Commentary Magazine


Topic: nuclear technology

Whither Defense Spending?

The Washington Post‘s symposium on defense spending is revealing. The argument for maintaining and, indeed, increasing defense spending is aptly set forth by Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan:

Cutting U.S. defense spending would put the nation and the current global order at grave risk. International stability and American security are threatened by dangerous contingencies that are becoming increasingly likely. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a world-changing event. The persistence of Islamist militant groups in Pakistan threatens stability on the subcontinent and security throughout the West. Militant Islamist sanctuaries are expanding in Somalia, Yemen, and equatorial Africa. A growing number of Islamist groups are seeking recognition from al-Qaeda and declaring their intentions of attacking the United States and its allies. Security and stability in Iraq remain fragile. The war in Afghanistan is at its height. This list of current conflicts and threats excludes the kinds of potential future threats for which the U.S. military must also be prepared, including conflict with China, serious challenges to the U.S. satellite constellation, the continued proliferation of long-range missile and nuclear technology, cyber-conflict, and many others.

The neo-isolationist position is presented by Ron Paul, who argues, in essence, that we can cut spending without harming our defense as long as we adopt the outlook of “Fortress America”:

We must realize that cutting military spending is not the same as cutting defense, nor will it harm our ability to protect the United States. The problem with military spending is philosophical. Who determined that the United States should maintain a worldwide empire, with troops stationed in some 700 bases over more than 100 countries across the globe?

For starters, it’s bunk that we are maintaining an “empire” — we are not occupiers or puppeteers of other nations. And the answer is that a bipartisan coalition of responsible liberals and conservatives has determined that in a post-9/11 world, there is no safety in the myth of Fortress America. The administration has accepted this premise. And so it must, to be intellectually consistent and to fulfill our role as that “indispensable” defender of the West, fund a defense that is commensurate with the threats we face.

Paul’s statement is nevertheless useful: how can the administration, which rejects neo-isolationism, argue cogently for less defense spending. In short, it can’t.

The Washington Post‘s symposium on defense spending is revealing. The argument for maintaining and, indeed, increasing defense spending is aptly set forth by Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan:

Cutting U.S. defense spending would put the nation and the current global order at grave risk. International stability and American security are threatened by dangerous contingencies that are becoming increasingly likely. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a world-changing event. The persistence of Islamist militant groups in Pakistan threatens stability on the subcontinent and security throughout the West. Militant Islamist sanctuaries are expanding in Somalia, Yemen, and equatorial Africa. A growing number of Islamist groups are seeking recognition from al-Qaeda and declaring their intentions of attacking the United States and its allies. Security and stability in Iraq remain fragile. The war in Afghanistan is at its height. This list of current conflicts and threats excludes the kinds of potential future threats for which the U.S. military must also be prepared, including conflict with China, serious challenges to the U.S. satellite constellation, the continued proliferation of long-range missile and nuclear technology, cyber-conflict, and many others.

The neo-isolationist position is presented by Ron Paul, who argues, in essence, that we can cut spending without harming our defense as long as we adopt the outlook of “Fortress America”:

We must realize that cutting military spending is not the same as cutting defense, nor will it harm our ability to protect the United States. The problem with military spending is philosophical. Who determined that the United States should maintain a worldwide empire, with troops stationed in some 700 bases over more than 100 countries across the globe?

For starters, it’s bunk that we are maintaining an “empire” — we are not occupiers or puppeteers of other nations. And the answer is that a bipartisan coalition of responsible liberals and conservatives has determined that in a post-9/11 world, there is no safety in the myth of Fortress America. The administration has accepted this premise. And so it must, to be intellectually consistent and to fulfill our role as that “indispensable” defender of the West, fund a defense that is commensurate with the threats we face.

Paul’s statement is nevertheless useful: how can the administration, which rejects neo-isolationism, argue cogently for less defense spending. In short, it can’t.

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The Latest Excuse to Do Nothing About Iran’s Nuclear Plans

You could spot this one coming:

The Obama administration is pushing to revive a failed deal for Iran to send some of its nuclear stockpile overseas in exchange for assistance with peaceful uses of nuclear technology, according to senior U.S. officials. The aim is to try to reduce Tehran’s ability to quickly produce an atomic weapon.

Washington and other Western capitals are hoping Tehran will return to the negotiating table because they believe a fresh round of international economic sanctions against Iran—put in place after the previous fuel-swap deal fell apart last year—has begun to bite hard.

This, of course, is an act of pure desperation by the Obama administration, which assured us that Iran would have to demonstrate some seriousness about giving up its nuclear ambitions before it would resume talks. But the administration now faces a choice: military action (by the U.S. or Israel) or acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran. So they look for a smoke screen — another round of gamesmanship and stalling by the mullahs, who all the while work steadily toward their dream of becoming a nuclear power. And recall that in the original deal, the proposed idea of shipping an undetermined fraction of Iranian enriched uranium elsewhere was hardly a guarantee that Iran would not proceed with its nuclear plans. Even the current scheme recognizes that the problem has gotten worse with the passage of time:

Iran has grown its supply of low-enriched uranium over the past year to roughly 2,800 kilograms from around 1,800 kilograms as of September, according to the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog body, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran has also begun producing low-enriched uranium at levels closer to weapons-grade.

U.S. officials said the current talks are focused on securing a much larger amount of Iran’s nuclear-fuel stockpile. The U.S. also is seeking to build on the fuel-swap arrangement that Iran reached with Turkey and Brazil in May. That called for Iran to ship out 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium for conversion into fuel rods for the Tehran reactor, but didn’t address U.S. fears about Iran enriching uranium further. “Any revised approach would have to address the deficiencies that the U.S. and other P5+1 countries have pointed out in the proposal made by Iran, Turkey, and Brazil in May,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the diplomacy.

Are you comforted that we’ll get a verifiable, enforceable mechanism that will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons? Me neither. But it is potentially an effective blocking technique — blocking not the mullahs but the Israelis from taking military action to defang the Iranian regime. We will see if the new Congress and pro-Israel groups go along with this latest gambit in a never-ending series of maneuvers, the sole purpose of which is to avoid a confrontation with Iran. That this approach may also guarantee continued progress by the Iranians is seemingly of lesser importance to the Obama team.

You could spot this one coming:

The Obama administration is pushing to revive a failed deal for Iran to send some of its nuclear stockpile overseas in exchange for assistance with peaceful uses of nuclear technology, according to senior U.S. officials. The aim is to try to reduce Tehran’s ability to quickly produce an atomic weapon.

Washington and other Western capitals are hoping Tehran will return to the negotiating table because they believe a fresh round of international economic sanctions against Iran—put in place after the previous fuel-swap deal fell apart last year—has begun to bite hard.

This, of course, is an act of pure desperation by the Obama administration, which assured us that Iran would have to demonstrate some seriousness about giving up its nuclear ambitions before it would resume talks. But the administration now faces a choice: military action (by the U.S. or Israel) or acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran. So they look for a smoke screen — another round of gamesmanship and stalling by the mullahs, who all the while work steadily toward their dream of becoming a nuclear power. And recall that in the original deal, the proposed idea of shipping an undetermined fraction of Iranian enriched uranium elsewhere was hardly a guarantee that Iran would not proceed with its nuclear plans. Even the current scheme recognizes that the problem has gotten worse with the passage of time:

Iran has grown its supply of low-enriched uranium over the past year to roughly 2,800 kilograms from around 1,800 kilograms as of September, according to the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog body, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran has also begun producing low-enriched uranium at levels closer to weapons-grade.

U.S. officials said the current talks are focused on securing a much larger amount of Iran’s nuclear-fuel stockpile. The U.S. also is seeking to build on the fuel-swap arrangement that Iran reached with Turkey and Brazil in May. That called for Iran to ship out 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium for conversion into fuel rods for the Tehran reactor, but didn’t address U.S. fears about Iran enriching uranium further. “Any revised approach would have to address the deficiencies that the U.S. and other P5+1 countries have pointed out in the proposal made by Iran, Turkey, and Brazil in May,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the diplomacy.

Are you comforted that we’ll get a verifiable, enforceable mechanism that will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons? Me neither. But it is potentially an effective blocking technique — blocking not the mullahs but the Israelis from taking military action to defang the Iranian regime. We will see if the new Congress and pro-Israel groups go along with this latest gambit in a never-ending series of maneuvers, the sole purpose of which is to avoid a confrontation with Iran. That this approach may also guarantee continued progress by the Iranians is seemingly of lesser importance to the Obama team.

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RE: UAE Ambassador: The Benefits of Attacking Iran Outweigh the Risks

Jeffrey Goldberg provides the full remarks:

I asked him, Do you want the U.S. to stop the Iranian nuclear program by force?

And he answered: “Absolutely, absolutely. I think we are at risk of an Iranian nuclear program far more than you are at risk. At 7,000 miles away, and with two oceans bordering you, an Iranian nuclear threat does not threaten the  continental United States. It may threaten your assets in the region, it will threaten the peace process, it will threaten balance of power, it will threaten everything else, but it will not threaten you.”

