Commentary Magazine


Topic: Moscow

New START, Old Patterns

Heritage’s Foundry blog urges the Senate to “avoid rubberstamping” the New START treaty, on which the Foreign Relations Committee begins official deliberations today. Author Conn Carroll is right that the treaty’s disadvantages for U.S. missile-defense development are its most problematic features. If we look deeper into the character of the relative situation the Russians hope to solidify, moreover, we must feel ourselves to be back in about 1970.

New START is a bad deal that helps the Russians and hobbles the U.S. The bad deal begins with the constraints on our missile-defense development. In a relative missile stasis — if we and the Russians merely maintained the missiles we have — this would be bad enough. But the Russians aren’t going to merely maintain the missiles they have. Unlike us, they have been developing new classes of ballistic missiles and fielding them in their forces. They will not have more missiles as their modernization program proceeds, but they will have better ones. And a key thing that’s better about the showpiece missile in Russia’s new inventory, the Topol-M ICBM (NATO designation SS-27), is that it’s designed to evade existing U.S. missile defenses.

Russian claims that the Topol-M will penetrate our national missile defense (NMD) 87 percent of the time are not unrealistic. We have focused NMD development for nearly 20 years on the less-challenging third-party threat from nations like North Korea or Iran. With that choice, we made it an easier task for the Russians to design an ICBM that can outperform our current defenses. They are confident they have succeeded in doing so.

But as this 2007 analysis indicates, the Russians have been able to introduce the Topol-M only slowly, due to cash constraints. They have faced a real prospect of seeing their older ICBMs reach the end of their service life without replacement. The greatest advantage they can wangle in treaty negotiations, therefore, is a reduction in U.S. launchers that is not matched by a requirement for Russian reductions, combined with constraints on the U.S. missile-defense program. It gives them financial breathing room to redress their perceived shortfall through U.S. cuts rather than Russian expenditures — as long as they’re confident that we have effectively committed to refrain from defending ourselves against the newer missiles.

New START gives them precisely those advantages. Meanwhile, in the three years since the 2007 report, Russia has deployed its new mobile Topol-M launchers and introduced the upgraded, multi-warhead Topol-M (RS-24) to the operating forces. Punctuating the sense of a reversion to Cold War-era patterns, the Topol-M was paraded through Moscow with great fanfare in this year’s World War II Victory Day parade. Out in the Russian submarine fleet, the Sineva ballistic missile (NATO: upgraded SS-N-23) entered service in 2007, equipped with 10 MIRVed warheads per missile instead of the previous four.

Russia is not a partner in eliminating nuclear weapons. Russia’s basic purpose has not changed in 50 years: to hold the West at risk with nuclear weapons and to use arms negotiations to gain effective U.S. concurrence with that objective. New START — a Russian triumph in principle over Reagan’s SDI concept — is laughably misnamed. It’s nothing new. It merely resurrects the old, pre-START dynamic in which Moscow relied on Americans to hobble themselves.

Heritage’s Foundry blog urges the Senate to “avoid rubberstamping” the New START treaty, on which the Foreign Relations Committee begins official deliberations today. Author Conn Carroll is right that the treaty’s disadvantages for U.S. missile-defense development are its most problematic features. If we look deeper into the character of the relative situation the Russians hope to solidify, moreover, we must feel ourselves to be back in about 1970.

New START is a bad deal that helps the Russians and hobbles the U.S. The bad deal begins with the constraints on our missile-defense development. In a relative missile stasis — if we and the Russians merely maintained the missiles we have — this would be bad enough. But the Russians aren’t going to merely maintain the missiles they have. Unlike us, they have been developing new classes of ballistic missiles and fielding them in their forces. They will not have more missiles as their modernization program proceeds, but they will have better ones. And a key thing that’s better about the showpiece missile in Russia’s new inventory, the Topol-M ICBM (NATO designation SS-27), is that it’s designed to evade existing U.S. missile defenses.

Russian claims that the Topol-M will penetrate our national missile defense (NMD) 87 percent of the time are not unrealistic. We have focused NMD development for nearly 20 years on the less-challenging third-party threat from nations like North Korea or Iran. With that choice, we made it an easier task for the Russians to design an ICBM that can outperform our current defenses. They are confident they have succeeded in doing so.

But as this 2007 analysis indicates, the Russians have been able to introduce the Topol-M only slowly, due to cash constraints. They have faced a real prospect of seeing their older ICBMs reach the end of their service life without replacement. The greatest advantage they can wangle in treaty negotiations, therefore, is a reduction in U.S. launchers that is not matched by a requirement for Russian reductions, combined with constraints on the U.S. missile-defense program. It gives them financial breathing room to redress their perceived shortfall through U.S. cuts rather than Russian expenditures — as long as they’re confident that we have effectively committed to refrain from defending ourselves against the newer missiles.

New START gives them precisely those advantages. Meanwhile, in the three years since the 2007 report, Russia has deployed its new mobile Topol-M launchers and introduced the upgraded, multi-warhead Topol-M (RS-24) to the operating forces. Punctuating the sense of a reversion to Cold War-era patterns, the Topol-M was paraded through Moscow with great fanfare in this year’s World War II Victory Day parade. Out in the Russian submarine fleet, the Sineva ballistic missile (NATO: upgraded SS-N-23) entered service in 2007, equipped with 10 MIRVed warheads per missile instead of the previous four.

Russia is not a partner in eliminating nuclear weapons. Russia’s basic purpose has not changed in 50 years: to hold the West at risk with nuclear weapons and to use arms negotiations to gain effective U.S. concurrence with that objective. New START — a Russian triumph in principle over Reagan’s SDI concept — is laughably misnamed. It’s nothing new. It merely resurrects the old, pre-START dynamic in which Moscow relied on Americans to hobble themselves.

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What Bushehr Tells Us

Jamie Fly has an important analysis of the Bushehr reactor. He contends that the reactor in and of itself is less important (“The real key to Iran’s nuclear program lies at its facilities at Natanz, Esfahan, at the factories where its centrifuges are being built, and the labs and campuses of its nuclear scientists”) than what it tells us about the general state of our Iran policy:

First, it serves as another reminder of the bipartisan failure of U.S. Iran policy. The Iran saga is not solely about failed engagement by President Obama. The Bush administration tried various tactics with Iran and also failed to halt its progress toward a nuclear capability. A serious exploration of new options, including the military option, is thus in order if the United States remains unwilling to accept a nuclear Iran. …

Second, the actual startup of Bushehr says something about Russia’s perceptions of the Iranian threat. . .Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal reported that the administration “consented in recent months to Russia pushing forward with Bushehr in order to gain Moscow’s support for a fourth round of United Nations sanctions against Iran, which passed in June.” That adds Bushehr to a long list of concessions granted by this administration to Moscow as part of its “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations. . .

Finally, the brouhaha over Bushehr obscures the real troubling aspect of the current crisis — the ongoing nuclear weapons program’s timeline.

As to the timeline, Obama’s Gray Lady PR gambit to dissuade Israel from acting unilaterally highlights the difficulty, as Fly puts it, in determining “how close Iran should be allowed to get to a nuclear capability before military action is taken to stop the program.” Fly echoes former CIA director Michael Hayden’s worry that Iran may “loiter at the nuclear threshold and not make the decision to immediately build a weapon, knowing that it would be a green light for preemptive action. If it chooses this route, Iran could keep Western intelligence agencies guessing for years, trying to discern whether the ‘go’ order had actually been given by the Supreme Leader.”

In sum, Bushehr illuminates the faulty judgment and flawed assumptions that undergird Obama’s foreign policy. It turns out that sanctions are too late in coming and totally ineffective, that the Russians can’t be enlisted to disarm Iran, that “reset” is nothing more than frantic appeasement, that Iran isn’t more “isolated” thanks to the Obami’s policy, that time is on the mullah’s side (Obama squandered a critical 18 months on engagement/scrawny sanctions), and that it wasn’t so smart to put the mullahs at ease about the prospects for U.S. military action.

We can’t get the 18 months back. We can’t reset the calendar to June 12 and lend critical, timely aid to the Green movement. But we can prepare, threaten, and, if need be, conduct a military action that would rescue Obama’s credibility, maintain America’s superpower status, prevent an existential danger to Israel, remove a threat to the American homeland and to our allies, and disrupt  Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and growing alliances in the region. Or we could sit idly by as the worst national security disaster in our lifetime plays out before our eyes. We should pray that Obama – for good reasons or not – chooses action rather than passivity.

Jamie Fly has an important analysis of the Bushehr reactor. He contends that the reactor in and of itself is less important (“The real key to Iran’s nuclear program lies at its facilities at Natanz, Esfahan, at the factories where its centrifuges are being built, and the labs and campuses of its nuclear scientists”) than what it tells us about the general state of our Iran policy:

First, it serves as another reminder of the bipartisan failure of U.S. Iran policy. The Iran saga is not solely about failed engagement by President Obama. The Bush administration tried various tactics with Iran and also failed to halt its progress toward a nuclear capability. A serious exploration of new options, including the military option, is thus in order if the United States remains unwilling to accept a nuclear Iran. …

Second, the actual startup of Bushehr says something about Russia’s perceptions of the Iranian threat. . .Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal reported that the administration “consented in recent months to Russia pushing forward with Bushehr in order to gain Moscow’s support for a fourth round of United Nations sanctions against Iran, which passed in June.” That adds Bushehr to a long list of concessions granted by this administration to Moscow as part of its “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations. . .

Finally, the brouhaha over Bushehr obscures the real troubling aspect of the current crisis — the ongoing nuclear weapons program’s timeline.

As to the timeline, Obama’s Gray Lady PR gambit to dissuade Israel from acting unilaterally highlights the difficulty, as Fly puts it, in determining “how close Iran should be allowed to get to a nuclear capability before military action is taken to stop the program.” Fly echoes former CIA director Michael Hayden’s worry that Iran may “loiter at the nuclear threshold and not make the decision to immediately build a weapon, knowing that it would be a green light for preemptive action. If it chooses this route, Iran could keep Western intelligence agencies guessing for years, trying to discern whether the ‘go’ order had actually been given by the Supreme Leader.”

In sum, Bushehr illuminates the faulty judgment and flawed assumptions that undergird Obama’s foreign policy. It turns out that sanctions are too late in coming and totally ineffective, that the Russians can’t be enlisted to disarm Iran, that “reset” is nothing more than frantic appeasement, that Iran isn’t more “isolated” thanks to the Obami’s policy, that time is on the mullah’s side (Obama squandered a critical 18 months on engagement/scrawny sanctions), and that it wasn’t so smart to put the mullahs at ease about the prospects for U.S. military action.

We can’t get the 18 months back. We can’t reset the calendar to June 12 and lend critical, timely aid to the Green movement. But we can prepare, threaten, and, if need be, conduct a military action that would rescue Obama’s credibility, maintain America’s superpower status, prevent an existential danger to Israel, remove a threat to the American homeland and to our allies, and disrupt  Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and growing alliances in the region. Or we could sit idly by as the worst national security disaster in our lifetime plays out before our eyes. We should pray that Obama – for good reasons or not – chooses action rather than passivity.

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Dismantling Our NATO-Linked Infrastructure

The recent cost-cutting proposal to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) is followed by a report this week according to which the U.S. Second Fleet staff and headquarters are on the chopping block. Second Fleet operates out of Norfolk, Virginia and exercises command and control of U.S. naval operations in the North Atlantic. During the Cold War its level of operational tasking was staggering; in 2010, its main focus shifted to fleet training. Its maritime cognizance of Latin America and the Caribbean was transferred to the resurrected Fourth Fleet in 2008. Meanwhile, Second Fleet has been used since 9/11 to command homeland-defense activities off the East coast. Its Pacific counterpart, Third Fleet in San Diego, performs similar functions on the West coast.

