Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iranian nuclear program

Rouhanimania Will Upstage Bibi at UN

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu outlined his agenda for his trip to New York for the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations this month. Netanyahu will hope to remind both his American ally and the international community of the nuclear threat from Iran and, as the New York Times reports, restated a four point plan that would take the world back from the brink of a confrontation:

Mr. Netanyahu told his cabinet that Iran must stop enriching uranium, remove enriched uranium from the country, close its nuclear plant near Qum and stop what he called “the plutonium track.”

“Until all four of these measures are achieved, the pressure on Iran must be increased and not relaxed, and certainly not eased,” the prime minister said in a statement released by his office.

Netanyahu’s right that these are exactly the measures needed to ensure that Iran really is stopped from developing a nuclear weapon but the chances of this argument getting much of a hearing next week are slim and none. Even if Netanyahu brings cartoon characters in costume with him to the U.N. podium to illustrate the imminent danger of Iran’s growing stockpile of refined uranium as well as their plutonium alternative in a follow-up to the cartoon red line straight out of Wiley Coyote’s Acme catalogue that he drew last year, it’s almost certain he will be overshadowed by the appearance of the West’s great hope for peace with Iran: the Islamic regime’s new President Hassan Rouhani. Though evidence of Rouhani’s alleged moderation is still lacking, the contrast with his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is so great that many in the media and official Washington are starting to speak of him as an Iranian version of Bobby Kennedy. With Rouhanimania in full bloom in New York, the Israeli insistence on telling the truth about Tehran’s intentions and the need for the West to not get suckered into another round of dead-end negotiations with the Iranians will make Netanyahu appear to be a party-pooper.

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Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu outlined his agenda for his trip to New York for the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations this month. Netanyahu will hope to remind both his American ally and the international community of the nuclear threat from Iran and, as the New York Times reports, restated a four point plan that would take the world back from the brink of a confrontation:

Mr. Netanyahu told his cabinet that Iran must stop enriching uranium, remove enriched uranium from the country, close its nuclear plant near Qum and stop what he called “the plutonium track.”

“Until all four of these measures are achieved, the pressure on Iran must be increased and not relaxed, and certainly not eased,” the prime minister said in a statement released by his office.

Netanyahu’s right that these are exactly the measures needed to ensure that Iran really is stopped from developing a nuclear weapon but the chances of this argument getting much of a hearing next week are slim and none. Even if Netanyahu brings cartoon characters in costume with him to the U.N. podium to illustrate the imminent danger of Iran’s growing stockpile of refined uranium as well as their plutonium alternative in a follow-up to the cartoon red line straight out of Wiley Coyote’s Acme catalogue that he drew last year, it’s almost certain he will be overshadowed by the appearance of the West’s great hope for peace with Iran: the Islamic regime’s new President Hassan Rouhani. Though evidence of Rouhani’s alleged moderation is still lacking, the contrast with his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is so great that many in the media and official Washington are starting to speak of him as an Iranian version of Bobby Kennedy. With Rouhanimania in full bloom in New York, the Israeli insistence on telling the truth about Tehran’s intentions and the need for the West to not get suckered into another round of dead-end negotiations with the Iranians will make Netanyahu appear to be a party-pooper.

Full credit should be given to Iran for doing everything possible to feed the Rouhanimania of a Western foreign policy establishment and media eager to help President Obama back down from his repeated promises to stop Iran. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, the real boss of Iran, Supreme Leader Grant Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed Rouhani’s outreach by saying it was time for “heroic leniency.” The regime also freed 11 political prisoners in an effort to weaken the critique of Iran’s appalling human rights policy.

But the main centerpiece of the Iranian charm offensive remains Rouhani, a veteran Islamist who was one of Ayatollah Khomeini’s foot soldiers and later served as part of the country’s security apparatus when it began sponsoring international terrorism such as the attack on the Jewish communal building in Buenos Aires, Argentina that took the lives of 85 persons. Rouhani has exchanged letters with President Obama and has become the almost obsessive focus of many in the West on the idea that Iran is about to change its policies. As I wrote yesterday, Rouhani’s statements about accepting Syria’s wishes about its future and offer of closing one of its nuclear facilities are being interpreted as signs that his presidency can provide a reset of relations with Iran.

While prisoner release and nuclear reactor shutdowns would be welcome, those who buy into Rouhanimania need to understand whom it is they are dealing with and put his strategy into the context of Iran’s long-term goals.

Permitting Rouhani to run in the fake presidential election that Iran held was a masterstroke by Khameini. Though a rigid Islamist tyrant, he seems to have a grasp of international public opinion. Allowing Ahmadinejad to become the public face of Iran around the world was a terrible mistake. The former Iranian president’s public embrace of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial made it easier for Westerners to understand just how brutal the Islamist state really is. Removing him from the picture and replacing him with someone that can be represented as a moderate who desires peace changes nothing of substance in Tehran but it is just the excuse to embark on a new round of diplomacy with Iran that the Obama administration desired.

As long as Rouhani surrenders nothing of value to the West — including its right to pursue nuclear capability — he will serve a useful purpose for a regime that has suffered from the international sanctions applied against it in recent years. But those who buy into Rouhanimania need to understand that his goal is the lifting of those sanctions, not stepping back Iran’s sponsoring of international terrorism, ceasing its military intervention in the Syrian civil war or giving up its nuclear options. Moreover, as long as he keeps the West engaged in diplomacy there is no chance the U.S. or Israel will be able to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before it is too late.

It may be too much to hope for the U.S. to see through this charade but these are points to remember as we watch Rouhani become everyone’s favorite Iranian in the UN media crush.

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Rouhani’s Ruses: Syria and Nukes

Washington and the West remain infatuated with new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The supposed moderate is set to make his debut on the international stage later this month at the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York where the comparison to his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will work to his advantage. All the hopes of those who wish to avoid a confrontation with the Islamist regime rest on the notion that Rouhani’s election in a faux democratic presidential vote represents a chance for real change in Iran. Though Iranians might hope genuine change might bring a less repressive theocracy—a proposition that it is difficult to imagine would hold much allure for a fundamentalist follower of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini such as Rouhani—for the West it means an Iran that will abandon its nuclear ambitions and cease sponsoring terrorism or intervening in the affairs of other nations in the region. And it is to those hopes that Rouhani is doing his best to pander.

On the nuclear front, there are reports claiming that Rouhani is prepared to allow Western inspectors into Iran’s key Fordow nuclear plant and even remove the centrifuges that are refining more uranium that adds to the ayatollah’s stockpile. Such concessions in exchange for a lifting of Western sanctions are said to reflect Rouhani’s desire for rapprochement in order to save his country’s economy. As for Syria, as the New York Times reports today, Rouhani told Revolutionary Guard commanders yesterday that Iran will support whomever Syria wants as their leader even if it is not Bashar Assad. But as even that article is forced to acknowledge, Rouhani’s statement is directly contradicted by the facts on the ground in Syria as Iranian forces have become a key element of the Assad regime’s murderous and successful war against rebels. As Michael Rubin noted earlier today, the surfacing of a video showing Iranians taking part in the fighting gives the lie to Rouhani’s statement.

The Times attempted to argue that the contradiction between Rouhani’s moderation and the policies of the regime he represents is a question of dueling interests or alternative tracks that show cracks in the regime’s solid front. But a more sensible reading of these contrasts shows that Rouhani’s feelers to the West are merely talk intended to fool the gullible, as it has successfully done repeatedly in the last decade.

After Ahmadinejad’s unrepentant anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, Rouhani’s apparent desire to make nice is a welcome change for those who view confrontation with Iran as a greater evil than the threat from their nuclear program and sponsorship of terrorism. But talk is cheap.

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Washington and the West remain infatuated with new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The supposed moderate is set to make his debut on the international stage later this month at the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York where the comparison to his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will work to his advantage. All the hopes of those who wish to avoid a confrontation with the Islamist regime rest on the notion that Rouhani’s election in a faux democratic presidential vote represents a chance for real change in Iran. Though Iranians might hope genuine change might bring a less repressive theocracy—a proposition that it is difficult to imagine would hold much allure for a fundamentalist follower of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini such as Rouhani—for the West it means an Iran that will abandon its nuclear ambitions and cease sponsoring terrorism or intervening in the affairs of other nations in the region. And it is to those hopes that Rouhani is doing his best to pander.

On the nuclear front, there are reports claiming that Rouhani is prepared to allow Western inspectors into Iran’s key Fordow nuclear plant and even remove the centrifuges that are refining more uranium that adds to the ayatollah’s stockpile. Such concessions in exchange for a lifting of Western sanctions are said to reflect Rouhani’s desire for rapprochement in order to save his country’s economy. As for Syria, as the New York Times reports today, Rouhani told Revolutionary Guard commanders yesterday that Iran will support whomever Syria wants as their leader even if it is not Bashar Assad. But as even that article is forced to acknowledge, Rouhani’s statement is directly contradicted by the facts on the ground in Syria as Iranian forces have become a key element of the Assad regime’s murderous and successful war against rebels. As Michael Rubin noted earlier today, the surfacing of a video showing Iranians taking part in the fighting gives the lie to Rouhani’s statement.

The Times attempted to argue that the contradiction between Rouhani’s moderation and the policies of the regime he represents is a question of dueling interests or alternative tracks that show cracks in the regime’s solid front. But a more sensible reading of these contrasts shows that Rouhani’s feelers to the West are merely talk intended to fool the gullible, as it has successfully done repeatedly in the last decade.

After Ahmadinejad’s unrepentant anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, Rouhani’s apparent desire to make nice is a welcome change for those who view confrontation with Iran as a greater evil than the threat from their nuclear program and sponsorship of terrorism. But talk is cheap.

The Iranian intervention in Syria implicated them in the atrocities committed by the government they are propping up. Any investigation into war crimes committed in the Syrian civil war, as more than 100,000 were slaughtered in the last two years, will inevitably involve Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard and their Hezbollah auxiliaries. For Rouhani to speak of Iran accepting the verdict of the Syrian people after they have assisted the dictator’s murderous repression is more than hypocritical. It is merely a rhetorical gloss on a criminal policy.

The same kind of skeptical analysis should be applied to the reports of Rouhani’s promises to shut down the centrifuges that are currently spinning Iran toward a nuclear weapon.

The West has, after all, already gone down the garden path with Rouhani on this front when he served as Iran’s nuclear negotiator only to realize later that his moderate promises and willingness to make deals were merely a ruse intended to buy the regime more time. Any nuclear arrangement that leaves in place Iran’s ability to refine uranium—the current position of the administration’s Russian partner on the issue—as well as their efforts to create a plutonium track to a weapon does nothing to avert the threat. While shutting down Fordow would be a productive step, after nuclear inspectors have been kept out of Iran for so long the possibility for deception is great. So is the likelihood that the entire discussion is merely one more attempt to string out negotiations until it is too late to stop Iran.

In his less guarded moments, Rouhani continues to remind us that he is an ardent supporter of the Islamist regime that is really run by Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Any faith placed in his moderation speaks more to Western hopes than Iranian reality. While we should expect that Rouhani’s New York appearance will continue to boost his stock among those already inclined to appease Tehran, there is very little reason to believe his dual track is anything other than a deception.

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Obama Lost More than Style Points in Syria

President Obama is touting the deal Secretary of State John Kerry has made with the Russians over Syria’s chemical weapons as the “first step” toward a solution to all of that country’s problems. He is also, predictably, taking credit for creating the pressure that made all these good things possible. As for the chorus of criticism from across the political spectrum about the manifest incompetence and lack of leadership he displayed in the last few weeks, the president dismisses that as mere carping about “style” rather than substance. But by backing down on his threats to use force and then agreeing to a toothless deal that allows Russian President Vladimir Putin to save the Assad regime after President Obama had repeatedly called for the fall of the dictator, there is more wrong here than a sloppy presentation.

As our Max Boot noted earlier today, the Russian-sponsored process to get rid of Assad’s chemical weapons is an invitation for the Syrian tyrant to delay and obstruct any efforts to actually remove the toxic material and lock the U.S. into a partnership with a man that even United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon labeled as a criminal. Even worse, by authorizing Secretary Kerry to bow to Russian demands to remove any threat of force from operative UN resolutions that will govern the process, the president has virtually guaranteed that there will be no consequences for Assad cheating or a chance that this murderous ally of Russia and Iran will be deposed. Obama has avoided an embarrassing defeat in Congress over authorization of force against Syria and can pretend that he has advanced the cause of peace since no Americans will be involved in any fighting (in contrast to the Syrian people who continue to be slaughtered by Assad). But all he has accomplished in the last month is to trash U.S. credibility and to grant Putin an unexpected victory that will further embolden Iran and its friends. This gives the lie to those who blithely claim Obama’s supine stance on Syria will not inform his policy toward Tehran’s plans for its own weapons of mass destruction.

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President Obama is touting the deal Secretary of State John Kerry has made with the Russians over Syria’s chemical weapons as the “first step” toward a solution to all of that country’s problems. He is also, predictably, taking credit for creating the pressure that made all these good things possible. As for the chorus of criticism from across the political spectrum about the manifest incompetence and lack of leadership he displayed in the last few weeks, the president dismisses that as mere carping about “style” rather than substance. But by backing down on his threats to use force and then agreeing to a toothless deal that allows Russian President Vladimir Putin to save the Assad regime after President Obama had repeatedly called for the fall of the dictator, there is more wrong here than a sloppy presentation.