He went on to say, “I am suggesting that I think out of every country in the region, the U.A.E. is most vulnerable to Iran. Our military, who has existed for the past 40 years, wake up, dream, breathe, eat, sleep the Iranian threat. It’s the only conventional military threat our military plans for, trains for, equips for, that’s it, there’s no other threat, there’s no country in the region that is a threat to the U.A.E., it’s only Iran. So yes, it’s very much in our interest that Iran does not gain nuclear technology.”

It is not an attack on Iran that the moderate Arab states fear the most; it is American reticence and a nuclear-armed Iran. The Obama team has dawdled and evaded the most pressing national-security issue of our time: is the U.S. willing to use military force to prevent the emergence of a new nuclear threat to the West? Eighteen months into his presidency, it is not clear that Obama is. That the UAE ambassador should have a more robust and reasoned position than the U.S. president is one more sign of how dismal a job this president has done on the most important issue he faces.

Jeffrey Goldberg provides the full remarks:

I asked him, Do you want the U.S. to stop the Iranian nuclear program by force?

And he answered: “Absolutely, absolutely. I think we are at risk of an Iranian nuclear program far more than you are at risk. At 7,000 miles away, and with two oceans bordering you, an Iranian nuclear threat does not threaten the  continental United States. It may threaten your assets in the region, it will threaten the peace process, it will threaten balance of power, it will threaten everything else, but it will not threaten you.”

He went on to say, “I am suggesting that I think out of every country in the region, the U.A.E. is most vulnerable to Iran. Our military, who has existed for the past 40 years, wake up, dream, breathe, eat, sleep the Iranian threat. It’s the only conventional military threat our military plans for, trains for, equips for, that’s it, there’s no other threat, there’s no country in the region that is a threat to the U.A.E., it’s only Iran. So yes, it’s very much in our interest that Iran does not gain nuclear technology.”

It is not an attack on Iran that the moderate Arab states fear the most; it is American reticence and a nuclear-armed Iran. The Obama team has dawdled and evaded the most pressing national-security issue of our time: is the U.S. willing to use military force to prevent the emergence of a new nuclear threat to the West? Eighteen months into his presidency, it is not clear that Obama is. That the UAE ambassador should have a more robust and reasoned position than the U.S. president is one more sign of how dismal a job this president has done on the most important issue he faces.

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Calling ‘Em Like You See ‘Em on the Middle East

James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations writes of the UN sanctions against Iran:

These are not the crippling sanctions that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had promised about a year ago. To the contrary. As the price of their support, veto-holding members China and Russia insisted that the resolution contain nothing that would impose broad costs on the Iranian economy — or damage Chinese and Russian commercial interests in the country.

The Obama administration calculates that even a watered-down resolution will put pressure on Tehran to return to the negotiating table. The resolution shows that the Security Council’s permanent members remain united in their demand that Iran come clean on its nuclear program, makes it harder for Iran to acquire nuclear technology, and opens the door to additional sanctions by the European Union and others.

Tehran will likely read the resolution’s passage differently. The weaker-than-threatened sanctions came only after months of haggling, making the prospect of tougher sanctions down the road look remote. Moreover, Brazil and Turkey voted against new sanctions (and Lebanon abstained). No country had voted against any of the three previous resolutions.

So if a mainstream foreign-policy guru can readily reach this conclusion, why aren’t Jewish groups sounding the alarm? It’s because they have bought into a strategy — or rather refuse to give up on a strategy — which amounts to “don’t annoy those in power.” That works fine when those in power have pro-Israel instincts and a basic understanding of the history and motivations of the players in the Middle East. However, with this administration, it is counterproductive — if not disastrous — both for the course of American foreign policy and for the reputation and integrity of pro-Israel groups. The inevitable result is to ignore bad news, cheer the unacceptable, and provide cover for an administration badly in need of scrutiny.

In sum, if the CFR refuses to make excuses for the administration, why should American Jewish groups? The former is rightly concerned with maintaining its intellectual credibility; the latter should start being so.

James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations writes of the UN sanctions against Iran:

These are not the crippling sanctions that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had promised about a year ago. To the contrary. As the price of their support, veto-holding members China and Russia insisted that the resolution contain nothing that would impose broad costs on the Iranian economy — or damage Chinese and Russian commercial interests in the country.

The Obama administration calculates that even a watered-down resolution will put pressure on Tehran to return to the negotiating table. The resolution shows that the Security Council’s permanent members remain united in their demand that Iran come clean on its nuclear program, makes it harder for Iran to acquire nuclear technology, and opens the door to additional sanctions by the European Union and others.

Tehran will likely read the resolution’s passage differently. The weaker-than-threatened sanctions came only after months of haggling, making the prospect of tougher sanctions down the road look remote. Moreover, Brazil and Turkey voted against new sanctions (and Lebanon abstained). No country had voted against any of the three previous resolutions.

So if a mainstream foreign-policy guru can readily reach this conclusion, why aren’t Jewish groups sounding the alarm? It’s because they have bought into a strategy — or rather refuse to give up on a strategy — which amounts to “don’t annoy those in power.” That works fine when those in power have pro-Israel instincts and a basic understanding of the history and motivations of the players in the Middle East. However, with this administration, it is counterproductive — if not disastrous — both for the course of American foreign policy and for the reputation and integrity of pro-Israel groups. The inevitable result is to ignore bad news, cheer the unacceptable, and provide cover for an administration badly in need of scrutiny.

In sum, if the CFR refuses to make excuses for the administration, why should American Jewish groups? The former is rightly concerned with maintaining its intellectual credibility; the latter should start being so.

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Iran, Israel, and the GOP Senate Primary Race

Carly Fiorina, who is in a tough Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate in California, has raised a key foreign-policy issue. In a released statement, she notes:

President Ahmadinejad’s order yesterday to begin enriching uranium far past levels needed to power nuclear plants reveals the regime’s true intentions for its nuclear technology. Today’s news only further confirms that Iran is not serious about complying with the international nuclear nonproliferation treaty to which they are a party.

It is abundantly clear: engagement with Iran has failed. Negotiations have shown no progress. We cannot afford to talk any longer. We must act now to implement tough, crippling sanctions to persuade the Iranian regime to suspend its nuclear program and engage in serious negotiations.

Both the Senate and the House have passed strong versions of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act. I urge our leaders in Congress to reconcile quickly their differences and present a bill to the President for his immediate signature and immediate implementation.

It will be interesting to see how significant an issue this becomes in the primary race. Her two opponents have yet to weigh in on this issue, but foreign policy — specifically, their stance toward Israel and the existential threat to the Jewish state’s existence posed by a nuclear-armed Iran — may well play a role in the race. One of her opponents, Chuck Devore, has in the past voiced strong support for Israel’s right of self-defense.

Tom Campbell, who has zipped into the lead in early polls, is quite another story. During his time in the House, Campbell was one of the few Republicans with a consistent anti-Israel voting record. In 1999, he introduced an amendment to cut foreign aid to Israel. This amendment, titled the Campbell Amendment, was defeated overwhelmingly on the House floor by a vote of 13-414. In 1999, Campbell was one of just 24 House members to vote against a resolution expressing congressional opposition to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. In 1997, Rep. Tom Campbell authored an amendment (also titled the Campbell Amendment) to cut foreign aid to Israel. The resolution failed 9-32 in committee. In 1990, Campbell was one of just 34 House members to vote against a resolution expressing support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  The resolution passed the House 378-34. But Campbell has taken positions on more than just aid that have raised concerns about his views on Israel. As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2000, Campbell, in his losing race against Dianne Feinstein, “told numerous crowds–including Jewish groups–that he believes Palestinians are entitled to a homeland and that Jerusalem can be the capital of more than one nation.”

By making Iran and foreign policy a focus of her campaign, Fiorina is most likely inviting comparisons with her opponents. We’ll see how California Republicans size up the candidates and whether their stance Iran and Israel become a major source of contention.

Carly Fiorina, who is in a tough Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate in California, has raised a key foreign-policy issue. In a released statement, she notes:

President Ahmadinejad’s order yesterday to begin enriching uranium far past levels needed to power nuclear plants reveals the regime’s true intentions for its nuclear technology. Today’s news only further confirms that Iran is not serious about complying with the international nuclear nonproliferation treaty to which they are a party.

It is abundantly clear: engagement with Iran has failed. Negotiations have shown no progress. We cannot afford to talk any longer. We must act now to implement tough, crippling sanctions to persuade the Iranian regime to suspend its nuclear program and engage in serious negotiations.

Both the Senate and the House have passed strong versions of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act. I urge our leaders in Congress to reconcile quickly their differences and present a bill to the President for his immediate signature and immediate implementation.

It will be interesting to see how significant an issue this becomes in the primary race. Her two opponents have yet to weigh in on this issue, but foreign policy — specifically, their stance toward Israel and the existential threat to the Jewish state’s existence posed by a nuclear-armed Iran — may well play a role in the race. One of her opponents, Chuck Devore, has in the past voiced strong support for Israel’s right of self-defense.

