Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tehran

What Vietnam Should Teach Us About Iran

J.E. Dyer’s excellent post yesterday correctly noted that this week’s talks with Iran, like the previous rounds, will merely buy Tehran more time to advance its nuclear program. That the West would commit such folly shows it has yet to learn a crucial lesson of the Vietnam War: though it sees compromise as the ultimate solution to any conflict, its opponents’ aim is often total victory.

Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and then secretary of state during Vietnam, expounded on this difference at a State Department conference this fall. As Haaretz reported:

The Americans sought a compromise; the North Vietnamese a victory, to replace the regime in the south and to unite the two halves of Vietnam under their rule. When they became stronger militarily, they attacked; when they were blocked, they agreed to bargain; when they signed an agreement, they waited for an opportunity to break it and win.

That same disconnect between the parties’ goals exists today over Iran’s nuclear program. The West repeatedly says its goal is compromise. Even as the UN approved new sanctions against Tehran in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her ultimate aim was to get Iran “back at the negotiating table.” And when the EU discussed additional sanctions in July, its high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, insisted that “The purpose of all this is to say, ‘We’re serious, we need to talk.’ … Nothing would dissuade me from the fact that talks should happen.”

Iran, however, isn’t seeking compromise; it’s playing to win. And that explains all its diplomatic twists and turns, like scrapping last year’s deal to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad immediately after signing it.

Diplomats and journalists, convinced that Iran, too, wants compromise, have espoused strained explanations, like disagreements between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief backer, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But once you realize that Iran’s goal is victory, it’s clear that Tehran never intended to give up its uranium. It merely wanted time to develop its nuclear program further before new sanctions were imposed. The scrapped deal bought it a year: first the months of talks; then more time wasted in efforts to lure Iran back to the deal it walked out of; and finally, months spent negotiating the new sanctions, which weren’t discussed previously for fear of scuttling the chances of a deal.

Now Tehran again feels pressured, so, like Hanoi, it’s agreeing to bargain. It’s no accident that after months of preliminary jockeying, Iran finally set a date for the talks immediately after the WikiLeaks cables made worldwide headlines. The cables’ revelation of an Arab consensus for military action against Tehran gives new ammunition to an incoming Congress already inclined to be tougher on Iran and also facilitates a potential Israeli military strike: who now would believe the inevitable Arab denunciations afterward?

So Iran, cognizant of the West’s weakness, has taken out the perfect insurance policy: as long as it’s talking, feeding the West’s hope for compromise, Western leaders will oppose both new sanctions and military action. And Tehran will be able to continue its march toward victory unimpeded.

J.E. Dyer’s excellent post yesterday correctly noted that this week’s talks with Iran, like the previous rounds, will merely buy Tehran more time to advance its nuclear program. That the West would commit such folly shows it has yet to learn a crucial lesson of the Vietnam War: though it sees compromise as the ultimate solution to any conflict, its opponents’ aim is often total victory.

Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and then secretary of state during Vietnam, expounded on this difference at a State Department conference this fall. As Haaretz reported:

The Americans sought a compromise; the North Vietnamese a victory, to replace the regime in the south and to unite the two halves of Vietnam under their rule. When they became stronger militarily, they attacked; when they were blocked, they agreed to bargain; when they signed an agreement, they waited for an opportunity to break it and win.

That same disconnect between the parties’ goals exists today over Iran’s nuclear program. The West repeatedly says its goal is compromise. Even as the UN approved new sanctions against Tehran in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her ultimate aim was to get Iran “back at the negotiating table.” And when the EU discussed additional sanctions in July, its high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, insisted that “The purpose of all this is to say, ‘We’re serious, we need to talk.’ … Nothing would dissuade me from the fact that talks should happen.”

Iran, however, isn’t seeking compromise; it’s playing to win. And that explains all its diplomatic twists and turns, like scrapping last year’s deal to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad immediately after signing it.

Diplomats and journalists, convinced that Iran, too, wants compromise, have espoused strained explanations, like disagreements between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief backer, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But once you realize that Iran’s goal is victory, it’s clear that Tehran never intended to give up its uranium. It merely wanted time to develop its nuclear program further before new sanctions were imposed. The scrapped deal bought it a year: first the months of talks; then more time wasted in efforts to lure Iran back to the deal it walked out of; and finally, months spent negotiating the new sanctions, which weren’t discussed previously for fear of scuttling the chances of a deal.

Now Tehran again feels pressured, so, like Hanoi, it’s agreeing to bargain. It’s no accident that after months of preliminary jockeying, Iran finally set a date for the talks immediately after the WikiLeaks cables made worldwide headlines. The cables’ revelation of an Arab consensus for military action against Tehran gives new ammunition to an incoming Congress already inclined to be tougher on Iran and also facilitates a potential Israeli military strike: who now would believe the inevitable Arab denunciations afterward?

So Iran, cognizant of the West’s weakness, has taken out the perfect insurance policy: as long as it’s talking, feeding the West’s hope for compromise, Western leaders will oppose both new sanctions and military action. And Tehran will be able to continue its march toward victory unimpeded.

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Morning Commentary

Chas Freeman’s New York Times column “Why Iran Loves WikiLeaks” is as scary as it sounds.

Obama finally speaks with China about North Korea, nearly two weeks after the North’s attack on South Korea. Some experts see this as a sign of strained relations between the U.S. and China.

New WikiLeaks dump reveals list of international facilities vital to U.S. security. There are concerns that these locations may become targets of terrorist attacks.

The New York Times’s public editor on why he’s glad the paper published WikiLeaks: “The Times, like other serious news organizations in democracies, exists to ferret out and publish information — most especially information that government, business and other power centers prefer to conceal. Arming readers with knowledge is what it’s about, and journalists are motivated to pursue that end.”

The Iranian foreign minister snubs Hilary Clinton in Bahrain as the heat turns up on Iran’s nuclear program. Talks between Tehran and P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear ambitions begin today.

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about John Boehner can be found in an extensive New Yorker profile out today. The congressman takes over as speaker of the House on January 5.

Afghani confidence with the U.S. is faltering, according to a new poll: “[T]he results … lay bare the challenge that remains in encouraging more Afghans to repudiate the insurgency and cast their lot with the government.”

Chas Freeman’s New York Times column “Why Iran Loves WikiLeaks” is as scary as it sounds.

Obama finally speaks with China about North Korea, nearly two weeks after the North’s attack on South Korea. Some experts see this as a sign of strained relations between the U.S. and China.

New WikiLeaks dump reveals list of international facilities vital to U.S. security. There are concerns that these locations may become targets of terrorist attacks.

The New York Times’s public editor on why he’s glad the paper published WikiLeaks: “The Times, like other serious news organizations in democracies, exists to ferret out and publish information — most especially information that government, business and other power centers prefer to conceal. Arming readers with knowledge is what it’s about, and journalists are motivated to pursue that end.”

The Iranian foreign minister snubs Hilary Clinton in Bahrain as the heat turns up on Iran’s nuclear program. Talks between Tehran and P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear ambitions begin today.

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about John Boehner can be found in an extensive New Yorker profile out today. The congressman takes over as speaker of the House on January 5.

Afghani confidence with the U.S. is faltering, according to a new poll: “[T]he results … lay bare the challenge that remains in encouraging more Afghans to repudiate the insurgency and cast their lot with the government.”

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Dems Try to Muscle Jews into Backing Russian Treaty

The call by Democratic senators Chuck Schumer and Carl Levin for AIPAC to back passage of the stalled START treaty with Russia speaks volumes about the growing desperation of both the White House and its Senate allies.

The administration is reportedly going all-out to push Jewish groups to lobby for the treaty, but it is unlikely that AIPAC will succumb to the pressure. The group has been scrupulous about sticking to its agenda of working only on behalf of Israel-related issues, a policy that keeps it strictly neutral on arms control measures like START. Nevertheless, Schumer and Levin claim that friends of Israel are obligated to back a measure that is key to Obama’s “reset” of relations with Russia because it is the price the United States must pay to keep the Medvedev/Putin regime on board with the effort to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capacity.

That’s an argument that the liberal-leaning Anti-Defamation League as well as Obama’s cheering section at the National Jewish Democratic Council and J Street have accepted, though the latter group seems to be backing it more out of a knee-jerk reaction to any appeasement measure rather than concern about Iranian nukes. But this selling point is based on a false assumption about both Russia’s intentions and its interests.

While the need to build an anti-Iranian coalition is something all friends of Israel care about, it is far from clear that Obama’s impulse to sacrifice America’s own defense interests in the cause of making the authoritarian regime in Moscow more comfortable is something that will tangibly impact the ability of the international community to confront Tehran. The Russians have exacted a high price from Obama for their half-hearted support for tepid sanctions on Iran that are clearly inadequate to the task, even though it is obviously just as much in their interest to stop Tehran as it is in the rest of the international community’s.

Moreover, once we strip away the talk about this treaty’s being essential to Iran policy, it is easy to see that its passage has more to do with Obama’s fetish about arms control agreements than anything else, and it is on the merits of that issue alone that this issue should be decided.

As for Jewish groups that might be tempted to wade in on START, they also need to understand that the push to pass the treaty before the end of the year in Congress’s lame duck session smacks of the sort of partisanship that groups like AIPAC and the ADL ought to avoid. While Jewish Democrats are fond of castigating the GOP for attempting to win votes by comparing its record on Israel to that of the Democrats, what’s going on here is a far more blatant instance of Jewish groups carrying the water for one side of the political aisle. The Senate ought to wait until January, when newly elected members are seated and will have a chance to consider this treaty. And Jewish and pro-Israel organizations should stay out of a fight that has everything to do with the Obama administration’s foreign policy obsessions and little to do with the defense of Israel.

The call by Democratic senators Chuck Schumer and Carl Levin for AIPAC to back passage of the stalled START treaty with Russia speaks volumes about the growing desperation of both the White House and its Senate allies.

