Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran’s government

What IS Our Iran Policy?

Hillary’s speech, as limited as it was in the discussion of Iran, as opposed to graph after graph on the unsustainability of the status quo with regard to the Palestinians, was a puzzler. Unlike the president’s mute reaction to the June 12 stolen election and the brutal aftermath, Hillary made a convincing case that, yes, the regime is a very bad actor. She pronounced:

Elements in Iran’s government have become a menace, both to their own people and in the region. Iran’s president foments anti-Semitism, denies the Holocaust, and threatens to destroy Israel. The Iranian leadership funds and arms terrorists who have murdered Americans and Israelis alike. And it has waged a campaign of intimidation and persecution against its own people. Last June, Iranians marching silently were beaten with batons; political prisoners were rounded up and abused; and absurd and false accusations were leveled against the United States, Israel, and the West. People everywhere were horrified by the video of a young woman killed in the street. The Iranian leadership is denying its people rights that are universal to all human beings — including the right to speak freely, to assemble without fear; the right to the equal administration of justice, and to express your views without facing retribution.

Fine, as far as it goes. But what are we doing about it? In his address this year for the Iranian New Year, Obama said, “The United States does not meddle in Iran’s internal affairs. Our commitment – our responsibility – is to stand up for those rights that should be universal to all human beings. That includes the right to speak freely, to assemble without fear; the right to the equal administration of justice, and to express your views without facing retribution against you or your families.” Again — no meddling, but what actions are in gear to express our horror? Moreover, there seems to be no recognition that such a regime would be immune to our entreaties. We are, as Hillary often says, “bearing witness” — taking notes and making generalized statements, but not committing ourselves to assist those being murdered and brutalized as they try and wrest their government back from the regime.

Hillary also said today: “In addition to threatening Israel, a nuclear-armed Iran would embolden its terrorist clientele and would spark an arms race that could destabilize the region. This is unacceptable. Unacceptable to the United States. Unacceptable to Israel. And unacceptable to the region and the international community. So let me be very clear: The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” As Rick noted, what is missing is the rest of the sentence: “The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons by ???” By committing ourselves to regime change? No. By imposition of crippling sanctions that were passed by the House and Senate months ago? Er, no. This is what she offers:

We are working with our partners in the United Nations on new Security Council sanctions that will show Iran’s leaders that there are real consequences for their intransigence, that the only choice is to live up to their international obligations. Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite. It is taking time to produce these sanctions, and we believe that time is a worthwhile investment for winning the broadest possible support for our efforts. But we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring these weapons.

Taking time to produce them? Well, yes, lots and lots of time. Her self-defense is this: “We took this course with the understanding that the very effort of seeking engagement would strengthen our hand if Iran rejected our initiative. And over the last year, Iran’s leaders have been stripped of their usual excuses.” But no, engagement has not in fact resulted in agreement by China and Russia to join in an international sanctions effort. There is a pathetic naïveté here as well — that what was key was the stripping the mullahs of their excuses. Well, they come up with new ones all the time, as do Russia and China, for refusing to cooperate with efforts to impose sanctions.

Once again there is an unmistakable gap between rhetoric (“Unacceptable!”) and policies designed and urgently implemented to achieve those aims. We can surmise that the Obami are either incompetent or that the rhetoric is just that — rhetoric.

Hillary’s speech, as limited as it was in the discussion of Iran, as opposed to graph after graph on the unsustainability of the status quo with regard to the Palestinians, was a puzzler. Unlike the president’s mute reaction to the June 12 stolen election and the brutal aftermath, Hillary made a convincing case that, yes, the regime is a very bad actor. She pronounced:

Elements in Iran’s government have become a menace, both to their own people and in the region. Iran’s president foments anti-Semitism, denies the Holocaust, and threatens to destroy Israel. The Iranian leadership funds and arms terrorists who have murdered Americans and Israelis alike. And it has waged a campaign of intimidation and persecution against its own people. Last June, Iranians marching silently were beaten with batons; political prisoners were rounded up and abused; and absurd and false accusations were leveled against the United States, Israel, and the West. People everywhere were horrified by the video of a young woman killed in the street. The Iranian leadership is denying its people rights that are universal to all human beings — including the right to speak freely, to assemble without fear; the right to the equal administration of justice, and to express your views without facing retribution.

Fine, as far as it goes. But what are we doing about it? In his address this year for the Iranian New Year, Obama said, “The United States does not meddle in Iran’s internal affairs. Our commitment – our responsibility – is to stand up for those rights that should be universal to all human beings. That includes the right to speak freely, to assemble without fear; the right to the equal administration of justice, and to express your views without facing retribution against you or your families.” Again — no meddling, but what actions are in gear to express our horror? Moreover, there seems to be no recognition that such a regime would be immune to our entreaties. We are, as Hillary often says, “bearing witness” — taking notes and making generalized statements, but not committing ourselves to assist those being murdered and brutalized as they try and wrest their government back from the regime.

