Commentary Magazine


Topic: Moscow

The Unintended Consequences of a Unilateral Declaration of Statehood for Palestine

Anyone taking seriously the Palestinians’ current diplomatic offensive against Israel — by way of a UN resolution on settlements and international recognition of Palestine as an independent state — should think again. In a must-read piece in the New York Review of Books, Robert Malley and Hussein Agha offer a unique insight into Palestinian thinking. Their bottom line:

“In the hope of alarming Israelis, some Palestinians toy with options they haven’t seriously considered, don’t believe in, or cannot implement. … It’s a curious list: unilaterally declaring statehood, obtaining UN recognition, dissolving the PA, or walking away from the idea of negotiated partition altogether and calling for a single, binational state. Not one of these ideas has been well thought out, debated, or genuinely considered as a strategic choice, which, of course, is not their point. They are essentially attempts to show that Palestinians have alternatives to negotiation with Israel even as the proposals’ lack of seriousness demonstrably establishes that they currently have none.”

Palestinian diplomats quietly explain that even if the PA eventually declares independence unilaterally, it does not aspire to go beyond the rhetoric of the declaration and the whirlwind of diplomatic recognition they anticipate will follow. They think such a step might put them in a better position to negotiate with Israel on the outstanding issues that remain unsolved without realizing that such a dramatic step — taken from Ramallah by the PA rather than from Algiers by the PLO as happened 23 years ago — may trigger far worse consequences this time.

Israel might take unilateral actions to respond, which would expose the inadequacy of Palestinian proclamations and further reduce for the future the space available for a Palestinian sovereign entity. Israel could easily show the hollowness of such a declaration by challenging the PA to establish sovereignty for real — and Palestinians have no intentions, let alone a plan, to even begin doing so at border crossings, checkpoints, on the airwaves, in their airspace, on their shores, and in many other areas where independence may be affirmed (controversially, one may add, in the absence of agreement with Israel) by the exercise of sovereign attributes. Read More

Anyone taking seriously the Palestinians’ current diplomatic offensive against Israel — by way of a UN resolution on settlements and international recognition of Palestine as an independent state — should think again. In a must-read piece in the New York Review of Books, Robert Malley and Hussein Agha offer a unique insight into Palestinian thinking. Their bottom line:

“In the hope of alarming Israelis, some Palestinians toy with options they haven’t seriously considered, don’t believe in, or cannot implement. … It’s a curious list: unilaterally declaring statehood, obtaining UN recognition, dissolving the PA, or walking away from the idea of negotiated partition altogether and calling for a single, binational state. Not one of these ideas has been well thought out, debated, or genuinely considered as a strategic choice, which, of course, is not their point. They are essentially attempts to show that Palestinians have alternatives to negotiation with Israel even as the proposals’ lack of seriousness demonstrably establishes that they currently have none.”

Palestinian diplomats quietly explain that even if the PA eventually declares independence unilaterally, it does not aspire to go beyond the rhetoric of the declaration and the whirlwind of diplomatic recognition they anticipate will follow. They think such a step might put them in a better position to negotiate with Israel on the outstanding issues that remain unsolved without realizing that such a dramatic step — taken from Ramallah by the PA rather than from Algiers by the PLO as happened 23 years ago — may trigger far worse consequences this time.

Israel might take unilateral actions to respond, which would expose the inadequacy of Palestinian proclamations and further reduce for the future the space available for a Palestinian sovereign entity. Israel could easily show the hollowness of such a declaration by challenging the PA to establish sovereignty for real — and Palestinians have no intentions, let alone a plan, to even begin doing so at border crossings, checkpoints, on the airwaves, in their airspace, on their shores, and in many other areas where independence may be affirmed (controversially, one may add, in the absence of agreement with Israel) by the exercise of sovereign attributes.

The Arab world — already under pressure on account of developments in Tunisia and uncertain succession challenges from Egypt to Saudi Arabia — might only act in so far as their actions will safeguard the regimes. As usual, their support will be rhetorical — with some diplomatic backing here and there — but hardly decisive. There may be some pledges of cash; whether the money comes is a different, and altogether sadly familiar, story.

Meanwhile, rejectionists in Gaza, Damascus, and Tehran will probably see this development as an opportunity — to wreak havoc, to fan the flames of conflict, to corner the PA for its acquiescence to Israel, and to establish themselves once and for all as the authentic standard bearers of the Palestinian cause.

Clearly, then, the only way forward seems to be the old one and the one that Palestinians currently avoid — direct negotiations with Israel to solve all outstanding issues. Instead, the PA and its diplomatic apparatus pursues the beaten path of failure — change the international balance in your favor so as to weaken your opponent’s negotiating ability, in the hope that this strategy will obviate the need for direct talks. Hence the quest for a UN resolution on settlements — to get the UN, not direct negotiations, to solve borders and territory.

Palestinians are woefully unprepared to handle both the likely consequences of a unilateral declaration and the Israeli response — not to mention the practical implications of independence. They also fail to see that all the successful diplomacy in the world will not undo what history did since 1947 to their ambitions.

What they want, in other words, is sovereignty without responsibility — a goal that reveals their game.

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley may not see it this way, of course, but their exposure of how hollow and unserious the current PA strategy is does a great service to those who are considering support for either Palestinian unilateral independence or, for that matter, the current Palestinian effort to get the UN Security Council to condemn settlements.

Settlements will not go away with a UN resolution. Palestine will not be independent just because its president said so and many heads of state around the world upgraded Palestinian missions to embassy status in La Paz, Santiago, or even Moscow.

Only direct talks will achieve this — with a full appreciation that history cannot be undone, no matter how unfair it may look to you.

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Kissinger and the Moral Bankruptcy of Détente

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

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Turns Out Russia Is Still Russia

You can’t “reset” diplomacy in a diplomatic ghost town. Here’s the New York Times on newly leaked cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow: “The Kremlin displays scant ability or inclination to reform what one cable characterized as a ‘modern brand of authoritarianism’ accepted with resignation by the ruled,” reports C.J. Chivers. “Moreover, the cables reveal the limits of American influence within Russia and an evident dearth of diplomatic sources. The internal correspondence repeatedly reflected the analyses of an embassy whose staff was narrowly contained and had almost no access to Mr. Putin’s inner circle.”

Also exploded is the appealing notion that President Dmitry Medvedev either wields genuine presidential power greater than Putin’s or represents some new, reform-minded Kremlin. “The cables portray Mr. Putin as enjoying supremacy over all other Russian public figures,” and “Mr. Medvedev, the prime minister’s understudy, is the lesser part of a strange ‘tandemocracy’ and ‘plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.’”

So we’ve been hanging our hopes on the boy wonder. In June, Barack Obama praised Medvedev’s “vision for modernization in Russia, especially high-tech innovation as a personal passion of the president.” But the Times notes that “a veritable kaleidoscope of corruption thrived in Moscow, much of it under the protection of a mayor who served at the president’s pleasure.” Chivers writes that “Western businesses sometimes managed to pursue their interests by personally engaging senior Russian officials, including President Medvedev, rather than getting lost in bureaucratic channels.”

That bureaucratic labyrinth is apparently reserved for American diplomats. Meanwhile, liberals rage on about the urgent need to ratify New START so that our helpful Russian partners don’t lose faith in us.

The WikiLeaks fiasco continues to demonstrate the foreign policy naiveté of the Obama administration and confirm the suspicions of conservative critics. Yesterday, in Tablet, Lee Smith detailed eight points on which the “Wikileaks cable dump vindicates the right,” regarding Middle East policy. Today we’re seeing more evidence of this unfortunate vindication in areas beyond. It’s not that this whole episode compromises our standing around the world; rather, it reveals the ways in which we’ve been doing that all by ourselves for two years.

You can’t “reset” diplomacy in a diplomatic ghost town. Here’s the New York Times on newly leaked cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow: “The Kremlin displays scant ability or inclination to reform what one cable characterized as a ‘modern brand of authoritarianism’ accepted with resignation by the ruled,” reports C.J. Chivers. “Moreover, the cables reveal the limits of American influence within Russia and an evident dearth of diplomatic sources. The internal correspondence repeatedly reflected the analyses of an embassy whose staff was narrowly contained and had almost no access to Mr. Putin’s inner circle.”

Also exploded is the appealing notion that President Dmitry Medvedev either wields genuine presidential power greater than Putin’s or represents some new, reform-minded Kremlin. “The cables portray Mr. Putin as enjoying supremacy over all other Russian public figures,” and “Mr. Medvedev, the prime minister’s understudy, is the lesser part of a strange ‘tandemocracy’ and ‘plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.’”

So we’ve been hanging our hopes on the boy wonder. In June, Barack Obama praised Medvedev’s “vision for modernization in Russia, especially high-tech innovation as a personal passion of the president.” But the Times notes that “a veritable kaleidoscope of corruption thrived in Moscow, much of it under the protection of a mayor who served at the president’s pleasure.” Chivers writes that “Western businesses sometimes managed to pursue their interests by personally engaging senior Russian officials, including President Medvedev, rather than getting lost in bureaucratic channels.”

That bureaucratic labyrinth is apparently reserved for American diplomats. Meanwhile, liberals rage on about the urgent need to ratify New START so that our helpful Russian partners don’t lose faith in us.

The WikiLeaks fiasco continues to demonstrate the foreign policy naiveté of the Obama administration and confirm the suspicions of conservative critics. Yesterday, in Tablet, Lee Smith detailed eight points on which the “Wikileaks cable dump vindicates the right,” regarding Middle East policy. Today we’re seeing more evidence of this unfortunate vindication in areas beyond. It’s not that this whole episode compromises our standing around the world; rather, it reveals the ways in which we’ve been doing that all by ourselves for two years.

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Dems Try to Muscle Jews into Backing Russian Treaty

The call by Democratic senators Chuck Schumer and Carl Levin for AIPAC to back passage of the stalled START treaty with Russia speaks volumes about the growing desperation of both the White House and its Senate allies.

The administration is reportedly going all-out to push Jewish groups to lobby for the treaty, but it is unlikely that AIPAC will succumb to the pressure. The group has been scrupulous about sticking to its agenda of working only on behalf of Israel-related issues, a policy that keeps it strictly neutral on arms control measures like START. Nevertheless, Schumer and Levin claim that friends of Israel are obligated to back a measure that is key to Obama’s “reset” of relations with Russia because it is the price the United States must pay to keep the Medvedev/Putin regime on board with the effort to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capacity.

That’s an argument that the liberal-leaning Anti-Defamation League as well as Obama’s cheering section at the National Jewish Democratic Council and J Street have accepted, though the latter group seems to be backing it more out of a knee-jerk reaction to any appeasement measure rather than concern about Iranian nukes. But this selling point is based on a false assumption about both Russia’s intentions and its interests.