Tom Campbell, who has zipped into the lead in early polls, is quite another story. During his time in the House, Campbell was one of the few Republicans with a consistent anti-Israel voting record. In 1999, he introduced an amendment to cut foreign aid to Israel. This amendment, titled the Campbell Amendment, was defeated overwhelmingly on the House floor by a vote of 13-414. In 1999, Campbell was one of just 24 House members to vote against a resolution expressing congressional opposition to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. In 1997, Rep. Tom Campbell authored an amendment (also titled the Campbell Amendment) to cut foreign aid to Israel. The resolution failed 9-32 in committee. In 1990, Campbell was one of just 34 House members to vote against a resolution expressing support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  The resolution passed the House 378-34. But Campbell has taken positions on more than just aid that have raised concerns about his views on Israel. As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2000, Campbell, in his losing race against Dianne Feinstein, “told numerous crowds–including Jewish groups–that he believes Palestinians are entitled to a homeland and that Jerusalem can be the capital of more than one nation.”

By making Iran and foreign policy a focus of her campaign, Fiorina is most likely inviting comparisons with her opponents. We’ll see how California Republicans size up the candidates and whether their stance Iran and Israel become a major source of contention.

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Slow-Motion Train-Wreck Watch

If train wrecks really happened in slow motion, observers might have time to note carelessness and irrelevance in the human actors involved. Metaphorical train wrecks certainly afford us such opportunities. The State Department bracketed a busy weekend for the Iran problem with a bit of both. In the daily briefing on Friday, spokesman Robert Wood responded to a point-blank question on why we are stretching out the time line on negotiations with this affirmation:

QUESTION: Then why stretch it out? I mean, isn’t it quite clear that they’re not going to do this?

MR. WOOD: Look, we are — we have said from the beginning, we’re willing to go the extra mile with regard to diplomacy. The President and the Secretary have been very clear about that. Iran has had plenty of time to consider this proposal. We still hope that they will reconsider and give the IAEA Director General a yes. But that’s up to Iran.

Iran had already, last week, given the IAEA director general a “no,” rejecting the P5+1 proposal to ship Tehran’s low-enriched uranium out of the country and offering a counterproposal: to exchange higher-enriched uranium for Iran’s current stock, simultaneously and inside Iran. In support of this negotiating ploy, the regime launched a major joint-forces exercise over the weekend, punctuating it with air-defense drills around the nuclear sites. In case the message was unclear, a senior Revolutionary Guard official emphasized the “deterrence power” of Iran’s ballistic missiles and threatened Tel Aviv with them. Meanwhile, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, with Ahmadinejad at his side, affirmed Iran’s right to civil nuclear technology and criticized “attempts to isolate Iran,” a condemnation that included the imposition of further sanctions.

So it’s not clear what gave Wood hope that Iran might reconsider. Monday’s laconic briefing from Ian Kelly projected a peculiar air of detachment, revealing mainly that there was no new policy guidance on Iran since Friday. There were some laughs, however. Kelly alluded, in suggesting that Iran seize a “fleeting opportunity,” to Friday’s thrice-repeated theme that the diplomatic window for Iran won’t be open forever. This led to a humorous exchange in which the word “fleeting” was suggested to amount to “new guidance.”

Surreal levity aside, Iran’s strategic wisdom in making a counterproposal, to which the P5+1 will have to take time in responding, has probably guaranteed that “fleeting” will not accurately describe the window bounded by negotiations. What the State Department has to show for eight years of business-as-usual negotiations is an Iran much closer to a working nuclear weapon. Robert Wood, in that sense, was exactly right: as long as we have a diplomacy-only approach, it is up to Iran. The only way to change that is to pose the credible threat of involving a different department of the U.S. government.

If train wrecks really happened in slow motion, observers might have time to note carelessness and irrelevance in the human actors involved. Metaphorical train wrecks certainly afford us such opportunities. The State Department bracketed a busy weekend for the Iran problem with a bit of both. In the daily briefing on Friday, spokesman Robert Wood responded to a point-blank question on why we are stretching out the time line on negotiations with this affirmation:

QUESTION: Then why stretch it out? I mean, isn’t it quite clear that they’re not going to do this?

MR. WOOD: Look, we are — we have said from the beginning, we’re willing to go the extra mile with regard to diplomacy. The President and the Secretary have been very clear about that. Iran has had plenty of time to consider this proposal. We still hope that they will reconsider and give the IAEA Director General a yes. But that’s up to Iran.

Iran had already, last week, given the IAEA director general a “no,” rejecting the P5+1 proposal to ship Tehran’s low-enriched uranium out of the country and offering a counterproposal: to exchange higher-enriched uranium for Iran’s current stock, simultaneously and inside Iran. In support of this negotiating ploy, the regime launched a major joint-forces exercise over the weekend, punctuating it with air-defense drills around the nuclear sites. In case the message was unclear, a senior Revolutionary Guard official emphasized the “deterrence power” of Iran’s ballistic missiles and threatened Tel Aviv with them. Meanwhile, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, with Ahmadinejad at his side, affirmed Iran’s right to civil nuclear technology and criticized “attempts to isolate Iran,” a condemnation that included the imposition of further sanctions.

So it’s not clear what gave Wood hope that Iran might reconsider. Monday’s laconic briefing from Ian Kelly projected a peculiar air of detachment, revealing mainly that there was no new policy guidance on Iran since Friday. There were some laughs, however. Kelly alluded, in suggesting that Iran seize a “fleeting opportunity,” to Friday’s thrice-repeated theme that the diplomatic window for Iran won’t be open forever. This led to a humorous exchange in which the word “fleeting” was suggested to amount to “new guidance.”

Surreal levity aside, Iran’s strategic wisdom in making a counterproposal, to which the P5+1 will have to take time in responding, has probably guaranteed that “fleeting” will not accurately describe the window bounded by negotiations. What the State Department has to show for eight years of business-as-usual negotiations is an Iran much closer to a working nuclear weapon. Robert Wood, in that sense, was exactly right: as long as we have a diplomacy-only approach, it is up to Iran. The only way to change that is to pose the credible threat of involving a different department of the U.S. government.

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What Happened to That Deadline?

Weeks have passed since the “deadline” for the Iranian regime to accept the deal that offered to enrich their uranium for them. In public, the Iranians keep telling us “no” and that they aren’t giving up the promise of a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday reiterated that his country’s rights on “the nuclear issue” are non-negotiable and its nuclear activities and cooperation happen within the framework of IAEA regulations, according to at report on the Iranian student news agency ISNA.

“Iran is ready for constructive and honest cooperation with western countries in the field of nuclear technology,” he was quoted by ISNA as saying, while warning that the West’s confrontation with Iran only makes the country “more powerful and more developed.”

And oh, by the way, Ahmadinejad tells us that the media are “the lever of international Zionism to dominate the entire world.” So are we done yet? The Obami have gotten their answer and have done nothing. Where are the sanctions, the other options, and the “international community”? It seems nowhere. The Obami, we were told, had a Plan B if engagement failed. Yet it has, though they are loath to tell anyone. But the Iranians gleefully observe our paralysis and move apace with their nuclear program.

Do you feel safer yet?

Weeks have passed since the “deadline” for the Iranian regime to accept the deal that offered to enrich their uranium for them. In public, the Iranians keep telling us “no” and that they aren’t giving up the promise of a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday reiterated that his country’s rights on “the nuclear issue” are non-negotiable and its nuclear activities and cooperation happen within the framework of IAEA regulations, according to at report on the Iranian student news agency ISNA.

“Iran is ready for constructive and honest cooperation with western countries in the field of nuclear technology,” he was quoted by ISNA as saying, while warning that the West’s confrontation with Iran only makes the country “more powerful and more developed.”

And oh, by the way, Ahmadinejad tells us that the media are “the lever of international Zionism to dominate the entire world.” So are we done yet? The Obami have gotten their answer and have done nothing. Where are the sanctions, the other options, and the “international community”? It seems nowhere. The Obami, we were told, had a Plan B if engagement failed. Yet it has, though they are loath to tell anyone. But the Iranians gleefully observe our paralysis and move apace with their nuclear program.

Do you feel safer yet?

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We’re Already There

Joe Lieberman’s party allegiance is a much-discussed issue. One of the most interesting moments of Sen. Lieberman’s lecture last night came when he described his reason for staying in the Democratic Party.

As others here have mentioned, Lieberman believes it’s important for both parties to have strong national security wings. It’s frustrating to witness the Democrats’ shabby treatment of Lieberman, but his point is important. Lieberman’s going to the GOP would leave the Democrats the official foreign policy softies. National security is more than an ideological issue, it’s a survival issue, and if Democrats and Republican became strictly polarized in this regard, the decision to deal with threats would hinge on party affiliation.

Which is actually what we’re witnessing in the unofficial beginning of the general election, anyway. Barack Obama sees Iran as a “tiny” threat, and American SUV’s as a dangerous liability. John McCain sees Iran’s triple-threat of terrorism, hegemony, and nuclear technology for exactly what it is: deadly. Worse still, Democrats are scrambling to defend Obama’s official position of talking to Tehran without preconditions. The de facto politicization of national security is already here.

Senator Lieberman’s instincts are admirable. Unfortunately, one man, even with courage, does not a wing make. If and when the Democratic Party ever returns to the robust national security platforms of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy, it will swing in that direction of its own momentum. Even a man as brave as Joe Lieberman is beyond halting an ideological wilting of this magnitude.

Joe Lieberman’s party allegiance is a much-discussed issue. One of the most interesting moments of Sen. Lieberman’s lecture last night came when he described his reason for staying in the Democratic Party.

