Commentary Magazine


Topic: national security adviser

Obami’s Latest Israel Gambit Flops

Once again, the Obami’s bullying has come to naught. Bibi Netanyahu and his government are not amused nor persuaded by the Obami onslaught over Jerusalem housing permits or the suggestion that an imposed peace deal might be in the offing. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government said it would reject any moves by the Obama administration to set its own timeline and benchmarks for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, potentially establishing a new fault line between the U.S. and Israel. … Senior White House officials, such as National Security Adviser James Jones, have also discussed recently the prospects of Washington proposing its own Mideast plan, though U.S. diplomats stressed this past week that such a move wasn’t imminent or agreed upon.

These developments have rankled Mr. Netanyahu’s government, which is already at odds with Mr. Obama over the issue of Jewish building in disputed East Jerusalem.

“I don’t believe this will be accepted by the administration because it will be a grave mistake. … The solution has to be homegrown,” Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal late Sunday. …

“The longstanding Israeli position, not of this government only, but of successive Israeli governments, is that the Israelis and the Palestinians have to live together in peace and that an agreement has to be negotiated between them directly,” said a senior Netanyahu administration official.

Of course this was entirely foreseeable. So once again one must ask of the Obami Israel policy: what is the point? Rather than absorb the lessons of 2009 — that the Israeli government cannot be strong-armed and that Bibi’s government can’t be toppled by the likes of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, and Obama — the Obami have repeated and intensified their efforts to squeeze our ally. Yes, maybe this time we can use Jerusalem to pry them loose! Ah, the threat of an imposed peace — that’ll do it! But alas, all we’ve done, apparently is create a wedge between the U.S. and our ally, communicated to the Palestinians that they should just hold firm, and telegraphed to Israel’s neighbors that we are flaky friends.

The Obami now have two options. First, as they did with the settlement gambit, they can simply fold up their tents and go back to endless, fruitless rounds of shuttle diplomacy. Alternatively, they can try out their latest, already rejected brainstorm and see if maybe, just maybe, the Israelis will finally cave. In all of this, the Obami have set themselves apart from every prior administration, both in the degree to which they would willingly damage the U.S.-Israel relationship and in the inanity of their diplomatic efforts. It is proof positive that dramatic, even “historic” change can be a very dangerous thing.

Once again, the Obami’s bullying has come to naught. Bibi Netanyahu and his government are not amused nor persuaded by the Obami onslaught over Jerusalem housing permits or the suggestion that an imposed peace deal might be in the offing. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government said it would reject any moves by the Obama administration to set its own timeline and benchmarks for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, potentially establishing a new fault line between the U.S. and Israel. … Senior White House officials, such as National Security Adviser James Jones, have also discussed recently the prospects of Washington proposing its own Mideast plan, though U.S. diplomats stressed this past week that such a move wasn’t imminent or agreed upon.

These developments have rankled Mr. Netanyahu’s government, which is already at odds with Mr. Obama over the issue of Jewish building in disputed East Jerusalem.

“I don’t believe this will be accepted by the administration because it will be a grave mistake. … The solution has to be homegrown,” Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal late Sunday. …

“The longstanding Israeli position, not of this government only, but of successive Israeli governments, is that the Israelis and the Palestinians have to live together in peace and that an agreement has to be negotiated between them directly,” said a senior Netanyahu administration official.

Of course this was entirely foreseeable. So once again one must ask of the Obami Israel policy: what is the point? Rather than absorb the lessons of 2009 — that the Israeli government cannot be strong-armed and that Bibi’s government can’t be toppled by the likes of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, and Obama — the Obami have repeated and intensified their efforts to squeeze our ally. Yes, maybe this time we can use Jerusalem to pry them loose! Ah, the threat of an imposed peace — that’ll do it! But alas, all we’ve done, apparently is create a wedge between the U.S. and our ally, communicated to the Palestinians that they should just hold firm, and telegraphed to Israel’s neighbors that we are flaky friends.

The Obami now have two options. First, as they did with the settlement gambit, they can simply fold up their tents and go back to endless, fruitless rounds of shuttle diplomacy. Alternatively, they can try out their latest, already rejected brainstorm and see if maybe, just maybe, the Israelis will finally cave. In all of this, the Obami have set themselves apart from every prior administration, both in the degree to which they would willingly damage the U.S.-Israel relationship and in the inanity of their diplomatic efforts. It is proof positive that dramatic, even “historic” change can be a very dangerous thing.

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Jewish Voters Deceived

Those disturbed by President Obama’s habit of saying one thing in the campaign and doing another while in office have another example, this one on foreign policy. And those disturbed by the talk of the president issuing his own Arab-Israeli peace plan have another, related question to ponder: what is Carter-administration official Zbigniew Brzezinski doing in the room? During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama addressed the issue of Brzezinski’s role directly at least twice when asked about it by concerned Jewish voters. Relations between Brzezinski and the Obama campaign were already an issue, with Alan Dershowitz having publicly called on Obama to repudiate Brzezinski when he met with about 100 members of the Cleveland Jewish Community on February 24, 2008. Here’s what he said:

I know Brzezinski. He’s not one of my key advisors. I’ve had lunch with him once, I’ve exchanged e-mails with him maybe 3 times. … I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally….

Then, on April 16, 2008, candidate Obama met with Jewish leaders from the Philadelphia area. This is how the New York Sun reported the April 16 meeting:

Rabbi Neil Cooper of Beth Hillel-Beth El Synagogue came away skeptical. He said he buttonholed the candidate as he was leaving the event and asked him about the connection between Mr. Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the Obama campaign. “From my perspective, the devil here is going to be in the details,” Rabbi Cooper said. “The questions I have have to do with his very pronouncements on Israel on the one hand, which are positive, and then he seems to attract all kinds of other people who have a different agenda on Israel, like Brzezinski. I said, ‘Why don’t you get rid of Brzezinski?’ He says he listens to Brzezinski on certain things but not when it comes to Israel. (Emphasis added.)

Now comes a report in the New York Times according to which, at a White House meeting, President Obama asked Mr. Brzezinski for his advice on whether to put forward an American plan for Arab-Israeli peace. Worse, present at this same meeting was Brent Scowcroft, whom, back during the campaign, Obama proxies were criticizing Senator McCain for listening to. President Obama says consumers need a new regulatory agency to protect them from being conned by greedy bankers. But as far as fraudulent sales jobs go, the one that the Democrat pulled on Jewish voters in 2008 is one for the ages.

Those disturbed by President Obama’s habit of saying one thing in the campaign and doing another while in office have another example, this one on foreign policy. And those disturbed by the talk of the president issuing his own Arab-Israeli peace plan have another, related question to ponder: what is Carter-administration official Zbigniew Brzezinski doing in the room? During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama addressed the issue of Brzezinski’s role directly at least twice when asked about it by concerned Jewish voters. Relations between Brzezinski and the Obama campaign were already an issue, with Alan Dershowitz having publicly called on Obama to repudiate Brzezinski when he met with about 100 members of the Cleveland Jewish Community on February 24, 2008. Here’s what he said:

I know Brzezinski. He’s not one of my key advisors. I’ve had lunch with him once, I’ve exchanged e-mails with him maybe 3 times. … I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally….

Then, on April 16, 2008, candidate Obama met with Jewish leaders from the Philadelphia area. This is how the New York Sun reported the April 16 meeting:

Rabbi Neil Cooper of Beth Hillel-Beth El Synagogue came away skeptical. He said he buttonholed the candidate as he was leaving the event and asked him about the connection between Mr. Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the Obama campaign. “From my perspective, the devil here is going to be in the details,” Rabbi Cooper said. “The questions I have have to do with his very pronouncements on Israel on the one hand, which are positive, and then he seems to attract all kinds of other people who have a different agenda on Israel, like Brzezinski. I said, ‘Why don’t you get rid of Brzezinski?’ He says he listens to Brzezinski on certain things but not when it comes to Israel. (Emphasis added.)

Now comes a report in the New York Times according to which, at a White House meeting, President Obama asked Mr. Brzezinski for his advice on whether to put forward an American plan for Arab-Israeli peace. Worse, present at this same meeting was Brent Scowcroft, whom, back during the campaign, Obama proxies were criticizing Senator McCain for listening to. President Obama says consumers need a new regulatory agency to protect them from being conned by greedy bankers. But as far as fraudulent sales jobs go, the one that the Democrat pulled on Jewish voters in 2008 is one for the ages.

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Words Matter — Until They Don’t

The ever-receding Obama “timelines” for Iran, the lack of a credible threat of serious sanctions, the secretary of state’s public disavowal of an ultimate option, and the persistent presidential silence on the entire topic make it likely that the Obama administration plans to pursue its “dual track” policy (ineffectual “engagement” and ineffectual “pressure”) until the policy is eventually overtaken by events. The fallback will be “deterrence” after Iran passes the nuclear threshold.

The irony is that the discrepancy between the Obama rhetoric and the Obama performance will doom deterrence as well. In his major campaign speech on Iran, Obama promised he would do “everything” in his power to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons (in the speech as delivered, he actually repeated the word everything three times — the third time as a stand-alone sentence). Such weapons, he said both before and after he was elected, were “unacceptable.”

At her confirmation hearing, his secretary of state assured the Foreign Relations Committee that the Obama administration would employ whatever option was ultimately necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons:

KERRY: … Is it the policy of the incoming administration, as a bottom line of our security interests and our policy, that it is unacceptable that Iran has a weapon under any circumstances and that we will take any steps necessary to prevent that or is it simply not desirable? I think, as you said, it’s in no one’s interest, which is less than the formation of the prohibition.

CLINTON: The president-elect has said repeatedly it is unacceptable. It is going to be United States policy to pursue diplomacy with all of its multitudinous tools to do everything we can to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.

As I also said, no option is off the table. So the president-elect has been very clear that it is unacceptable and that is our premise and that is what we are going to be basing our actions on.

In practice, Obama’s policy has been the one favored by Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. In a March 5, 2009, hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on “US Strategy Regarding Iran,” Zbigniew Brzezinski urged a process with no public conditions or time limits, no assertions that force remained an option, and no statement that regime change was a goal. It was, he said, a process that might consume “years” — and warned we should not “become susceptible to advice from interested parties regarding how we are to proceed.” He made it clear that he meant Israel and its advice that a time limit should be set.