Hillary also said today: “In addition to threatening Israel, a nuclear-armed Iran would embolden its terrorist clientele and would spark an arms race that could destabilize the region. This is unacceptable. Unacceptable to the United States. Unacceptable to Israel. And unacceptable to the region and the international community. So let me be very clear: The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” As Rick noted, what is missing is the rest of the sentence: “The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons by ???” By committing ourselves to regime change? No. By imposition of crippling sanctions that were passed by the House and Senate months ago? Er, no. This is what she offers:

We are working with our partners in the United Nations on new Security Council sanctions that will show Iran’s leaders that there are real consequences for their intransigence, that the only choice is to live up to their international obligations. Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite. It is taking time to produce these sanctions, and we believe that time is a worthwhile investment for winning the broadest possible support for our efforts. But we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring these weapons.

Taking time to produce them? Well, yes, lots and lots of time. Her self-defense is this: “We took this course with the understanding that the very effort of seeking engagement would strengthen our hand if Iran rejected our initiative. And over the last year, Iran’s leaders have been stripped of their usual excuses.” But no, engagement has not in fact resulted in agreement by China and Russia to join in an international sanctions effort. There is a pathetic naïveté here as well — that what was key was the stripping the mullahs of their excuses. Well, they come up with new ones all the time, as do Russia and China, for refusing to cooperate with efforts to impose sanctions.

Once again there is an unmistakable gap between rhetoric (“Unacceptable!”) and policies designed and urgently implemented to achieve those aims. We can surmise that the Obami are either incompetent or that the rhetoric is just that — rhetoric.

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Iran to the UN Human Rights Council?!

You think the UN can’t become more of a farce? You think the Obami can’t look any sillier for showing deference to the three-ring circus, most particularly the UN Human Rights Council? Think again. Claudia Rosett tells us:

While Iran’s regime bloodies its dissidents, the nuclear weapons-loving mullahs are seeking a treat for themselves at the United Nations: Iran is running for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Utterly perverse though it would be, Iran might snag that prize. The 47 seats on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council are parceled out among regional groups of UN member states. This year the Asian bloc has four seats opening up. Five contenders have stepped forward: Malaysia, Maldives, Qatar, Thailand—and Iran.

Why, how special that would be! As Rosett observes, “If Iran’s government wins a seat on this council, it would send a horrifying message to Iranian dissidents. They have been enduring mass arrests, beatings and murders in their quest for genuine human rights inside Iran.” And one can only imagine the new stream of Israel-bashing and anti-American venom that would spew forth should Tehran capture a seat.

But this is what comes from extending recognition to a murderous regime—one must then accept it as the legitimate representative of a member of the “international community.” And when one combines that with the fiction that the UN Human Rights Council is actually about human rights, then one winds up in the perverse world in which Ahmadinejad gets to pronounce on human rights and introduce all manner of resolutions that almost certainly will not be aimed at regimes that steal away protesters in the middle of the night, or at those those nations that turn a blind eye to honor killings, but rather to Israel, of course.

This development—indeed the potential of this ever coming to pass—should remind us how inept and foolhardy has been Obama’s engagement policy as well as his decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council. Rosett notes that on February 15, a report detailing Iran’s atrocities will come before the Council along with the mullahs’ own “Orwellian” report “claiming metiulous respect for human rights, as redefined by Tehran’s lights—arguing that because ‘the system of government in Iran is based on principles of Islam, it is necessary that Islamic standards and criteria prevail in society.'” It is a preview of things to come.

And from the Obami, can we expect robust opposition to Iran’s membership, a principled walk-out should Iran secure its seat, and a re-statement of our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon? No, no! That would only send the democracy protesters rushing into the arms of the regime and fritter away all the goodwill we have racked up (doing nothing to aid them), don’t you see? Welcome to the Alice-in-Wonderland diplomacy of the Obami. Feel safer yet?

You think the UN can’t become more of a farce? You think the Obami can’t look any sillier for showing deference to the three-ring circus, most particularly the UN Human Rights Council? Think again. Claudia Rosett tells us:

While Iran’s regime bloodies its dissidents, the nuclear weapons-loving mullahs are seeking a treat for themselves at the United Nations: Iran is running for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Utterly perverse though it would be, Iran might snag that prize. The 47 seats on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council are parceled out among regional groups of UN member states. This year the Asian bloc has four seats opening up. Five contenders have stepped forward: Malaysia, Maldives, Qatar, Thailand—and Iran.

Why, how special that would be! As Rosett observes, “If Iran’s government wins a seat on this council, it would send a horrifying message to Iranian dissidents. They have been enduring mass arrests, beatings and murders in their quest for genuine human rights inside Iran.” And one can only imagine the new stream of Israel-bashing and anti-American venom that would spew forth should Tehran capture a seat.

But this is what comes from extending recognition to a murderous regime—one must then accept it as the legitimate representative of a member of the “international community.” And when one combines that with the fiction that the UN Human Rights Council is actually about human rights, then one winds up in the perverse world in which Ahmadinejad gets to pronounce on human rights and introduce all manner of resolutions that almost certainly will not be aimed at regimes that steal away protesters in the middle of the night, or at those those nations that turn a blind eye to honor killings, but rather to Israel, of course.