The administration is reportedly going all-out to push Jewish groups to lobby for the treaty, but it is unlikely that AIPAC will succumb to the pressure. The group has been scrupulous about sticking to its agenda of working only on behalf of Israel-related issues, a policy that keeps it strictly neutral on arms control measures like START. Nevertheless, Schumer and Levin claim that friends of Israel are obligated to back a measure that is key to Obama’s “reset” of relations with Russia because it is the price the United States must pay to keep the Medvedev/Putin regime on board with the effort to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capacity.

That’s an argument that the liberal-leaning Anti-Defamation League as well as Obama’s cheering section at the National Jewish Democratic Council and J Street have accepted, though the latter group seems to be backing it more out of a knee-jerk reaction to any appeasement measure rather than concern about Iranian nukes. But this selling point is based on a false assumption about both Russia’s intentions and its interests.

While the need to build an anti-Iranian coalition is something all friends of Israel care about, it is far from clear that Obama’s impulse to sacrifice America’s own defense interests in the cause of making the authoritarian regime in Moscow more comfortable is something that will tangibly impact the ability of the international community to confront Tehran. The Russians have exacted a high price from Obama for their half-hearted support for tepid sanctions on Iran that are clearly inadequate to the task, even though it is obviously just as much in their interest to stop Tehran as it is in the rest of the international community’s.

Moreover, once we strip away the talk about this treaty’s being essential to Iran policy, it is easy to see that its passage has more to do with Obama’s fetish about arms control agreements than anything else, and it is on the merits of that issue alone that this issue should be decided.

As for Jewish groups that might be tempted to wade in on START, they also need to understand that the push to pass the treaty before the end of the year in Congress’s lame duck session smacks of the sort of partisanship that groups like AIPAC and the ADL ought to avoid. While Jewish Democrats are fond of castigating the GOP for attempting to win votes by comparing its record on Israel to that of the Democrats, what’s going on here is a far more blatant instance of Jewish groups carrying the water for one side of the political aisle. The Senate ought to wait until January, when newly elected members are seated and will have a chance to consider this treaty. And Jewish and pro-Israel organizations should stay out of a fight that has everything to do with the Obama administration’s foreign policy obsessions and little to do with the defense of Israel.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

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When Will Liberals Acknowledge What the Arab World Already Knows?

Based on secret diplomatic cables that were published by the website WikiLeaks, Foreign Policy reports, “In a telling exchange at the end of his meeting with the emir, the Qatari ruler gave [Senator John] Kerry some advice for dealing with the Iranian government. ‘The Amir closed the meeting by offering that based on 30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you 100 words. Trust only one of the 100,’ the cable said.”

As has already been noted this morning on CONTENTIONS, this corresponds with what we’ve learned from other Arab leaders. For example, Bahrain’s king warning that the “danger of letting it [Iran’s nuclear program] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. The Saudi king “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program,” one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the General David Petraeus in April 2008. Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, in warning of the dangers of appeasing Iran, declared, “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the Iranians “sponsors of terrorism.” Mubarak urged the U.S. to be wary of what Iran says, because “they are big, fat liars” and he thinks this opinion is shared by other leaders in the region. But Mubarak also said that “no Arab state will join the U.S. in a defense relationship vis-a-vis Iran out of fear of ‘sabotage and Iranian terrorism.’” Mubarak added that Iran’s support of terrorism is “well-known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation.” (For good measure, Mubarak, in speaking on the Middle East peace process, expressed pessimism, saying that “Palestinians are quarreling” and Hamas will reject agreements made by Abu Mazen.)

WikiLeaks’s release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables also reveals that Iran used Red Crescent ambulances to smuggle weapons and agents into Lebanon during Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel and that it has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, including 19 from North Korea, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.

What the most recent batch of WikiLeaks reveals, in other words, is that the Arab world sounds at least as hawkish as anything you will find in the pages of COMMENTARY magazine. The difference, of course, is that the Arab leaders are, as Mubarak himself confirmed, playing a disreputable double game — publicly saying one thing (for example, pretending that the source of unrest and anxiety in the Middle East is Israel) while privately saying another (Iran is by far the main danger posed to Arab states and peace in the Middle East).

Julian Assange is himself a despicable and disturbing character who seems to harbor a fierce hatred for America. He and WikiLeaks should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But there is an irony in all this: WikiLeaks is the instrument that most confirms the conservative view of the world (as J.E. Dyer argues here). Now that most of the Arab world has confirmed what neo-conservatives have said about Iran, how long will it be until liberals finally do?

Based on secret diplomatic cables that were published by the website WikiLeaks, Foreign Policy reports, “In a telling exchange at the end of his meeting with the emir, the Qatari ruler gave [Senator John] Kerry some advice for dealing with the Iranian government. ‘The Amir closed the meeting by offering that based on 30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you 100 words. Trust only one of the 100,’ the cable said.”

As has already been noted this morning on CONTENTIONS, this corresponds with what we’ve learned from other Arab leaders. For example, Bahrain’s king warning that the “danger of letting it [Iran’s nuclear program] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. The Saudi king “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program,” one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the General David Petraeus in April 2008. Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, in warning of the dangers of appeasing Iran, declared, “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the Iranians “sponsors of terrorism.” Mubarak urged the U.S. to be wary of what Iran says, because “they are big, fat liars” and he thinks this opinion is shared by other leaders in the region. But Mubarak also said that “no Arab state will join the U.S. in a defense relationship vis-a-vis Iran out of fear of ‘sabotage and Iranian terrorism.’” Mubarak added that Iran’s support of terrorism is “well-known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation.” (For good measure, Mubarak, in speaking on the Middle East peace process, expressed pessimism, saying that “Palestinians are quarreling” and Hamas will reject agreements made by Abu Mazen.)

WikiLeaks’s release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables also reveals that Iran used Red Crescent ambulances to smuggle weapons and agents into Lebanon during Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel and that it has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, including 19 from North Korea, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.

What the most recent batch of WikiLeaks reveals, in other words, is that the Arab world sounds at least as hawkish as anything you will find in the pages of COMMENTARY magazine. The difference, of course, is that the Arab leaders are, as Mubarak himself confirmed, playing a disreputable double game — publicly saying one thing (for example, pretending that the source of unrest and anxiety in the Middle East is Israel) while privately saying another (Iran is by far the main danger posed to Arab states and peace in the Middle East).

Julian Assange is himself a despicable and disturbing character who seems to harbor a fierce hatred for America. He and WikiLeaks should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But there is an irony in all this: WikiLeaks is the instrument that most confirms the conservative view of the world (as J.E. Dyer argues here). Now that most of the Arab world has confirmed what neo-conservatives have said about Iran, how long will it be until liberals finally do?

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The Administration’s Incoherence on Iran

The comments of our top national security officials on the topic of Iran are becoming alarmingly incoherent. A case in point comes from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. He cautions that the mullahs are liars:

Asked whether he believed Tehran’s vows that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, Mullen said: “I don’t believe it for a second.”

“In fact, the information and intelligence that I’ve seen speak very specifically to the contrary,” he said.

“Iran is still very much on a path to be able to develop nuclear weapons, including weaponizing them, putting them on a missile and being able to use them.”

Yet what does Mullen propose we do? Well, we should talk to them. But we have to be realistic, because the Iranian regime can’t be trusted:

“I still think it’s important we focus on the dialogue, we focus on the engagement, but also do it in a realistic way that looks at whether Iran is actually going to tell the truth, actually engage and actually do anything.”

But didn’t he say that we know they aren’t telling the truth? You can see why Iran’s Arab neighbors are petrified that there is no “plan B” for stopping the Iranian regime. Or, as one of the WikiLeaks cables (highlighted by a frequent reader) explains:

On July 15, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (MBZ) and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan (ABZ) for a dinner covering a range of regional issues.  MBZ expressed serious concern over Iran’s regional intentions and pleaded for the U.S. to shorten its decision-making timeline and develop a “plan B.” He encouraged the U.S. to clearly communicate “red lines” to the Iranian Government, on nuclear and regional stability issues, with direct consequences for transgressions. He painted to a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the UAE and invoked the well being of his grandchildren while urging the U.S. to act quickly. MBZ asked for close coordination between the U.S. and UAE to deal with the Iranian threat.

If Iran has military capabilities far beyond what we imagined (“The cables … reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles”), the Arab states are supportive of military action, and we know the mullahs are professional deceivers, why in the world are we still babbling about engagement? I honestly don’t know. Members of Congress should find out — before a national security failure of unprecedented dimensions occurs. It would be on Obama’s watch — but on the lawmakers’ as well. And it will be a disaster for the savvy and the dull-witted alike.

The comments of our top national security officials on the topic of Iran are becoming alarmingly incoherent. A case in point comes from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. He cautions that the mullahs are liars:

Asked whether he believed Tehran’s vows that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, Mullen said: “I don’t believe it for a second.”

“In fact, the information and intelligence that I’ve seen speak very specifically to the contrary,” he said.

“Iran is still very much on a path to be able to develop nuclear weapons, including weaponizing them, putting them on a missile and being able to use them.”

Yet what does Mullen propose we do? Well, we should talk to them. But we have to be realistic, because the Iranian regime can’t be trusted:

“I still think it’s important we focus on the dialogue, we focus on the engagement, but also do it in a realistic way that looks at whether Iran is actually going to tell the truth, actually engage and actually do anything.”

But didn’t he say that we know they aren’t telling the truth? You can see why Iran’s Arab neighbors are petrified that there is no “plan B” for stopping the Iranian regime. Or, as one of the WikiLeaks cables (highlighted by a frequent reader) explains:

On July 15, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (MBZ) and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan (ABZ) for a dinner covering a range of regional issues.  MBZ expressed serious concern over Iran’s regional intentions and pleaded for the U.S. to shorten its decision-making timeline and develop a “plan B.” He encouraged the U.S. to clearly communicate “red lines” to the Iranian Government, on nuclear and regional stability issues, with direct consequences for transgressions. He painted to a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the UAE and invoked the well being of his grandchildren while urging the U.S. to act quickly. MBZ asked for close coordination between the U.S. and UAE to deal with the Iranian threat.