Senator Kerry asked if there wasn’t “an automatic timetable thrust on us” — because of “Iran’s own activities and Israel’s perception of those activities, as well as our own intelligence community’s interpretations of those activities.” Brzezinski answered, in essence, “no.” He cited the success of deterrence in the cases of the Soviet Union, China, and India and Pakistan:

The Indians and the Pakistanis have managed to deter each other — knock on wood — so far.

And deterrence, their experience with deterrence gives us some grounds for not being under tremendous time limits.

And, in any case, we know that deterrence is predictable if it works.

Deterrence is a great fallback position, knock on wood, if it works. So there is no need for tremendous time limits. They can just be points on a calendar.

But the effectiveness of deterrence ultimately depends on the credibility of the U.S. promise to come to the defense of states throughout the region — from Israel to Saudi Arabia — threatened by a nuclear Iran. That credibility may not survive a failure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Let me be clearer: once you have pledged to do “everything” to prevent an “unacceptable” occurrence, and then you allow it to occur, with no effort other than “smart” diplomacy, your next promise will not be believed. Your credibility will be gone.

The ever-receding Obama “timelines” for Iran, the lack of a credible threat of serious sanctions, the secretary of state’s public disavowal of an ultimate option, and the persistent presidential silence on the entire topic make it likely that the Obama administration plans to pursue its “dual track” policy (ineffectual “engagement” and ineffectual “pressure”) until the policy is eventually overtaken by events. The fallback will be “deterrence” after Iran passes the nuclear threshold.

The irony is that the discrepancy between the Obama rhetoric and the Obama performance will doom deterrence as well. In his major campaign speech on Iran, Obama promised he would do “everything” in his power to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons (in the speech as delivered, he actually repeated the word everything three times — the third time as a stand-alone sentence). Such weapons, he said both before and after he was elected, were “unacceptable.”

At her confirmation hearing, his secretary of state assured the Foreign Relations Committee that the Obama administration would employ whatever option was ultimately necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons:

KERRY: … Is it the policy of the incoming administration, as a bottom line of our security interests and our policy, that it is unacceptable that Iran has a weapon under any circumstances and that we will take any steps necessary to prevent that or is it simply not desirable? I think, as you said, it’s in no one’s interest, which is less than the formation of the prohibition.

CLINTON: The president-elect has said repeatedly it is unacceptable. It is going to be United States policy to pursue diplomacy with all of its multitudinous tools to do everything we can to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.

As I also said, no option is off the table. So the president-elect has been very clear that it is unacceptable and that is our premise and that is what we are going to be basing our actions on.

In practice, Obama’s policy has been the one favored by Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. In a March 5, 2009, hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on “US Strategy Regarding Iran,” Zbigniew Brzezinski urged a process with no public conditions or time limits, no assertions that force remained an option, and no statement that regime change was a goal. It was, he said, a process that might consume “years” — and warned we should not “become susceptible to advice from interested parties regarding how we are to proceed.” He made it clear that he meant Israel and its advice that a time limit should be set.

Senator Kerry asked if there wasn’t “an automatic timetable thrust on us” — because of “Iran’s own activities and Israel’s perception of those activities, as well as our own intelligence community’s interpretations of those activities.” Brzezinski answered, in essence, “no.” He cited the success of deterrence in the cases of the Soviet Union, China, and India and Pakistan:

The Indians and the Pakistanis have managed to deter each other — knock on wood — so far.

And deterrence, their experience with deterrence gives us some grounds for not being under tremendous time limits.

And, in any case, we know that deterrence is predictable if it works.

Deterrence is a great fallback position, knock on wood, if it works. So there is no need for tremendous time limits. They can just be points on a calendar.

But the effectiveness of deterrence ultimately depends on the credibility of the U.S. promise to come to the defense of states throughout the region — from Israel to Saudi Arabia — threatened by a nuclear Iran. That credibility may not survive a failure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Let me be clearer: once you have pledged to do “everything” to prevent an “unacceptable” occurrence, and then you allow it to occur, with no effort other than “smart” diplomacy, your next promise will not be believed. Your credibility will be gone.

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Who’s Crazy?

I suppose we’ve reached a breakthrough on Iran when liberal pundits start invoking Richard Nixon — with fondness. Richard Cohen does so by way of considering whether Ahmadinejad is crazy/insane or crazy/dangerous, and whether it isn’t a good idea to upend the Iranian regime’s plans to acquire nuclear weapons. You know, maybe we should give the Iranians the idea that we might do something Nixonesque — like knock out some sites or embargo the country. He observes:

Israel, of all countries, has little faith in the rationality of mankind. It simply knows better. So the question of whether Ahmadinejad is playing the madman or really is a madman is not an academic exercise. It has a real and frightening immediacy that too often, in too many precincts, gets belittled as a form of paranoia. For instance, when Israeli leaders warn that they might take preemptive action against Iran — say, an attempt to bomb its nuclear facilities as they did in Iraq in 1981 — it is dismissed as irresponsible saber-rattling. Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski even suggested that if Israel tried such a thing, the United States might have to back it down with force. The Brzezinski Doctrine is refreshing in its perverse boldness: We shoot our friends to defend our enemies.

The Obami’s policy, insofar we know they have one, hasn’t gone that far, though they speak quite openly of the risks of an attack and seem quite focused on making sure the Israelis don’t do anything as rash as preemptively removing a threat to the existence of the Jewish state. But what is crazy, even to the likes of Cohen, is the notion that we can learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran:

It would upend the balance of power throughout the Middle East and encourage radical/terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas to ratchet up their war against Israel. Other Middle East nations, not content to rely on an American nuclear umbrella, would seek their own bombs. An unstable region would go nuclear. (It speaks volumes about Middle Eastern reality and hypocrisy that Egypt serenely lives with an Israeli bomb but breaks out in diplomatic hives at the prospect of an Iranian one.)

And it is equally clear that, as Cohen acknowledges, the Obami have done nothing to dissuade the Iranian regime from pursuing its goal of joining the nuclear weapons club.
The Obama team likes to talk about creating consensus on Iran. Now everyone knows they’re bad guys, Hillary Clinton tells us — as if the  stolen election, the murders, the censorship, the brutality, the hidden nuclear sites, and the vows to exterminate Israel weren’t enough. But instead, the consensus has developed that Obama has behaved irresponsibly and in a very real sense irrationally. He expected a despotic regime to welcome cordial relations with the West, and he imagined that democracy protesters were an encumbrance rather than a remarkable opportunity for Iran and the West.

After a year, liberals and conservatives are reaching a consensus: Obama’s Iran policy is a dangerous flop. I suppose that’s an achievement of sorts.

I suppose we’ve reached a breakthrough on Iran when liberal pundits start invoking Richard Nixon — with fondness. Richard Cohen does so by way of considering whether Ahmadinejad is crazy/insane or crazy/dangerous, and whether it isn’t a good idea to upend the Iranian regime’s plans to acquire nuclear weapons. You know, maybe we should give the Iranians the idea that we might do something Nixonesque — like knock out some sites or embargo the country. He observes:

Israel, of all countries, has little faith in the rationality of mankind. It simply knows better. So the question of whether Ahmadinejad is playing the madman or really is a madman is not an academic exercise. It has a real and frightening immediacy that too often, in too many precincts, gets belittled as a form of paranoia. For instance, when Israeli leaders warn that they might take preemptive action against Iran — say, an attempt to bomb its nuclear facilities as they did in Iraq in 1981 — it is dismissed as irresponsible saber-rattling. Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski even suggested that if Israel tried such a thing, the United States might have to back it down with force. The Brzezinski Doctrine is refreshing in its perverse boldness: We shoot our friends to defend our enemies.

The Obami’s policy, insofar we know they have one, hasn’t gone that far, though they speak quite openly of the risks of an attack and seem quite focused on making sure the Israelis don’t do anything as rash as preemptively removing a threat to the existence of the Jewish state. But what is crazy, even to the likes of Cohen, is the notion that we can learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran:

It would upend the balance of power throughout the Middle East and encourage radical/terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas to ratchet up their war against Israel. Other Middle East nations, not content to rely on an American nuclear umbrella, would seek their own bombs. An unstable region would go nuclear. (It speaks volumes about Middle Eastern reality and hypocrisy that Egypt serenely lives with an Israeli bomb but breaks out in diplomatic hives at the prospect of an Iranian one.)

And it is equally clear that, as Cohen acknowledges, the Obami have done nothing to dissuade the Iranian regime from pursuing its goal of joining the nuclear weapons club.
The Obama team likes to talk about creating consensus on Iran. Now everyone knows they’re bad guys, Hillary Clinton tells us — as if the  stolen election, the murders, the censorship, the brutality, the hidden nuclear sites, and the vows to exterminate Israel weren’t enough. But instead, the consensus has developed that Obama has behaved irresponsibly and in a very real sense irrationally. He expected a despotic regime to welcome cordial relations with the West, and he imagined that democracy protesters were an encumbrance rather than a remarkable opportunity for Iran and the West.

After a year, liberals and conservatives are reaching a consensus: Obama’s Iran policy is a dangerous flop. I suppose that’s an achievement of sorts.

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Obama Makes Excuses to Do Nothing About Iran

Buried most of the way through this New York Times report is a disturbing reminder of how unserious Obama is about imposing sanctions on Iran that might impact the mullahs’ decision to proceed with their nuclear-arms program:

During the campaign he raised the specter of cutting off refined petroleum supplies to Iran, which cannot refine enough oil to keep cars rolling and factories running. But Mr. Obama has backed away from that step, at least for now, for fear of the popular backlash it could set off.

“What you’ve been hearing on the streets is ‘Death to the dictator,’ not ‘Death to America,’” one of Mr. Obama’s top strategists said in an interview in December. “We’d be foolish to do anything to change that.”

