Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran nuclear talks

Euros Bet on Obama Appeasing Iran

Secretary of State John Kerry spent several hours yesterday closeted in a Vienna hotel room with Iranian negotiators as he sought to reach a new nuclear agreement. The Iranians are sticking to their insistence on retaining their right to enrich uranium as well as to keep the rest of their infrastructure while Kerry seems to be focused on face saving measures that will allow President Obama to claim that he kept his pledge to stop Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. But while there is still a chance that the U.S. won’t cave in to Iran, a conference of European business figures meeting in London was betting heavily on the Americans continuing on their path to appeasement.

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Secretary of State John Kerry spent several hours yesterday closeted in a Vienna hotel room with Iranian negotiators as he sought to reach a new nuclear agreement. The Iranians are sticking to their insistence on retaining their right to enrich uranium as well as to keep the rest of their infrastructure while Kerry seems to be focused on face saving measures that will allow President Obama to claim that he kept his pledge to stop Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. But while there is still a chance that the U.S. won’t cave in to Iran, a conference of European business figures meeting in London was betting heavily on the Americans continuing on their path to appeasement.

What was billed as the “1st Europe-Iran Forum” convened Wednesday morning and was touted in breathless fashion on the website of The Iran Project, a leading American advocate of appeasement of the Islamist regime as a way for European businesses to get the latest information about Iran. But the purpose of the event, which was officially endorsed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and various members of the European foreign policy establishment was two fold.

On the one hand it is an effort to help prepare Western enterprises for a return to the Iranian market after international sanctions on Iran are lifted in the event of a new nuclear agreement. But it is actually more than just a prudent bet on appeasement. The point of the conference is also to help manufacture more pressure on the Americans to back down from their initially strong positions demanding the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure that would ensure that it would never be able to build a bomb. With Europe already chafing at the existing sanctions, the push to weaken the restrictions on economic activity with Iran is removing what little leverage Kerry has left in the talks.

The conference is but the latest effort touted by Iran appeasement advocates to ease the way toward reintegrating Iran into the global economy. The assumption behind the blithe talk about doing business in Iran is that the loosening of the sanctions that took place last year in the interim deal signed by Kerry began an inevitable process that will end with their complete unraveling.

The push for appeasement has gained strength in recent months as Iran’s equivocal role in the fight against ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria has both diverted the administration from the nuclear issue and also caused it to believe that détente with Tehran offers a solution to all of the West’s problems.

Of course, Iran’s fight with ISIS stems from its desire to prop up its ally Bashar Assad in Syria and on maintaining the power of its Shiite allies in Iraq not a desire to protect the world against the group’s Islamist beliefs. Its disagreement with ISIS is not about Islamism or terrorism but which Islamist terrorists should dominate the Middle East.

The push to dismantle sanctions treats the nuclear threat from Iran as a theoretical problem that need not trouble the West much. That’s why the administration appears willing to agree to measures that at best delay the nuclear quest but do nothing to actually prevent Iran from achieving its dangerous ambitions.

The discussion of the post sanctions environment encourages Iran to refuse to budge not only on enrichment but also on a whole range of issues including inspections of research sites like Parchin and its construction of ballistic missiles. Nor is Kerry even bothering to push Iran to end its support of international terrorism.

The only pressure on Kerry appears to come from the November deadline set for negotiating with Iran that is actually an extension of the earlier time frame that was extended over the summer. Continuing to negotiate in perpetuity would give critics of this appeasement process more ammunition to push for renewed and stronger sanctions on Iran. Last winter the administration was able to brand advocates of tough diplomacy as “warmongers” and, with the help of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid head off measures that would have strengthened Kerry’s hand in the talks. President Obama and his team preferred not to offend the Iranians with increased sanctions but what they have learned is that in doing so they stripped themselves of the only tool that might have produced an acceptable agreement. Iran’s position in the negotiations is now so strong that Kerry has been reduced to offering to allow them to keep their centrifuges for uranium enrichment while asking them to disconnect them.

Under the circumstances, its hard to argue with Europeans and others who believe it is only a matter of time before Washington surrenders to Iran and effectively end sanctions without getting anything more than unenforceable nuclear promises in exchange. Barring a last minute change of heart on the president’s part or a renewed drive for sanctions if the Senate changes hands, the drift toward appeasement appears inexorable.

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Assessing the Iran Appeasement Project

Supporters of détente with Iran can almost taste it. After years of having to listen to even a liberal Democratic president vow to stop the Islamist regime’s drive for nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, Tehran’s apologists are tantalized by the prospect that President Obama will go all the way and sign on to a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran that will, they hope, put an end to the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. If true, it will mark a major victory for Iran and present a clear and present danger to both the West and Israel as the regime will be immeasurably strengthened and undeterred from its nuclear dreams.

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Supporters of détente with Iran can almost taste it. After years of having to listen to even a liberal Democratic president vow to stop the Islamist regime’s drive for nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, Tehran’s apologists are tantalized by the prospect that President Obama will go all the way and sign on to a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran that will, they hope, put an end to the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. If true, it will mark a major victory for Iran and present a clear and present danger to both the West and Israel as the regime will be immeasurably strengthened and undeterred from its nuclear dreams.

But though such a pact is not yet signed, Laura Rozen, one of the leading cheerleaders for this effort, writes in Al Monitor today that a lot of the credit (or blame, depending on your point of view, belongs to William Luers of the United Nations Association. While future historians probably label Luers as a minor figure among this generation’s Guilty Men who worked to appease a dangerous and possibly genocidal rising power, especially when compared to the central role played by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. But Luers’ work to normalize a government that ought to remain beyond the pale for decent people nevertheless deserves thorough scrutiny.

Luers, 85, is a former veteran diplomat who served in Moscow as head of the State Department’s Soviet Affairs desk and later as ambassador to Czechoslovakia before the fall of the Communist empire. In the last decade, however, he has devoted himself to fostering good relations with Iran, and becoming according to Rozen’s sources, the driving force behind a “track 2 dialogue” bringing together members of the Iranian regime with Americans. Luers and those backing his effort have also promoted The Iran Project, a think tank devoted to Iran détente and pooh-poohing concerns about the nuclear threat from Tehran.