If Iran has military capabilities far beyond what we imagined (“The cables … reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles”), the Arab states are supportive of military action, and we know the mullahs are professional deceivers, why in the world are we still babbling about engagement? I honestly don’t know. Members of Congress should find out — before a national security failure of unprecedented dimensions occurs. It would be on Obama’s watch — but on the lawmakers’ as well. And it will be a disaster for the savvy and the dull-witted alike.

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Cables Tell Us: Linkage Was Nonsense

The WikiLeaks documents have multiple ramifications, but I will focus on one: the confirmation that the Obama “linkage” argument was pure bunk. Recall that the Obama team over and over again has made the argument that progress on the Palestinian conflict was essential to obtaining the help of the Arab states in confronting Iran’s nuclear threat. We know that this is simply and completely false.

The documents show that the Arab states were hounding the administration to take action against Iran. The King of Bahrain urged Obama to rec0gnize that the danger of letting the Iranian nuclear program come to fruition was worse than the fallout from stopping it. He wasn’t alone: there was also “King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.” The New York Times connects some of the dots:

At the same time, the cables reveal how Iran’s ascent has unified Israel and many longtime Arab adversaries — notably the Saudis — in a common cause. Publicly, these Arab states held their tongues, for fear of a domestic uproar and the retributions of a powerful neighbor. Privately, they clamored for strong action — by someone else. …

Crown Prince bin Zayed [of Abu Dhabi], predicting in July 2009 that an Israeli attack could come by year’s end, suggested the danger of appeasing Iran. “Ahmadinejad is Hitler,” he declared.

Seemingly taken aback, a State Department official replied, “We do not anticipate military confrontation with Iran before the end of 2009.”

Obama’s outreach efforts only increased the Arab states’ panic:

The election of Mr. Obama, at least initially, left some countries wondering whether the sanctions push was about to end. Shortly after taking office, in a videotaped message timed to the Persian New Year, he reiterated his campaign offer of a “new beginning” — the first sustained talks in three decades with Tehran.

The United Arab Emirates called Mr. Obama’s message “confusing.” The American Embassy in Saudi Arabia reported that the talk about engaging Iran had “fueled Saudi fears that a new U.S. administration might strike a ‘grand bargain’ without prior consultations.”

In short, there is zero evidence that the Palestinian non-peace talks were essential to obtaining the assistance of the Arab states on Iran. To the contrary, what emerges is precisely the portrait that knowledgeable critics of the administration had already painted: Obama has taken his eye off the real ball, placed friendly Arab states in a precarious situation, and misrepresented to the American people and the world that the non-peace talks are necessary to curb the Iranian threat. To the contrary, those talks have been a grand waste of time and a dangerous distraction. Obama frittered away two years that could have been spent cementing an Israeli-Arab alliance against Tehran. Why? Perhaps he is blinded by ideology. Perhaps he realized it was his only chance for a diplomatic win. But whatever the explanation, we should be clear: linkage was a tale told to justify the president’s obsession with a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.

The WikiLeaks documents have multiple ramifications, but I will focus on one: the confirmation that the Obama “linkage” argument was pure bunk. Recall that the Obama team over and over again has made the argument that progress on the Palestinian conflict was essential to obtaining the help of the Arab states in confronting Iran’s nuclear threat. We know that this is simply and completely false.

The documents show that the Arab states were hounding the administration to take action against Iran. The King of Bahrain urged Obama to rec0gnize that the danger of letting the Iranian nuclear program come to fruition was worse than the fallout from stopping it. He wasn’t alone: there was also “King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.” The New York Times connects some of the dots:

At the same time, the cables reveal how Iran’s ascent has unified Israel and many longtime Arab adversaries — notably the Saudis — in a common cause. Publicly, these Arab states held their tongues, for fear of a domestic uproar and the retributions of a powerful neighbor. Privately, they clamored for strong action — by someone else. …

Crown Prince bin Zayed [of Abu Dhabi], predicting in July 2009 that an Israeli attack could come by year’s end, suggested the danger of appeasing Iran. “Ahmadinejad is Hitler,” he declared.

Seemingly taken aback, a State Department official replied, “We do not anticipate military confrontation with Iran before the end of 2009.”

Obama’s outreach efforts only increased the Arab states’ panic:

The election of Mr. Obama, at least initially, left some countries wondering whether the sanctions push was about to end. Shortly after taking office, in a videotaped message timed to the Persian New Year, he reiterated his campaign offer of a “new beginning” — the first sustained talks in three decades with Tehran.

The United Arab Emirates called Mr. Obama’s message “confusing.” The American Embassy in Saudi Arabia reported that the talk about engaging Iran had “fueled Saudi fears that a new U.S. administration might strike a ‘grand bargain’ without prior consultations.”

In short, there is zero evidence that the Palestinian non-peace talks were essential to obtaining the assistance of the Arab states on Iran. To the contrary, what emerges is precisely the portrait that knowledgeable critics of the administration had already painted: Obama has taken his eye off the real ball, placed friendly Arab states in a precarious situation, and misrepresented to the American people and the world that the non-peace talks are necessary to curb the Iranian threat. To the contrary, those talks have been a grand waste of time and a dangerous distraction. Obama frittered away two years that could have been spent cementing an Israeli-Arab alliance against Tehran. Why? Perhaps he is blinded by ideology. Perhaps he realized it was his only chance for a diplomatic win. But whatever the explanation, we should be clear: linkage was a tale told to justify the president’s obsession with a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.

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Hezbollah Threatens to Take Over Lebanon

Almost everyone thought that the Syrian government assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in central Beirut in 2005, but most evidence now points to Hezbollah. An investigation just published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation comes to that conclusion. The United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is widely expected to soon hand down an indictment against Hezbollah officials, and Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is saying he may launch a coup d’etat or a putsch against Lebanon’s government if it happens. “Our options,” he said, “are anywhere between doing nothing and causing a major political change.”

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that Assad’s regime in Damascus is off the hook. Hezbollah is a Syrian and Iranian proxy militia, after all. Both Damascus and Tehran could be considered at least indirectly responsible, if not directly responsible, if it turns out that Hezbollah is, in fact, guilty. And if Nasrallah makes good on his threat and takes over Lebanon on behalf of his foreign masters, the temperature in the Middle East will rise dramatically. Israelis will no doubt be alarmed, as will the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the Arab states in the Gulf.

I do not, however, expect Hezbollah will ever conquer and rule the whole country as Hamas does in Gaza. Hezbollah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon by a long shot, but it’s a sectarian Shia militia and is not likely powerful enough to rule hostile Christian, Sunni, and Druze regions.

The Lebanese army is neither powerful nor cohesive enough to disarm Hezbollah by force. It would surely mean war if it tried, and Hezbollah would quickly and decisively win a defensive conflict. That does not, however, mean that Hezbollah can win an offensive war in hostile cities and neighborhoods. Sure, Nasrallah could topple Lebanon’s government easily enough, but then what? He won the short civil war in 2008 when his men took over the western half of the capital, but he did not stick around to govern that area. Hezbollah is a guerrilla and terrorist army, not an occupation force. Counterinsurgency is hardly in its skill set.

If Nasrallah tries to make himself the dictator of Lebanon, he’ll probably learn the hard way what Americans learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even when regime change is easy, the aftermath is ferocious.

There’s a reason Lebanon’s Christians, Sunnis, and Druze haven’t fielded their own militias to stand against Hezbollah. The lesson they learned from the 1975-1990 civil war was perhaps best summed up by former president Amin Gemayel: “Everyone is against everyone else, and it all keeps going around and around in circles without anyone ever winning or anything being accomplished.” But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Hezbollah may well be all but unstoppable. Nasrallah talks as though his men are all but unstoppable, and he might even believe it.

It has been a long time since Israel has fought a war against a foreign government rather than against non-state terrorist organizations, but if my analysis here is wrong, if Hezbollah does in fact take over the country, war between Middle Eastern nation-states will likely resume. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah would be a war between Israel and the Lebanese government by definition, and it could happen even if the majority of Israelis and Lebanese would rather it didn’t.

Almost everyone thought that the Syrian government assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in central Beirut in 2005, but most evidence now points to Hezbollah. An investigation just published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation comes to that conclusion. The United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is widely expected to soon hand down an indictment against Hezbollah officials, and Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is saying he may launch a coup d’etat or a putsch against Lebanon’s government if it happens. “Our options,” he said, “are anywhere between doing nothing and causing a major political change.”

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that Assad’s regime in Damascus is off the hook. Hezbollah is a Syrian and Iranian proxy militia, after all. Both Damascus and Tehran could be considered at least indirectly responsible, if not directly responsible, if it turns out that Hezbollah is, in fact, guilty. And if Nasrallah makes good on his threat and takes over Lebanon on behalf of his foreign masters, the temperature in the Middle East will rise dramatically. Israelis will no doubt be alarmed, as will the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the Arab states in the Gulf.

I do not, however, expect Hezbollah will ever conquer and rule the whole country as Hamas does in Gaza. Hezbollah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon by a long shot, but it’s a sectarian Shia militia and is not likely powerful enough to rule hostile Christian, Sunni, and Druze regions.

The Lebanese army is neither powerful nor cohesive enough to disarm Hezbollah by force. It would surely mean war if it tried, and Hezbollah would quickly and decisively win a defensive conflict. That does not, however, mean that Hezbollah can win an offensive war in hostile cities and neighborhoods. Sure, Nasrallah could topple Lebanon’s government easily enough, but then what? He won the short civil war in 2008 when his men took over the western half of the capital, but he did not stick around to govern that area. Hezbollah is a guerrilla and terrorist army, not an occupation force. Counterinsurgency is hardly in its skill set.

If Nasrallah tries to make himself the dictator of Lebanon, he’ll probably learn the hard way what Americans learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even when regime change is easy, the aftermath is ferocious.

There’s a reason Lebanon’s Christians, Sunnis, and Druze haven’t fielded their own militias to stand against Hezbollah. The lesson they learned from the 1975-1990 civil war was perhaps best summed up by former president Amin Gemayel: “Everyone is against everyone else, and it all keeps going around and around in circles without anyone ever winning or anything being accomplished.” But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Hezbollah may well be all but unstoppable. Nasrallah talks as though his men are all but unstoppable, and he might even believe it.