Huh?! Doesn’t the protesters’ clear-eyed understanding of the identity of their enemy — the despotic regime — weigh in favor of imposing those crippling sanctions, which might help galvanize the revolution and topple the mullahs from power? Somehow Obama and his aides have convinced themselves of the opposite — that those brave and perceptive protesters who risked their lives for freedom would suddenly rush to the mullahs’ defense if Obama, in declared solidarity with those very protesters, announced effective sanctions aimed to topple the regime. This implies that the Obami were never serious about sanctions. They’re now making a ludicrous argument to defend their decision to do nothing much at all.

The rest of the article suggests that the Obami are nowhere near achieving agreement from the “international community” on UN-approved sanctions. (Remember that the Obami don’t really want serious sanctions anyway, because the imposition of sanctions might cause the  protesters, who we aren’t helping, to turn on the West.) We hear that on sanctions, “so far the Chinese are unmoved.” And then we learn what is really motivating the Obami:

The list of sanctions is now six pages long. But none have accomplished the central goal: forcing compliance with the Security Council’s demand that Iran halt uranium enrichment. Mr. Obama’s team acknowledges the potential political liability of passing a fourth round that proves equally ineffective. Some are scaling back expectations for what they once called “crippling sanctions.”

“This is about driving them back to negotiations,” said one senior official, “because the real goal here is to avoid war.” (emphasis added)

You see the goal is not to prevent Iran from going nuclear but rather to avoid war. So the Obami’s main obsession is now to deter Israel (which cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran) from acting. (“Top officials — from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, to the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones — have visited Israel to argue that they should give sanctions time.”) But of course, we know that the chances of sanctions working are virtually nonexistent. So we are merely giving the mullahs, not sanctions, just more time.

The picture is becoming regrettably clear. International sanctions are a faint hope. Obama has come up with a rationalization to downsize U.S. sanctions. Our administration has already declared that conflict avoidance, not the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear threat, is the goal. And our real energies are devoted to stopping Israel while our sanctions pantomime plays out. This will not end well. At some point, the Obami’s “no war” will conflict with Israel’s fundamental commitment to protecting itself from an existential threat.

Meanwhile, where is the American Jewish community? Have they not noticed the retreat by the Obami on serious sanctions — and can they not anticipate the moment at which the Obami will declare Iran’s nuclear status a fait accompli? You would think they would be sounding the alarm and registering disapproval of the administration’s sleep-walking-toward-containment gambit. But it seems that they, too, are slumbering. Meanwhile, the mullahs inch forward with their nuclear program as Obama dreams up reasons to do nothing.

Buried most of the way through this New York Times report is a disturbing reminder of how unserious Obama is about imposing sanctions on Iran that might impact the mullahs’ decision to proceed with their nuclear-arms program:

During the campaign he raised the specter of cutting off refined petroleum supplies to Iran, which cannot refine enough oil to keep cars rolling and factories running. But Mr. Obama has backed away from that step, at least for now, for fear of the popular backlash it could set off.

“What you’ve been hearing on the streets is ‘Death to the dictator,’ not ‘Death to America,’” one of Mr. Obama’s top strategists said in an interview in December. “We’d be foolish to do anything to change that.”

Huh?! Doesn’t the protesters’ clear-eyed understanding of the identity of their enemy — the despotic regime — weigh in favor of imposing those crippling sanctions, which might help galvanize the revolution and topple the mullahs from power? Somehow Obama and his aides have convinced themselves of the opposite — that those brave and perceptive protesters who risked their lives for freedom would suddenly rush to the mullahs’ defense if Obama, in declared solidarity with those very protesters, announced effective sanctions aimed to topple the regime. This implies that the Obami were never serious about sanctions. They’re now making a ludicrous argument to defend their decision to do nothing much at all.

The rest of the article suggests that the Obami are nowhere near achieving agreement from the “international community” on UN-approved sanctions. (Remember that the Obami don’t really want serious sanctions anyway, because the imposition of sanctions might cause the  protesters, who we aren’t helping, to turn on the West.) We hear that on sanctions, “so far the Chinese are unmoved.” And then we learn what is really motivating the Obami:

The list of sanctions is now six pages long. But none have accomplished the central goal: forcing compliance with the Security Council’s demand that Iran halt uranium enrichment. Mr. Obama’s team acknowledges the potential political liability of passing a fourth round that proves equally ineffective. Some are scaling back expectations for what they once called “crippling sanctions.”

“This is about driving them back to negotiations,” said one senior official, “because the real goal here is to avoid war.” (emphasis added)

You see the goal is not to prevent Iran from going nuclear but rather to avoid war. So the Obami’s main obsession is now to deter Israel (which cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran) from acting. (“Top officials — from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, to the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones — have visited Israel to argue that they should give sanctions time.”) But of course, we know that the chances of sanctions working are virtually nonexistent. So we are merely giving the mullahs, not sanctions, just more time.

The picture is becoming regrettably clear. International sanctions are a faint hope. Obama has come up with a rationalization to downsize U.S. sanctions. Our administration has already declared that conflict avoidance, not the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear threat, is the goal. And our real energies are devoted to stopping Israel while our sanctions pantomime plays out. This will not end well. At some point, the Obami’s “no war” will conflict with Israel’s fundamental commitment to protecting itself from an existential threat.

Meanwhile, where is the American Jewish community? Have they not noticed the retreat by the Obami on serious sanctions — and can they not anticipate the moment at which the Obami will declare Iran’s nuclear status a fait accompli? You would think they would be sounding the alarm and registering disapproval of the administration’s sleep-walking-toward-containment gambit. But it seems that they, too, are slumbering. Meanwhile, the mullahs inch forward with their nuclear program as Obama dreams up reasons to do nothing.

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James Jones: Prepare to Be Shocked by Our Incompetence

The Obama administration’s failure to block the Christmas Day bomber is shocking. They really have messed up. Even though they wouldn’t label it a jihadist attack, Fort Hood was another screw-up. So the Obama team has seen two attacks on the homeland — two more than in all the years following 9/11. We can’t afford a third. Is this the conservative case against Obama? No, this is the administration’s own national security adviser, James Jones, telling us we are going to freak out when we learn what stumblebums they all are. USA Today reports:

White House national security adviser James Jones says Americans will feel “a certain shock” when they read an account being released Thursday of the missed clues that could have prevented the alleged Christmas Day bomber from ever boarding the plane.

President Obama “is legitimately and correctly alarmed that things that were available, bits of information that were available, patterns of behavior that were available, were not acted on,” Jones said in an interview Wednesday with USA Today.

“That’s two strikes,” Obama’s top White House aide on defense and foreign policy issues said, referring to the foiled bombing of the Detroit-bound airliner and the shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in November. In that case, too, officials failed to act when red flags were raised about an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Hasan. He has been charged with killing 13 people.
Jones said Obama “certainly doesn’t want that third strike, and neither does anybody else.”

Given all that, it seems inexplicable that no jobs will be lost in the administration nor thoughts given to reversing their most significant policy decisions, which now seem utterly inappropriate (e.g., closing Guantanamo, setting a public trial for KSM, ending the use of enhanced interrogation techniques). The Obama team will have new and mind-numbing ways of hassling airline passengers. They will rejigger the watch lists. But real, fundamental change, or a meaningful personnel change? I wouldn’t bet on it. So get ready to be shocked — shocked at the incompetence and shocked that nothing ever provokes meaningful self-evaluation by Obama and his team.

The Obama administration’s failure to block the Christmas Day bomber is shocking. They really have messed up. Even though they wouldn’t label it a jihadist attack, Fort Hood was another screw-up. So the Obama team has seen two attacks on the homeland — two more than in all the years following 9/11. We can’t afford a third. Is this the conservative case against Obama? No, this is the administration’s own national security adviser, James Jones, telling us we are going to freak out when we learn what stumblebums they all are. USA Today reports:

White House national security adviser James Jones says Americans will feel “a certain shock” when they read an account being released Thursday of the missed clues that could have prevented the alleged Christmas Day bomber from ever boarding the plane.

President Obama “is legitimately and correctly alarmed that things that were available, bits of information that were available, patterns of behavior that were available, were not acted on,” Jones said in an interview Wednesday with USA Today.

“That’s two strikes,” Obama’s top White House aide on defense and foreign policy issues said, referring to the foiled bombing of the Detroit-bound airliner and the shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in November. In that case, too, officials failed to act when red flags were raised about an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Hasan. He has been charged with killing 13 people.
Jones said Obama “certainly doesn’t want that third strike, and neither does anybody else.”

Given all that, it seems inexplicable that no jobs will be lost in the administration nor thoughts given to reversing their most significant policy decisions, which now seem utterly inappropriate (e.g., closing Guantanamo, setting a public trial for KSM, ending the use of enhanced interrogation techniques). The Obama team will have new and mind-numbing ways of hassling airline passengers. They will rejigger the watch lists. But real, fundamental change, or a meaningful personnel change? I wouldn’t bet on it. So get ready to be shocked — shocked at the incompetence and shocked that nothing ever provokes meaningful self-evaluation by Obama and his team.

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When Did He Know?

When did the president learn that the Christmas Day plot was not an “isolated extremist?” On Monday, he told us that it was. Now we hear the excuse that the president only learned Monday night of “some linkage” between the bomber and al-Qaeda. The Washington Post gets this report on background (you wouldn’t want your name used either):

The official said the president and his top advisers are “increasingly confident” that Al Qaeda was involved in the attempted attacker’s plans.

Obama, in his remarks to reporters earlier in the day, said that if intelligence about the suspect had been handled differently he would have been blocked from boarding a plane for the United States. Senior officials said that was among the new details that the president learned in a conference call with top national security officials – National Security Adviser Jim Jones, his top counterterrorism expert John Brennan, and deputy National Security adviser Tom Donilon – on Tuesday morning.

So we are supposed to believe that the president went in front of the nation, that he declared something that the public (after paying attention to a plethora of news reports) was beginning to believe was not true (i.e. this was a lone wolf), and that he only learned of the al-Qaeda connection four days after the incident? I’m not sure which is worse — the possibility that the president was misinformed or uninformed for a number of  days, or that he knew better and for reasons not entirely clear decided to play down the al-Qaeda connection until it could no longer be ignored. This is, of course, a second scandal — the primary one being that we did not act on “information that was in possession of the government… that spoke to both where the suspect had been, what some of his thinking and plans were, what some of the plans of Al Qaeda were.”

