Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iranian government

Annals of Useful Idiocy, Circa 2010

As a service to future historians (if they can just find this post) seeking to understand how the moral outrage of the world focused in 2010 on Israel rather than Iran, I offer this excerpt from a Spiegel interview with the well-known Swedish author Henning Mankell, a passenger on one of the smaller boats in the Gaza flotilla:

SPIEGEL: This [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict is complicated enough, but it probably doesn’t even constitute the biggest threat to peace in the region at the moment. That is posed by Iran, with its controversial nuclear program and its prediction that Israel will disappear from the map.

Mankell: I am very concerned, because I don’t trust this president (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) and the mullahs. They want to have any weapon that can be used to destroy Israel. Naturally we cannot accept that.

SPIEGEL: But what do you want to do? Campaigns like this one can be directed against a democratic country like Israel. The Iranian government wouldn’t even let things get that far.

Mankell: I had an invitation to a literature festival in Tehran, which I turned down.

SPIEGEL: Why?

Mankell: Because Iran puts writers and intellectuals in prison and makes some of them disappear. I can’t go to a country like that.

SPIEGEL: Why don’t you go there and make the repression public?

Mankell: I wouldn’t be able to do what I would like to do. They would misuse me for propaganda purposes.

SPIEGEL: And you didn’t have this concern with the Gaza campaign?

Mankell: I saw what I saw. I felt what I felt. I thought what I thought. I saw what happened to people, and that’s what I want to report on.

Earlier in the interview, Spiegel asked Mankell whether he had ever been to Gaza (“no”), whether he knows the IHH and the Free Gaza movement that organized the flotilla (“not well enough to be able to form an opinion”), whether Hamas was a source of hope for him (“I don’t know enough about the issue”), and why he ignored multiple Israeli warnings that the ship could not proceed to Gaza (“At least they should have let us continue for another two hours, until we were just off the coast”).

In other words, he declined the invitation to go to Iran and speak truth to power, but a safe boat trip to just-off-the-coast of Gaza, in the service of organizations he failed to investigate, to assist an Iranian proxy about whom he is agnostic, appealed to his moral sense. No one, of course, will ever surpass the concision of Woody Allen’s statement of moral idiocy on being asked to explain his affair with Mia Farrow’s daughter: “The heart wants what it wants.” But Henning Mankell’s “I felt what I felt, I thought what I thought” deserves the same place of honor in the literature of useful idiocy. Historians take note.

As a service to future historians (if they can just find this post) seeking to understand how the moral outrage of the world focused in 2010 on Israel rather than Iran, I offer this excerpt from a Spiegel interview with the well-known Swedish author Henning Mankell, a passenger on one of the smaller boats in the Gaza flotilla:

SPIEGEL: This [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict is complicated enough, but it probably doesn’t even constitute the biggest threat to peace in the region at the moment. That is posed by Iran, with its controversial nuclear program and its prediction that Israel will disappear from the map.

Mankell: I am very concerned, because I don’t trust this president (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) and the mullahs. They want to have any weapon that can be used to destroy Israel. Naturally we cannot accept that.

SPIEGEL: But what do you want to do? Campaigns like this one can be directed against a democratic country like Israel. The Iranian government wouldn’t even let things get that far.

Mankell: I had an invitation to a literature festival in Tehran, which I turned down.

SPIEGEL: Why?

Mankell: Because Iran puts writers and intellectuals in prison and makes some of them disappear. I can’t go to a country like that.

SPIEGEL: Why don’t you go there and make the repression public?

Mankell: I wouldn’t be able to do what I would like to do. They would misuse me for propaganda purposes.

SPIEGEL: And you didn’t have this concern with the Gaza campaign?

Mankell: I saw what I saw. I felt what I felt. I thought what I thought. I saw what happened to people, and that’s what I want to report on.

Earlier in the interview, Spiegel asked Mankell whether he had ever been to Gaza (“no”), whether he knows the IHH and the Free Gaza movement that organized the flotilla (“not well enough to be able to form an opinion”), whether Hamas was a source of hope for him (“I don’t know enough about the issue”), and why he ignored multiple Israeli warnings that the ship could not proceed to Gaza (“At least they should have let us continue for another two hours, until we were just off the coast”).

In other words, he declined the invitation to go to Iran and speak truth to power, but a safe boat trip to just-off-the-coast of Gaza, in the service of organizations he failed to investigate, to assist an Iranian proxy about whom he is agnostic, appealed to his moral sense. No one, of course, will ever surpass the concision of Woody Allen’s statement of moral idiocy on being asked to explain his affair with Mia Farrow’s daughter: “The heart wants what it wants.” But Henning Mankell’s “I felt what I felt, I thought what I thought” deserves the same place of honor in the literature of useful idiocy. Historians take note.

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Iran Threatens War in the Mediterranean

Yesterday, Ali Shirazi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said its naval forces “are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities.” Never mind the cynical use of the words “freedom” and “peace” from a repressive regime that steals votes and cracks heads. Breaking a blockade by force is a declaration of war and could, in this case, easily and instantly spark a region-wide conflagration.

More likely than not, Iran is just posturing. Ever since Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government has been waging a relentless campaign to win over Arab public opinion with apocalyptic anti-Zionism and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. And last week it was upstaged by Turkey and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when howling denunciations of Israel almost everywhere in the world followed the now-infamous battle aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel. Even the president of the United States says Israel’s blockade of Gaza is no longer sustainable, though at least he says it calmly. Not Iran, Syria, Hamas, or Hezbollah, but Turkey has been the toast of the Middle East’s radicals for a week now.

The Turks have been slowly turning away from their alliance with the West since 2003. Erdogan, more recently, has not only been reorienting his country toward the Sunni Muslim world of which it’s a part; he’s also adopting the causes of the Resistance Bloc, led by Iran’s Shia theocracy and the atheist non-Muslim Alawite clan, which rules Syria. He’s been trying for years now to join Tehran and Jerusalem in setting the regional agenda, and he finally and unambiguously succeeded last Monday.

Iran is supposed to lead the “resistance,” however, and I suspect its leaders are trying to seize the region’s attention again. They feel insecure behind all that bombast. As Persians and, especially, Shias, they’re looked upon with suspicion and loathing, despite their hardest of hard lines against Israel. The Turks aren’t Arabs either, and some resentment remains from the imperial Ottoman days; but they’re Sunnis, at least, like most in the Middle East.

So while Erdogan’s Turkey may look in some ways like a de facto Iranian ally from the American and Israeli perspectives, from the point of view of Tehran it’s a convenient, useful, triangulating competitor. Syria’s Bashar Assad is content to be Iran’s junior partner, but Istanbul was once the capital of a powerful Sunni empire that, not long ago, held sway over much of the Mediterranean. As a member of NATO (for now, anyway), it can’t be entirely trusted and won’t likely ever take orders from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Ali Khamenei.

Iran needs its mojo back — now — and huffing and puffing and bluffing about the blockade is one way to get it. Still, it would only surprise me a little if Tehran thinks it has a green light from most of the world to proceed. Israel is more isolated than it has been in decades, and this wouldn’t be the first time one of its enemies miscalculated and did something stupid. Now would be a good time for the Obama administration to say, firmly and in no uncertain terms, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Yesterday, Ali Shirazi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said its naval forces “are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities.” Never mind the cynical use of the words “freedom” and “peace” from a repressive regime that steals votes and cracks heads. Breaking a blockade by force is a declaration of war and could, in this case, easily and instantly spark a region-wide conflagration.

More likely than not, Iran is just posturing. Ever since Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government has been waging a relentless campaign to win over Arab public opinion with apocalyptic anti-Zionism and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. And last week it was upstaged by Turkey and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when howling denunciations of Israel almost everywhere in the world followed the now-infamous battle aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel. Even the president of the United States says Israel’s blockade of Gaza is no longer sustainable, though at least he says it calmly. Not Iran, Syria, Hamas, or Hezbollah, but Turkey has been the toast of the Middle East’s radicals for a week now.

The Turks have been slowly turning away from their alliance with the West since 2003. Erdogan, more recently, has not only been reorienting his country toward the Sunni Muslim world of which it’s a part; he’s also adopting the causes of the Resistance Bloc, led by Iran’s Shia theocracy and the atheist non-Muslim Alawite clan, which rules Syria. He’s been trying for years now to join Tehran and Jerusalem in setting the regional agenda, and he finally and unambiguously succeeded last Monday.

Iran is supposed to lead the “resistance,” however, and I suspect its leaders are trying to seize the region’s attention again. They feel insecure behind all that bombast. As Persians and, especially, Shias, they’re looked upon with suspicion and loathing, despite their hardest of hard lines against Israel. The Turks aren’t Arabs either, and some resentment remains from the imperial Ottoman days; but they’re Sunnis, at least, like most in the Middle East.

So while Erdogan’s Turkey may look in some ways like a de facto Iranian ally from the American and Israeli perspectives, from the point of view of Tehran it’s a convenient, useful, triangulating competitor. Syria’s Bashar Assad is content to be Iran’s junior partner, but Istanbul was once the capital of a powerful Sunni empire that, not long ago, held sway over much of the Mediterranean. As a member of NATO (for now, anyway), it can’t be entirely trusted and won’t likely ever take orders from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Ali Khamenei.

Iran needs its mojo back — now — and huffing and puffing and bluffing about the blockade is one way to get it. Still, it would only surprise me a little if Tehran thinks it has a green light from most of the world to proceed. Israel is more isolated than it has been in decades, and this wouldn’t be the first time one of its enemies miscalculated and did something stupid. Now would be a good time for the Obama administration to say, firmly and in no uncertain terms, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

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White House Seriously Considering Ludicrous Iran Agreement

We knew this was coming. The White House has issued a statement — the perfect mix of gobbledygook and bureaucratic-speak. You have to read it in full to fully appreciate Obama’s desperation for a deal — any deal — that would avoid a confrontation with Iran:

We acknowledge the efforts that have been made by Turkey and Brazil. The proposal announced in Tehran must now be conveyed clearly and authoritatively to the IAEA before it can be considered by the international community. Given Iran’s repeated failure to live up to its own commitments, and the need to address fundamental issues related to Iran’s nuclear program, the United States and international community continue to have serious concerns. While it would be a positive step for Iran to transfer low-enriched uranium off of its soil as it agreed to do last October, Iran said today that it would continue its 20% enrichment, which is a direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions and which the Iranian government originally justified by pointing to the need for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Furthermore, the Joint Declaration issued in Tehran is vague about Iran’s willingness to meet with the P5+1 countries to address international concerns about its nuclear program, as it also agreed to do last October.

The United States will continue to work with our international partners, and through the United Nations Security Council, to make it clear to the Iranian government that it must demonstrate through deeds — and not simply words — its willingness to live up to international obligations or face consequences, including sanctions. Iran must take the steps necessary to assure the international community that its nuclear program is intended exclusively for peaceful purposes, including by complying with UN Security Council resolutions and cooperating fully with the IAEA. We remain committed to a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program, as part of the P5+1 dual track approach, and will be consulting closely with our partners on these developments going forward.

So the deal simply raises “concerns” — and Obama is not giving up on engagement (“a diplomatic solution”). The next phase (it’s really the same phase we’ve been in for the last 16 months — engage and stall) will consist of diplomatic forays to test how “sincere” the mullahs are and whether we can verify the “progress.” Obama, you see, has thrown in the towel on every effective measure (i.e., military action, crippling sanctions, and regime change) that could prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons. Now it’s all about devising a strategy whereby Obama can claim diplomatic “success.”

But here’s the hitch: Israel isn’t going to buy this nonsense. So we return to what is becoming the only meaningful question: will Obama support Israeli military action?  American Jewish “leaders” should press Obama to answer that question now. After all, the survival of the Jewish state hangs in the balance and their muteness, like that of American Jewish leaders of the 1930s, will be remembered quite unkindly by history.

We knew this was coming. The White House has issued a statement — the perfect mix of gobbledygook and bureaucratic-speak. You have to read it in full to fully appreciate Obama’s desperation for a deal — any deal — that would avoid a confrontation with Iran:

We acknowledge the efforts that have been made by Turkey and Brazil. The proposal announced in Tehran must now be conveyed clearly and authoritatively to the IAEA before it can be considered by the international community. Given Iran’s repeated failure to live up to its own commitments, and the need to address fundamental issues related to Iran’s nuclear program, the United States and international community continue to have serious concerns. While it would be a positive step for Iran to transfer low-enriched uranium off of its soil as it agreed to do last October, Iran said today that it would continue its 20% enrichment, which is a direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions and which the Iranian government originally justified by pointing to the need for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Furthermore, the Joint Declaration issued in Tehran is vague about Iran’s willingness to meet with the P5+1 countries to address international concerns about its nuclear program, as it also agreed to do last October.