While the need to build an anti-Iranian coalition is something all friends of Israel care about, it is far from clear that Obama’s impulse to sacrifice America’s own defense interests in the cause of making the authoritarian regime in Moscow more comfortable is something that will tangibly impact the ability of the international community to confront Tehran. The Russians have exacted a high price from Obama for their half-hearted support for tepid sanctions on Iran that are clearly inadequate to the task, even though it is obviously just as much in their interest to stop Tehran as it is in the rest of the international community’s.

Moreover, once we strip away the talk about this treaty’s being essential to Iran policy, it is easy to see that its passage has more to do with Obama’s fetish about arms control agreements than anything else, and it is on the merits of that issue alone that this issue should be decided.

As for Jewish groups that might be tempted to wade in on START, they also need to understand that the push to pass the treaty before the end of the year in Congress’s lame duck session smacks of the sort of partisanship that groups like AIPAC and the ADL ought to avoid. While Jewish Democrats are fond of castigating the GOP for attempting to win votes by comparing its record on Israel to that of the Democrats, what’s going on here is a far more blatant instance of Jewish groups carrying the water for one side of the political aisle. The Senate ought to wait until January, when newly elected members are seated and will have a chance to consider this treaty. And Jewish and pro-Israel organizations should stay out of a fight that has everything to do with the Obama administration’s foreign policy obsessions and little to do with the defense of Israel.

The call by Democratic senators Chuck Schumer and Carl Levin for AIPAC to back passage of the stalled START treaty with Russia speaks volumes about the growing desperation of both the White House and its Senate allies.

The administration is reportedly going all-out to push Jewish groups to lobby for the treaty, but it is unlikely that AIPAC will succumb to the pressure. The group has been scrupulous about sticking to its agenda of working only on behalf of Israel-related issues, a policy that keeps it strictly neutral on arms control measures like START. Nevertheless, Schumer and Levin claim that friends of Israel are obligated to back a measure that is key to Obama’s “reset” of relations with Russia because it is the price the United States must pay to keep the Medvedev/Putin regime on board with the effort to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capacity.

That’s an argument that the liberal-leaning Anti-Defamation League as well as Obama’s cheering section at the National Jewish Democratic Council and J Street have accepted, though the latter group seems to be backing it more out of a knee-jerk reaction to any appeasement measure rather than concern about Iranian nukes. But this selling point is based on a false assumption about both Russia’s intentions and its interests.

While the need to build an anti-Iranian coalition is something all friends of Israel care about, it is far from clear that Obama’s impulse to sacrifice America’s own defense interests in the cause of making the authoritarian regime in Moscow more comfortable is something that will tangibly impact the ability of the international community to confront Tehran. The Russians have exacted a high price from Obama for their half-hearted support for tepid sanctions on Iran that are clearly inadequate to the task, even though it is obviously just as much in their interest to stop Tehran as it is in the rest of the international community’s.

Moreover, once we strip away the talk about this treaty’s being essential to Iran policy, it is easy to see that its passage has more to do with Obama’s fetish about arms control agreements than anything else, and it is on the merits of that issue alone that this issue should be decided.

As for Jewish groups that might be tempted to wade in on START, they also need to understand that the push to pass the treaty before the end of the year in Congress’s lame duck session smacks of the sort of partisanship that groups like AIPAC and the ADL ought to avoid. While Jewish Democrats are fond of castigating the GOP for attempting to win votes by comparing its record on Israel to that of the Democrats, what’s going on here is a far more blatant instance of Jewish groups carrying the water for one side of the political aisle. The Senate ought to wait until January, when newly elected members are seated and will have a chance to consider this treaty. And Jewish and pro-Israel organizations should stay out of a fight that has everything to do with the Obama administration’s foreign policy obsessions and little to do with the defense of Israel.

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Reason to Slow Down START

Sen. Jon Kyl is enjoying an “I told you so” moment. He’s been trying to slow the rush to a New START ratification vote, pleading that additional time is needed to explore serious concerns about the treaty’s implications. And now we learn:

The U.S. believes Russia has moved short-range tactical nuclear warheads to facilities near North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies as recently as this spring, U.S. officials say, adding to questions in Congress about Russian compliance with long-standing pledges ahead of a possible vote on a new arms-control treaty.

U.S. officials say the movement of warheads to facilities bordering NATO allies appeared to run counter to pledges made by Moscow starting in 1991 to pull tactical nuclear weapons back from frontier posts and to reduce their numbers. The U.S. has long voiced concerns about Russia’s lack of transparency when it comes to its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, believed to be many times the number possessed by the U.S.

Russia’s movement of the ground-based tactical weapons appeared to coincide with the deployment of U.S. and NATO missile-defense installations in countries bordering Russia. Moscow has long considered the U.S. missile defense buildup in Europe a challenge to Russian power, underlining deep-seated mistrust between U.S. and Russian armed forces despite improved relations between political leaders.

In short, Russia isn’t living up to its existing obligations, and there is nothing in New START to deal with tactical weapons. Moreover, this confirms what many conservative critics have long suspected, namely that reset is a one-way street. In order to keep up the facade of improved relations, the Obama team is forced to ignore serious challenges to the U.S. and its allies:

U.S. officials believe the most recent movements of Russian tactical nuclear weapons took place in late spring. In late May, a U.S. Patriot missile battery was deployed in northern Poland, close to Kaliningrad, sparking public protests from Moscow.

Some officials said the movements are a concern but sought to play down the threat. Russian nuclear warheads are stored separately from their launching systems, U.S. officials say.

Maybe it’s time for some serious oversight hearings. At the very least, the senators should resist being hurried to vote on a treaty before they understand the true state of U.S.-Russian relations.

Sen. Jon Kyl is enjoying an “I told you so” moment. He’s been trying to slow the rush to a New START ratification vote, pleading that additional time is needed to explore serious concerns about the treaty’s implications. And now we learn:

The U.S. believes Russia has moved short-range tactical nuclear warheads to facilities near North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies as recently as this spring, U.S. officials say, adding to questions in Congress about Russian compliance with long-standing pledges ahead of a possible vote on a new arms-control treaty.

U.S. officials say the movement of warheads to facilities bordering NATO allies appeared to run counter to pledges made by Moscow starting in 1991 to pull tactical nuclear weapons back from frontier posts and to reduce their numbers. The U.S. has long voiced concerns about Russia’s lack of transparency when it comes to its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, believed to be many times the number possessed by the U.S.

Russia’s movement of the ground-based tactical weapons appeared to coincide with the deployment of U.S. and NATO missile-defense installations in countries bordering Russia. Moscow has long considered the U.S. missile defense buildup in Europe a challenge to Russian power, underlining deep-seated mistrust between U.S. and Russian armed forces despite improved relations between political leaders.

In short, Russia isn’t living up to its existing obligations, and there is nothing in New START to deal with tactical weapons. Moreover, this confirms what many conservative critics have long suspected, namely that reset is a one-way street. In order to keep up the facade of improved relations, the Obama team is forced to ignore serious challenges to the U.S. and its allies:

U.S. officials believe the most recent movements of Russian tactical nuclear weapons took place in late spring. In late May, a U.S. Patriot missile battery was deployed in northern Poland, close to Kaliningrad, sparking public protests from Moscow.

Some officials said the movements are a concern but sought to play down the threat. Russian nuclear warheads are stored separately from their launching systems, U.S. officials say.

Maybe it’s time for some serious oversight hearings. At the very least, the senators should resist being hurried to vote on a treaty before they understand the true state of U.S.-Russian relations.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

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The Administration’s Incoherence on Iran

The comments of our top national security officials on the topic of Iran are becoming alarmingly incoherent. A case in point comes from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. He cautions that the mullahs are liars:

Asked whether he believed Tehran’s vows that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, Mullen said: “I don’t believe it for a second.”

“In fact, the information and intelligence that I’ve seen speak very specifically to the contrary,” he said.

“Iran is still very much on a path to be able to develop nuclear weapons, including weaponizing them, putting them on a missile and being able to use them.”

Yet what does Mullen propose we do? Well, we should talk to them. But we have to be realistic, because the Iranian regime can’t be trusted:

“I still think it’s important we focus on the dialogue, we focus on the engagement, but also do it in a realistic way that looks at whether Iran is actually going to tell the truth, actually engage and actually do anything.”

But didn’t he say that we know they aren’t telling the truth? You can see why Iran’s Arab neighbors are petrified that there is no “plan B” for stopping the Iranian regime. Or, as one of the WikiLeaks cables (highlighted by a frequent reader) explains:

On July 15, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (MBZ) and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan (ABZ) for a dinner covering a range of regional issues.  MBZ expressed serious concern over Iran’s regional intentions and pleaded for the U.S. to shorten its decision-making timeline and develop a “plan B.” He encouraged the U.S. to clearly communicate “red lines” to the Iranian Government, on nuclear and regional stability issues, with direct consequences for transgressions. He painted to a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the UAE and invoked the well being of his grandchildren while urging the U.S. to act quickly. MBZ asked for close coordination between the U.S. and UAE to deal with the Iranian threat.

If Iran has military capabilities far beyond what we imagined (“The cables … reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles”), the Arab states are supportive of military action, and we know the mullahs are professional deceivers, why in the world are we still babbling about engagement? I honestly don’t know. Members of Congress should find out — before a national security failure of unprecedented dimensions occurs. It would be on Obama’s watch — but on the lawmakers’ as well. And it will be a disaster for the savvy and the dull-witted alike.

The comments of our top national security officials on the topic of Iran are becoming alarmingly incoherent. A case in point comes from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. He cautions that the mullahs are liars:

Asked whether he believed Tehran’s vows that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, Mullen said: “I don’t believe it for a second.”

“In fact, the information and intelligence that I’ve seen speak very specifically to the contrary,” he said.

“Iran is still very much on a path to be able to develop nuclear weapons, including weaponizing them, putting them on a missile and being able to use them.”

Yet what does Mullen propose we do? Well, we should talk to them. But we have to be realistic, because the Iranian regime can’t be trusted:

“I still think it’s important we focus on the dialogue, we focus on the engagement, but also do it in a realistic way that looks at whether Iran is actually going to tell the truth, actually engage and actually do anything.”

