Commentary Magazine


Topic: Robert Gates

RE: Martin Indyk Tries Out His Israel Bashing

Jen, let me add a footnote to your discussion of Martin Indyk’s article, in which he concluded that, “[f]rom Obama’s perspective, a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb had dealt the United States a strategic setback.” Indyk wrote that the reason Netanyahu’s public apology “doesn’t begin to address the real problem” is that deferring building announcements and other “provocative” actions became for Obama “the litmus test of Netanyahu’s commitment to the common cause of curbing Iran’s nuclear enthusiasm.”

Put aside the question of whether a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb can be a “strategic setback” – and whether it was wise for Obama to treat it as one. Put aside the question of what kind of strategy would depend on stopping further housing in a longstanding Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem — a neighborhood that will be retained by Israel in any conceivable peace agreement. Put aside the question of whether pre-negotiation concessions should be demanded of one side but not the other — and demanded from the side that already made an unprecedented pre-negotiation concession unmatched by the other side.

The real point about the “strategic setback” is that you cannot have a setback if you don’t have a strategy. Does anyone think the reason for the failure of Obama’s year-long “engagement” with Iran was Netanyahu’s failure to agree to a one-sided pre-negotiation freeze beyond a 10-month moratorium in the West Bank? Or that it was the reason Obama has been unable, after four months of effort, to get Iranian sanctions even on the Security Council agenda, much less adopted? Or that sanctions would have been crippling if Israel had just made more concessions — or that the decisions of Russia and China are in any way affected by them? Or that Arab states will support strong action against Iran if building stops in Jerusalem, but not if it doesn’t? As Youssef Ibrahmim’s perceptive article today at the New York Sun indicates, many Arab commentators have themselves indicated that the Palestinian issue is a secondary concern.

Robert Gates sent a memorandum to the president in January reportedly warning that there was no Iran strategy in place. Whether or not it was a “wake-up call” then, or simply a normal planning memo, whoever leaked it now obviously thinks that four months later there is still no strategy in place. The coming setback will have nothing to do with a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb.

Jen, let me add a footnote to your discussion of Martin Indyk’s article, in which he concluded that, “[f]rom Obama’s perspective, a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb had dealt the United States a strategic setback.” Indyk wrote that the reason Netanyahu’s public apology “doesn’t begin to address the real problem” is that deferring building announcements and other “provocative” actions became for Obama “the litmus test of Netanyahu’s commitment to the common cause of curbing Iran’s nuclear enthusiasm.”

Put aside the question of whether a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb can be a “strategic setback” – and whether it was wise for Obama to treat it as one. Put aside the question of what kind of strategy would depend on stopping further housing in a longstanding Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem — a neighborhood that will be retained by Israel in any conceivable peace agreement. Put aside the question of whether pre-negotiation concessions should be demanded of one side but not the other — and demanded from the side that already made an unprecedented pre-negotiation concession unmatched by the other side.

The real point about the “strategic setback” is that you cannot have a setback if you don’t have a strategy. Does anyone think the reason for the failure of Obama’s year-long “engagement” with Iran was Netanyahu’s failure to agree to a one-sided pre-negotiation freeze beyond a 10-month moratorium in the West Bank? Or that it was the reason Obama has been unable, after four months of effort, to get Iranian sanctions even on the Security Council agenda, much less adopted? Or that sanctions would have been crippling if Israel had just made more concessions — or that the decisions of Russia and China are in any way affected by them? Or that Arab states will support strong action against Iran if building stops in Jerusalem, but not if it doesn’t? As Youssef Ibrahmim’s perceptive article today at the New York Sun indicates, many Arab commentators have themselves indicated that the Palestinian issue is a secondary concern.

Robert Gates sent a memorandum to the president in January reportedly warning that there was no Iran strategy in place. Whether or not it was a “wake-up call” then, or simply a normal planning memo, whoever leaked it now obviously thinks that four months later there is still no strategy in place. The coming setback will have nothing to do with a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb.

Read Less

Israel Prepares for the Enemy It Faces

In contrast with the Obama administration, which perpetually talks down the potential for a military strike, Israeli officials are beginning to talk openly about such action. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Israeli security establishment is divided over whether it needs Washington’s blessing if Israel decides to attack Iran, Israeli officials say, as the U.S. campaign for sanctions drags on and Tehran steadily develops greater nuclear capability.

Some senior Israeli officials say in interviews that they see signs Washington may be willing to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, an eventuality that Israel says it won’t accept. Compounding Israeli concerns were U.S. statements this past weekend that underscored U.S. resistance to a military option. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday discussed a memo to National Security Adviser James Jones warning that the U.S. needed new strategies, including how to contain a nuclear Iran—suggesting that Iran could reach nuclear capability without any foreign military force trying to stop it.

Until now Bibi has played along both with the Obama engagement gambit and the sanctions effort, but we now hear that “Israeli officials have increasingly voiced frustration over the slow pace of diplomatic efforts to get sanctions in place.” We are, after all, running out of time. The concern for the Israelis tells us much about the state of U.S.-Israel relations and the real weak link in going after Iranian nuclear capabilities:

Many Israeli military experts say Israel can easily cope with any military retaliation by Iran in response to a strike. Iran’s medium-range rockets would cause damage and casualties in Israel, but they aren’t very accurate, and Israel’s sophisticated missile-defense system would likely knock many out midflight. Israel has similarly proved it can handle attacks against Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas. Israel also hosts a contingent of U.S. troops attached to a radar system to help give early warning against incoming rocket attacks.

More worrying to Israeli strategic planners examining possible attack scenarios is the possibility that Iran would respond to an Israeli attack by ramping up support to groups battling U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to recently retired officials familiar with the military’s thinking on Iran. If American soldiers start dying in greater numbers as a result of an Israeli unilateral attack, Americans could turn against Israel.

The debate and planning go on within Israel, which, unlike the U.S. president, does not have the luxury of procrastination or the ability to wish away the looming threat it faces.

Meanwhile, a newly released unclassified report on Iran’s military and terrorist activities is worth a read, especially the description of its foreign policy goals and tools — “diplomacy, economic leverage, soft power, and active sponsorship of terrorist and paramilitary groups are the tools Iran uses to drive its aggressive foreign policy.” Left unsaid is the lunacy of expecting that such a regime would voluntarily — unless its survival were threatened — give up the most powerful tools it could acquire: nuclear weapons. Also of note is the section on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qod Forces, which are “well established in the Middle East and North Africa, and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela.” The report also details “Iranian Support to Terrorists and Regional Military Groups” — the very sorts of groups Obama said he is most concerned might acquire a nuclear weapon.

So the gap between the Israelis’ planning and ours is vast, as is the mismatch between the nature of the Iranian regime and our chosen strategy for thwarting its nuclear ambitions. Whatever the merits and risks of a military strike, at least Israel is focused on the real world that confronts it and an enemy determined to use every weapon to undermine and destroy the Jewish state. As for the United States, our meandering, slow walk through engagement and toward itty-bitty sanctions seems spectacularly unsuited to blocking the ambitions of the regime described in the report.

In contrast with the Obama administration, which perpetually talks down the potential for a military strike, Israeli officials are beginning to talk openly about such action. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Israeli security establishment is divided over whether it needs Washington’s blessing if Israel decides to attack Iran, Israeli officials say, as the U.S. campaign for sanctions drags on and Tehran steadily develops greater nuclear capability.

Some senior Israeli officials say in interviews that they see signs Washington may be willing to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, an eventuality that Israel says it won’t accept. Compounding Israeli concerns were U.S. statements this past weekend that underscored U.S. resistance to a military option. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday discussed a memo to National Security Adviser James Jones warning that the U.S. needed new strategies, including how to contain a nuclear Iran—suggesting that Iran could reach nuclear capability without any foreign military force trying to stop it.

Until now Bibi has played along both with the Obama engagement gambit and the sanctions effort, but we now hear that “Israeli officials have increasingly voiced frustration over the slow pace of diplomatic efforts to get sanctions in place.” We are, after all, running out of time. The concern for the Israelis tells us much about the state of U.S.-Israel relations and the real weak link in going after Iranian nuclear capabilities:

Many Israeli military experts say Israel can easily cope with any military retaliation by Iran in response to a strike. Iran’s medium-range rockets would cause damage and casualties in Israel, but they aren’t very accurate, and Israel’s sophisticated missile-defense system would likely knock many out midflight. Israel has similarly proved it can handle attacks against Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas. Israel also hosts a contingent of U.S. troops attached to a radar system to help give early warning against incoming rocket attacks.

More worrying to Israeli strategic planners examining possible attack scenarios is the possibility that Iran would respond to an Israeli attack by ramping up support to groups battling U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to recently retired officials familiar with the military’s thinking on Iran. If American soldiers start dying in greater numbers as a result of an Israeli unilateral attack, Americans could turn against Israel.

The debate and planning go on within Israel, which, unlike the U.S. president, does not have the luxury of procrastination or the ability to wish away the looming threat it faces.

Meanwhile, a newly released unclassified report on Iran’s military and terrorist activities is worth a read, especially the description of its foreign policy goals and tools — “diplomacy, economic leverage, soft power, and active sponsorship of terrorist and paramilitary groups are the tools Iran uses to drive its aggressive foreign policy.” Left unsaid is the lunacy of expecting that such a regime would voluntarily — unless its survival were threatened — give up the most powerful tools it could acquire: nuclear weapons. Also of note is the section on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qod Forces, which are “well established in the Middle East and North Africa, and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela.” The report also details “Iranian Support to Terrorists and Regional Military Groups” — the very sorts of groups Obama said he is most concerned might acquire a nuclear weapon.

So the gap between the Israelis’ planning and ours is vast, as is the mismatch between the nature of the Iranian regime and our chosen strategy for thwarting its nuclear ambitions. Whatever the merits and risks of a military strike, at least Israel is focused on the real world that confronts it and an enemy determined to use every weapon to undermine and destroy the Jewish state. As for the United States, our meandering, slow walk through engagement and toward itty-bitty sanctions seems spectacularly unsuited to blocking the ambitions of the regime described in the report.

Read Less

They Doth Protest Too Much — or Not Enough

Robert Gibbs went nuts over the New York Times story reporting that Robert Gates had sent a memo to the president in January warning that the administration lacked an adequate plan to prevent Iran from going nuclear. He claimed the Times didn’t have the entire memo and that the reporter took Gates’ warning out of context. But of course Gibbs didn’t release the memo or read from it; he only pointed to Gates’s damage-control statement after the fact. Gibbs went to great lengths to stress that the memo really didn’t set anyone’s “hair on fire.” Well, I’m sure this crowd never finds it hair-inflaming when someone points out that its Iran policy lacks seriousness.

As Peter Feaver points out, the damage control was less reassuring than the original memo:

The original story had Gates warning his administration counterparts in January that their Iran strategy was failing and that they needed to scrutinize more carefully military contingency options. … More to the point, what is alleged to be in the Gates memo is true, almost inarguably so: after a year of patient effort, President Obama’s Iran strategy was failing and showed little prospect of actually deflecting the Iranian nuclear trajectory. At that time, the administration’s Plan A of unconditional outreach to Iran had clearly failed, the administration was walking back from its stated Plan B of “crushing sanctions,” and many observers were beginning to talk about Plan C as “learning to live with the Iranian bomb.”

So the original story amounted to this: the most impressive member of President Obama’s Cabinet sent around a memo describing fairly and accurately the perilous condition of one of the administration’s most important national security initiatives. I can understand why the administration didn’t like the story, but I would have been far more worried if the story was untrue.

The real question is why the American Jewish community and Congress aren’t more alarmed about the absence of anything approaching a viable plan to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. If the administration is ho-hum, the rest of the foreign policy establishment, Congress, and American Jewish leaders aren’t exhibiting much more urgency. The sanctions bill is in a holding pattern, Congress is meandering through financial regulation and climate legislation, and from Jewish officialdom we’ve yet to hear more than politely worded letters suggesting it’s time to get going on sanctions.

We’re told Iran could be a year away from a nuclear weapon, and we still have no sanctions (crippling or otherwise) on the table. The administration has spent quite a bit more time trying to restrain Israel from acting. (How many trips have U.S. officials made to Israel for this purpose? Many, I would venture.) What it should have been doing is rallying public opinion and devising a feasible plan — military or otherwise — that would block the mullahs from acquiring a nuclear weapon. So if Gibbs says the memo didn’t raise many eyebrows — why not? And what are Israel’s supporters going to do about it?