The Iran Project is backed by major figures within the U.S. foreign policy establishment and has found an eager audience in the media for its reports downplaying the Iranian threat and promoting the virtues of friendship with the ayatollahs even as the regime’s domestic oppression and promotion of terror abroad has increased. More importantly, it has played a not insignificant role in convincing the Obama administration to abandon the president’s pledges to end Iran’s nuclear program and isolate the rogue regime and to pursue the current diplomatic track that Luers and his friends believe is so close to a happy conclusion.

What was the secret to their success?

First, it must be admitted that they have worked the system perfectly in championing the notion of a newly moderate Iran, a campaign that received a major boost when the seemingly more moderate and reasonable Hassan Rouhani replaced the seemingly irrational Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran last year. Since President Obama came into office determined to pursue a policy of “engagement” with Iran only to be repeatedly rebuffed by the Islamists. But advocates of the notion that Iran was only waiting to be embraced by the U.S. didn’t have to struggle too hard to get both the president and Kerry to try again. Their zeal for a deal overcame their common sense and the West wound up forfeiting the enormous economic and political leverage it had over Iran when an interim nuclear agreement was signed last November. That deal didn’t significantly lessen Iran’s ability to build a bomb but it did start the process of unraveling the international sanctions on the regime that had been so painstakingly built up in previous years.

Second, Luers and company worked hard to cause opinion makers and administration officials ignore the truth about Iran. The idea of Iranian moderation, whether in the form of Rouhani, a veteran regime official who has boasted of deceiving Western negotiators in the past or others taking part in back channel talks sponsored by the appeasers, was always farcical. There has been no change in Iranian policies either at home (where oppression of dissidents is no less fierce than before and official anti-Semitism is rampant) or abroad (as Iran’s terrorist auxiliaries continue to kill and its rogue ally Assad butchers hundreds of thousands of innocents) in the last year. But the point of the Iran Project isn’t to highlight actual change but to promote the idea that the act of diplomacy will itself start the process of making Iran more peaceful.

In Luers’ world Iran is not a hostile power driven by extreme Islamist ideology, bent on regional hegemony and determined to use terror and armed force to intimidate moderate neighbors and support those bent on Israel’s destruction but a reasonable government just waiting for the right offer to be welcomed into the community of nations. In other words, appeasement of this evil government is just a rational response to a difficult problem that can be solved by diplomacy.

This is disturbing enough but what comes across in Rozen’s adoring article about Luers is the diplomat’s indifference to the dangers of the course that he has helped chart. The Iran Project has worked hard to emphasize the downside of confronting Iran over its nuclear effort but done little to point out the hazards of a policy of appeasement.

Interestingly, Rozen points out that Luers befriended Vaclav Havel when the latter was a dissident during the era of Communist rule in Prague. But we hear nothing about a similar effort to support those working to change regimes in Tehran. Indeed, the last thing the Iran Project seems interested in is anything that seeks to undermine the despotic rule of the ayatollahs. As with those who opposed President Ronald Reagan’s labeling of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” the Iran appeasers will hear no evil about their negotiating partners even if it means whitewashing a dangerous theocracy bent on obtaining a nuclear weapon.

If a nuclear deal is signed, it will be a triumph for Luers but it will not mark a new period of understanding between Iran and the United States. Iran’s character is as unchanged as its dangerous strategic goals. The only thing that will be altered is the West’s ability to resist an Islamist regime whose nuclear ambition will, at the very least, signal the start of an era of increased instability in the Middle East and bloodshed that will be worsened by the power the appeasers are handing Tehran.

Instead of celebrating Luers, honest observers should be ignoring his advice and pleading with the president to step back from this course of appeasement before it is too late to reverse the damage to Western security that has already been caused.

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Getting Into Bed with Iran in Iraq Will Have Consequences

At first glance, the idea that Iran’s elite shock troops operating in Iraq have been ordered to avoid targeting Americans seems like good news. But as much as we should hope that U.S. personnel (reportedly some 1,600 Americans are currently there advising Iraqi and Kurdish troops) will be able to operate without interference or attack from the Iranians, Eli Lake’s story in the Daily Beast about the latest intelligence assessment about Iraq is quite troubling especially in light of the U.S. making desperate offers to get Tehran to agree to another weak nuclear deal. If, contrary to public assurances from the administration, there is any quid pro quo between the U.S. and Iran over events in Iraq and Syria, then these dealings are indicative of the long-range problems brewing for American security.

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At first glance, the idea that Iran’s elite shock troops operating in Iraq have been ordered to avoid targeting Americans seems like good news. But as much as we should hope that U.S. personnel (reportedly some 1,600 Americans are currently there advising Iraqi and Kurdish troops) will be able to operate without interference or attack from the Iranians, Eli Lake’s story in the Daily Beast about the latest intelligence assessment about Iraq is quite troubling especially in light of the U.S. making desperate offers to get Tehran to agree to another weak nuclear deal. If, contrary to public assurances from the administration, there is any quid pro quo between the U.S. and Iran over events in Iraq and Syria, then these dealings are indicative of the long-range problems brewing for American security.

According to Lake, intelligence officials believes the Islamist regime has ordered its Quds Force to lay off Americans in order to make it easier for President Obama to persuade the international community to buy into another nuclear deal with Iran. This is significant because the Quds Force has a history of being among the most dangerous terrorists forces on the planet. It helped orchestrate terror campaigns against U.S. forces in Iraq and waged war on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria and against the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan. It also has a record of involvement in international heroin trafficking.

But for the moment the fact that ISIS is at war with both the U.S. and Iran is motivating Tehran to call off its terrorist dogs with respect to the presence of Americans in Iraq. Though the U.S. has explicitly pledged to avoid making common cause with Iran about ISIS, the idea that the two countries were going to conduct operations against the group without any cooperation, whether overt or tacit, in this conflict was always far-fetched. The administration is all too happy to make nice with the Iranians in the field against ISIS but also thrilled at any sign that the Iranians are actually interested in a new nuclear deal. But the informal cease-fire between Quds operatives and Americans after years of the Iranians targeting Americans is just another indication of the problems awaiting President Obama if his attempt to broker détente with Tehran succeeds.