It has been a long time since Israel has fought a war against a foreign government rather than against non-state terrorist organizations, but if my analysis here is wrong, if Hezbollah does in fact take over the country, war between Middle Eastern nation-states will likely resume. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah would be a war between Israel and the Lebanese government by definition, and it could happen even if the majority of Israelis and Lebanese would rather it didn’t.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Could the 2012 GOP presidential primary start closer to 2012? “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is letting donors know it’ll be a while before he looks to 2012 — and that any presidential campaign he builds will have a much smaller staff than in 2008 … and no one is in a big hurry. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he’ll wait until after the Indiana legislative term ends in the spring before he decides, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune hasn’t laid out a timeline. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told The New York Times that she’s considering a bid but didn’t elaborate on timing. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s team has alluded to an announcement in the spring.”

Could there be a better formulation of the GOP’s approach than this by Speaker-to-be John Boehner? “We think that Obamacare ruined the best healthcare in the country, we believe it will bankrupt our nation, we believe it needs to be repealed and replaced with commonsense reforms to bring down the cost of health insurance and you’ll see us move quickly enough.” The “how” is still to be determined, but the goal is crystal clear.

Could the Dems be any more tone-deaf? “House Democrats on Thursday shot down a G.O.P. attempt to roll back federal funding to NPR, a move that many Republicans have called for since the  public radio network  fired the analyst Juan Williams last month.” I guess we’ll find out when they vote — or not — on the Bush tax cuts.

Could Haley Barbour be a 2012 contender? A “formidable” one, says the Gray Lady: “Mr. Barbour’s political might was on full display at the Hilton Bayside Hotel here in San Diego this week, where Republican governors met for the first time since the elections. He strode like a popular small-town mayor through the hotel’s wide concourses, attracting a steady crush of corporate contributors, political operatives and reporters. In public sessions and private conversations, his fellow governors lavished praise on him.”

Could they have drained the swamp a little earlier? “A House ethics panel Thursday said senior Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel deserved to be censured — the most severe form of punishment short of expulsion from Congress — for nearly a dozen instances of misconduct as a lawmaker.”

Could there be any reason to give the mullahs assurance that we won’t use force? The Washington Post‘s editors don’t think so: “We agree that the administration should continue to focus for now on non-military strategies such as sanctions and support for the Iranian opposition. But that does not require publicly talking down military action. Mr. Gates’s prediction of how Iranians would react to an attack is speculative, but what we do know for sure is that the last decision Iran made to curb its nuclear program, in 2003, came when the regime feared – reasonably or not – that it could be a target of the U.S. forces that had just destroyed the Iraqi army. As for the effect of the sanctions, Tehran has not shown itself ready to begin serious bargaining about its uranium enrichment.” It is one of their more inexplicable foreign policy fetishes.

Could the Dems benefit from listening to William Galston? You betcha. He tells them that they should have dumped Pelosi: “What’s the logic of patiently rebuilding a Democratic majority—for which Pelosi deserves a considerable share of the credit—only to embark on a strategy seemingly calculated to destroy it? And why should the kinds of Democrats without whom no Democratic majority is possible expect anything better in the future? This decision was the victory of inside baseball over common sense, and no amount of spin can change that.”

Could the 2012 GOP presidential primary start closer to 2012? “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is letting donors know it’ll be a while before he looks to 2012 — and that any presidential campaign he builds will have a much smaller staff than in 2008 … and no one is in a big hurry. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he’ll wait until after the Indiana legislative term ends in the spring before he decides, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune hasn’t laid out a timeline. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told The New York Times that she’s considering a bid but didn’t elaborate on timing. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s team has alluded to an announcement in the spring.”

Could there be a better formulation of the GOP’s approach than this by Speaker-to-be John Boehner? “We think that Obamacare ruined the best healthcare in the country, we believe it will bankrupt our nation, we believe it needs to be repealed and replaced with commonsense reforms to bring down the cost of health insurance and you’ll see us move quickly enough.” The “how” is still to be determined, but the goal is crystal clear.

Could the Dems be any more tone-deaf? “House Democrats on Thursday shot down a G.O.P. attempt to roll back federal funding to NPR, a move that many Republicans have called for since the  public radio network  fired the analyst Juan Williams last month.” I guess we’ll find out when they vote — or not — on the Bush tax cuts.

Could Haley Barbour be a 2012 contender? A “formidable” one, says the Gray Lady: “Mr. Barbour’s political might was on full display at the Hilton Bayside Hotel here in San Diego this week, where Republican governors met for the first time since the elections. He strode like a popular small-town mayor through the hotel’s wide concourses, attracting a steady crush of corporate contributors, political operatives and reporters. In public sessions and private conversations, his fellow governors lavished praise on him.”

Could they have drained the swamp a little earlier? “A House ethics panel Thursday said senior Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel deserved to be censured — the most severe form of punishment short of expulsion from Congress — for nearly a dozen instances of misconduct as a lawmaker.”

Could there be any reason to give the mullahs assurance that we won’t use force? The Washington Post‘s editors don’t think so: “We agree that the administration should continue to focus for now on non-military strategies such as sanctions and support for the Iranian opposition. But that does not require publicly talking down military action. Mr. Gates’s prediction of how Iranians would react to an attack is speculative, but what we do know for sure is that the last decision Iran made to curb its nuclear program, in 2003, came when the regime feared – reasonably or not – that it could be a target of the U.S. forces that had just destroyed the Iraqi army. As for the effect of the sanctions, Tehran has not shown itself ready to begin serious bargaining about its uranium enrichment.” It is one of their more inexplicable foreign policy fetishes.

Could the Dems benefit from listening to William Galston? You betcha. He tells them that they should have dumped Pelosi: “What’s the logic of patiently rebuilding a Democratic majority—for which Pelosi deserves a considerable share of the credit—only to embark on a strategy seemingly calculated to destroy it? And why should the kinds of Democrats without whom no Democratic majority is possible expect anything better in the future? This decision was the victory of inside baseball over common sense, and no amount of spin can change that.”

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NATO Death Watch

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

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Arming the Terrorists: Try, Try Again

Nigerian authorities opened cargo containers this week to find a large shipment of unauthorized arms at their port. Tightened surveillance in East Africa may be forcing Iran to ship arms to Hamas from transfer points further and further from Gaza: Israeli authorities suspect that the arms shipment, which was dropped off by an Iranian ship in July disguised as construction materials, was intended for Hamas.

On first glance, the implied route seems prohibitive. Getting the shipment to Gaza from a Nigerian port would still involve one or more transit paths that are under vigilant surveillance by regional authorities. Land transport to Egypt is the least likely method; besides poor road quality and the problems of highway bandits and border crossings, there was apparently no arrangement made for follow-on handling of the arms shipment inside Nigeria.

The way the cargo was dropped off suggests that it was supposed to be transshipped through Lagos to another port, perhaps somewhere on the North African coast. A local report indicates the agent in Nigeria was an Iranian businessman who has gone into hiding. The advantage of the swap in Nigeria would have been that a non-Iranian ship carried the arms cargo into the Mediterranean, where Israeli and U.S. intelligence, between them, are fully embedded with most port authorities.

The shipment was essentially orphaned at the drop-off point, however. A Nigerian official reports that there was a ham-handed attempt at bribing the port authorities to turn a blind eye to the cargo, which arrived without proper documentation. When that didn’t work, the drop-off ship simply left the port. The cargo sat unprocessed in its containers for months.

It’s possible that the arms were destined for the Shia Muslim Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. If they were, this would be the first detected instance of Iran trying to arm that insurgency directly. But Boko Haram’s arms route reportedly snakes across the northern border with Algeria, an arrangement dictated by the fact that the central government and the Christians of Nigeria’s south hold the ports. Moreover, Iran has been cultivating economic ties with Nigeria in the hope of importing uranium. Jeopardizing that relationship by arming an insurgency would appear counterproductive even to the unique geopolitical perspective in Tehran.

Perhaps the best news, if this was an arms shipment intended for Hamas, is that the Iranians seem to have miscalculated the law-enforcement environment in Nigeria’s ports. Presumably they will learn from this failure and prepare better for the next attempt. There are a lot of West African ports to choose from. We can be certain Iran will try again.

Nigerian authorities opened cargo containers this week to find a large shipment of unauthorized arms at their port. Tightened surveillance in East Africa may be forcing Iran to ship arms to Hamas from transfer points further and further from Gaza: Israeli authorities suspect that the arms shipment, which was dropped off by an Iranian ship in July disguised as construction materials, was intended for Hamas.

On first glance, the implied route seems prohibitive. Getting the shipment to Gaza from a Nigerian port would still involve one or more transit paths that are under vigilant surveillance by regional authorities. Land transport to Egypt is the least likely method; besides poor road quality and the problems of highway bandits and border crossings, there was apparently no arrangement made for follow-on handling of the arms shipment inside Nigeria.

The way the cargo was dropped off suggests that it was supposed to be transshipped through Lagos to another port, perhaps somewhere on the North African coast. A local report indicates the agent in Nigeria was an Iranian businessman who has gone into hiding. The advantage of the swap in Nigeria would have been that a non-Iranian ship carried the arms cargo into the Mediterranean, where Israeli and U.S. intelligence, between them, are fully embedded with most port authorities.

The shipment was essentially orphaned at the drop-off point, however. A Nigerian official reports that there was a ham-handed attempt at bribing the port authorities to turn a blind eye to the cargo, which arrived without proper documentation. When that didn’t work, the drop-off ship simply left the port. The cargo sat unprocessed in its containers for months.

It’s possible that the arms were destined for the Shia Muslim Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. If they were, this would be the first detected instance of Iran trying to arm that insurgency directly. But Boko Haram’s arms route reportedly snakes across the northern border with Algeria, an arrangement dictated by the fact that the central government and the Christians of Nigeria’s south hold the ports. Moreover, Iran has been cultivating economic ties with Nigeria in the hope of importing uranium. Jeopardizing that relationship by arming an insurgency would appear counterproductive even to the unique geopolitical perspective in Tehran.

