Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran

Israel’s Critics Say Nothing as Hamas Rebuilds Tunnels With International Aid

Five months ago Hamas rained down rockets on Israeli cities and attempted to use a tunnel network to infiltrate into the Jewish state and kidnap and kill as many Jews as they could. But predictably most of the world’s attention was focused on Israeli counter-attacks to suppress the missile fire and take out the tunnels and it came under severe criticism, even from its American ally, for the toll of civilian deaths that were caused by Hamas using the population of Gaza as human shields. But those who deplored the 50-day war as a tragedy for the Palestinian people now need to ask themselves whether they are really interested in watching another such round of fighting in the future. The same international community that blasted Israel for having the temerity to defend itself now needs to address the fact that the aid that is pouring into the strip for the purpose of rebuilding homes destroyed in the fighting, is actually being used to rebuild the terror tunnels. If they don’t, they’ll have no right to criticize Israel when it is once again forced to act to defend itself.

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Five months ago Hamas rained down rockets on Israeli cities and attempted to use a tunnel network to infiltrate into the Jewish state and kidnap and kill as many Jews as they could. But predictably most of the world’s attention was focused on Israeli counter-attacks to suppress the missile fire and take out the tunnels and it came under severe criticism, even from its American ally, for the toll of civilian deaths that were caused by Hamas using the population of Gaza as human shields. But those who deplored the 50-day war as a tragedy for the Palestinian people now need to ask themselves whether they are really interested in watching another such round of fighting in the future. The same international community that blasted Israel for having the temerity to defend itself now needs to address the fact that the aid that is pouring into the strip for the purpose of rebuilding homes destroyed in the fighting, is actually being used to rebuild the terror tunnels. If they don’t, they’ll have no right to criticize Israel when it is once again forced to act to defend itself.

As the Times of Israel writes, the Israel media is reporting that:

Some of the cement and other materials being delivered to the coastal Palestinian territory, as part of an international rebuilding effort, has been diverted to the tunnels.

The story goes on to detail some things that can’t come as a surprise. Even as it rebuilds its terror tunnels, Hamas is replenishing its supply of missiles and rockets. Given that the group has just kissed and made up with Iran, the flow of money and munitions into the strip by one means or another is bound to increase.

Though expected, this does increase Hamas’s leverage over the Palestinian Authority, which isn’t interested in making peace with Israel but will certainly never do so while it remains under threat from its erstwhile unity partner. Though many in Israel and elsewhere assumed Hamas would emerge weakened from a war in which Gaza was flattened and little material damage was done to the Jewish state, it is more popular than ever (especially in the West Bank which did not suffer much from the terror group’s murderous policies) and may soon be as much of a threat to Israel as it was before the fighting started. Indeed, if, as reports indicate, Hamas is working on ways to defeat Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system succeed, the danger will be far worse the next time the terrorists decide they wish to try their luck.

That is a daunting prospect for Israelis and poses difficult questions for Prime Minister Netanyahu who is now criticized for his handling of the war even if most of his critics would not have supported a bloody campaign to evict Hamas from Gaza and thus eliminate the threat for the future.

But it should also pose serious questions for those countries like the United States and its European allies that were so quick to bash Israel for its efforts to silence the missile fire and demolish the tunnels.

This week, both American and European diplomats wasted their time negotiating over the text of a United Nations Security Council resolution that would recognize Palestinian independence proposed by the PA. The proposal was a non-starter that in the end even the Obama administration had to oppose, but the talk about Palestinian independence ignored the fact that there is already an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza that is using its autonomy to continue its never-ending war to destroy Israel.

By acquiescing to a situation in which a criminal terrorist group not only continues to rule over a captive population and threaten war against a neighboring sovereign state but also standing by silently as Hamas creates the conditions for another terror war, the West is demonstrating its moral bankruptcy on the Middle East. Those who talk about helping the Palestinians cannot ignore the fact that what Hamas is doing is preparing to set in motion a chain of events that will lead to more bloodshed and suffering. By their silence and, even worse, refusal to halt the flow of material that is being used by Hamas to prepare for another war, they are morally responsible for every drop of Arab or Israeli blood that will be shed.

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What About Responding to the Iranian Cyberattack?

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is “considering a ‘proportional response’ against those who hacked into Sony Pictures computers.” Okay. Sony Pictures Entertainment is an American subsidiary of a Japanese corporation, and lunatic dictatorships like the one in Pyongyang shouldn’t be allowed to attack private corporations with impunity. Responding would be advisable. What, then, is the American response to the suspected rogue-regime cyberattack on an American corporation earlier this year?

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The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is “considering a ‘proportional response’ against those who hacked into Sony Pictures computers.” Okay. Sony Pictures Entertainment is an American subsidiary of a Japanese corporation, and lunatic dictatorships like the one in Pyongyang shouldn’t be allowed to attack private corporations with impunity. Responding would be advisable. What, then, is the American response to the suspected rogue-regime cyberattack on an American corporation earlier this year?

As I noted on Wednesday, Iranian hackers launched a massive attack on Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Corporation in February. They inflicted perhaps more than $40 million in damage. That’s on par with the $44 million Sony spent making The Interview. And as Bloomberg noted, “it’s unlikely that any hackers inside the country could pull off an attack of that scope without [the government’s] knowledge, given the close scrutiny of Internet use within its borders.” That point is sharpened when you consider that the hackers claimed they were responding to Adelson’s hawkish remarks on Iran. And, just as with the Sony hack, there were threats: They defaced the Sands’s website, posting “a photograph of Adelson chumming around with Netanyahu, as well as images of flames on a map of Sands’ U.S. casinos….The hackers left messages for Adelson himself. One read, ‘Damn A, Don’t let your tongue cut your throat.’”

Maybe President Obama draws a bright red line when it comes to Angelina Jolie, but forgetting the movie stars and the nasty emails, the Sands attack is every bit as serious as the Sony job. Arguably, more so. After all, we’re not currently involved in extended nuclear negotiations with North Korea. If our current negotiating partners in Tehran are (at least) complicit in attacking American corporations it might say something important about their sincerity in negotiations.

That, of course, is Obama’s problem. He’s staked his foreign-policy legacy on the decency of America’s enemies. He can’t upset our pitiful Iranian diplomacy, so Adelson will just have to take one for the team.

Which means we’ll all take one for the team. If the United States is not going to respond decisively to acts of cyberwar on its citizens, it’s only a matter of time until the next attack, and the next, and so on. If you’re lucky, celebrities will be involved in the one that hits you. Whatever retaliation the administration is mulling, it isn’t about comprehensive national-security policy. It’s PR whack-a-mole in response to a hot news story. Obama doesn’t do wake-up calls.

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Hamas-Iran Rapprochement Bodes Ill for Israel and U.S. Interests

With many European nations clamoring for recognition of Palestine as an independent state, the Palestinian state that already exists was busy reconciling with its most important patron. Hamas, which operates as an independent state in all but name operating in Gaza, quarreled with Iran about the Syrian civil war. But after several months of efforts to patch up that spat, it appears that relations between the two are now back on track. That should worry those who hoped that Hamas would be chastened by the disastrous war with Israel it launched last summer. It should also bother those who think the Obama administration’s effort to create a new détente with Tehran won’t have an impact on the rest of the Middle East and in particular, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A resurgent Hamas-Iran alliance makes the region more dangerous for both the Jewish state and the United States.

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With many European nations clamoring for recognition of Palestine as an independent state, the Palestinian state that already exists was busy reconciling with its most important patron. Hamas, which operates as an independent state in all but name operating in Gaza, quarreled with Iran about the Syrian civil war. But after several months of efforts to patch up that spat, it appears that relations between the two are now back on track. That should worry those who hoped that Hamas would be chastened by the disastrous war with Israel it launched last summer. It should also bother those who think the Obama administration’s effort to create a new détente with Tehran won’t have an impact on the rest of the Middle East and in particular, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A resurgent Hamas-Iran alliance makes the region more dangerous for both the Jewish state and the United States.

Iran was Hamas’s patron throughout the second intifada as it shipped arms and money to the terror group that enabled it to open a southern front to compliment the one on Israel’s northern border where Tehran’s Hezbollah auxiliaries operate. Iran played a crucial role in ensuring that not only could Hamas keep firing rockets on Israeli cities, towns, and villages but that the Islamists could wield an effective veto on any moves toward peace undertaken by the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority.

That changed in 2011 when Iran and Hamas quarreled over Syria. Iran was fully committed to the survival of its ally, the brutal Bashar Assad regime. But Hamas, following the lead of some of its Gulf State friends as well as Turkey, backed Assad’s opponents. The decision stemmed in part from the one big difference that had always made Iran and Hamas an odd couple. As a Sunni group, Hamas felt closer to Sunni Arab states that feared the spread of Iran’s Shi’a sphere of influence. The result was that the political office of the group left Damascus and Iran turned off both the funding and the arms it had been sending Hamas.

But as the West failed to act to oust Assad, it was soon clear that Hamas had bet on the wrong side. Fortunately for them, Iran seems to be willing to forgive and forget and Tehran, which had supported Hamas’s smaller Islamic Jihad rival, may now be ready to invest heavily in Gaza once again. For all of their religious and political differences, their mutual commitment to Israel’s destruction has once again brought Hamas and Iran together.