As the Washington Post editors fume: “Now we want to shine a light on the stunning breakdown in communication among the State Department, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and the British government that allowed Mr. Abdulmutallab to buy a ticket in the first place.” And then we can find out why the president went before the public with incomplete and inaccurate information on Monday.

We seem to have an intelligence apparatus that cannot communicate effectively before a terror attack, and an administration that cannot communicate forthrightly and accurately with the public after one. Unlike those who coped with 9/11, the Obama administration had the experience of a massive domestic terror attack to guide and inform it. And yet this is the best that the Obama administration can do.

When did the president learn that the Christmas Day plot was not an “isolated extremist?” On Monday, he told us that it was. Now we hear the excuse that the president only learned Monday night of “some linkage” between the bomber and al-Qaeda. The Washington Post gets this report on background (you wouldn’t want your name used either):

The official said the president and his top advisers are “increasingly confident” that Al Qaeda was involved in the attempted attacker’s plans.

Obama, in his remarks to reporters earlier in the day, said that if intelligence about the suspect had been handled differently he would have been blocked from boarding a plane for the United States. Senior officials said that was among the new details that the president learned in a conference call with top national security officials – National Security Adviser Jim Jones, his top counterterrorism expert John Brennan, and deputy National Security adviser Tom Donilon – on Tuesday morning.

So we are supposed to believe that the president went in front of the nation, that he declared something that the public (after paying attention to a plethora of news reports) was beginning to believe was not true (i.e. this was a lone wolf), and that he only learned of the al-Qaeda connection four days after the incident? I’m not sure which is worse — the possibility that the president was misinformed or uninformed for a number of  days, or that he knew better and for reasons not entirely clear decided to play down the al-Qaeda connection until it could no longer be ignored. This is, of course, a second scandal — the primary one being that we did not act on “information that was in possession of the government… that spoke to both where the suspect had been, what some of his thinking and plans were, what some of the plans of Al Qaeda were.”

As the Washington Post editors fume: “Now we want to shine a light on the stunning breakdown in communication among the State Department, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and the British government that allowed Mr. Abdulmutallab to buy a ticket in the first place.” And then we can find out why the president went before the public with incomplete and inaccurate information on Monday.

We seem to have an intelligence apparatus that cannot communicate effectively before a terror attack, and an administration that cannot communicate forthrightly and accurately with the public after one. Unlike those who coped with 9/11, the Obama administration had the experience of a massive domestic terror attack to guide and inform it. And yet this is the best that the Obama administration can do.

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What Deciders Must Do

Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush’s national security adviser, knows a thing or two about surges. He writes in support of Obama’s Afghanistan surge and urges bipartisan support for the plan. First, he must console and assure conservatives that Obama’s 18-month deadline is meaningless: “The president and his national security team have said there is no arbitrary withdrawal schedule or exit date.” Well, at least the security team has said it. He quotes Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, who’ve spent the past week reiterating this point. And Hadley retraces the significant troop increases authorized under the Bush administration, which has been maligned as blocking or ignoring commanders’ requests.

But his central point is simple:

It will take time and great effort, but we can succeed by convincing friends, foes and our own forces that we are committed to success and will not fail; motivating and enabling the Afghan government and people to accept greater responsibility for their future; and helping Pakistan in its effort to put down its own Taliban threat and control its territory. The last goal is paramount. A destabilized Pakistan would threaten regional stability and ensure that Afghanistan could not be stabilized. Success will depend on proving to Pakistan that it has an enduring partner in the United States. Our strategy can succeed in Afghanistan if we are committed to succeeding, not just getting out.

Hadley’s advice is a not-so-subtle prodding of the president. A successful counterinsurgency is as much about “motivating and enabling” our allies and intimidating our foes as it is about getting the troop numbers right. Also essential to victory is the projection of staying power. And frankly, Obama has been rather mute since the West Point Speech, allowing his advisers to do the clean-up work on a speech that has been seen, by both supporters and critics, as a weak effort in defense of an essential policy.

It seems that Obama’s task is to convince our allies that he is every much committed to victory, yes victory, and to staying put until the job is done, as was his predecessor in Iraq. Obama has adopted the “surge” terminology; now he must demonstrate the determination that will ensure its success. It can’t be delegated to his advisers, and it can’t be hedged. It must be unequivocal and without regard to the sensibilities of former political soul mates on the Left. That, after all, is what commanders in chief must do.

Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush’s national security adviser, knows a thing or two about surges. He writes in support of Obama’s Afghanistan surge and urges bipartisan support for the plan. First, he must console and assure conservatives that Obama’s 18-month deadline is meaningless: “The president and his national security team have said there is no arbitrary withdrawal schedule or exit date.” Well, at least the security team has said it. He quotes Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, who’ve spent the past week reiterating this point. And Hadley retraces the significant troop increases authorized under the Bush administration, which has been maligned as blocking or ignoring commanders’ requests.

But his central point is simple:

It will take time and great effort, but we can succeed by convincing friends, foes and our own forces that we are committed to success and will not fail; motivating and enabling the Afghan government and people to accept greater responsibility for their future; and helping Pakistan in its effort to put down its own Taliban threat and control its territory. The last goal is paramount. A destabilized Pakistan would threaten regional stability and ensure that Afghanistan could not be stabilized. Success will depend on proving to Pakistan that it has an enduring partner in the United States. Our strategy can succeed in Afghanistan if we are committed to succeeding, not just getting out.

Hadley’s advice is a not-so-subtle prodding of the president. A successful counterinsurgency is as much about “motivating and enabling” our allies and intimidating our foes as it is about getting the troop numbers right. Also essential to victory is the projection of staying power. And frankly, Obama has been rather mute since the West Point Speech, allowing his advisers to do the clean-up work on a speech that has been seen, by both supporters and critics, as a weak effort in defense of an essential policy.

It seems that Obama’s task is to convince our allies that he is every much committed to victory, yes victory, and to staying put until the job is done, as was his predecessor in Iraq. Obama has adopted the “surge” terminology; now he must demonstrate the determination that will ensure its success. It can’t be delegated to his advisers, and it can’t be hedged. It must be unequivocal and without regard to the sensibilities of former political soul mates on the Left. That, after all, is what commanders in chief must do.

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Our Enemies and the Election

Are we due for an “October surprise?” Ever since October 1972, when Henry Kissinger, then Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, announced that “peace is at hand” in Vietnam, an October surprise — or the impending possibility of one — has been a perennial feature of American political life. Will a dramatic foreign-policy development tip the electoral balance this year?

Several factors have converged to make this more probable than in any recent election. I explore what they are in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Are we due for an “October surprise?” Ever since October 1972, when Henry Kissinger, then Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, announced that “peace is at hand” in Vietnam, an October surprise — or the impending possibility of one — has been a perennial feature of American political life. Will a dramatic foreign-policy development tip the electoral balance this year?

Several factors have converged to make this more probable than in any recent election. I explore what they are in today’s Wall Street Journal.

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Getting Basra Wrong

On Sunday, Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr called on Shiite militia members “to end all military actions in Basra and in all the provinces” and “to cooperate with the government to achieve security.” The New York Times thinks this is very bad news indeed—“a serious blow for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.” According to a story by Erica Goode and James Glanz in today’s Times, Iraqi forces are virtually helpless against the militias in Basra and Prime Minister Maliki is turning to Sadr to help him out of the jam. This means all sorts of apocalyptic things for the future of Iraq, as indicated by this:

Asked if the erosion of support for Mr. Maliki could cause his government to fall, Mr. Daoud [a former national security adviser and Shiite party leader] paused and said, “Everything is possible.”

Is it the “pause” that’s supposed to make that non-declaration seem ominous?

According to New York Sun Middle East columnist Nibras Kazimi, writing on his Talisman Gate blog, Goode and Glanz don’t simply have it wrong. Rather, we’re witnessing one of the greatest journalistic shell games in recent memory. On Sunday, Kazimi wrote:

Too bad the Mahdi Army is losing very badly. There were a rash of violent outbreaks here and there in Hillah Province and in al-Hamza in the last few days, but today the situation there is one where the Iraqi Army and police—the Scorpion Brigade in particular—are hunting down the Sadrists with a vengeance with the active help of the local population, according to a well-placed and influential source from Hillah.

Across Baghdad, the situation turned against the Mahdi Army prior to Muqtada al-Sadr’s muddled calls not to disarm on the one hand and to clear the streets on the other. Sadrists were breaking down in terms of logistics and coordination even before government troops had the wherewithal to rally and respond to the security challenges posed by these outlaws.

I’m not the only one to pick up on the clearer picture emerging out of Iraq: most of these charlatans posing as pundits and experts are not total imbeciles, just intellectual fakes, so they have enough sense to realize that the “meltdown” they were praying [for] has not materialized despite the best propaganda efforts of ‘Agent’ Glanz and the Associated Press. Now these talking heads are feverishly administering the necessary spin to fig-leaf why they seemingly got it so utterly wrong. They are either going with “Muqtada saved the day” or “The Americans and the British, i.e. the grown-ups, stepped in and changed Maliki’s diaper after he’d made a boo-boo”.

While Sadr has issued his ceasefire, there is no word on whether Prime Minister Maliki has agreed to Sadr’s request for lenience in dealing with Mahdi Army members. This hardly sounds like Sadr is calling the shots. In fact, if Kazimi is right, it seems like the discredited Sadr is trying desperately to deal himself back in to a game where unity and progress now trump the sectarian violence that is his strong suit.

On Sunday, Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr called on Shiite militia members “to end all military actions in Basra and in all the provinces” and “to cooperate with the government to achieve security.” The New York Times thinks this is very bad news indeed—“a serious blow for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.” According to a story by Erica Goode and James Glanz in today’s Times, Iraqi forces are virtually helpless against the militias in Basra and Prime Minister Maliki is turning to Sadr to help him out of the jam. This means all sorts of apocalyptic things for the future of Iraq, as indicated by this:

Asked if the erosion of support for Mr. Maliki could cause his government to fall, Mr. Daoud [a former national security adviser and Shiite party leader] paused and said, “Everything is possible.”

Is it the “pause” that’s supposed to make that non-declaration seem ominous?