Like JFCOM, however, Second Fleet has a unique role in our obligations with NATO, one that confers on it the densely packed title “Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Centre of Excellence.” Wearing this hat, Second Fleet labors to improve Alliance interoperability and doctrine in naval and expeditionary operations. It performs as a naval arm of the Allied mission to which JFCOM contributes through its liaison with the Norfolk-based NATO command, Allied Command Transformation (ACT).

It may be considered a sign of sclerosis in an alliance — possibly even of senility — when the tasks assigned to its agencies can no longer be conveyed in sensible language. NATO has big plans for ACT, however, and expressed strong endorsement of its mission in May of this year. That alone ought to warrant more careful reflection over eliminating JFCOM and Second Fleet. But the proposal to gut the U.S. Navy’s command infrastructure in the Atlantic carries existential implications for our core alliance with Western Europe. The fresh perspective needed here is strategic, not budgetary.

In terms of military planning, getting rid of Second Fleet means no longer seeing the Atlantic as a threat axis or potential maritime battle space for which dedicated tactical preparation is required. Other commands can take over some of the grab-bag of functions Second Fleet has been assigned in recent years, but a numbered fleet is uniquely organized for an integrated approach to naval warfare.

Dispensing with Second Fleet appears out of step with Russian developments since 2007, when Vladimir Putin declared that he would resume the Soviet-era posture of forward operation and surveillance. Today, Russian bombers again operate close to North America and Western Europe. Russian submarines ply the Arctic, where Moscow’s claims of mineral rights conflict with those of NATO allies America, Canada, Norway, and Denmark. A year ago, the Russian navy announced its resumption of a submarine presence off the U.S. East coast, deploying its most modern submarines equipped with long-range, land-attack cruise missiles. An ambitious naval building program makes it clear that Russian leaders want to reestablish their maritime profile in multiple directions.

Under President Obama, however, the U.S. military is becoming less organized in secure the East coast and the Atlantic. The shift is not yet comprehensive, by any means, but the proposals to eliminate JFCOM and Second Fleet make it a trend. Obama’s decision last fall to abandon Bush’s missile-defense plan in Europe will leave the Eastern half of North America vulnerable — in a way the Western half is not — to ICBMs from the Eastern hemisphere. Now Obama’s Defense Department seems to be playing down the importance of training and developing joint naval tactics with NATO, at the same time it proposes to eliminate, in the Atlantic, the unique military role of the numbered fleet.

Neither alliances nor security conditions maintain themselves. It may be true that Second Fleet has been organized out of a job over the past decade, but it’s not clear that today’s geopolitical reality validates the decisions behind that transformation. An insecure Atlantic has never been a harbinger of peace. We may well come to regret having been so shortsighted — and sooner than we think.

The recent cost-cutting proposal to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) is followed by a report this week according to which the U.S. Second Fleet staff and headquarters are on the chopping block. Second Fleet operates out of Norfolk, Virginia and exercises command and control of U.S. naval operations in the North Atlantic. During the Cold War its level of operational tasking was staggering; in 2010, its main focus shifted to fleet training. Its maritime cognizance of Latin America and the Caribbean was transferred to the resurrected Fourth Fleet in 2008. Meanwhile, Second Fleet has been used since 9/11 to command homeland-defense activities off the East coast. Its Pacific counterpart, Third Fleet in San Diego, performs similar functions on the West coast.

Like JFCOM, however, Second Fleet has a unique role in our obligations with NATO, one that confers on it the densely packed title “Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Centre of Excellence.” Wearing this hat, Second Fleet labors to improve Alliance interoperability and doctrine in naval and expeditionary operations. It performs as a naval arm of the Allied mission to which JFCOM contributes through its liaison with the Norfolk-based NATO command, Allied Command Transformation (ACT).

It may be considered a sign of sclerosis in an alliance — possibly even of senility — when the tasks assigned to its agencies can no longer be conveyed in sensible language. NATO has big plans for ACT, however, and expressed strong endorsement of its mission in May of this year. That alone ought to warrant more careful reflection over eliminating JFCOM and Second Fleet. But the proposal to gut the U.S. Navy’s command infrastructure in the Atlantic carries existential implications for our core alliance with Western Europe. The fresh perspective needed here is strategic, not budgetary.

In terms of military planning, getting rid of Second Fleet means no longer seeing the Atlantic as a threat axis or potential maritime battle space for which dedicated tactical preparation is required. Other commands can take over some of the grab-bag of functions Second Fleet has been assigned in recent years, but a numbered fleet is uniquely organized for an integrated approach to naval warfare.

Dispensing with Second Fleet appears out of step with Russian developments since 2007, when Vladimir Putin declared that he would resume the Soviet-era posture of forward operation and surveillance. Today, Russian bombers again operate close to North America and Western Europe. Russian submarines ply the Arctic, where Moscow’s claims of mineral rights conflict with those of NATO allies America, Canada, Norway, and Denmark. A year ago, the Russian navy announced its resumption of a submarine presence off the U.S. East coast, deploying its most modern submarines equipped with long-range, land-attack cruise missiles. An ambitious naval building program makes it clear that Russian leaders want to reestablish their maritime profile in multiple directions.

Under President Obama, however, the U.S. military is becoming less organized in secure the East coast and the Atlantic. The shift is not yet comprehensive, by any means, but the proposals to eliminate JFCOM and Second Fleet make it a trend. Obama’s decision last fall to abandon Bush’s missile-defense plan in Europe will leave the Eastern half of North America vulnerable — in a way the Western half is not — to ICBMs from the Eastern hemisphere. Now Obama’s Defense Department seems to be playing down the importance of training and developing joint naval tactics with NATO, at the same time it proposes to eliminate, in the Atlantic, the unique military role of the numbered fleet.

Neither alliances nor security conditions maintain themselves. It may be true that Second Fleet has been organized out of a job over the past decade, but it’s not clear that today’s geopolitical reality validates the decisions behind that transformation. An insecure Atlantic has never been a harbinger of peace. We may well come to regret having been so shortsighted — and sooner than we think.

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Here Comes Bushehr

This story will probably rule the news cycle this weekend. The light-water reactor at Bushehr in southwestern Iran is to be fueled starting on August 21 and powered up in September. I’ve written about Bushehr’s significance several times (here and, earlier this week, here). The Bushehr reactor doesn’t have the meaning to Iran’s nuclear weapons program that the Iraqi and Syrian reactors had. Although the reactor could figure in Iran’s weapons program in the future, it’s not central to the production of weapons-grade material. I very much doubt Israel regards it as necessary to strike the Bushehr installation.

But fueling the reactor and powering it up send the clearest possible political signal: that Russia and Iran feel free to do it. The uranium fuel — provided by Moscow — has been stored in Iran since 2008, but Russia has held off on preparing the reactor for operation, largely because of calculations about U.S. objections. Timing the reactor start-up to squeeze more concessions from Iran was probably a factor too.

I suggested a few days ago (see the link above) that the coordinated rocket attacks on Israel and the attack by Lebanese troops on an IDF contingent in the north, which occurred on August 1 and 2, were related to the plan for Bushehr. Iran has been skittish all summer, fearing an imminent attack; powering up the Bushehr reactor is an event the mullahs probably expected to want some insurance for, in the form of a preoccupied Israel.

But whatever qualms the Iranians or Russians may have had about taking this action — one that directly contradicts the intent of UN sanctions and U.S.-EU policy — they appear to feel them no longer. The real significance of starting up the reactor next week is that Iran and Russia don’t fear doing it.

I predict we will hear from the Obama administration that this action is unhelpful, but that in a technical sense, it’s not all that important. And in a technical sense, it’s not. But in a political sense, as a signal of how seriously Iran and Russia take U.S. policy, it means everything that matters.

This story will probably rule the news cycle this weekend. The light-water reactor at Bushehr in southwestern Iran is to be fueled starting on August 21 and powered up in September. I’ve written about Bushehr’s significance several times (here and, earlier this week, here). The Bushehr reactor doesn’t have the meaning to Iran’s nuclear weapons program that the Iraqi and Syrian reactors had. Although the reactor could figure in Iran’s weapons program in the future, it’s not central to the production of weapons-grade material. I very much doubt Israel regards it as necessary to strike the Bushehr installation.

But fueling the reactor and powering it up send the clearest possible political signal: that Russia and Iran feel free to do it. The uranium fuel — provided by Moscow — has been stored in Iran since 2008, but Russia has held off on preparing the reactor for operation, largely because of calculations about U.S. objections. Timing the reactor start-up to squeeze more concessions from Iran was probably a factor too.

I suggested a few days ago (see the link above) that the coordinated rocket attacks on Israel and the attack by Lebanese troops on an IDF contingent in the north, which occurred on August 1 and 2, were related to the plan for Bushehr. Iran has been skittish all summer, fearing an imminent attack; powering up the Bushehr reactor is an event the mullahs probably expected to want some insurance for, in the form of a preoccupied Israel.

But whatever qualms the Iranians or Russians may have had about taking this action — one that directly contradicts the intent of UN sanctions and U.S.-EU policy — they appear to feel them no longer. The real significance of starting up the reactor next week is that Iran and Russia don’t fear doing it.

I predict we will hear from the Obama administration that this action is unhelpful, but that in a technical sense, it’s not all that important. And in a technical sense, it’s not. But in a political sense, as a signal of how seriously Iran and Russia take U.S. policy, it means everything that matters.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Ho-hum. After Journolist, a report that network execs ordered news staff to go easy on Obama doesn’t seem so shocking.

Same old. Harry Reid insults another ethnic minority group. Marco Rubio reams him, but where’s La Raza and MALDEF?

Yawn. Another horrific poll for the Democrats to ignore: “Among whites with less than a college education—a group the two parties split in the most-recent midterms—the GOP has a 16-point advantage, 49% to 33%, when voters were asked which party they wanted to control Congress. Republicans, meantime, are gaining ground on a number of issues that have traditionally been advantages for Democrats. More Americans now think the GOP would do a better job on the economy—an advantage the party last held briefly in 2004 but has not enjoyed consistently since the mid-1990s. On one of the Democrats’ core issues, Social Security, just 30% now think the party would do a better job than the GOP, compared to 26% who favor the Republicans. That margin was 28 points in 2006.”

Franco is still dead. And Congress is still unpopular. “Congress’ job rating from the American people in August remains near the historical lows seen in recent months. Nineteen percent of Americans now approve of the overall job Congress is doing, while 75% disapprove.”

Predictable. Democrats are in “panic” mode, Rep. Paul Ryan explains. “‘The Left sees their agenda being rebuked by the voters this fall,’ Ryan tells us. As their electoral worries mount, he says, Democrats are scurrying to ‘nullify any notion that there is an alternative path for America. They want to delegitimize an alternative plan and win the argument by default, making the case that there is no other path for America than what progressives have mapped out for the country, and that any other talk, of any other idea, is just fanciful. That’s what’s troubling,’ Ryan says. ‘They are trying to deny the debate that must happen if we are going to get out of the mess that we’re in.'”

Par for the course. This time using schoolyard taunts to demean the left, Robert Gibbs enrages Democrats trying to survive the coming electoral tsunami: “A number of liberal TV and radio hosts continued to process Gibbs’s comments on Wednesday, questioning everything from his motives to what effect his remarks could have on Democratic turn-out in the midterm elections. And despite several efforts at levity by the embattled press secretary at Wednesday’s briefing, a number of high-profile liberal commentators warned that Gibb’s remarks could harm liberal enthusiasm in the midterms.”