But didn’t he say that we know they aren’t telling the truth? You can see why Iran’s Arab neighbors are petrified that there is no “plan B” for stopping the Iranian regime. Or, as one of the WikiLeaks cables (highlighted by a frequent reader) explains:

On July 15, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (MBZ) and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan (ABZ) for a dinner covering a range of regional issues.  MBZ expressed serious concern over Iran’s regional intentions and pleaded for the U.S. to shorten its decision-making timeline and develop a “plan B.” He encouraged the U.S. to clearly communicate “red lines” to the Iranian Government, on nuclear and regional stability issues, with direct consequences for transgressions. He painted to a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the UAE and invoked the well being of his grandchildren while urging the U.S. to act quickly. MBZ asked for close coordination between the U.S. and UAE to deal with the Iranian threat.

If Iran has military capabilities far beyond what we imagined (“The cables … reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles”), the Arab states are supportive of military action, and we know the mullahs are professional deceivers, why in the world are we still babbling about engagement? I honestly don’t know. Members of Congress should find out — before a national security failure of unprecedented dimensions occurs. It would be on Obama’s watch — but on the lawmakers’ as well. And it will be a disaster for the savvy and the dull-witted alike.

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START Stopped in Its Tracks?

Eli Lake reports:

A second leading Republican is opposing Senate ratification of the New START treaty based on classified intelligence that the arms pact cannot be verified and that Moscow is manipulating the treaty to prevent the U.S. from expanding missile defenses.

“New START suffers from fundamental flaws that no amount of tinkering around the edges can fix. I believe the better course for our nation, and for global stability, is to put this treaty aside and replace it with a better one,” Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, said in a little-noticed floor statement last week.

Bond identifies a number of substantive concerns that the administration has not allayed:

Key intelligence assessments and testimony from analysts on the U.S. ability to monitor compliance with the treaty has left “no doubt in my mind that the United States cannot reliably verify the treaty’s 1,550 limit on deployed warheads,” Mr. Bond said. For example, the 10 annual warhead inspections in Russia will limit checks to 2 percent to 3 percent of the Russian strategic forces, he said.

Additionally, all missiles can be armed with unlimited numbers of warheads. “So even if the Russians fully cooperated in every inspection, these inspections cannot provide conclusive evidence of whether the Russians are complying with the warhead limit,” he said.

Also, the treaty provides no limits on the number of warheads Russia can place on a missile it is testing. “The Russians could deploy a missile with only one warhead, but legally flight-test it with six warheads to gain confidence in the increased capability — a practice they could not employ under the original START,” Mr. Bond said. …

Mr. Bond also dismissed administration assertions that the treaty will not limit U.S. missile defenses. He noted that Russia’s nonbinding statement that any expansion of U.S. missile defenses would lead to Moscow’s withdrawal is “manipulation” of U.S. defense policy designed to prevent building defenses.

Given this, and the certainty that other Republicans share the concern, why is the administration trying to jam a vote now? Perhaps there simply aren’t sufficient answers to the concerns Bond has raised and the administration would just as soon attribute the treaty’s defeat to GOP “intransigence” than to their own negotiating skills.

But what of the argument that without New START, we won’t have a verification system in place? Go get a better treaty, Republicans would respond. That’s no easy order, especially for an administration that contorts itself to avoid stressing its new relationship with the Russians. In sum, Obama negotiated a not-very-good treaty and now can’t get it through the Senate. Sort of a mess, isn’t it? Welcome to the Obama foreign policy brain trust.

Eli Lake reports:

A second leading Republican is opposing Senate ratification of the New START treaty based on classified intelligence that the arms pact cannot be verified and that Moscow is manipulating the treaty to prevent the U.S. from expanding missile defenses.

“New START suffers from fundamental flaws that no amount of tinkering around the edges can fix. I believe the better course for our nation, and for global stability, is to put this treaty aside and replace it with a better one,” Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, said in a little-noticed floor statement last week.

Bond identifies a number of substantive concerns that the administration has not allayed:

Key intelligence assessments and testimony from analysts on the U.S. ability to monitor compliance with the treaty has left “no doubt in my mind that the United States cannot reliably verify the treaty’s 1,550 limit on deployed warheads,” Mr. Bond said. For example, the 10 annual warhead inspections in Russia will limit checks to 2 percent to 3 percent of the Russian strategic forces, he said.

Additionally, all missiles can be armed with unlimited numbers of warheads. “So even if the Russians fully cooperated in every inspection, these inspections cannot provide conclusive evidence of whether the Russians are complying with the warhead limit,” he said.

Also, the treaty provides no limits on the number of warheads Russia can place on a missile it is testing. “The Russians could deploy a missile with only one warhead, but legally flight-test it with six warheads to gain confidence in the increased capability — a practice they could not employ under the original START,” Mr. Bond said. …

Mr. Bond also dismissed administration assertions that the treaty will not limit U.S. missile defenses. He noted that Russia’s nonbinding statement that any expansion of U.S. missile defenses would lead to Moscow’s withdrawal is “manipulation” of U.S. defense policy designed to prevent building defenses.

Given this, and the certainty that other Republicans share the concern, why is the administration trying to jam a vote now? Perhaps there simply aren’t sufficient answers to the concerns Bond has raised and the administration would just as soon attribute the treaty’s defeat to GOP “intransigence” than to their own negotiating skills.

But what of the argument that without New START, we won’t have a verification system in place? Go get a better treaty, Republicans would respond. That’s no easy order, especially for an administration that contorts itself to avoid stressing its new relationship with the Russians. In sum, Obama negotiated a not-very-good treaty and now can’t get it through the Senate. Sort of a mess, isn’t it? Welcome to the Obama foreign policy brain trust.

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Russian Impunity, Obama’s Indifference

Last week, Boris Nemtsov spoke to the Foreign Policy Initiative conference on the state of human rights in Russia and the need for the U.S. to step up to the plate. Now we hear:

Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was assaulted but uninjured by a group of thugs at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport earlier today. Nemtsov was returning from a trip to the United States during which he called for U.S. congressional action imposing penalties on Russian officials responsible for corruption and human rights abuses. Speaking at the Foreign Policy Initiative’s 2010 Forum earlier this week, Mr. Nemtsov discussed Russian Prime Minister Putin’s continuing control over much of the country’s policies and specifically called for Vladislav Surkov, a top Kremlin official, to be placed on a “black list and have no chance to get [a] visa to the States.” Nemtsov said that Surkov is “responsible for censorship. He’s responsible for canceling elections. He’s responsible for [an] atmosphere of hatred.” Nemtsov called it “a pity and very sad” that Surkov is the co-chairman, with National Security Council official Michael McFaul, of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Civil Society Working Group. Mr. Nemtsov called the commission, one of President Obama’s initiatives under his “reset” policy toward Russia, a “bad joke.”

There could be no better example of the impunity that despotic thugs — and their henchmen — enjoy than this incident. Nemtsov related to Eli Lake the lack of concern, or even interest, that Obama displayed when presented with a human rights report. Nemtsov and his Russian adversaries are in agreement on one thing: there really is no incentive for Russia to democratize and to improve its shabby human rights record. At least not as long as the current administration demonstrates it will do virtually anything — and turn a blind eye toward anything — to preserve “reset.” (If the Russians were cagey enough, they’d ask for 20 F-35s.)

Last week, Boris Nemtsov spoke to the Foreign Policy Initiative conference on the state of human rights in Russia and the need for the U.S. to step up to the plate. Now we hear:

Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was assaulted but uninjured by a group of thugs at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport earlier today. Nemtsov was returning from a trip to the United States during which he called for U.S. congressional action imposing penalties on Russian officials responsible for corruption and human rights abuses. Speaking at the Foreign Policy Initiative’s 2010 Forum earlier this week, Mr. Nemtsov discussed Russian Prime Minister Putin’s continuing control over much of the country’s policies and specifically called for Vladislav Surkov, a top Kremlin official, to be placed on a “black list and have no chance to get [a] visa to the States.” Nemtsov said that Surkov is “responsible for censorship. He’s responsible for canceling elections. He’s responsible for [an] atmosphere of hatred.” Nemtsov called it “a pity and very sad” that Surkov is the co-chairman, with National Security Council official Michael McFaul, of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Civil Society Working Group. Mr. Nemtsov called the commission, one of President Obama’s initiatives under his “reset” policy toward Russia, a “bad joke.”

There could be no better example of the impunity that despotic thugs — and their henchmen — enjoy than this incident. Nemtsov related to Eli Lake the lack of concern, or even interest, that Obama displayed when presented with a human rights report. Nemtsov and his Russian adversaries are in agreement on one thing: there really is no incentive for Russia to democratize and to improve its shabby human rights record. At least not as long as the current administration demonstrates it will do virtually anything — and turn a blind eye toward anything — to preserve “reset.” (If the Russians were cagey enough, they’d ask for 20 F-35s.)

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What Can the GOP Senators Get?

Untangling fact from fiction and sneer from substance in a Maureen Dowd column is not a task for the fainthearted, especially when she wades into matters of policy. But let’s give it a shot. She writes:

But faced with the treaty’s unraveling, with possible deleterious consequences for sanctions on Iran and supply lines for our troops in Afghanistan, Obama had no choice. Even if the treaty doesn’t much affect our strategic security, it affects the relationship with Russia and our standing in the world. And resetting the relationship with Russia, with his buddy Dmitri, is the president’s only significant foreign policy accomplishment.

We will start with the accurate part: Obama has no other foreign policy accomplishments aside from whatever he has gotten out of our newly styled relationship with Russia. This is called “reset” because it sounds so much better than “appeasement.” Putin has much to show for his dealings with Obama. Missile-defense facilities were yanked out of Poland and the Czech Republic. We’ve been rather mute about the Russian thugocracy’s repressive tactics, and Russia still occupies a chunk of Georgia.

But what exactly has Obama accomplished? The Swiss cheese sanctions against Iran, which are not slowing the mullahs’ rush to nuclear powerdom, are not much to write home about. In fact, the Russians helped build and load fuel into the Bushehr nuclear plant, which seems to have accelerated the Iranian nuclear program. And then there is the alleged help in Afghanistan. Jamie Fly has debunked that one:

Unfortunately, only five supply flights occurred in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.  This failure to meet expectations prompted Politico’s Ben Smith to remark that it was “hard to see this as a particularly major achievement of a revived relationship.”  Philip Gordon, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Russian Affairs, recently stated that as of June 18, only 275 flights had occurred over Russian territory.  Had the administration’s bold projections proved accurate, nearly 3,500 flights should have already occurred.

Russia has also played an extensive role in undermining NATO transportation capabilities in other countries throughout the region, and in some cases has actively worked against U.S. efforts to adequately supply forces in Afghanistan. Recently, the United States was forced to triple its annual leasing rights payments to Bishkek after Moscow placed significant pressure on Kyrgyzstan to remove the U.S. air base at Manas.  A Russian-influenced campaign led to the ouster of President Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan and placed the tenuous status of the Manas air base again in peril.  If continued unrest in Kyrgyzstan leads to a closure of Manas, Russian intransigence in Central Asia could prove to be very costly for the American war effort.