According to New York Sun Middle East columnist Nibras Kazimi, writing on his Talisman Gate blog, Goode and Glanz don’t simply have it wrong. Rather, we’re witnessing one of the greatest journalistic shell games in recent memory. On Sunday, Kazimi wrote:

Too bad the Mahdi Army is losing very badly. There were a rash of violent outbreaks here and there in Hillah Province and in al-Hamza in the last few days, but today the situation there is one where the Iraqi Army and police—the Scorpion Brigade in particular—are hunting down the Sadrists with a vengeance with the active help of the local population, according to a well-placed and influential source from Hillah.

Across Baghdad, the situation turned against the Mahdi Army prior to Muqtada al-Sadr’s muddled calls not to disarm on the one hand and to clear the streets on the other. Sadrists were breaking down in terms of logistics and coordination even before government troops had the wherewithal to rally and respond to the security challenges posed by these outlaws.

I’m not the only one to pick up on the clearer picture emerging out of Iraq: most of these charlatans posing as pundits and experts are not total imbeciles, just intellectual fakes, so they have enough sense to realize that the “meltdown” they were praying [for] has not materialized despite the best propaganda efforts of ‘Agent’ Glanz and the Associated Press. Now these talking heads are feverishly administering the necessary spin to fig-leaf why they seemingly got it so utterly wrong. They are either going with “Muqtada saved the day” or “The Americans and the British, i.e. the grown-ups, stepped in and changed Maliki’s diaper after he’d made a boo-boo”.

While Sadr has issued his ceasefire, there is no word on whether Prime Minister Maliki has agreed to Sadr’s request for lenience in dealing with Mahdi Army members. This hardly sounds like Sadr is calling the shots. In fact, if Kazimi is right, it seems like the discredited Sadr is trying desperately to deal himself back in to a game where unity and progress now trump the sectarian violence that is his strong suit.

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Smart Drawdowns

Sometimes I despair of this administration. After three and a half years of fumbling, the president in late 2006 finally made a courageous if overdue decision to send more troops to Iraq. The payoff has been impressive: The war effort was rescued from the brink of defeat. Now the withdrawal of the surge brigades is underway, and no one knows what will happen when the number of U.S. troops goes back to roughly the pre-surge level of 140,000 by mid-July. At the same time thousands of detainees are being released from American custody, and tensions continue between the Iraqi government and neighborhood volunteers—the Concerned Local Citizens.

The only responsible stance in such a situation is to go slow on troop drawdowns. General Petraeus has recommended a pause and evaluation before resuming the withdrawals. But certain sectors of the administration and the military seem determined to accelerate the pace of withdrawals no matter what. On Friday a “senior White House official”—presumably National Security Adviser Steve Hadley or possibly his deputy, Doug Lute—told reports that, as the Wall Street Journal story has it, “the temporary halt in troop reductions set to begin in July would likely last only four to six weeks, and further withdrawals would almost certainly occur in 2008.” This same article quotes aides to Defense Secretary Bob Gates as saying “troop withdrawals could resume this fall and continue at the pace of one brigade — about 3,500-4,500 troops — a month, pushing overall troop levels down to roughly 115,000 by the end of the year, the lowest level since the invasion.”

Why does anyone in the administration think it’s helpful to raise expectations that U.S. troop levels could fall so dramatically by the end of the year? It can’t be for domestic political reasons, surely. The president isn’t standing for reelection, and the Republican nominee, John McCain, has been the most stalwart defender of the surge. In any case, in the past we’ve seen that what has hurt public support for the war effort and the Republican Party is not the total troop levels but the perception that our troops weren’t winning. Now our troops are winning, but a too-sudden withdrawal could jeopardize that progress.

I fully understand and sympathize with the imperative to drawdown. General George Casey, the army chief of staff, is right to warn of the strain on the force. The sacrifices of our fighting men and women have been beyond praise, and everyone wishes we could bring as many of them home as soon as possible. But few soldiers I have spoken to want to come home prematurely if it means leaving the mission undone. And make no mistake: that is the risk we run.

It’s quite possible that it may be prudent to resume a drawdown in the fall. But why speculate about that now? It can only encourage our enemies to wait us out and doubt our resolve. At least that has been the effect in the past of such leaks about troop drawdowns which seemed to emanate every other month from the Rumsfeld Department of Defense.

Sometimes I despair of this administration. After three and a half years of fumbling, the president in late 2006 finally made a courageous if overdue decision to send more troops to Iraq. The payoff has been impressive: The war effort was rescued from the brink of defeat. Now the withdrawal of the surge brigades is underway, and no one knows what will happen when the number of U.S. troops goes back to roughly the pre-surge level of 140,000 by mid-July. At the same time thousands of detainees are being released from American custody, and tensions continue between the Iraqi government and neighborhood volunteers—the Concerned Local Citizens.

The only responsible stance in such a situation is to go slow on troop drawdowns. General Petraeus has recommended a pause and evaluation before resuming the withdrawals. But certain sectors of the administration and the military seem determined to accelerate the pace of withdrawals no matter what. On Friday a “senior White House official”—presumably National Security Adviser Steve Hadley or possibly his deputy, Doug Lute—told reports that, as the Wall Street Journal story has it, “the temporary halt in troop reductions set to begin in July would likely last only four to six weeks, and further withdrawals would almost certainly occur in 2008.” This same article quotes aides to Defense Secretary Bob Gates as saying “troop withdrawals could resume this fall and continue at the pace of one brigade — about 3,500-4,500 troops — a month, pushing overall troop levels down to roughly 115,000 by the end of the year, the lowest level since the invasion.”

Why does anyone in the administration think it’s helpful to raise expectations that U.S. troop levels could fall so dramatically by the end of the year? It can’t be for domestic political reasons, surely. The president isn’t standing for reelection, and the Republican nominee, John McCain, has been the most stalwart defender of the surge. In any case, in the past we’ve seen that what has hurt public support for the war effort and the Republican Party is not the total troop levels but the perception that our troops weren’t winning. Now our troops are winning, but a too-sudden withdrawal could jeopardize that progress.

I fully understand and sympathize with the imperative to drawdown. General George Casey, the army chief of staff, is right to warn of the strain on the force. The sacrifices of our fighting men and women have been beyond praise, and everyone wishes we could bring as many of them home as soon as possible. But few soldiers I have spoken to want to come home prematurely if it means leaving the mission undone. And make no mistake: that is the risk we run.

It’s quite possible that it may be prudent to resume a drawdown in the fall. But why speculate about that now? It can only encourage our enemies to wait us out and doubt our resolve. At least that has been the effect in the past of such leaks about troop drawdowns which seemed to emanate every other month from the Rumsfeld Department of Defense.

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How to Talk to Iran

This morning, the New York Times reacted to Iran’s recent naval maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz. On Monday, U.S. officials reported that five Iranian speedboats threatened three Navy warships in international waters at the narrow entrance to the Persian Gulf on Sunday. The small boats, probably operated by the Revolutionary Guard, closed within two hundred yards of the American vessels, communicated a threat to destroy them, and dropped boxes into the water in an apparent attempt to disrupt free passage in the waterway. Abe Greenwald reported and discussed this troubling development in this forum yesterday.

The Times, predictably, saw Saturday’s hostile act as an opportunity to begin a dialogue with Tehran. “At a minimum, the administration should use this incident to engage Iran in formal talks on conduct in the strait,” the paper said in an editorial. Why? “It is not clear what game the Iranians were playing or even who was giving the orders. President Bush’s refusal to engage Iran diplomatically makes it even harder for American officials to deconstruct Iran’s motives and increases the risk of future miscalculation on both sides.”

The principal flaw in the Times’s argument is that Iran’s motives for its dangerous conduct are relevant. They are not. The fact that Iranians sought to disrupt traffic in the waterway carrying 40 percent of the world’s traded oil is all we need to know.

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This morning, the New York Times reacted to Iran’s recent naval maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz. On Monday, U.S. officials reported that five Iranian speedboats threatened three Navy warships in international waters at the narrow entrance to the Persian Gulf on Sunday. The small boats, probably operated by the Revolutionary Guard, closed within two hundred yards of the American vessels, communicated a threat to destroy them, and dropped boxes into the water in an apparent attempt to disrupt free passage in the waterway. Abe Greenwald reported and discussed this troubling development in this forum yesterday.

The Times, predictably, saw Saturday’s hostile act as an opportunity to begin a dialogue with Tehran. “At a minimum, the administration should use this incident to engage Iran in formal talks on conduct in the strait,” the paper said in an editorial. Why? “It is not clear what game the Iranians were playing or even who was giving the orders. President Bush’s refusal to engage Iran diplomatically makes it even harder for American officials to deconstruct Iran’s motives and increases the risk of future miscalculation on both sides.”

The principal flaw in the Times’s argument is that Iran’s motives for its dangerous conduct are relevant. They are not. The fact that Iranians sought to disrupt traffic in the waterway carrying 40 percent of the world’s traded oil is all we need to know.

At this time different elements are threatening free passage on international waters. Nations—most notably Russia and China—are claiming vast stretches of sea as their own. Moreover, we are experiencing a resurgence of pirate attacks, which rose 10 percent in 2007, the first increase in three years. The United States can either let bandits, rogues, and autocrats take over the world’s oceans, seas, and straits, or we can maintain safe passage for all nations. It is as simple as that.

The Iranians, over the weekend, were picking a fight with a vastly superior force. Why would they do that? They were undoubtedly seeking to learn about the U.S. Navy’s tactical reactions. More important, they were testing American resolve. The proper response is not meekly seeking an audience with the mullahs, as the Times suggests. A better way to safeguard shipping is employ force. On Saturday, the Iranians turned tail when the commander of one of the American ships, the Hopper, was about to open fire on the attackers.

The White House, responding to the incident, issued a series of formulaic statements from President Bush, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and spokesman Gordon Johndroe, all characterizing the incident as “provocative.” The Iranians, I suspect, already know that. What they need to hear is this: “The United States, acting either in conjunction with others or alone, will use overwhelming force on the high seas and on bases onshore against any party threatening to stop or restrict free passage on the world’s waterways.” Forget the Times’s proposed dialogue. This is the best way to talk to Iran.