More of the same. “Reset” means a license for the Russian bear to go hunting: “Russia said on Wednesday it had deployed high-precision air defense missiles in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, sending a defiant signal to Tbilisi and the West two years after a war with Georgia. The formidable S-300 missile system bolstered Moscow’s military presence in the disputed territory and drew an angry response from Georgia.”

Cat still got his tongue? Obama silent on Ground Zero mosque.

Ho-hum. After Journolist, a report that network execs ordered news staff to go easy on Obama doesn’t seem so shocking.

Same old. Harry Reid insults another ethnic minority group. Marco Rubio reams him, but where’s La Raza and MALDEF?

Yawn. Another horrific poll for the Democrats to ignore: “Among whites with less than a college education—a group the two parties split in the most-recent midterms—the GOP has a 16-point advantage, 49% to 33%, when voters were asked which party they wanted to control Congress. Republicans, meantime, are gaining ground on a number of issues that have traditionally been advantages for Democrats. More Americans now think the GOP would do a better job on the economy—an advantage the party last held briefly in 2004 but has not enjoyed consistently since the mid-1990s. On one of the Democrats’ core issues, Social Security, just 30% now think the party would do a better job than the GOP, compared to 26% who favor the Republicans. That margin was 28 points in 2006.”

Franco is still dead. And Congress is still unpopular. “Congress’ job rating from the American people in August remains near the historical lows seen in recent months. Nineteen percent of Americans now approve of the overall job Congress is doing, while 75% disapprove.”

Predictable. Democrats are in “panic” mode, Rep. Paul Ryan explains. “‘The Left sees their agenda being rebuked by the voters this fall,’ Ryan tells us. As their electoral worries mount, he says, Democrats are scurrying to ‘nullify any notion that there is an alternative path for America. They want to delegitimize an alternative plan and win the argument by default, making the case that there is no other path for America than what progressives have mapped out for the country, and that any other talk, of any other idea, is just fanciful. That’s what’s troubling,’ Ryan says. ‘They are trying to deny the debate that must happen if we are going to get out of the mess that we’re in.'”

Par for the course. This time using schoolyard taunts to demean the left, Robert Gibbs enrages Democrats trying to survive the coming electoral tsunami: “A number of liberal TV and radio hosts continued to process Gibbs’s comments on Wednesday, questioning everything from his motives to what effect his remarks could have on Democratic turn-out in the midterm elections. And despite several efforts at levity by the embattled press secretary at Wednesday’s briefing, a number of high-profile liberal commentators warned that Gibb’s remarks could harm liberal enthusiasm in the midterms.”

More of the same. “Reset” means a license for the Russian bear to go hunting: “Russia said on Wednesday it had deployed high-precision air defense missiles in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, sending a defiant signal to Tbilisi and the West two years after a war with Georgia. The formidable S-300 missile system bolstered Moscow’s military presence in the disputed territory and drew an angry response from Georgia.”

Cat still got his tongue? Obama silent on Ground Zero mosque.

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Riding the Rails

The success of certain sanctions on Iran will always depend on the cooperation of Iran’s neighbors as to their enforcement. Major railway developments in 2010 are aligning to present Turkey and Pakistan, in particular, with decision points in that regard. With cargo and passengers moving in both directions, Iran’s reach in support of terrorists has the prospect of being significantly extended as well.

Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan have been working on a continuous railway link since 2007. Variously known as the Istanbul-Islamabad line or the “Zahedan corridor” — for the hub transits in Iran — the link was completed in mid-2009. With the three nations planning to inaugurate regular passenger and freight service on August 1, the obvious questions are whether the security arrangements in Turkey and Pakistan will reflect the intent of the UN sanctions, and whether they will be brokered with transparent honesty.

Turkey has a heavily-trafficked railway link to Europe as well as domestic concerns about the Kurdish insurgency. The Turks are certain to exercise a high level of vigilance over passengers and cargo at their borders. But that doesn’t mean they will enforce UN sanctions in brokering cargo passage to Iran, nor does it mean they will interdict shipments from Iran destined for Syria (and, ultimately, for Hezbollah). Indeed, light cargo can be transported to Syria with particular ease now, rail service having been restarted between Mersin, Turkey, and Aleppo in June 2010. An additional transport hub is scheduled to open in December between Gaziantep, Turkey, and Aleppo — this one linked with a new rail service between Turkey and Iraq that transits through northern Syria.

On the Pakistani side, railway security will operate according to Islamabad’s domestic priorities; the primary effort will be interdicting foreign support to internal insurgencies. If the Pakistani authorities don’t act as reliable enforcement agents, it won’t be difficult (although it will probably be expensive) to move UN-prohibited cargo to Iran through Pakistani ports and the national rail system. Moreover, given the extent of the emerging rail network — by which passengers will be able to move continuously on rail between Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan –terrorist operatives will have the ability to travel more directly and conveniently than by sea, but still avoid the international law-enforcement vulnerability of commercial air travel.

Iran’s options for evading sanctions are many; it has three other long borders besides the one on the Persian Gulf. Russia’s trade access to Iran across the Caspian Sea has long given Moscow a central position in multilateral negotiations with the mullahs. But with the new rail service joining Turkey and Pakistan, Iran will have a modern, convenient transport option that doesn’t involve Russia. On the Pakistani end, the influence of the EU will be less of a factor than it is with Turkey — and the useful “cover” of a thriving regular trade with China will be more important. For both Iran’s nuclear program and Islamist terror logistics, much will shortly depend on how Ankara and Islamabad handle security and law enforcement on the rails.

The success of certain sanctions on Iran will always depend on the cooperation of Iran’s neighbors as to their enforcement. Major railway developments in 2010 are aligning to present Turkey and Pakistan, in particular, with decision points in that regard. With cargo and passengers moving in both directions, Iran’s reach in support of terrorists has the prospect of being significantly extended as well.

Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan have been working on a continuous railway link since 2007. Variously known as the Istanbul-Islamabad line or the “Zahedan corridor” — for the hub transits in Iran — the link was completed in mid-2009. With the three nations planning to inaugurate regular passenger and freight service on August 1, the obvious questions are whether the security arrangements in Turkey and Pakistan will reflect the intent of the UN sanctions, and whether they will be brokered with transparent honesty.

Turkey has a heavily-trafficked railway link to Europe as well as domestic concerns about the Kurdish insurgency. The Turks are certain to exercise a high level of vigilance over passengers and cargo at their borders. But that doesn’t mean they will enforce UN sanctions in brokering cargo passage to Iran, nor does it mean they will interdict shipments from Iran destined for Syria (and, ultimately, for Hezbollah). Indeed, light cargo can be transported to Syria with particular ease now, rail service having been restarted between Mersin, Turkey, and Aleppo in June 2010. An additional transport hub is scheduled to open in December between Gaziantep, Turkey, and Aleppo — this one linked with a new rail service between Turkey and Iraq that transits through northern Syria.

On the Pakistani side, railway security will operate according to Islamabad’s domestic priorities; the primary effort will be interdicting foreign support to internal insurgencies. If the Pakistani authorities don’t act as reliable enforcement agents, it won’t be difficult (although it will probably be expensive) to move UN-prohibited cargo to Iran through Pakistani ports and the national rail system. Moreover, given the extent of the emerging rail network — by which passengers will be able to move continuously on rail between Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan –terrorist operatives will have the ability to travel more directly and conveniently than by sea, but still avoid the international law-enforcement vulnerability of commercial air travel.

Iran’s options for evading sanctions are many; it has three other long borders besides the one on the Persian Gulf. Russia’s trade access to Iran across the Caspian Sea has long given Moscow a central position in multilateral negotiations with the mullahs. But with the new rail service joining Turkey and Pakistan, Iran will have a modern, convenient transport option that doesn’t involve Russia. On the Pakistani end, the influence of the EU will be less of a factor than it is with Turkey — and the useful “cover” of a thriving regular trade with China will be more important. For both Iran’s nuclear program and Islamist terror logistics, much will shortly depend on how Ankara and Islamabad handle security and law enforcement on the rails.

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We Need to Reset “Reset”

The Foreign Policy Initiative provides a helpful analysis of Obama’s  attempt to “reset” relations with Russia. It seems we have given up a lot and gotten very little.

On arms control, the START agreement looks like a bad deal:

The cuts are so minute that Russia was technically in compliance with the agreement before the treaty was signed.  New START also falls short in other key respects. The treaty does not address Russia’s overwhelming advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, while arcane counting rules — where a bomber armed with multiple cruise missiles is counted as one launcher — could allow the Russians to increase the size of their deployed nuclear arsenal, should they find the resources to expand their bomber fleet. … In sum, New START places restrictions on the United States, while having only a limited impact on Russia’s nuclear force.

On Iran, we have again given up much for minimal returns:

To get Russian support for new sanctions, the Obama administration paid a steep price – removing U.S. sanctions against five Russian entities, and resubmitting a nuclear cooperation agreement that was previously frozen after Russia’s invasion of Georgia.  Despite administration denials, many observers wonder whether President Obama’s cancellation of missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic in September 2009 also were part of a package deal with Moscow.

Likewise on Afghanistan, despite the puffery on new air routes afforded by the Russians for our operations, it amounts to a grand total of “only five supply flights… in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.” Meanwhile:

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.

With regard to Russia’s neighbors, we haven’t gotten Russia out of Georgia, but we have strained our own relations with the Czech Republic and Poland. On human rights:

One of the most troubling aspects of the “reset” is the fact that it has subjugated concerns about Russia’s internal situation to issues such as arms control and Iran.  The Russian political situation is marked by unfair elections and the abolition of elected governorships, control of civil society organizations through intimidation, harassment and regulation, the dominance of state controlled media and restrictions on independent media, impunity for perpetrators of violence, including murder, against regime critics and brutal abuses in the Caucasus.  Opposition parties struggle to compete in elections and to hold demonstrations.  A monthly effort to protest the lack of freedom of assembly was violently broken up by police on May 31 and more than 100 people were arrested.

We frankly did much better with the Communists during the Cold War:

Even during the Cold War, the United States was able to engage Moscow on key national security issues while simultaneously making clear where U.S. and Russian interests diverged.  The Obama administration has thus far shown itself either unable or unwilling to do the same.

The Obama team, filled with hubris, entered office determined to “get along” better than the Bush team with rivals and allies alike. The childlike approach boiled down to: hey, just give our adversaries everything they want, and they will like us! But rivals and foes soon learn there are more goodies in store despite (and maybe because of) their intransigence. So their demands increase, and their behavior both internally and externally becomes more aggressive. Meanwhile, by abusing allies, we whet our foes’ appetites even more, revealing our desperation. In the end, we’ve given up much to get little and find ourselves worse off than when we started.

As practiced by Obama, “reset” has been a failure. A more humble and introspective administration would jettison a policy as counterproductive as this one. But not this president. As with so much else, an improvement in our policy must await a new administration that can assess whether there is a “smarter” policy than just giving stuff away.

The Foreign Policy Initiative provides a helpful analysis of Obama’s  attempt to “reset” relations with Russia. It seems we have given up a lot and gotten very little.

On arms control, the START agreement looks like a bad deal:

The cuts are so minute that Russia was technically in compliance with the agreement before the treaty was signed.  New START also falls short in other key respects. The treaty does not address Russia’s overwhelming advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, while arcane counting rules — where a bomber armed with multiple cruise missiles is counted as one launcher — could allow the Russians to increase the size of their deployed nuclear arsenal, should they find the resources to expand their bomber fleet. … In sum, New START places restrictions on the United States, while having only a limited impact on Russia’s nuclear force.

