Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nuri al-Maliki

Has Iran’s Maliki Ploy Hooked Obama?

After several years of vowing to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, President Obama has painted himself into a corner. Every one of his diplomatic initiatives intended to persuade or pressure the Iranians into halting their nuclear quest have failed ignominiously. From his laughable attempt at “engagement” to his assembling of an international coalition in support of sanctions on Iran to the latest failure of the P5+1 talks, the result has always followed the same pattern. The Iranians always welcome each new attempt at outreach, allow the United States to invest time and effort in the effort, and then, like the Peanuts cartoon character Lucy invariably did to Charlie Brown, snatch the football away just when the U.S. thought it was about to reach its goal. But experience is only helpful if you are willing to learn from your mistakes, and it looks as if the administration is about to play Charlie Brown again.

The election of a new supposedly moderate president was already being used by those who were eager to go down the garden path with Iran as an excuse for more pointless diplomacy, but now it appears that Tehran is using its close ally in charge of Iraq to convince the United States that it’s ready for direct talks. As the New York Times reports this morning, Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki was the conduit for a message from the ayatollahs that they were ready to open up a new round of nuclear negotiations. But in the absence of any change in Iran’s position on the issue in hand, the eagerness of the administration to jump at the chance for direct talks says more about their desire to avoid having to make good on the president’s promise than it does about the possibility of actually stopping the nuclear threat. The odds that this scheme is anything other than one more Iranian ruse designed to win them more time to build their program are slim.

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After several years of vowing to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, President Obama has painted himself into a corner. Every one of his diplomatic initiatives intended to persuade or pressure the Iranians into halting their nuclear quest have failed ignominiously. From his laughable attempt at “engagement” to his assembling of an international coalition in support of sanctions on Iran to the latest failure of the P5+1 talks, the result has always followed the same pattern. The Iranians always welcome each new attempt at outreach, allow the United States to invest time and effort in the effort, and then, like the Peanuts cartoon character Lucy invariably did to Charlie Brown, snatch the football away just when the U.S. thought it was about to reach its goal. But experience is only helpful if you are willing to learn from your mistakes, and it looks as if the administration is about to play Charlie Brown again.

The election of a new supposedly moderate president was already being used by those who were eager to go down the garden path with Iran as an excuse for more pointless diplomacy, but now it appears that Tehran is using its close ally in charge of Iraq to convince the United States that it’s ready for direct talks. As the New York Times reports this morning, Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki was the conduit for a message from the ayatollahs that they were ready to open up a new round of nuclear negotiations. But in the absence of any change in Iran’s position on the issue in hand, the eagerness of the administration to jump at the chance for direct talks says more about their desire to avoid having to make good on the president’s promise than it does about the possibility of actually stopping the nuclear threat. The odds that this scheme is anything other than one more Iranian ruse designed to win them more time to build their program are slim.

Maliki is in the unique position of being friendly with both the U.S. and Iran and his involvement in the setup is likely to lend credence to the initiative in Washington’s eyes. That is especially true since, according to the Times, Maliki is claiming that his information about the regime’s thinking comes from the inner circle of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and not from those close to new President Hassan Rowhani, who lacks real power.

However, the Iranians’ goal, as they made clear during the most recent round of negotiations with the West, is not to achieve even a favorable compromise that would enable them to retain their nuclear program–as might have happened had they followed through with administration’s 2009 attempt to forge an agreement on nuclear fuel that they eventually reneged on. All Tehran wants is a respite from the sanctions that, while not impeding its ability or desire to continue nuclear research and development, have harmed its economy and lowered the Iranian people’s standard of living. Obama has shown himself eager to make a deal on terms that while technically making an Iranian weapon impossible would leave in place a nuclear program that would, with the inevitable cheating and deceptions that will follow such negotiations, lead in the long run to the same result that the world has been trying to forestall.

The Iranians are past masters of manipulating the United States. They’ve been doing it to the West since long before Obama became president. For more than a decade, Khamenei has risked his nation’s economy and deepened its diplomatic isolation in order to achieve its nuclear ambition. Everything he and his regime have done and said would lead any rational person to believe that Iran is merely looking to play the same game again and to prolong negotiations—or, rather, the pretense of negotiations—for as long as possible.

President Obama’s willingness to embrace this latest plot as an actual chance for a solution is a crucial hint that tells us he is inching his way back toward a policy of containment of a nuclear Iran despite his campaign promise (issued at the 2012 annual conference of AIPAC) never to do so. Should the U.S. fall for the Maliki ploy hook, line, and sinker as it appears to be doing, it will involve what may be many months, if not more than a year, of more dead-end talks that will leave us back in the same position we are in today. The only difference is that by then it may be too late to credibly use the threat of force—which Obama insists is still on the table—in order to prevent Iran from going nuclear.

