishes off Hamas now before an end to the blockade and Western appeasement of Tehran changes the strategic equation in Gaza and the Middle East.

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Kerry’s False Iran Talks Narrative

Who are the obstacles to a new nuclear deal between the West and Iran? According to the New York Times, it’s the extremists on both sides: Iranian mullahs and members of Congress, both of whom are said to want the negotiations to fail. But the problem here is that both the newspaper and the anonymous U.S. officials who were the sources for the piece assume the object of the exercise is a deal of any sort. Their American critics have a different goal: stopping Iran from getting a bomb.

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Who are the obstacles to a new nuclear deal between the West and Iran? According to the New York Times, it’s the extremists on both sides: Iranian mullahs and members of Congress, both of whom are said to want the negotiations to fail. But the problem here is that both the newspaper and the anonymous U.S. officials who were the sources for the piece assume the object of the exercise is a deal of any sort. Their American critics have a different goal: stopping Iran from getting a bomb.

The Times article advances the administration’s agenda in which it has sought to portray critics of the Iran talks as warmongers determined to thwart progress in the same way that hard-line ayatollahs might. But the facile analogy tells us more about Kerry’s mindset than anything else. Like Cold War-era liberals who urged the U.S. not to be too tough on Moscow, lest the real hardliners in the Kremlin get the best of the liberal Communists, the assumption that there is any real support in Tehran for reconciliation or willingness to give up their nuclear quest is probably a pointless diversion. Contrary to the Times, the recent statements of Iran’s supreme leader–in which he stated that his country intends to increase the number of centrifuges enriching uranium, not reduce them–did not so much blindside his envoys as it made clear that the belief that they would accommodate Western demands was always a delusion. The supposed leader of the Iranian moderates, President Hassan Rouhani, is a loyal servant of Ayatollah Khamenei and helped deceive the West in the past. Whatever issues divide the Iranians, they are united in an effort to bluff the Obama administration into giving them another diplomatic victory.

On the other hand, the members of the House and the Senate that have warned the White House that they will oppose any deal that leaves Iran with a nuclear capability are not the problem. There is no difference between the stated positions of Democrat Robert Menendez, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and President Obama. Both have said they will not settle for an agreement that will allow Iran to get a bomb. Menendez and the broad bipartisan majority of both Houses of Congress have put on record their opposition to a weak deal that would leave Iran’s infrastructure in place with no credible guarantees to stop them from resuming their nuclear quest. But the motivation for the congressional critiques is not opposition to diplomacy per se so much as their understanding that administration diplomats have succumbed before to their zeal for a deal and may yet again.

At the heart of this dynamic is not the meme of extremists on both sides opposing compromise but the direction that the negotiations have taken. Kerry threw away the West’s formidable economic and military leverage over Iran last fall and signed an interim nuclear deal that tacitly recognized its right to enrich uranium and loosened sanctions in exchange for concessions that could be easily reversed. The Iranians had every expectation that this pattern would be repeated in the current round of talks and have understandably refused to back down and agree to anything that would really limit their ability to go nuclear.

This places Kerry in a bind. The administration desperately needs an agreement because neither President Obama nor America’s European allies have any appetite for continuing the existing sanctions on Iran’s economy, let alone toughening them (as Congress would like to do) in order to bring Tehran to its knees. Having started the process of unraveling support for sanctions last fall, getting the international community to agree to a genuine boycott of Iranian oil may be beyond the capacity of this administration.

That’s what Iran is counting on as it plays out the clock on the talks denying they will give Kerry any extra time during which he can somehow craft a deal. That leaves the U.S. vulnerable to a nuclear shakedown in which an agreement that would place no real obstacles in Iran’s place might be presented to the American people as proof that Obama kept his word to stop Iran. While most Americans are hazy about the details of these talks, they should not be deceived into thinking this is an issue on which reasonable people can split the difference. An agreement that allows Iran to keep its nuclear program (something that the president specifically vowed not to let happen) and gives it access to its nuclear stockpile with only a brief “break out” period standing between the ayatollahs and the bomb is not a compromise. It is a Western surrender that will put nuclear weapons within reach of the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.

As time winds down toward the moment when another Kerry cave-in becomes the only way a deal gets done, it is imperative that Congress sends a clear message that it will never pass any bill lifting sanctions on Iran unless the negotiations produce an accord that is something more than a Western fig leaf covering Iran’s nuclear ambition.

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Will Secret Diplomacy Seal Iran Appeasement?

The latest round of nuclear talks between the West and Iran ended earlier this month without the progress toward an agreement that many had anticipated. Though the United States and its allies seem eager to sign a deal that will put a fig leaf of non-proliferation on an Iranian nuclear program that they are content to leave in place, Tehran has picked up on Washington’s zeal for a deal and is doing what its negotiators have done best for over a decade: stalling. With the international sanctions regime already starting to take on water after last November’s interim agreement that loosened the economic restrictions on Iran, the Islamist regime knows it is in a far stronger position than its Western counterparts.

But rather than reacting to this dismal situation by rethinking his approach, President Obama seems determined to double down on his determination to get a deal. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, the president is revisiting the tactic he used last year to revive the moribund P5+1 talks with Iran. Rather than continuing to work with his European partners, it appears the U.S. will once again leave the multilateral negotiations and conduct bilateral talks. The assumption is that on their own, American diplomats will be able to entice the Iranians to sign on the dotted line with concessions that even the French and the British wouldn’t consider. If true, this illustrates that what the president started last year with the interim deal is a process that has one goal and one goal alone: getting a deal with Iran no matter what the price.

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The latest round of nuclear talks between the West and Iran ended earlier this month without the progress toward an agreement that many had anticipated. Though the United States and its allies seem eager to sign a deal that will put a fig leaf of non-proliferation on an Iranian nuclear program that they are content to leave in place, Tehran has picked up on Washington’s zeal for a deal and is doing what its negotiators have done best for over a decade: stalling. With the international sanctions regime already starting to take on water after last November’s interim agreement that loosened the economic restrictions on Iran, the Islamist regime knows it is in a far stronger position than its Western counterparts.

But rather than reacting to this dismal situation by rethinking his approach, President Obama seems determined to double down on his determination to get a deal. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, the president is revisiting the tactic he used last year to revive the moribund P5+1 talks with Iran. Rather than continuing to work with his European partners, it appears the U.S. will once again leave the multilateral negotiations and conduct bilateral talks. The assumption is that on their own, American diplomats will be able to entice the Iranians to sign on the dotted line with concessions that even the French and the British wouldn’t consider. If true, this illustrates that what the president started last year with the interim deal is a process that has one goal and one goal alone: getting a deal with Iran no matter what the price.

The Iranians’ strong negotiating position stems directly from the interim agreement that was brought about as the result of secret U.S.-Iran talks. It is difficult to imagine an international community that was reluctantly dragged into enacting sanctions in the first place, raising the pressure on Iran if no deal is reached. Nor does anyone seriously imagine President Obama ordering the use of force if the talks continue to be stalemated. As a result, there is very little reason for the ayatollahs to think they have much to worry about in the talks.

Having already won the West’s acceptance of its “right” to enrich uranium, ending the Iranian nuclear program, as President Obama pledged during his reelection campaign, is off the table. The Iranians are now only negotiating about how long it would take them to “break out” from a deal and race to a bomb. At this point the only objective of the Western negotiators appears to be to lengthen that period from a few weeks to a few months, but even this victory has not lessened Iran’s determination to drag out the talks even further.

That is why the possibility of more secret talks is such a dangerous development. Though the current multilateral negotiations have created a negotiating track that has given the Iranians much of what they wanted in the talks, the open nature of these monthly talk fests make it difficult for the Americans to sweeten the pot even further for the Iranians. Since Tehran has already openly mocked requests to include their ballistic weapons program in the talks and continue to make it hard for the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor their facilities, including their military research sites, transparency would appear to favor at least the pretense that the purpose of the negotiations is to actually stop the Iranians from getting a bomb. But secret talks offer the possibility that Obama can go even further than his partners, who have at times balked at the open desire of Washington for an end to the confrontation with Iran at almost any price.

Iran went into this process hoping that it could achieve by Western consent what it appeared it was well on its way to achieving in spite of the push for sanctions: American approval for a nuclear program that could easily be converted to military use. If, as the Journal reported today, Iran’s weapons research scientists are still hard at work at getting closer to a bomb, the margin of error for the U.S. in this process is very small. Having conceded that Iran could amass enough nuclear fuel for a bomb, it will be harder still to craft a deal that could prevent it from taking that next inevitable state to a weapon.

The Obama administration proved last fall that it could sell even a weak deal with Iran to the American public and brand skeptics as potential warmongers. It may be thinking that it can do the same with an even flimsier agreement negotiated in similar secrecy this year. If so, Obama may think he may have gotten himself off the hook for his many promises to stop the Iranians from getting a weapon. But such drives for appeasement that contain within them the seeds of future conflict rarely end well for the appeasers.

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Why Is Obama “Happy” About Rouhani’s Iran?

Though the latest nuclear talks with Iran failed to yield progress toward an agreement, the Obama administration isn’t rethinking its commitment to engagement with Iran. Having come into office determined to find a way to end the nuclear standoff, President Obama has taken every opportunity to demonstrate that he wishes to create warmer relations with Tehran, even staying largely silent while the Islamists brutally suppressed dissidents in 2009. That’s why he seized upon the faux election last summer that resulted in Hassan Rouhani becoming Iran’s president to justify the decision to trust the regime when it came to the nuclear question. Though the secret negotiations that led to a weak interim agreement with Tehran preceded that vote, Rouhani’s more moderate image has been useful in dampening outrage about the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran which seems oriented more toward détente than actually preventing the regime from attaining nuclear capability.