On Iran, we have again given up much for minimal returns:

To get Russian support for new sanctions, the Obama administration paid a steep price – removing U.S. sanctions against five Russian entities, and resubmitting a nuclear cooperation agreement that was previously frozen after Russia’s invasion of Georgia.  Despite administration denials, many observers wonder whether President Obama’s cancellation of missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic in September 2009 also were part of a package deal with Moscow.

Likewise on Afghanistan, despite the puffery on new air routes afforded by the Russians for our operations, it amounts to a grand total of “only five supply flights… in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.” Meanwhile:

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.

With regard to Russia’s neighbors, we haven’t gotten Russia out of Georgia, but we have strained our own relations with the Czech Republic and Poland. On human rights:

One of the most troubling aspects of the “reset” is the fact that it has subjugated concerns about Russia’s internal situation to issues such as arms control and Iran.  The Russian political situation is marked by unfair elections and the abolition of elected governorships, control of civil society organizations through intimidation, harassment and regulation, the dominance of state controlled media and restrictions on independent media, impunity for perpetrators of violence, including murder, against regime critics and brutal abuses in the Caucasus.  Opposition parties struggle to compete in elections and to hold demonstrations.  A monthly effort to protest the lack of freedom of assembly was violently broken up by police on May 31 and more than 100 people were arrested.

We frankly did much better with the Communists during the Cold War:

Even during the Cold War, the United States was able to engage Moscow on key national security issues while simultaneously making clear where U.S. and Russian interests diverged.  The Obama administration has thus far shown itself either unable or unwilling to do the same.

The Obama team, filled with hubris, entered office determined to “get along” better than the Bush team with rivals and allies alike. The childlike approach boiled down to: hey, just give our adversaries everything they want, and they will like us! But rivals and foes soon learn there are more goodies in store despite (and maybe because of) their intransigence. So their demands increase, and their behavior both internally and externally becomes more aggressive. Meanwhile, by abusing allies, we whet our foes’ appetites even more, revealing our desperation. In the end, we’ve given up much to get little and find ourselves worse off than when we started.

As practiced by Obama, “reset” has been a failure. A more humble and introspective administration would jettison a policy as counterproductive as this one. But not this president. As with so much else, an improvement in our policy must await a new administration that can assess whether there is a “smarter” policy than just giving stuff away.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t expect a better description of the world’s unique treatment of Israel. From Mark Steyn: “North Korea sinks a South Korean ship; hundreds of thousands of people die in the Sudan; millions die in the Congo. But 10 men die at the hands of Israeli commandos and it dominates the news day in, day out for weeks, with UN resolutions, international investigations, calls for boycotts, and every Western prime minister and foreign minister expected to rise in parliament and express the outrage of the international community. Odd. But why? Because Israel is supposed to be up for grabs in a way that the Congo, Sudan or even North Korea aren’t. Only the Jewish state attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence, and insisting that, after 62 years of independence, that issue is still not resolved.”

Don’t miss the latest from Lee Smith on appeasing Muslim extremists: “The way Obama sees it, the upside is that it will not be a war without end, like the war on terror. All the extremists in the Muslim world want is money and the power that will flow their way as the consequence of the U.S. withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. The faster the United States leaves, the cheaper the cost. This is why the Jewish state is isolated today and why Washington stands with her only reluctantly: Distancing ourselves from Israel is part of the deal we are preparing to strike.”

Don’t expect her to get a cushy White House job after leaving office: “Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm says the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico has become a symbol that Barack Obama’s got to shake.”

Don’t think Obama’s foreign policy can’t get worse: “The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses, a key objective of Moscow since it opposed plans for a U.S. missile defense interceptor base in Eastern Europe, according to American officials involved in arms control issues.” Aside from the inanity of unilateral disarmament, how does he think this is going to get through the U.S. Senate?

Don’t hold your breath. The Washington Post editors go after Obama for his counterproductive timeline in Afghanistan: “It’s time for him to make clear whether the United States is prepared to stay long enough to ensure a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.”

Don’t imagine Republicans are ungrateful for a speech this bad: “President Barack Obama’s less-than-specific Oval Office address on energy has White House aides and Senate Democrats scrambling to find a way to pass climate change legislation. What it will be — if anything — remains an open question.”

Don’t let your guard down, but Obama finally seems to have been effective at killing some bad legislation: “Senate Democrats emerged from a special caucus meeting in the Capitol on Thursday with no clear consensus yet on the fate of energy and climate legislation due on the floor before the August recess.”

Don’t expect a better description of the world’s unique treatment of Israel. From Mark Steyn: “North Korea sinks a South Korean ship; hundreds of thousands of people die in the Sudan; millions die in the Congo. But 10 men die at the hands of Israeli commandos and it dominates the news day in, day out for weeks, with UN resolutions, international investigations, calls for boycotts, and every Western prime minister and foreign minister expected to rise in parliament and express the outrage of the international community. Odd. But why? Because Israel is supposed to be up for grabs in a way that the Congo, Sudan or even North Korea aren’t. Only the Jewish state attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence, and insisting that, after 62 years of independence, that issue is still not resolved.”

Don’t miss the latest from Lee Smith on appeasing Muslim extremists: “The way Obama sees it, the upside is that it will not be a war without end, like the war on terror. All the extremists in the Muslim world want is money and the power that will flow their way as the consequence of the U.S. withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. The faster the United States leaves, the cheaper the cost. This is why the Jewish state is isolated today and why Washington stands with her only reluctantly: Distancing ourselves from Israel is part of the deal we are preparing to strike.”

Don’t expect her to get a cushy White House job after leaving office: “Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm says the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico has become a symbol that Barack Obama’s got to shake.”

Don’t think Obama’s foreign policy can’t get worse: “The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses, a key objective of Moscow since it opposed plans for a U.S. missile defense interceptor base in Eastern Europe, according to American officials involved in arms control issues.” Aside from the inanity of unilateral disarmament, how does he think this is going to get through the U.S. Senate?

Don’t hold your breath. The Washington Post editors go after Obama for his counterproductive timeline in Afghanistan: “It’s time for him to make clear whether the United States is prepared to stay long enough to ensure a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.”

Don’t imagine Republicans are ungrateful for a speech this bad: “President Barack Obama’s less-than-specific Oval Office address on energy has White House aides and Senate Democrats scrambling to find a way to pass climate change legislation. What it will be — if anything — remains an open question.”

Don’t let your guard down, but Obama finally seems to have been effective at killing some bad legislation: “Senate Democrats emerged from a special caucus meeting in the Capitol on Thursday with no clear consensus yet on the fate of energy and climate legislation due on the floor before the August recess.”

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Russia’s Not Going to Renege on a Deal

A reader sends this report:

Russia’s Foreign Ministry says Moscow is not obliged to freeze a deal to deliver the S-300 missile defense system to Iran under the newly imposed UN sanctions. Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said Thursday that the deal is not referenced in the fourth round of UN sanctions imposed against Tehran which mainly target financial and military sectors. He stopped short of dismissing an earlier report by the Interfax news agency, which cited a Russian arms industry source as saying that Moscow is planning to renege on aits unfulfilled contract to sell the S-300 system to Iran.

It seems critical to Putin that Russia maintains its credibility. (“Tehran’s Ambassador to Moscow Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi cautioned Russia over the S-300 deal, stressing that the country would lose ‘all its credibility as a reliable arms supplier’ if it failed to deliver the defense system.”) After all, if you show yourself to be unreliable, turn your back on allies, say one thing in public and another in private, what have you got?

A reader sends this report:

Russia’s Foreign Ministry says Moscow is not obliged to freeze a deal to deliver the S-300 missile defense system to Iran under the newly imposed UN sanctions. Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said Thursday that the deal is not referenced in the fourth round of UN sanctions imposed against Tehran which mainly target financial and military sectors. He stopped short of dismissing an earlier report by the Interfax news agency, which cited a Russian arms industry source as saying that Moscow is planning to renege on aits unfulfilled contract to sell the S-300 system to Iran.

It seems critical to Putin that Russia maintains its credibility. (“Tehran’s Ambassador to Moscow Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi cautioned Russia over the S-300 deal, stressing that the country would lose ‘all its credibility as a reliable arms supplier’ if it failed to deliver the defense system.”) After all, if you show yourself to be unreliable, turn your back on allies, say one thing in public and another in private, what have you got?

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Brazil’s Iran Deal Alibi: Obama Said It Was Okay

There has been no shortage of foreign-policy disasters in the first year and a half of Barack Obama’s presidency, but nothing has illustrated the administration’s appalling lack of skill in diplomacy more than its amateurish efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program. The latest indication of incompetence was illustrated when the government of Brazil released the full text of a three-page letter sent by Obama to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in April, in which the American commander in chief gave the Brazilian leader the green light to pursue an agreement in which Iran would transfer part of its stockpile of enriched uranium to Turkey. This startling piece of news was buried toward the bottom of a New York Times report on the latest developments in Iranian diplomacy. The article devoted most of its space to new tensions between Tehran and Moscow.

The Iran/Brazil/Turkey deal was a blatant Iranian attempt to derail faltering American efforts to build an international coalition that supports sanctions against Tehran to pressure the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions. It would also not prevent the Iranians from continuing to amass material to build a bomb. This diplomatic freelancing on the part of both Brazil and Turkey was widely seen as a slap in the face to Obama at just the moment that the American president had started to cobble together enough support for a weak sanctions package.

But although both the Brazilians and the Turks deserve the opprobrium that has been heaped on them for allowing Iran’s tyrannical Islamist regime to use them to divert attention away from sanctions efforts, it must be conceded that what they have done isn’t any more foolish than a similar deal that the United States itself tried to make with Iran last fall. That disaster, which came after several months of unsuccessful attempts at engagement with Tehran, fell through after the Iranians embarrassed the administration by reneging on an agreement to transfer uranium. Obama and his foreign-policy team seemingly learned their lesson after this fiasco and finally began to talk about sanctions. To gain tepid Russian support for sanctions, the Obama administration has had to water down its proposals to a point where it is clear that little damage will be done. But after having labored so hard to achieve so little, Washington was clearly outraged by being outflanked by Brazil’s and Turkey’s untimely intervention earlier this month.

But if the mere fact of this new deal wasn’t enough to undermine international support for sanctions, the revelation that Brazil acted with the express written permission of Obama must be seen as a catastrophe for international efforts to restrain Tehran. Why should anyone take American rhetoric about stopping Iran seriously if Obama is now understood to have spent the past few months pushing for sanctions in public while privately encouraging third parties who are trying to appease the Iranians?

What were Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who has spent the last weeks spouting a great deal of tough talk about Iran) thinking when they sent the letter to Lula? Did they take a calculated gamble that the Brazil initiative would fail and that they could make nice with the leftist Lula while not endangering their sanctions campaign? If so, then once again, the wily Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has outwitted Obama and Clinton. Though the Iranians appear to have miscalculated how far they can push their erstwhile Russian allies as they maneuver to buy even more time for their nuclear program, it seems as if they have decided that there is no limit to how far they can push Obama. And after this latest diplomatic embarrassment for the United States, it is hard to argue with them on that point.

There has been no shortage of foreign-policy disasters in the first year and a half of Barack Obama’s presidency, but nothing has illustrated the administration’s appalling lack of skill in diplomacy more than its amateurish efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program. The latest indication of incompetence was illustrated when the government of Brazil released the full text of a three-page letter sent by Obama to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in April, in which the American commander in chief gave the Brazilian leader the green light to pursue an agreement in which Iran would transfer part of its stockpile of enriched uranium to Turkey. This startling piece of news was buried toward the bottom of a New York Times report on the latest developments in Iranian diplomacy. The article devoted most of its space to new tensions between Tehran and Moscow.