Robert Gibbs went nuts over the New York Times story reporting that Robert Gates had sent a memo to the president in January warning that the administration lacked an adequate plan to prevent Iran from going nuclear. He claimed the Times didn’t have the entire memo and that the reporter took Gates’ warning out of context. But of course Gibbs didn’t release the memo or read from it; he only pointed to Gates’s damage-control statement after the fact. Gibbs went to great lengths to stress that the memo really didn’t set anyone’s “hair on fire.” Well, I’m sure this crowd never finds it hair-inflaming when someone points out that its Iran policy lacks seriousness.

As Peter Feaver points out, the damage control was less reassuring than the original memo:

The original story had Gates warning his administration counterparts in January that their Iran strategy was failing and that they needed to scrutinize more carefully military contingency options. … More to the point, what is alleged to be in the Gates memo is true, almost inarguably so: after a year of patient effort, President Obama’s Iran strategy was failing and showed little prospect of actually deflecting the Iranian nuclear trajectory. At that time, the administration’s Plan A of unconditional outreach to Iran had clearly failed, the administration was walking back from its stated Plan B of “crushing sanctions,” and many observers were beginning to talk about Plan C as “learning to live with the Iranian bomb.”

So the original story amounted to this: the most impressive member of President Obama’s Cabinet sent around a memo describing fairly and accurately the perilous condition of one of the administration’s most important national security initiatives. I can understand why the administration didn’t like the story, but I would have been far more worried if the story was untrue.

The real question is why the American Jewish community and Congress aren’t more alarmed about the absence of anything approaching a viable plan to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. If the administration is ho-hum, the rest of the foreign policy establishment, Congress, and American Jewish leaders aren’t exhibiting much more urgency. The sanctions bill is in a holding pattern, Congress is meandering through financial regulation and climate legislation, and from Jewish officialdom we’ve yet to hear more than politely worded letters suggesting it’s time to get going on sanctions.

We’re told Iran could be a year away from a nuclear weapon, and we still have no sanctions (crippling or otherwise) on the table. The administration has spent quite a bit more time trying to restrain Israel from acting. (How many trips have U.S. officials made to Israel for this purpose? Many, I would venture.) What it should have been doing is rallying public opinion and devising a feasible plan — military or otherwise — that would block the mullahs from acquiring a nuclear weapon. So if Gibbs says the memo didn’t raise many eyebrows — why not? And what are Israel’s supporters going to do about it?

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Mind-boggling: Admiral Mike Mullen proclaims, “Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. Attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome. …In an area that’s so unstable right now, we just don’t need more of that.” The only difference is that one way there’s a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Priceless: “Goldman Sachs is launching an aggressive response to its political and legal challenges with an unlikely ally at its side — President Barack Obama’s former White House counsel, Gregory Craig.”

Suspicious: “The Securities and Exchange Commission fraud case against Goldman Sachs may be settled before it ever sees a courtroom. Yet intentionally or not, the SEC has already secured at least one victory in the court of media opinion. Last Friday, the same day that the government unexpectedly announced its Goldman lawsuit, the SEC’s inspector general released his exhaustive, 151-page report on the agency’s failure to investigate alleged fraudster R. Allen Stanford. Mr. Stanford was indicted last June for operating a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $8 billion. … But the SEC is very good at nailing politically correct targets like Goldman years after the fact on charges that have little or nothing to do with the investing public. On the Goldman case, by the way, the news broke yesterday that the SEC commissioners split 3-2 on whether to bring the lawsuit — a rare partisan split on such a prominent case and further evidence of its thin legal basis.” And just in the nick of time to help the PR on the financial regulations bill!

Definitive (confirmation that the Dems are in a heap of trouble): “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot, tying the GOP’s high for the year recorded the second week in March and their biggest lead in nearly three years of weekly tracking.”

Frightening but not surprising: “It may be too late to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon, a former senior US defence official has warned. The official, who has long experience with several US administrations, said President Obama had waited too long to take tough action against Tehran. ‘Fifteen months into his administration, Iran has faced no significant consequences for continuing with its uranium-enrichment programme, despite two deadlines set by Obama, which came and went without anything happening,’ the former official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times. ‘Now it may be too late to stop Iran from becoming nuclear-capable.’”

Gutsy: “After being stonewalled by the Obama administration for five months, Senators Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Me, issued subpoenas Monday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder for a list of witnesses and documents regarding the Nov. 5, 2009 Fort Hood massacre.”

Irrelevant: “Mitt Romney continues to look like the early front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. A Public Policy Polling (D) survey shows Romney leading former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in every region except the South, where Huckabee uses his home-field advantage to lead the field.” Ask Rudy Giuliani what early polls mean.

Depressing: “Both left and right [in Israel] are troubled, and both largely about the same things, especially the Iranian nuclear program combined with growing tensions with the Obama administration. ‘There is a confluence of two very worrying events,’ said Michael Freund, a rightist columnist for The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview. ‘One is the Iranian threat, an existential threat. Add to that the fact that for the first time in recent memory there is a president in the White House who is not overly sensitive to the Jewish state and its interests. You put the two together and it will affect anyone’s mood, even an optimist like me.” Overly? Not at all.

Mind-boggling: Admiral Mike Mullen proclaims, “Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. Attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome. …In an area that’s so unstable right now, we just don’t need more of that.” The only difference is that one way there’s a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Priceless: “Goldman Sachs is launching an aggressive response to its political and legal challenges with an unlikely ally at its side — President Barack Obama’s former White House counsel, Gregory Craig.”

Suspicious: “The Securities and Exchange Commission fraud case against Goldman Sachs may be settled before it ever sees a courtroom. Yet intentionally or not, the SEC has already secured at least one victory in the court of media opinion. Last Friday, the same day that the government unexpectedly announced its Goldman lawsuit, the SEC’s inspector general released his exhaustive, 151-page report on the agency’s failure to investigate alleged fraudster R. Allen Stanford. Mr. Stanford was indicted last June for operating a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $8 billion. … But the SEC is very good at nailing politically correct targets like Goldman years after the fact on charges that have little or nothing to do with the investing public. On the Goldman case, by the way, the news broke yesterday that the SEC commissioners split 3-2 on whether to bring the lawsuit — a rare partisan split on such a prominent case and further evidence of its thin legal basis.” And just in the nick of time to help the PR on the financial regulations bill!

Definitive (confirmation that the Dems are in a heap of trouble): “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot, tying the GOP’s high for the year recorded the second week in March and their biggest lead in nearly three years of weekly tracking.”

Frightening but not surprising: “It may be too late to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon, a former senior US defence official has warned. The official, who has long experience with several US administrations, said President Obama had waited too long to take tough action against Tehran. ‘Fifteen months into his administration, Iran has faced no significant consequences for continuing with its uranium-enrichment programme, despite two deadlines set by Obama, which came and went without anything happening,’ the former official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times. ‘Now it may be too late to stop Iran from becoming nuclear-capable.’”

Gutsy: “After being stonewalled by the Obama administration for five months, Senators Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Me, issued subpoenas Monday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder for a list of witnesses and documents regarding the Nov. 5, 2009 Fort Hood massacre.”

Irrelevant: “Mitt Romney continues to look like the early front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. A Public Policy Polling (D) survey shows Romney leading former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in every region except the South, where Huckabee uses his home-field advantage to lead the field.” Ask Rudy Giuliani what early polls mean.

Depressing: “Both left and right [in Israel] are troubled, and both largely about the same things, especially the Iranian nuclear program combined with growing tensions with the Obama administration. ‘There is a confluence of two very worrying events,’ said Michael Freund, a rightist columnist for The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview. ‘One is the Iranian threat, an existential threat. Add to that the fact that for the first time in recent memory there is a president in the White House who is not overly sensitive to the Jewish state and its interests. You put the two together and it will affect anyone’s mood, even an optimist like me.” Overly? Not at all.

Read Less

John McCain: Pull the Trigger

John McCain and Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday had the following exchange over the news that Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent up a warning flare that Obama doesn’t have a viable plan to prevent the mullahs from going nuclear:

MCCAIN: I didn’t need a secret memo from Mr. Gates to ascertain that. We do not have a coherent policy. I think that’s pretty obvious. We keep threatening sanctions. We keep, for well over a year now — in fact, including the previous administration — we keep threatening.

And obviously, we have not done anything that would in any way be viewed effective. Former secretary of state George Shultz once told me — he said, My old Marine drill instructor said never point a gun at somebody unless you’re willing to pull the trigger.

We have to be willing to pull the trigger on significant sanctions. And then we have to make plans for whatever contingencies follow if those sanctions are not effective. … I believe that the Chinese and the Russians will not be particularly helpful.

So why don’t we get our European allies together and let’s impose sanctions from that aspect of it? Maybe that would embarrass somehow or force the Russians and Chinese to act in a more cooperative fashion.

WALLACE: So forget the U.N., just impose …

MCCAIN: Maybe not forget the U.N., but certainly go ahead and move forward with some serious, meaningful sanctions.

WALLACE: What are sanctions?

MCCAIN: Well, refined petroleum products is one. The other, I think, is stand up for the human rights of the people of Iran. Put the pictures of those people who were brutalizing and killing and torturing the demonstrators and the people who are standing up for their God-given rights. Make them famous. We did that in certain respects during the Cold War.

WALLACE: And what about military action?

MCCAIN: Well, I think, obviously, every contingency has to be on the table. I think that we — it’s pretty clear that the Israelis cannot live with a nuclear-armed Iran. We saw news reports that the Syrians have moved Scud missiles into southern Lebanon. That is a serious escalatory move. Now Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are within range of Scud missiles.

So I think that we have to have contingency plans. But I do agree with most experts. Let’s try to get the pressure on from all directions, tough, tough sanctions, and stand up for the people that want and obviously are demonstrating in the streets and are being brutalized in the prisons.

The fact that Gates’s January memo was leaked now — following Obama’s dog-and-pony nuclear summit show – suggests that someone in the administration is nervous that the Obami have made precious little progress in devising an alternative to its que sera, sera stance toward a nuclear-armed Iran. The choice comes down to this: Obama’s mini-sanctions (which increasingly seem to be a slow walk to containment) or the toughest unilateral sanctions we can muster with a credible threat of military force if those sanctions don’t succeed. Unfortunately, by downplaying the use of force (and let’s be candid, Gates contributed to this by contributing his fair share of the bad-mouthing), such a threat is going to be all the more difficult to muster.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Obami have done an extremely effective job of eliminating or hampering the most serious options for thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It may come as news to the Gray Lady’s readers, but for Obama’s conservative critics, it’s hardly surprising that when a president is reluctant to flex America’s “hard power,” the world becomes a more dangerous place.

John McCain and Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday had the following exchange over the news that Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent up a warning flare that Obama doesn’t have a viable plan to prevent the mullahs from going nuclear:

MCCAIN: I didn’t need a secret memo from Mr. Gates to ascertain that. We do not have a coherent policy. I think that’s pretty obvious. We keep threatening sanctions. We keep, for well over a year now — in fact, including the previous administration — we keep threatening.

And obviously, we have not done anything that would in any way be viewed effective. Former secretary of state George Shultz once told me — he said, My old Marine drill instructor said never point a gun at somebody unless you’re willing to pull the trigger.

We have to be willing to pull the trigger on significant sanctions. And then we have to make plans for whatever contingencies follow if those sanctions are not effective. … I believe that the Chinese and the Russians will not be particularly helpful.

So why don’t we get our European allies together and let’s impose sanctions from that aspect of it? Maybe that would embarrass somehow or force the Russians and Chinese to act in a more cooperative fashion.

WALLACE: So forget the U.N., just impose …

MCCAIN: Maybe not forget the U.N., but certainly go ahead and move forward with some serious, meaningful sanctions.

WALLACE: What are sanctions?

MCCAIN: Well, refined petroleum products is one. The other, I think, is stand up for the human rights of the people of Iran. Put the pictures of those people who were brutalizing and killing and torturing the demonstrators and the people who are standing up for their God-given rights. Make them famous. We did that in certain respects during the Cold War.

WALLACE: And what about military action?

MCCAIN: Well, I think, obviously, every contingency has to be on the table. I think that we — it’s pretty clear that the Israelis cannot live with a nuclear-armed Iran. We saw news reports that the Syrians have moved Scud missiles into southern Lebanon. That is a serious escalatory move. Now Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are within range of Scud missiles.