The timing couldn’t be better for Hamas, which has been financially squeezed by the fall of its Muslim Brotherhood ally in Egypt and the consequent decision of Cairo to shut down the smuggling tunnels into Gaza that provided the terrorists with their principal source of income. It needs more money than the foolish Western nations that are contributing to the rebuilding of Gaza after last summer are willing to give. That’s because its goal isn’t to construct homes but rather to rebuild the strip’s military infrastructure (including terror tunnels along the border with Israel) and replenishing its arsenal of rockets and other munitions. While it was going to be able to divert some of the humanitarian aid donated by the West for this purpose, generous Iranian contributions will both speed up the process and ensure that Hamas will soon be in as strong a military position as it was before its foolish decision to start shooting at Israeli cities.

But the implications of the move are broader than just the already tense front along the Israel-Gaza border.

By rekindling its alliance with Hamas, Iran is demonstrating its ability to wield influence across the Middle East in a manner that is profoundly destabilizing for moderate neighboring Arab states such as Jordan and Egypt. With Hamas back in Tehran’s fold, it not only gives Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the ability to put military pressure on Israel from two directions. It also reinforces the impression that its grip on the region is growing with Assad still firmly in place in Syria and Hezbollah pulling the strings in Lebanon.

Moreover, Iran’s growing power can’t be separated from the direction of the nuclear talks it is holding with the United States and other Western allies. With the Obama administration desperate to get Iran to sign a nuclear deal no matter how weak it may be, pressure on Tehran to modify its behavior is diminishing. It’s not just that it’s obvious that an agreement will signify Western acquiescence to Iran becoming a nuclear threshold power. Any deal, accompanied as it will be by the end of sanctions, will make it easier for the Islamist regime to aid Hamas and strengthen that terror group immeasurably because other Arab states will have good reason to fear Iran’s displeasure.

The result of this series of events will not make Israel less secure. But U.S. influence will be similarly diminished and American allies will have good reason to worry about Obama’s determination to retreat from the region and embrace good relations with an Iran they rightly fear.

Europeans are moving toward legitimizing Hamas, as the recent decision from the European Union court indicated. But in doing so, they are making it less likely that the Palestinian state or states they wish to establish will have any interest in peace. And with America appeasing Iran, there seems to be no reason for Sunnis who want to back the strong horse to avoid embracing Iran.

Seen in that light, President Obama’s decision to appease Iran is even more dangerous than it seems. With a potentially nuclear Iran backing Hamas to the hilt, the prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians is more remote than ever.

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This Is Cyberwar, Not Tabloid Fodder

The Sony hacking story has largely been treated as a juicy showbiz gossip scandal. We’re probably going to regret that. Read More

The Sony hacking story has largely been treated as a juicy showbiz gossip scandal. We’re probably going to regret that.

If North Korea is behind the computer hacks and threats to terrorize theaters showing The Interview, it confirms a new era of rogue-state terrorism, one for which there’s no counterterrorism blueprint. According to the New York Times, Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema has killed its scheduled New York premier of the anti-Kim Jong-un comedy. The Hollywood Reporter says that the country’s top five theater chains have pulled out of showing the film. Time says the movie’s stars, James Franco and Seth Rogen, have called off their publicity tour. A spate of film executives are backpedaling for their lives as their emails are picked through and published to viral derision. The Times’s Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes write that the theater threat “opens a new range of worry for Hollywood.”

But the danger is larger and graver than that.

In February, hackers laid digital waste to Sheldon Adelson’s Sands casino, forcing the Sands to temporarily disconnect from the Internet. It was a massive undertaking that wiped out or compromised millions of files. Bloomberg reports that “recovering data and building new systems could cost the company $40 million or more” (a figure coincidently close to the $44 million Sony sunk into The Interview). Why did hackers target Adelson? The cyberterrorists who hit him call themselves the “Anti-WMD Team.” They are based in Iran, and claim retaliation for Adelson’s hawkish remarks about the Islamic Republic. Here’s the rub, via Bloomberg:

The security team couldn’t determine if Iran’s government played a role, but it’s unlikely that any hackers inside the country could pull off an attack of that scope without its knowledge, given the close scrutiny of Internet use within its borders. “This isn’t the kind of business you can get into in Iran without the government knowing,” says James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

So, if the evidence is pointing in the right direction, dictatorships are tanking our enterprise, holding us hostage, and essentially turning us into their offshore subjects.

This isn’t a gossip story or an industry problem. It’s war. Moreover, it’s a war we don’t know how to fight. In 2011, the U.S. military declared cyberattacks tantamount to acts of war and therefore liable to military response. But that statement concerned cyberattacks on our government or infastructure. We now have rogue regimes going after American citizens and corporations. There’s nothing on the books for that. There’s been talk of “hacking back” among corporate victims, but that’s a reckless and probably illegal option. There needs to be fresh strategic thinking about this, and fast. We’re catching up to a challenge that’s already out of control.

In his worthwhile 2008 book, Terror and Consent, Philip Bobbitt noted the paradox of increased technological interconnectivity. As digital networks grow and grow, larger numbers of people become vulnerable to a simple malicious flick of the switch. Today, we live and breathe online. Our money, our secrets, our stray thoughts are now potential weapons to be used against us. What’s most interesting about the attacks on Sony and the Sands is that they weren’t the grand cyberthefts we’d been warned about for years (and which are already happening regularly). The hackers weren’t interested in stealing money. Their aims were anarchic, seeking to disrupt operations and to blackmail with information.

The hackers behind the Sony attack have invoked comparisons to 9/11. They are right in at least one respect. Look where they attacked: The American film industry carries as much symbolic weight as did the World Trade Center. Culturally, perhaps more so. Hollywood movies are a monolithic U.S. export that have served to plant American notions of freedom and unbridled possibility in the minds of untold millions. From now on, filmmakers will think twice before crossing the next paranoid despot. That’s tragic.

But as for all that goofy Dear Leader humor—good riddance. A psychopathic dictator imprisons and starves 25 million people and we make fun of his haircut. That’s a shabby response from history’s greatest defender of human liberty. It’s no wonder that Hollywood laughed at Kim’s fragile ego right up until it found itself cowering before it. Political satire is only effective when it dissuades those who would otherwise aid or support the target of the joke. On this point Kim humor is doubly useless. No citizen of North Korea sees these gags, and, even if they did, their opinion is irrelevant to the whims of the regime.

Perhaps such jokes make us feel better about our own inaction. North Korea propagates an evil too great to countenance. Its very enormity has become its defense. “The wicked know that if the ill they do be of sufficient horror that men will not speak against it,” said one of Cormac McCarthy’s characters in his novel The Crossing. “That men have just enough stomach for small evils and only these will they oppose.” So while North Korea goes on the attack Americans denounce the perceived racial insensitivities of a film executive’s email correspondence.

With the United States now taking big commercial hits, inaction may no longer be an option. But before we can figure out how to fight back, we need to be clear about the difference between show-business inanities and enemy attacks.

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Yes, It’s Time to Lift the Cuban Embargo

Better Cuba than Iran. That’s my reaction to the news that after months of secret negotiations the U.S. has agreed to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than half a century.

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Better Cuba than Iran. That’s my reaction to the news that after months of secret negotiations the U.S. has agreed to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than half a century.

This is part of a broader effort by President Obama to reorder American diplomacy during the last two years of his presidency in keeping with his 2008 campaign pledge to talk to any dictator anytime without any preconditions. The centerpiece of his push is an effort to restore relations with Iran in return for a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program. That is a very bad idea because (a) Iran is certain to cheat on any such deal, (b) such a deal would not address Iran’s attempts to dominate the Middle East through the use of its terrorist proxies, and (c) such a deal would likely cause Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia to launch their own nuclear weapons. More broadly, Iran is an expansionist power that threatens core American interests in a vital region of the world; it is also supporting the slaughter of more than 200,000 people in Syria. We should be trying to contain Iran rather than cuddling up to it.

Cuba is different. I recall going to Cuba a few years ago and finding a sad, decrepit relic state–a place where old American clunkers from the 1950s somehow stayed on the road, the buildings were falling down, and people lined up for hours to buy eggs. Its biggest ideological export these days seems to be doctors, not bombs. It’s hard to see this broken-down Communist has-been, ruled by a pair of geriatric brothers, as a major threat to American interests.

Once an exporter of revolution to Africa and Latin America, a trend made famous by Che Guevara, Cuba is now but a shadow of its old subversive self. It still remains a sponsor of terrorism but just barely. According to the State Department, Cuba remains on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list because of its links to the Colombian FARC and ETA groups but those are largely beaten and not much of a threat anymore; indeed Cuba is now facilitating peace talks between FARC and the Colombian government. Certainly the groups sponsored by Cuba are not remotely as dangerous as Hezbollah, the Houthis, Asaib Ahl ah-Haq, and other Iranian proxies.

Cuba also remains a notorious human rights violator but its record is not as bad as Iran and it’s cheering to see that as part of the deal to restore relations with the U.S. it is releasing 53 political prisoners, in addition to two Americans who are being swapped for three Cuban spies held in the U.S. Certainly Cuba’s human-rights record is no worse than Vietnam, another Communist state with which the U.S. restored diplomatic relations. Indeed over the years the U.S. has had diplomatic relations with many more noxious regimes including the Soviet Union–so why not Cuba?

The restoration of diplomatic relations will, in any case, deliver some benefits to the U.S. by allowing us to beef up the staff of the American interests section in Havana, thus increasing our ability to (at least in theory) subvert the regime through the promotion of human rights. Moreover the U.S. embargo on Cuba stays in effect, although President Obama is urging Congress to lift it.