The United States will continue to work with our international partners, and through the United Nations Security Council, to make it clear to the Iranian government that it must demonstrate through deeds — and not simply words — its willingness to live up to international obligations or face consequences, including sanctions. Iran must take the steps necessary to assure the international community that its nuclear program is intended exclusively for peaceful purposes, including by complying with UN Security Council resolutions and cooperating fully with the IAEA. We remain committed to a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program, as part of the P5+1 dual track approach, and will be consulting closely with our partners on these developments going forward.

So the deal simply raises “concerns” — and Obama is not giving up on engagement (“a diplomatic solution”). The next phase (it’s really the same phase we’ve been in for the last 16 months — engage and stall) will consist of diplomatic forays to test how “sincere” the mullahs are and whether we can verify the “progress.” Obama, you see, has thrown in the towel on every effective measure (i.e., military action, crippling sanctions, and regime change) that could prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons. Now it’s all about devising a strategy whereby Obama can claim diplomatic “success.”

But here’s the hitch: Israel isn’t going to buy this nonsense. So we return to what is becoming the only meaningful question: will Obama support Israeli military action?  American Jewish “leaders” should press Obama to answer that question now. After all, the survival of the Jewish state hangs in the balance and their muteness, like that of American Jewish leaders of the 1930s, will be remembered quite unkindly by history.

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Mark Kirk Makes Sense Regarding Iran

I am delighted to see Rep. Mark Kirk leading in the Illinois Senate race to fill the seat vacated by Barack Obama. If elected he would add a bracing voice of realism to the foreign-policy debate in the upper chamber. He has already emerged as a leader on Iran policy — an unusually well informed, sensible critic of the Obama administration’s head-in-the-sand approach. He makes a powerful case in this article that the administration should be doing much more to support the Green Movement in Iran. How? He offers some suggestions:

The President should speak directly and publicly to the dissidents of Iran—name their names from the White House podium—and make them heroes in homes across America. He should invite members of the Green Movement to meet with him at the White House. …

Overall funding for Iran democracy promotion should be increased with … control transferred from the State Department to the National Endowment for Democracy. From there, the United States should take the lead in facilitating Green Movement conferences outside of Iran—whether in the United States or Europe….

While Radio Farda continues the mission of Radio Free Europe, we should work to establish new public/private partnerships to fund independent Iranian filmmakers and producers—using them as a new way to foster more original content. VOA Persian and Radio Farda should set up a “Green Hour” for their broadcasts, and expand their interaction with Iranian dissidents.

Those sound like eminently sensible ideas to me. Why isn’t the Obama administration pursuing them? Surely it can’t think anymore that supporting Iranian dissidents will make the Iranian government less likely to talk to us. If the last year of wasted effort should have convinced the administration of anything, it is that Ahmadinejad et al. have no interest in bargaining away their nuclear program.

Trying to foment peaceful regime change is hardly a panacea. It will be a slow, difficult process that will likely not show results before Iran goes nuclear. But it is also the only long-term approach that has any hope of curbing the threat from Iran, whether it’s armed with nuclear weapons or not. Mark Kirk sees it. Why doesn’t Barack Obama?

I am delighted to see Rep. Mark Kirk leading in the Illinois Senate race to fill the seat vacated by Barack Obama. If elected he would add a bracing voice of realism to the foreign-policy debate in the upper chamber. He has already emerged as a leader on Iran policy — an unusually well informed, sensible critic of the Obama administration’s head-in-the-sand approach. He makes a powerful case in this article that the administration should be doing much more to support the Green Movement in Iran. How? He offers some suggestions:

The President should speak directly and publicly to the dissidents of Iran—name their names from the White House podium—and make them heroes in homes across America. He should invite members of the Green Movement to meet with him at the White House. …

Overall funding for Iran democracy promotion should be increased with … control transferred from the State Department to the National Endowment for Democracy. From there, the United States should take the lead in facilitating Green Movement conferences outside of Iran—whether in the United States or Europe….

While Radio Farda continues the mission of Radio Free Europe, we should work to establish new public/private partnerships to fund independent Iranian filmmakers and producers—using them as a new way to foster more original content. VOA Persian and Radio Farda should set up a “Green Hour” for their broadcasts, and expand their interaction with Iranian dissidents.

Those sound like eminently sensible ideas to me. Why isn’t the Obama administration pursuing them? Surely it can’t think anymore that supporting Iranian dissidents will make the Iranian government less likely to talk to us. If the last year of wasted effort should have convinced the administration of anything, it is that Ahmadinejad et al. have no interest in bargaining away their nuclear program.

Trying to foment peaceful regime change is hardly a panacea. It will be a slow, difficult process that will likely not show results before Iran goes nuclear. But it is also the only long-term approach that has any hope of curbing the threat from Iran, whether it’s armed with nuclear weapons or not. Mark Kirk sees it. Why doesn’t Barack Obama?

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Iran Tests Obama — Again

A sharp-eyed reader calls my attention to this report over the weekend:

The Obama administration renewed calls Friday for Iran to immediately release three American hikers detained for nearly nine months and appealed to the Iranian government to issue their families visas to visit them.

A day after the families said two of the three are in poor health, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said there was no reason for their continued detention. He spoke after receiving a report from Swiss diplomats who were allowed to visit the trio in Tehran’s Evin prison Thursday.

The administration puts out a meek statement, pleading for the Americans’ release:

“While we welcome this news, we continue to call for their release,” Crowley said. “We are aware of the families’ concerns about their children’s physical and emotional state of health.” He said the families should be given visas.

“These three Americans have been in detention for almost nine months without formal charges or access to legal representation,” he said. “They should be released without further delay.”

Well, we certainly know the mullahs see no downside to holding Americans. No serious consequences will be forthcoming and they might even get a diplomatic pat on the back if they let them go before they perish in Evin. They have learned from this president that whether it is violations of existing UN sanctions, missed deadlines in nuclear talks, aggression by their junior partner Bashar Assad, or grabbing Americans, the administration never lowers the boom.

If you have the sense you’ve seen this before — a radical Iranian regime kidnapping Americans to demonstrate the impotence of a naive American president — you’re right. But now, with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, the stakes are much higher.

A sharp-eyed reader calls my attention to this report over the weekend:

The Obama administration renewed calls Friday for Iran to immediately release three American hikers detained for nearly nine months and appealed to the Iranian government to issue their families visas to visit them.

A day after the families said two of the three are in poor health, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said there was no reason for their continued detention. He spoke after receiving a report from Swiss diplomats who were allowed to visit the trio in Tehran’s Evin prison Thursday.

The administration puts out a meek statement, pleading for the Americans’ release:

“While we welcome this news, we continue to call for their release,” Crowley said. “We are aware of the families’ concerns about their children’s physical and emotional state of health.” He said the families should be given visas.

“These three Americans have been in detention for almost nine months without formal charges or access to legal representation,” he said. “They should be released without further delay.”

Well, we certainly know the mullahs see no downside to holding Americans. No serious consequences will be forthcoming and they might even get a diplomatic pat on the back if they let them go before they perish in Evin. They have learned from this president that whether it is violations of existing UN sanctions, missed deadlines in nuclear talks, aggression by their junior partner Bashar Assad, or grabbing Americans, the administration never lowers the boom.

If you have the sense you’ve seen this before — a radical Iranian regime kidnapping Americans to demonstrate the impotence of a naive American president — you’re right. But now, with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, the stakes are much higher.

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Yet Another Step Backward

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said yesterday that military action against Iran is “off the table in the near term,” effectively walking back President Obama’s position that “all options are on the table.” She prefaced her statement with the banal assertion that “military force is an option of last resort,” which of course everyone knows and which implies by itself that force is off the table for now. But the United States nevertheless just softened its position again on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If the president doesn’t return force to the table, it is going to stay off.

It seems as though the U.S. is trying to look irresolute and nonthreatening lately, but whether it’s on purpose or not, that’s what it looks like, and it isn’t helpful. A credible threat — simple deterrence — can make war somewhat less likely, just as police officers on the street make crime somewhat less likely. The Iranian government won’t cooperate with irresolute and nonthreatening enemies; it will steamroll irresolute and nonthreatening enemies.

Attacking Iran wouldn’t be my next step either. I’m entirely sympathetic to the administration’s aversion to it, and not only on behalf of American servicemen who may be injured or killed. I know lots of Iranians. All are decent people. Not a single one supports Tehran’s deranged government. All have friends and family back home, and it has been obvious for some time now that a very large percentage of their fellow citizens left inside the country feel the same way. I don’t want to see any of these people get killed, especially if they’re killed by us. The very idea fills me with horror.

And that’s before factoring in the Israelis and Lebanese who would also be killed if the war spreads to the Levant — a likely event. I spend enough time in the Middle East that I could even end up in a bomb shelter myself.

We have to be realistic, though. There is only the smallest of chances that the Iranian government will mothball its nuclear weapons program if it does not feel some serious heat. Some people can only be disarmed at gunpoint, and that’s true of nearly all belligerent people.

Yet “off the table” has become the new normal. It will remain the new normal until further notice. The United States looks like it’s in retreat. Hardly anyone in the world believed President Obama would ever order a strike even before this most recent of climb-downs.

The administration seems to forget that threatening military action doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go through with it, that we want to go through with it, that we yearn to go through with it, or that we’re warmongers. Look at Taiwan. It exists independently of China only because the United States has made it clear that an invasion of Taiwan would be punished severely. Chinese leaders find the threat credible and have therefore backed off to let Taiwan live. The U.S. doesn’t have to pull the trigger. It’s enough just to say don’t even think about it.

Former Communist countries in Eastern Europe were similarly placed under Western military protection after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow understands perfectly well that its liberated subjects are to be left alone — or else. Saying “hands off Lithuania” by bringing the country into NATO wasn’t cowboy behavior. It was prudent and wise, and it keeps the peace. Russia didn’t like it and still doesn’t like it, but it hasn’t gotten anyone killed.

Deterrence prevents armed conflict by making it clear to the other side that a war would be too costly and shouldn’t be tried. The reverse is true, too. Under certain conditions, war becomes more likely if it looks like there won’t be serious consequences.

Russia invaded Georgia a few years ago, but there is almost no chance that would have happened if Georgia had been a member of NATO. Russia would not have even considered it. The retaliation would have been devastating.

Deterrence might not work with Iran, but it’s even less likely to work if it’s downgraded, put on hold, or smells like a bluff. It’s all but certain to fail once the regime has nuclear weapons and can, short of incinerating cities with weapons of genocide, pretty much do whatever it wants.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said yesterday that military action against Iran is “off the table in the near term,” effectively walking back President Obama’s position that “all options are on the table.” She prefaced her statement with the banal assertion that “military force is an option of last resort,” which of course everyone knows and which implies by itself that force is off the table for now. But the United States nevertheless just softened its position again on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If the president doesn’t return force to the table, it is going to stay off.

It seems as though the U.S. is trying to look irresolute and nonthreatening lately, but whether it’s on purpose or not, that’s what it looks like, and it isn’t helpful. A credible threat — simple deterrence — can make war somewhat less likely, just as police officers on the street make crime somewhat less likely. The Iranian government won’t cooperate with irresolute and nonthreatening enemies; it will steamroll irresolute and nonthreatening enemies.

Attacking Iran wouldn’t be my next step either. I’m entirely sympathetic to the administration’s aversion to it, and not only on behalf of American servicemen who may be injured or killed. I know lots of Iranians. All are decent people. Not a single one supports Tehran’s deranged government. All have friends and family back home, and it has been obvious for some time now that a very large percentage of their fellow citizens left inside the country feel the same way. I don’t want to see any of these people get killed, especially if they’re killed by us. The very idea fills me with horror.

And that’s before factoring in the Israelis and Lebanese who would also be killed if the war spreads to the Levant — a likely event. I spend enough time in the Middle East that I could even end up in a bomb shelter myself.

We have to be realistic, though. There is only the smallest of chances that the Iranian government will mothball its nuclear weapons program if it does not feel some serious heat. Some people can only be disarmed at gunpoint, and that’s true of nearly all belligerent people.

Yet “off the table” has become the new normal. It will remain the new normal until further notice. The United States looks like it’s in retreat. Hardly anyone in the world believed President Obama would ever order a strike even before this most recent of climb-downs.

The administration seems to forget that threatening military action doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go through with it, that we want to go through with it, that we yearn to go through with it, or that we’re warmongers. Look at Taiwan. It exists independently of China only because the United States has made it clear that an invasion of Taiwan would be punished severely. Chinese leaders find the threat credible and have therefore backed off to let Taiwan live. The U.S. doesn’t have to pull the trigger. It’s enough just to say don’t even think about it.

Former Communist countries in Eastern Europe were similarly placed under Western military protection after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow understands perfectly well that its liberated subjects are to be left alone — or else. Saying “hands off Lithuania” by bringing the country into NATO wasn’t cowboy behavior. It was prudent and wise, and it keeps the peace. Russia didn’t like it and still doesn’t like it, but it hasn’t gotten anyone killed.