So I think that we have to have contingency plans. But I do agree with most experts. Let’s try to get the pressure on from all directions, tough, tough sanctions, and stand up for the people that want and obviously are demonstrating in the streets and are being brutalized in the prisons.

The fact that Gates’s January memo was leaked now — following Obama’s dog-and-pony nuclear summit show – suggests that someone in the administration is nervous that the Obami have made precious little progress in devising an alternative to its que sera, sera stance toward a nuclear-armed Iran. The choice comes down to this: Obama’s mini-sanctions (which increasingly seem to be a slow walk to containment) or the toughest unilateral sanctions we can muster with a credible threat of military force if those sanctions don’t succeed. Unfortunately, by downplaying the use of force (and let’s be candid, Gates contributed to this by contributing his fair share of the bad-mouthing), such a threat is going to be all the more difficult to muster.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Obami have done an extremely effective job of eliminating or hampering the most serious options for thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It may come as news to the Gray Lady’s readers, but for Obama’s conservative critics, it’s hardly surprising that when a president is reluctant to flex America’s “hard power,” the world becomes a more dangerous place.

Read Less

RE: Nukes Don’t Kill People

As J.E. Dyer pointed out, the Obama nuclear policy seems caught in a 1970s time warp — a faint echo of the nuclear-freeze gang, which shied away from looking at the nature of the regimes that possessed nuclear weapons. After all, it is not Israel’s widely believed possession of nuclear weapons that has panicked the region; it is the mullahs’ potential nuclear capability that has Israel and Iran’s neighbors in a quandary.

It is this absorption with physical weapons and nuclear materials, rather than the geopolitical threats that confront us, that has led to the spectacle of the nuclear summit this week. Michael Anton, the policy director for Keep America Safe and who served in George W. Bush’s National Security Council, released a statement concerned the wildly irrelevant nuclear summit:

Attempts to secure nuclear materials and prevent their sale or transfer to, or theft by, terrorist groups are worthy efforts. Unfortunately, the just-concluded Nuclear Security Summit’s non-binding communiqué and work plan is silent on the most pressing nuclear threat facing the world today—Iran.

Iran was barely addressed at the summit and once again dodged by President Obama at his concluding press conference. Yet another “serious discussion” of a sanctions regime with Russia and China—two countries with deep commercial, political and military ties with Iran—will go nowhere. The past several years have conclusively shown that Russia and China will agree to any sanctions guaranteed not to work and will water down or veto any sanctions that have real teeth.

We know what failure looks like. The prior two administrations tried a similar approach with North Korea. That country has since tested two nuclear weapons, built a nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert, and remains one of the world’s leading arms merchants to rogue states—including Iran.

As Anton points out, Obama has several times suggested that he knows his sanctions may well come up short. It’s high time someone started asking him: and then what? It’s not fair to duck it as a hypothetical question, for it is an answer we should be giving to the mullahs and to the rest of the world. We should also, of course, be laying out the consequences of the mullahs’ failure to come around. That we have not suggests there are no consequences.

Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is publicly speculating that perhaps in a year, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. When are we going to get around to a summit on that?

As J.E. Dyer pointed out, the Obama nuclear policy seems caught in a 1970s time warp — a faint echo of the nuclear-freeze gang, which shied away from looking at the nature of the regimes that possessed nuclear weapons. After all, it is not Israel’s widely believed possession of nuclear weapons that has panicked the region; it is the mullahs’ potential nuclear capability that has Israel and Iran’s neighbors in a quandary.

It is this absorption with physical weapons and nuclear materials, rather than the geopolitical threats that confront us, that has led to the spectacle of the nuclear summit this week. Michael Anton, the policy director for Keep America Safe and who served in George W. Bush’s National Security Council, released a statement concerned the wildly irrelevant nuclear summit:

Attempts to secure nuclear materials and prevent their sale or transfer to, or theft by, terrorist groups are worthy efforts. Unfortunately, the just-concluded Nuclear Security Summit’s non-binding communiqué and work plan is silent on the most pressing nuclear threat facing the world today—Iran.

Iran was barely addressed at the summit and once again dodged by President Obama at his concluding press conference. Yet another “serious discussion” of a sanctions regime with Russia and China—two countries with deep commercial, political and military ties with Iran—will go nowhere. The past several years have conclusively shown that Russia and China will agree to any sanctions guaranteed not to work and will water down or veto any sanctions that have real teeth.

We know what failure looks like. The prior two administrations tried a similar approach with North Korea. That country has since tested two nuclear weapons, built a nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert, and remains one of the world’s leading arms merchants to rogue states—including Iran.

As Anton points out, Obama has several times suggested that he knows his sanctions may well come up short. It’s high time someone started asking him: and then what? It’s not fair to duck it as a hypothetical question, for it is an answer we should be giving to the mullahs and to the rest of the world. We should also, of course, be laying out the consequences of the mullahs’ failure to come around. That we have not suggests there are no consequences.

Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is publicly speculating that perhaps in a year, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. When are we going to get around to a summit on that?

Read Less

Bibi Calls for a Response to Evil

On the eve of Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Memorial Day, Bibi Netanyahu gave a moving and thoughtful speech. It should be read in full. His comments relating the Nazi horror to the current threat posed by Iran were especially noteworthy:

The historic failure of the free societies when faced with the Nazi animal was that they did not stand up against it in time, while there was still a chance to stop it.

And here we are today again witnesses to the fire of the new-old hatred, the hatred of the Jews, that is expressed by organizations and regimes associated with radical Islam, headed by Iran and its proxies.

Iran’s leaders race to develop nuclear weapons and they openly state their desire to destroy Israel.  But in the face of these repeated statements to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the Earth, in the best case we hear a weak protest which is also fading away.

The required firm protest is not heard – not a sharp condemnation, not a cry of warning.

The world continues on as usual and there are even those who direct their criticism at us, against Israel.

Today, 65 years after the Holocaust, we must say in all honesty that what is so upsetting is the lack of any kind of opposition.  The world gradually accepts Iran’s statements of destruction against Israel and we still do not see the necessary international determination to stop Iran from arming itself.

But if we learned anything from the lessons of the Holocaust it is that we must not remain silent and be deterred in the face of evil.

I call on all enlightened countries to rise up and forcefully and firmly condemn Iran’s destructive intentions and to act with genuine determination to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

His point is well taken. A serious plan by the U.S. administration to thwart the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons is not all that’s lacking — there is also a lack of moral outrage. I am hard-pressed to recall Obama or any senior official making the connection between Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its radical ideological fervor and desire for destruction of the Jewish state. This, of course, is the administration that doesn’t like to bring up such things. But in doing so, it also lessens the urgency and undercuts the moral imperative for preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon.

And frankly, there is a shocking lack of urgency within the American Jewish community, as well. When the president goes into his que sera, sera stance regarding the crisis in Iran, where is the outrage? Where are the statements and the protests? Entirely lacking. It is not hard to discern the administration’s abject lack of seriousness with regard to stopping the mullahs’ nuclear program, yet the leadership of the American Jewish community has play-acted along with the administration. Oh yes, sanctions are coming. We got very reassuring answers from Hillary. This is what you hear from supposedly serious-minded Jewish activists. Certainly they have read Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pooh-poohing of military action and the news reports of watered-down sanctions. So when do they plan on speaking up? Are we to see a repeat of the 1930s and 40s, when the American Jewish community remained largely mute, wary of raising a fuss as the Nazi menace ravaged European Jewry?

Netanyahu’s speech was a plea for moral seriousness in the West — and also among American Jewish leaders, who are curiously and tragically underwhelming in their advocacy for a more robust response from the administration to Israel’s existential threat. There is grave doubt whether American Jewish leaders will heed his call and do so in a timely and effective manner.

On the eve of Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Memorial Day, Bibi Netanyahu gave a moving and thoughtful speech. It should be read in full. His comments relating the Nazi horror to the current threat posed by Iran were especially noteworthy:

The historic failure of the free societies when faced with the Nazi animal was that they did not stand up against it in time, while there was still a chance to stop it.

And here we are today again witnesses to the fire of the new-old hatred, the hatred of the Jews, that is expressed by organizations and regimes associated with radical Islam, headed by Iran and its proxies.

Iran’s leaders race to develop nuclear weapons and they openly state their desire to destroy Israel.  But in the face of these repeated statements to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the Earth, in the best case we hear a weak protest which is also fading away.

The required firm protest is not heard – not a sharp condemnation, not a cry of warning.

The world continues on as usual and there are even those who direct their criticism at us, against Israel.

Today, 65 years after the Holocaust, we must say in all honesty that what is so upsetting is the lack of any kind of opposition.  The world gradually accepts Iran’s statements of destruction against Israel and we still do not see the necessary international determination to stop Iran from arming itself.

But if we learned anything from the lessons of the Holocaust it is that we must not remain silent and be deterred in the face of evil.

I call on all enlightened countries to rise up and forcefully and firmly condemn Iran’s destructive intentions and to act with genuine determination to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

His point is well taken. A serious plan by the U.S. administration to thwart the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons is not all that’s lacking — there is also a lack of moral outrage. I am hard-pressed to recall Obama or any senior official making the connection between Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its radical ideological fervor and desire for destruction of the Jewish state. This, of course, is the administration that doesn’t like to bring up such things. But in doing so, it also lessens the urgency and undercuts the moral imperative for preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon.

And frankly, there is a shocking lack of urgency within the American Jewish community, as well. When the president goes into his que sera, sera stance regarding the crisis in Iran, where is the outrage? Where are the statements and the protests? Entirely lacking. It is not hard to discern the administration’s abject lack of seriousness with regard to stopping the mullahs’ nuclear program, yet the leadership of the American Jewish community has play-acted along with the administration. Oh yes, sanctions are coming. We got very reassuring answers from Hillary. This is what you hear from supposedly serious-minded Jewish activists. Certainly they have read Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pooh-poohing of military action and the news reports of watered-down sanctions. So when do they plan on speaking up? Are we to see a repeat of the 1930s and 40s, when the American Jewish community remained largely mute, wary of raising a fuss as the Nazi menace ravaged European Jewry?

Netanyahu’s speech was a plea for moral seriousness in the West — and also among American Jewish leaders, who are curiously and tragically underwhelming in their advocacy for a more robust response from the administration to Israel’s existential threat. There is grave doubt whether American Jewish leaders will heed his call and do so in a timely and effective manner.

Read Less

A Very Unserious Summit

The nuclear summit is underway in Washington, D.C. An air of unreality pervades because the greatest nuclear threat of our time goes unaddressed. At times, the degree to which Obama evades the Iranian issue is jaw-dropping. This report explains:

“The central focus of this nuclear summit is the fact that the single biggest threat to U.S. security — both short term, medium term and long term — would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said Sunday afternoon. “If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically and from a security perspective would be devastating. And we know that organizations like al-Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon — a weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction at using.”

Actually, the single greatest threat — and the most likely means for a terrorist organization to possibly obtain a nuclear weapon — is the mullahs’ nuclear program. About that, the president offers the moral power of example (i.e., our own disarmament) and watered-down sanctions.

Neither Obama’s credibility nor America’s deterrent capability was enhanced by either the START treaty or the Nuclear Posture Review. So Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates took to the airwaves Sunday to assure us that the Obami really weren’t doing great damage to our national security. Hillary seemed to fudge on the “no nuclear response to a NPT signtory’s attack” when she tried to bluster her way through her interview on Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: Are non-nuclear weapons so good now, Madam Secretary, that we don`t have to rely on nuclear weapons anymore?

CLINTON: We rely on both, Bob. And I think that`s the point that Secretary Gates is making. We`ve maintained a strong, robust nuclear deterrent as set forth in the nuclear posture review. But we have also in this administration moved toward a global strike capability to enhance our conventional response.

And we have an enormous amount of firepower conventionally. And it is also clear that this is putting everybody on notice. We don`t want more countries to go down the path that North Korea and Iran are. And some countries might have gotten the wrong idea if they looked at those two over the last years. And so we want to be very clear. We will not use nuclear weapons in retaliation if you do not have nuclear weapons and are in compliance with the NPT.

But we leave ourselves a lot of room for contingencies. If we can prove that a biological attack originated in a country that attacked us, then all bets are off, if these countries have gone to that extent. So we want to deal with the nuclear threat first and foremost, because that’s the one that we face right today.