But yesterday we got another reminder of the naïveté of Western hopes for Rouhani’s moderation. Days after Rouhani had given speech extolling the need for greater Internet freedom in his country, Iranian police arrested six young people and paraded them on national television for the crime of creating an Internet video in which they danced and sang to Pharrell Williams’s song “Happy.” According to Hossein Sajedinia, the head of the Tehran police, the harmless video was “a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity.” But after being forced to publicly repent, and with a worldwide furor growing over their arrest, the six who appeared on screen were freed today, apparently none the worse for wear for their ordeal and humiliation, though their director is still in jail. Rouhani celebrated their release with the following tweet:

#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy

So should we be celebrating the advance of human rights in Iran today? And what has this to do with the nuclear talks?

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Though the latest nuclear talks with Iran failed to yield progress toward an agreement, the Obama administration isn’t rethinking its commitment to engagement with Iran. Having come into office determined to find a way to end the nuclear standoff, President Obama has taken every opportunity to demonstrate that he wishes to create warmer relations with Tehran, even staying largely silent while the Islamists brutally suppressed dissidents in 2009. That’s why he seized upon the faux election last summer that resulted in Hassan Rouhani becoming Iran’s president to justify the decision to trust the regime when it came to the nuclear question. Though the secret negotiations that led to a weak interim agreement with Tehran preceded that vote, Rouhani’s more moderate image has been useful in dampening outrage about the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran which seems oriented more toward détente than actually preventing the regime from attaining nuclear capability.

But yesterday we got another reminder of the naïveté of Western hopes for Rouhani’s moderation. Days after Rouhani had given speech extolling the need for greater Internet freedom in his country, Iranian police arrested six young people and paraded them on national television for the crime of creating an Internet video in which they danced and sang to Pharrell Williams’s song “Happy.” According to Hossein Sajedinia, the head of the Tehran police, the harmless video was “a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity.” But after being forced to publicly repent, and with a worldwide furor growing over their arrest, the six who appeared on screen were freed today, apparently none the worse for wear for their ordeal and humiliation, though their director is still in jail. Rouhani celebrated their release with the following tweet:

#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy

So should we be celebrating the advance of human rights in Iran today? And what has this to do with the nuclear talks?

The answer is simple. Despite Iran’s attempt to persuade the world otherwise, it remains a brutal theocracy where anything, even a simple video can land you in jail if it rubs the Islamist authorities the wrong way. Rouhani, a veteran operative of the regime, is no moderate even though he is attempting to put forward a more human face to the world than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But power—including everything having to do with the country’s nuclear project—remains in the hands of his boss, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Incidents like the arrest of the video makers are designed to chill any signs of liberalization and dissent. As such, it was quite effective since few are bold enough to risk jail and a TV perp walk on the assumption that international attention will lead to their release. Unlike the lucky six, most Iranians who are arrested by the regime don’t become a trend on Twitter and simply disappear into the bowels of Tehran’s police dungeons.

But the Obama administration may argue that even if Iran is still a tyranny, that shouldn’t affect America’s decision to enter into a nuclear agreement with it. The danger Iran poses to the rest of the world stems from their ability to create a nuclear weapon, not policies designed to repress free spirits.

But the problem with America’s nuclear diplomacy is that it is based on the idea that Iran can be trusted to keep its agreements and that the further loosening of sanctions will aid the country’s progress toward better relations with the West. Unfortunately, Iran has proven time and again that it regards agreements with foreign powers as pieces of paper that it can tear up at will. And once sanctions are lifted, there is little chance the U.S. will ever be able to persuade a reluctant Europe to stop doing business with Iran.

So in order to rationalize a plan of action that is predicated on Iran turning the page from its past as a rogue regime, the U.S. must pretend that a regime that practices religious persecution and represses even the most innocuous sign of dissent is somehow changing. That’s why the administration’s negotiators have not even tried to raise the issues of Iranian sponsorship of terrorism in the talks. The more the discussion centers on Iranian behavior—whether as a backer of terrorists or as a vicious foe of human rights—the harder it will be for the president to persuade Americans that Iran means to keep even a weak deal that will give it plenty of leeway to cheat and get to a bomb.

Thus, far from being irrelevant to the talks that have been going on in Vienna, the “happy” dancers are a reminder that Iran isn’t the country Barack Obama would like it to be. The longer Americans cling to the delusion that Rouhani has genuine power and that he really can moderate the Islamist regime, the less chance there is that they will think clearly about the nuclear threat and a diplomatic process that seems to guarantee that it won’t be averted.

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Iran’s Latest Nuclear Gamble Seems Safe

Last week’s nuclear talks between Western negotiators and representatives of Iran concluded on Friday with no discernable sign of progress toward an agreement that would end the standoff over Tehran’s quest for a nuclear weapon. Though sources in Vienna were predicting that the whole point of this latest session and those to follow would be to draft another agreement to follow up on the weak nuclear deal signed last November, the talks yielded no sign that a successful conclusion to the diplomatic effort was anywhere in sight, either before the July deadline or after it. Both sides spoke of large gaps between their respective positions on how much of a nuclear infrastructure Iran will be allowed in the future. With Iran demanding that it be allowed to keep 50,000 functioning centrifuges for enriching uranium—a number that would make a mockery of any safeguards to ensure against a “breakout” to a bomb after the deal is struck—the chances of an accord seem remote unless either side substantially alters their positions.

Those pondering what the next step is for both parties must understand that the interim deal fundamentally altered the dynamic of the negotiations in Iran’s favor. With the sanctions regime weakened, Iran is more confident than ever. Tehran is currently negotiating as if both the potential use of force by the West and the impact of sanctions are not major factors. By standing their ground and refusing to agree to terms that would already give them the chance to build a bomb and insisting on being granted a far larger nuclear infrastructure, the ayatollahs are gambling that the West is bluffing about both the use of force and reinstating, let alone strengthening, sanctions. Given the circumstances, that seems prudent.

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Last week’s nuclear talks between Western negotiators and representatives of Iran concluded on Friday with no discernable sign of progress toward an agreement that would end the standoff over Tehran’s quest for a nuclear weapon. Though sources in Vienna were predicting that the whole point of this latest session and those to follow would be to draft another agreement to follow up on the weak nuclear deal signed last November, the talks yielded no sign that a successful conclusion to the diplomatic effort was anywhere in sight, either before the July deadline or after it. Both sides spoke of large gaps between their respective positions on how much of a nuclear infrastructure Iran will be allowed in the future. With Iran demanding that it be allowed to keep 50,000 functioning centrifuges for enriching uranium—a number that would make a mockery of any safeguards to ensure against a “breakout” to a bomb after the deal is struck—the chances of an accord seem remote unless either side substantially alters their positions.

Those pondering what the next step is for both parties must understand that the interim deal fundamentally altered the dynamic of the negotiations in Iran’s favor. With the sanctions regime weakened, Iran is more confident than ever. Tehran is currently negotiating as if both the potential use of force by the West and the impact of sanctions are not major factors. By standing their ground and refusing to agree to terms that would already give them the chance to build a bomb and insisting on being granted a far larger nuclear infrastructure, the ayatollahs are gambling that the West is bluffing about both the use of force and reinstating, let alone strengthening, sanctions. Given the circumstances, that seems prudent.

It must be understood that what the two sides have been negotiating about in Vienna is not whether the Iranians will have the capacity to build a bomb. That was already substantially conceded in the November interim deal when the West tacitly granted Iran the “right” to enrich uranium. With that point no longer in question and with the Iranians possessing the ability to reactivate their stockpile of nuclear fuel any time they like, the only variable in the bomb equation is how long such a breakout will take. The Obama administration’s goal in the talks is apparently to lengthen the current time for a breakout from a few weeks to a few months. That’s not insubstantial, but it also isn’t anything like a guarantee that Iran won’t get a bomb, especially when you realize that Western intelligence about the nuclear program is, at best, fragmentary.

Any idea that the West could parlay their sanctions or a failed diplomatic initiative into justification for the kind of pressure that could really bring Iran to its knees was thrown away in the interim deal. While the talks are reportedly being conducted in a congenial manner and in English, the negotiators seem to be quite comfortable with the process. But the problem with the West’s position is that no one seriously believes they have any more leverage over Iran. The notion that after the process of loosening sanctions has begun the U.S. can cajole a reluctant Europe to tighten the noose on Iran in the event of a diplomatic breakdown is risible. It can’t and won’t be done and the Iranians know it. Just as important is that Tehran knows President Obama will not order a strike on their nuclear facilities no matter what happens in the talks.

Thus, Iran’s seemingly “unrealistic” position on the centrifuges, as one Western negotiator described it to the New York Times, is actually nothing of the sort. Iran knows the only two possible outcomes of the talks is a breakdown that will let them get to a bomb but won’t produce a devastating response from the West or an agreement that will allow them to get to their nuclear ambition a bit more slowly.

Given the possible impact of sanctions on the Iranian economy as well as the danger from an attack, either from the West or from Israel, that would appear to be quite a gamble. But Iran seems to think that the West is bluffing and that Israel is unlikely to contradict President Obama’s demand that they stand down or is too weak to achieve a military task that perhaps only the U.S. can accomplish.