As our Max Boot noted earlier today, the Russian-sponsored process to get rid of Assad’s chemical weapons is an invitation for the Syrian tyrant to delay and obstruct any efforts to actually remove the toxic material and lock the U.S. into a partnership with a man that even United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon labeled as a criminal. Even worse, by authorizing Secretary Kerry to bow to Russian demands to remove any threat of force from operative UN resolutions that will govern the process, the president has virtually guaranteed that there will be no consequences for Assad cheating or a chance that this murderous ally of Russia and Iran will be deposed. Obama has avoided an embarrassing defeat in Congress over authorization of force against Syria and can pretend that he has advanced the cause of peace since no Americans will be involved in any fighting (in contrast to the Syrian people who continue to be slaughtered by Assad). But all he has accomplished in the last month is to trash U.S. credibility and to grant Putin an unexpected victory that will further embolden Iran and its friends. This gives the lie to those who blithely claim Obama’s supine stance on Syria will not inform his policy toward Tehran’s plans for its own weapons of mass destruction.

Putin is sealing his triumph over Obama by announcing his plans to visit Iran to confer with his partners in propping up the Assad regime. In doing so, the Russian authoritarian proclaimed his support for Iran’s right to a nuclear program including the enrichment of uranium. While the Obama administration and the rest of the West has assumed all along that Putin shared their fear of a nuclear Iran, he has always been operating from a different playbook. The keynote of Russian foreign policy under Putin remains his dream of reconstituting the old Soviet empire and to frustrate the U.S. at every turn. By demonstrating his lack of will to act on what he has rightly labeled a human-rights catastrophe, President Obama has not only secured the Russian base in Syria; he has sent the region a signal that the U.S. is a paper tiger.

The new Middle East that has emerged from Obama’s Syria fiasco is one in which the Russians are no longer marginal players clinging to a sole outpost in Syria. It is also one in which the Iranians and their Hezbollah allies who have actively intervened in the Syrian civil war are the victors in a power struggle with moderate Arabs. It was one thing for the president to spend two years dithering over Syria while more than 100,000 people died. It is quite another to sign on to a diplomatic process that ensures a murderer will not only not face justice but will also have impunity to use chemical weapons.

The Iranians have spent the five years of Obama’s time in the White House skillfully playing the West with diplomatic feints that have given it more time to develop a nuclear capability. With Russian backing and with Obama showing himself incapable of taking decisive action, there is no reason for them to back down or to treat rumblings from Washington about force being the last resort if the talks fail again seriously.

Had President Obama not played Hamlet about acting on his own authority to strike Syria none of this needed to happen. Several months ago the Russians feared they were about to lose the last vestige of their once-formidable sphere of influence in the region as Assad tottered. Now they are back in business and Assad is even deeper in their debt than before. Bolstered by victory in Syria, Iran also has good reason to be more confident about stalling or even defying the West on the nuclear issue. All this is something Obama handed to them free of charge on a silver platter. That isn’t “style” Mr. President; it’s substance. And the consequences will be suffered by the people of Syria, regional allies like Israel, and an American people who, despite their justified worries about trusting Obama with military force in Syria, will soon realize that American prestige and influence has never been so low since Jimmy Carter sat in the White House.

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Has Obama Left Israel on Its Own?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks yesterday about his country needing to rely on its resources to protect itself against potential threats broke no new ground. At another time, his comments might be considered mere boilerplate material since it has been an article of faith for all Israeli leaders dating back to David Ben Gurion, the country’s first prime minister, that if Zionism means anything, it is that the Jewish state must depend on no one but itself on security matters. But coming as it did the day after President Obama’s shocking retreat on Syria, the statement was highlighted in a New York Times article and got major play in the Israeli media. The juxtaposition of the U.S. accepting a dubious Russian proposal that would ensure there would be no Western attack on the Syrian regime over its use of chemical weapons with the Netanyahu statement left many wondering whether Jerusalem thinks it is now on its own when it comes to other threats, such as those from a nuclear Iran. While it would be an exaggeration to claim Washington has completely abandoned Israel, no amount of White House spin about Obama’s zigzag course on Syria changes the fact that his fumbling has left the Middle East a far more dangerous place than it already was.

The reality after the Syria back-down is one in which the prestige and influence of the United States has declined. The president’s inability to make up his mind has not only gotten Bashar Assad off the hook and convinced Vladimir Putin that there is hope for his long-cherished dream of rebuilding the old Soviet empire. It has also made it difficult to envision the U.S. taking on the even more daunting task of a military confrontation with Iran. Since there is no reason to believe further diplomatic outreach to Tehran will be any more fruitful than past efforts, that leaves Israelis with the unpleasant thought that if Iran is to be prevented from going nuclear by force, then they will have to do it themselves. Under those circumstances, what choice is Netanyahu left with other than to try to send a signal of his own to the ayatollahs?

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks yesterday about his country needing to rely on its resources to protect itself against potential threats broke no new ground. At another time, his comments might be considered mere boilerplate material since it has been an article of faith for all Israeli leaders dating back to David Ben Gurion, the country’s first prime minister, that if Zionism means anything, it is that the Jewish state must depend on no one but itself on security matters. But coming as it did the day after President Obama’s shocking retreat on Syria, the statement was highlighted in a New York Times article and got major play in the Israeli media. The juxtaposition of the U.S. accepting a dubious Russian proposal that would ensure there would be no Western attack on the Syrian regime over its use of chemical weapons with the Netanyahu statement left many wondering whether Jerusalem thinks it is now on its own when it comes to other threats, such as those from a nuclear Iran. While it would be an exaggeration to claim Washington has completely abandoned Israel, no amount of White House spin about Obama’s zigzag course on Syria changes the fact that his fumbling has left the Middle East a far more dangerous place than it already was.

The reality after the Syria back-down is one in which the prestige and influence of the United States has declined. The president’s inability to make up his mind has not only gotten Bashar Assad off the hook and convinced Vladimir Putin that there is hope for his long-cherished dream of rebuilding the old Soviet empire. It has also made it difficult to envision the U.S. taking on the even more daunting task of a military confrontation with Iran. Since there is no reason to believe further diplomatic outreach to Tehran will be any more fruitful than past efforts, that leaves Israelis with the unpleasant thought that if Iran is to be prevented from going nuclear by force, then they will have to do it themselves. Under those circumstances, what choice is Netanyahu left with other than to try to send a signal of his own to the ayatollahs?

As the New York Times reported:

“The world needs to make sure that anyone who uses weapons of mass destruction will pay a heavy price for it,” Mr. Netanyahu said Wednesday at the graduation ceremony for a naval program. “The message in Syria will also be heard very well in Iran.”

He cited President Obama’s speech Tuesday, in which he said that Israel could defend itself but also had Washington’s “unshakable support,” and quoted a famous saying of the ancient Jewish scholar Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

“The operational translation of this rule is that Israel should always be able to defend itself and will protect itself by its own strengths against every threat,” Mr. Netanyahu told the crowd. “The state of Israel is today prepared to act with great strength.”

In fact Israel has already applied this principle in Syria repeatedly, striking at weapons convoys they feared might be payoffs from Assad to the Hezbollah terrorists in return for the latter’s efforts to boost his side in his country’s civil war. Israel also knocked out Syria’s nuclear reactor back in 2007 over the objections of the Bush administration, a decision that, in retrospect, seems even wiser now than it did then.

However, the current tangle in Syria illustrates both the mutual interests of the U.S. and Israel as well as their differences. While President Obama has been calling for the fall of the Assad regime for years, Israel has no favorite in the confusing fighting in Syria. But the Jewish state and its American friends are invested in the idea of a strong America as a force for stability in the Middle East. That’s why AIPAC and other elements of the pro-Israel community were drawn into the debate on Syria. They were not so much concerned with helping the rebels or punishing Assad (though many sympathize with that effort) as they were with ensuring that a Congress that is increasingly under the influence of isolationist elements didn’t trash American credibility.

Obama’s surrender to the Russians left Israel to ponder a new balance of power in the region in which the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance is stronger than ever and aided by a more assertive Russia, a point that, as I wrote yesterday, was emphasized by the announcement that Putin has approved the sale of advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran.

Despite Israel’s boasts, its armed forces are nowhere near as capable of dealing a crippling blow to Iran as the United States. Moreover, so long as President Obama is pursuing yet another diplomatic initiative with Iran based on the false perception that its new President Hassan Rouhani is a moderate, there is no chance that Israel would attack on its own. That may put any potential strike on hold until long after the Iranians have made it even more difficult to attack their nuclear facilities.

The upshot of all this is not so much that Israel is on its own—something Netanyahu may have already known last year when he was urging Obama to adopt “red lines” on Iran—but that it is essentially helpless to act on that fact. A weaker United States led by a president who is incapable of acting decisively isn’t just a problem for Israel. But right now it looks as if it means there may be no viable option for heading off the threat of a nuclear Iran before it is too late to do anything about it.

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Putin Shows Obama Who’s the Boss

In case you were among those gullible souls who have bought the administration’s claims that its acceptance of Russia’s offer of a plan to take charge of Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpile was a reflection of American strength, the Putin regime isn’t interested in letting you hold onto your illusions for long. Rather than allow President Obama a decent interval after his retreat from a call to arms on the threat of Syrian atrocities in order to save face, Moscow seems intent on immediately showing the White House who’s the boss. That became apparent with the announcement that Vladimir Putin has decided to supply Iran with advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles and to build an additional nuclear reactor at the Bushehr plant. Moreover, during a debate in the Russian parliament on the sales held today, Putin ally Alexander Pushkov, the chief of the body’s foreign-affairs committee, said that if Washington dares to back away from the deal offered by Moscow on Syria to President Obama, the Kremlin will consider expanding arm sales to Assad-ally Iran and to make it more difficult to supply U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

These moves remove the thin veil of bluster that was enabling the president to justify his backing away from a strike on Syria. Far from the Russian diplomatic gambit being the result of American toughness, its acceptance by the president is seen in Moscow as more than just an obvious sign of weakness. It is being interpreted as having handed Putin carte blanche in the Middle East and allowing Russia to grant impunity to Iran as the West was supposedly gearing up to pressure it to surrender its nuclear ambition.

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In case you were among those gullible souls who have bought the administration’s claims that its acceptance of Russia’s offer of a plan to take charge of Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpile was a reflection of American strength, the Putin regime isn’t interested in letting you hold onto your illusions for long. Rather than allow President Obama a decent interval after his retreat from a call to arms on the threat of Syrian atrocities in order to save face, Moscow seems intent on immediately showing the White House who’s the boss. That became apparent with the announcement that Vladimir Putin has decided to supply Iran with advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles and to build an additional nuclear reactor at the Bushehr plant. Moreover, during a debate in the Russian parliament on the sales held today, Putin ally Alexander Pushkov, the chief of the body’s foreign-affairs committee, said that if Washington dares to back away from the deal offered by Moscow on Syria to President Obama, the Kremlin will consider expanding arm sales to Assad-ally Iran and to make it more difficult to supply U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

These moves remove the thin veil of bluster that was enabling the president to justify his backing away from a strike on Syria. Far from the Russian diplomatic gambit being the result of American toughness, its acceptance by the president is seen in Moscow as more than just an obvious sign of weakness. It is being interpreted as having handed Putin carte blanche in the Middle East and allowing Russia to grant impunity to Iran as the West was supposedly gearing up to pressure it to surrender its nuclear ambition.

The Russians don’t have much to worry about when it comes to the administration’s willingness to go down the garden path with them on Syria’s chemical weapons. President Obama lacked the will to strike Syria on his own and the small chance that Congress might authorize the use of force evaporated when he put off indefinitely the notion of the “incredibly small” attack (in the words of Secretary of State John Kerry) on the Assad regime by accepting the Russian lifeline. Though they are talking tough now, the chances that Washington will abandon the faux-diplomatic solution offered by Russia no matter how fraudulent it might be are minimal.

But rather than, as some have hoped, the president’s reticence on Syria being a prelude to aggressive action on the even more dangerous Iranian threat, Russia’s assertiveness shows that their joint interest with Tehran in protecting Bashar Assad means they will use the Syria issue to restrain the U.S. on Iran.

It’s not just that the missiles Russia is selling Iran will complicate any future attack on nuclear targets by either the U.S. or Israel. Their victory in Syria is feeding Putin’s ambition to reconstitute not only the old Soviet sphere of influence in the Middle East but a rough balance of power that would serve to deter the West from muscling the ayatollahs. Though Washington has always spoken of Russia having just as much to lose from a nuclear Iran as America, by getting into bed with Putin on Syria, Obama is about to discover that Moscow’s main interest in the region is to weaken U.S. influence more than eliminating a nuclear threat.

When President Obama said last night that Syria’s use of chemical weapons constituted a threat to the security of the West, he was right. But he failed to understand that Russia’s offer that allowed him to weasel out of his pledge to punish Assad might present even more of a danger to U.S. interests than anything Syria might do. The last few weeks have exposed President Obama as a weak leader. What follows from that weakness will increase the power of Vladimir Putin and his unsavory Middle East allies.  

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Doubts About Obama’s Iran Resolve? Plenty

For those Americans who wonder whether Barack Obama’s bumbling response to the crisis in Syria is an indication of what he will do about Iran, Jeffrey Goldberg says not to worry. In an article published in Bloomberg last Wednesday, Goldberg makes the argument that the president’s feckless behavior on Syria that culminated in his shifting of responsibility to a divided Congress shouldn’t inform our expectations of what he will ultimately do about the Iranian nuclear threat. Though a firm supporter of the president, Goldberg has at times been rightly critical of his behavior on Syria, so that, along with his good sources in the White House, gives him some credibility on the issue. While, as he notes, the administration has itself made the argument that America’s willingness to step in on Syria will have an impact on Iran’s behavior, Goldberg argues such an assumption is mistaken. According to the writer, the president always viewed the Iranian issue as a fundamental threat to U.S. security and therefore should be trusted to act accordingly no matter how uninspired his leadership proves to be on Syria.