As others here have mentioned, Lieberman believes it’s important for both parties to have strong national security wings. It’s frustrating to witness the Democrats’ shabby treatment of Lieberman, but his point is important. Lieberman’s going to the GOP would leave the Democrats the official foreign policy softies. National security is more than an ideological issue, it’s a survival issue, and if Democrats and Republican became strictly polarized in this regard, the decision to deal with threats would hinge on party affiliation.

Which is actually what we’re witnessing in the unofficial beginning of the general election, anyway. Barack Obama sees Iran as a “tiny” threat, and American SUV’s as a dangerous liability. John McCain sees Iran’s triple-threat of terrorism, hegemony, and nuclear technology for exactly what it is: deadly. Worse still, Democrats are scrambling to defend Obama’s official position of talking to Tehran without preconditions. The de facto politicization of national security is already here.

Senator Lieberman’s instincts are admirable. Unfortunately, one man, even with courage, does not a wing make. If and when the Democratic Party ever returns to the robust national security platforms of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy, it will swing in that direction of its own momentum. Even a man as brave as Joe Lieberman is beyond halting an ideological wilting of this magnitude.

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Time to Acquiesce?

This morning Emanuele Ottolenghi discussed Ray Takeyh’s suggestion, in yesterday’s Washington Post, to accept Iran’s program to enrich uranium. Ottolenghi identifies the critical problem with this proposal: it rewards Tehran’s past violations of its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations. Let’s look at another drawback with Takeyh’s suggestion: it simply will not work.

Takeyh first (correctly) argues that Tehran will not peacefully give up its nuclear program-there is a broad consensus to continue it among regime leaders. The Council on Foreign Relations scholar then suggests “it is time to discard the formula of ‘suspension for incentives’ for one that trades ‘enrichment for transparency.’ ”

Takeyh, in other words, believes we should try to put an especially rigorous verification system in place to prevent the mullahs from using their new expertise to build bombs. He also thinks we should attempt to get Iran to limit its stockpile of fissile material. And should the Iranians fail to accept these measures, he hopes Russia and China will drop their support for Iran.

Takeyh’s suggestions have the advantage of putting Tehran–as well as Moscow and Beijing–to the test. Iran’s rejection of them–or Russian and Chinese continued support for Iranian nuclear efforts–would make it easier for the West to come together to stop the theocracy. On a theoretical level, this sounds great.

So why are Takeyh’s proposals misconceived? Let’s think how Tehran’s leaders will respond. If I were a mullah, the first thing I would do, to appear conciliatory, is agree to limit my declared stockpile of enriched uranium as Takeyh suggests. Then I would refuse to permit the intrusive measures that Takeyh has in mind, such as constant surveillance, continual environmental sampling, and no-notice inspections. Without these safeguards, I know I could run a parallel bomb program in secret. It does not take too much imagination to see how I could create intense pressure on Washington to keep the peace and accept a system of inadequate supervision. After all, as a mullah I know that the Great Satan’s State Department always caves in at critical moments.

Well, I’m not a mullah, and I am against dangerous compromises. The Iranian regime has already shown itself to be an untrustworthy custodian of nuclear technology. The regime, after all, hid whole facilities from U.N. inspectors for almost two decades in violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Since the outing of secret facilities in 2002 by a dissident group, Iranian officials have stalled inspectors, lied to them, and changed their story when it became clear they had fibbed. They have told the truth only when there has been no alternative. Now, they are enriching uranium in defiance of a Security Council resolution and three sets of U.N. sanctions-as well as building missiles suitable only for nuclear warheads.

Takeyh is right that the Iranians cannot be persuaded to give up their enrichment program. Yet he is most certainly wrong when he writes this: “It is impossible to turn back the clock.” The United States, should it so choose, can reverse time, at least as far as Iran’s possession of enrichment technology is concerned. In the end we may decide not to use force, but the option does indeed exist.

This morning Emanuele Ottolenghi discussed Ray Takeyh’s suggestion, in yesterday’s Washington Post, to accept Iran’s program to enrich uranium. Ottolenghi identifies the critical problem with this proposal: it rewards Tehran’s past violations of its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations. Let’s look at another drawback with Takeyh’s suggestion: it simply will not work.

Takeyh first (correctly) argues that Tehran will not peacefully give up its nuclear program-there is a broad consensus to continue it among regime leaders. The Council on Foreign Relations scholar then suggests “it is time to discard the formula of ‘suspension for incentives’ for one that trades ‘enrichment for transparency.’ ”

Takeyh, in other words, believes we should try to put an especially rigorous verification system in place to prevent the mullahs from using their new expertise to build bombs. He also thinks we should attempt to get Iran to limit its stockpile of fissile material. And should the Iranians fail to accept these measures, he hopes Russia and China will drop their support for Iran.

Takeyh’s suggestions have the advantage of putting Tehran–as well as Moscow and Beijing–to the test. Iran’s rejection of them–or Russian and Chinese continued support for Iranian nuclear efforts–would make it easier for the West to come together to stop the theocracy. On a theoretical level, this sounds great.

So why are Takeyh’s proposals misconceived? Let’s think how Tehran’s leaders will respond. If I were a mullah, the first thing I would do, to appear conciliatory, is agree to limit my declared stockpile of enriched uranium as Takeyh suggests. Then I would refuse to permit the intrusive measures that Takeyh has in mind, such as constant surveillance, continual environmental sampling, and no-notice inspections. Without these safeguards, I know I could run a parallel bomb program in secret. It does not take too much imagination to see how I could create intense pressure on Washington to keep the peace and accept a system of inadequate supervision. After all, as a mullah I know that the Great Satan’s State Department always caves in at critical moments.

Well, I’m not a mullah, and I am against dangerous compromises. The Iranian regime has already shown itself to be an untrustworthy custodian of nuclear technology. The regime, after all, hid whole facilities from U.N. inspectors for almost two decades in violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Since the outing of secret facilities in 2002 by a dissident group, Iranian officials have stalled inspectors, lied to them, and changed their story when it became clear they had fibbed. They have told the truth only when there has been no alternative. Now, they are enriching uranium in defiance of a Security Council resolution and three sets of U.N. sanctions-as well as building missiles suitable only for nuclear warheads.

Takeyh is right that the Iranians cannot be persuaded to give up their enrichment program. Yet he is most certainly wrong when he writes this: “It is impossible to turn back the clock.” The United States, should it so choose, can reverse time, at least as far as Iran’s possession of enrichment technology is concerned. In the end we may decide not to use force, but the option does indeed exist.

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What’s ElBaradei Up To?

IAEA Director General Mohammad ElBaradei has again shown whose side he is on. Less than a week after the Permanent Five and Germany issued a statement announcing a new incentives’ package for Iran, ElBaradei called on the U.S. to show more flexibility with Iran. The details of the new offer are not publicly known, but French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner defined them as “very generous.”

This proposal expands on an already-generous offer made two years ago, which Iran turned down. One would hope that, this time, the P5+1 does not follow the same course of action–despite the fact that the 2006 offer was meant to expire, the P5+1 kept it alive in the hope that Iran would change its mind–only to produce a better package two years later. One can only assume that the terms are even more advantageous for Iran: more details on nuclear technology that the West would offer Tehran, more details of the security guarantees that Iran would get in the region, more assurances about the stability of Iran’s regime, more incentives on trade. One can also assume that in Tehran the lesson being learned is that by making no concessions and being stubborn much can be gained.

Now, aside from the fact that Iran has already dismissed the offer, this history of dialogue with Iran teaches us two things: one, that the international community, U.S. included, has shown great flexibility with Iran; and two, that Iran has systematically exploited this flexibility to gain time and advance its nuclear program. Any responsible representative of the international community should not call on the U.S. to be more flexible. It should call on Iran to be more reasonable and remind them that time is running out. That ElBaradei called on the U.S. to make more concessions at a time when the U.S. is already backing yet more concessions to an inflexible and uncompromising Iran indicates that maybe the IAEA–and certainly its director–are not doing their best to stem the tide of nuclear proliferation.

IAEA Director General Mohammad ElBaradei has again shown whose side he is on. Less than a week after the Permanent Five and Germany issued a statement announcing a new incentives’ package for Iran, ElBaradei called on the U.S. to show more flexibility with Iran. The details of the new offer are not publicly known, but French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner defined them as “very generous.”

This proposal expands on an already-generous offer made two years ago, which Iran turned down. One would hope that, this time, the P5+1 does not follow the same course of action–despite the fact that the 2006 offer was meant to expire, the P5+1 kept it alive in the hope that Iran would change its mind–only to produce a better package two years later. One can only assume that the terms are even more advantageous for Iran: more details on nuclear technology that the West would offer Tehran, more details of the security guarantees that Iran would get in the region, more assurances about the stability of Iran’s regime, more incentives on trade. One can also assume that in Tehran the lesson being learned is that by making no concessions and being stubborn much can be gained.

Now, aside from the fact that Iran has already dismissed the offer, this history of dialogue with Iran teaches us two things: one, that the international community, U.S. included, has shown great flexibility with Iran; and two, that Iran has systematically exploited this flexibility to gain time and advance its nuclear program. Any responsible representative of the international community should not call on the U.S. to be more flexible. It should call on Iran to be more reasonable and remind them that time is running out. That ElBaradei called on the U.S. to make more concessions at a time when the U.S. is already backing yet more concessions to an inflexible and uncompromising Iran indicates that maybe the IAEA–and certainly its director–are not doing their best to stem the tide of nuclear proliferation.