The Iran/Brazil/Turkey deal was a blatant Iranian attempt to derail faltering American efforts to build an international coalition that supports sanctions against Tehran to pressure the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions. It would also not prevent the Iranians from continuing to amass material to build a bomb. This diplomatic freelancing on the part of both Brazil and Turkey was widely seen as a slap in the face to Obama at just the moment that the American president had started to cobble together enough support for a weak sanctions package.

But although both the Brazilians and the Turks deserve the opprobrium that has been heaped on them for allowing Iran’s tyrannical Islamist regime to use them to divert attention away from sanctions efforts, it must be conceded that what they have done isn’t any more foolish than a similar deal that the United States itself tried to make with Iran last fall. That disaster, which came after several months of unsuccessful attempts at engagement with Tehran, fell through after the Iranians embarrassed the administration by reneging on an agreement to transfer uranium. Obama and his foreign-policy team seemingly learned their lesson after this fiasco and finally began to talk about sanctions. To gain tepid Russian support for sanctions, the Obama administration has had to water down its proposals to a point where it is clear that little damage will be done. But after having labored so hard to achieve so little, Washington was clearly outraged by being outflanked by Brazil’s and Turkey’s untimely intervention earlier this month.

But if the mere fact of this new deal wasn’t enough to undermine international support for sanctions, the revelation that Brazil acted with the express written permission of Obama must be seen as a catastrophe for international efforts to restrain Tehran. Why should anyone take American rhetoric about stopping Iran seriously if Obama is now understood to have spent the past few months pushing for sanctions in public while privately encouraging third parties who are trying to appease the Iranians?

What were Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who has spent the last weeks spouting a great deal of tough talk about Iran) thinking when they sent the letter to Lula? Did they take a calculated gamble that the Brazil initiative would fail and that they could make nice with the leftist Lula while not endangering their sanctions campaign? If so, then once again, the wily Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has outwitted Obama and Clinton. Though the Iranians appear to have miscalculated how far they can push their erstwhile Russian allies as they maneuver to buy even more time for their nuclear program, it seems as if they have decided that there is no limit to how far they can push Obama. And after this latest diplomatic embarrassment for the United States, it is hard to argue with them on that point.

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Appeasing Russia

“Reset” in our relations with Russia has proved an abject failure. Robert Kagan makes a key point in his must-read column: relations with Russia are no better than during the Bush administration, arguably worse, and we’ve paid handsomely for this:

Given that history, few accomplishments have been more oversold than the Obama administration’s “success” in getting Russia to agree, for the fourth time in five years, to another vacuous U.N. Security Council resolution. It is being trumpeted as a triumph of the administration’s “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship, the main point of which was to get the Russians on board regarding Iran. All we’ve heard in recent months is how the Russians finally want to work with us on Iran and genuinely see the Iranian bomb as a threat — all because Obama has repaired relations with Russia that were allegedly destroyed by Bush.

Kagan allows that this resolution might be marginally more productive than the last three but at a steep price. (“The latest draft resolution tightens sanctions in some areas around the margins, but the administration was forced to cave to some Russian and Chinese demands.”) In sum, Russia’s behavior is no different than it has been, and the “only thing that has changed is the price the United States has been willing to pay.” We’ve sold out Poland and the Czech Republic, undermined our own sanctions effort, and in essence thrown in the towel on opposing the Russian occupation of Georgian territory (“Obama has officially declared that Russia’s continued illegal military occupation of Georgia is no ‘obstacle’ to U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear cooperation”).

No wonder Europe is jittery, Russia has inked a deal for a naval base in the Ukraine (suggesting that’s the next former Soviet state to fall back under Russian domination), and the mullahs “are laughing up their sleeves — along with the men in Moscow.” And remarkably, there’s been very little fuss — from Congress or from mainstream Jewish groups. But we are in an election season, and Republicans would be wise to raise the issue of the Obama Russian appeasement. Opposition to Obama’s failing Iran policy, failing Israel policy, failing China policy, and failing Russia policy (yes, there is a pattern here) is good policy and good politics. And those who make it an issue in 2010 and 2012 will have a mandate to do something about it.

Obama officials must assume that no one will bother to check the record (as, so far, none of the journalists covering the story has). The fact is, the Russians have not said or done anything in the past few months that they didn’t do or say during the Bush years. In fact, they sometimes used to say and do more.

“Reset” in our relations with Russia has proved an abject failure. Robert Kagan makes a key point in his must-read column: relations with Russia are no better than during the Bush administration, arguably worse, and we’ve paid handsomely for this:

Given that history, few accomplishments have been more oversold than the Obama administration’s “success” in getting Russia to agree, for the fourth time in five years, to another vacuous U.N. Security Council resolution. It is being trumpeted as a triumph of the administration’s “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship, the main point of which was to get the Russians on board regarding Iran. All we’ve heard in recent months is how the Russians finally want to work with us on Iran and genuinely see the Iranian bomb as a threat — all because Obama has repaired relations with Russia that were allegedly destroyed by Bush.

Kagan allows that this resolution might be marginally more productive than the last three but at a steep price. (“The latest draft resolution tightens sanctions in some areas around the margins, but the administration was forced to cave to some Russian and Chinese demands.”) In sum, Russia’s behavior is no different than it has been, and the “only thing that has changed is the price the United States has been willing to pay.” We’ve sold out Poland and the Czech Republic, undermined our own sanctions effort, and in essence thrown in the towel on opposing the Russian occupation of Georgian territory (“Obama has officially declared that Russia’s continued illegal military occupation of Georgia is no ‘obstacle’ to U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear cooperation”).

No wonder Europe is jittery, Russia has inked a deal for a naval base in the Ukraine (suggesting that’s the next former Soviet state to fall back under Russian domination), and the mullahs “are laughing up their sleeves — along with the men in Moscow.” And remarkably, there’s been very little fuss — from Congress or from mainstream Jewish groups. But we are in an election season, and Republicans would be wise to raise the issue of the Obama Russian appeasement. Opposition to Obama’s failing Iran policy, failing Israel policy, failing China policy, and failing Russia policy (yes, there is a pattern here) is good policy and good politics. And those who make it an issue in 2010 and 2012 will have a mandate to do something about it.

Obama officials must assume that no one will bother to check the record (as, so far, none of the journalists covering the story has). The fact is, the Russians have not said or done anything in the past few months that they didn’t do or say during the Bush years. In fact, they sometimes used to say and do more.

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Bribing Russia, Letting Iran Off Easy

In case you had a question about the meaning of “reset,” it means “giving the Russians everything they want.” Picking up on Eli Lake and Bill Gertz’s previous report, the Washington Post explains:

The Obama administration on Friday lifted sanctions against four Russian entities involved in illicit weapons trade with Iran and Syria since 1999, and acknowledged exempting a Russian-Iranian missile deal from a U.N. draft resolution banning most missile sales to Iran. The move comes just three days after the U.S., Russia and other key powers reached agreement on a draft resolution sanctioning Iran for violating U.N. demands to halt its uranium enrichment program. The draft includes a loophole that would exempt a 2005 Russian deal, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, to sell Tehran five S-300 surface-to-air missile systems. … The removal of the four entities, which was recorded in Friday’s Federal Register, suggested that the United States engaged in some last-minute bargaining to ensure Moscow’s support for sanctions.

This is, even for the Obama team, a disgrace. This is Obama’s face-saving act, not a serious effort to thwart the Iranians’ nuclear program. Indeed, this is arguably worse than merely a watered-down sanctions agreement. Why worse? Obama has now made hash out of our policy with two countries. This message of appeasement signals to Russian leaders that they can extract virtually anything from Obama, as long as his personal vanity and the preservation of the patina of competence are at stake.

We’ll see how lawmakers react to this development. As for the Democrats, they will be hard-pressed to defend the president and his hapless secretary of state on this one.

In case you had a question about the meaning of “reset,” it means “giving the Russians everything they want.” Picking up on Eli Lake and Bill Gertz’s previous report, the Washington Post explains:

The Obama administration on Friday lifted sanctions against four Russian entities involved in illicit weapons trade with Iran and Syria since 1999, and acknowledged exempting a Russian-Iranian missile deal from a U.N. draft resolution banning most missile sales to Iran. The move comes just three days after the U.S., Russia and other key powers reached agreement on a draft resolution sanctioning Iran for violating U.N. demands to halt its uranium enrichment program. The draft includes a loophole that would exempt a 2005 Russian deal, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, to sell Tehran five S-300 surface-to-air missile systems. … The removal of the four entities, which was recorded in Friday’s Federal Register, suggested that the United States engaged in some last-minute bargaining to ensure Moscow’s support for sanctions.

This is, even for the Obama team, a disgrace. This is Obama’s face-saving act, not a serious effort to thwart the Iranians’ nuclear program. Indeed, this is arguably worse than merely a watered-down sanctions agreement. Why worse? Obama has now made hash out of our policy with two countries. This message of appeasement signals to Russian leaders that they can extract virtually anything from Obama, as long as his personal vanity and the preservation of the patina of competence are at stake.

We’ll see how lawmakers react to this development. As for the Democrats, they will be hard-pressed to defend the president and his hapless secretary of state on this one.

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Bullets Over Bangkok

As with most such outbreaks, there are legitimate grievances behind the protests being mounted by the “Red Shirts” of Thailand. That truth renders the events there even more strongly reminiscent than they might otherwise be of similar incidents around the globe during the Cold War. Thailand’s precarious situation could spiral out of control very easily. It is not at present being driven by outside forces or even apparently being exploited by them. But U.S. influence in the region is at stake along with Thai democracy. If a consensual stability is not restored in favor of the status quo long presided over by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, there will be no lack of interested outsiders seeking to shape Thailand’s future.

Most readers are familiar with the basic narrative about populist politician Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted from power in a military coup in 2006 and convicted of corruption charges in 2008. A February 2010 court decision ordering him to return $1.4 billion to the state was ostensibly the precipitating event for this spring’s prolonged protests by his Red Shirt supporters.

But fewer may be aware that Thaksin’s search for quarters in exile landed him this spring in Montenegro, the autonomous coastal province of Serbia that has become famous for its special relationship with Russia. Thaksin now holds a Montenegrin passport and has reportedly visited Russia during this year’s period of Thai unrest. The sitting prime minister of Thailand, for his part, is not leaving Russia uncourted. The Bangkok Post noted last week that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva plans to visit Moscow himself in early June, in spite of having canceled trips to the U.S., Vietnam, and Australia because of the unrest at home.

Russia’s interest is as much in drawing Thailand away from China as it is in cooling the traditional warmth between Bangkok and Washington. The year 2009 saw an unprecedented agreement between China and the Abhisit government to hold a joint military exercise billed as a rival to the “Cobra Gold” series with the U.S., the recurring Thai-hosted war game that draws up to 15,000 troops from the U.S. and East Asian nations. Growing military cooperation between Thailand and China is a continuation of policy inaugurated under Thaksin Shinawatra; efforts to cultivate or preempt such cooperation are in prospect regardless of who comes out on top in Thailand. Meanwhile, Russia’s re-energized ties with Vietnam, which now include a major arms deal and ongoing improvements to the naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, position the Russians next door to Thailand — as well as athwart China’s strategic vista to the south.

Adding to the prospect of instability is the Malay Muslim minority in southern Thailand. The Malay Muslims have taken a back seat to the Red Shirts this year, but their restiveness has by no means subsided. They will seek to take advantage of any evidence of weakness in the regime. The likelihood that they will have outside help is strong if the fate of Thailand is in doubt.