Deterrence prevents armed conflict by making it clear to the other side that a war would be too costly and shouldn’t be tried. The reverse is true, too. Under certain conditions, war becomes more likely if it looks like there won’t be serious consequences.

Russia invaded Georgia a few years ago, but there is almost no chance that would have happened if Georgia had been a member of NATO. Russia would not have even considered it. The retaliation would have been devastating.

Deterrence might not work with Iran, but it’s even less likely to work if it’s downgraded, put on hold, or smells like a bluff. It’s all but certain to fail once the regime has nuclear weapons and can, short of incinerating cities with weapons of genocide, pretty much do whatever it wants.

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Wishful Thinking, Willful Indifference

Stephen Hayes explains that Iran is arming Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, helping to kill Americans just like it did in Iraq. He writes:

The level of Iranian support for the Afghan insurgency does not yet match the crucial support Iran has provided to Shiite militias and Sunni militant groups in Iraq. And the insurgency in Afghanistan would exist with or without Iranian backing. But Iran’s aggressive and deadly activity in Afghanistan is growing, and its support for insurgents in Iraq continues.

Iran is the only nation that is actively supporting the forces fighting against the United States in both places. This war—or proxy war—is not led by rogue elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or military. It is directed by the Iranian government and approved at the highest levels. It is regime policy.

But Obama remains silent on this, for to do otherwise would complicate his wishful thinking on the mullahs. “Since the first moments of his administration the president has chosen to believe that the Iranian regime might voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons program. To a great extent, his approach depends on maintaining that assumption.” This willful indifference is most likely encouraged by our military, which, as others have remarked, was stubbornly opposed to doing much of anything about Iran’s killing of American troops in Iraq.

But Irans’ arming of insurgents, of course, suggests that Obama is badly misreading the Iranian leaders’ intentions. They are in a war with the U.S., even if we are not at war with them. They have no intention of giving up the weapon that could elevate their standing against the Great Satan. Obama is banking on the mullahs’ shedding their ideological identity and abandoning an obvious means of advancing their hegemonic aims. The evidence all suggests otherwise.

This development should also make plain that there will be no containment once Iran obtains a nuclear weapon. We’re doing a miserable job of containing them now, when the lives of American troops are at stake. What makes anyone — especially Iran — think America will stand up to the regime once it gains a nuclear capability? That would involve threats of force or actual use of force to halt Iranian aggression. Do we imagine the Obama administration will do that?

Stephen Hayes explains that Iran is arming Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, helping to kill Americans just like it did in Iraq. He writes:

The level of Iranian support for the Afghan insurgency does not yet match the crucial support Iran has provided to Shiite militias and Sunni militant groups in Iraq. And the insurgency in Afghanistan would exist with or without Iranian backing. But Iran’s aggressive and deadly activity in Afghanistan is growing, and its support for insurgents in Iraq continues.

Iran is the only nation that is actively supporting the forces fighting against the United States in both places. This war—or proxy war—is not led by rogue elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or military. It is directed by the Iranian government and approved at the highest levels. It is regime policy.

But Obama remains silent on this, for to do otherwise would complicate his wishful thinking on the mullahs. “Since the first moments of his administration the president has chosen to believe that the Iranian regime might voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons program. To a great extent, his approach depends on maintaining that assumption.” This willful indifference is most likely encouraged by our military, which, as others have remarked, was stubbornly opposed to doing much of anything about Iran’s killing of American troops in Iraq.

But Irans’ arming of insurgents, of course, suggests that Obama is badly misreading the Iranian leaders’ intentions. They are in a war with the U.S., even if we are not at war with them. They have no intention of giving up the weapon that could elevate their standing against the Great Satan. Obama is banking on the mullahs’ shedding their ideological identity and abandoning an obvious means of advancing their hegemonic aims. The evidence all suggests otherwise.

This development should also make plain that there will be no containment once Iran obtains a nuclear weapon. We’re doing a miserable job of containing them now, when the lives of American troops are at stake. What makes anyone — especially Iran — think America will stand up to the regime once it gains a nuclear capability? That would involve threats of force or actual use of force to halt Iranian aggression. Do we imagine the Obama administration will do that?

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Sanctions That Barely Nibble

As this report makes clear, financial sanctions on Iran may be less than they are cracked up to be:

In its latest proposed set of tougher United Nations sanctions on Iran, the U.S. is again relying on asset freezes as one tool to pressure the country not to build nuclear weapons. But a close look at how much Iranian money has been frozen to date in the U.S. under existing sanctions shows that the total amount is surprisingly small, less than $43 million, or roughly a quarter of what Iran earns in oil revenue in a single day. . .

“It’s peanuts,” says Jeremy P. Carver, a British attorney who has advised governments on implementing sanctions. “It’s not going to really change a thing.”

U.S. officials do not dispute that current amounts of frozen Iranian assets seem small. In some cases, Iran has shifted the money outside the U.S. or EU to avoid sanctions. The officials emphasize that their strategy is not to seize many assets, but to pressure Iran to change its ways by making it extremely difficult for it to do business.

But how difficult are we really making business for the mullahs? After all — reset or no reset — the Russians are helping to build their nuclear reactor. And as the report notes, we aren’t even sure what assets are being frozen and what impact it is having, if at all, on Iran’s nuclear program. Nor is it clear we are really seizing much of anything:

Adding new Iranian entities to the U.S. list of firms or individuals subject to freezing doesn’t necessarily mean any money actually gets seized, even though news accounts often report that funds were frozen. Most Iranian businesses or individuals haven’t kept money in the U.S. for years because of past sanctions and the strained relations between the two countries. “It would be very surprising to see very large amounts of blocked assets in a recent designation of an Iranian entity,” says Mr. Szubin.

And all of this is what we are largely relying on to dissuade the mullahs from doing what they very dearly want to do — become a nuclear power. Needless to say, the means seem grossly inadequate to the ends. After all, round after round of UN sanctions have had no measurable impact on the mullahs. So naturally we order up another batch of sanctions. (“As the Iranian government has not ceased its nuclear activities, and defiantly has been enriching uranium, the U.S. has been pressing Security Council members for a new set of sanctions that, among other things, include additional asset freezes.”)

The Obami have been promising to move from engagement to crippling sanctions, but there is substantial reason to question what, if anything, is to be gained by sanctions so limited that they are virtually irrelevant to the mullahs’ calculated self-interest. Absent something far more meaningful than the measures currently contemplated by the Obami, the mullahs will simply gain more time and more breathing room to acquire their nuclear weapons.

As this report makes clear, financial sanctions on Iran may be less than they are cracked up to be:

In its latest proposed set of tougher United Nations sanctions on Iran, the U.S. is again relying on asset freezes as one tool to pressure the country not to build nuclear weapons. But a close look at how much Iranian money has been frozen to date in the U.S. under existing sanctions shows that the total amount is surprisingly small, less than $43 million, or roughly a quarter of what Iran earns in oil revenue in a single day. . .

“It’s peanuts,” says Jeremy P. Carver, a British attorney who has advised governments on implementing sanctions. “It’s not going to really change a thing.”

U.S. officials do not dispute that current amounts of frozen Iranian assets seem small. In some cases, Iran has shifted the money outside the U.S. or EU to avoid sanctions. The officials emphasize that their strategy is not to seize many assets, but to pressure Iran to change its ways by making it extremely difficult for it to do business.

But how difficult are we really making business for the mullahs? After all — reset or no reset — the Russians are helping to build their nuclear reactor. And as the report notes, we aren’t even sure what assets are being frozen and what impact it is having, if at all, on Iran’s nuclear program. Nor is it clear we are really seizing much of anything:

Adding new Iranian entities to the U.S. list of firms or individuals subject to freezing doesn’t necessarily mean any money actually gets seized, even though news accounts often report that funds were frozen. Most Iranian businesses or individuals haven’t kept money in the U.S. for years because of past sanctions and the strained relations between the two countries. “It would be very surprising to see very large amounts of blocked assets in a recent designation of an Iranian entity,” says Mr. Szubin.

And all of this is what we are largely relying on to dissuade the mullahs from doing what they very dearly want to do — become a nuclear power. Needless to say, the means seem grossly inadequate to the ends. After all, round after round of UN sanctions have had no measurable impact on the mullahs. So naturally we order up another batch of sanctions. (“As the Iranian government has not ceased its nuclear activities, and defiantly has been enriching uranium, the U.S. has been pressing Security Council members for a new set of sanctions that, among other things, include additional asset freezes.”)

The Obami have been promising to move from engagement to crippling sanctions, but there is substantial reason to question what, if anything, is to be gained by sanctions so limited that they are virtually irrelevant to the mullahs’ calculated self-interest. Absent something far more meaningful than the measures currently contemplated by the Obami, the mullahs will simply gain more time and more breathing room to acquire their nuclear weapons.

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Notes on an Ongoing Process

At Friday’s State Department news conference, one of the reporters asked Asst. Secretary of State P. J. Crowley about stories that the U.S. has watered down the proposals it has put on the table for sanctions. Crowley responded there were “significant inaccuracies” in the reports because… you can’t water down something when there is nothing to water down:

MR. CROWLEY: Clearly, we are consulting broadly as we envision how to put the appropriate level of pressure on the Iranian Government as part of our dual-track strategy. But in order to take something off the table, you have to actually put something on the table. We have not circulated a draft resolution. We are still in the consulting stage. …

But since we have not circulated a draft resolution, it’s hard to say at this point that we’re watering anything down. There’s nothing to water down. There’s nothing to take off the table. So this is an ongoing process.

So the reporter tried again:

QUESTION: Let me ask it a different way. If – understanding that there is no physical text and that nothing has been put on paper, in this idea of trading ideas back and forth on what could be included in an eventual document, would it be fair to say that some ideas have, in fact, been shot down during that process, which it would appear the article (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s an ongoing process. So again, I think this whole aspect is fairly premature. I mean, we have our views on what the appropriate measures might be. Other countries have a variety of views of their own, and so this is an ongoing process. …

We want to make sure that our calibration sends the right signal and puts the right pressure on the government, but spares undue hardship on the Iranian people. So there’s as much art to science in this, and this is an ongoing process.

So the reporter tried one more time:

QUESTION: Just one more on it, you did say that there were significant inaccuracies in the stories. Can you be more specific about what you find inaccurate?

MR. CROWLEY: I just think it’s premature.

QUESTION: Was it (inaudible) substantives that they were talking about it or was it the fact that things aren’t on what you call the table?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say that in the course of this dialogue, certainly we will say what about this, and another country might say, “Nah, I don’t know about that. What about this?” …

Certainly, there are – will all of the ideas that we’ve discussed end up in a final resolution? No. But I think we are seeking a strong resolution with sanctions that have the appropriate bite, have the impact on the Iranian Government that we seek, and hopefully, with no guarantee, that it will cause Iran to reevaluate the course that it’s on.

Nearly a year ago, Hillary Clinton assured the House Foreign Affairs Committee the administration was laying the groundwork for “crippling” sanctions if “our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful.” It is apparent now that the groundwork was not laid last year; crippling sanctions are not currently being discussed; and there is not yet even a draft resolution for sanctions with bite. We are going around saying, “What about this?” And other countries are saying “Nah.”

But it’s an ongoing process. The watering down will come later, when there is something to water down.

At Friday’s State Department news conference, one of the reporters asked Asst. Secretary of State P. J. Crowley about stories that the U.S. has watered down the proposals it has put on the table for sanctions. Crowley responded there were “significant inaccuracies” in the reports because… you can’t water down something when there is nothing to water down:

MR. CROWLEY: Clearly, we are consulting broadly as we envision how to put the appropriate level of pressure on the Iranian Government as part of our dual-track strategy. But in order to take something off the table, you have to actually put something on the table. We have not circulated a draft resolution. We are still in the consulting stage. …

But since we have not circulated a draft resolution, it’s hard to say at this point that we’re watering anything down. There’s nothing to water down. There’s nothing to take off the table. So this is an ongoing process.

So the reporter tried again:

QUESTION: Let me ask it a different way. If – understanding that there is no physical text and that nothing has been put on paper, in this idea of trading ideas back and forth on what could be included in an eventual document, would it be fair to say that some ideas have, in fact, been shot down during that process, which it would appear the article (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s an ongoing process. So again, I think this whole aspect is fairly premature. I mean, we have our views on what the appropriate measures might be. Other countries have a variety of views of their own, and so this is an ongoing process. …

We want to make sure that our calibration sends the right signal and puts the right pressure on the government, but spares undue hardship on the Iranian people. So there’s as much art to science in this, and this is an ongoing process.

So the reporter tried one more time:

QUESTION: Just one more on it, you did say that there were significant inaccuracies in the stories. Can you be more specific about what you find inaccurate?

MR. CROWLEY: I just think it’s premature.