But while Goldberg is right when he cites the fact that Obama’s strident rhetoric on Iran has left little wriggle room for him to be able to punt on the issue, asking us to believe the president’s Hamlet-like inability to bridge the gap between his words on Syria (“Assad must go” and the use of chemical weapons constituting a “red line”) isn’t indicative of future problems strains credulity. It’s not just that the spectacle of an administration that spent two years dithering about Syria before deciding on action and then shifting the decision to Congress will reinforce Tehran’s belief that Obama is a paper tiger. It’s that over the course of the past five years the president’s actions on Iran have been as disconnected from his words as they have been on Syria. Even before the president choked when he could have legally ordered a strike on Syria, everything he has done with regard to the nuclear issue has given the world and the ayatollahs good reason to believe he will be equally unable to order action on Iran’s nukes.

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For those Americans who wonder whether Barack Obama’s bumbling response to the crisis in Syria is an indication of what he will do about Iran, Jeffrey Goldberg says not to worry. In an article published in Bloomberg last Wednesday, Goldberg makes the argument that the president’s feckless behavior on Syria that culminated in his shifting of responsibility to a divided Congress shouldn’t inform our expectations of what he will ultimately do about the Iranian nuclear threat. Though a firm supporter of the president, Goldberg has at times been rightly critical of his behavior on Syria, so that, along with his good sources in the White House, gives him some credibility on the issue. While, as he notes, the administration has itself made the argument that America’s willingness to step in on Syria will have an impact on Iran’s behavior, Goldberg argues such an assumption is mistaken. According to the writer, the president always viewed the Iranian issue as a fundamental threat to U.S. security and therefore should be trusted to act accordingly no matter how uninspired his leadership proves to be on Syria.

But while Goldberg is right when he cites the fact that Obama’s strident rhetoric on Iran has left little wriggle room for him to be able to punt on the issue, asking us to believe the president’s Hamlet-like inability to bridge the gap between his words on Syria (“Assad must go” and the use of chemical weapons constituting a “red line”) isn’t indicative of future problems strains credulity. It’s not just that the spectacle of an administration that spent two years dithering about Syria before deciding on action and then shifting the decision to Congress will reinforce Tehran’s belief that Obama is a paper tiger. It’s that over the course of the past five years the president’s actions on Iran have been as disconnected from his words as they have been on Syria. Even before the president choked when he could have legally ordered a strike on Syria, everything he has done with regard to the nuclear issue has given the world and the ayatollahs good reason to believe he will be equally unable to order action on Iran’s nukes.

Let’s stipulate that, as Goldberg argues, the president has always been clear about his view that an Iranian nuke constitutes a direct threat to U.S. interests and the security of its allies. Obama said as much during his first presidential campaign in 2008 and went even farther in 2012 when he explicitly rejected “containment” of a nuclear Iran as an option and even said in one of his debates with Mitt Romney that any deal with Tehran would be predicated on the end of the Islamist regime’s “nuclear program.”

But he has also spent his time in office also making it clear that confrontation with Iran is something that he will go to virtually any lengths to avoid. Ignoring the history of Iran’s diplomatic deceptions he has wasted precious years on equally futile efforts at engagement that did nothing but buy them more time to get closer to their nuclear goal. The administration was slow to move to tough sanctions and only did so at the insistence of Congress. Though the president continues to talk tough, his willingness to ignore the repeated failure of the P5+1 talks and to invest more months, if not years, on outreach to new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and to buy into the spin that this veteran of the Islamist regime is a genuine moderate presages more indecision to come.

But the problem here is not just that there is a pattern of behavior here that cannot be ignored. It’s that, as Goldberg rightly concedes, when the moment of truth on Iran arrives (if such a moment on Iran ever arrives before Tehran is able to announce that it has a viable weapon) the evidence will probably be more inconclusive than the open-and-shut case that currently exists about Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Even though we know that Iran has been amassing large amounts of enriched uranium that could be quickly converted to military use while Obama delayed and talked, the Iranians have moved their massive nuclear program underground into hardened bunkers that shields their contents from scrutiny as well as possible attack from the air.

That means the same pressures and doubts that caused the president to repeatedly stumble on Syria will be even greater if he is ever able to admit that diplomacy has conclusively failed on Iran. Like the administration, Goldberg continues to insist that there is still plenty of time for diplomacy and sanctions to work before the use of force on Iran should be contemplated. That is highly debatable. But even if we were prepared to accept this dubious assertion, everything the president has done on both Syria and Iran would lead a reasonable person to conclude that decisive U.S. action on the nuclear threat is highly unlikely. While Goldberg may still believe in Obama’s promises on Iran, the ayatollahs and their intended victims in Israel cannot be faulted for drawing the opposite conclusion.

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Want to Appease Iran? Demonize Israel

The willingness of much of the foreign-policy establishment and the mainstream media to embrace any opportunity to avoid conflict with Iran has never been much of a secret. Throughout the last five years, the administration has been able to count on unflinching support for its efforts to keep investing precious time and energy in a diplomatic process with Tehran that was dead in the water even before President Obama took office in 2009. After years of “engagement,” and two rounds of P5+1 talks that accomplished absolutely nothing, there’s no reason to believe the Iranians view negotiations as anything other than a clever tactic to buy more time to get close to their nuclear goal. But the election of a new Iranian president in June set off a new round of calls for yet more diplomacy. Hassan Rouhani’s false reputation as a “moderate” isn’t based on much; he’s a veteran of the Khomeini revolution, the regime’s involvement with foreign terror, and someone who has boasted of his success in fooling the West in nuclear talks. But as far as the New York Times editorial page is concerned, it’s enough to put on hold any toughening of sanctions on Iran, let alone talk about the use of force.

That the Times is eager to promote Rouhani as the solution to the nuclear question is not a surprise. But what it is a surprise is just how desperate they are to justify their position. In an editorial published today under the astonishingly obtuse headline of “Reading Tweets From Iran,” the newspaper seeks to treat the Iranian regime’s social media offensive as evidence of a genuine change in Tehran. To invest that much importance in what Rouhani’s staff says on Twitter in posts that are directed solely toward the West is laughable. No journalist at the paper would ever take the tweets produced by the official accounts of American politicians as anything but spin.

But far worse is the Times’s attempt to shift blame for the standoff from an anti-Semitic regime that is directly involved in atrocities in Syria and terrorist attacks around the globe onto Israel and its supporters in Congress. In doing so, the newspaper and the chattering classes whose views it represents are attempting to lay the foundation for President Obama to break his promises about stopping Iran and to treat those who object to such appeasement as opponents of peace. The editorial is right about one thing. If the administration is to betray its principles and appease Iran, it will require it to stop focusing on that regime’s record and instead lash out at those who are pointing out the truth about the threat it constitutes to the region and the world.

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The willingness of much of the foreign-policy establishment and the mainstream media to embrace any opportunity to avoid conflict with Iran has never been much of a secret. Throughout the last five years, the administration has been able to count on unflinching support for its efforts to keep investing precious time and energy in a diplomatic process with Tehran that was dead in the water even before President Obama took office in 2009. After years of “engagement,” and two rounds of P5+1 talks that accomplished absolutely nothing, there’s no reason to believe the Iranians view negotiations as anything other than a clever tactic to buy more time to get close to their nuclear goal. But the election of a new Iranian president in June set off a new round of calls for yet more diplomacy. Hassan Rouhani’s false reputation as a “moderate” isn’t based on much; he’s a veteran of the Khomeini revolution, the regime’s involvement with foreign terror, and someone who has boasted of his success in fooling the West in nuclear talks. But as far as the New York Times editorial page is concerned, it’s enough to put on hold any toughening of sanctions on Iran, let alone talk about the use of force.

That the Times is eager to promote Rouhani as the solution to the nuclear question is not a surprise. But what it is a surprise is just how desperate they are to justify their position. In an editorial published today under the astonishingly obtuse headline of “Reading Tweets From Iran,” the newspaper seeks to treat the Iranian regime’s social media offensive as evidence of a genuine change in Tehran. To invest that much importance in what Rouhani’s staff says on Twitter in posts that are directed solely toward the West is laughable. No journalist at the paper would ever take the tweets produced by the official accounts of American politicians as anything but spin.

But far worse is the Times’s attempt to shift blame for the standoff from an anti-Semitic regime that is directly involved in atrocities in Syria and terrorist attacks around the globe onto Israel and its supporters in Congress. In doing so, the newspaper and the chattering classes whose views it represents are attempting to lay the foundation for President Obama to break his promises about stopping Iran and to treat those who object to such appeasement as opponents of peace. The editorial is right about one thing. If the administration is to betray its principles and appease Iran, it will require it to stop focusing on that regime’s record and instead lash out at those who are pointing out the truth about the threat it constitutes to the region and the world.

The Times concludes its editorial in the following manner:

President Rouhani is sending strong signals that he will dispatch a pragmatic, experienced team to the table when negotiations resume, possibly next month. That’s when we should begin to see answers to key questions: How much time and creative thinking are he and President Obama willing to invest in a negotiated solution, the only rational outcome? How much political risk are they willing to take, which for Mr. Obama must include managing the enmity that Israel and many members of Congress feel toward Iran?

The notion that Rouhani’s tweets and other PR measures intended to deceive the West constitute “strong signals” that Rouhani will abandon a nuclear ambition that both he and the real power in Tehran—Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—are committed to is not a serious argument. If President Obama is going to break his promises to stop Iran’s nuclear program and to refuse to countenance a policy of “containment” of it, he and his cheering section at the Times are going to have to do better than this.

But far more insidious is the way the Times seeks to goad Obama into treating the “enmity” of supporters of Israel toward Iran as the real problem.

Of course, the reason why so many Americans don’t trust Iran isn’t the “enmity” they feel toward the ayatollahs. It is due to Iran’s record of tyranny and anti-Semitism at home and terrorism abroad. But those who are bound and determined to ignore Iran’s record in order to justify not merely another round of diplomacy but a deal that would allow it to continue its nuclear program understand that whitewashing Iran requires demonizing its opponents.

Israel’s efforts to call attention to the dwindling time available to the West to do something about Iran have long been subjected to attack from venues like the Times as alarmist or rooted in some other agenda than preventing a genocidal regime from obtaining a weapon that would give them a chance to put their fantasies into action. But the cries of alarm emanating from Israel and Congress about Iran are not based in mindless hatred, as the Times implies. Instead they are based on a far more realistic assessment of Iran’s behavior and the ideology that drives people like Khamenei and Rouhani. But since telling the truth about Iran doesn’t help build support for more feckless diplomacy, the newspaper brands it as irrational antagonism.

The use of chemical weapons by Iran’s ally Bashar Assad is more proof that Iran represents a cancer in the Middle East. The Iranian regime’s goal is to establish its hegemony over the regime via its Syrian and Hezbollah allies. As much as we might wish it otherwise, there is nothing reasonable about this quest, nor is it remotely likely that the “strong forces” the Times imagines pulling the two sides to a deal will persuade Iran’s leaders to negotiate in good faith. But to those who wish to avoid conflict with Iran at any price, any justification—including blaming Israel for the problem—will do.

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How Moderate Are Iran’s Missiles?

Complacence about Iran’s nuclear program is based on three assumptions that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. All of them are, at best, questionable and are embraced by some in the foreign policy establishment and the left largely because to believe in them absolves one of any obligation to act to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear ambition. They are: that Iran is either not really building a nuke or that it can be talked or bargained out of it; that even if Iran gets nukes it would never use them; and lastly that even if Iran had nukes, they couldn’t effectively deliver one to a target, whether in Israel, a moderate Arab nation, or somewhere in the West.

The growing stockpile of evidence of nuclear weapons-grade uranium and work on military uses of nuclear power such as triggers make the first assumption ridiculous, as does the more than a decade of failed negotiations that illustrated that Iran only views talks as a method to gain time and to deceive the West. The brutal nature of the regime, its willingness to fund terrorism, and the fanatical theocratic views of its leaders, at the very least, cast doubt on the second assumption.

As for the third argument, that was actually the strongest argument in favor of complacence, but a report published by the Times of Israel now makes that assumption seem like a bad bet:

Western intelligence analysts say a new missile launching facility in Iran will likely be used for testing ballistic missiles, not for launching satellites into space as claimed by the Iranians.

The IHS Jane’s Military and Security Assessments Intelligence Centre published a photo taken last month of the newly discovered site, which is located 25 miles south east of the city of Shahrud in northern Iran.

Analysts at the Centre said the unfinished site has no storage for the liquid rocket fuel used in Iran’s domestic satellite program, suggesting it is built for ballistic missiles using solid fuel.

Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute who has written about the Iranian missile program, told The Telegraph: “We often talk about Iran’s nuclear program, but what really spooks countries in the region is the ballistic missiles that could act as a delivery system.

Like the claims that their nuclear program’s purpose is for power production (in an oil rich country?) or medical research, the notion that Iran is building missiles for space was always laughable. But there is nothing funny about the prospect of a nation that is getting closer every day to nuclear weapons capability being able to build a ballistic missile that could, at least in theory, reach Europe or even the United States. While worries about Iranian missiles are not new, this latest report should put any decision to invest another year in fruitless diplomacy with Iran because of the election of a supposed moderate as president in perspective.

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Complacence about Iran’s nuclear program is based on three assumptions that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. All of them are, at best, questionable and are embraced by some in the foreign policy establishment and the left largely because to believe in them absolves one of any obligation to act to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear ambition. They are: that Iran is either not really building a nuke or that it can be talked or bargained out of it; that even if Iran gets nukes it would never use them; and lastly that even if Iran had nukes, they couldn’t effectively deliver one to a target, whether in Israel, a moderate Arab nation, or somewhere in the West.

The growing stockpile of evidence of nuclear weapons-grade uranium and work on military uses of nuclear power such as triggers make the first assumption ridiculous, as does the more than a decade of failed negotiations that illustrated that Iran only views talks as a method to gain time and to deceive the West. The brutal nature of the regime, its willingness to fund terrorism, and the fanatical theocratic views of its leaders, at the very least, cast doubt on the second assumption.