All bets are off? Well, the nuclear option is, if we believe the Nuclear Posture Review. But maybe it doesn’t say what we mean. Or maybe it’s getting increasingly hard to figure out whether we are serious about deterring rogue states or not. Indeed, the administration is increasingly flighty and obtuse, making it hard to parse the often inconsistent rhetoric. Iran’s nuclear bomb would be unacceptable, but maybe we can’t do anything about it. The greatest threat is a terrorist organization with a nuclear bomb, but we’re increasingly lackadaisical about denying one to the most active state sponsor of Islamic terrorists. We aren’t going to retaliate against an NPT signatory after a devastating chemical or biological attack, but who knows.

If there is any rhyme or reason to this, it no doubt eludes both friends and foes. It does, however, convince many that this president doesn’t really appreciate how to project American strength and keep our adversaries at bay. The summit, therefore, promises not only to be irrelevant but also counterproductive to our national-security interests.

The nuclear summit is underway in Washington, D.C. An air of unreality pervades because the greatest nuclear threat of our time goes unaddressed. At times, the degree to which Obama evades the Iranian issue is jaw-dropping. This report explains:

“The central focus of this nuclear summit is the fact that the single biggest threat to U.S. security — both short term, medium term and long term — would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said Sunday afternoon. “If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically and from a security perspective would be devastating. And we know that organizations like al-Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon — a weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction at using.”

Actually, the single greatest threat — and the most likely means for a terrorist organization to possibly obtain a nuclear weapon — is the mullahs’ nuclear program. About that, the president offers the moral power of example (i.e., our own disarmament) and watered-down sanctions.

Neither Obama’s credibility nor America’s deterrent capability was enhanced by either the START treaty or the Nuclear Posture Review. So Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates took to the airwaves Sunday to assure us that the Obami really weren’t doing great damage to our national security. Hillary seemed to fudge on the “no nuclear response to a NPT signtory’s attack” when she tried to bluster her way through her interview on Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: Are non-nuclear weapons so good now, Madam Secretary, that we don`t have to rely on nuclear weapons anymore?

CLINTON: We rely on both, Bob. And I think that`s the point that Secretary Gates is making. We`ve maintained a strong, robust nuclear deterrent as set forth in the nuclear posture review. But we have also in this administration moved toward a global strike capability to enhance our conventional response.

And we have an enormous amount of firepower conventionally. And it is also clear that this is putting everybody on notice. We don`t want more countries to go down the path that North Korea and Iran are. And some countries might have gotten the wrong idea if they looked at those two over the last years. And so we want to be very clear. We will not use nuclear weapons in retaliation if you do not have nuclear weapons and are in compliance with the NPT.

But we leave ourselves a lot of room for contingencies. If we can prove that a biological attack originated in a country that attacked us, then all bets are off, if these countries have gone to that extent. So we want to deal with the nuclear threat first and foremost, because that’s the one that we face right today.

All bets are off? Well, the nuclear option is, if we believe the Nuclear Posture Review. But maybe it doesn’t say what we mean. Or maybe it’s getting increasingly hard to figure out whether we are serious about deterring rogue states or not. Indeed, the administration is increasingly flighty and obtuse, making it hard to parse the often inconsistent rhetoric. Iran’s nuclear bomb would be unacceptable, but maybe we can’t do anything about it. The greatest threat is a terrorist organization with a nuclear bomb, but we’re increasingly lackadaisical about denying one to the most active state sponsor of Islamic terrorists. We aren’t going to retaliate against an NPT signatory after a devastating chemical or biological attack, but who knows.

If there is any rhyme or reason to this, it no doubt eludes both friends and foes. It does, however, convince many that this president doesn’t really appreciate how to project American strength and keep our adversaries at bay. The summit, therefore, promises not only to be irrelevant but also counterproductive to our national-security interests.

Read Less

Gates Agrees with Cheney and Palin

Last week both Liz Cheney and Sarah Palin suggested it might be a good idea not to publicly antagonize President Hamid Karzai. On This Week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates seemed to agree:

Well I think, you know, this is a — a man who’s first of all a political leader. He has domestic audiences as well as foreign audiences. What I can tell you is that General McChrystal continues to meet with him regularly. They have a very positive relationship. He gets very good cooperation out of President Karzai. I think that the — the Afghans are very concerned about their sovereignty. And they are very concerned that — that it be clear who — who is the president of Afghanistan.

And — and that he be treated with respect, because he is the representative of the people of Afghanistan and their sovereignty. And I think that — I think that that kind of cooperative relationship, certainly that he has with — I can only speak for General McChrystal’s side of it. But I think General McChrystal feels that this is a man he can work easily with. And — and he has taken him to Kandahar. He has indicated he’s willing to go to Kandahar repeatedly for the Shuras as the Kandahar campaign gets underway. … And I think — I think we frankly have to be sensitive in our own comments about President Karzai in terms of being mindful that he is the embodiment of sovereignty for Afghanistan also in the way we treat him.

Jake Tapper didn’t follow up, but the obvious question is: why have we been bashing and snubbing the “embodiment of sovereignty for Afghanistan”? It’s sometimes hard to discern whether this administration operates by design or out of pique. It’s been accustomed to rolling over the opposition, sneering and shoving back (whether it’s Republicans, the Supreme Court, or Fox News), and it often appears to conduct its foreign policy in much the same way as a political campaign.  But hitting back, instantaneous responses, and ad hominem attacks rarely work to bring allies around. Instead, such behavior widens divisions and alerts our foes that the relationships are less than … what’s the term? … “rock solid.” We await the introduction of some smart diplomacy.

Last week both Liz Cheney and Sarah Palin suggested it might be a good idea not to publicly antagonize President Hamid Karzai. On This Week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates seemed to agree:

Well I think, you know, this is a — a man who’s first of all a political leader. He has domestic audiences as well as foreign audiences. What I can tell you is that General McChrystal continues to meet with him regularly. They have a very positive relationship. He gets very good cooperation out of President Karzai. I think that the — the Afghans are very concerned about their sovereignty. And they are very concerned that — that it be clear who — who is the president of Afghanistan.

And — and that he be treated with respect, because he is the representative of the people of Afghanistan and their sovereignty. And I think that — I think that that kind of cooperative relationship, certainly that he has with — I can only speak for General McChrystal’s side of it. But I think General McChrystal feels that this is a man he can work easily with. And — and he has taken him to Kandahar. He has indicated he’s willing to go to Kandahar repeatedly for the Shuras as the Kandahar campaign gets underway. … And I think — I think we frankly have to be sensitive in our own comments about President Karzai in terms of being mindful that he is the embodiment of sovereignty for Afghanistan also in the way we treat him.

Jake Tapper didn’t follow up, but the obvious question is: why have we been bashing and snubbing the “embodiment of sovereignty for Afghanistan”? It’s sometimes hard to discern whether this administration operates by design or out of pique. It’s been accustomed to rolling over the opposition, sneering and shoving back (whether it’s Republicans, the Supreme Court, or Fox News), and it often appears to conduct its foreign policy in much the same way as a political campaign.  But hitting back, instantaneous responses, and ad hominem attacks rarely work to bring allies around. Instead, such behavior widens divisions and alerts our foes that the relationships are less than … what’s the term? … “rock solid.” We await the introduction of some smart diplomacy.

Read Less

What Ahmadinejad Has Right

Robert Gates says the new Nuclear Posture Review — which specifically says that the U.S. reserves the right to nuke countries in violation of non-proliferation treaties — is designed to send a “strong message” to Iran and North Korea:

“If you’re going to play by the rules … then we will undertake certain obligations to you,” [Gates] said. “But if you’re not going to play by the rules, if you’re going to be proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you.”

All options on the table? Really? Does anyone think that the Obama administration will use force — much less nuclear force — against Iran? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad certainly doesn’t, to judge by his reaction to the Nuclear Posture Review. He is hardly acting like the leader of a country under threat of annihilation by the world’s sole superpower. Here is what he had to say:

“American materialist politicians, whenever they are beaten by logic, immediately resort to their weapons like cowboys,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech before a crowd of several thousand in northwestern Iran.

“Mr. Obama, you are a newcomer (to politics). Wait until your sweat dries and get some experience. Be careful not to read just any paper put in front of you or repeat any statement recommended,” Ahmadinejad said in the speech, aired live on state TV.

Ahmadinejad said Obama “is under the pressure of capitalists and the Zionists” and vowed Iran would not be pushed around. “(American officials) bigger than you, more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you,” he said, addressing Obama.

That sums up the Iranian mindset quite nicely, and for once, I think Ahmadinejad has a point. He’s right that previous American politicians — presumably the bullying line is a reference to Dubya — didn’t “do a damn thing” about the Iranian nuclear program. Given that reality, what chance is there that Obama will do something? The odds are pretty much nil, which is why the threat continued in the Nuclear Posture Review is so hollow.

Robert Gates says the new Nuclear Posture Review — which specifically says that the U.S. reserves the right to nuke countries in violation of non-proliferation treaties — is designed to send a “strong message” to Iran and North Korea:

“If you’re going to play by the rules … then we will undertake certain obligations to you,” [Gates] said. “But if you’re not going to play by the rules, if you’re going to be proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you.”

All options on the table? Really? Does anyone think that the Obama administration will use force — much less nuclear force — against Iran? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad certainly doesn’t, to judge by his reaction to the Nuclear Posture Review. He is hardly acting like the leader of a country under threat of annihilation by the world’s sole superpower. Here is what he had to say:

“American materialist politicians, whenever they are beaten by logic, immediately resort to their weapons like cowboys,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech before a crowd of several thousand in northwestern Iran.

“Mr. Obama, you are a newcomer (to politics). Wait until your sweat dries and get some experience. Be careful not to read just any paper put in front of you or repeat any statement recommended,” Ahmadinejad said in the speech, aired live on state TV.

Ahmadinejad said Obama “is under the pressure of capitalists and the Zionists” and vowed Iran would not be pushed around. “(American officials) bigger than you, more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you,” he said, addressing Obama.

That sums up the Iranian mindset quite nicely, and for once, I think Ahmadinejad has a point. He’s right that previous American politicians — presumably the bullying line is a reference to Dubya — didn’t “do a damn thing” about the Iranian nuclear program. Given that reality, what chance is there that Obama will do something? The odds are pretty much nil, which is why the threat continued in the Nuclear Posture Review is so hollow.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Maybe attacking another ally in public wasn’t so smart. Charles Krauthammer: “What we have here is the problem of an unruly client. The problem with Karzai is that he’s the worst ally except for all the others. We’re stuck with him, and we’re not in Afghanistan because of him but for our own perceived national interest. We’re stuck with him. We’re going to have to tolerate this. … And what you do is you do not attack him as we did, as Obama [did], on his way over to Afghanistan, saying we’re going to read him the riot act on corruption. You don’t do that and leak it. You do it in quiet — and in public hail him as a liberator.”

Maybe it’s not so smart to take use of of force off the table before the mullahs get the bomb either. If they do, at least “Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the U.S. will not limit its options under a new nuclear strategy if Iran or North Korea decides to launch a nuclear attack.” Well, that’s a relief. Would Obama’s policy have prohibited dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan, by the way? Just asking.

Maybe nominating Tony Rezko’s banker wasn’t so smart. The Public Policy Polling survey finds: “The last two months have not been good for Alexi Giannoulias, and Mark Kirk now leads him 37-33 in his bid to be the next Senator from Illinois.”

Maybe it wasn’t so smart for House Democrats to take political advice from the White House: “Republican candidates now hold a nine-point lead over Democrats in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot.A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 47% would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate, up from 46% last week, while 38% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent, down a point from the previous survey.”

Maybe switching parties wasn’t so smart. “Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) is trailing in the latest Pennsylvania Senate poll.Public Policy Polling (D) has released its first survey of the race and found the Republican candidate, former Rep. Pat Toomey (Pa.), beats both Specter and Specter’s primary opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak (D), in a general election matchup.Toomey beats Specter by three, 46-43, and he beats Sestak by six, 42-36. Specter’s job rating is troubling for an incumbent. He had a 34 percent approval rating and a 52 percent disapproval rating. President Barack Obama also has low approval ratings in the state, which could be helping Toomey. Obama has a 46 percent approval rating and 50 percent disapproval rating.”