QUESTION: Was it (inaudible) substantives that they were talking about it or was it the fact that things aren’t on what you call the table?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say that in the course of this dialogue, certainly we will say what about this, and another country might say, “Nah, I don’t know about that. What about this?” …

Certainly, there are – will all of the ideas that we’ve discussed end up in a final resolution? No. But I think we are seeking a strong resolution with sanctions that have the appropriate bite, have the impact on the Iranian Government that we seek, and hopefully, with no guarantee, that it will cause Iran to reevaluate the course that it’s on.

Nearly a year ago, Hillary Clinton assured the House Foreign Affairs Committee the administration was laying the groundwork for “crippling” sanctions if “our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful.” It is apparent now that the groundwork was not laid last year; crippling sanctions are not currently being discussed; and there is not yet even a draft resolution for sanctions with bite. We are going around saying, “What about this?” And other countries are saying “Nah.”

But it’s an ongoing process. The watering down will come later, when there is something to water down.

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Roger Cohen: Recidivist Appeaser of Iran

Last August, Martin Peretz wondered in his New Republic blog whether even the New York Times would let their columnist Roger Cohen continue to write about Iran. That’s because Cohen had earned a special place in the history of journalistic malpractice earlier in 2009 through a series of columns that sought to falsely portray the oppressed remnant of a once great Iranian Jewish community as living in freedom under the beneficent rule of the ayatollahs.

Peretz’s curious faith in the judgment of the editors at the Times was misplaced. Cohen continues to rattle away about Iran from his perch as an online columnist at the newspaper, providing readers with ever more convoluted rationalizations for the same policy he advocated last year: an American “engagement” that would eschew both the threat of force as well as any sanctions as means for attempting to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

The events of the past year have rendered this stance even more ludicrous than it was in February and March of 2009, as the rosy picture of the country that Cohen painted in his original columns was undermined by both the regime’s violent repression of internal dissent and the utter failure of the Obama administration’s attempts to engage Iran. Nowadays, even Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have come to the conclusion that they must pursue a serious sanctions regime to avoid being faced with the opprobrium that will be theirs if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is able to announce the development of a nuclear weapon on their watch.

But Cohen is having none of that and, instead, insists that even though the Iranian government is nasty, it must still not be threatened or even pressured. He begins his argument today with a blatant falsehood by claiming “Obama’s outreach has achieved this: the unsettling of Iran’s revolutionary power structure. That alone was worth the gambit.” But even the administration seems to understand that this piece of obsequious flattery isn’t true. A series of unmet deadlines set by Washington for Iran to come to its senses have only emboldened the Islamist government there to dig in its heels: they are now convinced that Obama is a weak leader who can be toyed with and then ignored in the same manner they have treated European efforts to resolve the nuclear question. Indeed, Obama’s refusal to speak up in a timely and forceful manner against the stolen presidential election that sent thousands of Iranians into the streets, only to be shot down, raped, and imprisoned, has contributed to a situation where it appears that the Iranian dissidents, whose sufferings Cohen attempted to cover last summer, are no longer able to mount effective demonstrations, let alone topple their oppressors.

Cohen’s response to this debacle is to prescribe more of the same, something he acknowledges that Obama’s foreign-policy team—which rightly sees itself as having been badly embarrassed by Iran’s lies and deceptions—is unwilling to do. Cohen’s fear is that having been mugged by the reality of the regime, whose depredations he once rationalized, Obama will now realize that the threat from a nuclear Iran is a factor that could ultimately destroy his presidency. In today’s lengthy diatribe, the Times columnist assembles all the same misleading arguments that Iran’s other shills have been hawking recently. He argues against isolation and sanctions against Iran, and views the threat of Western force to spike Ahmadinejad’s bomb as a greater evil than putting nuclear weapons in the hands of a Holocaust denier and terrorist funder who wants to destroy the State of Israel. His advice is to continue the sweet talk that Obama tried on Tehran last year and hope that eventually Iranian dissidents will somehow succeed, despite vigorous repression and without foreign help. He ignores the fact that Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would be strengthened immeasurably by a Western decision to let them go nuclear.

As has Cohen himself, whose credibility as a journalist was forfeited when he choose to fall in love with the romance of Persian culture, engagement of Iran has been comprehensively discredited over the last year. Let’s hope the Obama administration ignores Cohen and the rest of the chorus of apologists and appeasers doing Tehran’s bidding and chooses instead to finally start treating the threat from Iran seriously.

Last August, Martin Peretz wondered in his New Republic blog whether even the New York Times would let their columnist Roger Cohen continue to write about Iran. That’s because Cohen had earned a special place in the history of journalistic malpractice earlier in 2009 through a series of columns that sought to falsely portray the oppressed remnant of a once great Iranian Jewish community as living in freedom under the beneficent rule of the ayatollahs.

Peretz’s curious faith in the judgment of the editors at the Times was misplaced. Cohen continues to rattle away about Iran from his perch as an online columnist at the newspaper, providing readers with ever more convoluted rationalizations for the same policy he advocated last year: an American “engagement” that would eschew both the threat of force as well as any sanctions as means for attempting to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

The events of the past year have rendered this stance even more ludicrous than it was in February and March of 2009, as the rosy picture of the country that Cohen painted in his original columns was undermined by both the regime’s violent repression of internal dissent and the utter failure of the Obama administration’s attempts to engage Iran. Nowadays, even Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have come to the conclusion that they must pursue a serious sanctions regime to avoid being faced with the opprobrium that will be theirs if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is able to announce the development of a nuclear weapon on their watch.

But Cohen is having none of that and, instead, insists that even though the Iranian government is nasty, it must still not be threatened or even pressured. He begins his argument today with a blatant falsehood by claiming “Obama’s outreach has achieved this: the unsettling of Iran’s revolutionary power structure. That alone was worth the gambit.” But even the administration seems to understand that this piece of obsequious flattery isn’t true. A series of unmet deadlines set by Washington for Iran to come to its senses have only emboldened the Islamist government there to dig in its heels: they are now convinced that Obama is a weak leader who can be toyed with and then ignored in the same manner they have treated European efforts to resolve the nuclear question. Indeed, Obama’s refusal to speak up in a timely and forceful manner against the stolen presidential election that sent thousands of Iranians into the streets, only to be shot down, raped, and imprisoned, has contributed to a situation where it appears that the Iranian dissidents, whose sufferings Cohen attempted to cover last summer, are no longer able to mount effective demonstrations, let alone topple their oppressors.

Cohen’s response to this debacle is to prescribe more of the same, something he acknowledges that Obama’s foreign-policy team—which rightly sees itself as having been badly embarrassed by Iran’s lies and deceptions—is unwilling to do. Cohen’s fear is that having been mugged by the reality of the regime, whose depredations he once rationalized, Obama will now realize that the threat from a nuclear Iran is a factor that could ultimately destroy his presidency. In today’s lengthy diatribe, the Times columnist assembles all the same misleading arguments that Iran’s other shills have been hawking recently. He argues against isolation and sanctions against Iran, and views the threat of Western force to spike Ahmadinejad’s bomb as a greater evil than putting nuclear weapons in the hands of a Holocaust denier and terrorist funder who wants to destroy the State of Israel. His advice is to continue the sweet talk that Obama tried on Tehran last year and hope that eventually Iranian dissidents will somehow succeed, despite vigorous repression and without foreign help. He ignores the fact that Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would be strengthened immeasurably by a Western decision to let them go nuclear.

As has Cohen himself, whose credibility as a journalist was forfeited when he choose to fall in love with the romance of Persian culture, engagement of Iran has been comprehensively discredited over the last year. Let’s hope the Obama administration ignores Cohen and the rest of the chorus of apologists and appeasers doing Tehran’s bidding and chooses instead to finally start treating the threat from Iran seriously.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Joe Biden (not really): “So there I was on the Amtrak, and I was thinking Dick Cheney, God love him, my friend Dick Cheney, he is probably worse than Pol Pot. It was because Democrats opposed the surge that the surge worked. If we had gotten behind the winning strategy, the enemy would have known it was too soft. We needed to oppose it in order for it to succeed.”

The real Joe Biden now says he is happy to thank George W. Bush on Iraq policy. Yes, good thing indeed that Bush was wise enough to ignore everything Biden ever said on the subject.

The real Dick Cheney on the Obami’s claiming credit for Iraq: “If they are going to take credit for [Iraq], fair enough, for what they’ve done while they are there. But it ought to go with a healthy dose of ‘thank you George Bush’ up front.” Then he plays Darth Vader mind games with them — praising the surge in Afghanistan and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

The real Liz Cheney asks, “Bipartisanship to what end?” As she notes, there should be little to praise in “bipartisanship” if the goal is to pass a health-care bill that everyone hates. Ceci Connolly notes that what is interesting is the “bad blood” between the White House and Democratic congressional leaders, as well as between the House and Senate. Bill Kristol remarks that the Obami “can’t resist” making partisan digs. And to prove their point, Juan William says Dick Cheney is helping al-Qaeda by criticizing the Obami’s handling of the war against Islamic fascists.

The unfortunately all too real antics of the Congressional Black Caucus: “From 2004 to 2008, the Congressional Black Caucus’s political and charitable wings took in at least $55 million in corporate and union contributions, according to an analysis by the New York Times, an impressive amount even by the standards of a Washington awash in cash. Only $1 million of that went to the caucus’s political action committee; the rest poured into the largely unregulated nonprofit network. . . . But the bulk of the money has been spent on elaborate conventions that have become a high point of the Washington social season, as well as the headquarters building, golf outings by members of Congress and an annual visit to a Mississippi casino resort.” Among the CBC’s pals: “cigarette companies, Internet poker operators, beer brewers and the rent-to-own industry, which has become a particular focus of consumer advocates for its practice of charging high monthly fees for appliances, televisions and computers.”

Flynt Leverett, who was canned by the Bush administration (“Leverett continually missed deadlines and misplaced documents, and the NSC Records office had a long list of his delinquencies. His office was notoriously messy—documents were strewn over chairs, windowsills, the floor, and piled high on his desk … repeatedly missing deadlines and losing important letters was simply not tolerable behavior for an NSC officer, and Leverett was told to leave”), has now become the favorite flack for the mullahs. “The curious dance between Washington’s Iran experts and the foreign government whose actions they are supposedly analyzing has parallels in the ways that totalitarian governments like the Soviet Union and Mao’s China manipulated Western public opinion by only granting access to scholars and policy hands who would toe the party line. Similarly, the Iranian government today decides who in the West will be granted the kind of access that will allow them to speak with authority about the regime to Washington.” (h/t Jeffrey Goldberg)

James Carafano says that he is not surprised that “there would be more killing of high level terrorists than capture for interrogation and trial. That’s because the administration has botched efforts to come up with a coherent program for detention, interrogation, and trial.”

Matt Welch confirms my suspicion that libertarians have principles inconsistent with big-government liberals: “What I do care about, regardless of who’s president, is human freedom and prosperity. And I strongly and consistently suspect that when the government accumulates more power, I and everyone else (except those wielding it) have less of which I seek.” That said, if Republicans gain power and continue the spending jag, libertarians will turn their ire on them too.

Joe Biden (not really): “So there I was on the Amtrak, and I was thinking Dick Cheney, God love him, my friend Dick Cheney, he is probably worse than Pol Pot. It was because Democrats opposed the surge that the surge worked. If we had gotten behind the winning strategy, the enemy would have known it was too soft. We needed to oppose it in order for it to succeed.”

The real Joe Biden now says he is happy to thank George W. Bush on Iraq policy. Yes, good thing indeed that Bush was wise enough to ignore everything Biden ever said on the subject.

The real Dick Cheney on the Obami’s claiming credit for Iraq: “If they are going to take credit for [Iraq], fair enough, for what they’ve done while they are there. But it ought to go with a healthy dose of ‘thank you George Bush’ up front.” Then he plays Darth Vader mind games with them — praising the surge in Afghanistan and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

The real Liz Cheney asks, “Bipartisanship to what end?” As she notes, there should be little to praise in “bipartisanship” if the goal is to pass a health-care bill that everyone hates. Ceci Connolly notes that what is interesting is the “bad blood” between the White House and Democratic congressional leaders, as well as between the House and Senate. Bill Kristol remarks that the Obami “can’t resist” making partisan digs. And to prove their point, Juan William says Dick Cheney is helping al-Qaeda by criticizing the Obami’s handling of the war against Islamic fascists.

The unfortunately all too real antics of the Congressional Black Caucus: “From 2004 to 2008, the Congressional Black Caucus’s political and charitable wings took in at least $55 million in corporate and union contributions, according to an analysis by the New York Times, an impressive amount even by the standards of a Washington awash in cash. Only $1 million of that went to the caucus’s political action committee; the rest poured into the largely unregulated nonprofit network. . . . But the bulk of the money has been spent on elaborate conventions that have become a high point of the Washington social season, as well as the headquarters building, golf outings by members of Congress and an annual visit to a Mississippi casino resort.” Among the CBC’s pals: “cigarette companies, Internet poker operators, beer brewers and the rent-to-own industry, which has become a particular focus of consumer advocates for its practice of charging high monthly fees for appliances, televisions and computers.”