Since President Obama has already shown that he can sell the American people on the virtues of a weak Iran deal, Tehran figures that he can be pushed harder. Rather than come away from the upcoming rounds of talks with nothing and be forced to confront a foe that he would rather engage, the Iranians are of the opinion that he will give in and give them what they want. That might be a miscalculation that could lead to more suffering from the Iranian people. But this is what happens when tyrants negotiate with a democracy led by a weak leader. Even if Obama comes to his senses now and refuses to provide a diplomatic fig leaf to cover an Iranian arms push, it may be too late to convince Tehran’s leaders that he means business. If Iran is gambling that it can force another weak deal, it is hard to argue with their assessment of Obama. Right now it looks like their gamble is the safest possible bet. 

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A Free Pass for Iran Terror and Nukes

The 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon is back in the news today due to revelations made in a new book that alleges that one of the Iranian architects of that atrocity is currently living in the United States under the protection of the C.I.A. If true, the tale seems taken straight out of the Homeland television series in which an Iranian operative who was “flipped” by the CIA is one of the heroes of the show. The possibility that the person that is responsible for the deaths of 63 people, including 17 Americans (eight of them CIA officers) is enjoying the good life on the tab of the taxpayers will, no doubt, infuriate the families of the slain and others who will not understand that such defections are merely part of the great game of spying in which the U.S. must often throw morality and ethics out the window in order to combat the Islamist war on the real homeland.

But the main problem with the tradeoff here examined in a New York Times feature published today is not the attempt to balance the needs of U.S. intelligence to find out everything it can about current Iranian activity, including both terrorism and its nuclear-weapons program, against the demands of justice. While defining the moral calculus by which a murderer such as Ali Reza Asgari, the Iranian who committed that act of terrorism, is welcomed to the U.S. in order to thwart its nuclear ambitions is difficult, it is at least a problem in which the government is seeking the lesser of two evils. But the real dilemma here is not the unfortunate necessity to choose between justice and safety. It lies in the fact that while Asgari remains in the U.S. without having to answer for his crime, the same administration that protects him is pursuing a policy that is neither working to make the Iranian state pay for its continued sponsorship of terrorism or stopping its nuclear project.

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The 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon is back in the news today due to revelations made in a new book that alleges that one of the Iranian architects of that atrocity is currently living in the United States under the protection of the C.I.A. If true, the tale seems taken straight out of the Homeland television series in which an Iranian operative who was “flipped” by the CIA is one of the heroes of the show. The possibility that the person that is responsible for the deaths of 63 people, including 17 Americans (eight of them CIA officers) is enjoying the good life on the tab of the taxpayers will, no doubt, infuriate the families of the slain and others who will not understand that such defections are merely part of the great game of spying in which the U.S. must often throw morality and ethics out the window in order to combat the Islamist war on the real homeland.

But the main problem with the tradeoff here examined in a New York Times feature published today is not the attempt to balance the needs of U.S. intelligence to find out everything it can about current Iranian activity, including both terrorism and its nuclear-weapons program, against the demands of justice. While defining the moral calculus by which a murderer such as Ali Reza Asgari, the Iranian who committed that act of terrorism, is welcomed to the U.S. in order to thwart its nuclear ambitions is difficult, it is at least a problem in which the government is seeking the lesser of two evils. But the real dilemma here is not the unfortunate necessity to choose between justice and safety. It lies in the fact that while Asgari remains in the U.S. without having to answer for his crime, the same administration that protects him is pursuing a policy that is neither working to make the Iranian state pay for its continued sponsorship of terrorism or stopping its nuclear project.

The revelations come in a new book by journalist Kai Bird about Robert Ames, the CIA Lebanon Station chief who was killed in the bombing. Kai, a lifelong critic of Israel whose last book was a memoir of his experiences as the child of a U.S. diplomat unsympathetic to the Jewish state’s early struggles for survival, reveals in his new book that Ames developed a strong friendship with the intelligence chief of the PLO during a period when the U.S. rightly branded the Palestinian organization as a terrorist group. But in the course of his research about Ames’s activities in the Middle East, Kai uncovered the fact that in 2007 the Bush administration granted asylum to Asgari in exchange for information about Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. As the Times notes, that information has since been superseded by subsequent revelations about another nuclear plant that is in a hardened mountainside bunker. But if Asgari, who may no longer still be in the United States, did tell his CIA interrogators everything he knew about Iran’s state-sponsored terrorism, the Americans got a treasure trove of vital information about one of the nation’s most dangerous foes in exchange for giving this killer a pass for his crimes.

But though the Bush administration’s approach to stopping Iran was inconsistent and largely resulted in kicking the can down the road for the next administration to handle, they at least never granted Tehran recognition of its “right” to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel as the Obama administration did with its weak interim nuclear deal signed last November. While the latest round of talks with the Iranians did not result in an agreement, there appears to be no doubt that the U.S. is seeking a deal in which Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and its stockpile of uranium (which can be easily reactivated to a dangerous state) will stay in place. The Iranians reportedly laughed at Western attempts to include its ballistic missile production in the negotiations and are also not likely to be asked to stop supporting terror in the agreement.

The point here is not so much whether the U.S. was right to give Asgari a “get-out-of-jail free card because of the Iran nuclear issue,” as a lawyer for the families of the embassy bombing victims asserts. It is, rather, that after giving him such a card, the Obama administration has pursued policies that will give the regime he left the same impunity. While Asgari’s escape from justice is troubling, the real scandal is the pass Obama may be about to give his former bosses.

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Is Obama Signing Away the Last Chance to Stop the Iranian Nuclear Threat?

The Iran nuclear talks resumed in Vienna today with Western negotiators still saying that their goal is to prevent Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon. But while Secretary of State John Kerry was talking tough when he declared that the Islamist regime faced tough decisions in the talks, now it is the Iranians who are laying down the law. On the eve of the resumption of the P5+1 negotiations, Iran’s Press TV reported that the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi declared, “The U.S. must make tough decisions in negotiations and stop threats and sanctions.” While Washington is acting as if the Iranians are blowing smoke, the initial reports coming out of today’s meetings make it clear that they are not. If, as Reuters reported, the talks have past the exploratory stage and the parties are now preparing to draft an agreement, it may be that the real decisions have already been made.

Since Iran is already signaling that it has refused to reduce the number of its centrifuges enriching uranium–let alone eliminate them and put an end to the nuclear threat–the choice is no longer the one Kerry spoke of after signing a weak interim agreement with Iran last November in which he said no deal was better than a “bad deal.” If the drafting of the next-stage nuclear agreement has indeed begun, then the decision facing President Obama is not between a bad deal and a good one but between a bad one and none at all. Unfortunately, every signal coming out of Vienna, as opposed to the administration spin heard in Washington, must lead to the conclusion that Obama and Kerry believe they can sell an increasingly isolationist and war-weary American public on the virtues of a bad deal in order to put the issue, if not the threat, to rest.

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The Iran nuclear talks resumed in Vienna today with Western negotiators still saying that their goal is to prevent Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon. But while Secretary of State John Kerry was talking tough when he declared that the Islamist regime faced tough decisions in the talks, now it is the Iranians who are laying down the law. On the eve of the resumption of the P5+1 negotiations, Iran’s Press TV reported that the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi declared, “The U.S. must make tough decisions in negotiations and stop threats and sanctions.” While Washington is acting as if the Iranians are blowing smoke, the initial reports coming out of today’s meetings make it clear that they are not. If, as Reuters reported, the talks have past the exploratory stage and the parties are now preparing to draft an agreement, it may be that the real decisions have already been made.

Since Iran is already signaling that it has refused to reduce the number of its centrifuges enriching uranium–let alone eliminate them and put an end to the nuclear threat–the choice is no longer the one Kerry spoke of after signing a weak interim agreement with Iran last November in which he said no deal was better than a “bad deal.” If the drafting of the next-stage nuclear agreement has indeed begun, then the decision facing President Obama is not between a bad deal and a good one but between a bad one and none at all. Unfortunately, every signal coming out of Vienna, as opposed to the administration spin heard in Washington, must lead to the conclusion that Obama and Kerry believe they can sell an increasingly isolationist and war-weary American public on the virtues of a bad deal in order to put the issue, if not the threat, to rest.

It should be remembered that the president sought reelection in 2012 by promising never to contain a nuclear Iran and to demand that Tehran’s entire program be halted. But in getting the Iranians to return to the table in exchange for loosening economic sanctions, the administration has been slowly backing away from those principled stands. At this point the talks seem to center on a proposed deal that would do nothing more than extend the time the Iranians would have to conduct a nuclear “breakout” and build a bomb in exchange for dismantling sanctions.

While U.S. diplomats have indicated that there are still considerable “gaps” between their position and that of Iran, there is no sign that this disagreement involves an American effort to ensure that the Islamist regime won’t have the capacity to build a bomb anytime it decides it is in its interest to do so.

Obama would like nothing better than to declare victory in the talks and then hope that the Iranians delay their breakout until after he leaves office. But by backing away from demanding an end to enrichment, the U.S. is tacitly endorsing not only Iran’s “right” to create nuclear fuel but leaving it both a stockpile of uranium and the infrastructure by which it could race to a bomb assuming that the ayatollahs even bother to sign the deal that Obama is so desperate to conclude. By leaving their centrifuges in place and by not making them surrender their stockpile of uranium, which could easily be reconverted to weapons use, Tehran’s path to a bomb is not obstructed.

As the negotiators are busy drafting their document, the administration will do its best to shroud the effort in secrecy. But this is exactly the moment when they should be putting their cards on the table. Obama and Kerry already showed that they will exchange tangible concessions on sanctions in exchange for very little in return from Iran and the likelihood is that they will get even less this time while more or less dismantling the economic pressure that created an opportunity for stopping the nuclear threat. With the focus shifting to sanctions on Russia, European support for holding Iran’s feet to the fire is rapidly evaporating.