Maybe sneering at the Tea Party movement wasn’t so smart. Matthew Continetti: “Imagine what might have happened if Democrats had decided to take the Tea Party seriously in 2009. The Democrats might have moved to the center, adopting Bill Clinton’s second-term strategy of balanced budgets, economic growth and globalization, and incremental, small-bore reforms on health care and education. They might have been able to retain the independents they held in 2006 and 2008 while dampening Republican fears that Obama wants to turn the country into Sweden. The economy would still be crummy. But, in this scenario, 2010 wouldn’t look like the Democratic bloodbath it’s shaping up to be.”

Maybe it wasn’t so smart for a controversial appellate court nominee who never wrote a legal opinion to omit 117 documents from a Senate questionnaire. After all, Eric Holder only left out seven briefs.

Maybe David Shuster isn’t so smart: “MSNBC brass wasn’t happy when news broke this week that David Shuster had taped a pilot for CNN, and the anchor wasn’t on-air yesterday. Now comes word of Shuster’s fate through an MSNBC spokesperson: ‘David has been suspended indefinitely.’ It’s not the first time he’s been suspended. Shuster was off the air a couple weeks in 2008 after he talked about how Hillary Clinton had ‘pimped out’ Chelsea on the campaign trail.”

Maybe attacking another ally in public wasn’t so smart. Charles Krauthammer: “What we have here is the problem of an unruly client. The problem with Karzai is that he’s the worst ally except for all the others. We’re stuck with him, and we’re not in Afghanistan because of him but for our own perceived national interest. We’re stuck with him. We’re going to have to tolerate this. … And what you do is you do not attack him as we did, as Obama [did], on his way over to Afghanistan, saying we’re going to read him the riot act on corruption. You don’t do that and leak it. You do it in quiet — and in public hail him as a liberator.”

Maybe it’s not so smart to take use of of force off the table before the mullahs get the bomb either. If they do, at least “Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the U.S. will not limit its options under a new nuclear strategy if Iran or North Korea decides to launch a nuclear attack.” Well, that’s a relief. Would Obama’s policy have prohibited dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan, by the way? Just asking.

Maybe nominating Tony Rezko’s banker wasn’t so smart. The Public Policy Polling survey finds: “The last two months have not been good for Alexi Giannoulias, and Mark Kirk now leads him 37-33 in his bid to be the next Senator from Illinois.”

Maybe it wasn’t so smart for House Democrats to take political advice from the White House: “Republican candidates now hold a nine-point lead over Democrats in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot.A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 47% would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate, up from 46% last week, while 38% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent, down a point from the previous survey.”

Maybe switching parties wasn’t so smart. “Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) is trailing in the latest Pennsylvania Senate poll.Public Policy Polling (D) has released its first survey of the race and found the Republican candidate, former Rep. Pat Toomey (Pa.), beats both Specter and Specter’s primary opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak (D), in a general election matchup.Toomey beats Specter by three, 46-43, and he beats Sestak by six, 42-36. Specter’s job rating is troubling for an incumbent. He had a 34 percent approval rating and a 52 percent disapproval rating. President Barack Obama also has low approval ratings in the state, which could be helping Toomey. Obama has a 46 percent approval rating and 50 percent disapproval rating.”

Maybe sneering at the Tea Party movement wasn’t so smart. Matthew Continetti: “Imagine what might have happened if Democrats had decided to take the Tea Party seriously in 2009. The Democrats might have moved to the center, adopting Bill Clinton’s second-term strategy of balanced budgets, economic growth and globalization, and incremental, small-bore reforms on health care and education. They might have been able to retain the independents they held in 2006 and 2008 while dampening Republican fears that Obama wants to turn the country into Sweden. The economy would still be crummy. But, in this scenario, 2010 wouldn’t look like the Democratic bloodbath it’s shaping up to be.”

Maybe it wasn’t so smart for a controversial appellate court nominee who never wrote a legal opinion to omit 117 documents from a Senate questionnaire. After all, Eric Holder only left out seven briefs.

Maybe David Shuster isn’t so smart: “MSNBC brass wasn’t happy when news broke this week that David Shuster had taped a pilot for CNN, and the anchor wasn’t on-air yesterday. Now comes word of Shuster’s fate through an MSNBC spokesperson: ‘David has been suspended indefinitely.’ It’s not the first time he’s been suspended. Shuster was off the air a couple weeks in 2008 after he talked about how Hillary Clinton had ‘pimped out’ Chelsea on the campaign trail.”

Read Less

Obama’s Iran Policy: A Dead End

Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, Danielle Pletka of AEI, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations held a lively discussion, moderated by Bob Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy Initiative, at the FPI’s Iran program. It was, to say the least, a sobering discussion.

Takeyh led off by explaining that the Obama team has not yet given up on negotiations and sees sanctions now as means of getting the Iranians back to the bargaining table. However, Takeyh, like the other panelists, thinks that there is “no sanctions solution” to the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions. And even if Iran returns to the table, at best we will have an inconclusive result. The ability of economic sanctions, especially of the modest type currently being contemplated, he contends, will not affect the calculation of the regime’s self-interest. Pletka concurred, “At this point sanctions are not going to deliver.”

She pointed out that rather than preparing for the Iranians’ inevitable rejection of our negotiating efforts, we seemingly frittered away the time. We are now “gobsmacked” that the Iranians have said no to our bargaining offers, and we are only now trying to cobble together a sanctions effort. Abrams pointed out that a sanctions approach might have made sense last Labor Day — our original deadline, when Obama was still fresh on the scene. But now the “U.S. position has been diminished,” and our relations with Britain, France, and India are worse, making a cohesive effort harder. As for unilateral sanctions, Pletka reports that the administration is putting pressure on “skeptics” in Congress to slow down the reconciliation process between the House and Senate sanctions bills. She doubts Congress is “willing to take on the administration,” which is adverse to a unilateral effort. The U.N. is where the action is for the administration.

The consensus of the group was that the watered-down sanctions, for which we are struggling to obtain Russian and Chinese agreement, will have no effect on the Iranians’ nuclear plans. Would a ban on importation of Iranian oil and on export to Iran of refined gasoline? Takeyh says yes, but the “international community won’t do it.”

Likewise, the panelists agreed that containment is a nonstarter. Abrams pointed out that the difference between deterrence before Iran gets the bomb and containment after is critical. (“Containment doesn’t guarantee anything, ” he noted.) After five years of saying a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, any containment policy, which would by necessity require use of force or threat of force to deter aggressive Iranian action, Abrams explained, would certainly lack credibility. Kagan summed up: “If they don’t want to use [military force] now, why would they use it when Iran has the bomb?”

Pletka argued that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance the regime’s staying power and deter efforts to undermine the regime. As for the Green Movement, Abrams noted allowing the regime to get the bomb would have a huge impact on morale. “The world would have been defeated,” he explains, and the regime would have achieved a great victory.

Abrams made several key points. First, he notes Israel desperately would prefer not to launch a military strike, but only if “there is another way to keep Iran from getting the bomb.” He notes that the Israelis are amazed at “how stupid” the U.S. has been in taking the military option off the table. “What leverage do you have?” he asked. “Even if you don’t believe it [that force would be used], why isn’t he saying” a military option would be no big deal? He imagines that some in the administration do not want to see the entire Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system break down and would be willing to employ force, but this is not a view shared by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or the U.S. military.

Second, he notes that by inaction both under the Bush and Obama administrations, we have conveyed to Iran that there “is no price to be paid for killing Americans.” He said that despite Iranians killing Americans directly and indirectly in Iraq, “there was absolute insistence by the U.S. military” not to act against Iran, presumably on the theory that “there was already too much on the table.” The lesson learned by the Iranians, therefore, was that they can impose a price on the U.S. without brining any suffering on themselves.

Finally, he argues that we should be making an “all-fronts” effort to contest Iranian behavior in all international bodies — whether on the mullahs’ arming of Hezbollah, human rights atrocities, or violation of nuclear agreements. We should urge European parliaments to denounce the regime. “Put the regime on the defensive everywhere. Make it a pariah state,” he argues, noting ruefully that instead, Israel has become the pariah nation.

The conclusion one draws from the panel is not an optimistic one. The Obama team wasted a year on engagement, only serving to undermine the Green Movement’s effort to delegitimize the regime. The sanctions currently contemplated are too puny and too late. The administration has disclaimed use of force. So while the administration is not officially stating that its policy is to accept the “unacceptable,” the inevitable result of its policy decision is precisely that. We now face what was thought to be unimaginable: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration — a world infinitely more dangerous and unstable.

Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, Danielle Pletka of AEI, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations held a lively discussion, moderated by Bob Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy Initiative, at the FPI’s Iran program. It was, to say the least, a sobering discussion.

Takeyh led off by explaining that the Obama team has not yet given up on negotiations and sees sanctions now as means of getting the Iranians back to the bargaining table. However, Takeyh, like the other panelists, thinks that there is “no sanctions solution” to the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions. And even if Iran returns to the table, at best we will have an inconclusive result. The ability of economic sanctions, especially of the modest type currently being contemplated, he contends, will not affect the calculation of the regime’s self-interest. Pletka concurred, “At this point sanctions are not going to deliver.”

She pointed out that rather than preparing for the Iranians’ inevitable rejection of our negotiating efforts, we seemingly frittered away the time. We are now “gobsmacked” that the Iranians have said no to our bargaining offers, and we are only now trying to cobble together a sanctions effort. Abrams pointed out that a sanctions approach might have made sense last Labor Day — our original deadline, when Obama was still fresh on the scene. But now the “U.S. position has been diminished,” and our relations with Britain, France, and India are worse, making a cohesive effort harder. As for unilateral sanctions, Pletka reports that the administration is putting pressure on “skeptics” in Congress to slow down the reconciliation process between the House and Senate sanctions bills. She doubts Congress is “willing to take on the administration,” which is adverse to a unilateral effort. The U.N. is where the action is for the administration.

The consensus of the group was that the watered-down sanctions, for which we are struggling to obtain Russian and Chinese agreement, will have no effect on the Iranians’ nuclear plans. Would a ban on importation of Iranian oil and on export to Iran of refined gasoline? Takeyh says yes, but the “international community won’t do it.”

Likewise, the panelists agreed that containment is a nonstarter. Abrams pointed out that the difference between deterrence before Iran gets the bomb and containment after is critical. (“Containment doesn’t guarantee anything, ” he noted.) After five years of saying a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, any containment policy, which would by necessity require use of force or threat of force to deter aggressive Iranian action, Abrams explained, would certainly lack credibility. Kagan summed up: “If they don’t want to use [military force] now, why would they use it when Iran has the bomb?”

Pletka argued that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance the regime’s staying power and deter efforts to undermine the regime. As for the Green Movement, Abrams noted allowing the regime to get the bomb would have a huge impact on morale. “The world would have been defeated,” he explains, and the regime would have achieved a great victory.

Abrams made several key points. First, he notes Israel desperately would prefer not to launch a military strike, but only if “there is another way to keep Iran from getting the bomb.” He notes that the Israelis are amazed at “how stupid” the U.S. has been in taking the military option off the table. “What leverage do you have?” he asked. “Even if you don’t believe it [that force would be used], why isn’t he saying” a military option would be no big deal? He imagines that some in the administration do not want to see the entire Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system break down and would be willing to employ force, but this is not a view shared by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or the U.S. military.

Second, he notes that by inaction both under the Bush and Obama administrations, we have conveyed to Iran that there “is no price to be paid for killing Americans.” He said that despite Iranians killing Americans directly and indirectly in Iraq, “there was absolute insistence by the U.S. military” not to act against Iran, presumably on the theory that “there was already too much on the table.” The lesson learned by the Iranians, therefore, was that they can impose a price on the U.S. without brining any suffering on themselves.

Finally, he argues that we should be making an “all-fronts” effort to contest Iranian behavior in all international bodies — whether on the mullahs’ arming of Hezbollah, human rights atrocities, or violation of nuclear agreements. We should urge European parliaments to denounce the regime. “Put the regime on the defensive everywhere. Make it a pariah state,” he argues, noting ruefully that instead, Israel has become the pariah nation.

The conclusion one draws from the panel is not an optimistic one. The Obama team wasted a year on engagement, only serving to undermine the Green Movement’s effort to delegitimize the regime. The sanctions currently contemplated are too puny and too late. The administration has disclaimed use of force. So while the administration is not officially stating that its policy is to accept the “unacceptable,” the inevitable result of its policy decision is precisely that. We now face what was thought to be unimaginable: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration — a world infinitely more dangerous and unstable.