Flynt Leverett, who was canned by the Bush administration (“Leverett continually missed deadlines and misplaced documents, and the NSC Records office had a long list of his delinquencies. His office was notoriously messy—documents were strewn over chairs, windowsills, the floor, and piled high on his desk … repeatedly missing deadlines and losing important letters was simply not tolerable behavior for an NSC officer, and Leverett was told to leave”), has now become the favorite flack for the mullahs. “The curious dance between Washington’s Iran experts and the foreign government whose actions they are supposedly analyzing has parallels in the ways that totalitarian governments like the Soviet Union and Mao’s China manipulated Western public opinion by only granting access to scholars and policy hands who would toe the party line. Similarly, the Iranian government today decides who in the West will be granted the kind of access that will allow them to speak with authority about the regime to Washington.” (h/t Jeffrey Goldberg)

James Carafano says that he is not surprised that “there would be more killing of high level terrorists than capture for interrogation and trial. That’s because the administration has botched efforts to come up with a coherent program for detention, interrogation, and trial.”

Matt Welch confirms my suspicion that libertarians have principles inconsistent with big-government liberals: “What I do care about, regardless of who’s president, is human freedom and prosperity. And I strongly and consistently suspect that when the government accumulates more power, I and everyone else (except those wielding it) have less of which I seek.” That said, if Republicans gain power and continue the spending jag, libertarians will turn their ire on them too.

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Another Approach to Iran

While the Obami fritter away time, dreaming up new excuses to do nothing on Iran, more responsible officials are moving forward. Today Sens. John Cornyn, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Durbin, Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Susan Collins, Robert Casey. Lindsey Graham, Kristen Gillibrand, Sam Brownback, Ted Kaufman, and David Vitter announced legislation to support the Iranian opposition’s efforts to take down the regime of Ali Hoseyni Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a statement, Cornyn and Brownback explained that the bill will “establish a program of direct assistance for the Iranian people and would help pave the way for a freely elected, open and democratic government in Iran. The Iran Democratic Transition Act would not only send a strong message of support to the Iranian people during this difficult time, it would also provide tangible resources needed to establish a democratic system in Iran in the near future.”

For starters, the bill will delineate the “Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, clear support of terrorism, pursuit of nuclear weapons, and belligerent rhetoric regarding attacks on both Israel and the United States.” Instead of mutely bearing witness, the U.S. government would help publicize the regime’s atrocities.

The bill would also stipulate full and public U.S. support of the Iranian people’s efforts to oppose and remove the current regime and transition to a freely elected, open, and democratic government. Furthermore, the bill would announce it is  U.S. policy to deny the current Iranian regime the ability to: oppress the people of Iran; finance and support terrorists; interfere with the internal affairs of neighbors (including Iraq and Afghanistan); and develop weapons of mass destruction.

The bill also authorizes the president to provide non-military assistance to Iranian democratic opposition organizations and to victims of the current regime. It would create an ambassador-level position of “Special Envoy for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran” to promote and support Iranian democracy and human rights. And the bill would suggest the “possibility of a multilateral and regional initiative to protect human rights, modeled after the Helsinki process established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

It will be interesting to see the Obami’s reaction to this piece of legislation. Are they interested in aiding democratic activists, or are they committed to not rocking the boat? Do they have the nerve to document the specific Iranian human-rights atrocities, or would they prefer to say as little as possible? This will also test private groups. I’ll take a wild guess that J Street will not be thrilled by this approach.

There is reason to question whether anything short of military action can stop the Iranian regime at this point, but getting on the right side of history, re-establishing our moral leadership, and giving regime change a chance is a very good place to start.

UPDATE: I have updated the above to include the full list of co-sponsors. Sen. Joseph Lieberman made this noteworthy comment: “Just as the Iranian government is violating its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is likewise in flagrant breach of multiple international agreements it has signed that require it to respect the human rights of its own citizens. As the Iranian people risk their lives to demand the justice and freedom they deserve in the face of this lawless and oppressive regime, they should know that America is on their side.”

While the Obami fritter away time, dreaming up new excuses to do nothing on Iran, more responsible officials are moving forward. Today Sens. John Cornyn, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Durbin, Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Susan Collins, Robert Casey. Lindsey Graham, Kristen Gillibrand, Sam Brownback, Ted Kaufman, and David Vitter announced legislation to support the Iranian opposition’s efforts to take down the regime of Ali Hoseyni Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a statement, Cornyn and Brownback explained that the bill will “establish a program of direct assistance for the Iranian people and would help pave the way for a freely elected, open and democratic government in Iran. The Iran Democratic Transition Act would not only send a strong message of support to the Iranian people during this difficult time, it would also provide tangible resources needed to establish a democratic system in Iran in the near future.”

For starters, the bill will delineate the “Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, clear support of terrorism, pursuit of nuclear weapons, and belligerent rhetoric regarding attacks on both Israel and the United States.” Instead of mutely bearing witness, the U.S. government would help publicize the regime’s atrocities.

The bill would also stipulate full and public U.S. support of the Iranian people’s efforts to oppose and remove the current regime and transition to a freely elected, open, and democratic government. Furthermore, the bill would announce it is  U.S. policy to deny the current Iranian regime the ability to: oppress the people of Iran; finance and support terrorists; interfere with the internal affairs of neighbors (including Iraq and Afghanistan); and develop weapons of mass destruction.

The bill also authorizes the president to provide non-military assistance to Iranian democratic opposition organizations and to victims of the current regime. It would create an ambassador-level position of “Special Envoy for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran” to promote and support Iranian democracy and human rights. And the bill would suggest the “possibility of a multilateral and regional initiative to protect human rights, modeled after the Helsinki process established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

It will be interesting to see the Obami’s reaction to this piece of legislation. Are they interested in aiding democratic activists, or are they committed to not rocking the boat? Do they have the nerve to document the specific Iranian human-rights atrocities, or would they prefer to say as little as possible? This will also test private groups. I’ll take a wild guess that J Street will not be thrilled by this approach.

There is reason to question whether anything short of military action can stop the Iranian regime at this point, but getting on the right side of history, re-establishing our moral leadership, and giving regime change a chance is a very good place to start.

UPDATE: I have updated the above to include the full list of co-sponsors. Sen. Joseph Lieberman made this noteworthy comment: “Just as the Iranian government is violating its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is likewise in flagrant breach of multiple international agreements it has signed that require it to respect the human rights of its own citizens. As the Iranian people risk their lives to demand the justice and freedom they deserve in the face of this lawless and oppressive regime, they should know that America is on their side.”

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Clinton Reveals Hollowness of Iran Engagement

In a rather devastating interview with Candy Crowley on CNN, Hillary Clinton she reveals the misguided premise at the heart of the Obami’s Iran engagement policy and the disastrous results that have flowed from it. This sequence sums up the failure of engagement:

CROWLEY: I want to bring your attention to something that President Obama said in his inaugural a little more than a year ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Has Iran unclenched its fist?

CLINTON: No. But…

CROWLEY: How about North Korea?

CLINTON: No. Not to the extent we would like to see them. But I think that’s — that is not all — all to the story. Engagement has brought us a lot in the last year. Let’s take North Korea first, and then we’ll go to Iran. In North Korea when we said that we were willing to work with North Korea if they were serious about returning to the six party talks, and about denuclearizing in an irreversible way, they basically did not respond in the first instance. But because we were willing to engage, we ended up getting a very strong sanctions regime against North Korea that China signed on to and Russia signed on to. And right now is being enforced around the world.

CROWLEY: Did the extended hand of the U.S. help in any way that you point to?

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: It did, because — because we extended it a neighbor like China knew we were going the extra mile. And all of a sudden said, “You know, you’re not just standing there hurling insults at them. You’ve said, ‘All right. Fine. We’re — we’re willing to work with them.’ They haven’t responded. So we’re going to sign on to these very tough measures.” Similarly in Iran — I don’t know what the outcome would have been if the Iranian government hadn’t made the decision it made following the elections to become so repressive.

But the fact is because we engaged, the rest of the world has really begun to see Iran the way we see it. When we started last year talking about the threats that Iran’s nuclear programs posed, Russia and other countries said, “Well we don’t see it that way.” But through very slow and steady diplomacy plus the fact that we had a two track process. Yes we reached out on engagement to Iran, but we always had the second track which is that we would have to try to get the world community to take stronger measures if they didn’t respond on the engagement front.

So let’s unpack that. For starters, even Clinton admits that the policy has failed. No unclenched hands in North Korea and Iran. And her justification — that our Iran policy was justified because “the world has really begun to see Iran the way we see it” — is simply preposterous. She would have us believe the world would not have seen the nature of the regime by its own actions (constructing the Qom enrichment site in violation of international agreements, stealing an election, and brutalizing its own people), but only now has begun to understand the nature of the regime because we have engaged in a futile Kabuki dance with the mullahs? It boggles the mind. And where is the evidence that Russia and China see it our way? When last we heard from them, the Russians were supplying missiles to Tehran, and the Chinese were rejecting sanctions.

There is no flicker of recognition that the president might have used his vaunted charisma and eloquence to get the world to “see Iran the way we see it” — that is, as an illegitimate and tyrannical regime. Indeed, she doesn’t even mention the democracy protestors other than to observe that she doesn’t know “what the outcome would have been if the Iranian government hadn’t made the decision it made following the elections to become so repressive.” Not even a rhetorical bouquet to throw their way. Perhaps we are not even “bearing witness” these days. She seems oblivious to the notion that world opinion might be rallied to the cause of displacing, rather than soliciting the attention of, the despotic regime. And she gives no indication that the engagement policy has bestowed legitimacy upon the regime at the very time its citizens are seeking to overthrow it.

She also makes the bizarre claim that Iran really is not the greatest threat we face:

But I think that most of us believe the greater threats are the trans-national non-state networks. Primarily the extremists — the fundamentalist Islamic extremists who are connected Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula. Al Qaeda in — in Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Al Qaida in the Maghreb. I mean the — the kind of connectivity that exists. And they continue to try to increase the sophistication of their capacity. The attacks that they’re going to make. And the, you know, the biggest nightmare that any of us have is that one of these terrorist member organizations within this syndicate of terror will get their hands on a weapon of mass destruction. So that’s really the — the most threatening prospect we see.

Where to begin? She seems to suggest that we shouldn’t be so concerned about an Iranian regime with a full-blown nuclear-weapons program because there are also non-state terrorists (some of whom are supported by none other than Iran) who pose a similar threat. But wait. Isn’t this further reason to do what is necessary to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons? After all, they might be supplying those very same groups with nuclear materials.

In one short interview, Clinton has pulled back the curtain on the intellectual and moral hollowness and abject confusion at he heart of Obama’s engagement policy. The Iranian people, the West, and history will judge Clinton and the president for whom she spins — however ineptly.

In a rather devastating interview with Candy Crowley on CNN, Hillary Clinton she reveals the misguided premise at the heart of the Obami’s Iran engagement policy and the disastrous results that have flowed from it. This sequence sums up the failure of engagement:

CROWLEY: I want to bring your attention to something that President Obama said in his inaugural a little more than a year ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Has Iran unclenched its fist?

CLINTON: No. But…

CROWLEY: How about North Korea?

CLINTON: No. Not to the extent we would like to see them. But I think that’s — that is not all — all to the story. Engagement has brought us a lot in the last year. Let’s take North Korea first, and then we’ll go to Iran. In North Korea when we said that we were willing to work with North Korea if they were serious about returning to the six party talks, and about denuclearizing in an irreversible way, they basically did not respond in the first instance. But because we were willing to engage, we ended up getting a very strong sanctions regime against North Korea that China signed on to and Russia signed on to. And right now is being enforced around the world.

CROWLEY: Did the extended hand of the U.S. help in any way that you point to?

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: It did, because — because we extended it a neighbor like China knew we were going the extra mile. And all of a sudden said, “You know, you’re not just standing there hurling insults at them. You’ve said, ‘All right. Fine. We’re — we’re willing to work with them.’ They haven’t responded. So we’re going to sign on to these very tough measures.” Similarly in Iran — I don’t know what the outcome would have been if the Iranian government hadn’t made the decision it made following the elections to become so repressive.

But the fact is because we engaged, the rest of the world has really begun to see Iran the way we see it. When we started last year talking about the threats that Iran’s nuclear programs posed, Russia and other countries said, “Well we don’t see it that way.” But through very slow and steady diplomacy plus the fact that we had a two track process. Yes we reached out on engagement to Iran, but we always had the second track which is that we would have to try to get the world community to take stronger measures if they didn’t respond on the engagement front.