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Giving Away the (Nuclear) Store

A Reuters report states that the Bush administration will, within a month, send to Congress a pact on civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia. The agreement will take effect within 90 legislative days unless Congress votes it down. The President discussed the arrangement with Vladimir Putin at their summit earlier this month in Sochi.

Should the United States cooperate with Russia on civilian nuclear technology? In general, that’s a wonderful concept. In this particular case, however, the idea is fundamentally flawed. The Bush administration apparently thinks the proposed deal would support Russia’s plan to enrich uranium for Iran. “We can’t isolate ourselves from Russia and then expect that these are the proposals that are going to be the solution to the Iranian nuclear program,” says an unnamed State Department official.

I, on the other hand, am all for isolating ourselves from counterproductive concepts. There will one day be a solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, but it will not run through Moscow. Moscow, we should remember, is a huge part the problem. It has been blocking effective action against Iran at the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council, it has supplied the reactors at Iran’s Bushehr generating station and delivered its uranium fuel, and it has sold Iran air-defense systems to protect its nuclear sites. And all this against the express wishes of . . . the Bush administration. So why does the President think the Russians are going to be any more cooperative in the future? I have stared into Putin’s soul and seen–among other things–an unrepentant proliferator.

Moscow’s fuel bank proposal is tailored to help Tehran. Iranians will undoubtedly end up working at the Russian facility. As they do so, they will pick up critical expertise that can be used back home in covert locations. So why should we help Iran obtain advanced nuclear technology? President Bush needs to come up with a better explanation if he wants to ink this stinker of a deal.

A Reuters report states that the Bush administration will, within a month, send to Congress a pact on civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia. The agreement will take effect within 90 legislative days unless Congress votes it down. The President discussed the arrangement with Vladimir Putin at their summit earlier this month in Sochi.

Should the United States cooperate with Russia on civilian nuclear technology? In general, that’s a wonderful concept. In this particular case, however, the idea is fundamentally flawed. The Bush administration apparently thinks the proposed deal would support Russia’s plan to enrich uranium for Iran. “We can’t isolate ourselves from Russia and then expect that these are the proposals that are going to be the solution to the Iranian nuclear program,” says an unnamed State Department official.

I, on the other hand, am all for isolating ourselves from counterproductive concepts. There will one day be a solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, but it will not run through Moscow. Moscow, we should remember, is a huge part the problem. It has been blocking effective action against Iran at the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council, it has supplied the reactors at Iran’s Bushehr generating station and delivered its uranium fuel, and it has sold Iran air-defense systems to protect its nuclear sites. And all this against the express wishes of . . . the Bush administration. So why does the President think the Russians are going to be any more cooperative in the future? I have stared into Putin’s soul and seen–among other things–an unrepentant proliferator.

Moscow’s fuel bank proposal is tailored to help Tehran. Iranians will undoubtedly end up working at the Russian facility. As they do so, they will pick up critical expertise that can be used back home in covert locations. So why should we help Iran obtain advanced nuclear technology? President Bush needs to come up with a better explanation if he wants to ink this stinker of a deal.

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“Pariah Diplomacy”

Jimmy Carter, writing in this morning’s New York Times, praises his own “Pariah Diplomacy.” He cites, as an example of success, his mediation in Nepal that led to the Maoists joining the government. He then describes the results of his just-concluded meetings with the leaders of Hamas. “In the Middle East, as in Nepal, the path to peace lies in negotiation, not in isolation,” the Nobel laureate writes.

Whatever one thinks of Carter’s diplomacy with Nepalese Maoists and Palestinian terrorists, it’s too early to pronounce final verdicts in either case. Yet we can begin to judge the former President’s general approach by looking at the results of his past efforts.

Take his peacemaking initiative with regard to Kim Il Sung’s North Korea, for example. After meeting with the charismatic dictator in June 1994, Carter said that he had performed “a miracle.”

At the time, he looked as if he were right. He had, on his own initiative, gone to Pyongyang despite the wishes of the Clinton administration and the government in Seoul-sound familiar?-and, by all accounts, averted war. He did that by putting together a plan that formed the basis of the Agreed Framework, a bilateral deal inked in October 1994 by Washington and Pyongyang.

It’s clear that Carter, by willfulness and charm, reduced the possibility of war. But did he bring lasting peace to the Korean peninsula? Since then, Kim Jong Il, who succeeded his father, has tested long-range missiles, detonated an atomic device with a plutonium core, pursued a uranium weapons program, proliferated nuclear technology to Syria, and worked with Iran on its nuclear weapons and missiles.

None of this, in all probability, would have occurred if Carter had not gone to Pyongyang. On the eve of his visit, Bill Clinton had accomplished something that so far has eluded George W. Bush–he had prepared the international community for the use of force against the Kim family regime. In one of those rare moments of unity, the world was ready for meaningful coercive measures against the North. Even China, Kim Il Sung’s staunch ally, was willing to permit the United Nations to impose penalties-and had told Kim Il Sung as much. Carter’s trip, unfortunately, dissolved that unity. Left without support for the use of force, the Clinton administration had no choice but to accept the Agreed Framework, which provided a crucial lifeline to the abhorrent Kim regime.

So bolstered, Kim Jong Il adopted polices that could only have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of his fellow Koreans, and that is exactly what happened in the great famine in the middle of last decade. When nobody had to starve, many perished. Since then, North Korea has done more than almost any other nation to destabilize the international community. Carter, the itinerant peacemaker in 1994, apparently prevented war. Yet he stopped the United States and the rest of the world from putting together an enduring solution-and he essentially permitted Kim Jong Il to commit murder on the largest scale since the end of the Cold War.

This, more than anything, is Jimmy Carter’s legacy so far. I hope there can be peace in Nepal and in Israel. But if we have learned anything from Ronald Reagan, it is that we should talk with tyrants as Carter advises, but only when they know they have been defeated. Jimmy’s approach, however, first legitimizes and then strengthens them. And that is why the world is in such disarray at this moment.

Jimmy Carter, writing in this morning’s New York Times, praises his own “Pariah Diplomacy.” He cites, as an example of success, his mediation in Nepal that led to the Maoists joining the government. He then describes the results of his just-concluded meetings with the leaders of Hamas. “In the Middle East, as in Nepal, the path to peace lies in negotiation, not in isolation,” the Nobel laureate writes.

Whatever one thinks of Carter’s diplomacy with Nepalese Maoists and Palestinian terrorists, it’s too early to pronounce final verdicts in either case. Yet we can begin to judge the former President’s general approach by looking at the results of his past efforts.

Take his peacemaking initiative with regard to Kim Il Sung’s North Korea, for example. After meeting with the charismatic dictator in June 1994, Carter said that he had performed “a miracle.”

At the time, he looked as if he were right. He had, on his own initiative, gone to Pyongyang despite the wishes of the Clinton administration and the government in Seoul-sound familiar?-and, by all accounts, averted war. He did that by putting together a plan that formed the basis of the Agreed Framework, a bilateral deal inked in October 1994 by Washington and Pyongyang.

It’s clear that Carter, by willfulness and charm, reduced the possibility of war. But did he bring lasting peace to the Korean peninsula? Since then, Kim Jong Il, who succeeded his father, has tested long-range missiles, detonated an atomic device with a plutonium core, pursued a uranium weapons program, proliferated nuclear technology to Syria, and worked with Iran on its nuclear weapons and missiles.

None of this, in all probability, would have occurred if Carter had not gone to Pyongyang. On the eve of his visit, Bill Clinton had accomplished something that so far has eluded George W. Bush–he had prepared the international community for the use of force against the Kim family regime. In one of those rare moments of unity, the world was ready for meaningful coercive measures against the North. Even China, Kim Il Sung’s staunch ally, was willing to permit the United Nations to impose penalties-and had told Kim Il Sung as much. Carter’s trip, unfortunately, dissolved that unity. Left without support for the use of force, the Clinton administration had no choice but to accept the Agreed Framework, which provided a crucial lifeline to the abhorrent Kim regime.

So bolstered, Kim Jong Il adopted polices that could only have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of his fellow Koreans, and that is exactly what happened in the great famine in the middle of last decade. When nobody had to starve, many perished. Since then, North Korea has done more than almost any other nation to destabilize the international community. Carter, the itinerant peacemaker in 1994, apparently prevented war. Yet he stopped the United States and the rest of the world from putting together an enduring solution-and he essentially permitted Kim Jong Il to commit murder on the largest scale since the end of the Cold War.

This, more than anything, is Jimmy Carter’s legacy so far. I hope there can be peace in Nepal and in Israel. But if we have learned anything from Ronald Reagan, it is that we should talk with tyrants as Carter advises, but only when they know they have been defeated. Jimmy’s approach, however, first legitimizes and then strengthens them. And that is why the world is in such disarray at this moment.

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Faith-Based Deterrence

“Some people imagine there is a building somewhere with a secret door they can open and find a group of scantily clad women enriching uranium.”