Read Less

Obama’s Unacceptable Iran Policy

I am not alone in concluding that the Obami are fundamentally unserious about preventing the mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons. The Wall Street Journal editors write:

“Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite.” Thus did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seek to reassure the crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee two weeks ago about the Obama Administration’s resolve on Iran. Three days later, this newspaper reported on its front page that “the U.S. has backed away from pursuing a number of tough measures against Iran” in order to win Russian and Chinese support for one more U.N. sanctions resolution.

This fits the pattern we have seen across the 14 months of the Obama Presidency. Mrs. Clinton called a nuclear-armed Iran “unacceptable” no fewer than four times in a single paragraph in her AIPAC speech. But why should the Iranians believe her? President Obama set a number of deadlines last year for a negotiated settlement of Iran’s nuclear file, all of which Tehran ignored, and then Mr. Obama ignored them too…

We were told that engagement would gain us support for crippling sanctions. It hasn’t worked out that way. (“Yet a year later the U.S. finds itself begging for U.N. Security Council votes even from such nonpermanent members as Brazil and Turkey, both of which have noticeably improved their ties with Iran in recent months.”)

As the editors note, the Obami have thrown cold water on the notion that a military strike might be in the offing. ( “As for the potential threat of military strikes to assist diplomacy, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made his doubts about their efficacy very public.”) The unspoken suspicion whispered nervously by conservatives has now become the audible, and indeed, conventional wisdom — the administration is inching toward a containment strategy. The means that the administration has employed – engagement, downplaying the revelation of Qom enrichment site, indifference to regime change, pooh-poohing military action, and stalling passage of unilateral sanctions – bear no correlation to the ostensible Obama position on Iran’s nuclear ambitions ( “unacceptable”). But they do go hand in hand with what appears to be an ill-conceived effort to accept the mullahs’ nuclear program as inevitable and regrettable, but not exactly unacceptable.

Among the Obami’s many ill-advised foreign-policy gambits and misjudgments, none would be so devastating as permitting the revolutionary Islamic regime to acquire nuclear weapons. But that is precisely where we are heading, absent a newfound determination by the international community to impose those crippling sanctions. And it may well be too late for that. We stand at a critical juncture — poised to see if Israel — a tiny, beleaguered nation — will spare the world from a nuclear-armed Iran. We reach this point because of a disgraceful lack of vision and will from the U.S. president, who has abdicated his role as leader of the West and protector of American security.

I am not alone in concluding that the Obami are fundamentally unserious about preventing the mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons. The Wall Street Journal editors write:

“Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite.” Thus did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seek to reassure the crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee two weeks ago about the Obama Administration’s resolve on Iran. Three days later, this newspaper reported on its front page that “the U.S. has backed away from pursuing a number of tough measures against Iran” in order to win Russian and Chinese support for one more U.N. sanctions resolution.

This fits the pattern we have seen across the 14 months of the Obama Presidency. Mrs. Clinton called a nuclear-armed Iran “unacceptable” no fewer than four times in a single paragraph in her AIPAC speech. But why should the Iranians believe her? President Obama set a number of deadlines last year for a negotiated settlement of Iran’s nuclear file, all of which Tehran ignored, and then Mr. Obama ignored them too…

We were told that engagement would gain us support for crippling sanctions. It hasn’t worked out that way. (“Yet a year later the U.S. finds itself begging for U.N. Security Council votes even from such nonpermanent members as Brazil and Turkey, both of which have noticeably improved their ties with Iran in recent months.”)

As the editors note, the Obami have thrown cold water on the notion that a military strike might be in the offing. ( “As for the potential threat of military strikes to assist diplomacy, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made his doubts about their efficacy very public.”) The unspoken suspicion whispered nervously by conservatives has now become the audible, and indeed, conventional wisdom — the administration is inching toward a containment strategy. The means that the administration has employed – engagement, downplaying the revelation of Qom enrichment site, indifference to regime change, pooh-poohing military action, and stalling passage of unilateral sanctions – bear no correlation to the ostensible Obama position on Iran’s nuclear ambitions ( “unacceptable”). But they do go hand in hand with what appears to be an ill-conceived effort to accept the mullahs’ nuclear program as inevitable and regrettable, but not exactly unacceptable.

Among the Obami’s many ill-advised foreign-policy gambits and misjudgments, none would be so devastating as permitting the revolutionary Islamic regime to acquire nuclear weapons. But that is precisely where we are heading, absent a newfound determination by the international community to impose those crippling sanctions. And it may well be too late for that. We stand at a critical juncture — poised to see if Israel — a tiny, beleaguered nation — will spare the world from a nuclear-armed Iran. We reach this point because of a disgraceful lack of vision and will from the U.S. president, who has abdicated his role as leader of the West and protector of American security.

Read Less

And What About the Results? (UPDATED)

Over at Foreign Policy, Peter Feaver reviews from recent Washington Post and New York Times profiles on Hillary Clinton the pluses and minuses of her tenure as secretary of state. Pluses: she plays well with others (the president, Robert Gates, the foreign service), and she helped cover up the Copenhagen debacle. (“According to the NYT, Secretary Clinton apparently deserves some credit for salvaging a fig-leaf exit strategy from the ill-fated Copenhagen conference on climate change. Whether the State Department also deserves some blame for the way Copenhagen ran off the rails, the paper does not say.”) That’s it.

The minuses: (1) “Secretary Clinton does not appear to be the key foreign policy player on any topic of importance,” and (2) “Secretary Clinton has yet to help the Obama administration forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.”

Mr. Feaver is perhaps a dry humorist. He wraps up, proclaiming, “Where the positives and negatives will ultimately net out depends on whether the Obama foreign policy begins to bear some positive fruit.” He and these accounts, of course, ignore that Clinton has utterly failed to do her job, which is to “be the key foreign policy player” and “forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.” That is the job, after all. Moreover, there are a string of foreign policy mishaps, gaffes, and misjudgments that touch every continent. (OK, not Antarctica.)

She has all the efficiency of an officious hall monitor, all the social skills one could expect of a junior foreign-service officer, and all the pals one could hope for in the elite media. What she doesn’t have is a trace of competence or the force of personality to rise above the gaggle of those who pass for “policy gurus” in this administration. Sort of like saying that except for never wanting to fight, Gen. George McClellan was a great general. Yes, except for the “doing” the job part, Clinton’s been a boffo secretary of state.

UPDATE: A knowledgeable reader suggests that, in fact, Feaver is using understatement to critique Clinton’s performance. Given Feaver’s work on the George W. Bush National Security Council, it is not hard to conclude that he views Clinton’s tenure as less than successful.

Over at Foreign Policy, Peter Feaver reviews from recent Washington Post and New York Times profiles on Hillary Clinton the pluses and minuses of her tenure as secretary of state. Pluses: she plays well with others (the president, Robert Gates, the foreign service), and she helped cover up the Copenhagen debacle. (“According to the NYT, Secretary Clinton apparently deserves some credit for salvaging a fig-leaf exit strategy from the ill-fated Copenhagen conference on climate change. Whether the State Department also deserves some blame for the way Copenhagen ran off the rails, the paper does not say.”) That’s it.

The minuses: (1) “Secretary Clinton does not appear to be the key foreign policy player on any topic of importance,” and (2) “Secretary Clinton has yet to help the Obama administration forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.”

Mr. Feaver is perhaps a dry humorist. He wraps up, proclaiming, “Where the positives and negatives will ultimately net out depends on whether the Obama foreign policy begins to bear some positive fruit.” He and these accounts, of course, ignore that Clinton has utterly failed to do her job, which is to “be the key foreign policy player” and “forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.” That is the job, after all. Moreover, there are a string of foreign policy mishaps, gaffes, and misjudgments that touch every continent. (OK, not Antarctica.)

She has all the efficiency of an officious hall monitor, all the social skills one could expect of a junior foreign-service officer, and all the pals one could hope for in the elite media. What she doesn’t have is a trace of competence or the force of personality to rise above the gaggle of those who pass for “policy gurus” in this administration. Sort of like saying that except for never wanting to fight, Gen. George McClellan was a great general. Yes, except for the “doing” the job part, Clinton’s been a boffo secretary of state.

UPDATE: A knowledgeable reader suggests that, in fact, Feaver is using understatement to critique Clinton’s performance. Given Feaver’s work on the George W. Bush National Security Council, it is not hard to conclude that he views Clinton’s tenure as less than successful.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Another reason not to write sentences like: “The city is built on delineations and differentiations, and its particular beauty is owed to its artifice, to its rejection of stillness, to the almost anarchic spectacle of its many relations.” (You have contests started in your honor to guess who wrote such drivel.)

Another reason to doubt the efficacy of sanctions: “The federal government has awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran, despite Washington’s efforts to discourage investment there, records show. That includes nearly $15 billion paid to companies that defied American sanctions law by making large investments that helped Iran develop its vast oil and gas reserves.”

Another reason why the Israelis, one suspects, will eventually have to take matters into their own hands: “Iran is building a new rocket launch site with North Korean assistance, Israel Radio quoted IHS Jane’s as reporting overnight Friday. … The defense intelligence group said the appearance of the launcher suggests assistance from North Korea, and that it may be intended to launch the Simorgh, a long-range Iranian-made missile unveiled in early February and officially intended to be used as a space-launch vehicle (SLV). SLV’s can be converted to be used as long-range ballistic missiles for military purposes.”

Another reason not to get into 2012 prognostications: we don’t know who is running. “After the midterm election this November, the field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 (or later) is going to get bigger and possibly better. The list is long: Mitch Daniels, John Kasich, Meg Whitman, Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, and Jim DeMint. And [Rick] Perry.”

Another reason for Democrats to be nervous: voters trust Republicans more on eight of ten issues, including the economy, health care, taxes, social security, and national security. “Republicans lead Democrats 46% to 41% in terms of voter trust on the economy. In early January 2009, just before President Obama took office, Democrats held a nine-point lead on this issue.”

Another reason to bemoan the state of higher education (or the intellectual and ethical training of those who partake of it). Peter Robinson on the U.C. Berkeley protests over budget cuts: “We have here the vocabulary of the peace movement, of the struggle for decent conditions for migrants and other exploited workers, and of the civil-rights movement. Yet what did the protesters demand? Peace? Human rights? No. Money. And for whom? For the downtrodden and oppressed? No. For themselves. At a time when one American in 10 is unemployed and historic deficits burden both the federal government and many of the states, the protesters attempted to game the political system. They engaged in a resource grab.”

Another reason to believe Secretary Robert Gates is the most valuable member of the administration, and Joe Biden is wrong on pretty much everything: “President Barack Obama has been clear. He wants no new nukes. Pentagon chief Robert Gates has been equally direct, advocating in recent years for a new generation of warheads. … The Obama administration is acutely aware of perceptions that the Nuclear Posture Review has divided senior officials—with Vice President Joe Biden viewed as heading up an arms-control focused camp, and Gates perceived as speaking for a military and nuclear establishment that favors more funding and new weapons programs.”

Another reason not to write sentences like: “The city is built on delineations and differentiations, and its particular beauty is owed to its artifice, to its rejection of stillness, to the almost anarchic spectacle of its many relations.” (You have contests started in your honor to guess who wrote such drivel.)

Another reason to doubt the efficacy of sanctions: “The federal government has awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran, despite Washington’s efforts to discourage investment there, records show. That includes nearly $15 billion paid to companies that defied American sanctions law by making large investments that helped Iran develop its vast oil and gas reserves.”

Another reason why the Israelis, one suspects, will eventually have to take matters into their own hands: “Iran is building a new rocket launch site with North Korean assistance, Israel Radio quoted IHS Jane’s as reporting overnight Friday. … The defense intelligence group said the appearance of the launcher suggests assistance from North Korea, and that it may be intended to launch the Simorgh, a long-range Iranian-made missile unveiled in early February and officially intended to be used as a space-launch vehicle (SLV). SLV’s can be converted to be used as long-range ballistic missiles for military purposes.”

Another reason not to get into 2012 prognostications: we don’t know who is running. “After the midterm election this November, the field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 (or later) is going to get bigger and possibly better. The list is long: Mitch Daniels, John Kasich, Meg Whitman, Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, and Jim DeMint. And [Rick] Perry.”

Another reason for Democrats to be nervous: voters trust Republicans more on eight of ten issues, including the economy, health care, taxes, social security, and national security. “Republicans lead Democrats 46% to 41% in terms of voter trust on the economy. In early January 2009, just before President Obama took office, Democrats held a nine-point lead on this issue.”