Observing the way the U.S. appears to be falling in line with the machinations of Iran’s leaders is like watching a car wreck in slow motion. We know there is little doubt about the outcome but still somehow hope against hope that it can be prevented. If President Obama truly intends to keep his word on Iran, this may be the last chance for him to alter course. If he doesn’t, there may be no turning back.

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Daqduq’s Release

I largely agree with Max Boot’s post from Friday evening. Hezbollah operative Ali Musa Daqduq’s release from an Iraqi prison and apparent return to Lebanon is a rebuff for President Barack Obama. Certainly, his release is a sign of Iranian pressure on both Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki personally and on Iraq in general. While it’s easy to blame Maliki, with American forces withdrawn and so little ability to counter Iranian pressure, his options were limited. Certainly, he might have extradited Daqduq, but having been thrown to the Iranian wolves, doing so might have engendered a response Maliki feared more than Joe Biden’s bluster. For what it’s worth, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement here explaining its decision.

Let me say that I hope there is a Predator with Daqduq’s name on it. If a targeted assassination happens to take out his known associates, all the better. Let’s hope that the intelligence community has the ability to track Daqduq, and that Obama has the wherewithal to order such a strike. The alternative would be waiting around until, with tongue firmly in cheek, Islamist mobs again become enraged at a YouTube video and spontaneously conduct a man-made disaster.

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I largely agree with Max Boot’s post from Friday evening. Hezbollah operative Ali Musa Daqduq’s release from an Iraqi prison and apparent return to Lebanon is a rebuff for President Barack Obama. Certainly, his release is a sign of Iranian pressure on both Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki personally and on Iraq in general. While it’s easy to blame Maliki, with American forces withdrawn and so little ability to counter Iranian pressure, his options were limited. Certainly, he might have extradited Daqduq, but having been thrown to the Iranian wolves, doing so might have engendered a response Maliki feared more than Joe Biden’s bluster. For what it’s worth, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement here explaining its decision.

Let me say that I hope there is a Predator with Daqduq’s name on it. If a targeted assassination happens to take out his known associates, all the better. Let’s hope that the intelligence community has the ability to track Daqduq, and that Obama has the wherewithal to order such a strike. The alternative would be waiting around until, with tongue firmly in cheek, Islamist mobs again become enraged at a YouTube video and spontaneously conduct a man-made disaster.

Rather than wring hands with outrage at Maliki—any Iraqi prime minister in the same position would likely make the same decision, even Ayad Allawi—the question that the American audience and someone in Congress should ask is why, if the United States wanted to try Daqduq for terrorism and murder, they would not just keep him in the first place. That is certainly a quip I heard from Maliki’s inner circle last month in Baghdad. State Department and Pentagon lawyers might fall over themselves talking about the letter of law and process, but by doing so they lost track of the greater American interest for an artificial and debatable intellectual point.

When lawyers lose perspective and a sense of scale, American national security suffers. Iraq didn’t want to be caught in the middle. Had we simply kept Daqduq, as we should have, they would have shrugged their shoulders and told their Iranian neighbors that he was no longer Iraq’s problem. There is, of course, a certain hypocrisy as well when the Americans urge the Iraqis to cast aside their own judicial process, however flawed it might have been, when the Americans could have resolved the situation just as easily. The simple fact is this: President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and Secretary of Defense Panetta had a choice: Keep Daqduq or let him go. They chose the latter, just as much as Maliki did. And for that, they are just as culpable as the Iraqi leader.

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Terrorist Release is Rebuff for Obama

The loathsome Ali Musa Daqduq, a senior Hezbollah operative who engineered the kidnapping and killing of five American soldiers in Iraq in 2007, is reportedly back in Beirut, no doubt basking in his new-found freedom to plan fresh terrorist outrages. His release from Iraqi custody, while not unexpected, is nevertheless dismaying. The U.S., after having released all other detainees, turned him over last to Iraqi custody in 2011 hoping against hope that the Iraqis could somehow be persuaded to keep him locked up. Fat chance.

What makes the whole situation really pathetic is that Vice President Biden called Prime Minister Maliki in recent days pleading for Daqduq not to be released. The fact that he was set free anyway is hardly a sign of Maliki’s respect for the rule of law. It is a sign of how little influence the U.S. now wields in Iraq and how much influence Iran now has. Daqduq, after all, was in Iraq working for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to train Shiite militants to attack U.S. personnel. His release is a big victory for Iran and a big defeat for the United States.

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The loathsome Ali Musa Daqduq, a senior Hezbollah operative who engineered the kidnapping and killing of five American soldiers in Iraq in 2007, is reportedly back in Beirut, no doubt basking in his new-found freedom to plan fresh terrorist outrages. His release from Iraqi custody, while not unexpected, is nevertheless dismaying. The U.S., after having released all other detainees, turned him over last to Iraqi custody in 2011 hoping against hope that the Iraqis could somehow be persuaded to keep him locked up. Fat chance.