And with that unspeakably hilarious excuse, our chief North Korea negotiator, Christopher Hill of the State Department, has quipped America into submission. Today’s Wall Street Journal carries a piece by John Bolton about Mr. Hill and the startling failure of the American effort to disarm North Korea. Bolton writes:

According to numerous press reports and Mr. Hill’s April 10 congressional briefing, the U.S. will be expected to accept on faith, literally, North Korean assertions that it has not engaged in significant uranium enrichment, and that it has not proliferated nuclear technology or materials to countries like Syria and Iran.

Indeed, the North will not even make the declaration it earlier agreed to, but merely “acknowledge” that we are concerned about reports of such activities – which the United States itself will actually list. By some accounts, the North Korean statement will not even be public. In exchange for this utter nonperformance, the North will be rewarded with political “compensation” (its word): Concurrent with its “declaration,” it will be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and freed from the Trading With the Enemy Act.

Axis, schmaxis. As Bolton points out, the worst is yet to come. North Korea has been compensated for refusing to comply with the least intrusive of inspections. If Iran’s mullahs had ever considered being transparent about their own enrichment, they’re laughing about it now. The question of America’s role as the world’s police department is a debatable one. But if we’re  going to be the donut-chomping, overtime-collecting cop who was grandfathered into the force under outdated qualifications, who’s going to object? Only the nations we’ve pledged to protect, I suppose

“Some people imagine there is a building somewhere with a secret door they can open and find a group of scantily clad women enriching uranium.”

And with that unspeakably hilarious excuse, our chief North Korea negotiator, Christopher Hill of the State Department, has quipped America into submission. Today’s Wall Street Journal carries a piece by John Bolton about Mr. Hill and the startling failure of the American effort to disarm North Korea. Bolton writes:

According to numerous press reports and Mr. Hill’s April 10 congressional briefing, the U.S. will be expected to accept on faith, literally, North Korean assertions that it has not engaged in significant uranium enrichment, and that it has not proliferated nuclear technology or materials to countries like Syria and Iran.

Indeed, the North will not even make the declaration it earlier agreed to, but merely “acknowledge” that we are concerned about reports of such activities – which the United States itself will actually list. By some accounts, the North Korean statement will not even be public. In exchange for this utter nonperformance, the North will be rewarded with political “compensation” (its word): Concurrent with its “declaration,” it will be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and freed from the Trading With the Enemy Act.

Axis, schmaxis. As Bolton points out, the worst is yet to come. North Korea has been compensated for refusing to comply with the least intrusive of inspections. If Iran’s mullahs had ever considered being transparent about their own enrichment, they’re laughing about it now. The question of America’s role as the world’s police department is a debatable one. But if we’re  going to be the donut-chomping, overtime-collecting cop who was grandfathered into the force under outdated qualifications, who’s going to object? Only the nations we’ve pledged to protect, I suppose

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Where Hysteria Rules

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan took me to task for my delusional “complacency” about America’s image in the eyes of the world. (Earlier in the day, I had written of Camille Paglia: “If Ms. Paglia finds the U.S.’s ‘reputation in tatters,’ she’s describing some internal or personal state of perception.”)

America’s commitment to a drawn-out, asymmetrical, multi-theater war with a global enemy has thrown up an array of sticky challenges. One of them is securing the ongoing commitment of allies. But Paglia’s (and Sullivan’s) hysteria is another matter.

Among whom, exactly, has the U.S.’s reputation taken this alleged dramatic downturn? Spain; Iran and Syria, the enjoyment of whose friendships would be both a disgrace and a functional liability; the totalitarian Hugo Chavez, whose loathing the U.S. should wear as a badge of honor.

Canada’s conservative government continues to pledge troops to the Afghanistan fight, though there are some grumblings there about creeping American fascism. Yet these come from the same quarters that hold state-sponsored censorship hearings in the name of human rights.

There is, of course, the case of Vladimir Putin and Russia. But can the chill emanating from Moscow really be chalked up to cowboy diplomacy? If anything, George Bush has been too trusting and deferential towards the Russian president.

North Korea is everyone’s problem, and will remain so no matter who is in office, even if it’s Barack Obama.

It’s worth pointing out who likes us, too. The Brits under Brown are still fighting with us. France under Sarkozy has taken an unprecedentedly pro-American stance, even upping its contribution to active NATO forces in Afghanistan. Germany’s Angela Merkel is no longer cringing away from George Bush, as she was a couple of years back. Eastern Europe seems fairly content to have the U.S. erecting a protective missile shield there. Bush’s decision to share nuclear technology with India has ushered in a new age of economic and diplomatic comity with the sub-continent. U.S. aid to Africa over the past seven years has made Bush an adored personage continent-wide.

Yet unless you admit the sky is falling, Sullivan diagnoses you as delusional and moves on to the next Obama convert who “gets it,”who understands that Obama’s willingness to talk to everyone (and trade with no one) will repair America’s tattered image.

This is the bi-polar political impulse that’s characterized Sullivan’s work since 9/11. The Iraq War was the bravest, most thoughtful, most promising exercise of military might in modern history–until it was the biggest moral and strategic catastrophe America had ever seen. To find yourself in the path of Sullivan’s hyperbolic pendulum only means that you’ll find yourself there again when it swings from the other direction. In time, even I will presumably “get it.”

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan took me to task for my delusional “complacency” about America’s image in the eyes of the world. (Earlier in the day, I had written of Camille Paglia: “If Ms. Paglia finds the U.S.’s ‘reputation in tatters,’ she’s describing some internal or personal state of perception.”)

America’s commitment to a drawn-out, asymmetrical, multi-theater war with a global enemy has thrown up an array of sticky challenges. One of them is securing the ongoing commitment of allies. But Paglia’s (and Sullivan’s) hysteria is another matter.

Among whom, exactly, has the U.S.’s reputation taken this alleged dramatic downturn? Spain; Iran and Syria, the enjoyment of whose friendships would be both a disgrace and a functional liability; the totalitarian Hugo Chavez, whose loathing the U.S. should wear as a badge of honor.

Canada’s conservative government continues to pledge troops to the Afghanistan fight, though there are some grumblings there about creeping American fascism. Yet these come from the same quarters that hold state-sponsored censorship hearings in the name of human rights.

There is, of course, the case of Vladimir Putin and Russia. But can the chill emanating from Moscow really be chalked up to cowboy diplomacy? If anything, George Bush has been too trusting and deferential towards the Russian president.

North Korea is everyone’s problem, and will remain so no matter who is in office, even if it’s Barack Obama.

It’s worth pointing out who likes us, too. The Brits under Brown are still fighting with us. France under Sarkozy has taken an unprecedentedly pro-American stance, even upping its contribution to active NATO forces in Afghanistan. Germany’s Angela Merkel is no longer cringing away from George Bush, as she was a couple of years back. Eastern Europe seems fairly content to have the U.S. erecting a protective missile shield there. Bush’s decision to share nuclear technology with India has ushered in a new age of economic and diplomatic comity with the sub-continent. U.S. aid to Africa over the past seven years has made Bush an adored personage continent-wide.

Yet unless you admit the sky is falling, Sullivan diagnoses you as delusional and moves on to the next Obama convert who “gets it,”who understands that Obama’s willingness to talk to everyone (and trade with no one) will repair America’s tattered image.

This is the bi-polar political impulse that’s characterized Sullivan’s work since 9/11. The Iraq War was the bravest, most thoughtful, most promising exercise of military might in modern history–until it was the biggest moral and strategic catastrophe America had ever seen. To find yourself in the path of Sullivan’s hyperbolic pendulum only means that you’ll find yourself there again when it swings from the other direction. In time, even I will presumably “get it.”

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Loose Nukes

One of the many things that keep me up at night — and anyone who thinks about the future of terrorism —  is the possibility of a nuclear detonation in New York or some other American city.  North Korea has a small arsenal of nuclear bombs, and tested one in October 2006. It did not explode; it merely fizzled, but perhaps its scientists have learned from the experience and future tests will be more successful. In any case, the cash-strapped country has both indicated and demonstrated a willingness to disseminate its nuclear technology to other rogue states, most recently, some evidence suggests, to Syria. (For a discussion of North Korean proliferation, see the pertinent section in this report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.)

Our own arsenal, of course, offers reason to worry, as the recent breakdown in control revealed in the Broken Arrow incident of last August makes clear. But the problem is of a different order of magnitude; preventing mishaps is vitally important, but the possibility of an authorized detonation, either deliberately or by accident, appears to be close to nil.

In response to my recent post on the surety of U.S. nuclear weapons, one of my sources in Washington pointed me to a Pentagon document summarizing dozens of accidents with U.S. nuclear weapons that occurred in the period 1950-1980.

The bad news is that even when great care is exercised, major accidents have happened. The good news is that even when these fearsome devices are subjected to unexpected shocks and the heat generated in fiery airplane crashes and the detonation of their high-explosive triggering devices, the nuclear core of these babies has never once exploded.�

One of the many things that keep me up at night — and anyone who thinks about the future of terrorism —  is the possibility of a nuclear detonation in New York or some other American city.  North Korea has a small arsenal of nuclear bombs, and tested one in October 2006. It did not explode; it merely fizzled, but perhaps its scientists have learned from the experience and future tests will be more successful. In any case, the cash-strapped country has both indicated and demonstrated a willingness to disseminate its nuclear technology to other rogue states, most recently, some evidence suggests, to Syria. (For a discussion of North Korean proliferation, see the pertinent section in this report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.)