From the beginning of his administration, the president has been eager to put an end to decades of confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. But in order to do that he must maneuver around his pledge not to allow the Islamists to obtain a nuclear weapon. After years of failed attempts at engagement, Congress dragged him into enforcing tough sanctions on the regime and the international coalition on the issue had backed the Iranians into a corner. But his zeal for a deal caused him to squander the immense economic and military leverage over Iran and the result was last November’s interim agreement that weakened sanctions while doing little to forestall the nuclear threat. After another year of talks, the Americans appear to be cracking again and making offers that build on last year’s concessions. The Iranians have now been told that not only will they continue to be able to enrich uranium but that they can keep their infrastructure including the centrifuges that create nuclear fuel for weapons. Instead of pushing for dismantling the centrifuges, which are not needed if Iran’s goal is truly to use its program for civilian purposes, American negotiators have offered to let Tehran keep its machines but asked that they be disconnected, a “compromise” that is little more than a fig leaf on a Western surrender to Iranian demands.

The fight against ISIS has only strengthened the president’s desire to make a deal with Iran. But while both nations have an interest in seeing the terror group destroyed, the unintended consequence of the administration’s belated recognition that its retreat from American commitments in the region has created havoc is that in doing so, it will strengthen the very forces—Iranian-backed Shiite terrorists in Iraq and the Assad government and the Iranian auxiliaries such as Quds force and Hezbollah in Syria—that are seeking to extinguish American influence in the region and extend Iranian hegemony across the region at the expense of U.S. allies such as the moderate Arab nations and Israel. Enlisting the aid of the arsonist in putting out the fire rarely works well for the burning building or the firemen.

If the Iranian strategy succeeds, they will not only have suckered the U.S. into going along with a pact that will make it more likely than not that Tehran will achieve is nuclear dream without having to worry about a Western coalition strangling its economy or threatening the use of force. By the same token, the tacit recognition of the right of Iran to operate with impunity in Iraq and Syria will, in the long run, make these nations more dangerous to the West, rather than less so. If we worry about ISIS, and we should, we should be even more worried about a new balance of power in which the terrorists and drug dealers of the Quds Force will be the ones in charge.

Deals with terrorists are never good bargains except for the terrorists. Getting into bed with Iran in Iraq for the sake of a nuclear deal the West should avoid is an unforced error on Obama’s part. He needs to back away from Iran both in Iraq and at the nuclear negotiating table quickly and ditch his foolish desire for a rapprochement with a regime that is as determined to undo the West as ISIS may be. If he doesn’t, the consequences may be Iranian rule in Iraq and Syria protected by a nuclear umbrella that the president has promised will never happen.

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Appeasement of Iran Should Be Unthinkable

The secret nuclear negotiations that have been going on recently between Iran and the States have, to date, yielded no results. But given the recent statements from both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry indicating their continuing zeal for a deal with Tehran, one shouldn’t discount the possibility that sometime in the coming month or those that follows, they will yield enough to the ayatollahs to secure some kind of agreement. If so, the question Americans will have to answer is whether they want to live in a world in which the administration’s drive for détente with Iran yields a new nuclear power.

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The secret nuclear negotiations that have been going on recently between Iran and the States have, to date, yielded no results. But given the recent statements from both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry indicating their continuing zeal for a deal with Tehran, one shouldn’t discount the possibility that sometime in the coming month or those that follows, they will yield enough to the ayatollahs to secure some kind of agreement. If so, the question Americans will have to answer is whether they want to live in a world in which the administration’s drive for détente with Iran yields a new nuclear power.

The president’s rhetoric on Iran has always been good. He pledged to stop Iran when he first ran for president in 2008 and went even further in 2012 as he vowed not to terminate its nuclear program. But last year’s interim nuclear revealed that his desire to “engage” Iran is clearly greater than any fears about giving the Islamist regime the ability to achieve their nuclear ambition if they are determined to do so. Last year’s deal was achieved only by the U.S. abandoning the considerable economic and military leverage it had over Iran. If Obama is to get another, he will have to go further and gut sanctions altogether while allowing Tehran to retain its nuclear infrastructure in exchange for precautions that cannot be enforced and can easily be reversed by the Iranians. The farcical nature of some of the proposals intended to ensure that Iran will not get a bomb indicates just how desperate the U.S. is to get any sort of deal that could allow the president to pretend that he had kept his promises.

But for the moment, let’s ignore the details and just think about what it will mean for the U.S. to end Iran’s isolation. Advocates for Iran, such as New York Times columnist Roger Cohen consider a “thinkable ally.” Cohen has long been besotted with the Islamist regime, going so far in 2009 to write a series of embarrassing columns in which he sought to argue that Jews were actually treated well by one of the planet’s most anti-Semitic regimes. Now he has returned to his dream and normalizing relations with the Islamist tyranny and believes the president can make it a reality if only he will stop worrying about Iran lying about its nuclear dreams and the fact that it is the world’s leading state sponsor of Islamist terrorism.

A world in which such a result is thinkable is one in which the United States will, despite the president’s stated goal of fighting ISIS, be complicit in the transformation of the Middle East into one dominated by Iran and its allies which include Bashar Assad’s murderous Syrian regime, Hezbollah and Hamas. It is one in which both moderate Arab regimes and Israel will rightly fear for their safety and which a newly empowered Iran will be able to threaten the West with the ballistic missiles, the U.S. isn’t interested in negotiating about and a nuclear program that will be easily converted to a weapon.

Americans are rightly afraid of ISIS and applaud the president’s desire to eliminate it. But if the U.S. surrenders to Iran in the nuclear negotiations, what will follow will be far more perilous than anything that ISIS could possibly achieve. This is not something sane persons should consider “thinkable.”

In the next 24 hours, Jews around the world will observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, during which they will contemplate their shortcomings and ask forgiveness for their sins. But we hope the president and those implementing his policies toward Iran will do the same about their plans. We don’t know what the world will look like a year from now. But if the U.S. does not step back from its course of appeasement of Iran, we know it will be even more dangerous than it is now.

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Who Will Show Leadership on Iran?

One of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s goals in his speech today before the United Nations General Assembly was to put the debate about Iran’s nuclear program back on the international community’s front burner. But whether he succeeded or not—and given the hate for Israel that is integral to the culture of the UN it is unlikely that many nations will heed his warnings about the moral equivalence between ISIS and Hamas Iran—the real question that needs to be asked is why the Iranian threat has dropped off the radar screen here in the United States in the last year and whether anyone of stature in this country is willing to speak up consistently and forcefully on the issue.