As for the third argument, that was actually the strongest argument in favor of complacence, but a report published by the Times of Israel now makes that assumption seem like a bad bet:

Western intelligence analysts say a new missile launching facility in Iran will likely be used for testing ballistic missiles, not for launching satellites into space as claimed by the Iranians.

The IHS Jane’s Military and Security Assessments Intelligence Centre published a photo taken last month of the newly discovered site, which is located 25 miles south east of the city of Shahrud in northern Iran.

Analysts at the Centre said the unfinished site has no storage for the liquid rocket fuel used in Iran’s domestic satellite program, suggesting it is built for ballistic missiles using solid fuel.

Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute who has written about the Iranian missile program, told The Telegraph: “We often talk about Iran’s nuclear program, but what really spooks countries in the region is the ballistic missiles that could act as a delivery system.

Like the claims that their nuclear program’s purpose is for power production (in an oil rich country?) or medical research, the notion that Iran is building missiles for space was always laughable. But there is nothing funny about the prospect of a nation that is getting closer every day to nuclear weapons capability being able to build a ballistic missile that could, at least in theory, reach Europe or even the United States. While worries about Iranian missiles are not new, this latest report should put any decision to invest another year in fruitless diplomacy with Iran because of the election of a supposed moderate as president in perspective.

The report about the missile notes that in the past the United States has worried that Iran could be able to test a ballistic missile by the end of 2015. That hasn’t been a priority for Western intelligence up until this point. But once Iran has weapons capability—and they may well have accumulated more than enough enriched uranium to that purpose long before that moment—the question of Iran’s delivery capacity will become paramount.

Right now, the world is focused on new President Hassan Rouhani and the Obama administration seems determined to give him a chance to prove his alleged moderation by giving diplomacy another try. Rouhani’s personal role in using talks as a delaying tactic is a matter of record. But the latest news about Iran’s military research illustrates the fact that the costs of months or even years of delay before the United States decides that it must act could be considerable.

A nuclear weapon would not make Iran a superpower or anything like it. But a nuclear Iran with missiles that can reach not just regional targets but those on other continents changes the equation of this problem. Though Israel is the understandable focus of much of the concerns about Iranian weapons, the development of sophisticated weapons should serve as reminder to Americans that their security is as much at stake in this standoff as that of the Jewish state. The idea of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei possessing both missiles and potential nuclear weapons ought to scare the daylights out of all Americans. It should also help dispel the illusions fostered by the false assumptions that buttress the complacence that so many in Washington exhibit on this issue. 

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Rouhani Begins to Play the West

New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t help himself last week when he gave a speech denouncing the state of Israel as a “sore on the body of the Islamic world.” Iran’s Western apologists may have sought to seize on the fact that he didn’t, as the first Iranian translation released said he did, proclaim that it ought to be removed. But the difference between Rouhani’s remarks and those of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was so minimal as to remind even those least interested in pressuring Iran that he is part of a profoundly anti-Semitic regime. But he got back on message yesterday in his first press conference, where he began the process of entrapping the West in another protracted negotiation that will ultimately lead nowhere.

Rouhani stated his desire for a negotiated settlement of the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and said that he was open to direct talks with the United States on the issue. Some focused on the fact that at this appearance, as well as in his inaugural address on Sunday, Rouhani repeatedly said his country would not give up its nuclear ambition and demanded that any negotiation must begin with the West retreating from, rather than intensifying, sanctions on the Islamic regime. But this was a clever move. While giving away nothing and even doubling down on his attempt to delegitimize Israel and its supporters, Rouhani probably showed just enough leg in this statement to entice the U.S. into more talks about talks. In doing so, Rouhani probably bought Iran’s nuclear engineers and scientists as much as another year of time to get closer to their goal of a weapon that would destabilize the region and threaten the existence of Israel. Though President Obama appears desperate to seize on any excuse to get out from under his promises never to allow Iran to go nuclear, this is a ruse that the United States shouldn’t fall for.

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New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t help himself last week when he gave a speech denouncing the state of Israel as a “sore on the body of the Islamic world.” Iran’s Western apologists may have sought to seize on the fact that he didn’t, as the first Iranian translation released said he did, proclaim that it ought to be removed. But the difference between Rouhani’s remarks and those of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was so minimal as to remind even those least interested in pressuring Iran that he is part of a profoundly anti-Semitic regime. But he got back on message yesterday in his first press conference, where he began the process of entrapping the West in another protracted negotiation that will ultimately lead nowhere.

Rouhani stated his desire for a negotiated settlement of the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and said that he was open to direct talks with the United States on the issue. Some focused on the fact that at this appearance, as well as in his inaugural address on Sunday, Rouhani repeatedly said his country would not give up its nuclear ambition and demanded that any negotiation must begin with the West retreating from, rather than intensifying, sanctions on the Islamic regime. But this was a clever move. While giving away nothing and even doubling down on his attempt to delegitimize Israel and its supporters, Rouhani probably showed just enough leg in this statement to entice the U.S. into more talks about talks. In doing so, Rouhani probably bought Iran’s nuclear engineers and scientists as much as another year of time to get closer to their goal of a weapon that would destabilize the region and threaten the existence of Israel. Though President Obama appears desperate to seize on any excuse to get out from under his promises never to allow Iran to go nuclear, this is a ruse that the United States shouldn’t fall for.

Though Rouhani is often depicted in the West as a genuine moderate who represents a change in direction from the extreme Islamists that rule Iran, his attempt at a diplomatic opening made it clear that he is as obsessed with anti-Semitic delusions about the Jews as his boss, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As even the New York Times, whose editorial column has been transformed into a Rouhani fan page in the last two months, noted:

Numerous times during the question-and-answer session, Mr. Rouhani referred to unspecified “warmongering pressure groups” that he accused of confusing the White House at the behest of an unidentified country.

Mr. Rouhani apparently was referring to pro-Israel advocates of strong sanctions against Iran that have publicly praised Congress in recent days for advancing legislation that would greatly intensify the economic consequences on Iran unless it halts uranium enrichment. …

Mr. Rouhani never made any explicit reference to Israel at his news conference. But he said that the interests of “one foreign country” had been imposed on Congress, and that “even the interests of the U.S. are not considered in such actions.”

What Rouhani fails to understand is that opposition to Iran’s nuclear program isn’t the result of manipulation by the so-called “Israel Lobby” but a consensus position that has overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans. While Israel is endangered by Iranian nukes, so is the entire West, as well as moderate Arab regimes.

This reliance on the Jewish boogeyman should be a tipoff, even to an Obama administration that urgently seeks an excuse to keep negotiating with Iran after numerous rebuffs and failures, that there is no difference between Rouhani and the rest of the regime.

Rouhani knows that even Obama wouldn’t retreat on the sanctions that are crippling the Iranian economy without Tehran starting the process of dismantling its weapons project. But what he wants is to draw the Americans into another series of talks like the P5+1 multilateral negotiations that served only to buy the Iranians another year while the West achieved nothing. Having already participated in one of the earliest negotiating sessions with the West on the issue and successfully ensnaring his counterparts in a compromise agreement that was soon reneged upon, Rouhani knows the object of the game is that so long as Iran keeps talking about talking, the U.S. is hopelessly drawn into the trap.

President Obama may feel bound to test Rouhani’s sincerity, but if he is serious about keeping his word on the nuclear issue, he must set firm limits on the time he is willing to expend on such an experiment in spite of the temptation to keep the process going. As this process begins, the Obama foreign policy team should keep Rouhani’s provocations about Israel in mind. Far from being tangential to their goal of gaining an agreement, they are the tipoff that what will follow won’t be in the interests of the United States.

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Rouhani’s Words and the Truth About Iran

Last Friday’s speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t really tell us much that was new about the man touted by many in the West as a moderate, since it was hardly a surprise to know that he viewed Israel as a “wound” on the Islamic world. But the kerfuffle about the mistake in the translation of his remarks made by Iran’s state-run press service did tell us a lot about those who are so eager to protect that ruse and to heap abuse on those who seek to expose it. Now that Rouhani is sworn in, the impulse to avoid the truth about the nature of the regime and its nuclear program is a significant factor in the struggle to determine what, if anything, the United States will do about the Iranian nuclear threat. The need to preserve the pretense that Rouhani somehow offers a real opportunity for a diplomatic solution to the problem is influencing the way some discussed this incident as well as his subsequent actions.

On the surface, there wouldn’t appear to be much reason to treat the discrepancy between the original translation issued by the semi-official ISNA press agency and its revised article as significant. In both, Rouhani was quoted as telling one of many mass anti-Israel rallies held around Iran last week that Israel was “a wound [or ‘sore’] that has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years.” The only difference was that the incorrect version added the words “which must be removed.” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to this by saying that it showed that “Rouhani’s true face has been revealed earlier than expected.” When the correction was issued, many, especially among Israel’s critics on the left, crowed that this showed that Netanyahu and others, such as this site, were wrong about Rouhani and that the willingness to jump on the mistranslation illustrated all that was wrong with those urging Obama to take action on Iran. But none of those who made this point about the mistake took any notice of the fact that even without the added words, having Iran’s new president speaking this way about Israel to anti-Zionist mobs still makes Netanyahu’s point.

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Last Friday’s speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t really tell us much that was new about the man touted by many in the West as a moderate, since it was hardly a surprise to know that he viewed Israel as a “wound” on the Islamic world. But the kerfuffle about the mistake in the translation of his remarks made by Iran’s state-run press service did tell us a lot about those who are so eager to protect that ruse and to heap abuse on those who seek to expose it. Now that Rouhani is sworn in, the impulse to avoid the truth about the nature of the regime and its nuclear program is a significant factor in the struggle to determine what, if anything, the United States will do about the Iranian nuclear threat. The need to preserve the pretense that Rouhani somehow offers a real opportunity for a diplomatic solution to the problem is influencing the way some discussed this incident as well as his subsequent actions.

On the surface, there wouldn’t appear to be much reason to treat the discrepancy between the original translation issued by the semi-official ISNA press agency and its revised article as significant. In both, Rouhani was quoted as telling one of many mass anti-Israel rallies held around Iran last week that Israel was “a wound [or ‘sore’] that has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years.” The only difference was that the incorrect version added the words “which must be removed.” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to this by saying that it showed that “Rouhani’s true face has been revealed earlier than expected.” When the correction was issued, many, especially among Israel’s critics on the left, crowed that this showed that Netanyahu and others, such as this site, were wrong about Rouhani and that the willingness to jump on the mistranslation illustrated all that was wrong with those urging Obama to take action on Iran. But none of those who made this point about the mistake took any notice of the fact that even without the added words, having Iran’s new president speaking this way about Israel to anti-Zionist mobs still makes Netanyahu’s point.

Is there a significant difference between saying that Israel’s existence—and not, it should be noted, any specific policy of the Jewish state—is a “sore” or a “wound” on the Islamic world and saying that it is one that should be removed? What, after all, does one do with a sore or a wound except to seek means to remove it or to have it heal and thereby disappear? Indeed, ISNA’s mistake is understandable since the extra words about removal are merely the logical conclusion of the sentence that most of Rouhani’s audience, both in person and on Iranian television, understood even without him uttering the words.

As with previous attempts to parse statements issued by Rouhani’s less presentable predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who also spoke at a similar rally elsewhere in Iran on the same day) or their boss, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the desire to avoid the obvious conclusion about the vicious hatred of Israel that is promoted by the Islamist regime is unpersuasive. This is a government whose leaders, both the alleged extremists and the alleged moderates, have always denounced Israel’s existence, and which has been a major source of financial support for the efforts of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas that seek to translate that wish into action. As an article on the controversy that ran on the New York Times website noted:

Mr. Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the far more powerful cleric who rules Iran, have repeatedly predicted that Israel will cease to exist and openly support militant groups that are pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state. In some cases, they have even used language similar to what was falsely attributed to Mr. Rouhani on Friday. “The Zionist regime is a true cancer tumor on this region that should be cut off,” Iran’s supreme leader said in a speech last year. “And it definitely will be cut off.”

The fact is, Iran’s apologists would far rather play semantic games about Rouhani’s speech than deal with the reality of Iranian nuclear policy, which, in his inaugural address, the new president reaffirmed. Rouhani said yesterday that neither sanctions nor the threat of war would change the mind of the Iranian leadership on its drive for nuclear capability.

Nor is it really worth our time to play the game once perfected by Kremlinologists during the era of the Soviet Union and to wonder whether Rouhani’s cabinet will really be moderates. Though most appear to be retreads from the administration of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the 1990s, no one seems capable of showing us why the equally extreme Iran of that era should be regarded as somehow a model for a new period of mutual understanding.

Far more important is the news reported today by the Wall Street Journal that Iran’s nuclear program is also pursuing an alternate track to its uranium enrichment program that could lead to a bomb:

In recent months, U.S. and European officials say, the Tehran regime has made significant advances on the construction of a heavy water reactor in the northwestern city of Arak. A reactor like the one under construction is capable of using the uranium fuel to produce 40 megawatts of power. Spent fuel from it contains plutonium—which, like enriched uranium, can serve as the raw material for an explosive device. India and Pakistan have built plutonium-based bombs, as has North Korea.

The Arak facility, when completed, will be capable of producing two nuclear bombs’ worth of plutonium a year, said U.S. and U.N. officials.

In the face of these facts, the controversy over the translation of Rouhani’s words is exposed as a farce with little meaning. But the willingness of those who are hoping to defuse pressure on Obama to act on Iran to seize on any discrepancy in an already extreme statement by the Iranian leader shows just how much some in the West want to ignore the truth about him and the regime he is part of.