Once the agreement is drafted, the president will, as he did last November, present the public with a fait accompli and brand anyone who points out the gap between his promises and what the deal delivers as warmongers. If the West is signing away what could be the last chance to prevent a nuclear Iran, then Congress and the American people deserve to know about it before it is already a done deal.

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Iran Counting on Obama’s Weakness

With the P5+1 nuclear talks set to resume again in Vienna tomorrow, many observers are sensing optimism that a deal with Iran is within reach. After dropping their insistence that Iran give up enriching uranium in order to gain Tehran’s acquiescence to an interim nuclear deal last November, the U.S. and its allies appear to be confident that another few meetings will produce an accord that will put an end to the confrontation with the Islamist regime over their efforts to build nuclear weapons. The best they hope to achieve is an agreement that will lengthen the time Iran needs to convert its stockpile of uranium into nuclear fuel rather than the end of the program that President Obama promised during his 2012 reelection campaign. But the administration and its supporters seem to think that rather than take the chance that the West will strengthen rather than weaken economic sanctions on it, Iran will do the smart thing and sign on the dotted line. While that won’t really end the nuclear threat, it will grant President Obama the appearance of a diplomatic victory and lead to the end of a sanctions policy that is already in danger of unraveling after the interim deal.

But rather than play ball with Obama, Iran’s leaders look to be playing hardball. As Haaretz reports, both Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani issued statements yesterday that make it clear they are in the talks to win them, not to merely acquiesce to a process that is already paving a path to nuclear capability for them. In speaking to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Khamenei mocked the notion that the country would go along with any limits on its ability to produce and deploy ballistic missiles. Meanwhile, Rouhani, the man President Obama and other advocates of the talks have depicted as a “moderate” whose victory in a faux election last year set the stage for reform of the brutal theocracy, said the best the U.S. could hope for in the talks was “transparency” and that the Islamist regime would accept no limits on its nuclear technology.

While Washington will, no doubt, dismiss the statements as mere posturing for a domestic audience that won’t impact the talks, these declarations come at an inopportune time for the Obama administration. They raise the possibility that Iran is planning to back away from any deal, even one as weak as the interim accord signed by Secretary of State John Kerry last November, much in the same manner that it has torpedoed past agreements at the last minute. But even if that is not the case, these comments make it likely that the U.S. will have to ante up even more than Obama thought in order to get Iran to sign a deal that already amounts to appeasement.

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With the P5+1 nuclear talks set to resume again in Vienna tomorrow, many observers are sensing optimism that a deal with Iran is within reach. After dropping their insistence that Iran give up enriching uranium in order to gain Tehran’s acquiescence to an interim nuclear deal last November, the U.S. and its allies appear to be confident that another few meetings will produce an accord that will put an end to the confrontation with the Islamist regime over their efforts to build nuclear weapons. The best they hope to achieve is an agreement that will lengthen the time Iran needs to convert its stockpile of uranium into nuclear fuel rather than the end of the program that President Obama promised during his 2012 reelection campaign. But the administration and its supporters seem to think that rather than take the chance that the West will strengthen rather than weaken economic sanctions on it, Iran will do the smart thing and sign on the dotted line. While that won’t really end the nuclear threat, it will grant President Obama the appearance of a diplomatic victory and lead to the end of a sanctions policy that is already in danger of unraveling after the interim deal.

But rather than play ball with Obama, Iran’s leaders look to be playing hardball. As Haaretz reports, both Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani issued statements yesterday that make it clear they are in the talks to win them, not to merely acquiesce to a process that is already paving a path to nuclear capability for them. In speaking to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Khamenei mocked the notion that the country would go along with any limits on its ability to produce and deploy ballistic missiles. Meanwhile, Rouhani, the man President Obama and other advocates of the talks have depicted as a “moderate” whose victory in a faux election last year set the stage for reform of the brutal theocracy, said the best the U.S. could hope for in the talks was “transparency” and that the Islamist regime would accept no limits on its nuclear technology.

While Washington will, no doubt, dismiss the statements as mere posturing for a domestic audience that won’t impact the talks, these declarations come at an inopportune time for the Obama administration. They raise the possibility that Iran is planning to back away from any deal, even one as weak as the interim accord signed by Secretary of State John Kerry last November, much in the same manner that it has torpedoed past agreements at the last minute. But even if that is not the case, these comments make it likely that the U.S. will have to ante up even more than Obama thought in order to get Iran to sign a deal that already amounts to appeasement.

It should be remembered that Rouhani’s credibility with the regime’s supposed hardliners rests with his exploits as a nuclear negotiator a decade ago when he took the West right up to the brink of a deal about enrichment and then backed away leaving the Bush administration and its European allies looking silly. Obama and Kerry were warned that this might happen again before they embarked on their most ambitious attempt at engagement with Iran. But while they still hope to get a deal, even if it is nothing more than a thin veil on Western approval for a robust Iranian nuclear program that could easily lead to a weapon, there’s every chance that the they’ve been led down the garden path by Khamenei and Rouhani.

Anyone wondering why Iran is acting with such confidence should look to Europe and Russia. Sanctions were already undermined by the interim deal, but with Europeans not interested in enforcing the existing restrictions, let alone tightening them to create an embargo that would give the West its only hope of spiking the nuclear threat, Iran is confident they are doomed. With Europe now facing the prospect of being forced to confront Russia after its aggression against Ukraine, there is even less appetite for squeezing Iran than even just a few months ago.

If both Khamenei and Rouhani believe Western negotiators that were already behaving as if they were desperate for a deal will be even easier to shake down than before, it’s hard to blame them for thinking so. That means that, at best, what comes out of the P5+1 process in the months leading up to the initial July deadline for an agreement (though the U.S. has already said it is prepared to keep talking beyond the summer) will be even more favorable to Iran’s nuclear quest than expected. A deal that leaves Iran’s infrastructure in place, as well as granting its right to enrich and to produce ballistic missiles, is one that will do little, if anything, to stop Tehran from getting a nuke. Rouhani’s statement that it will continue enriching uranium to 20 percent is no empty boast since it can still reconvert the stockpiles to weapons-grade material at any time.

But what Obama and Kerry are really worried about is the possibility that Iran won’t even grant them a bad deal but will instead blow off the entire process and to proceed directly to nuclear capability. If so, their fatal weakness will be exposed as a reality rather than merely a conservative talking point, leaving them a choice between ramping up the conflict and complete capitulation. That’s exactly the mindset Khamenei and Rouhani are counting on to deliver them a meaningless agreement that can either be signed or ignored. Either way, Iran seems closer to its nuclear goal today than it did before Obama’s interim capitulation.

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Obama’s Holocaust Hypocrisy

Yesterday President Obama was in Los Angeles to hobnob with some of his biggest fans in Hollywood. He gave his usual stump speech blaming the Republicans for all the country’s ills at a private fundraiser where he rubbed elbows with Barbra Streisand and Jeffrey Katzenberg. After that, he attended a gala for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation where he was honored with the organization’s Ambassador of Humanity Award and where he listened to Conan O’Brien tell jokes about Donald Sterling and was serenaded by Bruce Springsteen. Showering Democratic presidents with love and cash is what Hollywood liberals do and there’s no point complaining about it. Obama’s award was, no doubt, part of the price for getting him to show up at the event. But like the undeserved Nobel Peace Prize that he collected in the first year of his presidency, the notion that he is in some way deserving of an honor that is linked to a Holocaust memorial or the fight against the current crop of international despots that threaten world peace is hard to swallow.

While much of what he said in accepting this award about opposing anti-Semitism and defending the State of Israel was praiseworthy, it is difficult to read some of the president’s remarks at the event without wincing. As our Michael Rubin wrote yesterday about Samantha Power, Obama’s United Nations ambassador, the disconnect between this administration’s rhetorical flourishes about its opposition to human-rights violators and the reality of what it is actually doing—or to be more precise, what it is not doing—is staggering.

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Yesterday President Obama was in Los Angeles to hobnob with some of his biggest fans in Hollywood. He gave his usual stump speech blaming the Republicans for all the country’s ills at a private fundraiser where he rubbed elbows with Barbra Streisand and Jeffrey Katzenberg. After that, he attended a gala for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation where he was honored with the organization’s Ambassador of Humanity Award and where he listened to Conan O’Brien tell jokes about Donald Sterling and was serenaded by Bruce Springsteen. Showering Democratic presidents with love and cash is what Hollywood liberals do and there’s no point complaining about it. Obama’s award was, no doubt, part of the price for getting him to show up at the event. But like the undeserved Nobel Peace Prize that he collected in the first year of his presidency, the notion that he is in some way deserving of an honor that is linked to a Holocaust memorial or the fight against the current crop of international despots that threaten world peace is hard to swallow.

While much of what he said in accepting this award about opposing anti-Semitism and defending the State of Israel was praiseworthy, it is difficult to read some of the president’s remarks at the event without wincing. As our Michael Rubin wrote yesterday about Samantha Power, Obama’s United Nations ambassador, the disconnect between this administration’s rhetorical flourishes about its opposition to human-rights violators and the reality of what it is actually doing—or to be more precise, what it is not doing—is staggering.

Let’s specify that Spielberg’s Foundation, which centers on collecting the testimony of Holocaust survivors, is very much to the famous director’s credit. Like his film Schindler’s List, which led Spielberg to take up this work, it is a worthy effort to preserve the memory of the victims and the crimes of the Nazis and their collaborators. But the notion that Obama’s policies have been inspired by the imperative that the world not stand by silently when other crimes against humanity are committed, as the award and the rhetoric heard at the event seem to imply, is absurd.