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Now Playing: Egypt and Iran

It seems as though Iran is making new inroads with key Arab states almost every few days. Three weeks ago, I wrote that Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie had called for a regional security pact that would include Iran, while I noted on Monday that Libya—which is slowly achieving normalization with western states—had signed ten agreements with Iran and supported the Iranian nuclear position. But Iran’s ever-expanding role in the Middle East got a major boost yesterday, when Ali Larijani, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was welcomed in Egypt. Fully normalized Egyptian-Iranian relations—nonexistent since Cairo signed peace with Israel in 1979—appear imminent.

To some extent, revamped Iranian-Egyptian relations have been expected for some time. In 2004, Iran renamed a street in Tehran that it had previously dedicated to Anwar Sadat assassin Khaled Islambouli—a glorified “martyr” in Iran—thus dropping a critical sticking point between the two states. But yesterday’s meeting went well beyond typical diplomatic pleasantries: Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit announced his support for Iran’s nuclear activities and called for continued Egyptian-Iranian dialogue on regional issues, including Iraq and Lebanon.

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It seems as though Iran is making new inroads with key Arab states almost every few days. Three weeks ago, I wrote that Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie had called for a regional security pact that would include Iran, while I noted on Monday that Libya—which is slowly achieving normalization with western states—had signed ten agreements with Iran and supported the Iranian nuclear position. But Iran’s ever-expanding role in the Middle East got a major boost yesterday, when Ali Larijani, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was welcomed in Egypt. Fully normalized Egyptian-Iranian relations—nonexistent since Cairo signed peace with Israel in 1979—appear imminent.

To some extent, revamped Iranian-Egyptian relations have been expected for some time. In 2004, Iran renamed a street in Tehran that it had previously dedicated to Anwar Sadat assassin Khaled Islambouli—a glorified “martyr” in Iran—thus dropping a critical sticking point between the two states. But yesterday’s meeting went well beyond typical diplomatic pleasantries: Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit announced his support for Iran’s nuclear activities and called for continued Egyptian-Iranian dialogue on regional issues, including Iraq and Lebanon.

For Egypt, these statements represent a stunning change of tune. In recent years, Egypt has been a key Arab opponent of regional Iranian ascendancy, lambasting Iranian-backed Hizballah for its actions during the 2006 Lebanon war, and supporting the Annapolis conference as an antidote to Iranian hegemony. Yet within Iran’s sphere of influence, Abul-Gheit’s comments were true crowd-pleasers, with Hizballah leader Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah gleefully declaring that improved Iranian-Egyptian relations “would help protect Muslim countries against major threats,” including those emanating from “the U.S. and the Zionist regime.” Meanwhile, Iran offered to help Egypt develop nuclear technology, crossing a major red line as far as U.S.-Egyptian relations are concerned.

The key footnote to this sudden Iranian-Egyptian engagement is the recent souring of Israeli-Egyptian relations. Last month, Israel showed U.S. officials a tape of Egyptian police officers aiding weapons smugglers crossing into Gaza, and Congress immediately threatened to withhold Egyptian military aid. Abul-Gheit first blamed the pro-Israel lobby for the impasse, then threatened “diplomatic retaliation” if Israel pursued Egypt’s alleged role in weapons smuggling further.

Of course, with President Bush set to touch down in Israel and the Palestinian territories next week, mending Israeli-Egyptian relations is the last thing with which the administration hoped to be dealing. Yet much of what Bush hopes to accomplish in the Middle East before leaving office—particularly Israeli-Palestinian peace and Iranian isolation—depends on keeping this relationship stable. The good news is that Bush will also visit Cairo. Asking the Mubarak regime to explain its recent tryst with Iran should top that agenda.

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Extreme Prejudice

“I am extremely concerned about the tendency of the intelligence community to turn itself into a kind of check on, instead of a part of, the executive branch,” Henry Kissinger writes in today’s Washington Post. “When intelligence personnel expect their work to become the subject of public debate, they are tempted into the roles of surrogate policymakers and advocates.” In this instance, they created the “extraordinary spectacle of the president’s national security adviser obliged to defend the president’s Iran policy against a National Intelligence Estimate.”

Scott Johnson over at powerline is absolutely right: when someone of Henry Kissinger’s stature joins in in denouncing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE something significant is going on.

What exactly is it? Perhaps it is the fact that the intelligence failures of the last seven years have impressed upon all Americans the price of lapses in this vital area. This explains why voices on both the Right and the Left — even the New York Times has tepidly joined in — are criticizing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE. All this gives rise to the hope that after the presidential elections a bipartisan coalition will emerge that could find some radical way to address a problem that has become apparent to all.

But I am not holding my breath. American intelligence agencies, the CIA foremost among them, have proved themselves to be extraordinarily recalcitrant to reform. And the agencies are not the only problem. In today’s Washington Post, David Ignatius, a long-time observer of the intelligence world, takes a look at the other end of the snake.

Intelligence oversight by Congress is in a “free fall,” Ignatius writes. And the problem is not the standard liberal complaint that the CIA is withholding vital information from congressional oversight panels. Rather, right now

we are getting the worst possible mix — a dearth of adequate congressional scrutiny on the front end that could improve performance and check abuses, and a flood of second-guessing at the back end, after each flap, that further demoralizes and enfeebles the spies. Congress silently blesses the CIA’s harsh interrogation tactics, for example, and then denounces the practices when they become public.

Ignatius’s column opens the door to some thoughts that have hitherto been unthinkable in Washington D.C.. Perhaps the time has come to ask whether an experiment embarked upon in 1975 in response to genuine abuses of intelligence is appropriate for our own time. To judge by the picture painted by Ignatius, the experiment clearly has failed:

The intelligence committees have become politicized. Members and staffers encourage political vendettas against intelligence officers they don’t like, as happened when [CIA Director Porter] Goss brought his congressional aides with him to the CIA. The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has become a political football; so has negotiation over legal rules on intercepting foreign communications, one of the nation’s most sensitive activities. The bickering has turned the intelligence world into a nonstop political circus, to the point that foreign governments have become increasingly wary of sharing secrets.

Congressional oversight was a “radical idea” when it was introduced in response to the abuses of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon years. Back then, Ignatius notes, “[s]ome experts questioned whether it was realistic to ask elected officials to sign off on the work of intelligence agencies — which, when you strip away all the high-minded language, basically involves the systematic violation of other countries’ laws. Intelligence agencies steal other nations’ secrets, bribe their officials into committing treason, intercept their most private conversations.”

Those skeptics seem to have been proved right. At a time when our intelligence agencies are the crucial front in the war we are facing, we cannot afford to have it managed by a “political circus.” The time has come to bring an end this state of affairs — with extreme prejudice.

“I am extremely concerned about the tendency of the intelligence community to turn itself into a kind of check on, instead of a part of, the executive branch,” Henry Kissinger writes in today’s Washington Post. “When intelligence personnel expect their work to become the subject of public debate, they are tempted into the roles of surrogate policymakers and advocates.” In this instance, they created the “extraordinary spectacle of the president’s national security adviser obliged to defend the president’s Iran policy against a National Intelligence Estimate.”

Scott Johnson over at powerline is absolutely right: when someone of Henry Kissinger’s stature joins in in denouncing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE something significant is going on.

What exactly is it? Perhaps it is the fact that the intelligence failures of the last seven years have impressed upon all Americans the price of lapses in this vital area. This explains why voices on both the Right and the Left — even the New York Times has tepidly joined in — are criticizing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE. All this gives rise to the hope that after the presidential elections a bipartisan coalition will emerge that could find some radical way to address a problem that has become apparent to all.

But I am not holding my breath. American intelligence agencies, the CIA foremost among them, have proved themselves to be extraordinarily recalcitrant to reform. And the agencies are not the only problem. In today’s Washington Post, David Ignatius, a long-time observer of the intelligence world, takes a look at the other end of the snake.

Intelligence oversight by Congress is in a “free fall,” Ignatius writes. And the problem is not the standard liberal complaint that the CIA is withholding vital information from congressional oversight panels. Rather, right now

we are getting the worst possible mix — a dearth of adequate congressional scrutiny on the front end that could improve performance and check abuses, and a flood of second-guessing at the back end, after each flap, that further demoralizes and enfeebles the spies. Congress silently blesses the CIA’s harsh interrogation tactics, for example, and then denounces the practices when they become public.

Ignatius’s column opens the door to some thoughts that have hitherto been unthinkable in Washington D.C.. Perhaps the time has come to ask whether an experiment embarked upon in 1975 in response to genuine abuses of intelligence is appropriate for our own time. To judge by the picture painted by Ignatius, the experiment clearly has failed:

The intelligence committees have become politicized. Members and staffers encourage political vendettas against intelligence officers they don’t like, as happened when [CIA Director Porter] Goss brought his congressional aides with him to the CIA. The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has become a political football; so has negotiation over legal rules on intercepting foreign communications, one of the nation’s most sensitive activities. The bickering has turned the intelligence world into a nonstop political circus, to the point that foreign governments have become increasingly wary of sharing secrets.

Congressional oversight was a “radical idea” when it was introduced in response to the abuses of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon years. Back then, Ignatius notes, “[s]ome experts questioned whether it was realistic to ask elected officials to sign off on the work of intelligence agencies — which, when you strip away all the high-minded language, basically involves the systematic violation of other countries’ laws. Intelligence agencies steal other nations’ secrets, bribe their officials into committing treason, intercept their most private conversations.”

Those skeptics seem to have been proved right. At a time when our intelligence agencies are the crucial front in the war we are facing, we cannot afford to have it managed by a “political circus.” The time has come to bring an end this state of affairs — with extreme prejudice.

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Leaning towards Iran…

On Tuesday, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie announced that there would be no permanent U.S. military bases stationed in Iraq. “We need the United States in our war against terrorism, we need them to guard our border sometimes, we need them for economic support and we need them for diplomatic and political support,” he told al-Arabiyya television. “But I say one thing, permanent forces or bases in Iraq for any foreign forces is a red line that cannot be accepted by any nationalist Iraqi.”