So we are down to voting for an arms-control treaty, regardless of the merits, because otherwise Obama will look worse than he already does. Does this sound familiar? It’s akin to the Middle East peace talks bribe-a-thon, which was also meant to save the president from embarrassment (but merely has convinced onlookers, as one Israel expert put it, that the Obama diplomats “have taken leave of their senses”).

And what of the timing? In the case of both the Middles East and New START agreements, the deals must happen NOW — again, because Obama needs a boost.

Perhaps Sen. Jon Kyl had it wrong in declaring there will be no treaty ratification in the lame duck session. Really, that’s not the way to manage Obama. Instead, it’s time for the GOP senators to name their price. The Israelis got planes, promises to be defended in the UN, and a guarantee that the Obama team absolutely, positively won’t ask for any more settlement freezes. What could the GOP Senate get? They have already secured a multi-billion-dollar modernization plan, but is that really “enough”? Obama, you see, is desperate to get a deal, so the Republican senators should get creative — agreement on the Bush tax cuts, a dealing on spending cuts, etc. Too much? Oh no, the Republicans can tell the White House that this is called “reset.” And the name of the game is to create an exceptionally imbalanced relationship in which the only benefit to Obama is the right to tout his dealmaking skills.

Untangling fact from fiction and sneer from substance in a Maureen Dowd column is not a task for the fainthearted, especially when she wades into matters of policy. But let’s give it a shot. She writes:

But faced with the treaty’s unraveling, with possible deleterious consequences for sanctions on Iran and supply lines for our troops in Afghanistan, Obama had no choice. Even if the treaty doesn’t much affect our strategic security, it affects the relationship with Russia and our standing in the world. And resetting the relationship with Russia, with his buddy Dmitri, is the president’s only significant foreign policy accomplishment.

We will start with the accurate part: Obama has no other foreign policy accomplishments aside from whatever he has gotten out of our newly styled relationship with Russia. This is called “reset” because it sounds so much better than “appeasement.” Putin has much to show for his dealings with Obama. Missile-defense facilities were yanked out of Poland and the Czech Republic. We’ve been rather mute about the Russian thugocracy’s repressive tactics, and Russia still occupies a chunk of Georgia.

But what exactly has Obama accomplished? The Swiss cheese sanctions against Iran, which are not slowing the mullahs’ rush to nuclear powerdom, are not much to write home about. In fact, the Russians helped build and load fuel into the Bushehr nuclear plant, which seems to have accelerated the Iranian nuclear program. And then there is the alleged help in Afghanistan. Jamie Fly has debunked that one:

Unfortunately, only five supply flights occurred in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.  This failure to meet expectations prompted Politico’s Ben Smith to remark that it was “hard to see this as a particularly major achievement of a revived relationship.”  Philip Gordon, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Russian Affairs, recently stated that as of June 18, only 275 flights had occurred over Russian territory.  Had the administration’s bold projections proved accurate, nearly 3,500 flights should have already occurred.

Russia has also played an extensive role in undermining NATO transportation capabilities in other countries throughout the region, and in some cases has actively worked against U.S. efforts to adequately supply forces in Afghanistan. Recently, the United States was forced to triple its annual leasing rights payments to Bishkek after Moscow placed significant pressure on Kyrgyzstan to remove the U.S. air base at Manas.  A Russian-influenced campaign led to the ouster of President Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan and placed the tenuous status of the Manas air base again in peril.  If continued unrest in Kyrgyzstan leads to a closure of Manas, Russian intransigence in Central Asia could prove to be very costly for the American war effort.

So we are down to voting for an arms-control treaty, regardless of the merits, because otherwise Obama will look worse than he already does. Does this sound familiar? It’s akin to the Middle East peace talks bribe-a-thon, which was also meant to save the president from embarrassment (but merely has convinced onlookers, as one Israel expert put it, that the Obama diplomats “have taken leave of their senses”).

And what of the timing? In the case of both the Middles East and New START agreements, the deals must happen NOW — again, because Obama needs a boost.

Perhaps Sen. Jon Kyl had it wrong in declaring there will be no treaty ratification in the lame duck session. Really, that’s not the way to manage Obama. Instead, it’s time for the GOP senators to name their price. The Israelis got planes, promises to be defended in the UN, and a guarantee that the Obama team absolutely, positively won’t ask for any more settlement freezes. What could the GOP Senate get? They have already secured a multi-billion-dollar modernization plan, but is that really “enough”? Obama, you see, is desperate to get a deal, so the Republican senators should get creative — agreement on the Bush tax cuts, a dealing on spending cuts, etc. Too much? Oh no, the Republicans can tell the White House that this is called “reset.” And the name of the game is to create an exceptionally imbalanced relationship in which the only benefit to Obama is the right to tout his dealmaking skills.

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RE: New START Treaty

With the perfervid push underway to get the New START treaty on the lame-duck Senate’s schedule, I would add this to the discussion between Jennifer, John, and Max: it’s not clear why the Obama administration is pushing for quick action. The Senate deliberations to date make it inadvisable.

The uneasy accord represented by the April 8 treaty signing is already falling apart. For the Russians, the opt-out clause in the preamble was of paramount concern. That clause makes their adherence to the treaty contingent on Russian approval of America’s plans for missile defense. The treaty stipulates that neither side will convert old ICBM silos for use in a strategic missile-defense system, but the preamble makes it clear that, for Moscow, U.S. missile-defense programs will actually be an open-ended source of conditions on the arms accord.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, in the official “understandings” included with its resolution on the treaty, has directly contradicted that Russian expectation. The three “understandings” were proposed by Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican, and adopted by the full committee in September. One of them articulates the committee’s belief that the treaty imposes no limitations on U.S. missile defenses other than the prohibition on the use of ICBM silos. The committee also “understands” that the treaty places no limits on American use of strategic weapon systems in a conventional (non-nuclear) role, and that if Russia resurrects its rail-mobile ICBM system, the treaty will apply to that as well as to the systems explicitly addressed in it.

Russia finds these understandings unpalatable. In late October, an Interfax report quoted the leader of the Duma’s international-affairs committee as planning “to suggest to committee members that they reconsider the ratification of the Russian-U.S. New START Treaty in view of new circumstances.” The new circumstances he cited were the three understandings adopted by the U.S. Senate committee.

Senator Lugar was an early advocate of the treaty; he didn’t propose these understandings with the intention of torpedoing it. Realistically, the treaty won’t be ratified without the understandings. The concerns reflected in them are predominant among Republicans, but a number of Democrats (and Independent Joe Lieberman) share them as well.

It’s not clear what Russia will do if New START is ratified with the U.S. Senate understandings. Medvedev and Putin might well consider it to their advantage to let a lengthy rejection process unfold in the Duma, rather than repudiating the Senate understandings immediately. But Obama’s abysmal record of obtaining difficult agreements makes it a virtual certainty that the treaty can’t be rescued for the purpose of actual arms limitation. The administration’s best option now is probably to accept the delay in Senate consideration and look for a way to revisit the treaty itself with Russia.

With the perfervid push underway to get the New START treaty on the lame-duck Senate’s schedule, I would add this to the discussion between Jennifer, John, and Max: it’s not clear why the Obama administration is pushing for quick action. The Senate deliberations to date make it inadvisable.

The uneasy accord represented by the April 8 treaty signing is already falling apart. For the Russians, the opt-out clause in the preamble was of paramount concern. That clause makes their adherence to the treaty contingent on Russian approval of America’s plans for missile defense. The treaty stipulates that neither side will convert old ICBM silos for use in a strategic missile-defense system, but the preamble makes it clear that, for Moscow, U.S. missile-defense programs will actually be an open-ended source of conditions on the arms accord.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, in the official “understandings” included with its resolution on the treaty, has directly contradicted that Russian expectation. The three “understandings” were proposed by Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican, and adopted by the full committee in September. One of them articulates the committee’s belief that the treaty imposes no limitations on U.S. missile defenses other than the prohibition on the use of ICBM silos. The committee also “understands” that the treaty places no limits on American use of strategic weapon systems in a conventional (non-nuclear) role, and that if Russia resurrects its rail-mobile ICBM system, the treaty will apply to that as well as to the systems explicitly addressed in it.

Russia finds these understandings unpalatable. In late October, an Interfax report quoted the leader of the Duma’s international-affairs committee as planning “to suggest to committee members that they reconsider the ratification of the Russian-U.S. New START Treaty in view of new circumstances.” The new circumstances he cited were the three understandings adopted by the U.S. Senate committee.

Senator Lugar was an early advocate of the treaty; he didn’t propose these understandings with the intention of torpedoing it. Realistically, the treaty won’t be ratified without the understandings. The concerns reflected in them are predominant among Republicans, but a number of Democrats (and Independent Joe Lieberman) share them as well.

It’s not clear what Russia will do if New START is ratified with the U.S. Senate understandings. Medvedev and Putin might well consider it to their advantage to let a lengthy rejection process unfold in the Duma, rather than repudiating the Senate understandings immediately. But Obama’s abysmal record of obtaining difficult agreements makes it a virtual certainty that the treaty can’t be rescued for the purpose of actual arms limitation. The administration’s best option now is probably to accept the delay in Senate consideration and look for a way to revisit the treaty itself with Russia.

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New START Treaty: Much Ado About Nothing

A lot of foreign-policy experts I respect — including John Bolton, Eric Edelman, John Yoo, and Jim Woolsey — have come out against the ratification of the New START treaty, which would decrease American and Russian nuclear arsenals. For my part, I’m with Bob Kagan in wondering what the fuss is all about.

Arms-control treaties between Moscow and Washington were a big deal during the Cold War when the Soviet Union was bent on global expansionism and the U.S. had to stand on the frontlines of freedom. But the Soviet Union is gone. Today’s Russia may be a local threat to its smaller neighbors, the likes of Georgia or Estonia, but on a global scale it’s more of a nuisance — certainly not an existential threat to the United States. Thus the continuing quest for arms-control treaties seems like a bit of an anachronism.

Yet it is an anachronism that has been pursued by both Republican and Democratic administrations. As this crib sheet from the Arms Control Association reminds us, George H.W. Bush signed START II in 1993, Bill Clinton followed with a START III framework (never completed) in 1997, and George W. Bush reached agreement on SORT (a.k.a. the Moscow Treaty) in 2002. Kagan sums up the results of all these treaties along with New START:

The START I agreement cut deployed strategic nuclear weapons on both sides roughly 50 percent, from between 10,000 and 12,000 down to 6,000. The never-ratified (but generally abided-by) START II Treaty cut forces by another 50 percent, down to between 3,000 and 3,500. The 2002 Moscow Treaty made further deep cuts, bringing each side down to between 1,700 and 2,200. And New START? It would bring the number on both sides down to 1,550.