Regional observers think King Bhumibol will have to step in as he did in 1992 and demand that the opposing factions settle their differences. But this very critical view of that option, from Australia’s center-left Sydney Morning Herald, implies a reason (other than his ill health) why he hasn’t done that yet: it might not work. An ineffective royal appeal would be the signal for political chaos.

On the other hand, the status quo in Thailand cannot continue for much longer anyway. Bhumibol is 82, and his oldest son is unpopular. Although this situation is rife with difficult issues, the Obama administration should surely be doing more than closing the U.S. embassy in Bangkok to business, evacuating American personnel, and being “deeply concerned,” as State Department spokesmen have reported in daily briefings for the last six weeks.

It’s worth noting that Russia is not evacuating any diplomatic personnel from Bangkok. Moscow and Beijing are more determined than Obama is to play a major role in restoring stability to Thailand. That will not work in our favor. American influence in Asia is heading the same direction as our influence in the Middle East.

As with most such outbreaks, there are legitimate grievances behind the protests being mounted by the “Red Shirts” of Thailand. That truth renders the events there even more strongly reminiscent than they might otherwise be of similar incidents around the globe during the Cold War. Thailand’s precarious situation could spiral out of control very easily. It is not at present being driven by outside forces or even apparently being exploited by them. But U.S. influence in the region is at stake along with Thai democracy. If a consensual stability is not restored in favor of the status quo long presided over by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, there will be no lack of interested outsiders seeking to shape Thailand’s future.

Most readers are familiar with the basic narrative about populist politician Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted from power in a military coup in 2006 and convicted of corruption charges in 2008. A February 2010 court decision ordering him to return $1.4 billion to the state was ostensibly the precipitating event for this spring’s prolonged protests by his Red Shirt supporters.

But fewer may be aware that Thaksin’s search for quarters in exile landed him this spring in Montenegro, the autonomous coastal province of Serbia that has become famous for its special relationship with Russia. Thaksin now holds a Montenegrin passport and has reportedly visited Russia during this year’s period of Thai unrest. The sitting prime minister of Thailand, for his part, is not leaving Russia uncourted. The Bangkok Post noted last week that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva plans to visit Moscow himself in early June, in spite of having canceled trips to the U.S., Vietnam, and Australia because of the unrest at home.

Russia’s interest is as much in drawing Thailand away from China as it is in cooling the traditional warmth between Bangkok and Washington. The year 2009 saw an unprecedented agreement between China and the Abhisit government to hold a joint military exercise billed as a rival to the “Cobra Gold” series with the U.S., the recurring Thai-hosted war game that draws up to 15,000 troops from the U.S. and East Asian nations. Growing military cooperation between Thailand and China is a continuation of policy inaugurated under Thaksin Shinawatra; efforts to cultivate or preempt such cooperation are in prospect regardless of who comes out on top in Thailand. Meanwhile, Russia’s re-energized ties with Vietnam, which now include a major arms deal and ongoing improvements to the naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, position the Russians next door to Thailand — as well as athwart China’s strategic vista to the south.

Adding to the prospect of instability is the Malay Muslim minority in southern Thailand. The Malay Muslims have taken a back seat to the Red Shirts this year, but their restiveness has by no means subsided. They will seek to take advantage of any evidence of weakness in the regime. The likelihood that they will have outside help is strong if the fate of Thailand is in doubt.

Regional observers think King Bhumibol will have to step in as he did in 1992 and demand that the opposing factions settle their differences. But this very critical view of that option, from Australia’s center-left Sydney Morning Herald, implies a reason (other than his ill health) why he hasn’t done that yet: it might not work. An ineffective royal appeal would be the signal for political chaos.

On the other hand, the status quo in Thailand cannot continue for much longer anyway. Bhumibol is 82, and his oldest son is unpopular. Although this situation is rife with difficult issues, the Obama administration should surely be doing more than closing the U.S. embassy in Bangkok to business, evacuating American personnel, and being “deeply concerned,” as State Department spokesmen have reported in daily briefings for the last six weeks.

It’s worth noting that Russia is not evacuating any diplomatic personnel from Bangkok. Moscow and Beijing are more determined than Obama is to play a major role in restoring stability to Thailand. That will not work in our favor. American influence in Asia is heading the same direction as our influence in the Middle East.

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Iran’s Game of Negotiations

One unanswered question about the nuclear-swap deal: who provides the 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods to Iran? Because that is what swapping means — Iran gives Turkey 1,200 kilograms; the 1,200 kilograms sit in Turkey under IAEA, Iranian, and Turkish supervision for a month and then either they are swapped or they return home. Under the original agreement, there was no swapping — Iran would transfer 1,200 kilograms, Russia and France would reprocess them, and the resulting product (20 percent enriched fuel rods) would then return to Iran.

By negotiating a swap with Turkey, Iran adds a step to the process — 1,200 kilograms go to Turkey. They are swapped with 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods; the 1,200 kilograms go to Russia and France to be reprocessed and then they return to Iran.

You can see this as a bazaar trick to get a discount — for the same price, now Iran gets 240 kilograms of fuel rods instead of 120. Or you can see it as an exchange of hostages — you take our fuel, we take yours.

Still, the question remains unanswered — who supplies 120 kilograms to Iran within a month of delivery?

Turkey? Brazil? The original Vienna group of France, Russia, and the United States?

And while we are at it: who ensures the safety of the nuclear material once it reaches Turkish territory? Turkey is not known to have the facilities to do so.

So let me make a guess. The deal goes nowhere. It falls through. But for a good six to eight weeks, the Iranians are the good guys, the ball is in the West’s court, the sanctions’ effort in New York loses steam, Turkey and Brazil vote against any sanctions’ resolution, and Moscow urges France and the United States to consider the swap deal as a good bridging proposal to “build upon.”

That’s the beauty of the deal negotiated by Turkey and Brazil. It puts the West into a corner for two reasons: first, because it allows Iran to break its isolation — with Turkey and Brazil now having negotiated a deal independently of the U.S., the Security Council, the IAEA, or the P5+1, it’s the U.S. and the EU that look isolated.

And second, because now President Obama, President Sarkozy, and President Medvedev (or Prime Minister Putin, who knows?) — the original promoters of the transfer deal from last October — will have to say whether they are prepared to go the extra mile and do what Iran demands in exchange for transferring its uranium to Turkey — something they were not prepared to do back in October. My guess is that Russia will go one way, France and the U.S. the opposite way. So here’s the master stroke: in one fell swoop, Iran managed to create a rift inside the UN Security Council and the Vienna Group at the same time.

Give Iran credit then, as Jennifer and Jonathan note — it has just gained another few months.

One unanswered question about the nuclear-swap deal: who provides the 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods to Iran? Because that is what swapping means — Iran gives Turkey 1,200 kilograms; the 1,200 kilograms sit in Turkey under IAEA, Iranian, and Turkish supervision for a month and then either they are swapped or they return home. Under the original agreement, there was no swapping — Iran would transfer 1,200 kilograms, Russia and France would reprocess them, and the resulting product (20 percent enriched fuel rods) would then return to Iran.

By negotiating a swap with Turkey, Iran adds a step to the process — 1,200 kilograms go to Turkey. They are swapped with 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods; the 1,200 kilograms go to Russia and France to be reprocessed and then they return to Iran.

You can see this as a bazaar trick to get a discount — for the same price, now Iran gets 240 kilograms of fuel rods instead of 120. Or you can see it as an exchange of hostages — you take our fuel, we take yours.

Still, the question remains unanswered — who supplies 120 kilograms to Iran within a month of delivery?

Turkey? Brazil? The original Vienna group of France, Russia, and the United States?

And while we are at it: who ensures the safety of the nuclear material once it reaches Turkish territory? Turkey is not known to have the facilities to do so.

So let me make a guess. The deal goes nowhere. It falls through. But for a good six to eight weeks, the Iranians are the good guys, the ball is in the West’s court, the sanctions’ effort in New York loses steam, Turkey and Brazil vote against any sanctions’ resolution, and Moscow urges France and the United States to consider the swap deal as a good bridging proposal to “build upon.”

That’s the beauty of the deal negotiated by Turkey and Brazil. It puts the West into a corner for two reasons: first, because it allows Iran to break its isolation — with Turkey and Brazil now having negotiated a deal independently of the U.S., the Security Council, the IAEA, or the P5+1, it’s the U.S. and the EU that look isolated.

And second, because now President Obama, President Sarkozy, and President Medvedev (or Prime Minister Putin, who knows?) — the original promoters of the transfer deal from last October — will have to say whether they are prepared to go the extra mile and do what Iran demands in exchange for transferring its uranium to Turkey — something they were not prepared to do back in October. My guess is that Russia will go one way, France and the U.S. the opposite way. So here’s the master stroke: in one fell swoop, Iran managed to create a rift inside the UN Security Council and the Vienna Group at the same time.

Give Iran credit then, as Jennifer and Jonathan note — it has just gained another few months.

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RE: The Middle East Vacuum

The Michael Young piece cited by Emanuele Ottolenghi in his insightful post echoes the concerns a number of us have had for some time. Russia’s inroads in the Middle East have been expanding for several years; in 2010, we are seeing an acceleration of moves that Moscow would once have been more tentative and covert in undertaking.

The civil-nuclear deals with Syria and Turkey continue a trend that has been underway since 2006-2007. It’s more efficient today to list which countries in the region do not have civil-nuclear agreements with Russia. Since 2007, the Russians have concluded civil-nuclear cooperation deals with Egypt, Jordan, Libya, and Algeria, along with Syria and Turkey. Russia is training nuclear engineers, bidding on reactor contracts, and mining uranium.

Nuclear cooperation takes a back seat only to oil and gas deals and arms sales. Turkey’s geographic position has long made it an object of Russian gas strategy. As the Wall Street Journal points out today, the deals signed this week represent the culmination of a years-long Russian effort to co-opt Turkey as a pipeline partner, potentially compromising Ankara’s commitment to European pipeline sponsors. Russia’s intensive cultivation of natural gas giants Libya and Algeria gives Moscow leverage over nearly 100 percent of the natural gas supply to much of central and southern Europe. The sale of big-ticket weapon systems to Algeria, Libya, and Syria serves to isolate Israel – and to complicate any U.S. effort to provide military support to Israel if it becomes necessary.

Now Russia is negotiating a huge arms sale – including the S-300 air-defense system, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and assault helicopters – with U.S. partner and long-time client Saudi Arabia. This development and others are disquieting harbingers of a Russia unconstrained by worry about either offending or alarming the U.S. Two recent events highlight this loss of diffidence. One is the announcement in March 2010 that Russia and Greece would conduct joint naval exercises in the Aegean Sea this year. Turkey is not the only NATO ally being aggressively courted by Moscow.

The other event is Dmitry Medvedev’s May 12 meeting in Damascus with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. There could hardly be a more overt declaration of Russia’s posture and interests in the Middle East. The Russia of Medvedev and Putin intends to join forces with the regional actors who want to disrupt the status quo; their targets are Israel and the U.S. network of partnerships and influence in the region.

We will see Russia engaged in more unabashed maneuvering in the coming days. The pace of events is quickening. One thing we must understand is that Russia’s influence over Iran’s nuclear program is no longer being exercised primarily as a dynamic in Russia’s relations with the U.S. The Arab nations that fear a nuclear Iran are Moscow’s audience now. The implication is that Russia is the great power that can keep Iran in check. Obama’s America is sitting on the sidelines.

The Michael Young piece cited by Emanuele Ottolenghi in his insightful post echoes the concerns a number of us have had for some time. Russia’s inroads in the Middle East have been expanding for several years; in 2010, we are seeing an acceleration of moves that Moscow would once have been more tentative and covert in undertaking.