So let’s unpack that. For starters, even Clinton admits that the policy has failed. No unclenched hands in North Korea and Iran. And her justification — that our Iran policy was justified because “the world has really begun to see Iran the way we see it” — is simply preposterous. She would have us believe the world would not have seen the nature of the regime by its own actions (constructing the Qom enrichment site in violation of international agreements, stealing an election, and brutalizing its own people), but only now has begun to understand the nature of the regime because we have engaged in a futile Kabuki dance with the mullahs? It boggles the mind. And where is the evidence that Russia and China see it our way? When last we heard from them, the Russians were supplying missiles to Tehran, and the Chinese were rejecting sanctions.

There is no flicker of recognition that the president might have used his vaunted charisma and eloquence to get the world to “see Iran the way we see it” — that is, as an illegitimate and tyrannical regime. Indeed, she doesn’t even mention the democracy protestors other than to observe that she doesn’t know “what the outcome would have been if the Iranian government hadn’t made the decision it made following the elections to become so repressive.” Not even a rhetorical bouquet to throw their way. Perhaps we are not even “bearing witness” these days. She seems oblivious to the notion that world opinion might be rallied to the cause of displacing, rather than soliciting the attention of, the despotic regime. And she gives no indication that the engagement policy has bestowed legitimacy upon the regime at the very time its citizens are seeking to overthrow it.

She also makes the bizarre claim that Iran really is not the greatest threat we face:

But I think that most of us believe the greater threats are the trans-national non-state networks. Primarily the extremists — the fundamentalist Islamic extremists who are connected Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula. Al Qaeda in — in Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Al Qaida in the Maghreb. I mean the — the kind of connectivity that exists. And they continue to try to increase the sophistication of their capacity. The attacks that they’re going to make. And the, you know, the biggest nightmare that any of us have is that one of these terrorist member organizations within this syndicate of terror will get their hands on a weapon of mass destruction. So that’s really the — the most threatening prospect we see.

Where to begin? She seems to suggest that we shouldn’t be so concerned about an Iranian regime with a full-blown nuclear-weapons program because there are also non-state terrorists (some of whom are supported by none other than Iran) who pose a similar threat. But wait. Isn’t this further reason to do what is necessary to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons? After all, they might be supplying those very same groups with nuclear materials.

In one short interview, Clinton has pulled back the curtain on the intellectual and moral hollowness and abject confusion at he heart of Obama’s engagement policy. The Iranian people, the West, and history will judge Clinton and the president for whom she spins — however ineptly.

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A Matter of Priorities

Cliff May notices an outbreak of bipartisanship on Iran sanctions, which passed the Senate unanimously last week and followed passage of a similar measure in the House by a 412-12 margin:

The sanctions bills that have passed Congress would target a chink in Iran’s armor: its dependence on gasoline imports. Yes, ordinary Iranians will suffer as fuel becomes scarce and more expensive. But President Obama is articulate enough to explain where the blame belongs. He could add that Americans look forward not just to lifting the sanctions but to working with Iranians in a spirit of cooperation — as soon as Iran has leaders interested in such relations. It would be useful if the president also provided both moral and material support to those Iranians who have been marching in the streets, chanting: “Obama! Are you with us or against us?”

But, as May notes, it’s far from clear that Obama is part of that bipartisan consensus and would use the sanction authority. He and his dutiful secretary of state have, after all, consistently talked about “leaving the door open.” Hillary Clinton is winnowing down those crippling sanctions in order to minimize their impact — so we can leave the door open, you see. The January deadline came and went with no pronouncement from the White House or Foggy Bottom. It’s as if nothing has changed, and “consequences” are always around the bend for the mullahs should they not change their tune.

It is odd that a president who thinks of himself as so transformative would be so lackadaisical if not hostile toward regime change. You would think this might be his opportunity — finally — to be not Bush (who frankly kicked the can down the road on Iran during his administration) to good effect. It is nothing less than the chance to turn the tide of history. As May notes:

In 1979, Iran’s Islamist revolution was the spark that set off the war against the West that has raged ever since. The atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, represent the most devastating battle — so far. The advent of a nuclear-armed and jihadist Iran would escalate the conflict. By contrast, an Iranian government more concerned with the welfare of its citizens than with power and conquest would ease tensions in the Middle East and beyond. If President Obama contributes to that result, he will deserve — and receive — support from both sides of the aisle.

Perhaps the president’s advisers have convinced him that the Iranian demonstrators have “little chance for success.” But as Eli Lake points out, these sorts have not had a great track record when it comes to predicting events in Iran. (“The U.S. intelligence community in the past failed to predict political events in Iran. For example, a noted CIA assessment of Iran in the fall of 1978 predicted there was no prospect for an Islamic revolution — a prediction that proved wrong within five months.”) Nevertheless, it might be just the advice Obama is looking for — confirmation that doing not much of anything to aid the democracy advocates is the “smart” diplomatic move.

One suspects, however, that Obama is simply unwilling to give up his singular focus on the domestic revolution he cares most desperately about — the creation of a “new foundation” — to engage in a historic undertaking overseas. It is a cramped, inward vision that supposes that America doesn’t have much of a role to play beyond its shores. We’ve got health care to reinvent and light-rail programs to fund. And there’s the “real” menace — global warming. (If you ignore all those e-mails.) Yes, and meanwhile Iranians die in the streets and the mullahs move closer to nuclear-weapons capability. It is, I suppose, simply a matter of priorities.

Cliff May notices an outbreak of bipartisanship on Iran sanctions, which passed the Senate unanimously last week and followed passage of a similar measure in the House by a 412-12 margin:

The sanctions bills that have passed Congress would target a chink in Iran’s armor: its dependence on gasoline imports. Yes, ordinary Iranians will suffer as fuel becomes scarce and more expensive. But President Obama is articulate enough to explain where the blame belongs. He could add that Americans look forward not just to lifting the sanctions but to working with Iranians in a spirit of cooperation — as soon as Iran has leaders interested in such relations. It would be useful if the president also provided both moral and material support to those Iranians who have been marching in the streets, chanting: “Obama! Are you with us or against us?”

But, as May notes, it’s far from clear that Obama is part of that bipartisan consensus and would use the sanction authority. He and his dutiful secretary of state have, after all, consistently talked about “leaving the door open.” Hillary Clinton is winnowing down those crippling sanctions in order to minimize their impact — so we can leave the door open, you see. The January deadline came and went with no pronouncement from the White House or Foggy Bottom. It’s as if nothing has changed, and “consequences” are always around the bend for the mullahs should they not change their tune.

It is odd that a president who thinks of himself as so transformative would be so lackadaisical if not hostile toward regime change. You would think this might be his opportunity — finally — to be not Bush (who frankly kicked the can down the road on Iran during his administration) to good effect. It is nothing less than the chance to turn the tide of history. As May notes:

In 1979, Iran’s Islamist revolution was the spark that set off the war against the West that has raged ever since. The atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, represent the most devastating battle — so far. The advent of a nuclear-armed and jihadist Iran would escalate the conflict. By contrast, an Iranian government more concerned with the welfare of its citizens than with power and conquest would ease tensions in the Middle East and beyond. If President Obama contributes to that result, he will deserve — and receive — support from both sides of the aisle.

Perhaps the president’s advisers have convinced him that the Iranian demonstrators have “little chance for success.” But as Eli Lake points out, these sorts have not had a great track record when it comes to predicting events in Iran. (“The U.S. intelligence community in the past failed to predict political events in Iran. For example, a noted CIA assessment of Iran in the fall of 1978 predicted there was no prospect for an Islamic revolution — a prediction that proved wrong within five months.”) Nevertheless, it might be just the advice Obama is looking for — confirmation that doing not much of anything to aid the democracy advocates is the “smart” diplomatic move.

One suspects, however, that Obama is simply unwilling to give up his singular focus on the domestic revolution he cares most desperately about — the creation of a “new foundation” — to engage in a historic undertaking overseas. It is a cramped, inward vision that supposes that America doesn’t have much of a role to play beyond its shores. We’ve got health care to reinvent and light-rail programs to fund. And there’s the “real” menace — global warming. (If you ignore all those e-mails.) Yes, and meanwhile Iranians die in the streets and the mullahs move closer to nuclear-weapons capability. It is, I suppose, simply a matter of priorities.

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Re: This Would Certainly Be Hope ‘N Change

It is becoming the week for bipartisan foreign policy. We saw a group of Democratic and Republican senators call for the Christmas Day bomber to be treated as an enemy combatant. We saw the 9/11 commission chiefs call for a reexamination of our handling of terrorists. Now a large bipartsian group is demanding those “crippling sanctions” on Iran. Senators Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Chuck Schumer (D-New York), John McCain (R-Arizona), Robert Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), and David Vitter (R-Louisiana) sent a letter to the president calling for him to abide by his own one-year deadline on diplomacy and impose real pressure on the Iranian regime. The letter reads in part:

We believe that it is extremely important for the world to know that the United States means what it says, and that we in fact do what we say we are going to do. As you rightly stated in your Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, “If we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price.”

We understand that your Administration is likely to pursue a fifth sanctions resolution at the United Nations Security Council. We strongly support your Administration’s painstaking diplomacy in support of this goal and hope that it succeeds in securing measures that stand a reasonable chance of changing the behavior of Iran’s government for the better. However, based on previous experience, we are acutely aware of the limits of Security Council action, in particular given the likely resistance to meaningful sanctions by the People’s Republic of China. We note with dismay the recent statement of China’s ambassador to the United Nations that, “This is not the right time or right moment for sanctions, because the diplomatic efforts are still going on.”

The senators urge Obama to “pursue parallel and complementary measures, outside the Security Council, to increase the pressure on the Iranian government.” They note that the president already has authority to do so under existing law, and that the senators “are also committed to quickly passing new comprehensive sanctions legislation in Congress that will provide you with additional authorities to pressure Iran, and urge you to make full use of them.”

Once again, it seems Obama is trailing, not leading. There is a bipartisan consensus to at least extract ourselves from the morass of engagement. One wonders what alternative course of action Obama really believes there is. Do pin-prick sanctions focused supposedly on only certain elements within the Iranian regime offer any realistic hope of success? Or is Obama edging closer to a containment strategy, in which meaningful sanctions and military action are ruled out, leaving only the option of living with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state? We will find out soon enough whether Obama intends to go down in history as the American president who allowed such a regime to go nuclear. In the meantime, these lawmakers would do well to keep up the drumbeat. I suspect it will have to get very loud before the administration acts.

It is becoming the week for bipartisan foreign policy. We saw a group of Democratic and Republican senators call for the Christmas Day bomber to be treated as an enemy combatant. We saw the 9/11 commission chiefs call for a reexamination of our handling of terrorists. Now a large bipartsian group is demanding those “crippling sanctions” on Iran. Senators Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Chuck Schumer (D-New York), John McCain (R-Arizona), Robert Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), and David Vitter (R-Louisiana) sent a letter to the president calling for him to abide by his own one-year deadline on diplomacy and impose real pressure on the Iranian regime. The letter reads in part:

We believe that it is extremely important for the world to know that the United States means what it says, and that we in fact do what we say we are going to do. As you rightly stated in your Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, “If we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price.”

We understand that your Administration is likely to pursue a fifth sanctions resolution at the United Nations Security Council. We strongly support your Administration’s painstaking diplomacy in support of this goal and hope that it succeeds in securing measures that stand a reasonable chance of changing the behavior of Iran’s government for the better. However, based on previous experience, we are acutely aware of the limits of Security Council action, in particular given the likely resistance to meaningful sanctions by the People’s Republic of China. We note with dismay the recent statement of China’s ambassador to the United Nations that, “This is not the right time or right moment for sanctions, because the diplomatic efforts are still going on.”

The senators urge Obama to “pursue parallel and complementary measures, outside the Security Council, to increase the pressure on the Iranian government.” They note that the president already has authority to do so under existing law, and that the senators “are also committed to quickly passing new comprehensive sanctions legislation in Congress that will provide you with additional authorities to pressure Iran, and urge you to make full use of them.”

Once again, it seems Obama is trailing, not leading. There is a bipartisan consensus to at least extract ourselves from the morass of engagement. One wonders what alternative course of action Obama really believes there is. Do pin-prick sanctions focused supposedly on only certain elements within the Iranian regime offer any realistic hope of success? Or is Obama edging closer to a containment strategy, in which meaningful sanctions and military action are ruled out, leaving only the option of living with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state? We will find out soon enough whether Obama intends to go down in history as the American president who allowed such a regime to go nuclear. In the meantime, these lawmakers would do well to keep up the drumbeat. I suspect it will have to get very loud before the administration acts.

Read Less

This Would Certainly Be Hope ‘N Change

Robert Kagan calls on Obama to do something important and vital: push for regime change in Iran. He notes that Obama’s engagement folly was premised on the faulty assumption that “a bargain could be had with benighted and virulently anti-Western leaders.” It turns out that the problem was not insufficient humility by the West or George W. Bush. It was the nature of the current Iranian regime, which, if there had been any doubt, has now revealed its true nature in the wake of the June 12 elections. So Kagan argues:

Regime change is more important than any deal the Obama administration might strike with Iran’s present government on its nuclear program. Even if Tehran were to accept the offer made last year to export some of its low-enriched uranium, this would be a modest step down a long, uncertain road. Such a minor concession is not worth abandoning the push for real change.