During his speech, the president spoke both of the hate that still stalks the globe and the challenges this creates:

We only need to look at today’s headlines — the devastation of Syria, the murders and kidnappings in Nigeria, sectarian conflict, the tribal conflicts —to see that we have not yet extinguished man’s darkest impulses.  There are some bad stories out there that are being told to children, and they’re learning to hate early.  They’re learning to fear those who are not like them early.

And none of the tragedies that we see today may rise to the full horror of the Holocaust — the individuals who are the victims of such unspeakable cruelty, they make a claim on our conscience.  They demand our attention, that we not turn away, that we choose empathy over indifference and that our empathy leads to action.  And that’s not always easy.  One of the powerful things about Schindler’s story was recognizing that we have to act even where there is sometimes ambiguity; even when the path is not always clearly lit, we have to try.   

That’s all quite true. But coming from the mouth of the man who has stood by impotently as the Syrian tragedy escalated into a conflict that has taken up to 150,000 lives including perhaps as many as 11,000 children, Obama’s pieties about remembering the Holocaust ring hollow.

In Syria a small-scale conflict centering on the efforts of a brutal dictator to remain in power might have been ended quickly by a decisive Western intervention. But since Obama preferred, as is his wont, to “lead from behind,” it grew into a bloody war in which Assad, assisted by the operatives of Iran and Hezbollah and supported by Russia, has slaughtered the Syrian people by the tens of thousands. Like Power’s astonishing rhetoric about the need for action against such crimes, Obama’s words give new meaning to the word hypocrisy.

But while he basked in the glow of Hollywood’s approval and honor for his supposed stand for human rights, it should be remembered that this is also the president who is trying desperately to appease and craft a new détente with perhaps the most brutal anti-Semitic regime in the world in Iran. While Iran’s leaders have denied the Holocaust and threatened the globe with the possibility of a new one via their drive for nuclear weapons, Obama has been consistently slow to enact sanctions and seems determined to forge new bonds with a government that embodies all that he purports to oppose. His diplomacy that is supposed to be aimed at stopping the Iranian nuclear threat is instead empowering the regime and only seeking to delay their move toward a bomb.

No one should begrudge the president the right to defend his policy of impotence on Syrian atrocities or his inability to even make good on the enforcement of his “red line” on Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Nor should we deny him the opportunity to justify his drive toward appeasement of Iran. But that he should do so while claiming to honor the memory of the Holocaust and the need for the U.S. never to stand by again while such horrors are perpetrated is intolerable.

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Biden’s Engagement Flip-Flop

I had started writing my recent book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes, before Barack Obama won the presidency and chose Delaware Senator Joe Biden as his running mate. No matter: The book isn’t a partisan polemic. Bungling diplomacy toward international rogues has been a bipartisan problem. Still, as senator, Biden spoke often about diplomacy and rogues and so he provided a rich, documentary record of his views on the topic.

As we near the 25th anniversary if the Tiananmen Square massacre, China is beginning its predictable, preliminary crackdown on dissidents and all who might want to mark that occasion. The events of June 4, 1989 were truly horrific. What is quite interesting, however, is how critical and outspoken Biden was about the George H.W. Bush administration renewing ties with China just a couple years later. Speaking on the Senate floor, Biden declared, “What President Bush and Secretary Baker have been seeking to engage is the world’s last major Communist regime; it is a regime marked by brutality at home and irresponsibility abroad; and it is a regime the United States should now cease to court and must no longer appease.” I find little to argue with Biden, at least his 1991 incarnation.

As I documented in my book, Biden also complained that diplomacy involving Serbian nationalist Slobodan Milosevic left too many in the former Yugoslavia off the hook, and that he would have rather have seen a continuation if not a ratcheting up of more coercive pressure on them rather than turning to diplomacy when the Clinton administration did.

How strange it is then, or at least inconsistent, that Biden has been full-throated in his desire to engage the Islamic Republic of Iran. His national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, participated in the secret talks in Oman that opened that door. Even before the nuclear deal is finalized, Iran has already pocketed several billion dollars in sanctions relief and new economic investment. As the nuclear deal takes shape, it is becoming increasingly apparent that everything it commits Iran to is reversible, and readily so. In the meantime, it legitimizes and, indeed, rewards a regime whose human-rights record is as atrocious as China’s, and whose young students, women, and whose political and religious dissidents suffer the humiliation of Tiananmen Square on an almost daily basis. Indeed, none other than Amnesty International has noted the increase in public executions since the supposed moderate, Hassan Rouhani, took office.

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I had started writing my recent book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes, before Barack Obama won the presidency and chose Delaware Senator Joe Biden as his running mate. No matter: The book isn’t a partisan polemic. Bungling diplomacy toward international rogues has been a bipartisan problem. Still, as senator, Biden spoke often about diplomacy and rogues and so he provided a rich, documentary record of his views on the topic.

As we near the 25th anniversary if the Tiananmen Square massacre, China is beginning its predictable, preliminary crackdown on dissidents and all who might want to mark that occasion. The events of June 4, 1989 were truly horrific. What is quite interesting, however, is how critical and outspoken Biden was about the George H.W. Bush administration renewing ties with China just a couple years later. Speaking on the Senate floor, Biden declared, “What President Bush and Secretary Baker have been seeking to engage is the world’s last major Communist regime; it is a regime marked by brutality at home and irresponsibility abroad; and it is a regime the United States should now cease to court and must no longer appease.” I find little to argue with Biden, at least his 1991 incarnation.

As I documented in my book, Biden also complained that diplomacy involving Serbian nationalist Slobodan Milosevic left too many in the former Yugoslavia off the hook, and that he would have rather have seen a continuation if not a ratcheting up of more coercive pressure on them rather than turning to diplomacy when the Clinton administration did.

How strange it is then, or at least inconsistent, that Biden has been full-throated in his desire to engage the Islamic Republic of Iran. His national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, participated in the secret talks in Oman that opened that door. Even before the nuclear deal is finalized, Iran has already pocketed several billion dollars in sanctions relief and new economic investment. As the nuclear deal takes shape, it is becoming increasingly apparent that everything it commits Iran to is reversible, and readily so. In the meantime, it legitimizes and, indeed, rewards a regime whose human-rights record is as atrocious as China’s, and whose young students, women, and whose political and religious dissidents suffer the humiliation of Tiananmen Square on an almost daily basis. Indeed, none other than Amnesty International has noted the increase in public executions since the supposed moderate, Hassan Rouhani, took office.

That is not to say that there is not a reason for engagement here and now—although let us hope that Obama’s desire to have a foreign-policy breakthrough whatever its cost isn’t what is driving this. But, at the very least, Biden—if he is the statesman the thinks he is and if he aspires to the highest office—should provide an explanation as to his sharp about-face on issues of human rights, dictatorship, and diplomacy. Alas, the lack of consistency Biden displays is not unique. He is in good political company. It’s hard not to conclude that Biden personifies just how arbitrary American strategy about when and how to engage is.

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Hillary’s Dubious Iran Credentials

Last night Hillary Clinton spoke at a dinner for the American Jewish Congress and continued her effort to attempt to craft a narrative in which her four years at the State Department are depicted as making her uniquely qualified for the presidency. The centerpiece of this argument is that during her time as America’s top diplomat she was a leader in the struggle to stop Iran’s nuclear program. This is a delicate task that demands both exaggerations and outright fibs, especially when it comes to her position on sanctions. It also requires her to both embrace President Obama’s foreign-policy record while at the same time position herself slightly to his right. But while her cheering section may be buying her sales pitch, a closer examination of what Clinton did on the issue undermines any notion that she was anything but an enabler of an Obama policy of engagement that has led to the current diplomatic dead-end.

Clinton’s claim is that her toughness toward Iran and diplomatic skill helped create the international sanctions that brought the Islamist regime to the negotiating table. Though she expressed some skepticism about Iran’s willingness to listen to reason, the former first lady endorsed the interim nuclear deal signed by her successor and agreed with Obama’s opposition to the passage of any more sanctions even if they would not be put into effect until after the current talks fail. But it’s no small irony that Clinton would be bragging about her tough stand on Iran in the same week that the blowup with Russia led to the almost certain collapse of the diplomatic solution that she had banked on.

It was Clinton, after all, who was the primary champion of the comical “reset” with Russia that convinced Vladimir Putin that the Obama administration could be discounted in conflicts involving his ambition to reassemble the old Tsarist/Soviet empire. But even more importantly, the conceit of Clinton’s efforts to build the international coalition for Iran sanctions was that she would be able to harness Russia and China to American foreign-policy objectives. That assumption has been blown out of the water by the conflict over Crimea. Any idea that Russia would stick with the West to pressure Iran to give up its drive for a nuclear weapon or keep them isolated via sanctions is no longer realistic.

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Last night Hillary Clinton spoke at a dinner for the American Jewish Congress and continued her effort to attempt to craft a narrative in which her four years at the State Department are depicted as making her uniquely qualified for the presidency. The centerpiece of this argument is that during her time as America’s top diplomat she was a leader in the struggle to stop Iran’s nuclear program. This is a delicate task that demands both exaggerations and outright fibs, especially when it comes to her position on sanctions. It also requires her to both embrace President Obama’s foreign-policy record while at the same time position herself slightly to his right. But while her cheering section may be buying her sales pitch, a closer examination of what Clinton did on the issue undermines any notion that she was anything but an enabler of an Obama policy of engagement that has led to the current diplomatic dead-end.

Clinton’s claim is that her toughness toward Iran and diplomatic skill helped create the international sanctions that brought the Islamist regime to the negotiating table. Though she expressed some skepticism about Iran’s willingness to listen to reason, the former first lady endorsed the interim nuclear deal signed by her successor and agreed with Obama’s opposition to the passage of any more sanctions even if they would not be put into effect until after the current talks fail. But it’s no small irony that Clinton would be bragging about her tough stand on Iran in the same week that the blowup with Russia led to the almost certain collapse of the diplomatic solution that she had banked on.