Another reason to bemoan the state of higher education (or the intellectual and ethical training of those who partake of it). Peter Robinson on the U.C. Berkeley protests over budget cuts: “We have here the vocabulary of the peace movement, of the struggle for decent conditions for migrants and other exploited workers, and of the civil-rights movement. Yet what did the protesters demand? Peace? Human rights? No. Money. And for whom? For the downtrodden and oppressed? No. For themselves. At a time when one American in 10 is unemployed and historic deficits burden both the federal government and many of the states, the protesters attempted to game the political system. They engaged in a resource grab.”

Another reason to believe Secretary Robert Gates is the most valuable member of the administration, and Joe Biden is wrong on pretty much everything: “President Barack Obama has been clear. He wants no new nukes. Pentagon chief Robert Gates has been equally direct, advocating in recent years for a new generation of warheads. … The Obama administration is acutely aware of perceptions that the Nuclear Posture Review has divided senior officials—with Vice President Joe Biden viewed as heading up an arms-control focused camp, and Gates perceived as speaking for a military and nuclear establishment that favors more funding and new weapons programs.”

Read Less

Bibi Is Right to Be Nervous

The New York Times reports:

Brushing aside international calls for stricter sanctions against it, Iran said Tuesday it had begun enriching uranium for use in a medical reactor to a higher level of purity, raising the stakes again in its dispute with the United States and other countries over its nuclear program. The United States responded by saying it would seek United Nations backing for new sanctions within weeks.

Doesn’t sound like a very swift process, does it? Especially since the Chinese remain vocally opposed to sanctions. (“But news reports on Tuesday quoted a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman , Ma Zhaoxu, as urging continued ‘dialogue and negotiations,’ refusing to be drawn on the question of sanctions.”) Bibi Netanyahu responded with a statement that seems as much aimed at the Obami as at the Iranians: “I believe that what is required right now is tough action from the international community. … This means not moderate sanctions, or watered-down sanctions. This means crippling sanctions, and these sanctions must be applied right now.”

What Bibi is referring to is no secret. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both been downplaying the “crippling” part of the “crippling sanctions” that the Obama team has been promising for months. They insist the sanctions must be focused so as not to impact the Iranian people. What those might look like and how we could possibly impact the regime by such narrowly focused measures have been left vague. Meanwhile, there are very serious sanctions that in slightly different forms have passed both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, but the Obama team has been noticeably cool to those. Too crippling, I suppose.

So let’s see if, in the face of the abject failure of its engagement strategy, and with bipartisan support in Congress for very tough sanctions — “not moderate sanctions, or watered-down sanctions” — the Obami can make a final stab at preventing the revolutionary Islamic state from going nuclear. I suppose we’ll know “within weeks” — but then the Obama team was supposed to get serious in September, and again at the close of 2009. We’ve seen this routine before. Bibi is right to be nervous.

The New York Times reports:

Brushing aside international calls for stricter sanctions against it, Iran said Tuesday it had begun enriching uranium for use in a medical reactor to a higher level of purity, raising the stakes again in its dispute with the United States and other countries over its nuclear program. The United States responded by saying it would seek United Nations backing for new sanctions within weeks.

Doesn’t sound like a very swift process, does it? Especially since the Chinese remain vocally opposed to sanctions. (“But news reports on Tuesday quoted a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman , Ma Zhaoxu, as urging continued ‘dialogue and negotiations,’ refusing to be drawn on the question of sanctions.”) Bibi Netanyahu responded with a statement that seems as much aimed at the Obami as at the Iranians: “I believe that what is required right now is tough action from the international community. … This means not moderate sanctions, or watered-down sanctions. This means crippling sanctions, and these sanctions must be applied right now.”

What Bibi is referring to is no secret. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both been downplaying the “crippling” part of the “crippling sanctions” that the Obama team has been promising for months. They insist the sanctions must be focused so as not to impact the Iranian people. What those might look like and how we could possibly impact the regime by such narrowly focused measures have been left vague. Meanwhile, there are very serious sanctions that in slightly different forms have passed both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, but the Obama team has been noticeably cool to those. Too crippling, I suppose.

So let’s see if, in the face of the abject failure of its engagement strategy, and with bipartisan support in Congress for very tough sanctions — “not moderate sanctions, or watered-down sanctions” — the Obami can make a final stab at preventing the revolutionary Islamic state from going nuclear. I suppose we’ll know “within weeks” — but then the Obama team was supposed to get serious in September, and again at the close of 2009. We’ve seen this routine before. Bibi is right to be nervous.

Read Less

Re: You Don’t Have to Be a Harvard Think Tank

As Rick notes, think-tank scholars, international diplomats, and ordinary people can all see that Iran engagement has been a bust. Just as Hillary Clinton was touting Iran engagement — despite its failure to unclench any fists – the Iranian mullahs were delivering another slap in the face of the Obami suitors:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered his country’s atomic agency on Sunday to begin the production of higher enriched uranium, a move that’s likely to deepen international skepticism about the country’s real intentions on the crucial issue of enriched uranium.

While Clinton prattles on about an open door, and the Foggy Bottom spokesmen reference vague consequences to befall the Iranians if they don’t start demonstrating their desire to “join the community of nations” (or something like that), the resident grown-up in the Obama administration, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, was signaling that the jig is up for engagement. (“Speaking to reporters during a weeklong European tour, Mr. Gates said that ‘if the international community will stand together and bring pressure’ on Iran, ‘I believe there is still time for sanctions to work.’”) But even Gibbs is compelled to  parrot the Obama line that those crippling sanctions can’t be too crippling because the Iranian people might get mad at us. (Really, do supporters of the administration’s policy suppose that the democracy advocates marching and dying in the streets have not figured out the source of their oppression?)

The latest development follows only a week after the Iranians were seen trying to lure us back to the bargaining table. Well, never mind that. Another week and another threat:

In what was interpreted to be a possible shift of policy on a major issue, Mr. Ahmadinejad said last week he was ready to export his country’s low-enriched uranium for higher enrichment abroad, saying Iran had “no problem” with the plan. Sunday’s comments, however, appeared to justify the skepticism with which his Tuesday’s comments were met by world leaders.

Mr. Salehi, the head of the Iranian atomic energy agency, later appeared to play down the significance of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments. He told the official IRNA news agency the president was giving a “preparedness order” so Iran would be ready to enrich its uranium if the exchange with the West fails to take place.

He said the higher enrichment would be carried out in facilities in the central Iranian town of Natanz.

It takes a lot of foot-dragging and indifference to all available evidence for the Obami to maintain their fixation on negotiation and to delay imposition of any serious sanctions that might impact the regime’s nuclear ambitions. You would think a full month after the self-imposed end-of-year deadline, which followed the self-imposed September deadline, the Obama team would finally get serious. But no.

As a sharp Capitol Hill adviser described Clinton’s embarrassing outing on Sunday: “I’m sure that she has a sure fire containment strategy ready.” That, unfortunately, is where I suspect they are heading — having frittered a year away, whittled down sanctions, and disparaged any military option. After all, Clinton told us the nuclear threat from Iran really isn’t our primary consideration. We’ll see if Obama goes down in history as the president who allowed the revolutionary Islamic regime to go nuclear and who let the Iranian democracy movement die on the vine. Quite a legacy that would be.

As Rick notes, think-tank scholars, international diplomats, and ordinary people can all see that Iran engagement has been a bust. Just as Hillary Clinton was touting Iran engagement — despite its failure to unclench any fists – the Iranian mullahs were delivering another slap in the face of the Obami suitors:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered his country’s atomic agency on Sunday to begin the production of higher enriched uranium, a move that’s likely to deepen international skepticism about the country’s real intentions on the crucial issue of enriched uranium.

While Clinton prattles on about an open door, and the Foggy Bottom spokesmen reference vague consequences to befall the Iranians if they don’t start demonstrating their desire to “join the community of nations” (or something like that), the resident grown-up in the Obama administration, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, was signaling that the jig is up for engagement. (“Speaking to reporters during a weeklong European tour, Mr. Gates said that ‘if the international community will stand together and bring pressure’ on Iran, ‘I believe there is still time for sanctions to work.’”) But even Gibbs is compelled to  parrot the Obama line that those crippling sanctions can’t be too crippling because the Iranian people might get mad at us. (Really, do supporters of the administration’s policy suppose that the democracy advocates marching and dying in the streets have not figured out the source of their oppression?)

The latest development follows only a week after the Iranians were seen trying to lure us back to the bargaining table. Well, never mind that. Another week and another threat:

In what was interpreted to be a possible shift of policy on a major issue, Mr. Ahmadinejad said last week he was ready to export his country’s low-enriched uranium for higher enrichment abroad, saying Iran had “no problem” with the plan. Sunday’s comments, however, appeared to justify the skepticism with which his Tuesday’s comments were met by world leaders.

Mr. Salehi, the head of the Iranian atomic energy agency, later appeared to play down the significance of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments. He told the official IRNA news agency the president was giving a “preparedness order” so Iran would be ready to enrich its uranium if the exchange with the West fails to take place.

He said the higher enrichment would be carried out in facilities in the central Iranian town of Natanz.

It takes a lot of foot-dragging and indifference to all available evidence for the Obami to maintain their fixation on negotiation and to delay imposition of any serious sanctions that might impact the regime’s nuclear ambitions. You would think a full month after the self-imposed end-of-year deadline, which followed the self-imposed September deadline, the Obama team would finally get serious. But no.

As a sharp Capitol Hill adviser described Clinton’s embarrassing outing on Sunday: “I’m sure that she has a sure fire containment strategy ready.” That, unfortunately, is where I suspect they are heading — having frittered a year away, whittled down sanctions, and disparaged any military option. After all, Clinton told us the nuclear threat from Iran really isn’t our primary consideration. We’ll see if Obama goes down in history as the president who allowed the revolutionary Islamic regime to go nuclear and who let the Iranian democracy movement die on the vine. Quite a legacy that would be.

Read Less

No George Bush When It Comes to Our Allies

Noting Obama’s decision to skip the U.S.–European Union Summit and spurn its host, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Jackson Diehl sees a pattern by Obama of withdrawal from and growing indifference to international affairs. He writes:

It’s not just Zapatero who has trouble gaining traction in this White House: Unlike most of his predecessors, Obama has not forged close ties with any European leader. Britain’s Brown, France’s Sarkozy and Germany’s Merkel have each, in turn, felt snubbed by him. Relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are tense at best. George W. Bush used to hold regular videoconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Obama has spoken to them on only a handful of occasions.

Diehl raises a number of issues here. First, Obama was never that game on international commitments. He told us again and again — although Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton tried to hush him up on this — that he wasn’t going to make an open-ended commitment of American troops in Afghanistan. He repeated in his West Point speech and in interviews that his concern was rebuilding at home (i.e., his ultra-liberal domestic agenda). Beyond Afghanistan, much of his foreign policy arguably can be seen as conflict avoidance — don’t ruffle the Russians, don’t draw a line with Iran, don’t get the Chinese upset about human rights — precisely so he can focus resources and attention on his beloved health-care, cap-and-trade, and other domestic proposals.

Second, to the degree he was inward-focused from the get-go, Obama certainly has become more so as his domestic agenda and poll numbers have cratered. He begrudgingly dragged himself to the microphone to address the Christmas Day bomber (though he was uninformed, and misinformed the public that we were dealing with an “isolated extremist”). He zipped by national-security matters in his State of the Union speech. Maybe once he got that Nobel Peace Prize, he just lost interest.

And finally, could it be (Diehl is certainly providing some evidence) that Obama is less effective as an international diplomat that the Cowboy from Crawford? You mean Obama hasn’t bonded with any foreign leader, as George W. Bush did with Tony Blair, for example? (Well, returning the Winston Churchill bust and the cheesy gifts to the Brits probably didn’t help Obama with that ally.) He’s not keeping up with key leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan the way Bush did, we are told. And then there is the Israel debacle. I don’t suppose Obama would win any popularity contests in Honduras, Poland, or the Czech Republic either.

So to sum up, the president who campaigned to restore our standing in the world and practice “smart” diplomacy isn’t much interested in the world, expends little time and no effort in bolstering democracy and human rights, and doesn’t have effective relationships with key allies — at least not as effective as were Bush’s. Well, he did run as “not Bush,” and now he’s living up to that particular campaign promise. Too bad: the result is the most error-strewn, irresolute, and ham-handed foreign-policy apparatus since the Carter administration. Maybe living in Indonesia as a child wasn’t sufficient foreign-policy preparation after all.