After more than 50 years, it seems hard to argue that the embargo is doing much to undermine the rule of the Castro brothers. It’s time, at long last, to lift the embargo and see if it’s possible to do more to promote a post-Communist future for Cuba with openness than we have been able to accomplish with a standoffish attitude over the past half century.

This is one diplomatic initiative on Obama’s part that I can applaud. I just hope it will sate his appetite for diplomatic achievements before he makes ruinous concessions to the Iranians.

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Cuba and the Price of Normalization

Then news this morning that the Cuban government is finally freeing Alan Gross, an American unjustly imprisoned there for the last five years, is cause for celebration. The release of Gross, a Jewish aid worker who was trying to help the Cuban people, not to spy on their government, was long overdue and the seemingly lackluster efforts to free him by the Obama administration were discouraging. But the administration and the Cuban government obviously was interested in achieving something more than a prisoner exchange as they engaged in negotiations. The result of a reported 18 months of talks was not merely the end of Gross’s ordeal but the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba’s Communist government after more than a half century of conflict. This is something about which Americans should feel less than enthusiastic.

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Then news this morning that the Cuban government is finally freeing Alan Gross, an American unjustly imprisoned there for the last five years, is cause for celebration. The release of Gross, a Jewish aid worker who was trying to help the Cuban people, not to spy on their government, was long overdue and the seemingly lackluster efforts to free him by the Obama administration were discouraging. But the administration and the Cuban government obviously was interested in achieving something more than a prisoner exchange as they engaged in negotiations. The result of a reported 18 months of talks was not merely the end of Gross’s ordeal but the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba’s Communist government after more than a half century of conflict. This is something about which Americans should feel less than enthusiastic.

We are told that Gross’s freedom, along with that of 53 human-rights prisoners, is for humanitarian reasons and not part of a prisoner exchange in which Havana released another person (dubbed a U.S. “intelligence asset”) for three Cuban spies. But the real focus of American policy here was on President Obama’s goal of engagement with America’s foes. As with his outreach to Iran, the president’s belief that diplomacy can smooth out if not entirely erase our differences with dangerous regimes has become the engine of American foreign policy during his administration. Whether it is the failed attempts at resets of relations with the Putin regime in Russia or the long-running effort to appease the Islamist regime in Tehran, the point of American efforts is not so much the achievement of tangible goals or the enhancement of U.S. security as it is on the promotion of good will with nations that have little or no regard for U.S. values or interests.

In pursuit of this amorphous goal, the administration has made bargains, like the interim nuclear accord signed with Iran last year, that do little to promote U.S. goals but allow the president to keep talking with hostile nations. It is in this context that we must view any effort to normalize relations with a tyrannical Cuban government.

It should be conceded that the American embargo on Cuba, which can only be lifted by Congress and not by presidential fiat, has not been effective in isolating that country or in promoting change there. But even if we recognize that this is true, neither should the U.S. be blamed for the endemic poverty in Cuba. After all, many American businesses have obtained exemptions for conducting commerce there and virtually every other nation on the planet does have trade with Cuba. Poverty in Cuba is caused by Communism and the repression that is inherent in the system that the aging Castro brothers have imposed on this tortured island prison.

The arguments for opening U.S. trade with Cuba revolve around the idea that engagement will undermine the Communist system and the regime. It should also be noted that when you consider that America has intense economic relations with China, the world’s largest tyranny, the insistence on isolating a far smaller one in Cuba doesn’t seem to make sense. Seen from that perspective, President Obama’s decision to end 51 years of diplomatic estrangement and to open up trade with it will probably do little harm and perhaps lead to some good.

But there are two underlying dynamics to the decision that are deeply troubling.

The first is that this rapprochement has been achieved by blackmail by a vicious totalitarian state rather than an honest and open diplomatic process. Though we are supposed to believe that Gross’s freedom was incidental to the agreement, it’s clear that his unjust imprisonment raised the price of the payoff Obama was preparing to hand the Castros in order to achieve what he is claiming as a foreign-policy triumph. This is a clear signal to other tyrannies that Washington can be fleeced if a U.S. hostage can be held for ransom.

Second, while America’s efforts had not led to freedom for Cuba, it’s far from clear that what will follow the president’s decision will actually end the Cuban people’s long Communist ordeal. Here, the China precedent is both instructive and chilling. By cooperating in this manner the U.S. is going from a position of futile hostility against Communism to one in which it will be directly complicit in the efforts of this brutal regime to survive. Just as American economic ties helped the communists in Beijing to succeed where those in Moscow failed at the end of the Cold War, so, too, is it likely that all that will be accomplished here is an infusion of American cash and legitimacy that will give a failed, bankrupt yet vicious government a new lease on life.

Though he paid lip service to the cause of promoting freedom when he spoke today, as with so many of his foreign-policy initiatives, the president’s focus is more on repudiating longstanding American policies than on actually helping anyone in Cuba. Nor has he extracted a fair price for granting the Castros what they have been demanding for decades. At a time when Cuba’s main allies, especially Venezuela, are in extremis due to the fall in oil prices, this was the moment for the U.S. to get more than just the freedom of Gross. But, as he has done with the even more dangerous regime in Iran, Obama paid a lot and got nothing for the Cuban people.

We can hope that Cubans will benefit to some extent from this decision but it is doubtful that they will be freer or that their prospects for liberty have been improved. Though the end of the break with Cuba is not nearly as significant as it might have been during the Cold War, it does send a message to every other American foe that the U.S. can be bought off cheaply. That’s an ominous precedent for the nuclear talks with Iran and every other dangerous situation faced by the U.S. while Obama is in the White House.

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Obama’s ISIS Boasts Ring Hollow

President Obama went to New Jersey yesterday to speak to troops at a military base to thank them for their service, as is appropriate for the commander in chief. But the president used the occasion to tout the campaign against the ISIS terror group he began at the end of the summer as a success. Comparing this effort to America’s encounters with al-Qaeda, the president boasted of “hammering” ISIS and having “put them on the defensive.” But as the year heads to a close, there is no sign that the group’s grip on much of Iraq and Syria is slipping. Though Americans must hope that Obama’s optimism about ISIS’s certain doom is well founded, given the half-hearted nature of the U.S. commitment to the fight and the paucity of results, it may be that the group’s continued strength is doing more to undermine confidence in the U.S. commitment to the fight than bolstering it.

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President Obama went to New Jersey yesterday to speak to troops at a military base to thank them for their service, as is appropriate for the commander in chief. But the president used the occasion to tout the campaign against the ISIS terror group he began at the end of the summer as a success. Comparing this effort to America’s encounters with al-Qaeda, the president boasted of “hammering” ISIS and having “put them on the defensive.” But as the year heads to a close, there is no sign that the group’s grip on much of Iraq and Syria is slipping. Though Americans must hope that Obama’s optimism about ISIS’s certain doom is well founded, given the half-hearted nature of the U.S. commitment to the fight and the paucity of results, it may be that the group’s continued strength is doing more to undermine confidence in the U.S. commitment to the fight than bolstering it.

As our Max Boot wrote last month, the administration has only been taking small steps toward assembling the forces needed to defeat ISIS, let alone implanting a war-winning strategy. The few troops and air crew being used to hit ISIS may have done some hammering of the Islamists, but to date there is nothing indicating that either the U.S. or its allies in this battle are anywhere close to being able to start rolling back ISIS’s massive territorial gains of the past year.

The comparison between past American campaigns in both Kosovo and Afghanistan is apt. When those commitments began, the U.S. deployed the kind of force and began bombing the foe on a scale that soon crumpled the resistance of the Serbs and the Taliban respectively. Though the Afghan war continues to this day, the offensive to rout the Islamists out of control of most of the country was successful. But what the U.S. has done so far in the fight against ISIS are pinpricks by comparison. Given the vast territory it has gained on Obama’s watch, the notion that three months of combat have merely “blunted its momentum” is hardly comforting to those suffering under its murderous rule or neighboring countries that were hoping the U.S. would act decisively.

The president was dragged into this fight reluctantly after years of refusing to take action in Syria as the situation there worsened along with the options available to the U.S. The U.S. is paying a high price for Obama’s Hamlet-like dithering before the decision to fight ISIS was taken. But it is also going to be paying a price for the half-hearted nature of the efforts against ISIS going on now.

It’s not just that it is appalling that the world’s sole superpower finds itself either unable or unwilling to muster sufficient force to be able to defeat a group that Obama continues to speak of with contempt. Nor can he use the excuse that it is a guerrilla group hiding out in the mountains that can’t be defeated by the conventional military tactics and airpower that the U.S. military excels in using. ISIS has, in fact, conducted its own conventional war and has managed somehow to go on fighting on two fronts in two countries with no signs that it is cracking.

That was bad enough when the administration was still able to pretend that this wasn’t their fight. But once the beheadings of American citizens forced Obama to act, he has continued to treat this as a minor affair that the U.S. can conduct on the cheap. But wars fought on the cheap tend to be very expensive in the long run. So far, all this campaign has gotten Washington is a closer relationship with an equally dangerous Iranian regime and the loss of trust in American power on the part of its allies.

Though the temptation to speak is obvious, it is a mistake for the president to be running his mouth about desultory achievements that do more to highlight the shortcomings of his strategy than proving their value. So long as it stays in the field in control of the bulk of the territory of two countries while fighting the U.S., ISIS is winning and showing the people of the region that they would be fools not to back the “strong horse” that is standing up to the Americans. Until he can announce some real victories against ISIS, President Obama should stop drawing attention to his failures with foolish boasts that do more to undermine U.S. security than to enhance it.