It was Clinton, after all, who was the primary champion of the comical “reset” with Russia that convinced Vladimir Putin that the Obama administration could be discounted in conflicts involving his ambition to reassemble the old Tsarist/Soviet empire. But even more importantly, the conceit of Clinton’s efforts to build the international coalition for Iran sanctions was that she would be able to harness Russia and China to American foreign-policy objectives. That assumption has been blown out of the water by the conflict over Crimea. Any idea that Russia would stick with the West to pressure Iran to give up its drive for a nuclear weapon or keep them isolated via sanctions is no longer realistic.

Of course, Clinton’s boasts about her record on Iran sanctions are also misleading. Though it is true, as Clinton said yesterday, that she “voted for any sanction on Iran that came down the pipe” when she was in the Senate, like many of her other stands on Israel-related issues, that changed once she became secretary of state. While the administration now claims that it is these tough sanctions that enabled them to make diplomacy work with Iran, it should be remembered that Clinton and her boss President Obama fiercely opposed these same sanctions when Congress was considering them.

As much as she may be trying to differentiate herself from the incumbent while trying not to sound disloyal, an honest look at Clinton’s term at Foggy Bottom is not flattering. On the two issues that count most today—Russia and Iran—she must bear a great deal of the responsibility for the current mess. Even more to the point, she was as much a champion of Iran engagement as anyone else in the administration, a point that she conveniently omits from her resume, especially when speaking to pro-Israel groups.

A lot can and probably will happen on foreign policy in the two years between now and the 2016 presidential campaign. But the likely Democratic nominee must understand that events may ultimately make her record on Iran and Russia look even worse than it does today. On her watch, Iran moved closer to a nuclear weapon while Clinton earned frequent-flyer miles assembling a coalition in favor of weak sanctions dependent on her Russian reset partner for success. Though Democrats may not care much about her actual record, the facts about Iran and Russia hardly make for the sort of credentials that will enhance her chances of prevailing in a general election.

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The Danger of Ignoring Iran’s Threats

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed some understandable frustration yesterday about the international press’ lack of interest in last week’s capture of the Iranian arms ship Klos-C. As the Times of Israel reported:

He termed the prevailing lack of interest in Israel’s arms catch, a stark departure from the impact of the seizure of the PLO’s Karine-A in January 2002, “an additional testament to the age of hypocrisy in which we live.” Netanyahu, speaking in English to several dozen rather incredulous foreign reporters, called the international condemnations “feeble” and “few and far between.”

Netanyahu may have thought this tangible proof of not only Iran’s support for terrorism but also its active plotting to thwart peace negotiations would have an impact on the debate about the nuclear talks with Tehran. But anyone who thought this would cause the West to think seriously about the wisdom of a diplomatic process whose premise is a belief in the Islamist regime’s willingness to change or to moderate its policies was mistaken. The commitment of the Obama administration and its European allies to talks that seem at times to be more about an attempt to create a new détente with Iran than preventing them from obtaining nuclear capability is no longer in question. No matter how many missiles Iran ships to Gaza, there doesn’t seem to be any chance that the U.S. will be distracted from this purpose. And if the Klos-C didn’t change any minds about Iran, no one in Israel should be under any illusions about the latest comments from the head of Iran’s Revolutionary guard about Israel doing it either. As Iran’s English language FARS news agency reported today in a story headlined: “IRGC Commander: Iran’s Finger on Trigger to Destroy Zionist Regime:”

Lieutenant Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Hossein Salami underlined that Iranian military commanders are prepared to attack and destroy the Zionist regime of Israel as soon as they receive such an order.

“Today, we can destroy every spot which is under the Zionist regime’s control with any volume of fire power (that we want) right from here,” Salami said, addressing a conference in Tehran on Tuesday dubbed ‘the Islamic World’s Role in the Geometry of the World Power’.

“Islam has given us this wish, capacity and power to destroy the Zionist regime so that our hands will remain on the trigger from 1,400km away for the day when such an incident (confrontation with Israel) takes place,” he added.

Salami reminded that Iran is not the only country that enjoys such a capability, as even the artilleries of a number of other (Muslim) countries can also target and attack the Zionist regime today.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed some understandable frustration yesterday about the international press’ lack of interest in last week’s capture of the Iranian arms ship Klos-C. As the Times of Israel reported:

He termed the prevailing lack of interest in Israel’s arms catch, a stark departure from the impact of the seizure of the PLO’s Karine-A in January 2002, “an additional testament to the age of hypocrisy in which we live.” Netanyahu, speaking in English to several dozen rather incredulous foreign reporters, called the international condemnations “feeble” and “few and far between.”

Netanyahu may have thought this tangible proof of not only Iran’s support for terrorism but also its active plotting to thwart peace negotiations would have an impact on the debate about the nuclear talks with Tehran. But anyone who thought this would cause the West to think seriously about the wisdom of a diplomatic process whose premise is a belief in the Islamist regime’s willingness to change or to moderate its policies was mistaken. The commitment of the Obama administration and its European allies to talks that seem at times to be more about an attempt to create a new détente with Iran than preventing them from obtaining nuclear capability is no longer in question. No matter how many missiles Iran ships to Gaza, there doesn’t seem to be any chance that the U.S. will be distracted from this purpose. And if the Klos-C didn’t change any minds about Iran, no one in Israel should be under any illusions about the latest comments from the head of Iran’s Revolutionary guard about Israel doing it either. As Iran’s English language FARS news agency reported today in a story headlined: “IRGC Commander: Iran’s Finger on Trigger to Destroy Zionist Regime:”

Lieutenant Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Hossein Salami underlined that Iranian military commanders are prepared to attack and destroy the Zionist regime of Israel as soon as they receive such an order.

“Today, we can destroy every spot which is under the Zionist regime’s control with any volume of fire power (that we want) right from here,” Salami said, addressing a conference in Tehran on Tuesday dubbed ‘the Islamic World’s Role in the Geometry of the World Power’.

“Islam has given us this wish, capacity and power to destroy the Zionist regime so that our hands will remain on the trigger from 1,400km away for the day when such an incident (confrontation with Israel) takes place,” he added.

Salami reminded that Iran is not the only country that enjoys such a capability, as even the artilleries of a number of other (Muslim) countries can also target and attack the Zionist regime today.

While this statement, like many other similar threats issued by Iranian leaders will be ignored or rationalized by those who are uninterested in the truth about the intentions of the Islamist regime, Salami’s comments tell us a lot about the thinking in Tehran.

First of all, Salami’s remarks should refocus the P5+1 negotiators on the threat that an Iran with nuclear capability poses not just to Israel but also to moderate Arab nations and the West. While Iran’s apologists keep reminding us about how rational its theocratic leaders are and how even a nuclear weapon would not be used for genocidal purposes, the regime’s ambition to destroy the Jewish state is not a secret. It’s been a constant theme in Iranian rhetoric and is so entrenched as a staple of their political culture that it is impossible to seriously argue that they don’t mean what they say.

Nor can Iran’s threats be dismissed as empty braggadocio or as defensive in nature. As their arms smuggling venture proved, they are not waiting for the day when their nuclear project reaches its goal to utilize their considerable military resources to threaten Israel. The point of the missiles that were headed to Gaza wasn’t to serve as an annoyance like the small-scale weapons that were shipped to Hamas during the second intifada. Rather, they were intended to give Islamists in Gaza a strategic threat against Israeli cities in the center of the country. Combined with the formidable weaponry they have given their Hezbollah auxiliaries in Lebanon as well as the still-intact Assad government in Syria that owes its existence to Tehran, Iran’s bid for regional hegemony poses a direct threat to the peace of the world.

But when presented with proof of Iran’s malevolent intentions and behavior, all the international press can muster is a yawn or cynical and misleading remarks comparing Israel’s display of the captured arms to George W. Bush’s “mission accomplished” moment. Few seemed to grasp that Iran’s attempt to put advanced missiles in Gaza should be connected to the issue of Tehran’s ballistic missile program and nuclear military research that Western negotiators have done nothing to halt. Though the White House insists it can negotiate a satisfactory nuclear deal with Iran even as it condemns its support for terrorism, these two issues are connected.

Even more important, every time Iran issues a statement like the one from IRGC commander or gets caught shipping arms to Gaza, the lack of Western outrage can only serve to convince the ayatollahs that they have nothing to fear from President Obama or the West. That will make it less likely that they will ever agree to give up their nuclear ambition or their drive to control the region. And that should make Israelis as well as everyone else in Iran’s cross hairs very afraid.

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No Separating Iran’s Nukes From Terrorism

Yesterday, White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed the idea that there ought to be any connection between the interception of an Iranian arms shipment headed for Gaza and the United States pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran. Carney noted that U.S. and Israel had shared intelligence about the sailing of the Kos-C, which was filled with sophisticated and powerful M-302 missiles that had been shipped from Syria and also acknowledged that this provides more proof of Iran’s “bad behavior” as a state sponsor of international terrorism. But he insisted that American efforts to negotiate an agreement with Iran on its nuclear weapons program were a separate issue.

The administration position is that a tough stance on international terror is compatible with a more forthcoming diplomatic effort aimed at persuading Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambition. While this sounds like an effort to defend a stance in which one hand of U.S. security policy doesn’t know — or care — what the other is doing, it’s conceit is more sophisticated than that. The subtext of the push for engagement with Iran is that nuclear diplomacy is a wedge by which the U.S. can ease the Islamist regime back into the international mainstream and make it easier for it to start acting like a responsible nation.