And Kagan reminds us that regime change is, for a president so entranced with a nuclear-arms-free world, “the best nonproliferation policy. Even if the next Iranian government refused to give up the weapons program, its need for Western economic assistance and its desire for reintegration into the global economy and international order would at least cause it to slow today’s mad rush to completion and be much more open to diplomatic discussion.” But of course it’s also the only realistic approach in sight. Who thinks engagement will bear fruit? (Well, other than J Street.) There is no rationale for continuing the kabuki theater or for insisting on limiting our sanctions to keep the “door open.” (So we can be on the receiving end of more rebuffs and insults?)

But the problem remains: nothing in Obama’s rhetoric or conduct suggests that he grasps this. Kagan delicately puts it this way:

So far, the administration has been slow to shift in response to events in Iran. It has proceeded as if the political upheaval had only marginal significance, and the real prize remains some deal with Tehran. The president has been cautious to a fault.

But in fact Obama has been hostile to the interests of the democracy activists in Iran — not only did he rush to confer diplomatic legitimacy on the regime, but he slashed financial support to the very groups seeking to topple the regime.

Could Obama be enticed, as Kagan describes, by the prospect that “were the Iranian regime to fall on Obama’s watch, however, and were he to play some visible role in helping, his place in history as a transformational world leader would be secure”? Maybe. But Obama seems intoxicated by other, less attainable endeavors, not the least of which is churning round after round of the “peace process.” And if one takes seriously his West Point speech and his 60 Minutes appearance, he really would rather not engage in “triumphalism” or commitments with no predetermined end point. He really wants to go back to reinventing America.

But perhaps there’s where an opening exists. Kagan’s sage advice may have more impact now, in the wake of Obama’s domestic-policy wipeout and the widespread criticism of his first year’s bungle-filled foreign policy. Obama could use an important effort, one that combines both realism and the highest aspirations of America, which would replace his first year’s serial failures (two Copenhagens, the George Mitchell fright show) and cringe-inducing timidity (e.g., the Afghanistan seminars) with a more positive image of Obama as leader of the West. Does he have the foresight and determination to undertake such an about-face? We’ve seen no evidence of it so far. But as he suggested in his ABC interview, if he doesn’t get a second term, he should make the most of the current one.

Robert Kagan calls on Obama to do something important and vital: push for regime change in Iran. He notes that Obama’s engagement folly was premised on the faulty assumption that “a bargain could be had with benighted and virulently anti-Western leaders.” It turns out that the problem was not insufficient humility by the West or George W. Bush. It was the nature of the current Iranian regime, which, if there had been any doubt, has now revealed its true nature in the wake of the June 12 elections. So Kagan argues:

Regime change is more important than any deal the Obama administration might strike with Iran’s present government on its nuclear program. Even if Tehran were to accept the offer made last year to export some of its low-enriched uranium, this would be a modest step down a long, uncertain road. Such a minor concession is not worth abandoning the push for real change.

And Kagan reminds us that regime change is, for a president so entranced with a nuclear-arms-free world, “the best nonproliferation policy. Even if the next Iranian government refused to give up the weapons program, its need for Western economic assistance and its desire for reintegration into the global economy and international order would at least cause it to slow today’s mad rush to completion and be much more open to diplomatic discussion.” But of course it’s also the only realistic approach in sight. Who thinks engagement will bear fruit? (Well, other than J Street.) There is no rationale for continuing the kabuki theater or for insisting on limiting our sanctions to keep the “door open.” (So we can be on the receiving end of more rebuffs and insults?)

But the problem remains: nothing in Obama’s rhetoric or conduct suggests that he grasps this. Kagan delicately puts it this way:

So far, the administration has been slow to shift in response to events in Iran. It has proceeded as if the political upheaval had only marginal significance, and the real prize remains some deal with Tehran. The president has been cautious to a fault.

But in fact Obama has been hostile to the interests of the democracy activists in Iran — not only did he rush to confer diplomatic legitimacy on the regime, but he slashed financial support to the very groups seeking to topple the regime.

Could Obama be enticed, as Kagan describes, by the prospect that “were the Iranian regime to fall on Obama’s watch, however, and were he to play some visible role in helping, his place in history as a transformational world leader would be secure”? Maybe. But Obama seems intoxicated by other, less attainable endeavors, not the least of which is churning round after round of the “peace process.” And if one takes seriously his West Point speech and his 60 Minutes appearance, he really would rather not engage in “triumphalism” or commitments with no predetermined end point. He really wants to go back to reinventing America.

But perhaps there’s where an opening exists. Kagan’s sage advice may have more impact now, in the wake of Obama’s domestic-policy wipeout and the widespread criticism of his first year’s bungle-filled foreign policy. Obama could use an important effort, one that combines both realism and the highest aspirations of America, which would replace his first year’s serial failures (two Copenhagens, the George Mitchell fright show) and cringe-inducing timidity (e.g., the Afghanistan seminars) with a more positive image of Obama as leader of the West. Does he have the foresight and determination to undertake such an about-face? We’ve seen no evidence of it so far. But as he suggested in his ABC interview, if he doesn’t get a second term, he should make the most of the current one.

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Obama’s Foreign-Policy Fade Ignores Oil Weapon

It’s nice to know that Contentions isn’t the only place that noticed the Obama administration’s Dec. 31 deadline before serious action on Iran would begin. In tomorrow’s International Herald Tribune (available online now at the New York Times site), John Vinocur calls attention to Obama’s feckless drift to inaction on the issue. Vinocur writes:

Serious was supposed to have started Jan. 1. That was when the Americans said time would run out for Iran to respond positively to an international plan that would have effectively slowed the Iranian nuclear program. But over the past weeks it has become clear that the sanctions on gasoline aren’t going to happen — either at the United Nations because the Chinese and Russians don’t want them, or in an ad hoc alliance that would include the European Union.

The veteran Times reporter hones in on the role that oil has planned in the history of the Islamist regime. It was, he says, strikes and Islamic terrorism in the oil fields that cut the country’s supply of home heating oil and made rationing of gas necessary that really signaled the end of the Shah in 1979. Today tough international sanctions on fuel supplies and cutting off exports could play the same role in toppling an unpopular and despotic Islamist Iranian government. But as Vinocur rightly says, the United States has been jawboned into inaction by cowardly allies and Obama’s inability to sweet-talk either Russia or China into imposing sanctions on its Iranian business partners.

Vinocur quotes Thérèse Delpech, director of strategic affairs for the French Atomic Energy Commission, as saying that sanctions are a feasible strategy for crippling the Iranian government and bringing it to heel. But, like the Americans, the French aren’t taking a stand either. Oil and gas sanctions are the only route to a plan that has a chance of success in getting Iran to stop its nuclear program. The only alternative to it is, as we all know, Western acceptance of an Iranian bomb or a military response that no one wants to try. Vinocur asks why, given the danger that a nuclear Iran poses to Middle East peace (and existentially to Israel) and the West, as well as the strengthening of Iran’s Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist allies that would result from their attaining a bomb, the West would give up without using the tough sanctions that are available to them? Since it is impossible to imagine this administration taking military action on Iran (and to be fair, its predecessor demonstrated its own lack of interest in the military option during George W. Bush’s last year in office), we are heading inevitably to a point where Obama is going to have to tell us that we must learn to live with an Iranian bomb. Which means that the attempt to downplay the expiration of yet another American deadline on Iran is just the beginning of the president’s prevarications on the threat from Iran in 2010.

It’s nice to know that Contentions isn’t the only place that noticed the Obama administration’s Dec. 31 deadline before serious action on Iran would begin. In tomorrow’s International Herald Tribune (available online now at the New York Times site), John Vinocur calls attention to Obama’s feckless drift to inaction on the issue. Vinocur writes:

Serious was supposed to have started Jan. 1. That was when the Americans said time would run out for Iran to respond positively to an international plan that would have effectively slowed the Iranian nuclear program. But over the past weeks it has become clear that the sanctions on gasoline aren’t going to happen — either at the United Nations because the Chinese and Russians don’t want them, or in an ad hoc alliance that would include the European Union.

The veteran Times reporter hones in on the role that oil has planned in the history of the Islamist regime. It was, he says, strikes and Islamic terrorism in the oil fields that cut the country’s supply of home heating oil and made rationing of gas necessary that really signaled the end of the Shah in 1979. Today tough international sanctions on fuel supplies and cutting off exports could play the same role in toppling an unpopular and despotic Islamist Iranian government. But as Vinocur rightly says, the United States has been jawboned into inaction by cowardly allies and Obama’s inability to sweet-talk either Russia or China into imposing sanctions on its Iranian business partners.

Vinocur quotes Thérèse Delpech, director of strategic affairs for the French Atomic Energy Commission, as saying that sanctions are a feasible strategy for crippling the Iranian government and bringing it to heel. But, like the Americans, the French aren’t taking a stand either. Oil and gas sanctions are the only route to a plan that has a chance of success in getting Iran to stop its nuclear program. The only alternative to it is, as we all know, Western acceptance of an Iranian bomb or a military response that no one wants to try. Vinocur asks why, given the danger that a nuclear Iran poses to Middle East peace (and existentially to Israel) and the West, as well as the strengthening of Iran’s Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist allies that would result from their attaining a bomb, the West would give up without using the tough sanctions that are available to them? Since it is impossible to imagine this administration taking military action on Iran (and to be fair, its predecessor demonstrated its own lack of interest in the military option during George W. Bush’s last year in office), we are heading inevitably to a point where Obama is going to have to tell us that we must learn to live with an Iranian bomb. Which means that the attempt to downplay the expiration of yet another American deadline on Iran is just the beginning of the president’s prevarications on the threat from Iran in 2010.

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Hillary Clinton Delivers New Year’s Assurances for the Mullahs

Hillary Clinton emerges from her long absence to deliver this blather on Iran:

Now, we’ve avoided using the term “deadline” ourselves. That’s not a term that we have used because we want to keep the door to dialogue open. But we’ve also made it clear we can’t continue to wait and we cannot continue to stand by when the Iranians themselves talk about increasing their production of high-enriched uranium and additional facilities for nuclear power that very likely can be put to dual use.

So we have already begun discussions with our partners and with likeminded nations about pressure and sanctions. I can’t appropriately comment on the details of those discussions now, except to say that our goal is to pressure the Iranian Government, particularly the Revolutionary Guard elements, without contributing to the suffering of the ordinary Iraqis who deserve better than what they currently are receiving.

Iran is going through a very turbulent period in its history. There are many troubling signs of the actions that they are taking. And we want to reiterate that we stand with those Iranians who are peacefully demonstrating. We mourn the loss of innocent life. We condemn the detention and imprisonment, the torture and abuse of people, which seems to be accelerating. And we hope that there will be an opportunity for Iran to reverse course, to begin engaging in a positive way with the international community, respecting the rights of their own citizens. But we’re going to continue on our dual-track approach.

No, the Obami haven’t given up on engagement, nor do those “crippling sanctions” seem to be in the cards. Regime change? You must be joking! All she can muster is the “hope” that Iran will reverse course. Not that we would do much to aid in that effort. We are simply taking notes — isn’t that what “bearing witness” is all about? — as Iranian citizens disappear or are tortured or killed. Now she does express “concerns” and is “disturbed” —  “deeply” disturbed, as her boss expressed, begrudgingly, after the June 12 election was stolen: “So yes, we have concerns about their behavior, we have concerns about their intentions, and we are deeply disturbed by the mounting signs of ruthless repression that they are exercising against those who assemble and express viewpoints that are at variance with what the leadership of Iran wants to hear.” That level of concern and “disturbance” does not rise, however, to warning the mullahs of the consequences of their behavior. No, there are none of those in sight. And how genteel is her description that the Iranian people express “viewpoints that are at variance with what the leadership of Iran wants to hear.” Yes, the Iranian people would like not to be snatched from their homes or have their children tortured; the regime takes the contrary view. All so polite. All so very Foggy Bottom-ish.

Can you imagine how delighted the Iranian regime must be to hear this unintelligible mush from the Obama team? Clinton has told them that there isn’t really any “deadline” and that they can proceed without fear of any serious consequences for their behavior. For the mullahs, that’s a delightful start for 2010. For the people of Iran? Not so much.

Hillary Clinton emerges from her long absence to deliver this blather on Iran:

Now, we’ve avoided using the term “deadline” ourselves. That’s not a term that we have used because we want to keep the door to dialogue open. But we’ve also made it clear we can’t continue to wait and we cannot continue to stand by when the Iranians themselves talk about increasing their production of high-enriched uranium and additional facilities for nuclear power that very likely can be put to dual use.