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Why Do States Choose to Kill Dissidents in Paris?

Over the past couple days, I have been in Brussels to attend and speak at a conference addressing the challenges Turkey and the Kurds pose to the European Union. One speaker, French lawyer Antoine Comte, provided an update into the investigation concerning the murders almost two years ago of Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as well as Kurdish activists Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez, shot dead in their office in Paris. He noted the long history of political assassinations in Paris. In 1965, Moroccan dissident Mehdi Ben Barka disappeared in Paris, allegedly killed by the Moroccan security services. And a few years later, Chadian dictator François Tombalbaye apparently had exiled politician Outel Bono killed in Paris. According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, the Islamic Republic has assassinated at least 11 dissidents in Paris. Algerian, Syrian, Palestinian, South African, and Basque activists, politicians, and terrorists have all been killed in Paris.

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Over the past couple days, I have been in Brussels to attend and speak at a conference addressing the challenges Turkey and the Kurds pose to the European Union. One speaker, French lawyer Antoine Comte, provided an update into the investigation concerning the murders almost two years ago of Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as well as Kurdish activists Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez, shot dead in their office in Paris. He noted the long history of political assassinations in Paris. In 1965, Moroccan dissident Mehdi Ben Barka disappeared in Paris, allegedly killed by the Moroccan security services. And a few years later, Chadian dictator François Tombalbaye apparently had exiled politician Outel Bono killed in Paris. According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, the Islamic Republic has assassinated at least 11 dissidents in Paris. Algerian, Syrian, Palestinian, South African, and Basque activists, politicians, and terrorists have all been killed in Paris.

Back to Cansiz, Doğan, and Söylemez: At the time, I speculated the Iran might have been responsible. The preponderance of evidence which has emerged since the murders, however, makes it pretty clear I was wrong, and that Turkey’s security service was to blame. The most damning evidence is a leaked, ten-minute conversation in which the alleged assassin discusses the mission and targets with members of the Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MIT), Turkey’s intelligence service. In addition, a leaked MIT document (consistent with MIT paper stock including watermarks) corroborates those who allege MIT complicity. The French daily Le Monde summarizes the allegations.

The French government, however, has gone silent on its investigation and the French Interior Ministry appears to be stopping its investigation so as not to antagonize the Turkish government. After all, should Paris pursue an investigation that might antagonize Ankara, contracts could be at risk. Alas, with France, the same story repeats.

And it will keep repeating—with Paris being ground zero for murders of dissidents and political opposition—until the French government recognizes that putting its own commercial interests above the rule of law makes it not a dream destination for honeymooners but rather a playground for regimes seeking to quiet their oppositions. Rather than deep-six the investigation into the three Kurdish activists, it is long past time for the French government to pursue the investigation quickly and publicly, wherever it may lead and whomever it might implicate.

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Human Rights Hypocrisy Charge Doesn’t Fly

Hard on the heels of the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the use of torture by the CIA after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. has come under attack from foreign nations accusing Americans of being hypocrites on the question of human rights. China, the world’s largest tyranny as well North Korea, arguably the craziest and most repressive nation on the planet, as well as other massive human rights violators such as Iran, have all thrown the report’s revelations in America’s face. While even those Americans most critical of the practice may not take anything said on the subject by these countries seriously, they do argue that U.S. use of torture undermines efforts to rally support for international human rights. But while the torture story is seen as a black eye for the U.S., there’s no comparison between what the CIA is accused of doing and what goes on elsewhere. Americans may not have clean hands but they are not hypocrites.

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Hard on the heels of the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the use of torture by the CIA after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. has come under attack from foreign nations accusing Americans of being hypocrites on the question of human rights. China, the world’s largest tyranny as well North Korea, arguably the craziest and most repressive nation on the planet, as well as other massive human rights violators such as Iran, have all thrown the report’s revelations in America’s face. While even those Americans most critical of the practice may not take anything said on the subject by these countries seriously, they do argue that U.S. use of torture undermines efforts to rally support for international human rights. But while the torture story is seen as a black eye for the U.S., there’s no comparison between what the CIA is accused of doing and what goes on elsewhere. Americans may not have clean hands but they are not hypocrites.

China, North Korea and Iran assert that America’s brutal interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects means that everything the U.S. has said about human rights should be ignored, vindicating them as well as lending credence to calls for prosecutions of those involved. American liberals seem to implicitly agree with them even if they disagree that U.S. behavior lets anyone else off the hook for human rights violations. But charges of U.S. hypocrisy are nothing more than tyranny talking points.

Whatever one may think of the rough treatment meted out to al-Qaeda prisoners, they were terrorists waging a brutal and bloody war against the West and the United States. As terrorists they were not covered by the protections of the Geneva Convention, nor do they have the same rights as citizens accused of crimes in a court of law. The torture may or may not have effective in getting them to give up vital intelligence but to compare even the nastiest things done to them to the actions of countries like China, North Korea and Iran is more than absurd.

Those tortured in those countries are not accused terrorists but ordinary citizens or dissidents striving for freedom or merely caught up in the grips of a state terrorism. When China, North Korea or Iran, or the many other countries that routinely violate human rights torture, the purpose of the activity is to preserve the ability of the state to go on oppressing people. When the CIA did it, it was part of an effort to defend the lives and the freedom of the American people and those elsewhere struggling to fend off al-Qaeda’s efforts to transform the world into an Islamist caliphate.

Do the motives of the torturers not count? Some would argue that torture is itself a crime and cannot be used under any circumstances. Even more, they say that tolerating torture gives the lie to America’s claim to be the defender of freedom. There is a certain moral logic to such a stand and, in the context of ordinary police work it can be argued that torture can never be contemplated by a just society. Yet the situation the U.S. found itself in after 9/11 was not ordinary. It was a war in which the stakes were as high as they have been in any conflict fought by Americans.

Both in the context of that perilous moment after 9/11 and the long war against Islamist terror that is still going on, the claim that keeping America’s hands clean is more important than the goal of crushing al-Qaeda and its successor groups and thereby defending the future of freedom, may be consistent but it is morally unserious. The first obligation of any democracy at war with tyranny is to defeat the enemy, not to avoid embarrassing revelations about interrogations. It is comforting to assert that victory does not require democracies to sully themselves with brutal behavior but such statements are pious hopes or retroactive pronouncements, not realistic analyses of options in the heat of battle.

By contrast, the efforts of tyrannies to oppress their peoples via torture and other human rights violations have no such justification or motive. To claim that there is no moral distinction between freedom defending itself with brutality and tyranny defending itself with similar methods is to construct a philosophical model that has not connection to real life or the necessarily ambiguous dilemmas of war. Nor should anything that was revealed this week about the CIA deter the United State or its allies from criticizing the widespread human rights violations going on around the world. No nation is perfect. But America’s willingness to do whatever it takes to defend the homeland against Islamist murderers does not make it a nation of hypocrites. That is a label best placed on those who cry out for security when under attack but then second-guess and smear as criminals those who successfully defended them.

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Putting Lipstick on the BDS Pig

The BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement targeting Israel has had more success in the Kafkaesque confines of the modern American university than in the real world. Yet even in the academy, where both the rule of law and basic constitutional rights are heavily curtailed and anti-Semitism is tolerated if not fostered, it has begun to lose battles. That’s because a few principled American academics still support academic freedom, and make their argument convincingly. Yet now another group of leftist academics is offering a way to target Israel while maintaining a façade of academic integrity.

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The BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement targeting Israel has had more success in the Kafkaesque confines of the modern American university than in the real world. Yet even in the academy, where both the rule of law and basic constitutional rights are heavily curtailed and anti-Semitism is tolerated if not fostered, it has begun to lose battles. That’s because a few principled American academics still support academic freedom, and make their argument convincingly. Yet now another group of leftist academics is offering a way to target Israel while maintaining a façade of academic integrity.

The group is a leftist organization called the Third Narrative, which seeks to replace the prevailing anti-Israel narrative on the left with their own anti-Israel narrative, which they consider morally superior. It’s as though one Illinois governor is claiming to be less corrupt than one of his predecessors. Fine, but let’s remember just how relative your morality is here.

The Third Narrative’s mission statement criticizes the overheated anti-Israel rhetoric of the left, but still wants the left to take aim at Israel:

The Third Narrative initiative is our response to this situation. We hope to engage people on the left who suspect that it is wrong to lay all blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict at the feet of Israeli Jews…but aren’t sure how to respond to Israel’s most vitriolic critics. Some of what these critics say is true, some of their accusations are justified. Some of what Israel’s traditional defenders say is also accurate. When it comes to this conflict, the truth is rarely black or white; it resides in a gray area where advocates on either side typically don’t like to venture. That is where we try to go with The Third Narrative.

In theory, it sounds good. A less hateful left is still thoroughly intellectually dishonest, but still an improvement. (It’s a low bar.) Once fiercely opposed to BDS, the organization now seems to have been opposed to the form the mainstream BDS movement was taking, especially the anti-Semitic umbrella BDS organization. The Third Narrative apparently thinks there’s a third way between BDS and no BDS, as it explained in an open letter titled “A Time for Personal Sanctions”:

That response, we believe, should not take the form of generalized boycotts and other sanctions that indiscriminately target Israeli society and Israeli institutions. Such measures are both unjust and politically counterproductive. In particular, campaigns for boycotts and blacklists of Israeli academia attack the most basic principles of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange.