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One of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s goals in his speech today before the United Nations General Assembly was to put the debate about Iran’s nuclear program back on the international community’s front burner. But whether he succeeded or not—and given the hate for Israel that is integral to the culture of the UN it is unlikely that many nations will heed his warnings about the moral equivalence between ISIS and Hamas Iran—the real question that needs to be asked is why the Iranian threat has dropped off the radar screen here in the United States in the last year and whether anyone of stature in this country is willing to speak up consistently and forcefully on the issue.

Shutting down the debate about Iran is one of President Obama’s few political triumphs during his second term. Though the president pledged to shut down Iran’s nuclear program during his campaigne for reelection, his main focus after his victory was on appeasing Tehran and enticing the Islamist regime to sign an interim nuclear deal that undermined economic sanctions while doing nothing to end the threat. Having squandered immense political, economic, and military leverage over Iran in order to secure that agreement, he then branded critics of this travesty as warmongers. With the help of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he was able to squelch efforts to increase sanctions on Iran if negotiations failed despite the support of majorities in the both Houses of Congress for a measure that would have strengthened his hand in talks with the ayatollahs.

Since the collapse of that effort, the issue has remained largely dormant in the U.S. as diplomacy with Iran has remained largely under the radar. And while conservatives can generally be counted on to attack virtually any Obama initiative, let alone one as misguided as his attempt at engagement with Iran, many on the right have been far more interested in following Senator Rand Paul’s lead in criticizing the president’s misuse of executive authority rather than sounding the alarms about Iran. Even if, in the wake of the new concerns about the rise of the ISIS terrorist movement, it appears that the isolationist moment in American politics may be fading, the president is probably right if he thinks he still has plenty of room to maneuver in negotiating a new Iran deal that may be even more dangerous than last year’s accord.

Given the leaks about possible compromises—including the absurd one last week about an American proposal that Iran disconnect the pipes that link the centrifuges that enrich the uranium used for nuclear fuel—there is little doubt about the administration’s zeal for a deal. In response, Iran has stiffened its demands to the point where it is clear that any accord will leave their nuclear infrastructure in place and quickly eviscerate sanctions while making it impossible to re-impose them even if it quickly became clear that Tehran wasn’t keeping its promises.

But in the absence of serious debate about the issue or the willingness of GOP leaders to draw a line in the sand on the nuclear issue, it is possible to envisage a repeat of last year’s fiasco in which critics of Iran appeasement were routed by the administration.

That is why Senator Ted Cruz’s decision to stake out an extremely tough position on Iran is such an intriguing development.

Cruz has critics, including COMMENTARY bloggers, who rightly point out that his success in buffaloing congressional Republican leaders into supporting the confrontation that led to last year’s government shutdown was a huge mistake. So, too, is his continued unwillingness to concede that it was an error. But like it or not, the Texan has become an extremely influential figure in the GOP who is clearly interested in running for president in 2016. While Cruz goes into the next election cycle as a huge underdog who is probably not a viable Republican option to defeat Hillary Clinton, what is most interesting about his effort is the fact that this Tea Party hero seems to think foreign policy is where he can best differentiate himself from other conservatives or a libertarian like Rand Paul.

Where last year he rushed to the Senate floor to second Rand Paul’s dubious but wildly popular filibuster about the administration’s use of drones, in recent months he has been throwing down the gauntlet to the Kentucky senator. Though he claims he should not be confused with an all-out interventionist like John McCain, Cruz’s op-ed in Politico Magazine published yesterday seemed to indicate he is prepared to use opposition to the Obama drive for détente with Iran as a rallying point for his presidential hopes.

Cynics will say this is just about Cruz seeking an edge for 2016 and, as with his courageous stand against anti-Semitic critics of Israel among those protesting persecution of Christians in the Middle East, dismiss his statements as politics as usual rather than principle.

But at a time when the administration appears to be operating with a free hand on Iran, this is no time to questioning the bona fides of anyone on the national stage that is willing to prioritize this issue. Cruz’s insistence that justified concerns about ISIS should not allow the West to give Iran a pass on both its use of terrorism and its nuclear ambitions is exactly what we should be hearing from Republicans on Obama. But, for the most part, this point and others he made about Iran’s egregious human rights record haven’t been said loudly or often enough.

Even if we were willing to accept the premise that Cruz is doing this for political reasons—and his record on both Israel and Iran suggests that his foreign-policy views have been both consistent and sincere—that doesn’t change the fact that his effort to change the conversation about the issue is timely and much needed. If he steals a march on Paul or other 2016 contenders by pushing Republicans to speak up on Iran the way he did about the shutdown, then so much the better for him, his party, and the country.

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With Pipe Proposal U.S. Waves White Flag on Iran Nukes

The Obama administration thinks it may have found a way to solve the nuclear standoff with Iran. But the leak of this proposal, which was clearly intended to give the impression that its foreign policy isn’t as clueless as it seems, isn’t likely to improve its public-relations problem or reduce the chances of the Iranians building a nuclear weapon. Instead, by placing a proposal which called for dismantling the pipes connecting Iran’s nuclear centrifuges while leaving their nuclear infrastructure intact, Washington is demonstrating just how desperate its position has become. That Iran isn’t biting on even this abject attempt at outreach by the administration illustrates how strong it has been allowed to become by Obama.

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The Obama administration thinks it may have found a way to solve the nuclear standoff with Iran. But the leak of this proposal, which was clearly intended to give the impression that its foreign policy isn’t as clueless as it seems, isn’t likely to improve its public-relations problem or reduce the chances of the Iranians building a nuclear weapon. Instead, by placing a proposal which called for dismantling the pipes connecting Iran’s nuclear centrifuges while leaving their nuclear infrastructure intact, Washington is demonstrating just how desperate its position has become. That Iran isn’t biting on even this abject attempt at outreach by the administration illustrates how strong it has been allowed to become by Obama.

There are two issues raised by yesterday’s New York Times story in which the idea of pipe removal was mooted as a “glimmer of hope” coming out of the negotiations that the U.S. and Iran have been holding in New York this past week during the prelude to the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations. One is the way the Obama administration’s zeal for a deal has, piece by piece, dismantled its previous positions on stopping Iran to the point where there is almost nothing left of President Obama’s campaign promises about the Iranian nuclear threat. The second is the way this proposal demonstrates the strength of the Iranian position in which Tehran feels it doesn’t need to give an inch in talks with the West.