The civil-nuclear deals with Syria and Turkey continue a trend that has been underway since 2006-2007. It’s more efficient today to list which countries in the region do not have civil-nuclear agreements with Russia. Since 2007, the Russians have concluded civil-nuclear cooperation deals with Egypt, Jordan, Libya, and Algeria, along with Syria and Turkey. Russia is training nuclear engineers, bidding on reactor contracts, and mining uranium.

Nuclear cooperation takes a back seat only to oil and gas deals and arms sales. Turkey’s geographic position has long made it an object of Russian gas strategy. As the Wall Street Journal points out today, the deals signed this week represent the culmination of a years-long Russian effort to co-opt Turkey as a pipeline partner, potentially compromising Ankara’s commitment to European pipeline sponsors. Russia’s intensive cultivation of natural gas giants Libya and Algeria gives Moscow leverage over nearly 100 percent of the natural gas supply to much of central and southern Europe. The sale of big-ticket weapon systems to Algeria, Libya, and Syria serves to isolate Israel – and to complicate any U.S. effort to provide military support to Israel if it becomes necessary.

Now Russia is negotiating a huge arms sale – including the S-300 air-defense system, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and assault helicopters – with U.S. partner and long-time client Saudi Arabia. This development and others are disquieting harbingers of a Russia unconstrained by worry about either offending or alarming the U.S. Two recent events highlight this loss of diffidence. One is the announcement in March 2010 that Russia and Greece would conduct joint naval exercises in the Aegean Sea this year. Turkey is not the only NATO ally being aggressively courted by Moscow.

The other event is Dmitry Medvedev’s May 12 meeting in Damascus with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. There could hardly be a more overt declaration of Russia’s posture and interests in the Middle East. The Russia of Medvedev and Putin intends to join forces with the regional actors who want to disrupt the status quo; their targets are Israel and the U.S. network of partnerships and influence in the region.

We will see Russia engaged in more unabashed maneuvering in the coming days. The pace of events is quickening. One thing we must understand is that Russia’s influence over Iran’s nuclear program is no longer being exercised primarily as a dynamic in Russia’s relations with the U.S. The Arab nations that fear a nuclear Iran are Moscow’s audience now. The implication is that Russia is the great power that can keep Iran in check. Obama’s America is sitting on the sidelines.

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Nonproliferation We Can Believe In

Each day seems to bring news of another ill-advised policy move by the Obama administration. Today’s comes from a May 6 New York Times article quoting administration officials on a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia, which George W. Bush shelved in the wake of the August 2008 invasion of Georgia. Obama wants to revive it.

According to the Times, “Reviving the agreement has been a top priority for Russia since Mr. Obama took office.” The issue brief on the agreement from the Nuclear Threat Initiative website outlines these provisions:

If concluded, the agreement would allow cooperation on a wide range of issues, including the development of advanced reactor technologies, production of mixed-oxide (MOX, a mix of plutonium and uranium oxides) fuel, and storage and possible reprocessing of U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel in Russia.

There are sound arguments against moving irresponsibly on any of these provisions, but sending spent uranium of U.S. origin to Russia for storage and reprocessing tops the list. Most of the instances of nuclear smuggling since the end of the Cold War trace back to Russia. The latest incident in which the collusion of Russians is probable occurred in Georgia in March 2010 (though Russian officials deny it). Russian nationals have been involved in all aspects of Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, from warhead design to the procurement of prohibited technology and materials. Russia also, of course, has an official role in Iran’s civil nuclear-power program, which only complicates the assessment of Moscow’s true overall involvement.

It’s worth noting, moreover, that the agreement could include the shipment of uranium of U.S. origin to Russia from the other nations whose reactor complexes use our uranium under contract. This would, in and of itself, introduce an additional window of vulnerability into the lifetime security of reactor fuel.

The Times article cites a concern from the deal’s critics that Obama wouldn’t be getting enough from Russia in exchange for reviving the nuclear cooperation agreement. But a more basic criticism is that the agreement would conflict directly with Obama’s own policy emphasis on securing nuclear materials around the globe. The progress of his nonproliferation effort to date looks like a vignette from Monty Python: on the one hand, getting good citizens Chile and Mexico to shuffle some uranium around and accept U.S. help in upgrading their reactors; on the other, hoping to ship U.S. uranium to Russia, the nation with the highest rate of unauthorized uranium leakage. Maybe Obama’s proliferation-security advisers should try Hillary Clinton’s checklist method for a while. Whatever they’re doing now isn’t producing a coherent policy.

Each day seems to bring news of another ill-advised policy move by the Obama administration. Today’s comes from a May 6 New York Times article quoting administration officials on a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia, which George W. Bush shelved in the wake of the August 2008 invasion of Georgia. Obama wants to revive it.

According to the Times, “Reviving the agreement has been a top priority for Russia since Mr. Obama took office.” The issue brief on the agreement from the Nuclear Threat Initiative website outlines these provisions:

If concluded, the agreement would allow cooperation on a wide range of issues, including the development of advanced reactor technologies, production of mixed-oxide (MOX, a mix of plutonium and uranium oxides) fuel, and storage and possible reprocessing of U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel in Russia.

There are sound arguments against moving irresponsibly on any of these provisions, but sending spent uranium of U.S. origin to Russia for storage and reprocessing tops the list. Most of the instances of nuclear smuggling since the end of the Cold War trace back to Russia. The latest incident in which the collusion of Russians is probable occurred in Georgia in March 2010 (though Russian officials deny it). Russian nationals have been involved in all aspects of Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, from warhead design to the procurement of prohibited technology and materials. Russia also, of course, has an official role in Iran’s civil nuclear-power program, which only complicates the assessment of Moscow’s true overall involvement.

It’s worth noting, moreover, that the agreement could include the shipment of uranium of U.S. origin to Russia from the other nations whose reactor complexes use our uranium under contract. This would, in and of itself, introduce an additional window of vulnerability into the lifetime security of reactor fuel.

The Times article cites a concern from the deal’s critics that Obama wouldn’t be getting enough from Russia in exchange for reviving the nuclear cooperation agreement. But a more basic criticism is that the agreement would conflict directly with Obama’s own policy emphasis on securing nuclear materials around the globe. The progress of his nonproliferation effort to date looks like a vignette from Monty Python: on the one hand, getting good citizens Chile and Mexico to shuffle some uranium around and accept U.S. help in upgrading their reactors; on the other, hoping to ship U.S. uranium to Russia, the nation with the highest rate of unauthorized uranium leakage. Maybe Obama’s proliferation-security advisers should try Hillary Clinton’s checklist method for a while. Whatever they’re doing now isn’t producing a coherent policy.

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Linkage Threat: Will Israel Pay the Price for Obama’s Nuclear Delusions?

While the world watches and waits to see what, if anything, Washington will do to stop Iran’s nuclear program, the greatest obstacle to action may not be just the president’s indifference to the existential threat to Israel or the possibility such a development would pose to regional stability. Instead, as it is rapidly becoming evident, one of the fundamental problems here may be something else: the Obama administration’s obsession with pursuing the left’s Cold War agenda against nuclear arms.

As the New York Times‘s report (mentioned earlier today by Jennifer) shows, President Obama plans to revive a civilian nuclear agreement with Russia, one that had been spiked by the Bush administration after Moscow’s invasion of Georgia in 2008. When it comes to nuclear issues, the administration’s priority remains the futile pursuit of agreements that will diminish America’s nuclear edge rather than an all-out effort to stop the spread of such weapons. As was the case with last year’s decision to betray past promises to the Czech Republic and Poland on missile defense to appease Russia, Obama’s main concern seems to be conciliating America’s antagonists rather than solidarity with allies. Rather than wait to see if Russia will make good on the vague pledges it has made about supporting the United States on Iran, Obama has gone ahead and handed the Medvedev/Putin regime a major victory in exchange for nothing.

Yet as troubling as this foolish determination to please Russia’s new autocrats may be, it is merely part of a larger agenda in which the administration’s interest in nuclear issues has created a situation that, rather than isolating the rogue regime in Tehran, may serve to harm Israel. As the United Nations’s month-long nuclear nonproliferation conference that began last week has shown, Washington’s push on the issue has been derailed. The president’s much-heralded deference to international opinion and his clear interest in appeasing Russia and China have contributed to a situation where the main topic of conversation is becoming not how to stop Iran but rather how to disarm its intended victim Israel. The fact that Israel’s possession of nukes is purely defensive — after all, it is the only nation marked for extinction by many of its neighbors as well as by the Iranian regime — is more easily forgotten amid the new emphasis given to banning nukes started by Obama. This is reinforced by a statement earlier this week from the head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, who is asking for international input on an Arab-led push to have Israel join the Nonproliferation Treaty, in a move that increases pressure on Jerusalem to disclose more information about its own nuclear weapons.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the dangerous position articulated by some in the administration of calling for linkage between American efforts to stop Iran and “progress” in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a dead end for Israel, not only because the two issues are not related, but also because the Palestinians’ lack of interest in a peace agreement would, under such an arrangement, ensure that nothing is done about Iran.

But perhaps even more dangerous is the growing international sentiment in favor of linking Iran’s nuclear program with Israel’s, and such moral equivalence between a potential aggressor and a potential victim is strengthened by the administration’s desire to revive the left’s old “ban all the nukes” spirit. Like America’s nuclear deterrent that kept the peace in Europe for 40 years after World War II and ultimately ensured that the fall of the Soviet Empire would be peaceful rather than bloody, Israel’s nuclear deterrent is not a threat to its neighbors but a guarantee that all-out war won’t happen. If, as it is becoming rapidly apparent, international nonproliferation diplomacy becomes more a matter of hammering Israel than of isolating Iran, we will have President Obama’s foolish nuclear obsession to thank for it.

While the world watches and waits to see what, if anything, Washington will do to stop Iran’s nuclear program, the greatest obstacle to action may not be just the president’s indifference to the existential threat to Israel or the possibility such a development would pose to regional stability. Instead, as it is rapidly becoming evident, one of the fundamental problems here may be something else: the Obama administration’s obsession with pursuing the left’s Cold War agenda against nuclear arms.

As the New York Times‘s report (mentioned earlier today by Jennifer) shows, President Obama plans to revive a civilian nuclear agreement with Russia, one that had been spiked by the Bush administration after Moscow’s invasion of Georgia in 2008. When it comes to nuclear issues, the administration’s priority remains the futile pursuit of agreements that will diminish America’s nuclear edge rather than an all-out effort to stop the spread of such weapons. As was the case with last year’s decision to betray past promises to the Czech Republic and Poland on missile defense to appease Russia, Obama’s main concern seems to be conciliating America’s antagonists rather than solidarity with allies. Rather than wait to see if Russia will make good on the vague pledges it has made about supporting the United States on Iran, Obama has gone ahead and handed the Medvedev/Putin regime a major victory in exchange for nothing.

Yet as troubling as this foolish determination to please Russia’s new autocrats may be, it is merely part of a larger agenda in which the administration’s interest in nuclear issues has created a situation that, rather than isolating the rogue regime in Tehran, may serve to harm Israel. As the United Nations’s month-long nuclear nonproliferation conference that began last week has shown, Washington’s push on the issue has been derailed. The president’s much-heralded deference to international opinion and his clear interest in appeasing Russia and China have contributed to a situation where the main topic of conversation is becoming not how to stop Iran but rather how to disarm its intended victim Israel. The fact that Israel’s possession of nukes is purely defensive — after all, it is the only nation marked for extinction by many of its neighbors as well as by the Iranian regime — is more easily forgotten amid the new emphasis given to banning nukes started by Obama. This is reinforced by a statement earlier this week from the head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, who is asking for international input on an Arab-led push to have Israel join the Nonproliferation Treaty, in a move that increases pressure on Jerusalem to disclose more information about its own nuclear weapons.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the dangerous position articulated by some in the administration of calling for linkage between American efforts to stop Iran and “progress” in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a dead end for Israel, not only because the two issues are not related, but also because the Palestinians’ lack of interest in a peace agreement would, under such an arrangement, ensure that nothing is done about Iran.