Moreover, a response to Israel’s settlement and annexation policies should not suggest that Israel bears exclusive responsibility for the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy, or that, if pressured, Israel could solve it unilaterally. Achieving a just and durable negotiated solution requires constructive efforts by actors on all sides of the intertwined Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts. However, if the door is to be held open to the possibility of a just, workable, and peaceful solution, one requirement is to prevent actions that would sabotage it. For this reason, we propose targeted sanctions to focus on political actors engaged in such sabotage.

Although they single out four Israeli figures to sanction, the point is really to attack Naftali Bennett, the first politician on their blacklist and a rising star in Israeli politics, on the eve of a national election. (Uri Ariel, Moshe Feiglin, and Zeev Hever are the others.)

Signatories to the letter include Michael Walzer (Princeton), Todd Gitlin (Columbia), Alan Wolfe (Boston College), Michael Kazin (Georgetown), and Gershon Shafir (UC San Diego) among others. As you can see from the names, they are not only academics but also writers. And as you might expect from American academics and left-wing journalists, they have no idea what they’re talking about. A read-through of their open letter shows them to be ignorant of basic international law and deceitful about Israeli actions.

They want to sanction Israelis whose opinions they disagree with, but since those Israelis are not professors at Tel Aviv University they can convince themselves they are better than those other BDSniks. This is their version of a kosher BDS. It is nothing of the sort.

Since their concern about political figures getting in the way of the two-state solution is surely genuine, I eagerly await the follow-up open letter detailing the Palestinian figures they’re also sanctioning: figures who support or encourage terrorism, those involved in Palestinian media who fuel incitement; etc.

And why stop there? As they must know, the political figures who do the most to torpedo Israeli-Palestinian peace sit in Tehran. Which Iranian government officials–obviously President Rouhani, but there must be others–will Third Narrative advocate personal sanctions for?

What’s dangerous about the Third Narrative’s supposedly kosher BDS is that it offers the legions of thought police throughout academia an outlet for their anti-Israel fervor that also flatters their unearned sense of academic integrity. But they can put all the lipstick they want on this pig, it won’t make it kosher.

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Israel Still Doing U.S. Dirty Work in Syria

Over the weekend, the Syrian government reported that Israeli airplanes struck targets outside Damascus. The Assad regime condemned the attack on its territory, a stance echoed by both their Iranian and Russian allies. In particular, Moscow demanded an explanation from Israel for its “aggressive” behavior. Why were the Russians so aggrieved about a few more bombs dropped on a country that is already ravaged by four years of war? The targets hit were apparently stockpiles of Russian weapons that were about to be transferred to Hezbollah. There is nothing that unusual about Israeli military action to forestall weapons being put into the hands of terrorists but what is interesting here is that once again Israel, the ally that the Obama administration most loves to hate, is doing America’s dirty work in Syria.

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Over the weekend, the Syrian government reported that Israeli airplanes struck targets outside Damascus. The Assad regime condemned the attack on its territory, a stance echoed by both their Iranian and Russian allies. In particular, Moscow demanded an explanation from Israel for its “aggressive” behavior. Why were the Russians so aggrieved about a few more bombs dropped on a country that is already ravaged by four years of war? The targets hit were apparently stockpiles of Russian weapons that were about to be transferred to Hezbollah. There is nothing that unusual about Israeli military action to forestall weapons being put into the hands of terrorists but what is interesting here is that once again Israel, the ally that the Obama administration most loves to hate, is doing America’s dirty work in Syria.

For years the U.S. has stood by and watched as the Russians have supplied arms to Assad to slaughter his own people. Even worse, as President Obama dithered about taking action to halt the killing of more than 200,000 persons, the crisis there worsened as, with the help of Iran and its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries, atrocities escalated and moderate alternatives to Assad were marginalized by radical groups including ISIS.

The result is that by the time the U.S. belatedly recognized the necessity of acting against ISIS, there were few good options left for resisting Assad and his allies. More to the point, much as was the case when I wrote about Israeli strikes on Syria in both January and May of 2013, it is Israel that has been forced to step into the vacuum created by the administration’s feckless policies.

Like those strikes, this past weekend’s attacks were primarily directed by Israel’s own security imperatives. Allowing Russia to transfer arms to terrorists, whether serving as mercenaries fighting to preserve a regime that is allied with the Shi’a group’s Iranian masters or deployed near Israel’s northern border, Hezbollah presents a dramatic and potent threat to Israel. But by acting decisively to keep Hezbollah from acquiring even more dangerous weapons than the ones it already possesses, Israel is also helping to keep the situation in Syria from becoming even more unmanageable.

The U.S. strikes on ISIS inside Syria have had some impact on the ability of the terror group to expand its control of much of that country as well as Iraq. But it is too weak a response to even begin the task of rolling back the extent of the so-called caliphate. The net effect of the administration’s effort both there and in Iraq is to expand Iran’s influence and to, in effect, allow Assad and his allied forces a free pass to go on committing atrocities.

Even as President Obama, who was once quite vocal about the necessity for Bashar Assad’s ouster, mulls sanctions against Israel while appeasing Iran and allowing it to run out the clock in nuclear talks, the Jewish state is guarding both its interests as well as those of the West by acting to restrain arms transfers in Syria. While the U.S. concentrates on an insufficient air offensive aimed at ISIS, Israel is effectively restraining any Syrian and/or Iranian adventurism in the region. Keeping Assad and Hezbollah in check is a vital American interest as the rest of the region looks on with horror as the Syrian regime and its friends continue to destabilize the region. Though it continues to be the Obama administration’s favorite whipping boy, Israel’s actions are once again proving the value of a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.

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Implications of Iranian Cheating at Arak

As Jonathan Tobin notes, Colum Lynch’s Foreign Policy bombshell report about Iran’s covert efforts to buy equipment for its Arak plant, a facility which could produce plutonium for a nuclear bomb, raises questions about the logic of the Obama administration, and the recent comments by both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry with regard to the wisdom of extending nuclear talks with Iran.

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As Jonathan Tobin notes, Colum Lynch’s Foreign Policy bombshell report about Iran’s covert efforts to buy equipment for its Arak plant, a facility which could produce plutonium for a nuclear bomb, raises questions about the logic of the Obama administration, and the recent comments by both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry with regard to the wisdom of extending nuclear talks with Iran.

If Lynch’s report is true—and it appears very much to be so—then there are two possibilities as to what happened vis-à-vis American diplomacy. The first is that Iranian diplomats were always insincere in pursuit of a nuclear resolution, and lied outright to Kerry, Undersecretary Wendy Sherman, Clinton, Biden-aide Jake Sullivan, and other officials who have championed the drive for nuclear talks with the current Iranian administration. That possibility is troubling enough, but the second scenario is as troubling, and that is that Iranian diplomats were perfectly sincere, but that the regime simply couldn’t care less what its diplomats said and pursued its own goals irrespective of any commitments they made.

A key theme of my recent book exploring the history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes (of which Iran is the marquee example) is that the State Department never conducts lessons-learned exercises to determine why previous episodes of diplomacy have failed. One example they might consider is the pre-Iraq War negotiations with Iran: Immediately prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, National Security Council official Zalmay Khalilzad along with Ambassador Ryan Crocker met with Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s UN ambassador (and its current foreign minister) in secret talks in Geneva. Almost simultaneously, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw met with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Both talks solicited the same Iranian pledge: Iranian officials would not interfere with coalition forces in Iraq, and Iran would not insert its own personnel or militias into Iraq.

In hindsight, the Iranians there, too, lied. Soon after Saddam’s fall, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) infiltrated 2,000 fighters, militiamen, and Qods Force personnel into Iraq replete with radio transmitters, money, pamphlets, and supplies. The source for that statement? Iranian journalists. Those most enthusiastic for rapprochement, however, are now placing their hopes in the same Mr. Zarif, the man who a decade ago either lied shamelessly or bluffed about the power he did have to control the behavior of the IRGC and influence the supreme leader. Then again, there is a reason why, before he became vice president, Joe Biden was Tehran’s favorite senator.

Kerry is like a gambler who has lost everything, but figures if only he is given one more round at the craps table, he can win big. American national security, however, is nothing with which to gamble. Especially when a gambler is desperate, the house will always win. In this case, however, the house is not Washington, but rather Tehran.

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No, Iran Isn’t Protector of the Shi’ites

Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry shrugged off Iranian military involvement in Iraq. Responding to senators’ concern regarding recent Iranian airstrikes, Kerry reportedly said: “Iraq is 80 percent Shi‘a. There are interests.”

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Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry shrugged off Iranian military involvement in Iraq. Responding to senators’ concern regarding recent Iranian airstrikes, Kerry reportedly said: “Iraq is 80 percent Shi‘a. There are interests.”

With all due respect to Mr. Kerry, his comments reflect ignorance of Iranian behavior, Iraqi Shi‘ites, and religious freedom. That the Islamic Republic is the only protector of Shi‘ites around the globe has long been a staple of Iranian propaganda. But the concept of clerical rule imposed by Ayatollah Khomeini (and subsequently by his stepchild, Hezbollah in Lebanon) has long been an outlier among traditional Shi‘ites because it violates the separation of mosque and state at the heart of traditional Shi‘ism.