Noting Obama’s decision to skip the U.S.–European Union Summit and spurn its host, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Jackson Diehl sees a pattern by Obama of withdrawal from and growing indifference to international affairs. He writes:

It’s not just Zapatero who has trouble gaining traction in this White House: Unlike most of his predecessors, Obama has not forged close ties with any European leader. Britain’s Brown, France’s Sarkozy and Germany’s Merkel have each, in turn, felt snubbed by him. Relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are tense at best. George W. Bush used to hold regular videoconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Obama has spoken to them on only a handful of occasions.

Diehl raises a number of issues here. First, Obama was never that game on international commitments. He told us again and again — although Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton tried to hush him up on this — that he wasn’t going to make an open-ended commitment of American troops in Afghanistan. He repeated in his West Point speech and in interviews that his concern was rebuilding at home (i.e., his ultra-liberal domestic agenda). Beyond Afghanistan, much of his foreign policy arguably can be seen as conflict avoidance — don’t ruffle the Russians, don’t draw a line with Iran, don’t get the Chinese upset about human rights — precisely so he can focus resources and attention on his beloved health-care, cap-and-trade, and other domestic proposals.

Second, to the degree he was inward-focused from the get-go, Obama certainly has become more so as his domestic agenda and poll numbers have cratered. He begrudgingly dragged himself to the microphone to address the Christmas Day bomber (though he was uninformed, and misinformed the public that we were dealing with an “isolated extremist”). He zipped by national-security matters in his State of the Union speech. Maybe once he got that Nobel Peace Prize, he just lost interest.

And finally, could it be (Diehl is certainly providing some evidence) that Obama is less effective as an international diplomat that the Cowboy from Crawford? You mean Obama hasn’t bonded with any foreign leader, as George W. Bush did with Tony Blair, for example? (Well, returning the Winston Churchill bust and the cheesy gifts to the Brits probably didn’t help Obama with that ally.) He’s not keeping up with key leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan the way Bush did, we are told. And then there is the Israel debacle. I don’t suppose Obama would win any popularity contests in Honduras, Poland, or the Czech Republic either.

So to sum up, the president who campaigned to restore our standing in the world and practice “smart” diplomacy isn’t much interested in the world, expends little time and no effort in bolstering democracy and human rights, and doesn’t have effective relationships with key allies — at least not as effective as were Bush’s. Well, he did run as “not Bush,” and now he’s living up to that particular campaign promise. Too bad: the result is the most error-strewn, irresolute, and ham-handed foreign-policy apparatus since the Carter administration. Maybe living in Indonesia as a child wasn’t sufficient foreign-policy preparation after all.

Read Less

Iran’s Nuclear Clock Moves Ahead Another Hour

Thirty-eight days past Washington’s January 1 deadline for Iran to respond to frequent calls for negotiations on its nuclear-weapons program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again thumbed his nose at Barack Obama. Speaking on live TV, the Iranian president told the country’s atomic energy chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, to “please start 20 percent enrichment” of uranium into nuclear fuel. While both Ahmadinejad and Salehi spoke of the move as part of previously failed negotiations in which the West would accept the continuance of the Iranian program as long as it agreed to exchange its own nuclear material for enriched uranium from another country, the point of the announcement was to force the West to back away from sanctions on Iran. But given the ignominious failure of previous attempts to work out such a deal and, as even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pointed out this weekend, Iran’s clear unwillingness to abide by any such rules, there is no point to talks along these lines.

But Iran’s announcement has a double meaning. While clearly provocative, a New York Times report speculates that it also intended to serve as cover for China and Russia to continue to support further negotiations about fuel exchange so as to avoid United Nations sanctions. The Obama administration wasted much of the past year trying to prove that the president’s belief in “engagement” with rogue regimes was smarter than attempts to confront or isolate them. All that has accomplished is to give the Iranians another year to plan, build, and scheme while undermining the notion that there is anything like an international consensus that will stop them.

There are those who argue that the Iranians are still bluffing with their talk of 20 percent enrichment. We don’t know whether that’s true, but given the way the regime has managed to brutally crush internal dissent, as well as foil Obama’s attempt to get China and Russia to join a sanctions coalition, Ahmadinejad has good reason to be feeling confident these days. At this point, the best the world can hope for is that after several more months of failed diplomacy, perhaps America, Britain, France, and Germany will announce some sort of less-than-crippling-sanctions plan that everyone knows Iran will be able to easily evade. Such a plan will, no doubt, be trumpeted by the administration as a triumph of Obama’s leadership. But the fact remains that his dithering has strengthened Iran’s belief that no one can stop it. All of which means that announcements such as Ahmadinejad’s talk on Iran TV mean that we are yet another day closer to an Iranian nuclear device, something that Barack Obama promised America he would never let happen.

Thirty-eight days past Washington’s January 1 deadline for Iran to respond to frequent calls for negotiations on its nuclear-weapons program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again thumbed his nose at Barack Obama. Speaking on live TV, the Iranian president told the country’s atomic energy chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, to “please start 20 percent enrichment” of uranium into nuclear fuel. While both Ahmadinejad and Salehi spoke of the move as part of previously failed negotiations in which the West would accept the continuance of the Iranian program as long as it agreed to exchange its own nuclear material for enriched uranium from another country, the point of the announcement was to force the West to back away from sanctions on Iran. But given the ignominious failure of previous attempts to work out such a deal and, as even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pointed out this weekend, Iran’s clear unwillingness to abide by any such rules, there is no point to talks along these lines.

But Iran’s announcement has a double meaning. While clearly provocative, a New York Times report speculates that it also intended to serve as cover for China and Russia to continue to support further negotiations about fuel exchange so as to avoid United Nations sanctions. The Obama administration wasted much of the past year trying to prove that the president’s belief in “engagement” with rogue regimes was smarter than attempts to confront or isolate them. All that has accomplished is to give the Iranians another year to plan, build, and scheme while undermining the notion that there is anything like an international consensus that will stop them.

There are those who argue that the Iranians are still bluffing with their talk of 20 percent enrichment. We don’t know whether that’s true, but given the way the regime has managed to brutally crush internal dissent, as well as foil Obama’s attempt to get China and Russia to join a sanctions coalition, Ahmadinejad has good reason to be feeling confident these days. At this point, the best the world can hope for is that after several more months of failed diplomacy, perhaps America, Britain, France, and Germany will announce some sort of less-than-crippling-sanctions plan that everyone knows Iran will be able to easily evade. Such a plan will, no doubt, be trumpeted by the administration as a triumph of Obama’s leadership. But the fact remains that his dithering has strengthened Iran’s belief that no one can stop it. All of which means that announcements such as Ahmadinejad’s talk on Iran TV mean that we are yet another day closer to an Iranian nuclear device, something that Barack Obama promised America he would never let happen.

Read Less

The Gates Minuet

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is perpetually walking a tightrope. He is, after all, a member of the president’s cabinet, and if he wants to remain so, he must display loyalty and hew to administration policy. But he indisputably has little patience for the notion that we can endear ourselves to Islamic fascists or Iranian despots. His department is, unlike the rest of the federal government, on a strict budget, so he must make the most of what limited funds he has. And in all this, he is incapable of lying. So we have a series of pained but telling comments from him.

After the announced decision to deploy 30,000-plus troops to Afghanistan (a position he favored), it was up to Gates (along with Hillary Clinton) to soft-pedal the 18-month deadline. He took to the talk shows and Congressional hearings to assure everyone that Obama didn’t really mean a fixed deadline and that we’d of course stick it out to achieve our aims, relying on conditions on the ground.

On the Mirandizing of the Christmas Day bomber, he would only say this was Eric Holder’s call. And while he was careful not to slam his cabinet colleague, in an exchange with Sen. John McCain, he left little doubt about what he thought of the decision:

Gates said “I think we did not have the high-level interrogators there that we now have protocols in place” to assure their presence. But he added: “I believe that a team of highly experienced FBI and other interrogators could be as effective in interrogating the prisoner as anyone operating under the (Army) field manual.”

McCain asked Gates if he agreed with an assertion by Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, that better, more complete or more useful information might have been gleaned from the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, if he had been subjected to a more intense style of interrogation.

“I’m just not in a position to know the answer to that, senator,” Gates replied. But he did reply, “Yes,” when asked if he thought a special group of more qualified interrogators, members of the High Value Interrogation Group, should have been present.

Nor does Gates want to suggest that there is any hope that we can talk the mullahs out of their nukes. On Iran:

Speaking to reporters in Ankara after meeting with Turkish leaders, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he does not believe that Iran and the West are close to a nuclear deal. “I don’t have the sense that we’re close to an agreement,” Gates told reporters, according to Reuters. “If they are prepared to take up the original proposal of the P-5 plus one of delivering 1,200 kilograms of their low enriched uranium, all at once to an agreed party, I think there would be a response to that,” he added. He described Iran’s response to Obama’s diplomatic outreach as “disappointing.”

But alas, he is part of the administration and voiced the Obama line that the purpose of sanctions would be to get the mullahs back to the table, not to affect regime change.

Gates is unlikely to please either the Left or the Right. The Left would rather that Joe Biden run national-security policy and that the Gates position on Afghanistan had been rejected. They smarted as he fuzzed up the 18-month deadline that Obama had thrown to the Left as a consolation prize. Conservatives would certainly prefer he not make excuses for cuts in missile defense and be more critical of Holder’s serial follies. But those conservatives who expect more of Gates should ask themselves: would the administration’s national-security policy be worse without him? The answer, I would suggest, is almost certainly yes. So the Gates minuet continues.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is perpetually walking a tightrope. He is, after all, a member of the president’s cabinet, and if he wants to remain so, he must display loyalty and hew to administration policy. But he indisputably has little patience for the notion that we can endear ourselves to Islamic fascists or Iranian despots. His department is, unlike the rest of the federal government, on a strict budget, so he must make the most of what limited funds he has. And in all this, he is incapable of lying. So we have a series of pained but telling comments from him.

After the announced decision to deploy 30,000-plus troops to Afghanistan (a position he favored), it was up to Gates (along with Hillary Clinton) to soft-pedal the 18-month deadline. He took to the talk shows and Congressional hearings to assure everyone that Obama didn’t really mean a fixed deadline and that we’d of course stick it out to achieve our aims, relying on conditions on the ground.

On the Mirandizing of the Christmas Day bomber, he would only say this was Eric Holder’s call. And while he was careful not to slam his cabinet colleague, in an exchange with Sen. John McCain, he left little doubt about what he thought of the decision:

Gates said “I think we did not have the high-level interrogators there that we now have protocols in place” to assure their presence. But he added: “I believe that a team of highly experienced FBI and other interrogators could be as effective in interrogating the prisoner as anyone operating under the (Army) field manual.”

McCain asked Gates if he agreed with an assertion by Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, that better, more complete or more useful information might have been gleaned from the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, if he had been subjected to a more intense style of interrogation.

“I’m just not in a position to know the answer to that, senator,” Gates replied. But he did reply, “Yes,” when asked if he thought a special group of more qualified interrogators, members of the High Value Interrogation Group, should have been present.

Nor does Gates want to suggest that there is any hope that we can talk the mullahs out of their nukes. On Iran:

Speaking to reporters in Ankara after meeting with Turkish leaders, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he does not believe that Iran and the West are close to a nuclear deal. “I don’t have the sense that we’re close to an agreement,” Gates told reporters, according to Reuters. “If they are prepared to take up the original proposal of the P-5 plus one of delivering 1,200 kilograms of their low enriched uranium, all at once to an agreed party, I think there would be a response to that,” he added. He described Iran’s response to Obama’s diplomatic outreach as “disappointing.”

But alas, he is part of the administration and voiced the Obama line that the purpose of sanctions would be to get the mullahs back to the table, not to affect regime change.

Gates is unlikely to please either the Left or the Right. The Left would rather that Joe Biden run national-security policy and that the Gates position on Afghanistan had been rejected. They smarted as he fuzzed up the 18-month deadline that Obama had thrown to the Left as a consolation prize. Conservatives would certainly prefer he not make excuses for cuts in missile defense and be more critical of Holder’s serial follies. But those conservatives who expect more of Gates should ask themselves: would the administration’s national-security policy be worse without him? The answer, I would suggest, is almost certainly yes. So the Gates minuet continues.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.