The final figure of 1,550 warheads is plenty big enough to maintain America’s nuclear deterrence; actually, we will have more than that because for the purposes of the treaty B-2 and B-52, bombers are counted as one “warhead” even though they can carry dozens of nuclear warheads. Opponents of the treaty throw out all sorts of other objections, arguing that it would constrict the development of missile defenses or non-nuclear missiles; but no such prohibition is to be found in the language of the treaty.

Let me be clear. I do not buy the Obama administration’s rationales for the treaty. Administration officials cite the need to “reset” relations with Russian and to take a step toward the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. I very much doubt that this treaty will do anything substantial to achieve either goal. We are likely to continue clashing with Russia diplomatically as long as it remains an authoritarian state. As for the quixotic goal of eliminating nuclear weapons: Suffice it to say, reductions in the American arsenal are not going to encourage North Korea or Iran to give up their nuclear programs. But nor will relatively modest reductions in our nuclear forces prevent us from vaporizing Iran or North Korea, should they use nuclear weapons against us or our allies.

One of the important benefits of the treaty is that, in the course of negotiations over ratification, Senate Republicans have won assurances from the administration that it will spend $80 billion over 10 years to modernize our nuclear program. Yet this doesn’t seem to be enough. Sen. Jon Kyl, who has been the lead GOP negotiator, now says he doesn’t want to see a vote during the lame-duck session.

As Kagan suggests, this will allow the administration to blame Republican “obstructionism” if and when relations with Russia deteriorate. Therefore, Republican foot-dragging on ratification isn’t smart politics. It’s not necessary for the national defense either. Republicans should keep their powder dry to fight off attempts to slash the defense budget — an issue that really could imperil our security. That will be harder to do, however, because there are a number of Republicans who appear willing to go along with defense cuts, even as they’re taking pot shots at the (largely symbolic) New START treaty.

A lot of foreign-policy experts I respect — including John Bolton, Eric Edelman, John Yoo, and Jim Woolsey — have come out against the ratification of the New START treaty, which would decrease American and Russian nuclear arsenals. For my part, I’m with Bob Kagan in wondering what the fuss is all about.

Arms-control treaties between Moscow and Washington were a big deal during the Cold War when the Soviet Union was bent on global expansionism and the U.S. had to stand on the frontlines of freedom. But the Soviet Union is gone. Today’s Russia may be a local threat to its smaller neighbors, the likes of Georgia or Estonia, but on a global scale it’s more of a nuisance — certainly not an existential threat to the United States. Thus the continuing quest for arms-control treaties seems like a bit of an anachronism.

Yet it is an anachronism that has been pursued by both Republican and Democratic administrations. As this crib sheet from the Arms Control Association reminds us, George H.W. Bush signed START II in 1993, Bill Clinton followed with a START III framework (never completed) in 1997, and George W. Bush reached agreement on SORT (a.k.a. the Moscow Treaty) in 2002. Kagan sums up the results of all these treaties along with New START:

The START I agreement cut deployed strategic nuclear weapons on both sides roughly 50 percent, from between 10,000 and 12,000 down to 6,000. The never-ratified (but generally abided-by) START II Treaty cut forces by another 50 percent, down to between 3,000 and 3,500. The 2002 Moscow Treaty made further deep cuts, bringing each side down to between 1,700 and 2,200. And New START? It would bring the number on both sides down to 1,550.

The final figure of 1,550 warheads is plenty big enough to maintain America’s nuclear deterrence; actually, we will have more than that because for the purposes of the treaty B-2 and B-52, bombers are counted as one “warhead” even though they can carry dozens of nuclear warheads. Opponents of the treaty throw out all sorts of other objections, arguing that it would constrict the development of missile defenses or non-nuclear missiles; but no such prohibition is to be found in the language of the treaty.

Let me be clear. I do not buy the Obama administration’s rationales for the treaty. Administration officials cite the need to “reset” relations with Russian and to take a step toward the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. I very much doubt that this treaty will do anything substantial to achieve either goal. We are likely to continue clashing with Russia diplomatically as long as it remains an authoritarian state. As for the quixotic goal of eliminating nuclear weapons: Suffice it to say, reductions in the American arsenal are not going to encourage North Korea or Iran to give up their nuclear programs. But nor will relatively modest reductions in our nuclear forces prevent us from vaporizing Iran or North Korea, should they use nuclear weapons against us or our allies.

One of the important benefits of the treaty is that, in the course of negotiations over ratification, Senate Republicans have won assurances from the administration that it will spend $80 billion over 10 years to modernize our nuclear program. Yet this doesn’t seem to be enough. Sen. Jon Kyl, who has been the lead GOP negotiator, now says he doesn’t want to see a vote during the lame-duck session.

As Kagan suggests, this will allow the administration to blame Republican “obstructionism” if and when relations with Russia deteriorate. Therefore, Republican foot-dragging on ratification isn’t smart politics. It’s not necessary for the national defense either. Republicans should keep their powder dry to fight off attempts to slash the defense budget — an issue that really could imperil our security. That will be harder to do, however, because there are a number of Republicans who appear willing to go along with defense cuts, even as they’re taking pot shots at the (largely symbolic) New START treaty.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Finally we get “not only the authoritative takedown of ‘Fair Game,’ Douglas Liman’s meretricious cinematic hagiography of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, but also the essential case, laid out with amazing meticulousness, for a presidential pardon for Scooter Libby.”

No final tally yet for Republicans in the House. From the Cook Political Report (subscription required): “Overall, Republicans have captured 238 seats, Democrats have won 189 seats, and eight still hang in the balance. We expect each party to win three of these seats, while the two New York races (NY-01 and NY-25) are genuinely too close to call. Depending on the final outcome of these contests, Republicans are likely to have scored a net gain of between 62 and 64 seats in the House, the most in a midterm since 1938.”

The final act for Michael Steele? “As he contemplates running for a second term, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is on the verge of losing his coalition of supporters. Even some of those closest to the controversial chairman have begun urging him to step aside. … Meanwhile, a group of prominent Republicans led by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie are searching for a consensus candidate capable of defeating Steele. Though they have not settled on a challenger, and in fact are unlikely to find a consensus choice, strategists who both support and oppose Steele say coalitions are forming now to deny Steele a second term.” Excuse me, but why not Ed Gillespie himself?

The final Senate race is nearly decided. “Sen. Lisa Murkowski is well on her way to pulling off a stunning upset victory in the Alaska Senate race after one day of counting write-in votes, despite Republican nominee Joe Miller’s legal challenges to the process. Murkowski took nearly 98 percent of the 19,203 write-in ballots counted Wednesday, with more than 8 percent of those awarded to her after an initial challenge by Miller over voters’ spelling abilities was thrown out.”

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick finally puts to rest the notion that “reset” has paid dividends for us. “The initial appeal of Russia’s assistance — that the country has knowledge of Afghanistan thanks to its own, decade-long engagement — is belied by its brutal record. … Moreover, the actual Russian commitment is small. … More important than any of these factors, however, is the cynical way in which Moscow will use its paltry assistance to the [International Security Assistance Force] as leverage with the West in negotiations over other matters, from NATO expansion to human rights to missile defense.” Read the whole thing, which should be entitled “How Putin Took Obama to the Cleaners.”

Christine O’Donnell may finally be seeking a job for which she is well-suited. It seems there is a reality-show opportunity. Perrrrrfect.

Was Obama’s tinkering with the gulf-oil-spill report the final straw for the principled left? “The oil spill that damaged the Gulf of Mexico’s reefs and wetlands is also threatening to stain the Obama administration’s reputation for relying on science to guide policy. Academics, environmentalists and federal investigators have accused the administration since the April spill of downplaying scientific findings, misrepresenting data and most recently misconstruing the opinions of experts it solicited.”

The final figures for another failed government subsidy are in. Not good: “Any possible housing market recovery hit a snag during the three months ended September 30, as a government tax credit for homebuyers wound down. Home prices fell only slightly during the quarter, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), but the number of homes sold plummeted more than 25%, compared with the previous quarter.”

This will not be the final foreign-policy rebuff. “For President Obama, the last-minute failure to seal a trade deal with South Korea that would expand American exports of automobiles and beef is an embarrassing setback that deprives him of a foreign policy trophy and demonstrates how the midterm elections may have weakened his position abroad.”

Finally we get “not only the authoritative takedown of ‘Fair Game,’ Douglas Liman’s meretricious cinematic hagiography of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, but also the essential case, laid out with amazing meticulousness, for a presidential pardon for Scooter Libby.”

No final tally yet for Republicans in the House. From the Cook Political Report (subscription required): “Overall, Republicans have captured 238 seats, Democrats have won 189 seats, and eight still hang in the balance. We expect each party to win three of these seats, while the two New York races (NY-01 and NY-25) are genuinely too close to call. Depending on the final outcome of these contests, Republicans are likely to have scored a net gain of between 62 and 64 seats in the House, the most in a midterm since 1938.”

The final act for Michael Steele? “As he contemplates running for a second term, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is on the verge of losing his coalition of supporters. Even some of those closest to the controversial chairman have begun urging him to step aside. … Meanwhile, a group of prominent Republicans led by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie are searching for a consensus candidate capable of defeating Steele. Though they have not settled on a challenger, and in fact are unlikely to find a consensus choice, strategists who both support and oppose Steele say coalitions are forming now to deny Steele a second term.” Excuse me, but why not Ed Gillespie himself?

The final Senate race is nearly decided. “Sen. Lisa Murkowski is well on her way to pulling off a stunning upset victory in the Alaska Senate race after one day of counting write-in votes, despite Republican nominee Joe Miller’s legal challenges to the process. Murkowski took nearly 98 percent of the 19,203 write-in ballots counted Wednesday, with more than 8 percent of those awarded to her after an initial challenge by Miller over voters’ spelling abilities was thrown out.”

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick finally puts to rest the notion that “reset” has paid dividends for us. “The initial appeal of Russia’s assistance — that the country has knowledge of Afghanistan thanks to its own, decade-long engagement — is belied by its brutal record. … Moreover, the actual Russian commitment is small. … More important than any of these factors, however, is the cynical way in which Moscow will use its paltry assistance to the [International Security Assistance Force] as leverage with the West in negotiations over other matters, from NATO expansion to human rights to missile defense.” Read the whole thing, which should be entitled “How Putin Took Obama to the Cleaners.”

Christine O’Donnell may finally be seeking a job for which she is well-suited. It seems there is a reality-show opportunity. Perrrrrfect.