In short, ordinary Shi‘ites believe that the religious authority to follow is an individual, personal decision and not a state decision. Theologically, mainstream Shi‘ism teaches that only with the re-emergence of the Mahdi, Shi‘ism’s messianic figure, will there be perfect, incorruptible, Islamic government on earth. Therefore, until his return, government is by definition imperfect, corrupt, and un-Islamic, whatever the claims of the politicians who lead it. Khomeini turned this on its head, effectively arguing that the Prophet Muhammad didn’t separate religion and state, so neither would he and that Shi‘ite religious figures could act as the Mahdi’s deputy. Most Shi‘ite religious leaders don’t accept Khomeini and Khamenei’s view, however, nor do most individuals, either in Iran or outside it.

Independent Shi‘ism is, more than political reformism or anything emerging from the amorphous Green Movement, the true Achilles’ heel for the Iranian regime. It created militias like the Badr Corps and Jaysh al-Mahdi not simply to fight Americans, but rather to impose through force of arms and intimidation what is not in the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqi Shi‘ites. Here’s the basic problem for the Iranian leadership. As supreme leader, Ali Khamenei claims to be the deputy of the Messiah on Earth. Khamenei’s religious credentials are greatly exaggerated, however, and every time he has sought to put himself forward as the chief source of emulation for the Islamic world, for example after the death of Grand Ayatollah Araki in 1994, he has been laughed off the stage, and subsequently withdrew his name to save face.

Earlier this year, my colleague Ahmad Majidyar and I published a short monograph based on travel and interviews which surveyed all the Shi‘ite communities surrounding Iran, and examining the nuanced and diverse strategies each of these communities embraced to maintain their own independence from Iranian attempts to speak and act on their behalf (and AEI produced a short video for its launch, here). Iraqi Shi‘ites have struggled to preserve and protect the religious independence of both Najaf and Karbala from those in Tehran who would seek to speak on their behalf. The Iranian government surely pressures Iraq to do its bidding, a job made all the easier by the American withdrawal. But Iraqi Shi‘ites don’t want to be Iranian puppets, and never have. During the Iran-Iraq War, the Iraqi Shi‘ites did most of the fighting; they didn’t defect en masse just because Khomeini claimed to be the voice of the Shi‘ites. In 2013, the governor of Basra inaugurated a new bridge (built with U.S. money) over the Shatt al-Arab. It was no coincidence that he chose to inaugurate it with a fireworks display on the anniversary of Khomeini’s death. The implication was clear: even Iraqi Shi’ites celebrate on a day when the Islamic Republic officially mourns.

Iran may want to defeat the Islamic State, but they do nothing altruistically. Once they enter Iraq, they will not leave simply because they cannot afford to have any Iraqi ayatollah resident in Najaf or Karbala contradict the word of the supreme leader. How ironic it is that President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry defer so much more to the Iranians than even Iraqi Shi‘ites do. And how sad it is that the United States continues to treat religious freedom in the Middle East, whether practiced by Jews, Christians, or Shi‘ite Muslims, so cavalierly. Make no mistake: the Iranian regime isn’t the protector of the Shi‘ites; it is among their chief oppressors.

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On Obama’s Team, Personnel Is Not Policy

Back in 2006 as North Korea was preparing a long-range missile test launch, then-Professor Ashton Carter, a Clinton administration veteran, proposed the following in a Washington Post op-ed co-authored with former Defense Secretary William Perry: “if North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched.” Carter, clearly more hawkish than many Democratic appointees, appears on the verge of succeeding Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense. So should conservatives be thrilled?

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Back in 2006 as North Korea was preparing a long-range missile test launch, then-Professor Ashton Carter, a Clinton administration veteran, proposed the following in a Washington Post op-ed co-authored with former Defense Secretary William Perry: “if North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched.” Carter, clearly more hawkish than many Democratic appointees, appears on the verge of succeeding Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense. So should conservatives be thrilled?

Not exactly. It’s true that Carter is well qualified, as Max wrote yesterday. He’s also considered brilliant and a more-than-capable bureaucrat. As Eli Lake and Josh Rogin write at Bloomberg, Carter “has been a public advocate for modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, a step opposed by the more dovish side of the arms-control community. When Carter was an academic, before the Obama presidency, he took a hard line on Iran, arguing that the U.S. should use diplomacy and other kinds of coercion to end the country’s enrichment of nuclear fuel.”

So Carter’s hawkishness on North Korea was not a one-time outlier. Nor was his studious and serious take on nuclear nonproliferation. There are moments when conservatives are bound to look at Obama administration nominees and grade them on a heavy curve. But Carter doesn’t even need the curve. He’s clearly a strong pick for the post on his own merits. He’s also, as Michael Crowley writes, in many ways the opposite of Hagel: “Where Hagel, a former senator, was aloof and unfamiliar with the Pentagon’s machinations, Carter was a fearsomely well-briefed manager.”

So have Republicans, as Lake and Rogin suggest in their column’s headline, found “a New Ally at the Pentagon”? It’s probably the wrong question, because the truth is, it doesn’t really matter all that much. That’s because regardless of how much we habitually lean back on it, a reliable truism is no longer true: in the Obama administration, personnel is not policy.

That’s part of what has changed since 2006–indeed since 2009, when Obama took office–and conservatives viewed Carter as a kind of best-case-scenario appointee for a liberal-Democratic administration. (Hypothetical back in 2006, of course, but very much relevant from 2009 on.) Obama came to office with scant knowledge of virtually all areas of policy, and no real experience to speak of. The hope, at least from conservatives, was that he would rely on the counsel of those who did possess the knowledge and experience Obama lacked. Instead, it turned out, he relies on the counsel of Valerie Jarrett–an unaccountable loyalist with even less relevant knowledge and experience than Obama has.

In fact, the prospective Carter nomination fits with Obama administration practice for all the wrong reasons. As Crowley writes:

“He is brilliant and driven, a policy wonk equally adept at mastering the bureaucracy,” says a former White House official. “He’s also arrogant, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.”

That could be a warning sign in an administration that has already burned through three defense secretaries who resented White House micromanagement of their affairs. In Carter, Obama would be choosing a strong-willed independent thinker who believed the U.S. should have left a robust residual troop force in Iraq and believes the military has been asked to swallow dangerously large budget cuts. Carter’s record on nuclear non-proliferation also suggests he could take a harder line on Iran policy than Obama favors.

That has led some to speculate that there will be a clash of ideas, or at least that this background explains why Obama seemed to go looking under every couch cushion for a possible Hagel replacement before settling on Carter. Obama’s top choices didn’t want to go near the job, for a very good reason: they’d be inheriting Obama’s mess and taking orders from his micromanaging–and maladroit, overwhelmed–inner circle.

Were Obama to let Carter be Carter, the issues raised in Crowley’s profile could produce real friction. They could also produce a policy shift. But that’s not been how Obama operates. Obama may actually like that Carter is more hawkish than he is and has support across the aisle. It feeds what I’ve termed Obama’s Team of Bystanders: the people Obama hires to carry out policies with which they disagree to give a sheen of bipartisanship and open-mindedness where there is none.

So why didn’t Obama just offer Carter the job straightaway? The most likely answer is not Carter’s intelligence, but his awareness of his own intelligence. Obama was elected with the help of a press that pushed the baseless storyline that Obama was exceptionally intelligent. The best way to try to keep up that ridiculous myth was to fill his Cabinet with people like Hagel, John Kerry, Joe Biden, etc.–people who might as well have been the inspiration for the old game show Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?

But Carter “doesn’t suffer fools gladly.” That, and not his policy recommendations, is what sets up a possible conflict with Obama.

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How Iran Prevents a Real Solution to ISIS

There was a rare piece of good news from Iraq yesterday: the Kurds and the central government have agreed on an arrangement to split oil revenues. In brief, the Kurds will get to continue selling oil that is produced in the Kurdish Regional Government and the nearby Kirkuk province, which the Kurds occupied earlier this year, with the revenues split between Erbil and Baghdad. In return the Kurds will get 17 percent of Iraq’s oil revenues (approximately equal to their share of national population) and an extra $1 billion a year to fund the pesh merga militia. This is a fair deal all around and the fact that it was reached was a tribute to Prime Minister Abadi who has proven more flexible and reasonable than his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.

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There was a rare piece of good news from Iraq yesterday: the Kurds and the central government have agreed on an arrangement to split oil revenues. In brief, the Kurds will get to continue selling oil that is produced in the Kurdish Regional Government and the nearby Kirkuk province, which the Kurds occupied earlier this year, with the revenues split between Erbil and Baghdad. In return the Kurds will get 17 percent of Iraq’s oil revenues (approximately equal to their share of national population) and an extra $1 billion a year to fund the pesh merga militia. This is a fair deal all around and the fact that it was reached was a tribute to Prime Minister Abadi who has proven more flexible and reasonable than his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.

But it would be an exaggeration to claim, as does some of the news coverage, that this deal is a big step forward in the battle against ISIS. The reality is that the Kurds and the Iraqi central government would fight ISIS whether they had reached a deal on oil revenues or not because it is in their self-interest to do so.

The real question is, Will Sunnis fight ISIS? To mobilize Sunni opposition against these Sunni jihadists, the central government will have to strike a deal with Sunni tribal leaders that will guarantee they will not be persecuted and abused as they were under Maliki’s sectarian rule. That is a much more important and also a much harder objective to achieve than a Baghdad-Erbil oil deal.