Perhaps the best news, if this was an arms shipment intended for Hamas, is that the Iranians seem to have miscalculated the law-enforcement environment in Nigeria’s ports. Presumably they will learn from this failure and prepare better for the next attempt. There are a lot of West African ports to choose from. We can be certain Iran will try again.

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EU Undercuts U.S. Sanctions on Iran

Remember that the administration and its enablers told us that, sure, the UN sanctions weren’t that biting, but the EU would really lower the boom on Tehran. Well, not so much:

The European Union issued regulations this week that went well beyond a UN Security Council resolution passed in June, outlining tough restrictions on the sale of equipment and technology to the Iranian oil and gas industry, as well as on investment in those sectors. But the regulations — unlike legislation passed by the U.S. Congress — allow for the import and export of oil and gas to the Islamic Republic.

This, of course, is the most critical and probably the only effective aspect of economic sanctions. An EU official explained: “We don’t want any negative effect on the Iranian population or to deprive them of energy, so we do not follow U.S. measures that go beyond United Nations sanctions.” Well, then how are sanctions to be effective? Hmm. I guess they won’t be.

Remember that the administration and its enablers told us that, sure, the UN sanctions weren’t that biting, but the EU would really lower the boom on Tehran. Well, not so much:

The European Union issued regulations this week that went well beyond a UN Security Council resolution passed in June, outlining tough restrictions on the sale of equipment and technology to the Iranian oil and gas industry, as well as on investment in those sectors. But the regulations — unlike legislation passed by the U.S. Congress — allow for the import and export of oil and gas to the Islamic Republic.

This, of course, is the most critical and probably the only effective aspect of economic sanctions. An EU official explained: “We don’t want any negative effect on the Iranian population or to deprive them of energy, so we do not follow U.S. measures that go beyond United Nations sanctions.” Well, then how are sanctions to be effective? Hmm. I guess they won’t be.

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A Counter View to Fouad Ajami’s Skepticism Regarding Afghanistan

Fouad Ajami is one of the world’s most respected and influential analysts of the Middle East — and for good reason. He has consistently spoken hard truths about the Arab world that few of his colleagues in academia dare broach. And he has been a staunch supporter of the war effort in Iraq even through its darkest of days — a deeply unfashionable view that speaks to his intellectual fearlessness and iconoclasm. So when he expresses deep doubts about the viability of the American mission in Afghanistan, it is well worth paying attention — even if you don’t necessarily agree with hm.

In the Wall Street Journal, Ajami castigates President Hamid Karzai for showing “little, if any, regard” for the “sacrifices” made by Americans to protect his country from the Taliban. He lashes at Karzai accepting cash from Iran — “He has been brazen to the point of vulgarity,” Ajami writes — and for his accusations that Americans are supporting private security companies that are killing Afghans, adding, “It is fully understood that Mr. Karzai and his clan want the business of the contractors for themselves.” Ajami endorses the publicly leaked 2009 cable from Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, which read: “Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner.” In disgust, he concludes, “Unlike the Third world clients of old, this one does not even bother to pay us the tribute of double-speak and hypocrisy.” This causes Ajami to doubt the entire mission:

The idealism has drained out of this project. Say what you will about the Iraq war — and there was disappointment and heartbreak aplenty — there always ran through that war the promise of a decent outcome: deliverance for the Kurds, an Iraqi democratic example in the heart of a despotic Arab world, the promise of a decent Shiite alternative in the holy city of Najaf that would compete with the influence of Qom. No such nobility, no such illusions now attend our war in Afghanistan.

As I suggested before, I respect Ajami’s views but in this case I do not agree with him. I believe there is just as much nobility to the war in Afghanistan as to the one in Iraq. We are, after all, fighting to make good on our post-9/11 promises to drive the Taliban out of power and establish a representative government in Afghanistan that will not sponsor terrorism or abuse its own people. The Taliban are as cruel as they come and sparing the people of Afghanistan from their misrule is a noble cause. So too is honoring the memory of America’s 9/11 shaheeds (martyrs) — the victims of al-Qaeda and their Taliban facilitators.

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Fouad Ajami is one of the world’s most respected and influential analysts of the Middle East — and for good reason. He has consistently spoken hard truths about the Arab world that few of his colleagues in academia dare broach. And he has been a staunch supporter of the war effort in Iraq even through its darkest of days — a deeply unfashionable view that speaks to his intellectual fearlessness and iconoclasm. So when he expresses deep doubts about the viability of the American mission in Afghanistan, it is well worth paying attention — even if you don’t necessarily agree with hm.

In the Wall Street Journal, Ajami castigates President Hamid Karzai for showing “little, if any, regard” for the “sacrifices” made by Americans to protect his country from the Taliban. He lashes at Karzai accepting cash from Iran — “He has been brazen to the point of vulgarity,” Ajami writes — and for his accusations that Americans are supporting private security companies that are killing Afghans, adding, “It is fully understood that Mr. Karzai and his clan want the business of the contractors for themselves.” Ajami endorses the publicly leaked 2009 cable from Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, which read: “Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner.” In disgust, he concludes, “Unlike the Third world clients of old, this one does not even bother to pay us the tribute of double-speak and hypocrisy.” This causes Ajami to doubt the entire mission:

The idealism has drained out of this project. Say what you will about the Iraq war — and there was disappointment and heartbreak aplenty — there always ran through that war the promise of a decent outcome: deliverance for the Kurds, an Iraqi democratic example in the heart of a despotic Arab world, the promise of a decent Shiite alternative in the holy city of Najaf that would compete with the influence of Qom. No such nobility, no such illusions now attend our war in Afghanistan.

As I suggested before, I respect Ajami’s views but in this case I do not agree with him. I believe there is just as much nobility to the war in Afghanistan as to the one in Iraq. We are, after all, fighting to make good on our post-9/11 promises to drive the Taliban out of power and establish a representative government in Afghanistan that will not sponsor terrorism or abuse its own people. The Taliban are as cruel as they come and sparing the people of Afghanistan from their misrule is a noble cause. So too is honoring the memory of America’s 9/11 shaheeds (martyrs) — the victims of al-Qaeda and their Taliban facilitators.

The problem is that in carrying out this mission we must work with wholly imperfect allies. Karzai is no angel. But then neither is Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq — a leader whom Ajami presciently championed even when others scoffed at his potential to rise above his sectarian roots. In many ways, Maliki has been an even more troubling ally than Karzai. For all his faults, Karzai is not known to be personally sympathetic to the Taliban, who killed his father. By contrast, Maliki had a lot of sympathy for Shiite sectarianism. He has been surrounded by Iranian agents and Shiite extremists, who were deeply implicated in the work of the death squads that were killing hundreds of Sunnis every night in 2006-2007. It may be discouraging to hear that Karzai accepts a couple of million dollars in cash from Iran but is there any doubt that Maliki has taken far more money from Tehran? And not just money. As this article noted, Iran actually provided Maliki with his presidential jet, complete with Iranian pilots. Say what you will about Karzai, but at least he doesn’t routinely entrust his life to an Iranian aircraft.

Moreover, Maliki has been as notorious as Karzai for showing a lack of gratitude toward American efforts to save his county. As I noted in this 2008 op-ed, Maliki has had a pattern of dismissing the American contribution to Iraqi security, saying, for instance, in May 2006, that “[Iraqi] forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.” Maliki opposed the surge, which saved his country in 2007 and even when it succeeded refused to give us credit. As I noted:

In the famous interview with Der Spiegel last weekend, he was asked why Iraq has become more peaceful. He mentioned “many factors,” including “the political rapprochement we have managed to achieve,” “the progress being made by our security forces,” “the deep sense of abhorrence with which the population has reacted to the atrocities of al-Qaida and the militias,” and “the economic recovery.” No mention of the surge.

Yet for all of Maliki’s maddening imperfections — which stand in high relief now as he ruthlessly maneuvers for another term — he showed ability to rise above his sectarian origins. He displayed real political courage in ordering his forces to attack the Sadrists in Basra and Sadr City in 2008. Now, of course, he is cutting deals with those same Sadrists. That, alas, is how the political game is played in unstable countries like Iraq — or Afghanistan. That should not cause us to despair of either country’s future.

If we could work with Maliki, we can certainly work with Karzai. The former, after all, does not speak English and spent years of exile living in Syria and Iran, two of the most anti-American states in the world. Karzai, by contrast, is a fluent English-speaker with several brothers who have lived in the U.S. for years and even hold U.S. citizenship. He is, in many ways, a more natural fit as an ally than Maliki. There is little doubt that he and his brothers are implicated in the corruption of Afghani politics, but at least, unlike Maliki, they are not cozying up to Iranian-backed death squads. To the extent that Karzai has cozied up to Ahmadinejad and the mullahs, it has been as a hedge against a precipitous American pullout. But Karzai also knows that the Iranians are double-dealing — they are supporting the Taliban too — which can give Karzai little confidence that Iran would be a reliable ally. At the end of the day, Karzai knows that his future and his country’s rests with the United States and NATO; that we are all that is keeping him from death or exile.

It would be nice if Karzai showed more political courage in working with us and refrained from denouncing us, but some of his denunciations have, alas, the ring of truth — and some of his actions are actually well intentioned. Take his attempts to close down private security companies that are terrorizing ordinary Afghanis and driving them into the arms of the Taliban. Most of these companies are, in fact, directly or indirectly, funded by American taxpayers — just as Karzai alleges. Many of them are also run by Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, and by others linked to the Karzai clan. (See this report from the Institute for the Study of War for details.) So by closing down these firms, Karzai seems to be moving against his family’s economic interests. If he were simply interested in continuing to exploit this lucrative economic niche, he would leave the existing situation alone.

I don’t know what motivates Karzai but I suspect that, like most people, he is moved by a combination of noble and ignoble impulses — idealism and selfishness, self-interest and the public interest. He is no Adenaeur or De Gaulle or Ataturk or Washington — but then neither is Maliki. He is deeply imperfect, but he is the president of Afghanistan, and I do believe it is possible to work with him. Luckily, we have in Kabul the same general — David Petraeus — who skillfully worked with Maliki at a time when many Americans wrote him off as incorrigible. Already Petreaus has shown a similar ability to get useful concessions out of Karzai, for instance winning the president’s approval for setting up the Afghan Local Police, an initiative to supplement the Afghan Security Forces, which Karzai initially opposed.