Was Obama’s tinkering with the gulf-oil-spill report the final straw for the principled left? “The oil spill that damaged the Gulf of Mexico’s reefs and wetlands is also threatening to stain the Obama administration’s reputation for relying on science to guide policy. Academics, environmentalists and federal investigators have accused the administration since the April spill of downplaying scientific findings, misrepresenting data and most recently misconstruing the opinions of experts it solicited.”

The final figures for another failed government subsidy are in. Not good: “Any possible housing market recovery hit a snag during the three months ended September 30, as a government tax credit for homebuyers wound down. Home prices fell only slightly during the quarter, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), but the number of homes sold plummeted more than 25%, compared with the previous quarter.”

This will not be the final foreign-policy rebuff. “For President Obama, the last-minute failure to seal a trade deal with South Korea that would expand American exports of automobiles and beef is an embarrassing setback that deprives him of a foreign policy trophy and demonstrates how the midterm elections may have weakened his position abroad.”

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NATO Death Watch

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

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Afghanistan: Moscow to the Rescue

I’m almost always in agreement with Max Boot’s assessments of the tactical situation in Afghanistan, and I think he’s correct when he says Hamid Karzai is, to invoke the Margaret Thatcher phrase, “someone we can do business with.” He is right to point out that these factors are not cause for despair — that there are, in fact, positive signs to be seen in them. I would never accuse Fouad Ajami, whose opinion piece Max references, of a disingenuous approach to the Karzai question. But naysayers do seem to be latching on to every tactical setback and unsavory development in Afghanistan to encourage a growing sense that the conflict is unwinnable.

It’s not. That said, however, there are major factors mounting against it: not on the battlefield but in the halls of state power and diplomacy. I’m not sure Americans appreciate the extent to which the other nations no longer see this war as ours to win or lose — or victory as ours to define.

Once it became obvious that President Obama did not intend to pursue the focused, determined counterinsurgency course proposed by General McChrystal, the other players’ alternate views of the situation crystallized. Our NATO allies are eager to cut a deal with the Taliban because they perceive that Obama does not, in fact, have the will to reshape the situation on the ground through military action. European NATO is concerned about its troops ending up surrounded and on the defensive in a Central Asian redoubt. But that danger adds a vulnerability to Europe’s relations with Russia and the other Asian nations that concerns Europeans even more. These concerns are amplified by the increasing recalcitrance of Pakistan, which is based partly on Islamabad’s fear that the U.S. and NATO are seeking a “separate peace” with certain factions of the Taliban. The map is inexorable: if Pakistan is an unreliable path into Afghanistan, and Iran is not an option, then what’s left is the Central Asian land route under Russia’s security umbrella. Read More

I’m almost always in agreement with Max Boot’s assessments of the tactical situation in Afghanistan, and I think he’s correct when he says Hamid Karzai is, to invoke the Margaret Thatcher phrase, “someone we can do business with.” He is right to point out that these factors are not cause for despair — that there are, in fact, positive signs to be seen in them. I would never accuse Fouad Ajami, whose opinion piece Max references, of a disingenuous approach to the Karzai question. But naysayers do seem to be latching on to every tactical setback and unsavory development in Afghanistan to encourage a growing sense that the conflict is unwinnable.

It’s not. That said, however, there are major factors mounting against it: not on the battlefield but in the halls of state power and diplomacy. I’m not sure Americans appreciate the extent to which the other nations no longer see this war as ours to win or lose — or victory as ours to define.

Once it became obvious that President Obama did not intend to pursue the focused, determined counterinsurgency course proposed by General McChrystal, the other players’ alternate views of the situation crystallized. Our NATO allies are eager to cut a deal with the Taliban because they perceive that Obama does not, in fact, have the will to reshape the situation on the ground through military action. European NATO is concerned about its troops ending up surrounded and on the defensive in a Central Asian redoubt. But that danger adds a vulnerability to Europe’s relations with Russia and the other Asian nations that concerns Europeans even more. These concerns are amplified by the increasing recalcitrance of Pakistan, which is based partly on Islamabad’s fear that the U.S. and NATO are seeking a “separate peace” with certain factions of the Taliban. The map is inexorable: if Pakistan is an unreliable path into Afghanistan, and Iran is not an option, then what’s left is the Central Asian land route under Russia’s security umbrella.

A quiet announcement by NATO’s secretary-general on Monday indicates that the NATO nations, approaching this unpleasant reality head-on, have decided to do what they can to make a partnership out of the necessity of Russian involvement. The UK Independent reports that NATO (with full U.S. participation) is inviting Russia into Afghanistan in a military role. The acceptance from the Russians comes with strings, of course; as the Independent puts it, “Moscow is seeking what it terms as more cooperation from NATO.” Not defining this cooperative quid pro quo in advance would seem to indicate a colossal breakdown in NATO’s bargaining skills; what we can be sure of is that the price of Russian involvement will be political — and high.

With this agreement, Russia positions itself as a nexus of independent influence in the Afghan settlement: a new option for Pakistan — and Iran and India — to play Russia off against the U.S. These factors combine to produce a bottom line that is quickly outracing the American people’s lagging idea of our role Afghanistan. We have much the largest military commitment there, but we are dealing away the latitude to define victory and decide what the strategy will be.

No political leader ever announces he is doing this. Don’t expect Obama to be explicit about it. NATO has been working on the Russian accord without fanfare and will probably announce it as something of an afterthought in Lisbon, where the public emphasis is expected to be on missile-defense cooperation with Moscow. But this will be a decisive turn in the Afghan war. Assuming we proceed with this agreement, the war will, in fact, no longer be ours to wage as we see fit. Whatever his precise intentions, Obama probably couldn’t have found a better way to induce the war’s American supporters to want to get out of it on his timetable.

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Japan: Russia Piling On

As Americans turn their attention inward, China and Russia are beginning to make geopolitical moves that evoke nothing so much as the environment of the 1930s. I have written elsewhere about China’s dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and Beijing’s resort to a direct confrontation over them in September. Russia added to Japan’s troubles last week, when Dmitry Medvedev planned to make an unprecedented visit to the Kuril Islands in the north, which have been disputed by Japan and Russia since the end of World War II.

Medvedev’s trip was curtailed by bad weather on this occasion (a verifiable excuse, incidentally). But his government has affirmed that he will visit the islands in the near future. In fact, it has doubled down by calling Japan’s claims to the Kurils a “dead end” and flatly warning Japan against complaining about the visit.

Seen as a signal, this uncompromising Russian attitude is very different from the attitude shown by the same government almost exactly a year ago. In late September 2009, Medvedev was shaking hands with then-Prime Minister Hatoyama and vowing solemnly to “work together” to resolve the question of the Kuril Islands. Indeed, there was speculation at the time that Russia was wooing Japan, hoping to weaken Tokyo’s ties with the U.S. As with the Senkakus dispute, the one over the Kurils involves economic claims. But Russia and Japan have set a standard for cooperative development in exploiting the natural gas of Russia’s nearby Sakhalin Island. The ugly face shown by Russia in the past few days is a new one, at least where Japan is concerned.

Its significance cannot be overemphasized. In approaching this confrontation, Russia is effectively treating Japan — a G-8 nation, economic powerhouse, and U.S. ally — the way it treated Georgia in the months leading up to the 2008 invasion. The dispute is over tangible territory, and Russia is pressing its claims coincident with China’s confrontational campaign to the south. Unless the U.S. steps in to prevent the extortion of Japan, the Kan government in Tokyo is faced with a choice between evils. To gain the support of either Moscow or Beijing, Japan would — at the very least — have to cede effective control of the islands in question. In all likelihood, Japan might see both island chains occupied by the other claimants.

Japan’s other option is to assert its claims with military force. This is not infeasible if the Japanese choose their tactics carefully, but it would infuriate and galvanize Russia and China. Only one outcome can avert an onset of instability in the Far East: America enforcing Japan’s position that the disputes over the islands must be resolved peacefully and not through extortion. Uttering sympathetic bromides will not suffice in this case. China and Russia have already proved that they are prepared to breach the conditions of good-faith resolutions. Direct assertion of a U.S. security interest is the only thing that will work — and the U.S posture must not be subverted by Russia or China turning this issue into a perpetual bargaining chip in larger, unrelated negotiations.

This is a bad trend that will not right itself. Either Obama stops it before it gets started, or all our security problems are about to get much harder.

As Americans turn their attention inward, China and Russia are beginning to make geopolitical moves that evoke nothing so much as the environment of the 1930s. I have written elsewhere about China’s dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and Beijing’s resort to a direct confrontation over them in September. Russia added to Japan’s troubles last week, when Dmitry Medvedev planned to make an unprecedented visit to the Kuril Islands in the north, which have been disputed by Japan and Russia since the end of World War II.

Medvedev’s trip was curtailed by bad weather on this occasion (a verifiable excuse, incidentally). But his government has affirmed that he will visit the islands in the near future. In fact, it has doubled down by calling Japan’s claims to the Kurils a “dead end” and flatly warning Japan against complaining about the visit.

Seen as a signal, this uncompromising Russian attitude is very different from the attitude shown by the same government almost exactly a year ago. In late September 2009, Medvedev was shaking hands with then-Prime Minister Hatoyama and vowing solemnly to “work together” to resolve the question of the Kuril Islands. Indeed, there was speculation at the time that Russia was wooing Japan, hoping to weaken Tokyo’s ties with the U.S. As with the Senkakus dispute, the one over the Kurils involves economic claims. But Russia and Japan have set a standard for cooperative development in exploiting the natural gas of Russia’s nearby Sakhalin Island. The ugly face shown by Russia in the past few days is a new one, at least where Japan is concerned.

Its significance cannot be overemphasized. In approaching this confrontation, Russia is effectively treating Japan — a G-8 nation, economic powerhouse, and U.S. ally — the way it treated Georgia in the months leading up to the 2008 invasion. The dispute is over tangible territory, and Russia is pressing its claims coincident with China’s confrontational campaign to the south. Unless the U.S. steps in to prevent the extortion of Japan, the Kan government in Tokyo is faced with a choice between evils. To gain the support of either Moscow or Beijing, Japan would — at the very least — have to cede effective control of the islands in question. In all likelihood, Japan might see both island chains occupied by the other claimants.

Japan’s other option is to assert its claims with military force. This is not infeasible if the Japanese choose their tactics carefully, but it would infuriate and galvanize Russia and China. Only one outcome can avert an onset of instability in the Far East: America enforcing Japan’s position that the disputes over the islands must be resolved peacefully and not through extortion. Uttering sympathetic bromides will not suffice in this case. China and Russia have already proved that they are prepared to breach the conditions of good-faith resolutions. Direct assertion of a U.S. security interest is the only thing that will work — and the U.S posture must not be subverted by Russia or China turning this issue into a perpetual bargaining chip in larger, unrelated negotiations.