All the more so because of Iran’s growing prominence on the pro-government side. The latest evidence of that is news that Iranian F-4 jets attacked ISIS targets inside Iraq’s Diyala province, which Tehran claims as part of a 25-mile “buffer zone” which extends into Iraq. The strikes were apparently directed by Gen. Qassem Suleimani, head of Iran’s terrorist-sponsoring Quds Force, who has become increasingly visible in Iraq in recent months.

It is unclear if the Iranian strikes were done with the agreement of the Iraqi government. If not, they were an infringement of Iraqi sovereignty; if they were done with the Abadi government’s permission, that is one more sign of the sway that Tehran continues to hold in Baghdad. Either way this is bad news. Because the more visible that Iran appears in the anti-ISIS coalition, the less likelihood there is that Sunnis will rally to the anti-ISIS cause because many of them are more afraid of Iranian domination than of ISIS domination.

Sadly, the White House is probably happy about the growing Iranian involvement in the anti-ISIS fight. It shouldn’t be. A basic fact that President Obama can’t seem to grasp as he continues his ill-advised outreach to Tehran is that the more that the U.S. draws closer to Iran, the less chance we have of winning the confidence of Sunni tribes that are the real key to defeating ISIS. Instead of quietly acquiescing in Iran’s growing role, the U.S. should be preparing a plan to checkmate and rollback Iran’s growing influence.

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What Neoconservatives Know

Despite a reputation for bluster, neoconservatives take their lumps better than most. As has been acknowledged repeatedly, we overestimated the contact infectiousness of democracy in Iraq. Similarly, we underestimated the task of its implementation. A willingness to acknowledge mistakes was behind neoconservative support for the strategy change in Iraq known as the Surge. But once the Surge happened, neoconservatives overestimated the American political will to secure our gains in the long term.

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Despite a reputation for bluster, neoconservatives take their lumps better than most. As has been acknowledged repeatedly, we overestimated the contact infectiousness of democracy in Iraq. Similarly, we underestimated the task of its implementation. A willingness to acknowledge mistakes was behind neoconservative support for the strategy change in Iraq known as the Surge. But once the Surge happened, neoconservatives overestimated the American political will to secure our gains in the long term.

If critics won’t hear our confession, so be it.

But they should still listen to our warnings. For if we’ve been too optimistic about freedom’s allies, we’ve been depressingly accurate about its enemies. Neoconservatives warned that if Barack Obama pulled out of Iraq according to his timeline, the country would fall into dangerous hands. Obama did so and ISIS gained a state. For years, while realists and liberals swore that Bashar al-Assad was a reasonable target for U.S. engagement, neoconservatives pegged him as an unflippable servant of both Baathist and Shiite terror. When the Arab Spring came to Syria, Assad devoted himself to mass atrocity and became the main engine of instability in the Middle East. Once the Syrian civil war began, we warned that jihadists would exert control over the rebels unless the United States assisted the non-radicals among them. Washington choked while ISIS and the Nusra Front took the lead in the fight against Assad.

Neoconservatives warned against placing faith in Vladimir Putin (even as George W. Bush claimed to see the good in Putin’s soul). We said Obama’s attempted reset policy was a fool’s errand and Putin was an aggressor by nature. That policy is now in a shambles and Putin, like a modern-day Catherine the Great, has seized Crimea and put the region on notice. Neoconservatives warned that the Palestinian leadership had no interest in peace with Israel. The Obama administration doggedly pursued peace talks that tottered on up until and even through the point that Hamas launched a new round of violence and murder, sparking a war. Neoconservatives have long warned that a premature U.S. exit from Afghanistan will invite an unmanageable Taliban resurgence. On this point, Obama seems to be relenting, having recently approved plans to broaden the role of American forces in that country after 2014.

Then there’s Iran. Elite opinion has invented a new position in the Iranian government: the Office of The Moderate. If you think I’m exaggerating, do a Google search for “the moderate Hassan Rouhani.” Describing Iran’s president thus, you’ll get 113,000 hits. Then search “the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei,” the descriptive title of the real Iranian leader. You’ll get a meager 32,800 hits. Iran’s elections may be fixed but there’s no rigging the global court of elite wisdom. President Obama is the most consequential proponent of the notion that Iran is becoming a moderate power open to diplomatic negotiations on its nuclear program. The administration has entered into its second extension of the P5+1 talks with Tehran ostensibly aimed at denying the mullahs a bomb.

Now, the neoconservative warning: The Islamic Republic of Iran is founded on a delusional theocratic hatred for the West. A nuclear weapon is the longstanding desideratum of a regime that has made “Death to America” a plank of national self-affirmation. For Ali Khamenei, the idea of being defanged by the Great Satan lies somewhere between impossible and unthinkable. Rouhani is a false moderate with false authority. All told, Iran’s leaders are more dangerous and more implacable than any of those mentioned above, and the consequences of taking them lightly are almost too grave to countenance.

Nothing about the Obama administration’s recent dealings with Iran suggests this characterization is wrong. From the few reports that have leaked out, Tehran has been unwilling to budge on any major aspect of a deal to halt its march toward a nuclear weapon. Last week, in the wake of the extension announcement, the New York Times reported, “In the Iranian Parliament, lawmakers erupted in their usual chants of ‘Death to America’ after a lawmaker commenting on the deadline extension spoke of ‘the U.S.’s sabotaging efforts and its unreliability.’” Yesterday, Khamenei called for an arms buildup. “Peacetime offers great opportunities for our armed forces to … build up on preemptive capacities,” he said.

It would be nice if the neocons got this one wrong.

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Iran’s Motive in Talks? Money, Not Peace

One of the greatest mistakes American diplomats make across administrations is projection, assuming that diplomatic adversaries share American motives in coming to the table. North Korea, for example, often seeks bilateral talks with the United States not to resolve its nuclear issue or formalize peace on the Korean Peninsula, but rather to suggest to its citizens that it alone speaks for Koreans and South Korea is an illegitimate state and a puppet of the United States. More recently, the Taliban feigned interest in talks not to end the violence in Afghanistan, but rather to suggest that they had an equal if not superior claim to be the rightful government of Afghanistan rather than Afghanistan’s democratically elected government. And if they could get master terrorists sprung from Guantanamo Bay in the process, all the better.

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One of the greatest mistakes American diplomats make across administrations is projection, assuming that diplomatic adversaries share American motives in coming to the table. North Korea, for example, often seeks bilateral talks with the United States not to resolve its nuclear issue or formalize peace on the Korean Peninsula, but rather to suggest to its citizens that it alone speaks for Koreans and South Korea is an illegitimate state and a puppet of the United States. More recently, the Taliban feigned interest in talks not to end the violence in Afghanistan, but rather to suggest that they had an equal if not superior claim to be the rightful government of Afghanistan rather than Afghanistan’s democratically elected government. And if they could get master terrorists sprung from Guantanamo Bay in the process, all the better.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize that Iran’s main motive has been money as well—specifically, eroding sanctions and jumpstarting the economy—and that it has absolutely no interest in reaching a nuclear accord. Prior to Iran entering talks, it had reported a 5.4 percent reduction in its gross domestic product over the previous year. Soon after talks began, it announced a 258 percent rise in gas exports.

Now, President Rouhani has released new figures, apparently as a way to generate support for his strategy of talks with the United States. Importantly, he acknowledges that the Iranian economy had actually been worse in the run-up to talks, with a 5.8 percent retraction in GDP rather than 5.4 percent. However, according to Iran’s Central Bank, first quarter economic growth is up 4.8 percent, not a bad turn around.

The United States won the Cold War when it effectively bankrupted the Soviet Union. With the price of oil in free fall, well below the predicted level at which Iranian officials calculated their budget, the same could be true with Iran. Tehran is increasingly desperate for cash. That could be leverage negotiators could exploit. First, in a throwback to the post-Lockerbie Libya sanctions, they could unilaterally prohibit European carriers from flying to Tehran, and prevent Iranian aircraft from using European airports. Russia might not play along, but Western consumers infatuated with dictator-chic willing to shell out thousands of dollars for high-end tours to Iran probably won’t want to transit through Moscow or trust the safety record of Iran Air. Infusing cash to a regime ratcheting up executions and sponsoring terrorism isn’t dialogue of civilizations; it is accessory to murder.

But the hard currency provided by well-meaning tourists or curious Western businessmen is nothing compared to the money released by the West simply to reward Iran for sitting at the table. In effect, Obama, Kerry, and Undersecretary Wendy Sherman are giving Rouhani his jackpot without ever calling his bluff. In negotiations, it’s imperative not to lose sight of the big picture. Alas, while Obama and Kerry seek to suggest that their talks and subsidies have made the world safer, and while former Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden aide Jake Sullivan peddles that snake oil to Republicans in Congress, the big picture is this: The U.S. strategy has become one of subsidizing Iran’s nuclear program rather than eliminating it. That is diplomatic and security malpractice in the extreme.

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Khamenei Responds to Obama Letter

Back in 2009, shortly before Iranians rose up against the backdrop of the fraudulent election which returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a second term, President Barack Obama sent a letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In hindsight, one of the reasons perhaps Obama did not stand in solidarity for the principles for which the Iranian people were marching was because he hoped to shatter a diplomatic barrier and engage the Islamic Republic directly. Khamenei was not going to be a pen pal, but he nevertheless responded to Obama making clear his disdain for both Obama and the United States.