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Iran’s Fake Moderate Shows His True Colors

The constant refrain in the last two months from the foreign policy establishment has been to hail new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate. The winner of that country’s faux democratic election has been depicted in fawning profiles in venues like the New York Times as a pragmatist the West can do business with and someone who should be trusted to cut a deal that would end the standoff over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Though a close look at his biography betrays little that would lead one to believe that he is anything but an ardent believer in the Islamist ideology of the regime’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini, it has become an article of faith among so-called “realists” that his election was a setback for the hard-liners in Iran that should serve as an opening for more negotiations with the West.

Since his election in a field in which he was supposedly the least fanatic, Rouhani has done nothing to disillusion his legions of Western fans, but while attending a solidarity event with Palestinians he dropped his façade of moderation just long enough to give us a glimpse of his real ideas. What he said was enough to show that the alleged distance between his view and his old friend Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not very great after all. The New York Times wrote this earlier today in a story that was taken down from their Website later:

Ahead of his inauguration, Iran’s new president on Friday called Israel an “old wound” that should be removed, while tens of thousands of Iranians marched in support of Muslim claims to the holy city of Jerusalem. Hassan Rouhani’s remarks about Israel — his country’s archenemy — echoed longstanding views of other Iranian leaders.

“The Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.

ISNA claimed later that they (and not Western editors) had mistranslated Rouhani’s quote and then issued corrections claiming he had merely called Israel a “sore” and had not said it should be removed–though one wonders what he thinks should be done with sores if they are not to be removed. The original Times story was then replaced with a tamer piece. But the argument that the alleged mistranslation should not be used to debunk Rouhani’s reputation as a moderate was undermined by the fact that, as even the revised Times story said, he had denounced Israel “in several books.” The entire affair demonstrates the classic definition of a gaffe: when someone tells the truth about themselves.

Like all the non-moderates whose views we were told he opposes, Rouhani is a purveyor of hatred of Israel. Considering that he is also a supporter of the country’s drive for nuclear weapons, you don’t have to be a hawk or a neocon or even the prime minister of Israel to connect the dots between his beliefs and the threat that a nuclear Iran poses to understand that the conviction that he offers a way out of the nuclear impasse is naive.

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The constant refrain in the last two months from the foreign policy establishment has been to hail new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate. The winner of that country’s faux democratic election has been depicted in fawning profiles in venues like the New York Times as a pragmatist the West can do business with and someone who should be trusted to cut a deal that would end the standoff over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Though a close look at his biography betrays little that would lead one to believe that he is anything but an ardent believer in the Islamist ideology of the regime’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini, it has become an article of faith among so-called “realists” that his election was a setback for the hard-liners in Iran that should serve as an opening for more negotiations with the West.

Since his election in a field in which he was supposedly the least fanatic, Rouhani has done nothing to disillusion his legions of Western fans, but while attending a solidarity event with Palestinians he dropped his façade of moderation just long enough to give us a glimpse of his real ideas. What he said was enough to show that the alleged distance between his view and his old friend Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not very great after all. The New York Times wrote this earlier today in a story that was taken down from their Website later:

Ahead of his inauguration, Iran’s new president on Friday called Israel an “old wound” that should be removed, while tens of thousands of Iranians marched in support of Muslim claims to the holy city of Jerusalem. Hassan Rouhani’s remarks about Israel — his country’s archenemy — echoed longstanding views of other Iranian leaders.

“The Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.

ISNA claimed later that they (and not Western editors) had mistranslated Rouhani’s quote and then issued corrections claiming he had merely called Israel a “sore” and had not said it should be removed–though one wonders what he thinks should be done with sores if they are not to be removed. The original Times story was then replaced with a tamer piece. But the argument that the alleged mistranslation should not be used to debunk Rouhani’s reputation as a moderate was undermined by the fact that, as even the revised Times story said, he had denounced Israel “in several books.” The entire affair demonstrates the classic definition of a gaffe: when someone tells the truth about themselves.

Like all the non-moderates whose views we were told he opposes, Rouhani is a purveyor of hatred of Israel. Considering that he is also a supporter of the country’s drive for nuclear weapons, you don’t have to be a hawk or a neocon or even the prime minister of Israel to connect the dots between his beliefs and the threat that a nuclear Iran poses to understand that the conviction that he offers a way out of the nuclear impasse is naive.

Rouhani’s discussion of remove Israel is pertinent to the question of his country being allowed to possess nuclear weapons in that the existence of the Jewish state is a national obsession in Iran. As the Times notes:

Rouhani spoke at an annual pro-Palestinian rally marking “Al-Quds Day” — the Arabic word for Jerusalem.

Iran does not recognize Israel and has since the 1979 Islamic Revolution observed the last Friday of the Islamic month of Ramadan as “Al-Quds Day.” Tehran says the occasion is meant to express support for Palestinians and emphasize the importance of Jerusalem for Muslims. …

Anti-Israeli rallies were held in cities and towns across Iran. In the capital, Tehran, tens of thousands took to the streets, chanting “Down with America” and “Death to Israel.” Some protesters also burned American and Israeli flags.

Outgoing President Ahmadinejad — who was known for vitriolic anti-Israeli rhetoric while in office, including calls that Israel be destroyed — spoke to the crowds after Friday prayers at the Tehran University campus in his last public speech before his term ends.

“You Zionists planted a wind but you will harvest a storm,” said Ahmadinejad. “A destructive storm is on the way and it will destroy Zionism.”

The later version of the Times story eliminated mention of Ahmadinejad. But their original piece made it clear just how central hatred for Israel and Jews is to the Islamist government’s agenda. It also illustrates the fact that for all of the public relations pabulum we’ve been fed about Rouhani, there is actually very little that separates him from a figure like Ahmadinejad, who is rightly viewed in the West as a fanatic. Though Rouhani might have been the least fanatic member of a hand-picked field of regime supporters who were allowed to run for president, on key issues like Israel and nukes, that is a distinction without a difference.

Though the post Rouhani is inheriting from Ahmadinejad has no real power over foreign policy or the nuclear program, Iran’s small cheering section here, as well as those who just don’t want the West to take action on the nuclear threat, have been inflating his election into a game-changing event. It wasn’t anything of the sort.

The Obama administration has been acting lately as if it is desperate for any excuse to keep talking with Iran even though it knows such negotiations are merely ruses designed to stall the West in order to give the regime’s nuclear program more time to get closer to a bomb. The president has repeatedly promised that he won’t let Iran go nuclear on his watch and many in Washington have hoped that Rouhani offered an opportunity for the president to avoid the necessity of taking action to redeem his pledge. But his verbal attack on Israel demonstrates that his pose of moderation won’t wash.

The Rouhani ruse has already been exploded as a lie. Rather than wasting another year on pointless talks that will achieve nothing, its time for President Obama to draw the only possible conclusion from this incident and tell the Iranians that he means business on the nuclear issue.

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Obama Sanctions Signal What Iran Wants

As expected, the House of Representatives passed a bill enacting tough new economic sanctions on Iran yesterday afternoon. The 400-20 vote, which was preceded by a debate during which both House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke on behalf of the measure, was the natural culmination of years of attempts to ratchet up pressure on the Islamist regime to end its nuclear program. If fully enforced, it shuts down what is left of Iran’s oil export business by enacting significant penalties on those countries, such as China and India, that have continued to import oil from Tehran; tightens restrictions on the country’s ability to conduct financial transactions abroad; and adds its automotive, construction, engineering, and mining industries to the list of entities that cannot legally do business in the West. After years of talking about crippling sanctions, this finally delivers what Western diplomats have always said they needed to bring the ayatollahs to their senses. And yet the chief advocate of tough diplomacy with Iran isn’t happy about the prospect of having to sign this bill.

Neither the White House nor the State Department welcomed the bipartisan House vote while senior officials speaking anonymously were unhappy about it. As the Financial Times reported, the administration seemed to agree with the tiny House minority that bought into the arguments of Iran apologists that believes the selection of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a genuine opportunity for negotiation rather than a transparent ruse:

Some serving US officials have also privately questioned whether this was the right time to push new sanctions. However, the government publicly sidestepped the issue following Wednesday’s vote.

“We are going to continue working with Congress to put pressure on Iran, to isolate Iran, but also to make clear to the Iranians that we’re ready to sit down and talk with them substantively when they are,” said a state department spokesperson.

Given that the Democratic-controlled Senate won’t take up the bill until after it returns from its recess in September and that the president has shown little inclination to order its enforcement even if he signs it, the Iranians needn’t worry much about the measure going into effect. Rather than the House messing up a mythical chance for diplomacy to work, the signals from the White House show that Iran appears to have succeeded in setting up what appears to be another year of delays before the West will even think about taking action to stop the ayatollahs from achieving their nuclear ambition.

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As expected, the House of Representatives passed a bill enacting tough new economic sanctions on Iran yesterday afternoon. The 400-20 vote, which was preceded by a debate during which both House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke on behalf of the measure, was the natural culmination of years of attempts to ratchet up pressure on the Islamist regime to end its nuclear program. If fully enforced, it shuts down what is left of Iran’s oil export business by enacting significant penalties on those countries, such as China and India, that have continued to import oil from Tehran; tightens restrictions on the country’s ability to conduct financial transactions abroad; and adds its automotive, construction, engineering, and mining industries to the list of entities that cannot legally do business in the West. After years of talking about crippling sanctions, this finally delivers what Western diplomats have always said they needed to bring the ayatollahs to their senses. And yet the chief advocate of tough diplomacy with Iran isn’t happy about the prospect of having to sign this bill.

Neither the White House nor the State Department welcomed the bipartisan House vote while senior officials speaking anonymously were unhappy about it. As the Financial Times reported, the administration seemed to agree with the tiny House minority that bought into the arguments of Iran apologists that believes the selection of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a genuine opportunity for negotiation rather than a transparent ruse:

Some serving US officials have also privately questioned whether this was the right time to push new sanctions. However, the government publicly sidestepped the issue following Wednesday’s vote.

“We are going to continue working with Congress to put pressure on Iran, to isolate Iran, but also to make clear to the Iranians that we’re ready to sit down and talk with them substantively when they are,” said a state department spokesperson.

Given that the Democratic-controlled Senate won’t take up the bill until after it returns from its recess in September and that the president has shown little inclination to order its enforcement even if he signs it, the Iranians needn’t worry much about the measure going into effect. Rather than the House messing up a mythical chance for diplomacy to work, the signals from the White House show that Iran appears to have succeeded in setting up what appears to be another year of delays before the West will even think about taking action to stop the ayatollahs from achieving their nuclear ambition.

Iranian apologists like Gary Sick claim the bill is a sign that Iran can’t trust the United States, but the only real problem with the latest sanctions bill is that it is about four years too late. Had the Obama administration pushed for a genuine economic embargo of Iran in 2009 rather than wasting a year on a laughable attempt at “engagement” with the Islamist regime, its belief in the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough might not have been so easily dismissed. Even when the president and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally embarked on a campaign to rally international support for sanctions, they were easily intimidated by Russia and China and settled on weak measures that only convinced the Iranians they had nothing to worry about. After a decade of playing games with the West in which they would tease negotiators into thinking they were about to agree to deals only to soon renege on their promises (a process in which the alleged moderate Rouhani played a prominent role), there is no reason to think that another several months of this routine would yield anything that would allow President Obama to make good on his repeated promises never to allow Iran to go nuclear.

By the time the administration is done exploring the supposed Rouhani opening, Iran will not only have gotten that much closer to realizing its nuclear goal but their systematic effort to render their facilities impervious to air attack may also be completed. There doesn’t appear to be any more time for sanctions to work even if this tough measure was put in place yesterday. But the unwillingness of the administration to even contemplate raising the stakes prior to engaging in another pointless round of talks with Iran speaks volumes about its lack of seriousness in dealing with this issue. So long as Obama keeps signaling he is willing to keep going down the garden path with the Iranians, there is little hope that Tehran will come to its senses. The off-the-record comments from the administration about new sanctions are exactly what Iran wanted to hear.

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The Rouhani Fan Club Jamboree

The foreign policy establishment found a new hero. No, it’s not Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry is being backed by most of the talking heads even as he charts a course for disaster in the Middle East. But as much as people like Aaron David Miller and Fareed Zakaria are working hard to vouch for what even they acknowledge to be a fool’s errand, the secretary is nowhere near as popular in the press these days as Hassan Rouhani, the president-elect of Iran. Evidence of this was seen yesterday in the New York Times when it published a front-page puff piece in the form of its Saturday profile that any liberal American politician would sell his soul for. According to the Times, Rouhani is the sort of “can do” politician that can make things happen in Iran, utilizing his close ties with the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Rouhani comes across in the piece as so pragmatic and moderate that it makes you wonder how it is that relations with the Islamic Republic can be so strained with such people running Iran.

The reason for the enthusiasm in Washington and in the liberal press for Rouhani isn’t a puzzle. By portraying the man elected to the largely symbolic post of president of Iran as a man of peace, some hope to not merely defuse tensions between Iran and the West over the regime’s nuclear program but to revive support for diplomacy. Since it has long since been made clear that Iran regards such talks as merely a means to stall the West while it gets closer to achieving its nuclear goal, belief in more talks with Iran is a tough sell. But Rouhani is supposed to change all that and offer President Obama a plausible option for avoiding the use of force in order to make good on his promise never to allow Iran to go nuclear.

The only problem with this formulation is that the closer you look at it him, the less moderate he sounds. Indeed, as the Times profile makes clear, for all of the bouquets being thrown in Rouhani’s direction, it’s fairly obvious that his main virtue is that he is not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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The foreign policy establishment found a new hero. No, it’s not Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry is being backed by most of the talking heads even as he charts a course for disaster in the Middle East. But as much as people like Aaron David Miller and Fareed Zakaria are working hard to vouch for what even they acknowledge to be a fool’s errand, the secretary is nowhere near as popular in the press these days as Hassan Rouhani, the president-elect of Iran. Evidence of this was seen yesterday in the New York Times when it published a front-page puff piece in the form of its Saturday profile that any liberal American politician would sell his soul for. According to the Times, Rouhani is the sort of “can do” politician that can make things happen in Iran, utilizing his close ties with the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Rouhani comes across in the piece as so pragmatic and moderate that it makes you wonder how it is that relations with the Islamic Republic can be so strained with such people running Iran.