So we have already begun discussions with our partners and with likeminded nations about pressure and sanctions. I can’t appropriately comment on the details of those discussions now, except to say that our goal is to pressure the Iranian Government, particularly the Revolutionary Guard elements, without contributing to the suffering of the ordinary Iraqis who deserve better than what they currently are receiving.

Iran is going through a very turbulent period in its history. There are many troubling signs of the actions that they are taking. And we want to reiterate that we stand with those Iranians who are peacefully demonstrating. We mourn the loss of innocent life. We condemn the detention and imprisonment, the torture and abuse of people, which seems to be accelerating. And we hope that there will be an opportunity for Iran to reverse course, to begin engaging in a positive way with the international community, respecting the rights of their own citizens. But we’re going to continue on our dual-track approach.

No, the Obami haven’t given up on engagement, nor do those “crippling sanctions” seem to be in the cards. Regime change? You must be joking! All she can muster is the “hope” that Iran will reverse course. Not that we would do much to aid in that effort. We are simply taking notes — isn’t that what “bearing witness” is all about? — as Iranian citizens disappear or are tortured or killed. Now she does express “concerns” and is “disturbed” —  “deeply” disturbed, as her boss expressed, begrudgingly, after the June 12 election was stolen: “So yes, we have concerns about their behavior, we have concerns about their intentions, and we are deeply disturbed by the mounting signs of ruthless repression that they are exercising against those who assemble and express viewpoints that are at variance with what the leadership of Iran wants to hear.” That level of concern and “disturbance” does not rise, however, to warning the mullahs of the consequences of their behavior. No, there are none of those in sight. And how genteel is her description that the Iranian people express “viewpoints that are at variance with what the leadership of Iran wants to hear.” Yes, the Iranian people would like not to be snatched from their homes or have their children tortured; the regime takes the contrary view. All so polite. All so very Foggy Bottom-ish.

Can you imagine how delighted the Iranian regime must be to hear this unintelligible mush from the Obama team? Clinton has told them that there isn’t really any “deadline” and that they can proceed without fear of any serious consequences for their behavior. For the mullahs, that’s a delightful start for 2010. For the people of Iran? Not so much.

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Not Giving up Yet on Iranian Engagement

Good news: the Obama administration is getting ready to impose sanctions on Iran. Bad news: they are doing so in a half-hearted fashion without giving up the pipe dream of re-engaging a barbaric regime murdering its own people. No, really. They don’t want to topple the regime nor inflict much damage, just target those “elements” they think are the really bad guys. The Washington Post reports:

“We have never been attracted to the idea of trying to get the whole world to cordon off their economy,” said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “We have to be deft at this, because it matters how the Iranian people interpret their isolation — whether they fault the regime or are fooled into thinking we are to blame.”

As a result, top officials show little apparent interest in legislation racing through Congress that would punish companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran. “Sanctions would not be an alternative to engagement,” another senior official said. “Our intention is to keep the door open.”

It is unclear how, exactly, we are going to target only the Revolutionary Guard, for example. And heaven forbid we should appear to aid the protestors. (“But officials insist that sanctions would not be linked to the protests. ‘It is only coincidental that at the same time we reached the deadline, the Iranian government has a bloody crackdown,’ said a third U.S. official. ‘It has only served to highlight the nature of the regime.'”) What is important is that we avoid being too harsh, too effective, or inflict too much damage because then the regime wouldn’t want to come back to the bargaining table:

Administration officials have not given up hope that the deal can be revived — they are encouraging Turkish efforts to bridge the gap — but they say the apparent turmoil it generated within the Iranian leadership is a useful side benefit of engagement. The effort to engage “has had an unsettling effect on people in the regime,” one official said. “It has made it more difficult to demonize the United States and say it has been the root of all evil.”

(Notice the defensive fixation that we must justify our own actions to the Iranian people, who are risking life and limb against a regime they know all to well is evil.) And in defending the engagement strategy, unnamed officials claim they’ve been making progress with China. Well, not exactly progress. The Chinese just “understand the argument but don’t have the sense of urgency that other countries have.” All that bowing and scraping for nothing, it seems.

If this seems ludicrous and full of the same otherwordly thinking that originally spurred the engagement gambit and frittered away a year (while the mullahs proceeded with their nuclear program), you are right. Whatever mumbo-jumbo they are talking about, it is not “crippling sanctions.” The mullahs will be delighted to know there are no serious consequences for their behavior. They will no doubt proceed full speed ahead with their nuclear plans. And for those who imagined that Obama would be tougher and smarter? Well, it was just their imagination.

Good news: the Obama administration is getting ready to impose sanctions on Iran. Bad news: they are doing so in a half-hearted fashion without giving up the pipe dream of re-engaging a barbaric regime murdering its own people. No, really. They don’t want to topple the regime nor inflict much damage, just target those “elements” they think are the really bad guys. The Washington Post reports:

“We have never been attracted to the idea of trying to get the whole world to cordon off their economy,” said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “We have to be deft at this, because it matters how the Iranian people interpret their isolation — whether they fault the regime or are fooled into thinking we are to blame.”

As a result, top officials show little apparent interest in legislation racing through Congress that would punish companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran. “Sanctions would not be an alternative to engagement,” another senior official said. “Our intention is to keep the door open.”

It is unclear how, exactly, we are going to target only the Revolutionary Guard, for example. And heaven forbid we should appear to aid the protestors. (“But officials insist that sanctions would not be linked to the protests. ‘It is only coincidental that at the same time we reached the deadline, the Iranian government has a bloody crackdown,’ said a third U.S. official. ‘It has only served to highlight the nature of the regime.'”) What is important is that we avoid being too harsh, too effective, or inflict too much damage because then the regime wouldn’t want to come back to the bargaining table:

Administration officials have not given up hope that the deal can be revived — they are encouraging Turkish efforts to bridge the gap — but they say the apparent turmoil it generated within the Iranian leadership is a useful side benefit of engagement. The effort to engage “has had an unsettling effect on people in the regime,” one official said. “It has made it more difficult to demonize the United States and say it has been the root of all evil.”

(Notice the defensive fixation that we must justify our own actions to the Iranian people, who are risking life and limb against a regime they know all to well is evil.) And in defending the engagement strategy, unnamed officials claim they’ve been making progress with China. Well, not exactly progress. The Chinese just “understand the argument but don’t have the sense of urgency that other countries have.” All that bowing and scraping for nothing, it seems.

If this seems ludicrous and full of the same otherwordly thinking that originally spurred the engagement gambit and frittered away a year (while the mullahs proceeded with their nuclear program), you are right. Whatever mumbo-jumbo they are talking about, it is not “crippling sanctions.” The mullahs will be delighted to know there are no serious consequences for their behavior. They will no doubt proceed full speed ahead with their nuclear plans. And for those who imagined that Obama would be tougher and smarter? Well, it was just their imagination.

Read Less

The Iranian Regime’s Battle of Karbala

The Iranian citizens’ uprising against their government has been sustained for six months now, and it took an interesting turn over the weekend. Security forces reportedly opened fire against demonstrators and even killed the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi – and they did it during Ashura. There are few things “supreme guide” Ali Khamenei could have done to enrage religious conservatives and harden them against his regime more than this. As one demonstrator put it, “killing Muslims on Ashura is like crucifying Christians on Christmas.”

“The clock began to tick for Ayatollah Khamenei’s fall from today,” said one of Iran’s few former female members of parliament Fatemeh Haghighatjou. “Killing people on Ashura shows how far Mr. Khamenei is willing to go to suppress the protests. People are comparing him more with Yazid because they consider him responsible for the order to use violence against people.”

Ashura is a Shia religious holiday, and it is not joyous. It is a day of lamentation that marks the date when the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid killed Hussein, son of Ali and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, during the Battle of Karbala in the year 680. It’s one of the most infamous episodes in the struggle for power that permanently ruptured the house of Islam into its warring Sunni and Shia halves. The Shia – the partisans of Ali and his lineage – have been at war with the Sunnis – those who took the side of Yazid – for thirteen centuries. That Khamenei’s security people would murder unarmed demonstrators on this day of all days, and that his opponents now denounce him as the Yazid of Iran, may very well set most of the religious conservatives against him for as long as he and his government live.

Haghighatjou isn’t the only one using this kind of language. You’ll find regular citizens comparing Khamenei to Yazid and Tehran to Karbala with even a cursory scan of Iranian Internet commentary during the last couple of days.

The Iranian government knows very well what a devastating accusation this is. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini compared the tyrannical Shah Reza Pahlavi to Yazid during the revolution he led in 1979, and his successor Khamenei tries to pass himself off as a modern Ali even now. More recently, the regime’s Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders used this charge against Israel in 1982 to ignite a decades-long insurgency in South Lebanon.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to demolish the Palestinian state-within-a-state that Yasser Arafat had built there, the Shia of the south hailed the Israeli soldiers as liberators. Hezbollah may wish this inconvenient fact was forgotten, but it’s true. That’s what happened. That’s how the Shia of Lebanon felt. Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization was a foreign Sunni militia that pushed the Shia around at gunpoint and turned their previously quiet part of the world into a war zone.

Iran’s Khomeinist regime redeployed Revolutionary Guard Corps units from battlefields in the Iran-Iraq war to Lebanon to foment a Shia insurgency there against the Israelis, but most people weren’t interested. Not at first, anyway. Everything changed the following year, in 1983, when IDF patrol trucks made a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of an Ashura procession in Nabatieh. The drivers tried to barge their way through a crowd. Some of the mourners threw rocks, and Israeli soldiers shot them.

Israel unwittingly cast itself in the role of a modern Yazid 26 years ago, and most of the Shia of Lebanon have been in a state of war with their former allies ever since. The Israeli soldiers in that fateful incident didn’t realize what they were doing, but Khamenei of all people should have known to back off during Ashura. The pious Shia who live in Iran won’t easily forget that he didn’t.

The Iranian citizens’ uprising against their government has been sustained for six months now, and it took an interesting turn over the weekend. Security forces reportedly opened fire against demonstrators and even killed the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi – and they did it during Ashura. There are few things “supreme guide” Ali Khamenei could have done to enrage religious conservatives and harden them against his regime more than this. As one demonstrator put it, “killing Muslims on Ashura is like crucifying Christians on Christmas.”

“The clock began to tick for Ayatollah Khamenei’s fall from today,” said one of Iran’s few former female members of parliament Fatemeh Haghighatjou. “Killing people on Ashura shows how far Mr. Khamenei is willing to go to suppress the protests. People are comparing him more with Yazid because they consider him responsible for the order to use violence against people.”

Ashura is a Shia religious holiday, and it is not joyous. It is a day of lamentation that marks the date when the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid killed Hussein, son of Ali and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, during the Battle of Karbala in the year 680. It’s one of the most infamous episodes in the struggle for power that permanently ruptured the house of Islam into its warring Sunni and Shia halves. The Shia – the partisans of Ali and his lineage – have been at war with the Sunnis – those who took the side of Yazid – for thirteen centuries. That Khamenei’s security people would murder unarmed demonstrators on this day of all days, and that his opponents now denounce him as the Yazid of Iran, may very well set most of the religious conservatives against him for as long as he and his government live.

Haghighatjou isn’t the only one using this kind of language. You’ll find regular citizens comparing Khamenei to Yazid and Tehran to Karbala with even a cursory scan of Iranian Internet commentary during the last couple of days.

The Iranian government knows very well what a devastating accusation this is. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini compared the tyrannical Shah Reza Pahlavi to Yazid during the revolution he led in 1979, and his successor Khamenei tries to pass himself off as a modern Ali even now. More recently, the regime’s Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders used this charge against Israel in 1982 to ignite a decades-long insurgency in South Lebanon.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to demolish the Palestinian state-within-a-state that Yasser Arafat had built there, the Shia of the south hailed the Israeli soldiers as liberators. Hezbollah may wish this inconvenient fact was forgotten, but it’s true. That’s what happened. That’s how the Shia of Lebanon felt. Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization was a foreign Sunni militia that pushed the Shia around at gunpoint and turned their previously quiet part of the world into a war zone.

Iran’s Khomeinist regime redeployed Revolutionary Guard Corps units from battlefields in the Iran-Iraq war to Lebanon to foment a Shia insurgency there against the Israelis, but most people weren’t interested. Not at first, anyway. Everything changed the following year, in 1983, when IDF patrol trucks made a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of an Ashura procession in Nabatieh. The drivers tried to barge their way through a crowd. Some of the mourners threw rocks, and Israeli soldiers shot them.

Israel unwittingly cast itself in the role of a modern Yazid 26 years ago, and most of the Shia of Lebanon have been in a state of war with their former allies ever since. The Israeli soldiers in that fateful incident didn’t realize what they were doing, but Khamenei of all people should have known to back off during Ashura. The pious Shia who live in Iran won’t easily forget that he didn’t.

Read Less




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