It should first be stated that the leak of the proposal to the New York Times, and in particular its chief Washington correspondent David Sanger, was utterly predictable. For the past six years, the Times has been the beneficiary of numerous leaks from administration sources as the White House and its leading press cheerleader were always ready to help each other out. But the practice has escalated since John Kerry became secretary of state and stories under Sanger’s byline became the place to go for scoops intended to bolster the image of President Obama’s foreign-policy team. But this latest example of how the information pipeline between Foggy Bottom and the Grey Lady works isn’t likely to do much to solve the administration’s public-relations problems.

The proposal is, on its face, a devastating indictment of how far the administration has retreated from President Obama’s avowal during his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney in 2012 that he wouldn’t settle for anything less than the elimination of Iran’s nuclear program. Last November, Kerry signed an interim agreement with Iran that weakened sanctions in exchange for both a tacit Western recognition of the Islamist regime’s “right” to refine uranium and a moratorium on weapons-level refinement that could be easily reversed. Since then negotiations on a final accord have stalled because the Iranians have stood their ground and refused to dismantle their nuclear infrastructure while also stonewalling United Nations inspectors eager to learn how far their advanced efforts into military application of their nuclear technology have gone.

But rather than stick to a principled insistence on ensuring that Iran could not retain the capability to build a bomb, the U.S. has been on a path of constant retreat. If the leak to the Times is accurate, this means that Obama and Kerry have abandoned even the pretense of trying to stop Iran. If Kerry’s interim deal that left Iran the option of reconstituting its stockpile of nuclear fuel at the whim of the ayatollahs was weak, this idea of merely disconnecting pipes is a joke.

The conceit of the proposal is that if the pipes were removed, that would mean a reconstruction of the connections would take so long that it would allow the West sufficient time to respond if there were signs that Iran was violating such an agreement. The possibility that disconnecting the pipes could be even more easily reversed than other ideas for delaying an Iranian “breakout” to a bomb is fairly obvious. But even if we assume this would be a serious obstacle, without a rigorous inspection system that isn’t on the table the notion that the West would really know what was going on in Iran’s nuclear plants isn’t credible. Nor is there any assurance that an Obama administration and its allies—who are even less enthusiastic about tough sanctions on Iran—would do anything after it had supposedly “solved” the problem. While the Times claimed the point of the proposal was to allow Iran to save face under Western pressure, it is far more likely to be aimed at saving Obama’s face as he abandons his pledge against stopping Iran.

But the mere airing of such a preposterous proposal illustrates above all the weakness of the Obama administration’s position vis-à-vis Iran. As even the Times story reports, the Iranians are on the offensive in New York, hyping their opposition to ISIS as bait to further entice Obama to, as Reuters reported today, exchange their support for a campaign against the terrorist group for Western acquiescence to their nuclear ambitions.

This is an astonishing reversal of fortune from a year ago when the Obama administration could boast, with some justice, of constructing a system of international sanctions that were beginning to hurt Iran. But Obama and Kerry discarded the enormous economic and military leverage they had over Tehran in last year’s interim agreement. Now, their dubious pursuit of détente with Iran is looking even more likely after the president’s dithering on Syria and abandonment of Iraq led to the rise of ISIS.

But as much as the West needs to clean up the mess Obama helped create in Iraq and Syria with his inaction, it cannot give Iran a pass to create an even more deadly nuclear threat. An Iranian bomb is, as the president has often said, a foreign-policy “game changer” that will, at best, undermine the same Arab regimes opposed by ISIS, threaten Israel with destruction and pose a genuine danger to the West.

The ridiculous pipe proposal is one more sign that the administration is in retreat mode on Iran. But an even more worrisome sign of Iran’s strength is the contempt with which it is treating this evidence of Western appeasement.

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Iran Has Obama Cornered on Nuclear Issue

They good news out of the White House is that President Obama has no plans at present to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani next week at the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. If such a meeting were being touted, it might signal an impeding agreement between the two nations that would likely do little to avert the Iranian nuclear threat. The bad news is that Iran’s open display of defiance heading into the talks that began this week in New York is a sign that American economic and military leverage over the Islamist regime is now so slight that the most likely outcome of this latest round of diplomatic futility is for the negotiations to continue to be strung out indefinitely, something that will lead inevitably to the Iranian bomb Obama has vowed to stop.

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They good news out of the White House is that President Obama has no plans at present to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani next week at the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. If such a meeting were being touted, it might signal an impeding agreement between the two nations that would likely do little to avert the Iranian nuclear threat. The bad news is that Iran’s open display of defiance heading into the talks that began this week in New York is a sign that American economic and military leverage over the Islamist regime is now so slight that the most likely outcome of this latest round of diplomatic futility is for the negotiations to continue to be strung out indefinitely, something that will lead inevitably to the Iranian bomb Obama has vowed to stop.

As I wrote earlier this week, the European Union has already signaled that it is preparing for yet another extension of the talks past November by appointing current foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to continue to represent the EU in negotiations with Tehran. These are, of course, the talks that were supposed to have a six-month time limit so as to prevent Iran from continuing its delaying tactics that have worked so well over the past decade. But that time limit — an integral part of the interim nuclear accord signed last November by the United States and its allies with Iran — was already extended once over the summer.

That ought to mean the current talks being held in New York ought to be make or break time for an administration that spiked Congress’s attempt to strengthen economic sanctions on Iran last winter by promising that diplomacy could work without the extra leverage tougher restrictions on doing business with Tehran would give it. But in the last year the administration’s diplomatic efforts have gone nowhere on the nuclear issue. The loosening of the sanctions in the interim accord removed the West’s ace in the hole against the ayatollahs and signaled the world that Iran would soon be open for business again.

Combined with the tension between Russia and the West after the invasion of Ukraine that provided Iran with a crucial friend and you have a formula that left Tehran feeling strong enough to resist President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s entreaties to make a deal and inaugurate a new era of U.S.-Iran détente. Throw in the fact that the U.S. and Iran are allegedly now on the same side in the struggle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria (where Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad has survived and also, as Kerry said, “played footsie with ISIS”) and Iran has zero incentive to give an inch on nuclear issues.