The reason for the enthusiasm in Washington and in the liberal press for Rouhani isn’t a puzzle. By portraying the man elected to the largely symbolic post of president of Iran as a man of peace, some hope to not merely defuse tensions between Iran and the West over the regime’s nuclear program but to revive support for diplomacy. Since it has long since been made clear that Iran regards such talks as merely a means to stall the West while it gets closer to achieving its nuclear goal, belief in more talks with Iran is a tough sell. But Rouhani is supposed to change all that and offer President Obama a plausible option for avoiding the use of force in order to make good on his promise never to allow Iran to go nuclear.

The only problem with this formulation is that the closer you look at it him, the less moderate he sounds. Indeed, as the Times profile makes clear, for all of the bouquets being thrown in Rouhani’s direction, it’s fairly obvious that his main virtue is that he is not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

For eight years, Rouhani’s predecessor has been a convenient symbol of everything that is hateful about Iran’s government. Ahmadinejad’s open anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial transformed him into a cartoon character villain in the West who symbolized the extreme nature of the Iranian government. Though Rouhani’s election is seen as a rebuke to Khamenei, allowing the loopy-looking Ahmadinejad to be replaced with someone who is viewed as a moderate in the West is the smartest thing the supreme leader has done in years. As bizarre as Ahmadinejad’s rants were, he was merely the public face of a government run largely by others that embodied the same ideology he espoused.

But even the proofs offered of Rouhani’s moderation and pragmatism undermine the narrative that he offers a way out for Obama. The lead of the profile cites Rouhani’s ability to use his access to Khamenei in order to gain approval for a tentative deal that would have ended Iran’s enrichment of uranium. That was quite a feat, but as the article points out later, the achievement was meaningless. The Iranians soon reneged on their agreement in what many in Tehran admitted was part of a strategy to entice the West into talks that would help them run out the clock on their nuclear program. Agreeing to the terms that Rouhani accepted was as much a ruse as all the other deals Western diplomats thought they had reached with Iran over the years. Though the Times refloats the self-serving analysis of European diplomats that sought to vindicate their negotiating strategy in which Rouhani is depicted as an honest interlocutor who was just “too optimistic,” he was, in fact, just the star in a clever piece of theater served up by the ayatollahs.

That Rouhani is just as much if not more of a front man for Khamenei’s regime is also obvious. He was, as the Times admits, a close follower of Ayatollah Khomeini and a supporter, not a critic or opponent, of Iran’s theocratic rule. His differences with some of the powers that be in Tehran are tactical and largely aimed at improving Iran’s image in order to better fool the West, not changing its policies.

That the truth about Rouhani has nothing much to do with his image is immaterial to those who want to allow Iran’s nuclear threat to become a reality. After eight years of scaring the West with Ahmadinejad, Iran has finally caught on to the wisdom of offering it a “good cop” who can be sold as the man to talk to in order to get a nuclear deal that will absolve Obama of his promise and remove the possibility of a U.S. attack on its nuclear facilities. Doing so could gain them as much as a year or even more if they play their cards right in the coming months during which they can get even closer to the nuclear capability that will render any talk of Western action moot. No wonder those who wish to revive the talk of containment that President Obama renounced last year have made Rouhani their man of the hour.

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Has Iran’s Maliki Ploy Hooked Obama?

After several years of vowing to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, President Obama has painted himself into a corner. Every one of his diplomatic initiatives intended to persuade or pressure the Iranians into halting their nuclear quest have failed ignominiously. From his laughable attempt at “engagement” to his assembling of an international coalition in support of sanctions on Iran to the latest failure of the P5+1 talks, the result has always followed the same pattern. The Iranians always welcome each new attempt at outreach, allow the United States to invest time and effort in the effort, and then, like the Peanuts cartoon character Lucy invariably did to Charlie Brown, snatch the football away just when the U.S. thought it was about to reach its goal. But experience is only helpful if you are willing to learn from your mistakes, and it looks as if the administration is about to play Charlie Brown again.

The election of a new supposedly moderate president was already being used by those who were eager to go down the garden path with Iran as an excuse for more pointless diplomacy, but now it appears that Tehran is using its close ally in charge of Iraq to convince the United States that it’s ready for direct talks. As the New York Times reports this morning, Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki was the conduit for a message from the ayatollahs that they were ready to open up a new round of nuclear negotiations. But in the absence of any change in Iran’s position on the issue in hand, the eagerness of the administration to jump at the chance for direct talks says more about their desire to avoid having to make good on the president’s promise than it does about the possibility of actually stopping the nuclear threat. The odds that this scheme is anything other than one more Iranian ruse designed to win them more time to build their program are slim.

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After several years of vowing to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, President Obama has painted himself into a corner. Every one of his diplomatic initiatives intended to persuade or pressure the Iranians into halting their nuclear quest have failed ignominiously. From his laughable attempt at “engagement” to his assembling of an international coalition in support of sanctions on Iran to the latest failure of the P5+1 talks, the result has always followed the same pattern. The Iranians always welcome each new attempt at outreach, allow the United States to invest time and effort in the effort, and then, like the Peanuts cartoon character Lucy invariably did to Charlie Brown, snatch the football away just when the U.S. thought it was about to reach its goal. But experience is only helpful if you are willing to learn from your mistakes, and it looks as if the administration is about to play Charlie Brown again.

The election of a new supposedly moderate president was already being used by those who were eager to go down the garden path with Iran as an excuse for more pointless diplomacy, but now it appears that Tehran is using its close ally in charge of Iraq to convince the United States that it’s ready for direct talks. As the New York Times reports this morning, Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki was the conduit for a message from the ayatollahs that they were ready to open up a new round of nuclear negotiations. But in the absence of any change in Iran’s position on the issue in hand, the eagerness of the administration to jump at the chance for direct talks says more about their desire to avoid having to make good on the president’s promise than it does about the possibility of actually stopping the nuclear threat. The odds that this scheme is anything other than one more Iranian ruse designed to win them more time to build their program are slim.

Maliki is in the unique position of being friendly with both the U.S. and Iran and his involvement in the setup is likely to lend credence to the initiative in Washington’s eyes. That is especially true since, according to the Times, Maliki is claiming that his information about the regime’s thinking comes from the inner circle of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and not from those close to new President Hassan Rowhani, who lacks real power.

However, the Iranians’ goal, as they made clear during the most recent round of negotiations with the West, is not to achieve even a favorable compromise that would enable them to retain their nuclear program–as might have happened had they followed through with administration’s 2009 attempt to forge an agreement on nuclear fuel that they eventually reneged on. All Tehran wants is a respite from the sanctions that, while not impeding its ability or desire to continue nuclear research and development, have harmed its economy and lowered the Iranian people’s standard of living. Obama has shown himself eager to make a deal on terms that while technically making an Iranian weapon impossible would leave in place a nuclear program that would, with the inevitable cheating and deceptions that will follow such negotiations, lead in the long run to the same result that the world has been trying to forestall.

The Iranians are past masters of manipulating the United States. They’ve been doing it to the West since long before Obama became president. For more than a decade, Khamenei has risked his nation’s economy and deepened its diplomatic isolation in order to achieve its nuclear ambition. Everything he and his regime have done and said would lead any rational person to believe that Iran is merely looking to play the same game again and to prolong negotiations—or, rather, the pretense of negotiations—for as long as possible.

President Obama’s willingness to embrace this latest plot as an actual chance for a solution is a crucial hint that tells us he is inching his way back toward a policy of containment of a nuclear Iran despite his campaign promise (issued at the 2012 annual conference of AIPAC) never to do so. Should the U.S. fall for the Maliki ploy hook, line, and sinker as it appears to be doing, it will involve what may be many months, if not more than a year, of more dead-end talks that will leave us back in the same position we are in today. The only difference is that by then it may be too late to credibly use the threat of force—which Obama insists is still on the table—in order to prevent Iran from going nuclear.

Observing the way the U.S. appears to be falling in line with the machinations of Iran’s leaders is like watching a car wreck in slow motion. We know there is little doubt about the outcome but still somehow hope against hope that it can be prevented. If President Obama truly intends to keep his word on Iran, this may be the last chance for him to alter course. If he doesn’t, there may be no turning back.

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Get Obama to Focus on Iran? Good Luck.

After months in which the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons has been pushed to the back burner even on foreign-policy issues, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting an uphill battle in his effort to get the Obama administration to pay attention to the threat. But Netanyahu is doing his best to ratchet up pressure on Obama to treat the issue seriously after a period in which it appeared as if the administration had almost entirely forgotten about it. That was the point of his appearance yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation program, during the course of which he reminded viewers that all he is asking is for the president to do what he has been saying he would do ever since 2008: stop Iran. But with time running out until Iran achieves its nuclear ambition and with the United States showing no sign that it is prepared to act, Netanyahu has very little choice but to speak up and hope for the best.

The problem isn’t getting the United States to validate his concerns with words. President Obama’s rhetoric on Iran’s nuclear program has always been largely exemplary. The challenge has always been translating those words into action, and that has always been lacking. While many in the United States have attempted to portray Netanyahu as an alarmist on the issue, his concerns are looking even more valid recently as the United States has effectively decided to punt on Iran, creating a timetable that gives the ayatollahs another year to stall while their nuclear program gets closer to completion. With a “senior administration official” telling journalists last Friday that Washington thinks there may be an opening for more talks with Iran that could lead to the lifting of some sanctions on the regime, a degree of panic on the part of Israelis and others worried about the West giving Tehran a pass appears to be warranted.

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After months in which the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons has been pushed to the back burner even on foreign-policy issues, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting an uphill battle in his effort to get the Obama administration to pay attention to the threat. But Netanyahu is doing his best to ratchet up pressure on Obama to treat the issue seriously after a period in which it appeared as if the administration had almost entirely forgotten about it. That was the point of his appearance yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation program, during the course of which he reminded viewers that all he is asking is for the president to do what he has been saying he would do ever since 2008: stop Iran. But with time running out until Iran achieves its nuclear ambition and with the United States showing no sign that it is prepared to act, Netanyahu has very little choice but to speak up and hope for the best.

The problem isn’t getting the United States to validate his concerns with words. President Obama’s rhetoric on Iran’s nuclear program has always been largely exemplary. The challenge has always been translating those words into action, and that has always been lacking. While many in the United States have attempted to portray Netanyahu as an alarmist on the issue, his concerns are looking even more valid recently as the United States has effectively decided to punt on Iran, creating a timetable that gives the ayatollahs another year to stall while their nuclear program gets closer to completion. With a “senior administration official” telling journalists last Friday that Washington thinks there may be an opening for more talks with Iran that could lead to the lifting of some sanctions on the regime, a degree of panic on the part of Israelis and others worried about the West giving Tehran a pass appears to be warranted.

It should be remembered that President Obama squandered most of his first term in office on a foolish attempt to “engage” with Iran and on efforts to create an international coalition to support watered-down sanctions on the regime. He has begun his second term determined to repeat this pattern by reviving the P5+1 talks that failed as they did every previous time. They’ve capped this dilatory record by now seizing on the election of Hassan Rowhani, a supposed moderate, as president of Iran, as yet another chance to pry open a mythical window of diplomatic opportunity even as they publicly acknowledge that the ayatollahs have been manufacturing and exploiting these initiatives for years to enable them to run out the clock on their nuclear timetable.

This is especially troubling because the United States seems particularly distracted from Iran in recent months. Secretary of State John Kerry has been obsessed with reviving Middle East peace negotiations that no one but he thinks has a prayer of success. The administration has also been busy blundering its way through crises over the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt (in whose survival Obama appeared to be invested) and standing by helplessly while Iran and its Hezbollah allies appear to be succeeding in keeping the Assad dictatorship in power. These events and the false hope about Iran’s supposedly moderate president have caused the United States to lower its voice and to basically go on vacation when it comes to Iran. The expectation is now that the West will wait until Rowhani is sworn in next month and then allow the Iranians to prevaricate for more months while a new diplomatic process is allowed to waste time and then inevitably fail.

Netanyahu’s efforts aren’t so much to raise awareness about a threat that Obama has already acknowledged as they are to point out that another year of waiting and talking is the moral equivalent of a decision to ultimately tolerate a nuclear Iran. We don’t know exactly how close the Iranians are, but as they move more of their stockpile of enriched uranium into hardened mountainside bunkers and develop alternate plutonium programs, the options for using force—something that even Obama has refused to rule out as a last resort—are becoming less viable. Unless he can produce diplomatic progress soon—something about as likely to happen as a new flowering of democracy and human rights in that Islamist tyranny—the president won’t be able to pretend that he hasn’t already effectively chosen to contain a nuclear Iran rather than prevent it. 

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Snowden’s Nuclear War on Intelligence

For too many Americans, the saga of Edward Snowden has become a vehicle to vent their understandable anger about the growth of government and its power to infringe on our privacy. But the leaker’s activities and his farcical flight to his current perch somewhere in the Moscow airport has allowed these worries to overshadow the true nature of what he has done in spilling so much information about the National Security Agency. Though his campaign to torpedo America’s ability to monitor terrorists should have already alerted even his most ardent fans to the true nature of his activity, his interview in this week’s issue of Der Spiegel is new proof that what he and his supporters in the press and elsewhere are attempting to do is something a great deal more ambitious than curbing the overreach of a government body. By discussing the cooperation of various foreign intelligence agencies and specifically talking about the joint efforts of the United States and Israel to thwart Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, he has crossed yet another line that shows his true intentions. His is not a war to protect privacy. It’s a war against intelligence and American foreign policy goals.