But perhaps even more dangerous is the growing international sentiment in favor of linking Iran’s nuclear program with Israel’s, and such moral equivalence between a potential aggressor and a potential victim is strengthened by the administration’s desire to revive the left’s old “ban all the nukes” spirit. Like America’s nuclear deterrent that kept the peace in Europe for 40 years after World War II and ultimately ensured that the fall of the Soviet Empire would be peaceful rather than bloody, Israel’s nuclear deterrent is not a threat to its neighbors but a guarantee that all-out war won’t happen. If, as it is becoming rapidly apparent, international nonproliferation diplomacy becomes more a matter of hammering Israel than of isolating Iran, we will have President Obama’s foolish nuclear obsession to thank for it.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

“Recovery” means something other than a steady, predictable improvement in the economy: “The Dow Jones industrial average plunged nearly 1,000 points in afternoon trading before recovering significantly Thursday — but it was enough to sow chaos on Wall Street as traders blamed everything from a technical glitch to chaos in the Greek economy. In Washington, the sudden drop — the biggest within a single trading day in Dow history — underscored just how fragile the nascent recovery could be, as the White House tries to convince the public that signs of growth mean the economy has begun to turn the corner.”

“Transparent” means you have to be taken to court to disclose documents to congressional investigators: “Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking Republican Susan Collins (Maine) on Thursday said they are poised to press their subpoena fight with the Obama administration into court. Lieberman and Collins, speaking separately, both said the Justice and Defense departments have been uncooperative with their efforts to obtain more information about the November 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, that killed 13 people.”

Reset” means all is forgiven: “President Obama is preparing to revive a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Moscow that his predecessor shelved two years ago in protest of Russia’s war on its tiny neighbor, Georgia, administration officials said Thursday. Renewing the agreement would be the latest step in Mr. Obama’s drive to repair relations between the two powers, at a time when he is seeking Moscow’s support for tough new sanctions against Iran. But word of the move has generated consternation in Congress, where some lawmakers were already skeptical of the agreement and now worry that Mr. Obama is giving Russia too much.”

“Awareness of the potential political consequences of the actions” means holy cow — the Democrats are going to get wiped out! Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland: “I think we need to proceed with some awareness of the potential political consequences of the actions that are undertaken here in Washington.”

Civility” means his critics should shut up. “Less than a week after promoting the need to treat others ‘with courtesy and respect,’ the unhappy warrior was at it again yesterday with a misleading attack on the motives of an opponent. Responding to an amendment offered by Senator Richard Shelby to limit the scope of the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mr. Obama said, ‘I will not allow amendments like this one written by Wall Street’s lobbyists to pass for reform.’ Mr. Civility was insulting the gentleman from Alabama, but even if delivered in dignified language, the attack was false.”

ObamaCare” means you’re not going to keep your health-care plan. Yuval Levin explains that “it turns out that several major corporations are drawing up plans to end their employee health benefits once Obamacare gets up and running. They’ve done the math and figured out that the penalty they would have to pay for dropping their workers would be much lower than the costs of continuing to insure them, and now there will be a new taxpayer-subsidized option for those workers to turn to in state exchanges, so why not cut them off?”

For the New York Times,a pragmatist” means a law-school dean (Elena Kagan) who signs an amicus brief arguing that military recruiters can be banned from campuses despite a contrary federal law. “She repeatedly criticized ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ the policy that bars gay men and lesbians from openly serving in the military. At one point she called it ‘a moral injustice of the first order.’  She also joined a legal brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn the law that denied federal funds to colleges and universities that barred military recruiters.”

“Recovery” means something other than a steady, predictable improvement in the economy: “The Dow Jones industrial average plunged nearly 1,000 points in afternoon trading before recovering significantly Thursday — but it was enough to sow chaos on Wall Street as traders blamed everything from a technical glitch to chaos in the Greek economy. In Washington, the sudden drop — the biggest within a single trading day in Dow history — underscored just how fragile the nascent recovery could be, as the White House tries to convince the public that signs of growth mean the economy has begun to turn the corner.”

“Transparent” means you have to be taken to court to disclose documents to congressional investigators: “Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking Republican Susan Collins (Maine) on Thursday said they are poised to press their subpoena fight with the Obama administration into court. Lieberman and Collins, speaking separately, both said the Justice and Defense departments have been uncooperative with their efforts to obtain more information about the November 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, that killed 13 people.”

Reset” means all is forgiven: “President Obama is preparing to revive a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Moscow that his predecessor shelved two years ago in protest of Russia’s war on its tiny neighbor, Georgia, administration officials said Thursday. Renewing the agreement would be the latest step in Mr. Obama’s drive to repair relations between the two powers, at a time when he is seeking Moscow’s support for tough new sanctions against Iran. But word of the move has generated consternation in Congress, where some lawmakers were already skeptical of the agreement and now worry that Mr. Obama is giving Russia too much.”

“Awareness of the potential political consequences of the actions” means holy cow — the Democrats are going to get wiped out! Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland: “I think we need to proceed with some awareness of the potential political consequences of the actions that are undertaken here in Washington.”

Civility” means his critics should shut up. “Less than a week after promoting the need to treat others ‘with courtesy and respect,’ the unhappy warrior was at it again yesterday with a misleading attack on the motives of an opponent. Responding to an amendment offered by Senator Richard Shelby to limit the scope of the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mr. Obama said, ‘I will not allow amendments like this one written by Wall Street’s lobbyists to pass for reform.’ Mr. Civility was insulting the gentleman from Alabama, but even if delivered in dignified language, the attack was false.”

ObamaCare” means you’re not going to keep your health-care plan. Yuval Levin explains that “it turns out that several major corporations are drawing up plans to end their employee health benefits once Obamacare gets up and running. They’ve done the math and figured out that the penalty they would have to pay for dropping their workers would be much lower than the costs of continuing to insure them, and now there will be a new taxpayer-subsidized option for those workers to turn to in state exchanges, so why not cut them off?”

For the New York Times,a pragmatist” means a law-school dean (Elena Kagan) who signs an amicus brief arguing that military recruiters can be banned from campuses despite a contrary federal law. “She repeatedly criticized ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ the policy that bars gay men and lesbians from openly serving in the military. At one point she called it ‘a moral injustice of the first order.’  She also joined a legal brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn the law that denied federal funds to colleges and universities that barred military recruiters.”

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Yet Another Step Backward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Welcome Back, MAD

The New START treaty signed today does what critics have feared: it gives Russia an out should it conclude that any evolving situation is destabilized by America’s missile defenses, and it prohibits the U.S. from expanding our missile-defense capability by converting decommissioned ICBM silos in North America.

The language in the ninth paragraph of the treaty preamble gives the Russians whatever latitude they choose to object to U.S. missile defenses:

Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.

As Keith B. Payne points out in the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has already clarified the Russian interpretation of this passage:

[Lavrov] stated at a press conference in Moscow on March 26 that “The treaty is signed against the backdrop of particular levels of strategic defensive systems. A change of these levels will give each side the right to consider its further participation in the reduction of strategic offensive armaments.”

Meanwhile, Paragraph 3 of Article V, on page 10, specifically prohibits either side from converting ballistic-missile launchers (including silos) to missile-defense launchers. There was no valid reason to accept this unconscionable restraint on our national defense: a limitation that will bind us while the treaty is in effect no matter where threats may emerge.

Obama’s September 2009 cancellation of the Bush missile-defense deployment in Europe has already shown us how he reacts when Russia objects to U.S. missile-defense plans. Moreover, last fall’s decision was made without any implied threat of Russia’s opting out of its arms treaties. Now that such a threat hovers expressly over Moscow’s commitment to the New START treaty, it seems unlikely we can expect more backbone in Obama’s missile-defense posture.

This passage from the Obama Nuclear Posture Review (page 16) is certainly suggestive about our prospects:

A strategic dialogue with Russia will allow the United States to explain that our missile defenses and any future U.S. conventionally-armed long-range ballistic missile systems are designed to address newly emerging regional threats, and are not intended to affect the strategic balance with Russia.

But the premise of this is false. An effective missile defense is, in fact, intended to affect the strategic balance, not just with Russia but also with any other nuclear power. The purpose of missile defense is precisely to obviate the old calculations of Mutual Assured Destruction. This was the reason George W. Bush withdrew from the ABM treaty in 2002 and divorced the negotiation of the Moscow SORT treaty from any haggling over missile defense. His intent was to predicate our security and that of our allies on defense, not on the mutual hostage situation — what we used to call the “balance of terror” — inherent in MAD.

Russian leaders have repeatedly rejected America’s offers to cooperate and share technology for strategic missile defenses. They have remained determined instead to hold American and allied populations at risk as the guarantee of Russian security. With the New START treaty, they have prevailed on that point, placing America’s missile-defense program under limitations both implicit and explicit. Obama is effectively returning us to the MAD regime.

The New START treaty signed today does what critics have feared: it gives Russia an out should it conclude that any evolving situation is destabilized by America’s missile defenses, and it prohibits the U.S. from expanding our missile-defense capability by converting decommissioned ICBM silos in North America.

The language in the ninth paragraph of the treaty preamble gives the Russians whatever latitude they choose to object to U.S. missile defenses:

Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.

As Keith B. Payne points out in the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has already clarified the Russian interpretation of this passage:

[Lavrov] stated at a press conference in Moscow on March 26 that “The treaty is signed against the backdrop of particular levels of strategic defensive systems. A change of these levels will give each side the right to consider its further participation in the reduction of strategic offensive armaments.”

Meanwhile, Paragraph 3 of Article V, on page 10, specifically prohibits either side from converting ballistic-missile launchers (including silos) to missile-defense launchers. There was no valid reason to accept this unconscionable restraint on our national defense: a limitation that will bind us while the treaty is in effect no matter where threats may emerge.

Obama’s September 2009 cancellation of the Bush missile-defense deployment in Europe has already shown us how he reacts when Russia objects to U.S. missile-defense plans. Moreover, last fall’s decision was made without any implied threat of Russia’s opting out of its arms treaties. Now that such a threat hovers expressly over Moscow’s commitment to the New START treaty, it seems unlikely we can expect more backbone in Obama’s missile-defense posture.

This passage from the Obama Nuclear Posture Review (page 16) is certainly suggestive about our prospects:

A strategic dialogue with Russia will allow the United States to explain that our missile defenses and any future U.S. conventionally-armed long-range ballistic missile systems are designed to address newly emerging regional threats, and are not intended to affect the strategic balance with Russia.

But the premise of this is false. An effective missile defense is, in fact, intended to affect the strategic balance, not just with Russia but also with any other nuclear power. The purpose of missile defense is precisely to obviate the old calculations of Mutual Assured Destruction. This was the reason George W. Bush withdrew from the ABM treaty in 2002 and divorced the negotiation of the Moscow SORT treaty from any haggling over missile defense. His intent was to predicate our security and that of our allies on defense, not on the mutual hostage situation — what we used to call the “balance of terror” — inherent in MAD.

Russian leaders have repeatedly rejected America’s offers to cooperate and share technology for strategic missile defenses. They have remained determined instead to hold American and allied populations at risk as the guarantee of Russian security. With the New START treaty, they have prevailed on that point, placing America’s missile-defense program under limitations both implicit and explicit. Obama is effectively returning us to the MAD regime.

Read Less




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