Running through Ajami’s article is a deep skepticism not only about Karzai but also about Barack Obama. He criticizes Obama, rightly, for displaying irresolution. I too have been dismayed by the deadline Obama laid out for our withdrawal from Afghanistan — but I have been cheered to see, as I have noted in previous posts, that Obama is backing off that deadline. What foes for Karzai also goes for Obama: you go to war with the leaders you have — not the ones you would like to have. But I don’t believe that either Karzai or Obama is so flawed that it is impossible to prevail in Afghanistan — especially not when we have so many outstanding troops on the ground led by our greatest general.

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

You could spot this one coming:

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

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

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

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

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

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

You could spot this one coming:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Turkey Co-opts NATO Missile-Defense System to Hurt Israel and Help Iran

That Turkey has grown unrelentingly hostile to Israel, and cozy with Iran, is no longer news. But it is news, of the most disturbing kind, that Washington has chosen to actively collaborate in both the hostility and the coziness. Yet that’s what emerges from today’s Haaretz report on NATO’s planned missile-defense system: the U.S., it says, has agreed to Turkey’s demand that no information gathered by the system — whose primary goal is countering threats from Iran — be shared with Israel.

President George W. Bush, who conceived the system, had planned to station it in Eastern Europe. But due to Russia’s vehement opposition, President Barack Obama decided to relocate it to Turkey.

Ankara, reluctant to damage its burgeoning romance with Tehran, said it would agree only if four conditions were met. One, Turkish sources told Haaretz, was that “information gathered by the system not be given to any non-NATO member, and especially not to Israel.”

Moreover, the sources said, Washington has agreed to this demand. In other words, Washington has agreed that potentially vital information about Israel’s greatest enemy, gathered by a NATO facility that America conceived and will doubtless largely finance, won’t be shared with Israel.

Nor does the official excuse cited for this capitulation hold water: it’s true that Israel has information-gathering systems of its own devoted to Iran, but that doesn’t mean it has no need for NATO information. The new facility may well have capabilities Israel lacks.

The real reason, as the Turkish sources noted, is most likely that Washington had little choice: without Turkey’s consent, the project couldn’t go forward, and Ankara threatened a veto if its conditions weren’t met. Yet it was Obama’s own choice to relocate the project from two staunch American allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, to an increasingly hostile Turkey that left him vulnerable to this blackmail.

But Ankara posed another condition that may be even more worrying, given its coziness with Tehran: “direct Turkish access to any information gathered by the system.”

In May, Hakan Fidan became the new head of Turkish intelligence. Fidan, Haaretz reported at the time, “played a central role in tightening Turkish ties with Iran, especially on the nuclear issue.” He defended Iran’s nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency and was one of the architects of the uranium-transfer deal that Turkey and Brazil concocted with Iran in May in an effort to avert a planned UN Security Council vote on new sanctions against Tehran.

Thus Turkey wants its intelligence service, whose chief’s main goal has been to tighten ties with Iran, to have direct access to a system whose main goal is to gather information about Iran. Does NATO really want to gamble that Fidan will not pass this information on to Tehran, thereby letting it know exactly what NATO knows about its capabilities?

Under these circumstances, the system could end up doing more harm then good. At the very least, Congress should be asking some tough questions about it — and, even more important, about the utility of continuing the pretense that Turkey is still a Western ally.

That Turkey has grown unrelentingly hostile to Israel, and cozy with Iran, is no longer news. But it is news, of the most disturbing kind, that Washington has chosen to actively collaborate in both the hostility and the coziness. Yet that’s what emerges from today’s Haaretz report on NATO’s planned missile-defense system: the U.S., it says, has agreed to Turkey’s demand that no information gathered by the system — whose primary goal is countering threats from Iran — be shared with Israel.

President George W. Bush, who conceived the system, had planned to station it in Eastern Europe. But due to Russia’s vehement opposition, President Barack Obama decided to relocate it to Turkey.

Ankara, reluctant to damage its burgeoning romance with Tehran, said it would agree only if four conditions were met. One, Turkish sources told Haaretz, was that “information gathered by the system not be given to any non-NATO member, and especially not to Israel.”

Moreover, the sources said, Washington has agreed to this demand. In other words, Washington has agreed that potentially vital information about Israel’s greatest enemy, gathered by a NATO facility that America conceived and will doubtless largely finance, won’t be shared with Israel.

Nor does the official excuse cited for this capitulation hold water: it’s true that Israel has information-gathering systems of its own devoted to Iran, but that doesn’t mean it has no need for NATO information. The new facility may well have capabilities Israel lacks.

The real reason, as the Turkish sources noted, is most likely that Washington had little choice: without Turkey’s consent, the project couldn’t go forward, and Ankara threatened a veto if its conditions weren’t met. Yet it was Obama’s own choice to relocate the project from two staunch American allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, to an increasingly hostile Turkey that left him vulnerable to this blackmail.

But Ankara posed another condition that may be even more worrying, given its coziness with Tehran: “direct Turkish access to any information gathered by the system.”

In May, Hakan Fidan became the new head of Turkish intelligence. Fidan, Haaretz reported at the time, “played a central role in tightening Turkish ties with Iran, especially on the nuclear issue.” He defended Iran’s nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency and was one of the architects of the uranium-transfer deal that Turkey and Brazil concocted with Iran in May in an effort to avert a planned UN Security Council vote on new sanctions against Tehran.

Thus Turkey wants its intelligence service, whose chief’s main goal has been to tighten ties with Iran, to have direct access to a system whose main goal is to gather information about Iran. Does NATO really want to gamble that Fidan will not pass this information on to Tehran, thereby letting it know exactly what NATO knows about its capabilities?

Under these circumstances, the system could end up doing more harm then good. At the very least, Congress should be asking some tough questions about it — and, even more important, about the utility of continuing the pretense that Turkey is still a Western ally.

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Memo to Incoming Congress: Support Iran’s Opposition

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a hero’s welcome in Lebanon last week, with hordes of Lebanese lining the streets to cheer his pledge of another $450 million in aid, he sparked wall-to-wall outrage among another country’s citizens — his own.

Haaretz reported this week that the aid pledge infuriated not just the opposition but even the hard-line conservatives, who are normally Ahmadinejad’s closest allies: “How is it possible, they wanted to know, that Iran is going to help Lebanon while people stand in line in the streets of Tehran to fill reserve containers with gasoline in anticipation of the expected cut in government fuel subsidies.”

And, of course, this latest pledge is merely the tip of the iceberg: Israeli intelligence estimates that Iran gives Hezbollah $1 billion every year, along with $100 million to Hamas and $50 million to Islamic Jihad. It spent additional billions reconstructing southern Lebanon after Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel.

This isn’t the first time Iranians have protested the money its leaders devote to fomenting terror overseas instead of fostering development at home. But it’s a useful reminder that Iran’s policy of exporting terror and radical Islam reflects the will of a small ruling clique, not of the Iranian people. Thus regime change in Tehran could well reduce or even eliminate the threat Iran currently poses.

That is why Washington’s failure to support Iran’s opposition last year was such a horrendous missed opportunity. But it’s also why reversing this policy must be the No. 1 foreign policy priority of the new Congress elected in November.

Very little time remains to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Olli Heinonen, who monitored Iran for the International Atomic Energy Agency until his retirement this summer, warned in an interview with Haaretz this week that “we have about a year, until the end of 2011, or perhaps the start of 2012,” until Iran achieves “break-out capacity.” And then it will be too late.

Nobody seriously thinks the latest Swiss-cheese sanctions will produce an Iranian about-face by then. That leaves two choices: a military strike, which everyone professes to oppose, or regime change — which probably wouldn’t end the nuclear program but would mitigate the threat it poses. After all, the problem isn’t a nuclear Iran per se but a nuclear Iran that exports terror and radical Islam worldwide. A nuclear Iran whose government preferred to discontinue those particular exports would be much less problematic.

Unfortunately, with the momentum of 2009 having been lost, regime change is also probably impossible by then. But since it remains the best long-term solution, Congress must do everything possible to facilitate it.

At a minimum, that means offering vocal and unequivocal moral support — something protesters made clear they wanted last year when they chanted “Obama: either with the murderers or with us.” It may also mean technological support, like software that makes it easier for opposition communications to evade regime surveillance.

What Congress must do is find out from movement organizers themselves what they need — and then give it to them. There’s no excuse for continuing to waste this precious opportunity.

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a hero’s welcome in Lebanon last week, with hordes of Lebanese lining the streets to cheer his pledge of another $450 million in aid, he sparked wall-to-wall outrage among another country’s citizens — his own.

Haaretz reported this week that the aid pledge infuriated not just the opposition but even the hard-line conservatives, who are normally Ahmadinejad’s closest allies: “How is it possible, they wanted to know, that Iran is going to help Lebanon while people stand in line in the streets of Tehran to fill reserve containers with gasoline in anticipation of the expected cut in government fuel subsidies.”

And, of course, this latest pledge is merely the tip of the iceberg: Israeli intelligence estimates that Iran gives Hezbollah $1 billion every year, along with $100 million to Hamas and $50 million to Islamic Jihad. It spent additional billions reconstructing southern Lebanon after Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel.

This isn’t the first time Iranians have protested the money its leaders devote to fomenting terror overseas instead of fostering development at home. But it’s a useful reminder that Iran’s policy of exporting terror and radical Islam reflects the will of a small ruling clique, not of the Iranian people. Thus regime change in Tehran could well reduce or even eliminate the threat Iran currently poses.

That is why Washington’s failure to support Iran’s opposition last year was such a horrendous missed opportunity. But it’s also why reversing this policy must be the No. 1 foreign policy priority of the new Congress elected in November.

Very little time remains to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Olli Heinonen, who monitored Iran for the International Atomic Energy Agency until his retirement this summer, warned in an interview with Haaretz this week that “we have about a year, until the end of 2011, or perhaps the start of 2012,” until Iran achieves “break-out capacity.” And then it will be too late.