What makes the whole situation really pathetic is that Vice President Biden called Prime Minister Maliki in recent days pleading for Daqduq not to be released. The fact that he was set free anyway is hardly a sign of Maliki’s respect for the rule of law. It is a sign of how little influence the U.S. now wields in Iraq and how much influence Iran now has. Daqduq, after all, was in Iraq working for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to train Shiite militants to attack U.S. personnel. His release is a big victory for Iran and a big defeat for the United States.

If President Obama is chagrined about the outcome, he had no one to blame but himself. His failure to make a serious push to maintain U.S. forces in Iraq past 2011 means that our influence over that country’s future is marginal. There is little, alas, we can do as Iraq aligns itself more closely with Iran and against our interests in the region.

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An About-Face, Finally

After publicly bashing the Afghan government for months, airing their doubts as to whether we have a reliable “partner,” and stalling a decision about the troops while the election was redone (but not really, as the challenger dropped out), the Obami have decided to be nice, or nicer, at any rate, to the government we are trying to stabilize. The Washington Post reports:

As President Obama nears a decision on how many more troops he will dispatch to Afghanistan, his top diplomats and generals are abandoning for now their get-tough tactics with Karzai and attempting to forge a far warmer relationship. They recognize that their initial strategy may have done more harm than good, fueling stress and anger in a beleaguered, conspiracy-minded leader whom the U.S. government needs as a partner.

“It’s not sustainable to have a ‘War of the Roses’ relationship here, where . . . we basically throw things at each other,” said another senior administration official . . .

The tension in the relationship stems from the cumulative impact of several White House decisions that were intended to improve the quality of the Afghan government. When Obama became president, he discontinued his predecessor’s practice of holding bimonthly video conferences with Karzai. Obama granted wide latitude to the hard-charging Holbrooke to pressure Karzai to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that have fueled the Taliban’s rise. The administration also indicated that it wanted many candidates to challenge Karzai in the August presidential election.

It turns out that the bullying routine was about as successful in Afghanistan as it has been in the Middle East. But don’t expect much self-reflection. Hillary Clinton is now tasked with the charm offensive. We learn: “As Mr. Karzai begins his new term, Mrs. Clinton has worked to avoid a hectoring tone in her public comments about him. American officials had done too much of that in the past, she said.” The past, meaning the past few months, I suppose.

Once again it seems as though we are having to relearn the lessons of Iraq. There, too, Democrats sneered at the government as hopeless and at its prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, as ineffectual and inept. With the success of the surge and the breathing room to establish a functioning civil government, that perception has changed. And likewise, in Afghanistan, the Obami may be learning belatedly (because they have chosen not to extract any meaningful lessons from the Iraq war, which they were ready to lose) that we actually need to bolster the native government if we hope to defeat our mutual enemy. You’d think smart diplomats would have figured this out much sooner.

After publicly bashing the Afghan government for months, airing their doubts as to whether we have a reliable “partner,” and stalling a decision about the troops while the election was redone (but not really, as the challenger dropped out), the Obami have decided to be nice, or nicer, at any rate, to the government we are trying to stabilize. The Washington Post reports:

As President Obama nears a decision on how many more troops he will dispatch to Afghanistan, his top diplomats and generals are abandoning for now their get-tough tactics with Karzai and attempting to forge a far warmer relationship. They recognize that their initial strategy may have done more harm than good, fueling stress and anger in a beleaguered, conspiracy-minded leader whom the U.S. government needs as a partner.

“It’s not sustainable to have a ‘War of the Roses’ relationship here, where . . . we basically throw things at each other,” said another senior administration official . . .

The tension in the relationship stems from the cumulative impact of several White House decisions that were intended to improve the quality of the Afghan government. When Obama became president, he discontinued his predecessor’s practice of holding bimonthly video conferences with Karzai. Obama granted wide latitude to the hard-charging Holbrooke to pressure Karzai to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that have fueled the Taliban’s rise. The administration also indicated that it wanted many candidates to challenge Karzai in the August presidential election.

It turns out that the bullying routine was about as successful in Afghanistan as it has been in the Middle East. But don’t expect much self-reflection. Hillary Clinton is now tasked with the charm offensive. We learn: “As Mr. Karzai begins his new term, Mrs. Clinton has worked to avoid a hectoring tone in her public comments about him. American officials had done too much of that in the past, she said.” The past, meaning the past few months, I suppose.

Once again it seems as though we are having to relearn the lessons of Iraq. There, too, Democrats sneered at the government as hopeless and at its prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, as ineffectual and inept. With the success of the surge and the breathing room to establish a functioning civil government, that perception has changed. And likewise, in Afghanistan, the Obami may be learning belatedly (because they have chosen not to extract any meaningful lessons from the Iraq war, which they were ready to lose) that we actually need to bolster the native government if we hope to defeat our mutual enemy. You’d think smart diplomats would have figured this out much sooner.

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