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Back in 2009, shortly before Iranians rose up against the backdrop of the fraudulent election which returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a second term, President Barack Obama sent a letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In hindsight, one of the reasons perhaps Obama did not stand in solidarity for the principles for which the Iranian people were marching was because he hoped to shatter a diplomatic barrier and engage the Islamic Republic directly. Khamenei was not going to be a pen pal, but he nevertheless responded to Obama making clear his disdain for both Obama and the United States.

Fast forward five years, and Obama once again sought to engage Khamenei in correspondence. Khamenei apparently once again chose not to write back. While the lack of a written response might give some American diplomats hope because at least Khamenei didn’t shoot down Obama’s ideas officially, such a conclusion would be misplaced. An exchange of letters may be the staple of Western diplomacy, but Tehran doesn’t operate like Washington. Khamenei has always been more comfortable making none-too-subtle allusions in his speeches. And this he did in a speech this past week to a clerical conference in Tehran about takfirism, the tendency among Islamist radicals to declare those who don’t agree with them apostates deserving of death. He used that venue to declare America—which he affectionately refers to as the “arrogance”—and Israel rather than the Islamic State (ISIS, or Da’ash as it’s known in Arabic and Persian) to be the root of the problem. Indeed, he suggests that ISIS is simply the latest manifestation of an American plot:

The purpose of this congress is attending to the issue of takfirism which is a harmful and dangerous orientation in the world of Islam. Although this takfiri orientation is not new and although it has a historical background, it is a few years now that it has been revived and strengthened with the plots of arrogance, with the money of some regional governments and with the schemes of the intelligence services of colonialist countries such as America, England and the Zionist regime… The enemy has brought this to the world of Islam as a custom-made product and problem. Therefore, we have to attend to it. However, the main issue is the issue of the Zionist regime. The main issue is the issue of Quds. The main issue is the issue of the first qiblah for Muslims which is al-Aqsa Mosque.

Lest anyone think that Israel alone is to blame, he reiterates:

There is an undeniable point which is the fact that the takfiri orientation and the governments which support and advocate it move completely in the direction of the goals of arrogance and Zionism. Their work is in line with the goals of America, the colonialist governments in Europe and the government of the usurping Zionist regime.

Khamenei then launches through a litany of events and the current wars in the Middle East and suggests they all are proof of a deliberate American plot:

All these signs show that the takfiri orientation is at the service of arrogance, the enemies of Islam, America, England and the Zionist regime. Of course, there are other signs and proofs as well. We have been informed that an American transport plane dropped the ammunition that this group, known as Da’ash, needed. This was done in order to help them. We said to ourselves, “Perhaps, this was a mistake”. Then, we saw that they kept doing it. According to the reports that I have received, this was done five times. Do they make a mistake five times?

This is while they have formed a so-called coalition against Da’ash. This is a downright lie. This coalition follows other malevolent goals. They want to keep this fitna [civil war] alive, pit the two sides against one another and continue the domestic war between Muslims. This is their goal. Of course, you should know that they will not manage to do this.

Khamenei is pretty clear that not only will he not cooperate with the United States against ISIS, he sees in ISIS violence evidence of American guilt. American officials may see this as so delusional that it has to be cynical rhetoric, but in Khamenei’s fevered worldview, the conspiracy is true and facts are to be dismissed.

Obama and Kerry remain committed, perhaps even desperate for a deal with Iran. Obama, unlike many of his predecessors, understands at least that it is the supreme leader who calls the shots. How unfortunate it is, then, that neither Obama nor Kerry understands the point which is at the heart of Khamenei’s response: “No means no.”

Let’s hope Obama and Kerry have a Plan B and, if not, that Congress will step up to the plate. Because while most policymakers went home for vacation and Congress was in recess, Khamenei gave his response, and his views with regard to America are unequivocal. Diplomacy is not going to work.

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Where’s America’s Anti-ISIS Media Strategy?

Before the 2003 Iraq War, almost everyone across the Bush administration recognized the need for a media strategy and media outlet to carry the message of the United States and free Iraqis into Iraq. And there began an inter-agency food fight with cooks spoiling the broth many times over, enabled by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice’s somewhat disorganized stewardship, that continued until after the war had begun. Meanwhile, the Iranian government formed their Al-Alam radio and television to shape hearts and minds weeks in the weeks before the U.S.-led invasion and before the United States had any mechanism with which to respond.

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Before the 2003 Iraq War, almost everyone across the Bush administration recognized the need for a media strategy and media outlet to carry the message of the United States and free Iraqis into Iraq. And there began an inter-agency food fight with cooks spoiling the broth many times over, enabled by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice’s somewhat disorganized stewardship, that continued until after the war had begun. Meanwhile, the Iranian government formed their Al-Alam radio and television to shape hearts and minds weeks in the weeks before the U.S.-led invasion and before the United States had any mechanism with which to respond.

Iraqi Shi’ites are not naturally anti-American. But with the Islamic Republic fanning the flames of incitement, and the United States incapable of any response, it was the Iranian government and not the United States which wrote the first draft of history with regard to Operation Iraqi Freedom, transforming liberation into occupation.

More than a decade later, it seems the United States remains just as ham-fisted when it comes to the importance of media outreach to conflict zones. While there has been a lot of attention toward ISIS’s use of the Internet and social media, the Open Source Center has some excellent new analysis examining ISIS’s television and media reach. Among its findings:

  • ISIS television and radio could reach nearly half of Syria’s population and 71 percent of Iraq’s population outside of the areas ISIS already controls in those countries. At this point in time, ISIS does not appear to be television broadcasting, but its radio studios are active in both Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria.
  • AM and FM radio from within ISIS-controlled territory can reach over 100 miles into Turkey, 60 miles into Iran, and over 50 miles into Jordan.

While ISIS has been checked recently in Kobane, Syria, and defeated in Beiji, Iraq, it continues to consolidate control over a huge swath of territory. In recent weeks, it has announced a new currency, and it has enthusiastically taken over the region’s schools. That it would include media among the trappings of the state it seeks is logical.

As Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s resignation renews focus on the military strategy against ISIS, and as diplomats discuss Iraqi Kurdish and Turkish oil trading with ISIS, perhaps it is time for Congress to engage on the American media strategy geared specifically to those living under ISIS’s tyranny. Ceding the media field to ISIS will only help it recruit and expand; it’s time to instead take the fight over airwaves to those areas under ISIS control.

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Don’t Simply Complain About Qasem Soleimani in Iraq

Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Qods Force, has been taking his show on the road for years, making public appearances first in Syria and most recently in Iraq. Today, new photos circulated on Twitter of Soleimani sharing lunch in the eastern Iraqi governorate of Diyala.

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Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Qods Force, has been taking his show on the road for years, making public appearances first in Syria and most recently in Iraq. Today, new photos circulated on Twitter of Soleimani sharing lunch in the eastern Iraqi governorate of Diyala.

Certainly, Iran wants to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS). It’s not simply propaganda to suggest that ISIS also threatens Iran. The Islamic Republic might officially be a Shi’ite state, but about ten percent of Iranians are Sunni. They are often bitter, discriminated against both on ethnic and sectarian grounds. In June, Iranian security announced the arrest of several dozen ISIS members operating inside Iran.

But just because Iran and the United States both have an interest in what happens to ISIS does not make Tehran and Washington natural allies. After all, arsonists and firefighters are both interested in what happens to fires, but they are clearly not on the same side.

The U.S. Treasury Department in 2007 designated the Qods Force as a terrorist group “for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.” While a bill formally labeling the Qods Force as a terrorist entity died in congressional committee (perhaps President Obama can consider executive action), the government of Canada was not so easily distracted, and two years ago labeled Qasem Soleimani’s unit to be terrorists.

Normally, the head of a shadowy organization like the Qods Force would avoid the limelight, but by taking such a public presence in Iraq, Soleimani is convincing Iraqis that it is Iran which has its back while simultaneously depicting the United States as at best hapless, and at worst complicit with ISIS. After all, Soleimani is among the Pentagon’s most wanted, and yet he runs around Iraq thumbing his nose at the United States. And, of course, he and the Iranian regime he serves are, alongside Russia, behind the rumors that the United States created and supported ISIS, never mind that it was the Assad regime supported by Soleimani that refused for years to use the Syrian air force to bomb the ISIS headquarters in Raqqa, Syria; Soleimani and Assad preferred instead to target Syrian civilians. When it comes to killing ISIS, the United States does far more than Iran.

The idea that anyone in the United States would simply complain about Soleimani’s antics, however, is absurd. It’s about as effective as a kid complaining to an elementary school teacher that a bully is making faces at him.

If the United States is serious about the Qods Force and wishes to hold Qasem Soleimani to account for the deaths of Americans, it has two options: First, it can try to grab him in Iraq. There is precedent. The United States has previously snatched Iranian operatives in Iraq, but ultimately released them. There are rumors that the real goal of the raid was to catch Soleimani himself. Earlier efforts to grab Soleimani may have been betrayed when senior officials within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leaked word to him of impending action.

Then again, if Obama doesn’t have the stomach to grab Soleimani, it might simply try to kill him. Airstrikes might target all terrorists and extremists, not simply those from one sect. Soleimani is probably right to suspect that he has a free pass from Obama, so long as Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei continues to dangle a legacy-revising agreement in front of American negotiators.

Under such circumstances, then, Soleimani probably has another two years to flaunt himself in front of the cameras in Iraq without fear of consequence. Let us hope, however, that come January 20, 2017, any new president will understand no terrorists deserve a free pass and that it is never wise or sophisticated to allow them to humiliate the United States on the world stage. Credibility matters.

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