With little hope of progress this week, Rouhani can go to New York and thumb his nose on the nuclear issue at the U.S. with impunity. That leaves President Obama’s promises about stopping Iran and letting diplomacy work without Congressional interference look hollow if not mendacious. The Iranians feel they have Obama right where they want him, knowing he has even less appetite for a confrontation with them than he does with ISIS. The terrorist group presents a clear and present danger to the nation that the administration is right to begin to address. But by neglecting the even more deadly peril from an Iranian nuke and allowing Tehran to think they have nothing to lose by stiffing the West in the talks, Obama is endangering U.S. security and setting himself up for a legacy of foreign policy catastrophe.

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About That Iran Talks Deadline?

Last year when the United States and its allies signed an interim nuclear accord with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear to the world that the subsequent round of talks to arrive at a final resolution of the problem would not be allowed to go on indefinitely. Unlike past diplomatic exchanges with Iran, the negotiations would be limited to a period of six months after which there would either be a satisfactory agreement to end the nuclear threat or Iran would face serious consequences. But a low-key announcement from the European Union about a diplomatic assignment demonstrates that what Kerry said would never be allowed to happen is exactly what will occur.

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Last year when the United States and its allies signed an interim nuclear accord with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear to the world that the subsequent round of talks to arrive at a final resolution of the problem would not be allowed to go on indefinitely. Unlike past diplomatic exchanges with Iran, the negotiations would be limited to a period of six months after which there would either be a satisfactory agreement to end the nuclear threat or Iran would face serious consequences. But a low-key announcement from the European Union about a diplomatic assignment demonstrates that what Kerry said would never be allowed to happen is exactly what will occur.

The announcement concerned European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton who will, we are informed, continue on in her role as chief negotiator for the P5+1 talks with Iran even after her term on the EU Commission expires in November. Rather than her designated successor, current Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, assuming the responsibility for leading the Western delegation in the negotiations, Ashton will soldier on in this thankless task. But aside from any qualms about Ashton’s past performance in the role, which inspires little confidence in either her willingness to press the Islamist regime or her commitment to ending the danger of an Iranian bomb, there is one other little problem.

If the final round of the P5+1 talks were only supposed to last six months, why will Ashton’s services still be required more than a year after the interim accord was signed?

The answer is all too obvious. Despite the pious promises from Kerry and all of the other defenders of the interim accord that the West had learned its lesson about being strung along by the Iranians, they have in fact fallen for the same trick again. Having been suckered into an interim deal that weakened sanctions on Iran just at the moment when the enormous economic and military leverage over the regime seemed to provide an opportunity to pressure it to come to terms without the use of force, Western negotiators have now found themselves trapped in a device of their own making. They gambled everything on the belief that Iran was ready to sign a final accord that would allow President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise to stop Iran. But after several months of talks that demonstrated anew that the Iranians will never give up their nuclear program or agree to any terms that will effectively prevent them from building a bomb, the U.S. and its allies feel they have no choice but to keep talking even if there is no end in sight.

The announcement about Ashton is significant because even when the P5+1 group formally extended the Iran talks after the six-month mark was passed this summer (Iran had already been allowed to delay the start of the clock), Congress and the public were assured that this would not mean they would go on indefinitely. But with the Iranians digging in their heels recently on a variety of issues, including inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and their uranium refinement and stockpile of nuclear fuel, there seems no chance that the next round of negotiations to be held in New York during the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations will be anything but a continuation of past frustration for the West and delaying tactics by the Iranians.

The notion of Iran running out the clock in these talks has always been crucial. That’s because for the last decade it’s been obvious that doing so merely gives them more time to reach their nuclear goal after which it will no longer be possible for the West to take meaningful action. That was the case when similar prevarications worked to allow the North Koreans to pass the nuclear threshold, something that should be painfully familiar to Wendy Sherman, the head of the U.S. delegation to the talks Ashton chairs, who was performing the same role with the North Koreans.

It is apt to remember that when critics of the interim accord raised questions about its lenient terms, the loosening of sanctions, and the Iranians’ stalling the West again, they were labeled “warmongers.” Attempts by a majority in both houses of Congress to enact new, tougher sanctions on Iran that would go into effect only when the next round of negotiations would be declared a failure were denounced by the administration as an unwarranted interference in what they considered to be a productive diplomatic stream.

Had those sanctions been enacted last winter rather than being spiked by procedural maneuvers by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama’s veto threats, Ashton and the P5+1 negotiators would have some real leverage over the Iranians at this point. But instead of allowing diplomacy to flourish, the defeat of sanctions was a gift to the Iranians who now feel empowered to return to the dilatory tactics of the past.

Iran’s position is further strengthened by the situation in Iraq and Syria where the rise of ISIS (due in no small measure to other foreign-policy blunders by the administration) has made the administration even more loath to offend Tehran. Having a common foe with the United States seems to have empowered the Iranians to think they have nothing to worry about. They also benefit from the conflict between the West and Russia over Ukraine, as Moscow now seems inclined to offer the Iranians an outlet that will render sanctions less effective.

Seen in that light, Ashton may have reason to believe that she will have more or less permanent employment in a P5+1 process that could drag out well into the future. But this admission not only gives the lie to Kerry’s promises about the interim accord’s time limits. It also gives the ayatollahs confidence that the West no longer is serious, if indeed it ever was, about preventing them from realizing their nuclear ambitions.

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Tough on ISIS? Iran Senses U.S. Weakness

After weeks of indecision, President Obama is finally, albeit in a limited manner, mustering U.S. strength to respond to the challenge from ISIS terrorists. But at the same time, another dangerous Islamist power is sensing U.S. weakness in its struggle to build a nuclear weapon. The latest news about Iranian maneuvering prior to the resumption of the nuclear talks with the West provides a stark contrast to any talk about a more muscular Obama foreign policy.

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After weeks of indecision, President Obama is finally, albeit in a limited manner, mustering U.S. strength to respond to the challenge from ISIS terrorists. But at the same time, another dangerous Islamist power is sensing U.S. weakness in its struggle to build a nuclear weapon. The latest news about Iranian maneuvering prior to the resumption of the nuclear talks with the West provides a stark contrast to any talk about a more muscular Obama foreign policy.