Our own arsenal, of course, offers reason to worry, as the recent breakdown in control revealed in the Broken Arrow incident of last August makes clear. But the problem is of a different order of magnitude; preventing mishaps is vitally important, but the possibility of an authorized detonation, either deliberately or by accident, appears to be close to nil.

In response to my recent post on the surety of U.S. nuclear weapons, one of my sources in Washington pointed me to a Pentagon document summarizing dozens of accidents with U.S. nuclear weapons that occurred in the period 1950-1980.

The bad news is that even when great care is exercised, major accidents have happened. The good news is that even when these fearsome devices are subjected to unexpected shocks and the heat generated in fiery airplane crashes and the detonation of their high-explosive triggering devices, the nuclear core of these babies has never once exploded.�

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Why Are We Funding Bushehr?

Yesterday, John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, charged that a Department of Energy program is financially supporting two Russian institutes helping to build the Bushehr reactor in Iran, the country’s first nuclear generating station. The Bush administration has worked hard—and unsuccessfully—to stop Bushehr, which could be operating in a few months. “What policy logic justifies DOE funding Russian institutes which are providing nuclear technology to Iran?” Dingell asked in a letter to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. “How does this advance our non-proliferation goals?”

Good questions, Mr. Dingell. The program in question, the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, was created in 1994 to employ Russian scientists laid off after the end of the Cold War so they wouldn’t work for terrorist organizations or rogue states. Dingell cited two institutes funded by the program, Scientific Research Institute of Measuring Systems and the Federal Scientific and Industrial Center of Nuclear Machine Building.

The Department of Energy, through a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, denied the charges. “We are confident that none of the projects cited by the House committee, or any of the department’s scientist engagement projects with Russia, support nuclear work in Iran,” the NNSA stated. “In coordination with other U.S. government agencies, we take all measures necessary to ensure that neither money nor technology falls into the hands of countries of concern.”

Unfortunately, these days Washington and Moscow are not concerned about the same countries. We may think that Iran is exceedingly dangerous, but Russians apparently view that country as just another customer wanting to harness the atom for the good of humankind. Russia’s commercial relations with Iran, especially those involving the Bushehr plant, are one reason that Moscow is not willing to back meaningful sanctions in the United Nations Security Council.

There is another principal concern. It does not matter whether American funds are specifically earmarked for Iranian projects at those institutes. There is a problem if our money is going to those institutes for any purpose. Why? Because cash is fungible—any dollar that goes to an institute permits that organization to free up resources to help Iran. Moreover, Russian institutes seem to be thriving these days, so it’s high time to consider whether we should curtail our support of Russian nuclear scientists. “How many other Russian institutes funded by DOE are also performing work on the Iranian nuclear program?” Dingell’s letter asks. At present, we are paying for more than a hundred projects.

As Dingell noted this week, Federal law sanctions U.S. companies that develop Iranian oil. If we sanction our own companies, how can we assist Russian businesses that are hard at work furthering Tehran’s nuclear ambitions?

Yesterday, John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, charged that a Department of Energy program is financially supporting two Russian institutes helping to build the Bushehr reactor in Iran, the country’s first nuclear generating station. The Bush administration has worked hard—and unsuccessfully—to stop Bushehr, which could be operating in a few months. “What policy logic justifies DOE funding Russian institutes which are providing nuclear technology to Iran?” Dingell asked in a letter to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. “How does this advance our non-proliferation goals?”

Good questions, Mr. Dingell. The program in question, the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, was created in 1994 to employ Russian scientists laid off after the end of the Cold War so they wouldn’t work for terrorist organizations or rogue states. Dingell cited two institutes funded by the program, Scientific Research Institute of Measuring Systems and the Federal Scientific and Industrial Center of Nuclear Machine Building.

The Department of Energy, through a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, denied the charges. “We are confident that none of the projects cited by the House committee, or any of the department’s scientist engagement projects with Russia, support nuclear work in Iran,” the NNSA stated. “In coordination with other U.S. government agencies, we take all measures necessary to ensure that neither money nor technology falls into the hands of countries of concern.”

Unfortunately, these days Washington and Moscow are not concerned about the same countries. We may think that Iran is exceedingly dangerous, but Russians apparently view that country as just another customer wanting to harness the atom for the good of humankind. Russia’s commercial relations with Iran, especially those involving the Bushehr plant, are one reason that Moscow is not willing to back meaningful sanctions in the United Nations Security Council.

There is another principal concern. It does not matter whether American funds are specifically earmarked for Iranian projects at those institutes. There is a problem if our money is going to those institutes for any purpose. Why? Because cash is fungible—any dollar that goes to an institute permits that organization to free up resources to help Iran. Moreover, Russian institutes seem to be thriving these days, so it’s high time to consider whether we should curtail our support of Russian nuclear scientists. “How many other Russian institutes funded by DOE are also performing work on the Iranian nuclear program?” Dingell’s letter asks. At present, we are paying for more than a hundred projects.

As Dingell noted this week, Federal law sanctions U.S. companies that develop Iranian oil. If we sanction our own companies, how can we assist Russian businesses that are hard at work furthering Tehran’s nuclear ambitions?

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All the Falsehoods Fit to Print

What are we to make of President Bush’s final State of the Union Address? The New York Times has an answer. When it comes to Iraq, says the paper,

Mr. Bush’s annual addresses will be remembered most for his false claims — the fictitious “axis of evil,” nonexistent aluminum tubes and African uranium, dangerous weapons that did not exist. No President can want that as his legacy.

There’s a lot to unpack here. To begin with, is the “axis of evil” really “fictitious”? What is the Times driving at here? Perhaps it is quarreling with the use of the word “evil” to characterize North Korea, Iran, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. But if the editors of the Times do not regard these particular dictatorships as evil, than what is?

Alternatively, perhaps the paper is quarreling with the word “axis.” But Connecting the Dots seems to recall that it was only this past September when North Korea was observed supplying some sort of nuclear technology to Syria, a close ally of Iran. Some reports suggest that Israel seized the material in its raid on a Syrian facility that month. Doesn’t such proliferation activity — along with North Korea’s collaboration with Iran in the field of offensive missiles — make for an “axis”? If not, how does the Times define “axis”?

One might also ask in response to the Times editorial: was Iraq under Saddam Hussein part of an axis of evil? True, only scant and highly debatable evidence has emerged suggesting Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. But did he not have ties to al Qaeda, and isn’t al Qaeda evil?

Here is an October 2002 letter from CIA Director George Tenet to Senator Pat Roberts that is quite relevant:

We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda going back a decade.

Credible information indicates that Iraq and al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal non-aggression. Since Operation Enduring Freedom [the military operations that commenced shortly after September 11, 2001], we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al-Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad.

We have credible reporting that al-Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al-Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.

Iraq’s increasing support to extremist Palestinians, coupled with growing indications of a relationship with al Qaeda, suggest that Baghdad’s links to terrorists will increase, even absent U.S. military action (emphasis added).

How about the aluminum tubes? According to numerous reports, including in the Times itself, Iraq had acquired, or was in the process of acquiring, some 60,000 of them before the U.S. invasion. 60,000 doesn’t sound like “non-existent” to Connecting the Dots. The real issue, as the Times presumably knows but found inconvenient to say, was what the tubes were going to be used for, a nuclear program or a rocket program? As the Times also presumably knows, there was a vigorous debate inside the intelligence community about this question. 

How about the African uranium? Was that also “non-existent”? Here the Times is referring to Bush’s first State of the Union address in which he uttered the soon-to-be controversial sixteen words: “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Whatever the Times might now be insinuating in its editorial, every single one of those words is true. That is exactly what British intelligence had learned and exactly what it told the United States. Bush’s speech had been vetted by the CIA, which had left the sixteen words in.

Finally, there are the non-existent “dangerous weapons” referred to by the Times. But the newspaper itself was warning about Iraq’s “dangerous weapons” at the very same moment, and on the basis of roughly the same evidence, that Bush was relying on, when he made the allegedly “false claims.” The question is: were Bush’s statements about these weapons (and the Times’s statements) “false” or were they knowingly false? There is a world of difference between the two, which the Times editorial page elects to fudge.

No President, concludes the Times editorial, wants all these “false claims” as his legacy. But when the history of this period is written, it is the knowingly false claims found day after day on the editorial pages of the New York Times that will deserve a chapter of their own.

What are we to make of President Bush’s final State of the Union Address? The New York Times has an answer. When it comes to Iraq, says the paper,

Mr. Bush’s annual addresses will be remembered most for his false claims — the fictitious “axis of evil,” nonexistent aluminum tubes and African uranium, dangerous weapons that did not exist. No President can want that as his legacy.

There’s a lot to unpack here. To begin with, is the “axis of evil” really “fictitious”? What is the Times driving at here? Perhaps it is quarreling with the use of the word “evil” to characterize North Korea, Iran, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. But if the editors of the Times do not regard these particular dictatorships as evil, than what is?

Alternatively, perhaps the paper is quarreling with the word “axis.” But Connecting the Dots seems to recall that it was only this past September when North Korea was observed supplying some sort of nuclear technology to Syria, a close ally of Iran. Some reports suggest that Israel seized the material in its raid on a Syrian facility that month. Doesn’t such proliferation activity — along with North Korea’s collaboration with Iran in the field of offensive missiles — make for an “axis”? If not, how does the Times define “axis”?