That sounds logical but it is exactly the sort of reasoning that Iran is counting on as it pursues its own two-track policy toward the West. The fallacy here is the assumption that Iran’s participation in international terror can somehow be separated from the nuclear threat. In fact, these are two elements of a common strategy aimed at destabilizing the Middle East and increasing Iranian influence. Treating one as if it had nothing to do with the other enables the president to rationalize a diplomatic strategy in which he deeply believes. But diplomacy that is based on willful ignorance of the other side’s goals is one that is doomed to failure. Rather than dismissing the Iranian arms shipment as irrelevant to the nuclear question, the president must shake off his ideological blinders and try to understand that the seizure of the ship is a clear warning of what lies ahead if he continues to blindly pursue engagement with Iran.

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Yesterday, White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed the idea that there ought to be any connection between the interception of an Iranian arms shipment headed for Gaza and the United States pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran. Carney noted that U.S. and Israel had shared intelligence about the sailing of the Kos-C, which was filled with sophisticated and powerful M-302 missiles that had been shipped from Syria and also acknowledged that this provides more proof of Iran’s “bad behavior” as a state sponsor of international terrorism. But he insisted that American efforts to negotiate an agreement with Iran on its nuclear weapons program were a separate issue.

The administration position is that a tough stance on international terror is compatible with a more forthcoming diplomatic effort aimed at persuading Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambition. While this sounds like an effort to defend a stance in which one hand of U.S. security policy doesn’t know — or care — what the other is doing, it’s conceit is more sophisticated than that. The subtext of the push for engagement with Iran is that nuclear diplomacy is a wedge by which the U.S. can ease the Islamist regime back into the international mainstream and make it easier for it to start acting like a responsible nation.

That sounds logical but it is exactly the sort of reasoning that Iran is counting on as it pursues its own two-track policy toward the West. The fallacy here is the assumption that Iran’s participation in international terror can somehow be separated from the nuclear threat. In fact, these are two elements of a common strategy aimed at destabilizing the Middle East and increasing Iranian influence. Treating one as if it had nothing to do with the other enables the president to rationalize a diplomatic strategy in which he deeply believes. But diplomacy that is based on willful ignorance of the other side’s goals is one that is doomed to failure. Rather than dismissing the Iranian arms shipment as irrelevant to the nuclear question, the president must shake off his ideological blinders and try to understand that the seizure of the ship is a clear warning of what lies ahead if he continues to blindly pursue engagement with Iran.

Iran’s purpose in shipping missiles to Gaza is no secret. By reviving its alliance with the Hamas terrorists who rule the strip, Tehran is not only hoping to acquire the ability to veto any chance of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It must be seen in the context of a regional struggle for hegemony in which Iran can add Gaza to Syria and Lebanon as strategic outposts from which it can exert influence as well as inflict pain on Israel and the West. Even an Obama administration that is disinclined to think the worst of Iran or to engage in disputes with its leaders can grasp the danger that comes from Tehran moving its chess pieces around the international board in this manner. The regime’s Revolutionary Guard’s transfer of Syrian missiles to Gaza is not only a sign that it may believe the war it has waged along with Hezbollah (with Russian aid) to keep Iranian ally Bashar Assad is largely won but that it also wishes to open up a new front against the West in Gaza.

But to pretend that this threat can somehow be separated from the nuclear issue is testimony to the administration’s myopia about Iran than anything else. The point of Iran’s nuclear program is not just to create a weapon that would enhance the prestige of the Islamist government and secure its long-term survival despite the unhappiness of the Iranian people. It is also a means to extend and reinforce its effort to dominate the region via auxiliaries and allies. An Iran nuke does constitute an existential threat to Israel that has been repeatedly threatened with annihilation by the theocrats of Tehran. But even if that genocidal intent is never acted upon, a bomb gives the ayatollahs a way of creating a nuclear umbrella over Syria, Lebanon and perhaps Gaza and the West Bank (if Hamas ever succeeds in toppling the Palestinian Authority). That changes the balance of power in such a way as to threaten moderate Arab states as well as Israel. The missiles Iran sends to its terrorist allies may be not as frightening as its uranium enrichment program or heavy water plant but these are differences in scale not in purpose.

That’s why the arms shipment must be understood as more than a sideshow to the main event of nuclear diplomacy. The basis of hope for nuclear diplomacy is that Iran’s government is moderating and wishes to rejoin the family of nations. But what is really going on is a two-track policy in which Iran engages in off-and-on diplomatic activity designed to deceive Western leaders and undermine sanctions on the regime while at the same time actively building a weapon and seeking to dominate the region via terrorism and strategic alliances.

The seizure of the weapons ship ought to serve as a wake-up call to the West that nothing has changed in Iran. More to the point, even if they insist on pursuing the P5+1 diplomatic process, it must be done without any illusions about Iranian moderation or a desire for détente with the West. Iran’s deadly deception has been exposed. If the administration’s willful blindness about this prevails over common sense, it won’t make it any more likely that Iran will surrender its nuclear option. To the contrary, keeping the nuclear issue separate from that of the country’s sponsorship of international terror will only confirm the Islamist regime’s belief that it is succeeding in fooling the West.

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Iran’s Gaza Arms Shipment and Obama’s Middle East Diplomacy

The news that Israel has intercepted an Iranian shipment of arms headed for Gaza has been overshadowed, along with just about every other foreign policy story, by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. But this is more than just a routine terror bulletin that will be noted, filed and then forgotten. The decision by Iran to ship missiles from Syria to the Hamas-run strip raises serious questions about a number of Obama administration assumptions about both Iran and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

If, as now appears to be the case, Iran is back in the business of arming Hamas, then that does more than undermine the administration’s narrative about President Hassan Rouhani’s government being more moderate than his predecessors. It demonstrates that Iran is, as it always has been, up to its neck in the business of arming and funding international terrorism. That should make President Obama think twice about his belief that the regime can be trusted to abide by any nuclear accord. Just as important is the very real possibility that the captured arms were part of a rapprochement between Iran and its former close ally Hamas. If Iran is now seeking to strengthen the Islamist terrorist group’s ability to wage war on Israel, that could mean it is using the Gaza enclave as leverage against the possibility of an Israeli or Western attack on its nuclear facilities. But it is also possible that the attempt to create a Gaza arms buildup is aimed at reminding the Palestinian Authority that Hamas and other Islamist forces retain a veto over any peace deal with Israel. The seized arms are a signal to the U.S. and Israel not only of the essentially violent character of Iran but of its ability to create havoc throughout the region to serve its own interests.

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The news that Israel has intercepted an Iranian shipment of arms headed for Gaza has been overshadowed, along with just about every other foreign policy story, by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. But this is more than just a routine terror bulletin that will be noted, filed and then forgotten. The decision by Iran to ship missiles from Syria to the Hamas-run strip raises serious questions about a number of Obama administration assumptions about both Iran and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

If, as now appears to be the case, Iran is back in the business of arming Hamas, then that does more than undermine the administration’s narrative about President Hassan Rouhani’s government being more moderate than his predecessors. It demonstrates that Iran is, as it always has been, up to its neck in the business of arming and funding international terrorism. That should make President Obama think twice about his belief that the regime can be trusted to abide by any nuclear accord. Just as important is the very real possibility that the captured arms were part of a rapprochement between Iran and its former close ally Hamas. If Iran is now seeking to strengthen the Islamist terrorist group’s ability to wage war on Israel, that could mean it is using the Gaza enclave as leverage against the possibility of an Israeli or Western attack on its nuclear facilities. But it is also possible that the attempt to create a Gaza arms buildup is aimed at reminding the Palestinian Authority that Hamas and other Islamist forces retain a veto over any peace deal with Israel. The seized arms are a signal to the U.S. and Israel not only of the essentially violent character of Iran but of its ability to create havoc throughout the region to serve its own interests.

Since 2011 Hamas and Iran have been at odds, as they have backed different sides in the Syrian civil war. In addition to pouring arms, money and some of its own forces into Damascus, Iran has deployed its Hezbollah terrorist proxies to back up the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. But Hamas sided with Islamist rebels and broke with Tehran over the dispute. But prior to that Hamas looked to Iran as its principal supplier of arms and cash during the second intifada fighting with Israel. Though Hamas is Sunni and Iran is Shi’ite, the two bonded over their mutual hatred for Israel and Jews.

Proof of the sophisticated nature of the arms pipeline between Tehran and Gaza came in 2002 when the Israeli Navy seized the Karine A, a ship that was loaded with Iranian missiles and various other types of military hardware intended for use by Hamas. Iran’s intentions were clear. They were prepared to back any force willing to fight Israel and to kill Jews in any manner possible.

The breakup of that alliance demonstrated Hamas’ belief that they no longer needed Iran’s assistance. But things have changed since the start of the Arab Spring when the Islamist group thought it could count on support from Egypt and Turkey to make up for the money and arms it got from Iran. The ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo and its replacement by a military regime that seems determined to shut down the smuggling tunnels into Gaza has placed Hamas under tremendous financial pressure. It has also been disappointed by Turkey whose Islamist government talked big about backing Hamas but now seems too preoccupied with its own domestic troubles to do much to prop up Gaza. That leaves Iran, which seems to have prevailed in Syria and is ready and willing to step back into its old role as Hamas’ funder and arms supplier as well as being the chief instigator of mayhem along Israel’s southern border.