As the New York Times reports today, Iran is going full speed ahead with a diplomatic campaign to undermine Western sanctions aimed at forcing them to come to terms on a nuclear agreement. Secretary of State John Kerry began the process of weakening and perhaps dismantling the restrictions on doing business with Iran last fall in the hope that this would lead Tehran to meet him at least halfway and sign another weak accord that might let them keep their nuclear program while committing them to not build a bomb. But in the months that have followed Kerry’s interim deal, the Iranians have not played ball. Instead, they have reverted to their pattern of previous negotiations in which they have stalled and continued to try to run out the clock until it is too late to stop them. While some sources close to the negotiations claim that a final agreement is possible and may even be within reach, Iran’s public stance and its diplomatic offensive leave the impression that they are standing firm and will agree to nothing that ultimately limits their ability to build a bomb.

The Obama administration’s zeal for a deal with Iran is no secret. Nor is the president’s desire to craft a new détente with Tehran. That impulse is only strengthened by the fact that both Iran and the U.S. view the ISIS terrorists as an enemy. As I wrote last week, the administration’s belated realization that letting ISIS flourish in Syria and Iraq was a colossal error is leading some to conclude that it should work together with the Iranian regime in an attempt to crush the group. But while it is to be hoped that the U.S. and Iran will not clash in Iraq, no one should trust Tehran or its motives in intervening against ISIS. Nor should this temporary confluence of interests be allowed to impact the U.S. effort to stop Iran from going nuclear.

But unfortunately, the mixed signals coming from Washington about Iran are already being interpreted abroad as indicating the administration’s lack of resolve on the nuclear issue. As the Times notes, Iran seems to be making progress in getting Russia (which is always happy to thwart U.S. interests on any issue even if it makes no sense for the Putin regime to let their Iranian neighbor acquire a bomb) and South Africa to think about backing away from sanctions or openly breaching them. And so long as the U.S. is behaving as if the nuclear issue is not a priority and that increasing, rather than weakening the restrictions in the coming year is on the table (a prospect that the administration quashed when it was proposed by Congress), it’s hard to blame these countries and others who are tempted to do business with Iran, that Obama doesn’t care much about the issue.

But whatever the administration is planning to do in the talks or if they fail, the Iranians seem determined to prepare themselves to withstand any pressure from the West. They are secure in the knowledge that Obama will never use force against them and that America’s allies and partners in the negotiations will crumble even if the president will not. Under those circumstances they have little incentive to be reasonable in the talks.

President Obama is reluctantly bringing the U.S. into the war on ISIS. But unless he wakes up and starts acting in a manner that will cause the Iranians to fear the consequences of trying to keep their nuclear program, he may face an even more dangerous conflict against a country on the verge of gaining a nuke.

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Will ISIS Help Pave Way for Iranian Nuke?

One of the ongoing conundrums of Middle East politics is the fact that the United States and Iran have wound up on the same side in the conflict against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But in this case the enemy of our enemy isn’t necessarily our friend. Or at least it shouldn’t serve to help weaken American resolve to stop Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon.

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One of the ongoing conundrums of Middle East politics is the fact that the United States and Iran have wound up on the same side in the conflict against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But in this case the enemy of our enemy isn’t necessarily our friend. Or at least it shouldn’t serve to help weaken American resolve to stop Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon.

The complicated mess in Iraq is the sort of game in which, as the old baseball expression goes, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. But by overthrowing Saddam Hussein and his minority Baathist Sunni rule over a majority Shiite country, the U.S. unwittingly put the U.S. on the side of Iran, Saddam’s deadly enemy and a patron of Shiite dissidents against his despotic rule. Since Saddam’s fall, the U.S. and Iran have danced a delicate minuet in which Tehran alternately opposed and then sometimes backed America’s effort to stabilize Iraq and leave it with a working democracy. Suffice it to say that while the U.S. and Iran share a common agenda in not wishing to see Sunni extremists overrun Iraq, the differences between the two on the future of the country are considerable.

The Obama administration fled Iraq prematurely while staying out of the Syria conflict and thus set in motion the chain of events that led to the frightening rise of ISIS. So it is not in much of a position to pick and choose its allies in its halting efforts to stop the terrorist movement from taking Baghdad and extending the reach of its so-called caliphate. That means it has to welcome any help from Iran to the Shiite-dominated government but should also be extremely leery about allowing it to deploy its own forces, let alone letting Tehran’s terrorist auxiliaries run free in Iraq.

But that uneasy relationship should not be allowed to play any role whatsoever in the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran which will resume later this month in New York ahead of the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Yet the tenor of those talks, which were extended into the fall after missing a July deadline, seems to indicate that the Obama administration is more interested in détente with Iran than in halting its nuclear ambitions.

Last fall, the administration discarded most of its enormous economic and political leverage over Iran when it signed onto an interim nuclear agreement that loosened sanctions and tacitly recognized their “right” to enrich uranium in exchange for largely meaningless gestures that did not significantly halt the Islamist state’s progress toward a weapon. Since then it has pursued negotiations toward a final deal but has been given the same runaround that Tehran’s past negotiating partners experienced. Iran has signaled that it no longer regards President Obama’s threats as serious and its negotiating position—in which it has sought Western approval for keeping its nuclear toys rather than pledging to dismantle them—has hardened.

Even before the current crisis in Iraq, there seemed little likelihood that the administration would show any resolve in the nuclear talks with Iran. Rather than persuading the Iranians to negotiate safeguards that would mandate the end of their nuclear program, Secretary of State John Kerry’s concessions seemed to have persuaded Tehran that it can keep its uranium stockpile, nuclear plants, and military research facilities while sanctions gradually collapse. The fact that the administration thinks it needs to appease the Iranians on Iraq will only deepen their conviction that they can hang tough without facing any consequences.

If anyone doubted Iran’s resolve and its arrogant dismissal of Western attempts to monitor their nuclear program, the regime’s continued stalling of the International Atomic Energy Agency to investigate their program should convince them. Without real information about Iran’s military nuclear research any agreement, whether one with tough terms or one as weak as the document signed last fall by Kerry, will be meaningless.