Nobody seriously thinks the latest Swiss-cheese sanctions will produce an Iranian about-face by then. That leaves two choices: a military strike, which everyone professes to oppose, or regime change — which probably wouldn’t end the nuclear program but would mitigate the threat it poses. After all, the problem isn’t a nuclear Iran per se but a nuclear Iran that exports terror and radical Islam worldwide. A nuclear Iran whose government preferred to discontinue those particular exports would be much less problematic.

Unfortunately, with the momentum of 2009 having been lost, regime change is also probably impossible by then. But since it remains the best long-term solution, Congress must do everything possible to facilitate it.

At a minimum, that means offering vocal and unequivocal moral support — something protesters made clear they wanted last year when they chanted “Obama: either with the murderers or with us.” It may also mean technological support, like software that makes it easier for opposition communications to evade regime surveillance.

What Congress must do is find out from movement organizers themselves what they need — and then give it to them. There’s no excuse for continuing to waste this precious opportunity.

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Chavez Still Chavez

It seems that a single meeting with Jewish leaders did not herald the dawning of a new age in Hugo Chavez’s relations with Jews or the Jewish state.

We saw Chavez literally wrap his arms around Ahmadinejad:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told reporters after a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran on Tuesday that cooperation with Iran was a “holy task” for Venezuela, Iran’s Fars news agency said.

Ahmadinejad in turn welcomed Venezuela’s support against the Islamic Republic’s western “bullies.” …

The progressive and fraternal stance of Venezuela in condemning sanctions against Iran imposed by the bullying powers is indicative of the deep and firm ties between the two countries,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA. … It was the ninth visit to Iran by Chavez, who has often described the Islamic country as his “second home.”

The regional “bully,” in case there was any doubt, is Israel.

And now there is this:

On the Mideast leg of an international tour, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Thursday that he and his Syrian counterpart are “on the offensive” against Western imperialism. …

“We’re on the offensive,” Chavez said. “We’re building an alternative.”

The two also discussed a proposed oil project and signed several economic agreements.

Chavez arrived in Syria on Wednesday from Tehran, where he and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said they are united in efforts to establish a “new world order” that will eliminate Western dominance over global affairs.

If the “new world order” sounds vaguely fascistic – and one possibly without Jews in its midst – you have understood their drift.

As the U.S. dallies, Iran gathers friends – in another presidency, it would be called the Axis of Evil. Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and to a large extent the increasingly Islamist Turkey have figured out that the U.S. is in retreat and that the new and potentially nuclear-armed Iran is where the action is.

It would be delightful if the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez turned over a new leaf with regard to Iran’s genocidal ambitions and Israel. But that is the stuff of fantasy and bamboozled liberal pundits.

It seems that a single meeting with Jewish leaders did not herald the dawning of a new age in Hugo Chavez’s relations with Jews or the Jewish state.

We saw Chavez literally wrap his arms around Ahmadinejad:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told reporters after a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran on Tuesday that cooperation with Iran was a “holy task” for Venezuela, Iran’s Fars news agency said.

Ahmadinejad in turn welcomed Venezuela’s support against the Islamic Republic’s western “bullies.” …

The progressive and fraternal stance of Venezuela in condemning sanctions against Iran imposed by the bullying powers is indicative of the deep and firm ties between the two countries,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA. … It was the ninth visit to Iran by Chavez, who has often described the Islamic country as his “second home.”

The regional “bully,” in case there was any doubt, is Israel.

And now there is this:

On the Mideast leg of an international tour, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Thursday that he and his Syrian counterpart are “on the offensive” against Western imperialism. …

“We’re on the offensive,” Chavez said. “We’re building an alternative.”

The two also discussed a proposed oil project and signed several economic agreements.

Chavez arrived in Syria on Wednesday from Tehran, where he and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said they are united in efforts to establish a “new world order” that will eliminate Western dominance over global affairs.

If the “new world order” sounds vaguely fascistic – and one possibly without Jews in its midst – you have understood their drift.

As the U.S. dallies, Iran gathers friends – in another presidency, it would be called the Axis of Evil. Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and to a large extent the increasingly Islamist Turkey have figured out that the U.S. is in retreat and that the new and potentially nuclear-armed Iran is where the action is.

It would be delightful if the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez turned over a new leaf with regard to Iran’s genocidal ambitions and Israel. But that is the stuff of fantasy and bamboozled liberal pundits.

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Ahmadinejad Tour Provides Ominous Proof of Obama’s Failure

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s triumphant tour of Lebanon — which kicked off today with a rapturous welcome from crowds that lined the road from Beirut’s airport into the city — is more than a morale boost for the Iranian president or another demonstration of the strength of his Hezbollah ally that now dominates Lebanon’s government. It was more proof of both the Islamist regime’s increasing confidence and the failure of American efforts to isolate Iran.

Viewed through the prism of Lebanese politics, Ahmadinejad’s visit is part of Hezbollah’s attempt to solidify its grasp on power in a country that is now clearly back under the thumb of Iran’s ally Syria.

In terms of the Middle East peace process, Ahmadinejad’s scheduled jaunt into southern Lebanon tomorrow is a reminder of Iran’s desire to promote armed struggle against Israel. Since the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, Iran has paid for both the rearming of Hezbollah and the reconstruction of many areas in Lebanon that were destroyed in a fight that the Islamist terrorist group provoked. Ahmadinejad’s visit can be seen as a symbol of the transformation of Lebanon into a full-fledged confrontation state rather than the Western ally that many thought was created after the Cedar Revolution in 2005.

Just as devastating is the symbolism of the planned conclave between Ahmadinejad, Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri, and Turkish Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan on Friday. Despite the brave talk emanating from Washington about America’s success in getting mild sanctions against Iran passed by the United Nations, Iran may be in a stronger diplomatic position today than it was two years ago. The spectacle of Turkey sliding closer to an informal alliance with Iran, and with Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria combining to compromise Lebanon’s independence, demonstrates that Iran’s influence is growing rather than shrinking as Obama has claimed.

With a friendly trading partner in NATO member Turkey, the Iranians must now believe that any sanctions, even ones that are harsher than those currently in place, will always be able to be flouted. And with terrorist allies ensconced on two of Israel’s borders — Hezbollah and a Lebanese Army that seems to be morphing into a Hezbollah auxiliary in the north and Hamas-run Gaza in the south — Iran is also in a position to launch destabilizing terror strikes against Israel, as well as raising the possibility of another bloody war on either front.

While President Obama and his foreign policy team have been chasing their tails trying to orchestrate dead-end peace talks between Israel and a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in peace, Iran’s own diplomatic offensive is gaining ground. As the clock keeps ticking toward the moment when Ahmadinejad can announce the success of Iran’s nuclear project, there is little sign that the administration understands that Iran’s successes are the fruit of Washington’s spurned attempts to engage Tehran and its lackluster campaign to promote sanctions.

With the cheers of his Lebanese allies and the sweet talk from Turkey still ringing in his ears, it would be understandable if Ahmadinejad concluded that he has once again bested Obama. But as troubling as this diplomatic triumph for Iran may be, the confidence it may have engendered in the Iranian regime is something that ought to scare the Middle East and the rest of the world. An Iranian government that thinks it cannot lose in a confrontation with America, Israel, or the West is one that is liable to do anything if challenged. The consequences of such a mindset may be incalculable.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s triumphant tour of Lebanon — which kicked off today with a rapturous welcome from crowds that lined the road from Beirut’s airport into the city — is more than a morale boost for the Iranian president or another demonstration of the strength of his Hezbollah ally that now dominates Lebanon’s government. It was more proof of both the Islamist regime’s increasing confidence and the failure of American efforts to isolate Iran.

Viewed through the prism of Lebanese politics, Ahmadinejad’s visit is part of Hezbollah’s attempt to solidify its grasp on power in a country that is now clearly back under the thumb of Iran’s ally Syria.

In terms of the Middle East peace process, Ahmadinejad’s scheduled jaunt into southern Lebanon tomorrow is a reminder of Iran’s desire to promote armed struggle against Israel. Since the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, Iran has paid for both the rearming of Hezbollah and the reconstruction of many areas in Lebanon that were destroyed in a fight that the Islamist terrorist group provoked. Ahmadinejad’s visit can be seen as a symbol of the transformation of Lebanon into a full-fledged confrontation state rather than the Western ally that many thought was created after the Cedar Revolution in 2005.

Just as devastating is the symbolism of the planned conclave between Ahmadinejad, Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri, and Turkish Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan on Friday. Despite the brave talk emanating from Washington about America’s success in getting mild sanctions against Iran passed by the United Nations, Iran may be in a stronger diplomatic position today than it was two years ago. The spectacle of Turkey sliding closer to an informal alliance with Iran, and with Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria combining to compromise Lebanon’s independence, demonstrates that Iran’s influence is growing rather than shrinking as Obama has claimed.

With a friendly trading partner in NATO member Turkey, the Iranians must now believe that any sanctions, even ones that are harsher than those currently in place, will always be able to be flouted. And with terrorist allies ensconced on two of Israel’s borders — Hezbollah and a Lebanese Army that seems to be morphing into a Hezbollah auxiliary in the north and Hamas-run Gaza in the south — Iran is also in a position to launch destabilizing terror strikes against Israel, as well as raising the possibility of another bloody war on either front.

While President Obama and his foreign policy team have been chasing their tails trying to orchestrate dead-end peace talks between Israel and a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in peace, Iran’s own diplomatic offensive is gaining ground. As the clock keeps ticking toward the moment when Ahmadinejad can announce the success of Iran’s nuclear project, there is little sign that the administration understands that Iran’s successes are the fruit of Washington’s spurned attempts to engage Tehran and its lackluster campaign to promote sanctions.

With the cheers of his Lebanese allies and the sweet talk from Turkey still ringing in his ears, it would be understandable if Ahmadinejad concluded that he has once again bested Obama. But as troubling as this diplomatic triumph for Iran may be, the confidence it may have engendered in the Iranian regime is something that ought to scare the Middle East and the rest of the world. An Iranian government that thinks it cannot lose in a confrontation with America, Israel, or the West is one that is liable to do anything if challenged. The consequences of such a mindset may be incalculable.