Snowden’s decision to expand his revelations from the NSA’s monitoring of calls and emails to Stuxnet—the computer virus that was reportedly employed to try to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program—is highly instructive. If Snowden’s leaks were solely about brushing back the spooks’ snooping on Americans, he might have refused to talk about the NSA’s efforts directed at Iran. By choosing to wade into specific intelligence efforts that have nothing to do with individual privacy issues, Snowden is making it clear that for all of the talk about his heroism or his defense of constitutional rights, what he is most interested in doing is making the world a little safer for those whom American intelligence is tasked with stopping. By treating the NSA’s work against Iranian nukes and its cooperation with Israel as fodder for his exposure as much as anything else, Snowden and his backers are treating a consensus objective of American policy as somehow illegitimate.

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For too many Americans, the saga of Edward Snowden has become a vehicle to vent their understandable anger about the growth of government and its power to infringe on our privacy. But the leaker’s activities and his farcical flight to his current perch somewhere in the Moscow airport has allowed these worries to overshadow the true nature of what he has done in spilling so much information about the National Security Agency. Though his campaign to torpedo America’s ability to monitor terrorists should have already alerted even his most ardent fans to the true nature of his activity, his interview in this week’s issue of Der Spiegel is new proof that what he and his supporters in the press and elsewhere are attempting to do is something a great deal more ambitious than curbing the overreach of a government body. By discussing the cooperation of various foreign intelligence agencies and specifically talking about the joint efforts of the United States and Israel to thwart Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, he has crossed yet another line that shows his true intentions. His is not a war to protect privacy. It’s a war against intelligence and American foreign policy goals.

Snowden’s decision to expand his revelations from the NSA’s monitoring of calls and emails to Stuxnet—the computer virus that was reportedly employed to try to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program—is highly instructive. If Snowden’s leaks were solely about brushing back the spooks’ snooping on Americans, he might have refused to talk about the NSA’s efforts directed at Iran. By choosing to wade into specific intelligence efforts that have nothing to do with individual privacy issues, Snowden is making it clear that for all of the talk about his heroism or his defense of constitutional rights, what he is most interested in doing is making the world a little safer for those whom American intelligence is tasked with stopping. By treating the NSA’s work against Iranian nukes and its cooperation with Israel as fodder for his exposure as much as anything else, Snowden and his backers are treating a consensus objective of American policy as somehow illegitimate.

The link between the monitoring of phone calls or emails of terrorists and Stuxnet is that both are to some degree the fruit of America’s cyber warfare. But whatever concerns some Americans may have about the metadata mining of calls or emails, the Stuxnet virus and, indeed, the entire cyber warfare campaign against Iran have nothing to with privacy and everything to do with national security efforts that are supported by the overwhelming majority of the American people.

The point here is that the anti-intelligence campaign being waged by Snowden and his supporters draws no distinctions between alleged invasions of privacy and efforts to forestall a deadly nuclear threat to the world. While I believe the NSA’s controversial efforts to monitor communications with terrorists are defensible, there should be no argument about whether it’s work in cooperating with Israel to hamstring Iran’s nuclear weapons threat is both legal and absolutely necessary.

Moreover, those who would like to applaud Snowden’s exposures while still asserting their support for Western efforts to stop terrorism and the potentially genocidal intentions of Iran’s Islamist regime need to ask themselves whether they can really draw the line between intelligence operations they don’t like and those that they don’t wish to impede. If all of the NSA’s cyber warfare efforts are somehow illegitimate, as Snowden and his fans seem to be saying, then what they are asking for is not civil liberties but unilateral disarmament on the part of the West against terrorists and terrorist-sponsoring regimes like Iran that also wish to obtain nuclear weapons. Some of President Obama’s staffers (reportedly his favorite general) may have already spilled the beans on American cyber warfare to the press. But by discussing Stuxnet in the context of his attack on all cooperation between security agencies, Snowden has illustrated what we will lose if we allow our libertarian instincts about privacy to hamstring the NSA.

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‘Economist’ Warns Iran Won’t Be Stopped

For years, we’ve been told that there’s plenty of time to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. The world laughed when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu drew a red line across a cartoon bomb at the United Nations last fall to demonstrate the need to act before it was too late. President Obama, who has vociferously pledged that Tehran will never gain such a weapon on his watch, tried engagement and then a mix of sanctions and diplomacy to try and make good on his promise. He still insists that this policy will eventually work and with the election of a new supposedly more moderate Iranian president, virtually everyone in the chattering classes and the foreign policy establishment has seemed content to allow the administration to keep talking about talking with the Islamist regime even if there’s no sign that it will ever work. This complacence has been criticized by American conservatives and some Israelis to little effect, but now one of the most reliable indicators of establishment thinking in Europe with little sympathy for Israel is agreeing with those long deemed alarmists about Iran.

In an eye-opening article published this week, the Economist dismisses the notion that anything the United States and its allies has been trying will work:

British and American intelligence sources think Iran is about a year away from having enough highly enriched uranium to make a bomb, and rather further from mastering the technologies to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit into a missile. But David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector who is president of the Institute for Science and International Security, thinks that by mid-2014 Iran will have the capacity to produce enough fissile material for a single bomb in one or two weeks, should it choose to do so. It seems unlikely that Iran could be forced to change course on this matter by foreigners. The best that can be hoped for is that it decides that it does not want or need a nuclear weapon.

But given that, as the magazine stated in the opening sentence of the piece, “Iran is putting up with sanctions that damage its economy rather than accept a deal limiting its nuclear programme,” what possible reason is there to believe that the ayatollahs would simply give up what the regime has worked so long and hard to achieve? The obvious answer is none at all. Which means that the assurances we have been getting from Washington about having all the time in the world to let diplomacy work—in spite of repeated failures—was pure bunk. While I wouldn’t expect those who have been working diligently to switch American policy from one aimed at stopping Iran to one of containment (something Obama has disavowed) to draw any conclusions from this, it should be noted that this turn of events has led a leading columnist at Israel’s left-wing Haaretz newspaper to make a startling concession: Netanyahu was right all along.

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For years, we’ve been told that there’s plenty of time to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. The world laughed when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu drew a red line across a cartoon bomb at the United Nations last fall to demonstrate the need to act before it was too late. President Obama, who has vociferously pledged that Tehran will never gain such a weapon on his watch, tried engagement and then a mix of sanctions and diplomacy to try and make good on his promise. He still insists that this policy will eventually work and with the election of a new supposedly more moderate Iranian president, virtually everyone in the chattering classes and the foreign policy establishment has seemed content to allow the administration to keep talking about talking with the Islamist regime even if there’s no sign that it will ever work. This complacence has been criticized by American conservatives and some Israelis to little effect, but now one of the most reliable indicators of establishment thinking in Europe with little sympathy for Israel is agreeing with those long deemed alarmists about Iran.

In an eye-opening article published this week, the Economist dismisses the notion that anything the United States and its allies has been trying will work:

British and American intelligence sources think Iran is about a year away from having enough highly enriched uranium to make a bomb, and rather further from mastering the technologies to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit into a missile. But David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector who is president of the Institute for Science and International Security, thinks that by mid-2014 Iran will have the capacity to produce enough fissile material for a single bomb in one or two weeks, should it choose to do so. It seems unlikely that Iran could be forced to change course on this matter by foreigners. The best that can be hoped for is that it decides that it does not want or need a nuclear weapon.

But given that, as the magazine stated in the opening sentence of the piece, “Iran is putting up with sanctions that damage its economy rather than accept a deal limiting its nuclear programme,” what possible reason is there to believe that the ayatollahs would simply give up what the regime has worked so long and hard to achieve? The obvious answer is none at all. Which means that the assurances we have been getting from Washington about having all the time in the world to let diplomacy work—in spite of repeated failures—was pure bunk. While I wouldn’t expect those who have been working diligently to switch American policy from one aimed at stopping Iran to one of containment (something Obama has disavowed) to draw any conclusions from this, it should be noted that this turn of events has led a leading columnist at Israel’s left-wing Haaretz newspaper to make a startling concession: Netanyahu was right all along.

As Ari Shavit notes in today’s Haaretz:

While Israel was busy with light entertainment in the form of political reality shows, The Economist informed it this week that a difficult strategic reality is taking shape around it. What the world promised would never happen is happening at this very moment. What the top ranks of Israel’s defense establishment promised would never happen is in fact happening. Iran is becoming a nuclear power, while Israel (which is sunk in summer daydreams) stands alone.

From 2009 to 2012, a vigorous debate over Iran took place here. On one side were the optimists: President Shimon Peres, then-Mossad chief Meir Dagan, then-Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin, then-Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, the defense establishment, the media establishment and the refreshing spirit of hoping for the best. On the other side was a gloomy, besmirched pessimist: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The mention of Dagan and Diskin is important here. The former spooks were two of the stars of The Gatekeepers, a film in which former security chiefs flayed Netanyahu’s government for its policies and have been lionized in the West as the sane, smart Israelis who should be listened to instead of the dumbbells that were elected by the Israeli people. Yet, as one of their cheerleaders now attests, they were wrong about the most important defense issue faced by the country.

But as Shavit writes, it was the famous gatekeepers and other liberal Israelis who were listened to by the West:

America is there, said the optimists. No, it isn’t, said the pessimist. There’s a hidden hand, said the optimists. No, there isn’t, said the pessimist. There’s time, said the optimists. No, there isn’t, said the pessimist. Iran’s nuclear program must be stopped by the fall of 2012, the pessimist said. It’s not Iran’s nuclear program that’s the problem, but the prime minister, the optimists said.

For three and a half years, the optimists went from one journalist to another and from one American to another and said that the pessimist is a dangerous purveyor of doom and gloom who sees molehills as mountains and doesn’t understand that the world won’t let Iran go nuclear. For three and a half years, the optimists tied the pessimist’s hands on the basis of the threefold promise of America, the hidden hand and time.

Just as Israel’s left-wingers have done much to poison the minds of Western journalists and opinion-makers about the standoff with the Palestinians, the willingness of so many top Jerusalem figures to align themselves against Netanyahu on Iran had serious consequences. The optimists, as Shavit calls them, refused to help the prime minister to ratchet up the pressure on Obama to act before Iran had amassed the huge store of enriched uranium that it now possesses or it had stored much of its nuclear infrastructure in hardened, mountainside bunkers that would be difficult even for the United States to destroy. Instead, they helped hamstring the efforts of Netanyahu and former Minister of Defense Ehud Barak in their efforts to mobilize the West to act or to get a green light from Washington for Israel to strike on its own.

After repeatedly accusing Netanyahu of crying “wolf” about Iran, as Shavit puts it, Israel must now deal with the fact that “a strategic wolf with nuclear teeth is now at the gate.”

But, as he notes, as dangerous as the situation has become, it is not too late for it to be corrected. A decision by the West to enact a total economic blockade and boycott of Iran—with no exceptions for China to buy their oil—could bring an already shaky Iranian economy to its knees in a manner than even the ayatollahs would have to notice. A credible threat of force rather than the amorphous language used by a president who is clearly determined to do anything but use force to stop Iran might also get their attention.

But with the U.S. seemingly ready to waste another year on a diplomatic track that is designed merely to give Iran more time to develop their nukes, there seems little chance of either of those things happening.

The result is the situation the Economist describes in which Iran is certain to get a nuclear weapon sometime before the midterm elections next year. At that point, apologies to Netanyahu from his detractors in both the U.S. and Israel will be both too late and of no use to a Jewish state confronted by a nuclear Iran that wants to wipe it off the map.

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Don’t Count on Iran Regime Change

Michael Rubin is on target when he writes today to say that in much of the discussion about the dangerous game Iran has been playing throughout the Middle East, too much focus has been on putting out the fire and not enough on stopping the arsonist. The main problem in dealing with the nuclear issue as well as a host of other conflicts in which the ayatollahs have a finger in the pie is the Islamist regime, not their specific decisions to create havoc. The problems of the United States, the moderate Arab regimes and Israel, will, as he says, never be fully resolved until the malevolent influence of Tehran is ended by replacing the Islamic Republic with a government that neither oppresses its people nor funds terror abroad. But to argue, as he also does, that this should be the sole focus of American policy toward Iran is not a practical plan for dealing with the situation in Syria, let alone the clear and present danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

While much can and should, as Michael wrote in COMMENTARY three years ago, be done to promote regime change, counting on such efforts bearing fruit in the limited time left until the Iranians are able to enrich enough weapons-grade uranium to create a bomb strikes me as being as realistic as the blind faith President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry seem to have in diplomacy doing the trick. Moreover, to rule out air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, as Michael also urges, would seem to be giving the regime an ironclad guarantee that no one will interfere with their plans. Whatever the ultimate effect of such strikes on Iran’s nuclear timetable might turn out to be—and others are far more optimistic about their impact than Michael—such an attack may not only be the best method available to stop the Iranians, they may also be the only measure that is remotely feasible for the United States to implement if President Obama is to make good on his pledge to never allow Tehran to get such a weapon.

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Michael Rubin is on target when he writes today to say that in much of the discussion about the dangerous game Iran has been playing throughout the Middle East, too much focus has been on putting out the fire and not enough on stopping the arsonist. The main problem in dealing with the nuclear issue as well as a host of other conflicts in which the ayatollahs have a finger in the pie is the Islamist regime, not their specific decisions to create havoc. The problems of the United States, the moderate Arab regimes and Israel, will, as he says, never be fully resolved until the malevolent influence of Tehran is ended by replacing the Islamic Republic with a government that neither oppresses its people nor funds terror abroad. But to argue, as he also does, that this should be the sole focus of American policy toward Iran is not a practical plan for dealing with the situation in Syria, let alone the clear and present danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

While much can and should, as Michael wrote in COMMENTARY three years ago, be done to promote regime change, counting on such efforts bearing fruit in the limited time left until the Iranians are able to enrich enough weapons-grade uranium to create a bomb strikes me as being as realistic as the blind faith President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry seem to have in diplomacy doing the trick. Moreover, to rule out air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, as Michael also urges, would seem to be giving the regime an ironclad guarantee that no one will interfere with their plans. Whatever the ultimate effect of such strikes on Iran’s nuclear timetable might turn out to be—and others are far more optimistic about their impact than Michael—such an attack may not only be the best method available to stop the Iranians, they may also be the only measure that is remotely feasible for the United States to implement if President Obama is to make good on his pledge to never allow Tehran to get such a weapon.