Iran’s re-entry into the Israel-Palestinian conflict is just one more reason why Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative is bound to fail. He and President Obama continue to act as if Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas not only is ready to make peace but has the ability to withstand pressure from Hamas and the rejectionists in his own Fatah to make a deal stick. This is clearly untrue. But now that Hamas has Iran in its corner again, Abbas must understand that any hopes that his rivals in Gaza will collapse are mere pipe dreams. Iran’s backing for Hamas not only makes Kerry’s peace talks look like a fool’s errand, their money and munitions may also be a down payment on the launch of a third intifada.

The standard refrain of Israel-bashers is that more violence will be the fault of the Jewish state’s alleged intransigence. But the real reason for another intifada may have more to do with Iran’s geo-strategic ambitions than West Bank settlements. With Syria and Lebanon still firmly in Tehran’s grasp, adding Hamas to the list of its allies gives the ayatollahs one more weapon to wield in its quest for regional hegemony. Stopping the already remote chances of peace between Israel and the Palestinians is one of their goals. But Iran also sees this as a chance to further complicate Western efforts to exert pressure on their nuclear program.

President Obama may believe he is embarked on a diplomatic quest with Iran that will result in a new détente that will lessen the chances of conflict and allow the United States to ease out of a strategic role in which it stands beside both Israel and moderate Arab states. But Iran has very different goals. The seizure of the arms shipment is a wake-up call for Washington. But it is an open question as to whether President Obama and Secretary Kerry are too besotted with their hopes for détente with Iran to listen to reason.

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AIPAC Will Survive While Obama Fails

With over 10,000 pro-Israel activists in Washington this week for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and members of both parties lining up as usual to demonstrate their support for the organization and its cause it may seem odd that so many pundits are prepared to bury the group. But given the Obama administration’s recent successful effort to derail Congressional action on Iran sanctions and the president’s own extraordinary attack on the government of the Jewish state this weekend in an interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg, these are hard times for supporters of the umbrella pro-Israel lobby. Indeed, the collapse of the sanctions campaign combined with what our John Podhoretz correctly described as Obama’s threats against the Jewish state delivered in a pre-AIPAC ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu—who was on his way to Washington to meet with the president and speak at the conference—the power of the lobby seems to have been revealed to be a myth.

As Lee Smith writes today in Tablet magazine, AIPAC’s reliance on the bipartisan coalition it has forged in support of the U.S.-Israel alliance has rendered it unable to punish those who cross it. Smith writes persuasively that President Obama has effectively checkmated AIPAC with a series of moves that demonstrated he couldn’t be constrained by its stands on either the Israel-Palestinian conflict or the Iran nuclear threat. Judged by that standard, he’s right to claim the group “flopped” on Iran sanctions this year. Given that the prospects of AIPAC mobilizing sufficient Democratic support in the Senate for a revived effort to pass a new sanctions bill in the face of Obama’s veto threats are poor, it’s hard to argue with Smith’s belief that the group has been isolated and its power exposed as more a figment of the overheated imaginations of anti-Semitic conspiracy mongers than reality.

But before we join Smith’s musings about AIPAC having to do “some hard thinking about its survival,” some perspective is needed. As bad as things look for the pro-Israel community today, the lobby’s business is in taking the long view of both Washington politics and the Middle East. President Obama may have gotten the upper hand over both AIPAC and Netanyahu in recent months, but any assumption that this situation is permanent rests on the idea that the administration’s diplomatic efforts on both the Palestinian and Iranian fronts will not falter or that these failures can be blamed on Israel and its supporters. As with the fights Obama has picked with Israel earlier in his administration, events have a way of eclipsing his temper tantrums. While it may be entirely in character for the president to choose the weekend when AIPAC is convening and Russia is invading the Ukraine to be issuing ultimatums to Israel, the collapse of U.S. influence abroad due to Obama’s weakness and delusions will make his victory over the lobby a short-lived triumph.

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With over 10,000 pro-Israel activists in Washington this week for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and members of both parties lining up as usual to demonstrate their support for the organization and its cause it may seem odd that so many pundits are prepared to bury the group. But given the Obama administration’s recent successful effort to derail Congressional action on Iran sanctions and the president’s own extraordinary attack on the government of the Jewish state this weekend in an interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg, these are hard times for supporters of the umbrella pro-Israel lobby. Indeed, the collapse of the sanctions campaign combined with what our John Podhoretz correctly described as Obama’s threats against the Jewish state delivered in a pre-AIPAC ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu—who was on his way to Washington to meet with the president and speak at the conference—the power of the lobby seems to have been revealed to be a myth.

As Lee Smith writes today in Tablet magazine, AIPAC’s reliance on the bipartisan coalition it has forged in support of the U.S.-Israel alliance has rendered it unable to punish those who cross it. Smith writes persuasively that President Obama has effectively checkmated AIPAC with a series of moves that demonstrated he couldn’t be constrained by its stands on either the Israel-Palestinian conflict or the Iran nuclear threat. Judged by that standard, he’s right to claim the group “flopped” on Iran sanctions this year. Given that the prospects of AIPAC mobilizing sufficient Democratic support in the Senate for a revived effort to pass a new sanctions bill in the face of Obama’s veto threats are poor, it’s hard to argue with Smith’s belief that the group has been isolated and its power exposed as more a figment of the overheated imaginations of anti-Semitic conspiracy mongers than reality.

But before we join Smith’s musings about AIPAC having to do “some hard thinking about its survival,” some perspective is needed. As bad as things look for the pro-Israel community today, the lobby’s business is in taking the long view of both Washington politics and the Middle East. President Obama may have gotten the upper hand over both AIPAC and Netanyahu in recent months, but any assumption that this situation is permanent rests on the idea that the administration’s diplomatic efforts on both the Palestinian and Iranian fronts will not falter or that these failures can be blamed on Israel and its supporters. As with the fights Obama has picked with Israel earlier in his administration, events have a way of eclipsing his temper tantrums. While it may be entirely in character for the president to choose the weekend when AIPAC is convening and Russia is invading the Ukraine to be issuing ultimatums to Israel, the collapse of U.S. influence abroad due to Obama’s weakness and delusions will make his victory over the lobby a short-lived triumph.

Smith is right to claim that AIPAC was thoroughly outmaneuvered by the administration in the last year. The group’s failure to oppose the nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense was seen as a sign of weakness by the re-elected president. Smith believes AIPAC was set up by the administration when it agreed to lobby on behalf of the president’s efforts to get Congress to authorize the use of force in Syria. The writer believes Obama was never serious about striking the Assad regime in defense of the “red line” he enunciated about the use of chemical weapons and that the administration’s humiliating retreat from those threats was designed to strengthen its ties with Assad’s Iranian ally and to make AIPAC look foolish. That may be giving the president a little too much credit since Obama’s humiliation at the hands of the Russians and Congressional critics was far greater than any experienced by AIPAC. But Smith is correct that the episode damaged the lobby.

There’s also no arguing with the verdict that AIPAC was undone in the campaign for new Iran sanctions by its reliance on support from both sides of the aisle. There was never any chance that the group would be able to muscle sanctions through a Democratic-controlled Senate once the president issued a veto threat and falsely framed the debate as one between supporters of diplomacy and those who want war.  Nor can AIPAC seek to punish Democrats who have cowardly retreated in the face of pressure from the White House. Combined with the president’s bizarre attack on Israel and his almost total mischaracterization of the Palestinian position on the peace talks, there’s no disputing that this administration has defied supporters of Israel on their two most important issues and there’s nothing they can do about it at the moment.

But that doesn’t mean that AIPAC has failed or that the president now has carte blanche to force Israel to give in to his demands or to negotiate a deal with Iran that falls short of his promises to halt their nuclear drive.

The problem for this administration today when dealing with Israel and AIPAC is the same as it was in the president’s first term. He can engage in spats with Israel and its supporters as often as he likes and even sometimes gain a tactical advantage over them. But the bottom line in these disputes remains the unwillingness of either the Palestinians or the Iranians to behave in a manner that is compatible with Obama’s delusional view of the world.

Just as Obama’s attacks on Netanyahu on settlements, Jerusalem and the 1967 borders were rendered meaningless by the Palestinians refusal to negotiate, his latest tirade at the prime minister’s expense will also be overshadowed by Mahmoud Abbas’s inability to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or to sign a deal that will give up the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. Israel will, as Netanyahu and his predecessors have proved, take risks for peace but the Palestinians will always say no because they remain mired in a culture of rejectionism that is at the core of their national identity.

Similarly, the president’s ability to hold off sanctions won’t mean much if the Iranians don’t do his biding in the P5+1 talks. The idea that he can go on negotiating and keep Congress from passing new sanctions indefinitely while the Iranians continue pushing towards a bomb is a misreading of the situation.

The bottom line is that 12 months from now, the president’s threats to Israel will be mere footnotes in the history of Kerry’s failed initiative and not even Obama will be able to persuade Congress or the American people that this entirely predictable result and any resulting violence in its aftermath was the fault of Israel rather than his hubristic secretary of state and Abbas. Nor will be able to pretend that his “moderate” Iranian interlocutors wish to embrace engagement after they spend the next year playing their usual delaying game that will bring them that much closer to their nuclear ambition that imperils both the U.S. and Israel.

But a year from now AIPAC will still be a strong voice in Washington for the U.S.-Israel alliance and it will have retained allies in the Democratic Party that will enable it to push for sanctions once the Iranians finish duping Obama. That is cold comfort for those who rightly worry about the damage the president is doing to U.S. interests now. But by playing the long game, AIPAC will survive to live to fight and win another day. Rather than worrying about the lobby’s survival, analysts would do better to ponder whether the president’s string of foreign policy disasters is hastening the moment when his lame duck status will make any further insults hurled by him at Israel and AIPAC pointless.

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