For al-Rubaie, this marked a stunning change of tune. Earlier this year, he arrived in Washington to lobby Democratic critics of the war against a U.S. troop withdrawal, holding closed-door meetings with Senator Carl Levin and Congressman John Murtha, among others.

But with the surge now firmly in place and working, al-Rubaie has apparently taken U.S. support for granted. Most disturbingly, the Iraqi security establishment has set its sights on another partner for its future security needs. At a security conference in Bahrain earlier this week, al-Rubaie called for a regional security pact that would include Iran, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad naturally has welcomed.

To say the least, this a frightening prospect. Among other goals, the Iraq war sought to replace a most tyrannical regime with a democracy, with policymakers believing that a democratic government would be most inclined towards alignment with the United States. In the short-run, the chaos in Iraq created a military opening for Iran against U.S. forces, and the results have been deadly. But if the long-term outcome of the Iraq war is a Persian Gulf that is firmly united with Iran as its power center, a large chunk of the Middle East will be lost for many years to come.

On Tuesday, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie announced that there would be no permanent U.S. military bases stationed in Iraq. “We need the United States in our war against terrorism, we need them to guard our border sometimes, we need them for economic support and we need them for diplomatic and political support,” he told al-Arabiyya television. “But I say one thing, permanent forces or bases in Iraq for any foreign forces is a red line that cannot be accepted by any nationalist Iraqi.”

For al-Rubaie, this marked a stunning change of tune. Earlier this year, he arrived in Washington to lobby Democratic critics of the war against a U.S. troop withdrawal, holding closed-door meetings with Senator Carl Levin and Congressman John Murtha, among others.

But with the surge now firmly in place and working, al-Rubaie has apparently taken U.S. support for granted. Most disturbingly, the Iraqi security establishment has set its sights on another partner for its future security needs. At a security conference in Bahrain earlier this week, al-Rubaie called for a regional security pact that would include Iran, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad naturally has welcomed.

To say the least, this a frightening prospect. Among other goals, the Iraq war sought to replace a most tyrannical regime with a democracy, with policymakers believing that a democratic government would be most inclined towards alignment with the United States. In the short-run, the chaos in Iraq created a military opening for Iran against U.S. forces, and the results have been deadly. But if the long-term outcome of the Iraq war is a Persian Gulf that is firmly united with Iran as its power center, a large chunk of the Middle East will be lost for many years to come.

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Not Hawkish Enough for the Doves

It’s not only conservatives who are troubled by the new National Intelligence Estimate. So are many liberals. According to this Los Angeles Times article, the ranks of the critics include my Council on Foreign Relations colleagues Ray Takeyh and Gary Samore as well as Sharon Squassoni of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Clinton National Security Adviser Tony Lake.

They make essentially the same point that I and other, more conservative skeptics have made: The NIE puts too much stock in Iran stopping its “nuclear weapons program” while downplaying the fact that Iran continues to enrich uranium as part of a supposedly civilian nuclear-energy program that could, in reality, be turned to military use fairly easily.

The NIE seems to let Iran off the hook, thereby undercutting efforts to push tough sanctions and perhaps to make a diplomatic breakthrough. Ironically, the net result of the NIE may be to make military action more, not less, likely. If the international community slacks off on efforts to contain Iran—as now seems increasingly likely—a future U.S. president is more likely to be confronted with the unpalatable alternatives of either allowing Iran to go nuclear or ordering air strikes to stop it.

It’s not only conservatives who are troubled by the new National Intelligence Estimate. So are many liberals. According to this Los Angeles Times article, the ranks of the critics include my Council on Foreign Relations colleagues Ray Takeyh and Gary Samore as well as Sharon Squassoni of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Clinton National Security Adviser Tony Lake.

They make essentially the same point that I and other, more conservative skeptics have made: The NIE puts too much stock in Iran stopping its “nuclear weapons program” while downplaying the fact that Iran continues to enrich uranium as part of a supposedly civilian nuclear-energy program that could, in reality, be turned to military use fairly easily.

The NIE seems to let Iran off the hook, thereby undercutting efforts to push tough sanctions and perhaps to make a diplomatic breakthrough. Ironically, the net result of the NIE may be to make military action more, not less, likely. If the international community slacks off on efforts to contain Iran—as now seems increasingly likely—a future U.S. president is more likely to be confronted with the unpalatable alternatives of either allowing Iran to go nuclear or ordering air strikes to stop it.

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Dark Suspicions about the NIE

A new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), entitled “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” has just dealt a serious blow to the argument some of us have been making that Iran is intent on building nuclear weapons and that neither diplomacy nor sanctions can prevent it from succeeding. Thus, this latest NIE “judges with high confidence that in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program”; it “judges with high confidence that the halt was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work”; it “assesses with moderate confidence that Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007”; it assesses, also with only “moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program”; but even if not, it judges “with high confidence that Iran will not be technically capable of producing and reprocessing enough plutonium for a weapon before about 2015.”

These findings are startling, not least because in key respects they represent a 180-degree turn from the conclusions of the last NIE on Iran’s nuclear program. For that one, issued in May 2005, assessed “with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons” and to press on “despite its international obligations and international pressure.”

In other words, a full two years after Iran supposedly called a halt to its nuclear program, the intelligence community was still as sure as it ever is about anything that Iran was determined to build a nuclear arsenal. Why then should we believe it when it now tells us, and with the same “high confidence,” that Iran had already called a halt to its nuclear-weapons program in 2003? Similarly with the intelligence community’s reversal on the effectiveness of international pressure. In 2005, the NIE was highly confident that international pressure had not lessened Iran’s determination to develop nuclear weapons, and yet now, in 2007, the intelligence community is just as confident that international pressure had already done the trick by 2003.

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A new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), entitled “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” has just dealt a serious blow to the argument some of us have been making that Iran is intent on building nuclear weapons and that neither diplomacy nor sanctions can prevent it from succeeding. Thus, this latest NIE “judges with high confidence that in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program”; it “judges with high confidence that the halt was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work”; it “assesses with moderate confidence that Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007”; it assesses, also with only “moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program”; but even if not, it judges “with high confidence that Iran will not be technically capable of producing and reprocessing enough plutonium for a weapon before about 2015.”

These findings are startling, not least because in key respects they represent a 180-degree turn from the conclusions of the last NIE on Iran’s nuclear program. For that one, issued in May 2005, assessed “with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons” and to press on “despite its international obligations and international pressure.”

In other words, a full two years after Iran supposedly called a halt to its nuclear program, the intelligence community was still as sure as it ever is about anything that Iran was determined to build a nuclear arsenal. Why then should we believe it when it now tells us, and with the same “high confidence,” that Iran had already called a halt to its nuclear-weapons program in 2003? Similarly with the intelligence community’s reversal on the effectiveness of international pressure. In 2005, the NIE was highly confident that international pressure had not lessened Iran’s determination to develop nuclear weapons, and yet now, in 2007, the intelligence community is just as confident that international pressure had already done the trick by 2003.

It is worth remembering that in 2002, one of the conclusions offered by the NIE, also with “high confidence,” was that “Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs contrary to UN resolutions.” And another conclusion, offered with high confidence too, was that “Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in months to a year once it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material.”

I must confess to suspecting that the intelligence community, having been excoriated for supporting the then universal belief that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, is now bending over backward to counter what has up to now been a similarly universal view (including as is evident from the 2005 NIE, within the intelligence community itself) that Iran is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons. I also suspect that, having been excoriated as well for minimizing the time it would take Saddam to add nuclear weapons to his arsenal, the intelligence community is now bending over backward to maximize the time it will take Iran to reach the same goal.

But I entertain an even darker suspicion. It is that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again. This time the purpose is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations. As the intelligence community must know, if he were to do so, it would be as a last resort, only after it had become undeniable that neither negotiations nor sanctions could prevent Iran from getting the bomb, and only after being convinced that it was very close to succeeding. How better, then, to stop Bush in his tracks than by telling him and the world that such pressures have already been effective and that keeping them up could well bring about “a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program”—especially if the negotiations and sanctions were combined with a goodly dose of appeasement or, in the NIE’s own euphemistic formulation, “with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways.”

If this is what lies behind the release of the new NIE, its authors can take satisfaction in the response it has elicited from the White House. Quoth Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush’s National Security Adviser: “The estimate offers grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically—without the use of force—as the administration has been trying to do.”

I should add that I offer these assessments and judgments with no more than “moderate confidence.”

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More Idiocy from Zbigniew Brzezinski

In today’s Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski argues for a patient American approach to Iran’s nuclear program, saying that the Chinese can be our partner in helping to stop the Iranians. “China, despite its meteoric rise toward global preeminence, currently is geopolitically a status quo power,” Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser states.

Zbig, after his recent talks with Chinese leaders, tells us they are concerned about the fallout of “a major U.S.-Iran collision” and the Chinese are ardent supporters of “strategic patience.” Once we sit down with the Iranians at the negotiating table, “China could help break the stalemate.” In Brzezinski’s mind, negotiations with Iran would follow the North Korean model. We are on the path to peace in North Asia because the United States dropped its confrontational policy, he contends. Then he adds this: “Even more important, China’s abandonment of its initial reticence eventually proved vital to convincing Pyongyang that its own political intransigence could become suicidal.”

Too bad Brzezinski could not have read the New York Times before penning his op-ed. This morning the paper reports that everyone is hitting a dead end in dealing with the Iranians over their nuclear program. “The chosen strategy of pressure and engagement is not working,” said a European official involved with Tehran. “As a result, you have a lot of people desperately banging on the door of the Iranians. All of them are coming back empty-handed.” The Iranians, the Times reports, believe that renewed diplomatic effort on the part of others is proof that their defiance is working. That’s making any talks with them, in a word, counterproductive.

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In today’s Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski argues for a patient American approach to Iran’s nuclear program, saying that the Chinese can be our partner in helping to stop the Iranians. “China, despite its meteoric rise toward global preeminence, currently is geopolitically a status quo power,” Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser states.

Zbig, after his recent talks with Chinese leaders, tells us they are concerned about the fallout of “a major U.S.-Iran collision” and the Chinese are ardent supporters of “strategic patience.” Once we sit down with the Iranians at the negotiating table, “China could help break the stalemate.” In Brzezinski’s mind, negotiations with Iran would follow the North Korean model. We are on the path to peace in North Asia because the United States dropped its confrontational policy, he contends. Then he adds this: “Even more important, China’s abandonment of its initial reticence eventually proved vital to convincing Pyongyang that its own political intransigence could become suicidal.”