Rubin is right to raise the issue of regime change because one constant element of the P5+1 negotiations between the West and Iran has been the presumption that any deal would obligate the powers to foreswear efforts to overthrow the Islamist regime. While the Iranians show no sign of being wise enough to accept that deal, this is an extremely shortsighted policy. Nevertheless, even if all of Michael’s proposals to “hasten the day” when the world will no longer have to cope with this terrorist theocracy succeed eventually, there is no reason to believe that this would be the magic bullet that would eliminate the regime in time to avert the prospect of its Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei having his finger on the nuclear button.

In 2010, Michael rightly pointed out that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would probably cause most Iranians to rally around the regime even if they didn’t like being ruled by them. But he also said that didn’t rule out the need for an air strike: History offers lessons in what not to do. Iranians may dislike their government, but they dislike foreign invaders even more. Even limited U.S. military action would likely strengthen the regime even if the initial effect would be to cause it to teeter. This does not mean that military action might not be necessary; an Islamic Republic with nuclear weapons is the worst possible scenario. But we should not count on military action providing a deathblow to the regime.

That formulation of the relative importance of these two issues is even more apt today as the Iranians are three years closer to realizing their nuclear ambition and even more confident that their diplomatic prevarications will continue to succeed to fend off the feeble Western attempts to resolve the problem. It is possible that Michael is right that even successful air strikes on Iran’s facilities would not end the threat for all time and might necessitate further attacks in the future. But the assumption that an Iran whose economy is weakened by sanctions would be able to start again so easily may be mistaken. At worst, such strikes would give the West additional time to work on regime change or to tighten sanctions to the point where such an outcome might actually be possible. Without the credible threat of force, no effort at diplomatic engagement will ever resolve this problem. But by the same token, neither would efforts aimed at regime change work on their own.

Just as important is the fact that we can’t approach the Iranian problem as if it were a theoretical problem rather than one that takes place in an actual political context. Like it or not, Barack Obama is the president and will be in office for the next three years, not a figure like George W. Bush who would be more open to talk about regime change. Though he ought to be working toward that end, it is highly unlikely an Obama administration will ever do what is needed to facilitate a change in power in Tehran. Though it is far from certain that the day will ever dawn when the president will admit diplomacy has failed and take the necessary military action to forestall an Iranian bomb, there is a better chance that will happen than a scenario in which the U.S. actively pushes to overthrow the Islamists. At this point arguing against military strikes even as a last resort amounts to a unilateral pledge of non-interference against Iran, not a way to facilitate the end of Islamist tyranny.

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Iran President: a Terrorist, Not a Moderate

The chattering classes have been working overtime this week to sell Americans on the idea that Hassan Rowhani—the winner of the Iranian sham election for president—is not only a moderate but also the harbinger of a chance for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff between the Islamist government and the West. Even if one were to accept the idea that the moderate in a field of candidates hand picked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is actually a person worthy of the label, the notion that this post brings with it the power to either liberalize Iran or to end its nuclear program is simply false. But, as a report from our former COMMENTARY colleague Alana Goodman in the Washington Free Beacon points out, there’s more proof that Rowhani is up to his neck in the nefarious actions of the regime. It turns out that, as we’ve previously noted, Rowhani was not only an acolyte of Ayatollah Khomenei but deeply involved in the international terrorist wing of Iran’s Islamist movement. As Goodman writes:

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rowhani was on the special Iranian government committee that plotted the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, according to an indictment by the Argentine government prosecutor investigating the case.

The attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) is one of the worst terrorist attacks in recent history with 85 killed and hundreds more wounded. After a lengthy investigation, the evidence uncovered by Argentine authorities pointed directly at the Hezbollah terrorist group and its Iranian masters who made the decision to launch the attack on the Jewish target at a meeting of a committee of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council in August 1993. Khamenei was the head of the group, but one of its members was none other than the person that we are supposed to think is about to change Iran against the supreme leader’s wishes: Hassan Rowhani.

Though Iran’s apologists are unhappy about this revelation, there is no serious effort being made to claim that Rowhani is not guilty or that his role in the crime is being exaggerated. But some of those who have been advocating for the United States to embark upon a new round of dead-end diplomacy because of Rowhani’s rise are bound to argue that the evidence of his past should be ignored or treat it as irrelevant to the question of whether we should consider his election an opportunity for another round of engagement with Iran. That would be a colossal mistake. Understanding Rowhani’s background is crucial to the question of whether he is willing to move Iran back from the nuclear brink and what it tells us should put an end to any hope that he is anything like a moderate.

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The chattering classes have been working overtime this week to sell Americans on the idea that Hassan Rowhani—the winner of the Iranian sham election for president—is not only a moderate but also the harbinger of a chance for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff between the Islamist government and the West. Even if one were to accept the idea that the moderate in a field of candidates hand picked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is actually a person worthy of the label, the notion that this post brings with it the power to either liberalize Iran or to end its nuclear program is simply false. But, as a report from our former COMMENTARY colleague Alana Goodman in the Washington Free Beacon points out, there’s more proof that Rowhani is up to his neck in the nefarious actions of the regime. It turns out that, as we’ve previously noted, Rowhani was not only an acolyte of Ayatollah Khomenei but deeply involved in the international terrorist wing of Iran’s Islamist movement. As Goodman writes:

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rowhani was on the special Iranian government committee that plotted the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, according to an indictment by the Argentine government prosecutor investigating the case.

The attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) is one of the worst terrorist attacks in recent history with 85 killed and hundreds more wounded. After a lengthy investigation, the evidence uncovered by Argentine authorities pointed directly at the Hezbollah terrorist group and its Iranian masters who made the decision to launch the attack on the Jewish target at a meeting of a committee of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council in August 1993. Khamenei was the head of the group, but one of its members was none other than the person that we are supposed to think is about to change Iran against the supreme leader’s wishes: Hassan Rowhani.

Though Iran’s apologists are unhappy about this revelation, there is no serious effort being made to claim that Rowhani is not guilty or that his role in the crime is being exaggerated. But some of those who have been advocating for the United States to embark upon a new round of dead-end diplomacy because of Rowhani’s rise are bound to argue that the evidence of his past should be ignored or treat it as irrelevant to the question of whether we should consider his election an opportunity for another round of engagement with Iran. That would be a colossal mistake. Understanding Rowhani’s background is crucial to the question of whether he is willing to move Iran back from the nuclear brink and what it tells us should put an end to any hope that he is anything like a moderate.

We will be told that Rowhani’s participation in mass murder should not blind us to the fact that sometimes people change and that former terrorists can become responsible leaders. But such examples (which are rare and often misinterpreted) are generally the product of a genuine change of heart and an ideological shift. And there is no evidence that Rowhani has undergone either.

It should be remembered that Rowhani was an original and fervent supporter of the tyrannical Islamist regime. He has served it well over the decades, including a stint as Iran’s nuclear negotiator during which he bought the country’s nuclear program precious time to get closer to a bomb while pretending to be a reasonable interlocutor.

Rather than an independent force seeking to push the government to liberalize its theocratic control of virtually every aspect of Iranian life or to change its foreign policy, Rowhani has been part of its power structure from the start. This means that in addition to his part in keeping the country an Islamist tyranny, he’s also been part of its effort to commit terrorism in the Middle East and throughout the world. Operating with its Hezbollah auxiliaries, the long reach of Iran’s terror network has killed domestic opponents and Jews in Europe and South America, with the AMIA bombing and the attack on Israel’s Buenos Aires in 1992 being two of the bloodiest.

The mention of Rowhani in the AMIA indictment not only gives the lie to his pose as a moderate, it brands him as a criminal deserving of being tracked down and punished like the many al-Qaeda operatives that have been either captured or killed by American forces.

We doubt Rowhani will ever be brought to justice but the presence of his name on the indictment ought to complicate matters should he decide to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and visit the next meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. Rather than being embraced by an Obama administration that is desperate to avoid a confrontation over keeping the president’s promises to stop Iran, Rowhani must be treated as an international pariah who would be subjected to prosecution should he ever set foot on Western soil.

The AMIA bombing may have been forgotten by much of the Western press and foreign policy establishment that is eager to revive the cause of containing a nuclear Iran rather than preventing it from ever gaining a weapon. But an American government that still treats the battle against international terrorism as one of its priorities cannot afford to sweep this piece of intelligence under the rug. Rather than reach out to Rowhani, the United States must shun him as a murderer.

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Obama Playing by Rowhani’s Timetable

The problem with the willingness of so many in the West to buy into the myth that Hassan Rowhani’s election in Iran provides a meaningful opening for nuclear diplomacy isn’t so much the possibility that the U.S. will be suckered into a terrible agreement with Tehran. The Iranians have proved time and again—including during the time when it was Rowhani being the chief deceiver—that they are never going to sign any deal that will place meaningful restrictions on their ability to enrich uranium. There is even less chance that the ayatollahs will allow the West to impose a solution that will “end” Iran’s nuclear program as the president pledged to do during the foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney last fall. No matter how many concessions the United States and its European allies offer Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the answer is always going to be no to any accord.

The real problem with the idiocy being promoted by purveyors of conventional foreign policy wisdom this week is that the infatuation with Rowhani will mean the United States will play the next year of Iran policy according to Tehran’s timetable.

That’s the main advantage that Khamenei has gained by allowing a seeming opponent to assume an office that has no real power over Iran’s nuclear program, its intervention in Syria or its support for international terrorism. If President Obama is serious about waiting, as he hinted at on Charlie Rose’s show last night, to see if Rowhani’s win will portend change, that means Iran may have obtained at least another year to develop a weapon before the Americans are ready to think about doing anything to redeem the president’s pledge to stop Iran.

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The problem with the willingness of so many in the West to buy into the myth that Hassan Rowhani’s election in Iran provides a meaningful opening for nuclear diplomacy isn’t so much the possibility that the U.S. will be suckered into a terrible agreement with Tehran. The Iranians have proved time and again—including during the time when it was Rowhani being the chief deceiver—that they are never going to sign any deal that will place meaningful restrictions on their ability to enrich uranium. There is even less chance that the ayatollahs will allow the West to impose a solution that will “end” Iran’s nuclear program as the president pledged to do during the foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney last fall. No matter how many concessions the United States and its European allies offer Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the answer is always going to be no to any accord.

The real problem with the idiocy being promoted by purveyors of conventional foreign policy wisdom this week is that the infatuation with Rowhani will mean the United States will play the next year of Iran policy according to Tehran’s timetable.

That’s the main advantage that Khamenei has gained by allowing a seeming opponent to assume an office that has no real power over Iran’s nuclear program, its intervention in Syria or its support for international terrorism. If President Obama is serious about waiting, as he hinted at on Charlie Rose’s show last night, to see if Rowhani’s win will portend change, that means Iran may have obtained at least another year to develop a weapon before the Americans are ready to think about doing anything to redeem the president’s pledge to stop Iran.

Last September, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu tried to wake up Obama and the rest of the world by drawing a red line across a cartoon bomb at the United Nations General Assembly to remind them of the costs of waiting until Iran had enough fuel to build a weapon. The international press mocked him, but he did put the issue on Obama’s agenda and the U.S. pledged not to let Iran run out the clock until the red line was truly crossed. That created a speeded-up timetable for American action that though amorphous in nature still made it clear that Iran’s time to make a bomb was rapidly running out. That was especially true once the latest P5+1 talks collapsed earlier this year despite the West’s offer of a new batch of concessions to Iran.

But with Rowhani, we now have a brand new timetable for Iran diplomacy that has to encourage Tehran’s embattled nuclear scientists that they have more time to keep their centrifuges spinning away than even they thought possible.

As a New York Times editorial published today helpfully points out, the first new excuse for delay is the need to wait until August when Rowhani is sworn into his new office. The Times piece, which sets new records in ingenuous belief in Rowhani’s powers, is doing nothing more than stating the new reality when it notes this means that the primary task of American diplomacy in the coming months will be to “persuade Congressional leaders and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel that it is necessary and possible to reach a credible deal with Iran.”

In other words, all efforts to ratchet up the sanctions on Iran to completely shut down their economy are now on the back burner while Obama waits for Rowhani to magically transform Iran’s policies. As for the use of force, that is, as Amos Harel writes in today’s Haaretz, completely off the table for another year at least, as Rowhani will be given leeway to prevaricate, tease and ultimately disappoint his chorus of American fans.

Given the already large stockpile of refined uranium in Iran’s possession and the nuclear test data it may still be receiving from its North Korean friends (who have already illustrated what happens when the U.S. gives diplomacy unlimited time to work when negotiating with tyrants bent on acquiring nukes), another year doesn’t just mean there is no red line for the West on Tehran’s quest. It may provide Iran with enough time to present Obama or his successor with a fait accompli that will mean it is too late to use force, let alone diplomacy or sanctions, to stop their nuclear quest.

The Rowhani timetable is a blueprint for an Iranian bomb. If the president truly wishes to keep his promises on the nuclear question, he must reject the idea that America must, as the Times seems to be indicating, start again from scratch in a diplomatic process that will end as all other attempts to talk the Iranians out of their nuclear goal have ended.

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