This is a bad trend that will not right itself. Either Obama stops it before it gets started, or all our security problems are about to get much harder.

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Missing the Big Picture in Sudan

John Bolton has a good opinion piece about the upcoming (January 2011) referendum on independence for Southern Sudan. He points out that a break-up and its aftermath are likely to have repercussions for the internal ethnic disputes in many nations across Africa. The Obama administration, he says, is miscalculating badly in its carrot-and-stick approach to the Bashir government in Khartoum; its policy of “appeasing Khartoum” is only making the situation worse.

There are other considerations as well. Khartoum and the southern insurgency aren’t conducting their messy business in a vacuum. They’ve got plenty of outside help. China has been known for some years as the principal backer of the Bashir regime, but the southern insurgency is gaining patrons of its own from among the globe’s usual suspects in king-making and insurgency-arming. Russian and German international firms are taking out a big stake in Southern Sudan — and the Russians may be arming the South.

As Bolton notes, the majority of Sudan’s proven oil and gas reserves are concentrated in the territory that would go to the South in a break-up. Less visible to most Americans is the fact that the South is landlocked, and, under current conditions, largely inaccessible to modern transport facilities. The region’s aging and inadequate infrastructure has been an insuperable obstacle to independent economic development. This shortfall has made UN-contracted air links — in which Russian peacekeepers and aviation companies have figured prominently — a lifeline for Southern Sudan. It has also meant that any independence achieved by the South would be vulnerable and contingent.

This past weekend, however, African new outlets were full of a story that has been building since 2007. A consortium made up of German giant ThyssenKrupp, Russia’s MosMetrostroy, and the Texas-based firm Ayr Logistics Group will begin work in October on a long-planned modern rail line from Southern Sudan to Uganda — and ultimately, it is hoped, to the Kenyan ports of Mombasa and Lamu. This is somewhat more than just good news for Southern Sudan’s economic prospects. By promising to confer independent economic viability on the South, the rail project increases the stakes for everyone involved. From Khartoum’s perspective, the meaning of political independence for Southern Sudan will expand dramatically, and to Khartoum’s disadvantage, this would happen when the railroad becomes operational.

China has put a great deal into the national government in Khartoum and will view with disfavor the prospect of an economically connected South seceding with most of the oil and gas. Russia is positioned well to bolster the South’s bid for independence, however, with its commercial stake in the region’s development and its military force deployed with the UN peacekeepers. In a sign that Moscow recognizes the freighted significance of a North-South breakup, the Russians have recently sold the South 10 military transport helicopters, which can easily be fitted with weapons.

China also has a peacekeeping force in Darfur, however, and has been implicated this year in direct military support to the Bashir regime. The conditions are aligning for Sudan’s internal arrangements to become a proxy showdown for China and Russia, the world’s most brutal competitors for natural resources. Only one nation has the stature and power to discourage the Sudan question from hardening into such a proxy clash, to the detriment of the Sudanese people and the surrounding region. But as John Bolton observes, the U.S. administration is narrowly focused on incentivizing the Bashir regime with an all-carrot approach — a strategy that could hardly be surpassed for sheer uselessness.

John Bolton has a good opinion piece about the upcoming (January 2011) referendum on independence for Southern Sudan. He points out that a break-up and its aftermath are likely to have repercussions for the internal ethnic disputes in many nations across Africa. The Obama administration, he says, is miscalculating badly in its carrot-and-stick approach to the Bashir government in Khartoum; its policy of “appeasing Khartoum” is only making the situation worse.

There are other considerations as well. Khartoum and the southern insurgency aren’t conducting their messy business in a vacuum. They’ve got plenty of outside help. China has been known for some years as the principal backer of the Bashir regime, but the southern insurgency is gaining patrons of its own from among the globe’s usual suspects in king-making and insurgency-arming. Russian and German international firms are taking out a big stake in Southern Sudan — and the Russians may be arming the South.

As Bolton notes, the majority of Sudan’s proven oil and gas reserves are concentrated in the territory that would go to the South in a break-up. Less visible to most Americans is the fact that the South is landlocked, and, under current conditions, largely inaccessible to modern transport facilities. The region’s aging and inadequate infrastructure has been an insuperable obstacle to independent economic development. This shortfall has made UN-contracted air links — in which Russian peacekeepers and aviation companies have figured prominently — a lifeline for Southern Sudan. It has also meant that any independence achieved by the South would be vulnerable and contingent.

This past weekend, however, African new outlets were full of a story that has been building since 2007. A consortium made up of German giant ThyssenKrupp, Russia’s MosMetrostroy, and the Texas-based firm Ayr Logistics Group will begin work in October on a long-planned modern rail line from Southern Sudan to Uganda — and ultimately, it is hoped, to the Kenyan ports of Mombasa and Lamu. This is somewhat more than just good news for Southern Sudan’s economic prospects. By promising to confer independent economic viability on the South, the rail project increases the stakes for everyone involved. From Khartoum’s perspective, the meaning of political independence for Southern Sudan will expand dramatically, and to Khartoum’s disadvantage, this would happen when the railroad becomes operational.

China has put a great deal into the national government in Khartoum and will view with disfavor the prospect of an economically connected South seceding with most of the oil and gas. Russia is positioned well to bolster the South’s bid for independence, however, with its commercial stake in the region’s development and its military force deployed with the UN peacekeepers. In a sign that Moscow recognizes the freighted significance of a North-South breakup, the Russians have recently sold the South 10 military transport helicopters, which can easily be fitted with weapons.

China also has a peacekeeping force in Darfur, however, and has been implicated this year in direct military support to the Bashir regime. The conditions are aligning for Sudan’s internal arrangements to become a proxy showdown for China and Russia, the world’s most brutal competitors for natural resources. Only one nation has the stature and power to discourage the Sudan question from hardening into such a proxy clash, to the detriment of the Sudanese people and the surrounding region. But as John Bolton observes, the U.S. administration is narrowly focused on incentivizing the Bashir regime with an all-carrot approach — a strategy that could hardly be surpassed for sheer uselessness.

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S-300: Political Football

Americans looking for coherence in Russia’s on-again, off-again policy on the S-300 sale to Iran should focus on the overall thrust of Russian policy in the Putin era. Putin’s emphasis — with interstitial refinements from Dmitry Medvedev — is on supplanting American leadership with a set of multilateral bodies and rivalries in which Russia can wield increasing influence.

As with many of Putin’s foreign-policy moves, the S-300 sale is a tool for putting Russia at the center of a major decision point about international security. The prospect of the sale has given Europe, Asia, and the U.S. a reason to seek Russian cooperation. It has also given Russia an influence over Iran that no other nation has had in the past half-decade. This is related, in turn, to the trigger the sale has put in Russia’s hands: from any objective military analysis, the delivery of the S-300 to Iran would set the clock ticking on Israel’s window of feasibility for attacking the Iranian nuclear sites.

Russia wouldn’t let this valuable bargaining chip go for light and transient reasons. Everything in his history must tell us that Putin is letting go of this uniquely privileged position because he has what he wants: he doesn’t feel he needs the power of that particular position for the time being. If he wants it back, he can probably get it (unless China steps into the breach and sells its version of the S-300 to Iran instead). Meanwhile, cancelling the sale is a signal that Putin is satisfied with the benefits his policies have realized, to date, from Russian influence with Iran.

What benefits has he realized? In brief, he has succeeded in getting America’s closest allies to seek accommodation with Russia as a means of improving their position vis-à-vis Iran. I’ve written here and here, for example, about the Netanyahu government’s pragmatic outreach to Moscow, which recently produced a defense-cooperation agreement that would have been unthinkable even two years ago.

Equally significant is the September announcement by NATO’s political chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that NATO’s future lies in structured cooperation with Russia on security issues, including missile defense. In the wake of that proclamation, France and Germany will hold a summit with Russia in October in preparation for the next G-20 conference. Their main topic will reportedly be “joint security issues.”

It cannot be reiterated too often that incorporating Russia in Europe’s missile defenses will give Russia an effective veto over anything it doesn’t like about those defenses. It will also give Moscow a means of dividing Europe from North America over the nature and purpose of our common defense arrangements. Assuming these incipient efforts move forward as proposed — all while Russia keeps missiles trained on Eastern Europe — it’s not too much to say that we will be witnessing the death throes of the NATO alliance.

These are heady achievements for Putin’s policies, but they’re not the only ones. Russia has succeeded in ingratiating itself with India to a much greater extent in the last 18 months, increasing arms cooperation dramatically and establishing itself as a partner in containing the Taliban. In all of these cases, a narrowly-focused and expedient passivity on the part of the U.S has smoothed Russia’s path. President Obama himself created the conditions for Russia to act as a spoiler in NATO missile defenses, by abandoning the installations planned for Eastern Europe and rushing into the ill-considered New START treaty. And his dilatory approach to Iran has been a key factor in driving the nations of the Eastern hemisphere to look to Russia for help, rather than counting on the U.S. to avert the security catastrophe of a nuclear-armed Iran.

It would actually be a better sign, at this point, if Putin still thought the S-300 sale was an indispensable bargaining chip. It would mean he still considered it necessary to leverage such a chip against U.S. power. But he no longer does — and that doesn’t mean he has changed. It means we have.

Americans looking for coherence in Russia’s on-again, off-again policy on the S-300 sale to Iran should focus on the overall thrust of Russian policy in the Putin era. Putin’s emphasis — with interstitial refinements from Dmitry Medvedev — is on supplanting American leadership with a set of multilateral bodies and rivalries in which Russia can wield increasing influence.

As with many of Putin’s foreign-policy moves, the S-300 sale is a tool for putting Russia at the center of a major decision point about international security. The prospect of the sale has given Europe, Asia, and the U.S. a reason to seek Russian cooperation. It has also given Russia an influence over Iran that no other nation has had in the past half-decade. This is related, in turn, to the trigger the sale has put in Russia’s hands: from any objective military analysis, the delivery of the S-300 to Iran would set the clock ticking on Israel’s window of feasibility for attacking the Iranian nuclear sites.

Russia wouldn’t let this valuable bargaining chip go for light and transient reasons. Everything in his history must tell us that Putin is letting go of this uniquely privileged position because he has what he wants: he doesn’t feel he needs the power of that particular position for the time being. If he wants it back, he can probably get it (unless China steps into the breach and sells its version of the S-300 to Iran instead). Meanwhile, cancelling the sale is a signal that Putin is satisfied with the benefits his policies have realized, to date, from Russian influence with Iran.