It is to be hoped that President Obama will finally show some grit and destroy ISIS before it is too late. But if in the course of that effort he is prepared to appease Iran further, that will be a poor bargain. The U.S. doesn’t have to choose between an ISIS-run Iraq and a nuclear Iran. Both are disasters that must be averted at all costs. Strong American leadership could rally the world behind the fight against ISIS and efforts to isolate Iran until it renounces its nuclear ambitions forever. Unfortunately, that appears to be the one thing lacking in Washington these days.

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Obama Doesn’t Worry About Israel’s Survival. That’s Why We Should.

In an interview with the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman, President Obama once again sounded the themes that have characterized his second term foreign policy: befuddlement and helplessness. But amidst the alibis for failure, the president also said something significant: He’s not worried about Israel’s survival but is concerned about its values. That’s exactly why the rest of us should be more worried about its security.

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In an interview with the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman, President Obama once again sounded the themes that have characterized his second term foreign policy: befuddlement and helplessness. But amidst the alibis for failure, the president also said something significant: He’s not worried about Israel’s survival but is concerned about its values. That’s exactly why the rest of us should be more worried about its security.

Here’s the quote:

I asked the president whether he was worried about Israel.

“It is amazing to see what Israel has become over the last several decades,” he answered. “To have scratched out of rock this incredibly vibrant, incredibly successful, wealthy and powerful country is a testament to the ingenuity, energy and vision of the Jewish people. And because Israel is so capable militarily, I don’t worry about Israel’s survival. … I think the question really is how does Israel survive. And how can you create a State of Israel that maintains its democratic and civic traditions. How can you preserve a Jewish state that is also reflective of the best values of those who founded Israel. And, in order to do that, it has consistently been my belief that you have to find a way to live side by side in peace with Palestinians. … You have to recognize that they have legitimate claims, and this is their land and neighborhood as well.”

It’s nice that the president admires Israel’s achievements. But his complacence about its military achievements combined with his patronizing concern about its democratic and civic traditions is the sort of left-handed compliment that tells us more about his animosity for the Jewish state’s government than his fidelity to the alliance between the two allies. You don’t have to read too closely between the lines to understand that the subtext of these comments—Hamas’s genocidal intentions and Iran’s nuclear ambitions—make Obama’s blasé confidence about Israel’s ability to defend itself deeply worrisome.

The president is, of course, right to note that Israel has a formidable military. In particular, Israel’s dedication to technological advances such as the Iron Dome missile defense system have both saved many lives in the last month’s fighting with Hamas and provided a substantial long-range benefit to its American security partner. But his complacency about its security situation is hardly reassuring.

Israel remains under siege by hostile neighbors in the form of terrorist states on both its northern (Hezbollah) and southern borders. Both remain committed not just to Israel’s destruction but also the genocide of its Jewish population. While Israel is in no current danger of military defeat, the spectacle of Hamas forcing the majority of Israelis in and out of bomb shelters for a month encouraged the Islamists and their supporters to believe their cause is not yet lost. The fact that their efforts are being cheered on by a worldwide surge in anti-Semitism fueled by hatred of Israel also ought to leave any true friend of Israel worried.

Even more to the point, the principal sponsor of those terror groups—Iran—is working hard to gain nuclear capability, a (to use Obama’s own phrase) “game changing” factor that could destabilize the entire Middle East, threaten the security of the U.S. as well as endanger Israel’s existence. But despite paying rhetorical lip service to the effort to stop Iran, Obama has spent the last years hell-bent on pursuing détente with Tehran. The weak interim nuclear deal signed by the U.S. last fall undermined the sanctions that had cornered the Iranians and discarded virtually all of the West’s leverage. If the Iranians are currently playing hard to get in the current round of negotiations (now in the equivalent of soccer’s injury time as the deadline promised by Obama for talks has been extended), it is because they know the president’s zeal for a deal (and an excuse to abandon his campaign promises to stop Iran) outweighs his common sense or his resolve.

The bulk of Friedman’s interview with Obama concentrated on the disaster in Iraq and related troubles. But here, as with many domestic problems and scandals, the president’s priority is to absolve himself and his policies. The world is, he seems to be constantly telling us, a complex and confusing place where all of our possible choices are bad. There’s some truth to that, especially in places like Syria and Iraq. But what comes across most in his account of America’s declining affairs is that this is a president who is overwhelmed by events and has little understanding of them. The best he can do is to spew clichés about his bad options and to blame others.

Obama’s chief whipping boy in the Middle East is Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the world leader with whom he has quarreled the most in his years in office. Despite the events of the last month that have proved again that any territory Israel hands to the Palestinians will become a terror base, Obama continues to obsess about the need for Netanyahu to make territorial concessions that will create the possibility of, as the Israeli says, 20 Gazas in the West Bank. The overwhelming majority of Israelis reject such mad advice but Obama dismisses their common sense as merely being a case of a lack of vision. Despite his talk about supporting Israeli democracy he has been doing everything possible to thwart the will of Israel’s voters by undermining Netanyahu. Israelis want peace but understand that subjecting themselves to terror governments won’t bring the conflict to a close.

Obama also believes that the obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians isn’t Hamas. This conveniently ignores the fact that it is Hamas that plunged the region into war and whose hold on power there is being guaranteed by American pressure on Israel to restrain its counter-attacks on Islamist rocket fire and terror tunnels. The problem is, Obama says, that Netanyahu is “too strong” and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is “too weak.” That explains Obama’s constant attacks on Israel and his praise for the feckless—and powerless—Abbas. If he were serious about supporting democracy, he’d be wary of the autocratic Abbas and his corrupt PA gang and understand that asking Israel to further empower a Palestinian leadership that won’t make peace is not the act of a friend.

Even if we take the president’s assurances of his friendship for Israel at face value, this interview confirms what has been obvious since January 2009. This is a president who believes Israel’s security is not his priority or even a particular concern. Rather, he wants to save Israel from itself and acts as if it has not already made several offers of peace that have been consistently turned down by the Palestinians. Though Obama is right that Israelis won’t allow their country to be destroyed, his apathy about the deadly threats it faces from Iran and its terrorist proxies, cheered by a chorus of anti-Semitic haters, does nothing to inspire confidence in his leadership. The world has gotten less safe on his watch. The Israeli objects of his pressure tactics do well to ignore his advice. Friedman’s interview gives those who do care about the Jewish state’s future even more reasons to worry.

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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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