Too bad Brzezinski could not have read the New York Times before penning his op-ed. This morning the paper reports that everyone is hitting a dead end in dealing with the Iranians over their nuclear program. “The chosen strategy of pressure and engagement is not working,” said a European official involved with Tehran. “As a result, you have a lot of people desperately banging on the door of the Iranians. All of them are coming back empty-handed.” The Iranians, the Times reports, believe that renewed diplomatic effort on the part of others is proof that their defiance is working. That’s making any talks with them, in a word, counterproductive.

The other major flaw in Brzezinski’s reasoning is that the Chinese actually helped broker a deal with Pyongyang. There’s no question they sponsored dialogue with the North Koreans, arranging the multilateral talks that continue to this day. Yet that’s not the same as promoting a solution. Beijing, by dragging out the negotiations, gave Kim Jong Il the one thing he needed to construct his bomb: time. And after the detonation of the North Korean device in October 2006, the record shows that there was real progress—if we can call it that—only when Christopher Hill, the State Department’s point man, met with his North Korean counterparts without the Chinese present.

Now, Chinese leaders are proposing to Brzezinski that the Iranians get even more time to build a bomb. Tehran, which earlier this month announced that it has 3,000 centrifuges fully working, needs two years at most before it possesses the fissile material for its weapon.

Hasn’t Brzezinski learned from the mistakes of his old boss? In 1994, Jimmy Carter arranged a deal with the North Koreans that ended up giving them almost another decade to perfect their nuclear weapons technology. Zbig, at this moment, wants to provide to the Iranians a similar opportunity.

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Obama’s Diplomacy Gap

Barack Obama claims to understand uniquely how the world’s perceptions of the United States have changed in recent years. For starters, Obama lived in Indonesia from the ages of six to ten, making him the only presidential candidate to have spent any substantial period of time in the Muslim world. Moreover, as he’s eager to tell us, Obama is deeply connected with other cultures, with a grandmother living in Kenya, a half-Indonesian sister, and a Chinese-Canadian brother-in-law. In this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, James Traub explores how Obama’s biography has influenced his vision for American foreign policy:

[Obama] returns again and again to the question of what America means to the rest of the world…. Obama would like to restore the era when people in capitals all over the world could go to the local American cultural center to read books and magazines, the way he could in Jakarta—though now he would add English lessons and vocational training, and “stories of America’s Muslims and the strength they add to our country.”

Obama is correct that the United States should more aggressively reach out to Muslim publics. However, restoring America’s reputation will require more than emphasizing those values that Americans share with the Muslim world—which the presence of a strong, domestic Muslim-American community certainly symbolizes. Indeed, the true challenge of public diplomacy lies in frankly addressing those issues on which the United States and the Muslim world differ, including the war in Iraq, the fight against Islamist terrorist groups, support for Israel, and the drive to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear capabilities.

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Barack Obama claims to understand uniquely how the world’s perceptions of the United States have changed in recent years. For starters, Obama lived in Indonesia from the ages of six to ten, making him the only presidential candidate to have spent any substantial period of time in the Muslim world. Moreover, as he’s eager to tell us, Obama is deeply connected with other cultures, with a grandmother living in Kenya, a half-Indonesian sister, and a Chinese-Canadian brother-in-law. In this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, James Traub explores how Obama’s biography has influenced his vision for American foreign policy:

[Obama] returns again and again to the question of what America means to the rest of the world…. Obama would like to restore the era when people in capitals all over the world could go to the local American cultural center to read books and magazines, the way he could in Jakarta—though now he would add English lessons and vocational training, and “stories of America’s Muslims and the strength they add to our country.”

Obama is correct that the United States should more aggressively reach out to Muslim publics. However, restoring America’s reputation will require more than emphasizing those values that Americans share with the Muslim world—which the presence of a strong, domestic Muslim-American community certainly symbolizes. Indeed, the true challenge of public diplomacy lies in frankly addressing those issues on which the United States and the Muslim world differ, including the war in Iraq, the fight against Islamist terrorist groups, support for Israel, and the drive to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear capabilities.

In explaining the U.S.’s interest on these critical issues, Obama is ill-prepared. He prides himself on having opposed the Iraq war since 2002, and would likely reinforce the perception of many in the Muslim world that the war was the product of “exaggerated fears.”

Obama further appears unsuited to explaining the U.S.-Israel relationship, which he has supported publicly. He is advised by former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has defended the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis that this relationship is the product of Jewish pressure, not strategic interest—a theory that has contributed to the proliferation of popular anti-Semitism on the “Arab street.” Indeed, Brzezinski is a huge liability if Obama hopes to convince Americans of his ability to sell American foreign policy. Brzezinski recently signed a letter demanding dialogue with Hamas, a move that would turn our backs on the one Arab constituency still nominally receptive to American aims—liberal Arabs. Of course, this letter was consistent with Obama’s own belief that the U.S. should talk with Iran’s leaders—a move that similarly would alienate Iran’s younger generation, widely thought to be liberal and pro-American.

If Obama hopes to prove that his version of “soft power” is truly powerful, he must explain how he will broaden America’s appeal among opponents in the Middle East without alienating allies. Distributing State Department-approved copies of Muhammad Ali’s biography and providing free English lessons simply won’t cut it.

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The Zbig Lie

On Wednesday, the Obama campaign received an important new endorsement: Zbigniew Brzezinski, best known for having been Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, introduced Obama on the occasion of his Iraq speech in Iowa. Expect to hear a great deal from Brzezinski about his triumphs of Middle East diplomacy, which he—not to mention Jimmy Carter—is quite fond of recounting. “The fact of the matter is that I’m part of the only administration that brought about peace between Israel and its neighbors,” Brzezinski told NBC News on the day Obama delivered his Iraq policy speech. “And so I’m proud of my record in the Middle East.”

This is a deceptive attempt at rewriting history, one that Brzezinski and his gang have been pursuing for years in an effort to manufacture retroactively a success story for the Carter administration. The administration didn’t “bring about” peace between Israel and Egypt so much as hold a summit at Camp David to work out the details after Israel and Egypt had already committed themselves, independently and entirely in pursuit of their own interests, to a peace treaty. From the outset of the Carter administration, the American commitment had been not to a deal between Israel and Egypt, but to a comprehensive resolution of the Palestinian question, and it was during the administration’s busy pursuit of a renewed Geneva Conference, inclusive of the Soviet Union, Israel, and the PLO, that the Israel-Egypt deal essentially fell into Carter’s lap.

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On Wednesday, the Obama campaign received an important new endorsement: Zbigniew Brzezinski, best known for having been Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, introduced Obama on the occasion of his Iraq speech in Iowa. Expect to hear a great deal from Brzezinski about his triumphs of Middle East diplomacy, which he—not to mention Jimmy Carter—is quite fond of recounting. “The fact of the matter is that I’m part of the only administration that brought about peace between Israel and its neighbors,” Brzezinski told NBC News on the day Obama delivered his Iraq policy speech. “And so I’m proud of my record in the Middle East.”

This is a deceptive attempt at rewriting history, one that Brzezinski and his gang have been pursuing for years in an effort to manufacture retroactively a success story for the Carter administration. The administration didn’t “bring about” peace between Israel and Egypt so much as hold a summit at Camp David to work out the details after Israel and Egypt had already committed themselves, independently and entirely in pursuit of their own interests, to a peace treaty. From the outset of the Carter administration, the American commitment had been not to a deal between Israel and Egypt, but to a comprehensive resolution of the Palestinian question, and it was during the administration’s busy pursuit of a renewed Geneva Conference, inclusive of the Soviet Union, Israel, and the PLO, that the Israel-Egypt deal essentially fell into Carter’s lap.

In the mid-1970’s, Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian dictator, was in a bad position: The war he launched in 1973 to wrest the Sinai back from Israel had been a humiliating catastrophe, and he was under growing internal pressure to do something—anything—to salvage Egypt’s honor and retrieve its lost territory. Sidelined by the Carter administration’s focus on the Palestinians, Sadat’s only option was to pursue the Sinai through peaceful means, by directly engaging Israel. A series of monumental and previously unthinkable events took place: In November 1977, Sadat announced to the Egyptian parliament that “Israel will be astonished to hear me say now, before you, that I am prepared to go to their own house, to the Knesset itself, to talk to them.” Four days later Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin formally invited Sadat to Jerusalem, and a week later Sadat’s plane touched down at Ben Gurion airport. Sadat visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, and then addressed the Knesset, declaring that “we accept living with you in peace and justice.” All of this happened entirely independent of—and actually in defiance of—the Carter administration, whose agenda in the region was entirely focused on laying the groundwork for the hoped-for Geneva Conference (which never ended up happening).

The Carter administration was caught completely off guard by this sudden rapprochement, and had no option but to try to include itself as much as possible in the dealmaking. By the time the Camp David summit was convened in September 1978, the only thorny issue left to resolve was the question of whether there would be any Israeli presence left in the Sinai as part of a peace treaty; Begin was initially intransigent on the question, but eventually conceded to a complete withdrawal. Peace between Israel and Egypt was born.

And so today, when Brzezinski brags to the press about how his dedication to diplomacy got results—as opposed, he intones, to the senseless warmongering of the Bush administration—we are witnessing a self-aggrandizing swindle, an attempt not only at enhancing the legacy of the Carter administration but of advancing the proposition that in the Middle East, peace is always possible with the right amount of skilled and dedicated American diplomacy.

The true lesson of the Egypt-Israel rapprochement is actually the opposite of what people like Brzezinski would like it to be: It is a lesson in the sometimes irrelevance of American diplomacy in forging peace between nations, and more importantly it is an example of the reality that peace between implacable foes is usually only possible when one has so thoroughly beaten the other on the battlefield that the defeated party is left with only one option, to sue for peace. People like Brzezinski would like us to believe that heroic diplomacy in 1978 midwifed a peace treaty. Candidate Obama will be ill-served listening to this nonsense.

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