This development—indeed the potential of this ever coming to pass—should remind us how inept and foolhardy has been Obama’s engagement policy as well as his decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council. Rosett notes that on February 15, a report detailing Iran’s atrocities will come before the Council along with the mullahs’ own “Orwellian” report “claiming metiulous respect for human rights, as redefined by Tehran’s lights—arguing that because ‘the system of government in Iran is based on principles of Islam, it is necessary that Islamic standards and criteria prevail in society.'” It is a preview of things to come.

And from the Obami, can we expect robust opposition to Iran’s membership, a principled walk-out should Iran secure its seat, and a re-statement of our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon? No, no! That would only send the democracy protesters rushing into the arms of the regime and fritter away all the goodwill we have racked up (doing nothing to aid them), don’t you see? Welcome to the Alice-in-Wonderland diplomacy of the Obami. Feel safer yet?

Read Less

Re: This Would Certainly Be Hope ‘N Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

The Policy of Condolence Cards

The death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali and the ensuing enormous public demonstrations in Iran raise once again a troubling question about the incoherence of Obama’s Iran policy. Gerald Seib, ever so mildly, raises the issue:

Thus, the chance that Ayatollah Montazeri may take on in death an opposition role greater than the one he was playing in the final weeks of life. Odds are equally good that Mr. Ahmadinejad will try, perhaps brutally, to suppress that impulse. In either case, the developments pose a new test for President Barack Obama. He continues to try to deal with the Iranian regime while showing sympathy for the opposition movement that wants to be rid of it. That balancing act will get tougher as the U.S. moves next month toward more economic sanctions against Iran’s government to protest its nuclear program.

Translation: it’s hard to square Obama’s heartfelt words six months after the June 12 election with his consistent pattern of undermining the protesters and engaging — that is, bestowing legitimacy upon — their jailers.

The editors of Seib’s paper are more direct:

The foundation stones of Iran’s Islamic Republic were shaken again yesterday, showing that the largest antigovernment movement in its 30 years may be one of the biggest stories of next year as well. Now imagine the possibilities if the Obama Administration began to support Iran’s democrats. … Throughout this turbulent year in Iran, the White House has been behind the democratic curve. When the demonstrations started, Mr. Obama abdicated his moral authority by refusing to take sides, while pushing ahead with plans to negotiate a grand diplomatic bargain with Mr. Ahmadinejad that trades recognition for suspending the nuclear program.

So what are we doing? We’ve sent condolences to “Montazeri’s friends and family, which is what passes for democratic daring in this Administration.” But the administration still holds out hope that we can get the regime back to the bargaining table, if only they’d take us seriously. The obvious way to square Obama’s supposed concern for the democracy advocates and his alleged determination to halt Iran’s nuclear program would be to assist the Iranian people in obtaining a new government for themselves. So perhaps neither goal is really high on the Obami’s priority list. Perhaps they simply intend to “manage” the situation and will try to “deter” the rabid revolutionary regime. It seems unimaginable — except that it explains all their policy choices and rhetoric to date.

For now, we have a policy resting on insincerity and feebleness. The mullahs will act accordingly.

The death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali and the ensuing enormous public demonstrations in Iran raise once again a troubling question about the incoherence of Obama’s Iran policy. Gerald Seib, ever so mildly, raises the issue:

Thus, the chance that Ayatollah Montazeri may take on in death an opposition role greater than the one he was playing in the final weeks of life. Odds are equally good that Mr. Ahmadinejad will try, perhaps brutally, to suppress that impulse. In either case, the developments pose a new test for President Barack Obama. He continues to try to deal with the Iranian regime while showing sympathy for the opposition movement that wants to be rid of it. That balancing act will get tougher as the U.S. moves next month toward more economic sanctions against Iran’s government to protest its nuclear program.

Translation: it’s hard to square Obama’s heartfelt words six months after the June 12 election with his consistent pattern of undermining the protesters and engaging — that is, bestowing legitimacy upon — their jailers.

The editors of Seib’s paper are more direct:

The foundation stones of Iran’s Islamic Republic were shaken again yesterday, showing that the largest antigovernment movement in its 30 years may be one of the biggest stories of next year as well. Now imagine the possibilities if the Obama Administration began to support Iran’s democrats. … Throughout this turbulent year in Iran, the White House has been behind the democratic curve. When the demonstrations started, Mr. Obama abdicated his moral authority by refusing to take sides, while pushing ahead with plans to negotiate a grand diplomatic bargain with Mr. Ahmadinejad that trades recognition for suspending the nuclear program.

So what are we doing? We’ve sent condolences to “Montazeri’s friends and family, which is what passes for democratic daring in this Administration.” But the administration still holds out hope that we can get the regime back to the bargaining table, if only they’d take us seriously. The obvious way to square Obama’s supposed concern for the democracy advocates and his alleged determination to halt Iran’s nuclear program would be to assist the Iranian people in obtaining a new government for themselves. So perhaps neither goal is really high on the Obami’s priority list. Perhaps they simply intend to “manage” the situation and will try to “deter” the rabid revolutionary regime. It seems unimaginable — except that it explains all their policy choices and rhetoric to date.

For now, we have a policy resting on insincerity and feebleness. The mullahs will act accordingly.

Read Less




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