One might also ask in response to the Times editorial: was Iraq under Saddam Hussein part of an axis of evil? True, only scant and highly debatable evidence has emerged suggesting Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. But did he not have ties to al Qaeda, and isn’t al Qaeda evil?

Here is an October 2002 letter from CIA Director George Tenet to Senator Pat Roberts that is quite relevant:

We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda going back a decade.

Credible information indicates that Iraq and al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal non-aggression. Since Operation Enduring Freedom [the military operations that commenced shortly after September 11, 2001], we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al-Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad.

We have credible reporting that al-Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al-Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.

Iraq’s increasing support to extremist Palestinians, coupled with growing indications of a relationship with al Qaeda, suggest that Baghdad’s links to terrorists will increase, even absent U.S. military action (emphasis added).

How about the aluminum tubes? According to numerous reports, including in the Times itself, Iraq had acquired, or was in the process of acquiring, some 60,000 of them before the U.S. invasion. 60,000 doesn’t sound like “non-existent” to Connecting the Dots. The real issue, as the Times presumably knows but found inconvenient to say, was what the tubes were going to be used for, a nuclear program or a rocket program? As the Times also presumably knows, there was a vigorous debate inside the intelligence community about this question. 

How about the African uranium? Was that also “non-existent”? Here the Times is referring to Bush’s first State of the Union address in which he uttered the soon-to-be controversial sixteen words: “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Whatever the Times might now be insinuating in its editorial, every single one of those words is true. That is exactly what British intelligence had learned and exactly what it told the United States. Bush’s speech had been vetted by the CIA, which had left the sixteen words in.

Finally, there are the non-existent “dangerous weapons” referred to by the Times. But the newspaper itself was warning about Iraq’s “dangerous weapons” at the very same moment, and on the basis of roughly the same evidence, that Bush was relying on, when he made the allegedly “false claims.” The question is: were Bush’s statements about these weapons (and the Times’s statements) “false” or were they knowingly false? There is a world of difference between the two, which the Times editorial page elects to fudge.

No President, concludes the Times editorial, wants all these “false claims” as his legacy. But when the history of this period is written, it is the knowingly false claims found day after day on the editorial pages of the New York Times that will deserve a chapter of their own.

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Why Was Ronnie Kasrils in Iran?

In today’s Business Day of South Africa, Paul Moorcraft of the British Centre for Policy Analysis raises some troubling questions about South Africa’s nuclear program (thanks to Joel Pollak for the link). contentions readers may recall that Gabriel Schoenfeld raised questions about a break-in at South Africa’s Pelindaba nuclear facility back in December, a story which appeared on page A29 of the Washington Post.

Moorcraft cites a new book by the journalist A.J. Venter:

Venter also sheds new light on the extent of SA’s post-apartheid deals in missile and nuclear technology. He makes the startling claim that SA, which dismantled its six nukes under international auspices, is considering renewing its nuclear arsenal. Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, “a card-carrying, outspokenly anti-Israel Jewish member of the South African Communist Party”, in Venter’s words, allegedly briefed his intelligence staff in Pretoria that a nuclear-armed SA would propel the country to the forefront of African politics and “be able to look after itself in the event of serious trouble”.

Kasrils is more than just an “outspokenly anti-Israel” member of the African National Congress. He is the most high-profile and prolific slanderer of Israel in South Africa. I wrote about Kasrils, in the broader context of South Africa’s troubling direction towards an anti-Western foreign policy, in last summer’s Azure. It appears that Iran is looking in the most unlikely of places to gain the materials necessary for strengthening its nuclear capability:

Venter’s evidence bolsters the conventional wisdom that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. In the intelligence world, threat is calculated as capability plus intention. The crude statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about destroying Israel grafts open intention on to the feared future capability. Iran has been shopping all over the world, so the South African connection, although worrying to western intelligence, is relatively small compared with the bigger players, such as Pakistan and North Korea.

As Pollak rightly surmises, “Perhaps we now know why Kasrils and other senior South African government officials have been visiting Iran in recent months.”

In today’s Business Day of South Africa, Paul Moorcraft of the British Centre for Policy Analysis raises some troubling questions about South Africa’s nuclear program (thanks to Joel Pollak for the link). contentions readers may recall that Gabriel Schoenfeld raised questions about a break-in at South Africa’s Pelindaba nuclear facility back in December, a story which appeared on page A29 of the Washington Post.

Moorcraft cites a new book by the journalist A.J. Venter:

Venter also sheds new light on the extent of SA’s post-apartheid deals in missile and nuclear technology. He makes the startling claim that SA, which dismantled its six nukes under international auspices, is considering renewing its nuclear arsenal. Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, “a card-carrying, outspokenly anti-Israel Jewish member of the South African Communist Party”, in Venter’s words, allegedly briefed his intelligence staff in Pretoria that a nuclear-armed SA would propel the country to the forefront of African politics and “be able to look after itself in the event of serious trouble”.

Kasrils is more than just an “outspokenly anti-Israel” member of the African National Congress. He is the most high-profile and prolific slanderer of Israel in South Africa. I wrote about Kasrils, in the broader context of South Africa’s troubling direction towards an anti-Western foreign policy, in last summer’s Azure. It appears that Iran is looking in the most unlikely of places to gain the materials necessary for strengthening its nuclear capability:

Venter’s evidence bolsters the conventional wisdom that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. In the intelligence world, threat is calculated as capability plus intention. The crude statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about destroying Israel grafts open intention on to the feared future capability. Iran has been shopping all over the world, so the South African connection, although worrying to western intelligence, is relatively small compared with the bigger players, such as Pakistan and North Korea.

As Pollak rightly surmises, “Perhaps we now know why Kasrils and other senior South African government officials have been visiting Iran in recent months.”

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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.

Read More

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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Should We “Engage”?

Since the release of the NIE summary on December 3, the case for engagement with Iran has grown in strength again. While engagement has been the principled tool for Western diplomacy with Tehran, has it worked?

Russia is engaging Tehran by providing them with nuclear technology and arms deals. Europe is engaging Iran through dialogue and trade. Saudi Arabia is engaging Iran through invitations to the hajj and diplomatic meetings. Turkey is engaging Tehran much in the same way—trade and talks. The Gulf States are also engaging Tehran. And so is Egypt—despite the lack of diplomatic ties since 1979: according to Iranian sources, Ali Larijani was just there on a visit and cultural ties are deepening. Even the U.S. has engaged Iran—though on a limited basis—over Iraq.

Now, Iranian Foreign Minister, Manuchehr Mottaki, has rebuffed the U.S. after Condoleezza Rice’s latest overture to Tehran, urging the U.S. to change its tone. Tehran’s latest rejection should come as no surprise, given Iran’s consistent rebuff of such offers, beginning with their negative response to the P5+1 in June 2006.

There has been plenty of engagement with Tehran since its nuclear program was exposed in August 2002. The only thing that engagement yielded so far is more time for Tehran to achieve its nuclear ambitions. Still, after the NIE’s publication, some seem more convinced than ever that engagement is the only way forward. They should think twice.

The NIE says very clearly that Iran was busy building a nuclear weapon in 2003. That was not the time of Mahdi-believing isolationist hardliners like current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was the height of Western engagement with Tehran, when Mohammad Khatami, then president of Iran, was promoting his “dialogue of civilizations”—while building a nuke under cover. If that is what engagement was yielding in 2003, what exactly is the evidence that engagement today would yield more positive results?

Since the release of the NIE summary on December 3, the case for engagement with Iran has grown in strength again. While engagement has been the principled tool for Western diplomacy with Tehran, has it worked?

Russia is engaging Tehran by providing them with nuclear technology and arms deals. Europe is engaging Iran through dialogue and trade. Saudi Arabia is engaging Iran through invitations to the hajj and diplomatic meetings. Turkey is engaging Tehran much in the same way—trade and talks. The Gulf States are also engaging Tehran. And so is Egypt—despite the lack of diplomatic ties since 1979: according to Iranian sources, Ali Larijani was just there on a visit and cultural ties are deepening. Even the U.S. has engaged Iran—though on a limited basis—over Iraq.

Now, Iranian Foreign Minister, Manuchehr Mottaki, has rebuffed the U.S. after Condoleezza Rice’s latest overture to Tehran, urging the U.S. to change its tone. Tehran’s latest rejection should come as no surprise, given Iran’s consistent rebuff of such offers, beginning with their negative response to the P5+1 in June 2006.

There has been plenty of engagement with Tehran since its nuclear program was exposed in August 2002. The only thing that engagement yielded so far is more time for Tehran to achieve its nuclear ambitions. Still, after the NIE’s publication, some seem more convinced than ever that engagement is the only way forward. They should think twice.

The NIE says very clearly that Iran was busy building a nuclear weapon in 2003. That was not the time of Mahdi-believing isolationist hardliners like current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was the height of Western engagement with Tehran, when Mohammad Khatami, then president of Iran, was promoting his “dialogue of civilizations”—while building a nuke under cover. If that is what engagement was yielding in 2003, what exactly is the evidence that engagement today would yield more positive results?

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