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Misplaced Principles

The thesis of Max Boot’s post yesterday, on the possibility that a friendly grenade killed British aid worker Linda Norgrove, is well-taken. Hewing to a blindly narrow principle of fault-finding, as if the context of a tragedy doesn’t matter, is unworkable for sound judgment and policy. It produces kindergarten behavior: tearful demands for vengeance against whoever dealt the last slap or taunt, regardless of what the fray was about.

But absurdly narrow principles don’t stop with fault-finding. The U.S. is invoking a surreally absolute principle of “national sovereignty” this week in addressing Lebanon on the subject of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit, for which the Iranian leader reportedly left Tehran this afternoon. This visit is the most freighted one the Middle East has seen in decades. It represents the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary seal being affixed publicly to Lebanon – an egregious display Iran has been wary of mounting until now.

Al-Qaeda is apparently clearer on the import of this visit than the U.S. State Department. An affiliate calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades has issued dramatic threats against the Ahmadinejad visit. These particular warnings may not amount to much, but they’re a reminder that Sunni Salafists will mount a resistance to Iranian triumphalism in Lebanon. That is hardly a comforting thought for Lebanon, Israel, or the larger Middle East. Indeed, it’s a harbinger of how this confrontation will unfold, with Saudi-funded jihadists on one side, an increasingly powerful, Iranian-backed Hezbollah on the other, and Lebanese and Israeli civilians trapped in the middle.

The most significant aspect of this visit is that Iran and Lebanon feel free to stage it. It’s something the U.S. should have stopped. We shower aid of all kinds, including military, on Lebanon. We would have had the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt – as well as France – in persuading Beirut not to do this. We have a clear and urgent interest in preventing Ahmadinejad’s destabilizing antics; this isn’t a meaningless seminar at Columbia U.; it’s a visit affirming the ascendancy of Iran and the Hezbollah terrorists over Lebanon’s political arrangements.

Under these circumstances, the Obama administration should have done better than emit an ineffectual diplomatic bleat at Beirut and then fully offset it with the caveat that “we respect that these are judgments for the Lebanese government to make.” The truth is, they’re not. Lebanon’s recognized government is not even sovereign over all its territory – it never has been – and Lebanese officials have good reason to fear assassination and make deals with outside actors. This is not a situation in which Lebanon should be allowed to make judgments that affect the entire region. Failing to look after U.S. interests in this matter imperils the whole Middle East.

The thesis of Max Boot’s post yesterday, on the possibility that a friendly grenade killed British aid worker Linda Norgrove, is well-taken. Hewing to a blindly narrow principle of fault-finding, as if the context of a tragedy doesn’t matter, is unworkable for sound judgment and policy. It produces kindergarten behavior: tearful demands for vengeance against whoever dealt the last slap or taunt, regardless of what the fray was about.

But absurdly narrow principles don’t stop with fault-finding. The U.S. is invoking a surreally absolute principle of “national sovereignty” this week in addressing Lebanon on the subject of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit, for which the Iranian leader reportedly left Tehran this afternoon. This visit is the most freighted one the Middle East has seen in decades. It represents the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary seal being affixed publicly to Lebanon – an egregious display Iran has been wary of mounting until now.

Al-Qaeda is apparently clearer on the import of this visit than the U.S. State Department. An affiliate calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades has issued dramatic threats against the Ahmadinejad visit. These particular warnings may not amount to much, but they’re a reminder that Sunni Salafists will mount a resistance to Iranian triumphalism in Lebanon. That is hardly a comforting thought for Lebanon, Israel, or the larger Middle East. Indeed, it’s a harbinger of how this confrontation will unfold, with Saudi-funded jihadists on one side, an increasingly powerful, Iranian-backed Hezbollah on the other, and Lebanese and Israeli civilians trapped in the middle.

The most significant aspect of this visit is that Iran and Lebanon feel free to stage it. It’s something the U.S. should have stopped. We shower aid of all kinds, including military, on Lebanon. We would have had the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt – as well as France – in persuading Beirut not to do this. We have a clear and urgent interest in preventing Ahmadinejad’s destabilizing antics; this isn’t a meaningless seminar at Columbia U.; it’s a visit affirming the ascendancy of Iran and the Hezbollah terrorists over Lebanon’s political arrangements.

Under these circumstances, the Obama administration should have done better than emit an ineffectual diplomatic bleat at Beirut and then fully offset it with the caveat that “we respect that these are judgments for the Lebanese government to make.” The truth is, they’re not. Lebanon’s recognized government is not even sovereign over all its territory – it never has been – and Lebanese officials have good reason to fear assassination and make deals with outside actors. This is not a situation in which Lebanon should be allowed to make judgments that affect the entire region. Failing to look after U.S. interests in this matter imperils the whole Middle East.

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Planting the Flag: Starting Gun in the Race to Jerusalem

If you need proof that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to plant the Revolutionary Iranian flag in Jerusalem, consider this. A replica of the Al-Aqsa mosque is being constructed by Iran in southern Lebanon as a prop for Ahmadinejad’s visit next week. The Iranian president will officially open the mosque for business and be photographed in front of it throwing stones toward Israel. And the mosque, according to Israeli reports, has the flag of Iran flying over it.

Hezbollah has flown Iranian flags in southern Lebanon for some time. The terrorists operate an Iran-sponsored fiefdom there; UNIFIL has been unable for months to conduct patrols in towns denied to it by Hezbollah, a pattern repeated this past weekend when the UN force sought to investigate a Hezbollah weapons cache in its patrol zone.

But Iran and Hezbollah have chosen to take advantage until now of the minimal independent news coverage in southern Lebanon. Little gets into the Western press about the situation there, and when it does, it doesn’t come from Hezbollah or Iran. What Ahmadinejad plans to do next week, with media coverage and pointed images, marks a major “informational” break. It’s a plan to draw back the veil and clarify Hezbollah’s loyalties and Iran’s involvement. And the central theme is the Iranian flag symbolically aloft over Jerusalem.

This blatant signal is something Ahmadinejad should be prevented from sending. It will be as much a shot across Saudi Arabia’s bow as across Israel’s: a symbolic announcement that the “race to Jerusalem” is on. As discussed here, the Saudis — default leaders of the Arab world — already show signs of preparing to compete in that race.

Unfortunately, the fecklessness of the UN extends beyond an impotent UNIFIL. The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, British diplomat Michael Williams, met with an Iranian envoy last week to discuss the visit by Ahmadinejad and approved it as a “significant event.” He went on to hail “Tehran’s balanced approach and inclusive relations with all political and religious parties in [Lebanon].” The UN will not be a source of responsible diplomacy; neither will Russia, which is positioning itself to back the winner of the race to Jerusalem. The EU remains mired in domestic constituency tending, and therefore focused on the legal status of Gaza flotillas and the arguing of anti-Israel resolutions in Brussels.

Among the Middle East Quartet, only the U.S. retains such a posture as would make it possible to take action against the beginning of a “race to Jerusalem.” The pressure point is the government in Beirut, which, if it accepts Ahmadinejad’s visit, must exercise its formal sovereignty over the southern territory and ensure that no Iranian flags are flown over anything but Ahmadinejad’s official convoy. Israel is pressing the Lebanese to cancel the visit; if the U.S. cannot bring itself to do that, our diplomats should at least embolden the Lebanese to get the Iranian flags out of there. This is not meaningless symbolism. The fact that it’s Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah who feel emboldened at present is the most meaningful one of all.

If you need proof that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to plant the Revolutionary Iranian flag in Jerusalem, consider this. A replica of the Al-Aqsa mosque is being constructed by Iran in southern Lebanon as a prop for Ahmadinejad’s visit next week. The Iranian president will officially open the mosque for business and be photographed in front of it throwing stones toward Israel. And the mosque, according to Israeli reports, has the flag of Iran flying over it.

Hezbollah has flown Iranian flags in southern Lebanon for some time. The terrorists operate an Iran-sponsored fiefdom there; UNIFIL has been unable for months to conduct patrols in towns denied to it by Hezbollah, a pattern repeated this past weekend when the UN force sought to investigate a Hezbollah weapons cache in its patrol zone.

But Iran and Hezbollah have chosen to take advantage until now of the minimal independent news coverage in southern Lebanon. Little gets into the Western press about the situation there, and when it does, it doesn’t come from Hezbollah or Iran. What Ahmadinejad plans to do next week, with media coverage and pointed images, marks a major “informational” break. It’s a plan to draw back the veil and clarify Hezbollah’s loyalties and Iran’s involvement. And the central theme is the Iranian flag symbolically aloft over Jerusalem.

This blatant signal is something Ahmadinejad should be prevented from sending. It will be as much a shot across Saudi Arabia’s bow as across Israel’s: a symbolic announcement that the “race to Jerusalem” is on. As discussed here, the Saudis — default leaders of the Arab world — already show signs of preparing to compete in that race.

Unfortunately, the fecklessness of the UN extends beyond an impotent UNIFIL. The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, British diplomat Michael Williams, met with an Iranian envoy last week to discuss the visit by Ahmadinejad and approved it as a “significant event.” He went on to hail “Tehran’s balanced approach and inclusive relations with all political and religious parties in [Lebanon].” The UN will not be a source of responsible diplomacy; neither will Russia, which is positioning itself to back the winner of the race to Jerusalem. The EU remains mired in domestic constituency tending, and therefore focused on the legal status of Gaza flotillas and the arguing of anti-Israel resolutions in Brussels.

Among the Middle East Quartet, only the U.S. retains such a posture as would make it possible to take action against the beginning of a “race to Jerusalem.” The pressure point is the government in Beirut, which, if it accepts Ahmadinejad’s visit, must exercise its formal sovereignty over the southern territory and ensure that no Iranian flags are flown over anything but Ahmadinejad’s official convoy. Israel is pressing the Lebanese to cancel the visit; if the U.S. cannot bring itself to do that, our diplomats should at least embolden the Lebanese to get the Iranian flags out of there. This is not meaningless symbolism. The fact that it’s Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah who feel emboldened at present is the most meaningful one of all.

Read Less




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