What benefits has he realized? In brief, he has succeeded in getting America’s closest allies to seek accommodation with Russia as a means of improving their position vis-à-vis Iran. I’ve written here and here, for example, about the Netanyahu government’s pragmatic outreach to Moscow, which recently produced a defense-cooperation agreement that would have been unthinkable even two years ago.

Equally significant is the September announcement by NATO’s political chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that NATO’s future lies in structured cooperation with Russia on security issues, including missile defense. In the wake of that proclamation, France and Germany will hold a summit with Russia in October in preparation for the next G-20 conference. Their main topic will reportedly be “joint security issues.”

It cannot be reiterated too often that incorporating Russia in Europe’s missile defenses will give Russia an effective veto over anything it doesn’t like about those defenses. It will also give Moscow a means of dividing Europe from North America over the nature and purpose of our common defense arrangements. Assuming these incipient efforts move forward as proposed — all while Russia keeps missiles trained on Eastern Europe — it’s not too much to say that we will be witnessing the death throes of the NATO alliance.

These are heady achievements for Putin’s policies, but they’re not the only ones. Russia has succeeded in ingratiating itself with India to a much greater extent in the last 18 months, increasing arms cooperation dramatically and establishing itself as a partner in containing the Taliban. In all of these cases, a narrowly-focused and expedient passivity on the part of the U.S has smoothed Russia’s path. President Obama himself created the conditions for Russia to act as a spoiler in NATO missile defenses, by abandoning the installations planned for Eastern Europe and rushing into the ill-considered New START treaty. And his dilatory approach to Iran has been a key factor in driving the nations of the Eastern hemisphere to look to Russia for help, rather than counting on the U.S. to avert the security catastrophe of a nuclear-armed Iran.

It would actually be a better sign, at this point, if Putin still thought the S-300 sale was an indispensable bargaining chip. It would mean he still considered it necessary to leverage such a chip against U.S. power. But he no longer does — and that doesn’t mean he has changed. It means we have.

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Double-Talk from Moscow on Iran

The White House has been crowing that Russia’s decision last week not to sell advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran represents a big triumph of its attempt to “reset” relationships with Moscow. The reality is somewhat more complicated — and less to our liking.

The fact is that Russia has flirted with selling the S-300 to Iran for years without ever actually going through with the deal, thus suggesting that the Russians were not truly planning to transfer the technology after all — they were simply hoping to get a good payoff from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and other countries alarmed by rising Iranian power. It’s impossible to know exactly what the Russians have gotten in return (such deals tend to be secret), but at a very minimum they managed to convince the Obama administration to scrap plans to put missile interceptors into Poland and the Czech Republic — a move that alarmed those stalwart allies. How much more can we expect from the Russians? Not that much, as indicated by this L.A. Times article:

Even as the White House praised Russia for declining to sell antiaircraft missiles to Iran in violation of U.N. sanctions, Russian diplomats were quietly recruiting other countries this week to undercut tougher penalties imposed on the Islamic Republic.

Russia supported weak United Nations sanctions approved in June to pressure Iran over its nuclear program. But it has strongly objected to tougher sanctions added individually by the United States, the European Union and four other countries. It fears those sanctions may end up hurting Russian companies that do business in Iran.

In other words, the Russians are up to their old tricks — paying lip service to stopping the Iranian nuclear program while sabotaging efforts to really get tough with Tehran. Beijing is pursuing a similar policy. Their intransigence means that the odds of really cracking down on Iran with international sanctions — the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s policy — are minimal. Other means, such as computer worms, can and should be used to sabotage and delay the Iranian nuclear program, but in the end the U.S. and Israel cannot avoid the toughest of choices: either act militarily or watch Iran go nuclear.

The White House has been crowing that Russia’s decision last week not to sell advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran represents a big triumph of its attempt to “reset” relationships with Moscow. The reality is somewhat more complicated — and less to our liking.

The fact is that Russia has flirted with selling the S-300 to Iran for years without ever actually going through with the deal, thus suggesting that the Russians were not truly planning to transfer the technology after all — they were simply hoping to get a good payoff from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and other countries alarmed by rising Iranian power. It’s impossible to know exactly what the Russians have gotten in return (such deals tend to be secret), but at a very minimum they managed to convince the Obama administration to scrap plans to put missile interceptors into Poland and the Czech Republic — a move that alarmed those stalwart allies. How much more can we expect from the Russians? Not that much, as indicated by this L.A. Times article:

Even as the White House praised Russia for declining to sell antiaircraft missiles to Iran in violation of U.N. sanctions, Russian diplomats were quietly recruiting other countries this week to undercut tougher penalties imposed on the Islamic Republic.

Russia supported weak United Nations sanctions approved in June to pressure Iran over its nuclear program. But it has strongly objected to tougher sanctions added individually by the United States, the European Union and four other countries. It fears those sanctions may end up hurting Russian companies that do business in Iran.

In other words, the Russians are up to their old tricks — paying lip service to stopping the Iranian nuclear program while sabotaging efforts to really get tough with Tehran. Beijing is pursuing a similar policy. Their intransigence means that the odds of really cracking down on Iran with international sanctions — the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s policy — are minimal. Other means, such as computer worms, can and should be used to sabotage and delay the Iranian nuclear program, but in the end the U.S. and Israel cannot avoid the toughest of choices: either act militarily or watch Iran go nuclear.

Read Less

After Triumph with Russia on Iran, Obama Signals Return to Appeasement

In his 20 months in office, Barack Obama hasn’t had many foreign-policy triumphs to crow about. But yesterday when he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly, for once the president could cite an actual diplomatic achievement for his administration. Russia’s announcement that it will not honor the contract it had signed to sell S-300 missiles to Iran showed that efforts undertaken by Obama to sweet-talk Moscow out of acting as an enabler for the rogue regime in Tehran have not been completely in vain.

Stopping the sale of these weapons had been an urgent issue for both the United States and Israel. Had they been deployed by the Iranians, those missiles would have acted as the centerpiece of an air-defense system that would have posed a formidable obstacle to any effort to knock out the Iranians’ nuclear-weapons program from the air. Russia’s willingness to join in the ban on arms sales to Iran puts some teeth in the otherwise mild sanctions that the international community has placed on Tehran.

But despite this setback, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can’t be too downhearted about the way things have been going for his despotic regime during the UN jamboree in New York this week. Just when the Russian announcement gave Obama something to brag about, the administration was sending signals that it was prepared to step back from its recent tough talk about bringing Iran to heel.

The New York Times reports that: “At a meeting today with France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China, diplomats planned what one senior American official described to reporters as a ‘phased approach’ that would include reviving an earlier proposal to supply Iran with enriched fuel for a research reactor in Tehran in return for Iran’s shipping the bulk of its stockpile of uranium to Russia and France. ‘We’re prepared to engage and see if we can’t produce what would be a confidence-building step,’ said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.”

Thus, just when it seemed as if he were making some real progress on isolating Iran, Obama sends Ahmadinejad a signal that he is in no real trouble after all. Dating back to the Bush administration’s own feckless diplomacy on Iran’s nukes, Tehran has happily exploited the West’s efforts to appease it. Every initiative that sought to cajole or bribe the Islamist tyranny to back away from its nuclear ambitions has been welcomed by the ayatollahs. They were only too happy to string European or American diplomats along to buy more time in order to get closer to the day when they could announce their possession of a nuclear device. Last year, the Iranians agreed to a porous deal that called for the export of their uranium stockpile. But then, when it suited them, they repudiated it, leaving Obama and the rest of his foreign-policy team with egg on their faces. As with the rest of Obama’s pathetic attempt to “engage” Iran, such initiatives only convinced Tehran that the new American president was not to be taken seriously. With non-military trade with Russia still booming and with neighboring Turkey’s Islamic government providing Ahmadinejad with a reliable ally and trading partner, the Iranians understand that the UN sanctions are inconvenient but not crippling. And so long as Obama is still wedded to the absurd idea that he can talk them out of their nuclear plans, the Iranians have to be thinking that it will soon be too late for anyone to stop them from gaining a nuclear weapon.

In his 20 months in office, Barack Obama hasn’t had many foreign-policy triumphs to crow about. But yesterday when he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly, for once the president could cite an actual diplomatic achievement for his administration. Russia’s announcement that it will not honor the contract it had signed to sell S-300 missiles to Iran showed that efforts undertaken by Obama to sweet-talk Moscow out of acting as an enabler for the rogue regime in Tehran have not been completely in vain.

Stopping the sale of these weapons had been an urgent issue for both the United States and Israel. Had they been deployed by the Iranians, those missiles would have acted as the centerpiece of an air-defense system that would have posed a formidable obstacle to any effort to knock out the Iranians’ nuclear-weapons program from the air. Russia’s willingness to join in the ban on arms sales to Iran puts some teeth in the otherwise mild sanctions that the international community has placed on Tehran.

But despite this setback, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can’t be too downhearted about the way things have been going for his despotic regime during the UN jamboree in New York this week. Just when the Russian announcement gave Obama something to brag about, the administration was sending signals that it was prepared to step back from its recent tough talk about bringing Iran to heel.

The New York Times reports that: “At a meeting today with France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China, diplomats planned what one senior American official described to reporters as a ‘phased approach’ that would include reviving an earlier proposal to supply Iran with enriched fuel for a research reactor in Tehran in return for Iran’s shipping the bulk of its stockpile of uranium to Russia and France. ‘We’re prepared to engage and see if we can’t produce what would be a confidence-building step,’ said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.”

Thus, just when it seemed as if he were making some real progress on isolating Iran, Obama sends Ahmadinejad a signal that he is in no real trouble after all. Dating back to the Bush administration’s own feckless diplomacy on Iran’s nukes, Tehran has happily exploited the West’s efforts to appease it. Every initiative that sought to cajole or bribe the Islamist tyranny to back away from its nuclear ambitions has been welcomed by the ayatollahs. They were only too happy to string European or American diplomats along to buy more time in order to get closer to the day when they could announce their possession of a nuclear device. Last year, the Iranians agreed to a porous deal that called for the export of their uranium stockpile. But then, when it suited them, they repudiated it, leaving Obama and the rest of his foreign-policy team with egg on their faces. As with the rest of Obama’s pathetic attempt to “engage” Iran, such initiatives only convinced Tehran that the new American president was not to be taken seriously. With non-military trade with Russia still booming and with neighboring Turkey’s Islamic government providing Ahmadinejad with a reliable ally and trading partner, the Iranians understand that the UN sanctions are inconvenient but not crippling. And so long as Obama is still wedded to the absurd idea that he can talk them out of their nuclear plans, the Iranians have to be thinking that it will soon be too late for anyone to stop them from gaining a nuclear weapon.

Read Less




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