Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.N. Security Council

Another Obami Foreign-Policy Debacle

With the Obami, one never knows whether to chalk up a slam at an ally as incompetence or venality. Although with this crew, we often see both at work, especially when it comes to Israel. A prime example occurred yesterday. This report explains:

A U.S. official denied on Friday that Washington had consented to a U.N. Security Council statement to reporters voicing concern about the fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinians.

Gabon’s U.N. Ambassador Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet, president of the Security Council for March, read the nonbinding remarks on behalf the 15 council members after a closed-door discussion of the violent clashes.

“The members of the Security Council expressed their concern at the current tense situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including east Jerusalem,” Issoze-Ngondet said.

And the report dryly notes:

A U.S. official, however, told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the American delegation had not agreed with the statement and said it was adopted due to what the official described as “procedural confusion.”

It was not immediately clear what the “confusion” was.

Several council diplomats familiar with the negotiations on the statement, however, told Reuters that the U.S. delegation made no attempt to raise any objections to the final version of the text, which they said was adopted by consensus.

Confused? Well, what we do know is that this sort of thing virtually never happens with Israel-bashing UN resolutions.  (“Historically, the U.S. delegation has a tendency to block Security Council statements condemning Israel.”) Not just a tendency: a former foreign-policy official knowledgeable in this sort of thing tells me, “If it is a mistake, it is one that NEVER happened in 8 years of Clinton and 8 years of Bush.”

So was this a shot at Israel, an attempt to make clear just who is in charge before the arrival in Israel of Joe Biden?  (Biden’s appearance is more insulting than it might otherwise be, given that the president has chosen to send his hapless minion in contrast to his earlier personal appearance in the “Muslim World” at Cairo. But then again, perhaps Biden might hew to actual history rather than his boss’s fractured version.) Maybe someone on the NSC team then lost nerve, realizing how it would be perceived in Jerusalem, and thought it better to put out an after-the-fact sniveling explanation seeking to slink away from the UN statement – one that should never have seen the light of day. Still, perhaps this is just the Keystone Kops at work, and no harm was meant.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t really matter all that much which explanation is correct. Both our allies and adversaries have come to regard the Obami as unreliable and, yes, confused. Some aggrieved allies attribute hostility to the Obami’s moves — after all, there have been enough swipes at erstwhile friends to discern a pattern. But one thing we know — this gang has not “re-established our place in the world.” One pines for the days when we had far more adept –”smarter” – diplomats.

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With the Obami, one never knows whether to chalk up a slam at an ally as incompetence or venality. Although with this crew, we often see both at work, especially when it comes to Israel. A prime example occurred yesterday. This report explains:

A U.S. official denied on Friday that Washington had consented to a U.N. Security Council statement to reporters voicing concern about the fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinians.

Gabon’s U.N. Ambassador Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet, president of the Security Council for March, read the nonbinding remarks on behalf the 15 council members after a closed-door discussion of the violent clashes.

“The members of the Security Council expressed their concern at the current tense situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including east Jerusalem,” Issoze-Ngondet said.

And the report dryly notes:

A U.S. official, however, told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the American delegation had not agreed with the statement and said it was adopted due to what the official described as “procedural confusion.”

It was not immediately clear what the “confusion” was.

Several council diplomats familiar with the negotiations on the statement, however, told Reuters that the U.S. delegation made no attempt to raise any objections to the final version of the text, which they said was adopted by consensus.

Confused? Well, what we do know is that this sort of thing virtually never happens with Israel-bashing UN resolutions.  (“Historically, the U.S. delegation has a tendency to block Security Council statements condemning Israel.”) Not just a tendency: a former foreign-policy official knowledgeable in this sort of thing tells me, “If it is a mistake, it is one that NEVER happened in 8 years of Clinton and 8 years of Bush.”

So was this a shot at Israel, an attempt to make clear just who is in charge before the arrival in Israel of Joe Biden?  (Biden’s appearance is more insulting than it might otherwise be, given that the president has chosen to send his hapless minion in contrast to his earlier personal appearance in the “Muslim World” at Cairo. But then again, perhaps Biden might hew to actual history rather than his boss’s fractured version.) Maybe someone on the NSC team then lost nerve, realizing how it would be perceived in Jerusalem, and thought it better to put out an after-the-fact sniveling explanation seeking to slink away from the UN statement – one that should never have seen the light of day. Still, perhaps this is just the Keystone Kops at work, and no harm was meant.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t really matter all that much which explanation is correct. Both our allies and adversaries have come to regard the Obami as unreliable and, yes, confused. Some aggrieved allies attribute hostility to the Obami’s moves — after all, there have been enough swipes at erstwhile friends to discern a pattern. But one thing we know — this gang has not “re-established our place in the world.” One pines for the days when we had far more adept –”smarter” – diplomats.

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RE: Annals of Smart Diplomacy

Rick, in addition to omitting a text and timetable, the Obami are omitting China from their Iran sanction plans, to the consternation of our allies:

The Obama administration is pushing to carve out an exemption for China and other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council from legislation pending in the Senate and the House that would tighten sanctions on companies doing business in Iran, administration and congressional sources said. . .

But the administration’s lobbying for a Chinese exemption has raised eyebrows in Congress and angered several allies, most notably South Korea and Japan, which would not be exempted under the administration’s plan.

“We’re absolutely flabbergasted,” said one senior official from a foreign country friendly to the United States. “Tell me what exactly have the Chinese done to deserve this?” Japan and South Korea, which are U.S. allies, have raised the issue with the Obama administration.

What has China done? They balked and hollered, and the Obami have no means of corralling their support, so they will simply give China a pass, making a mockery of the entire exercise. This has not gone unnoticed: “One foreign official complained that the administration’s efforts would encourage China to water down U.N. sanctions on Iran as much as possible and then push Chinese firms — should the U.S. law pass — to invest more in Iran’s oil and gas sector.” We also know that Turkey and Brazil are balking at sanctions.

So where’s the evidence of Obama’s charismatic power to move our allies? Where’s the evidence that engagement enabled us to gather international support for crippling sanctions? There isn’t any. Nor is there any game plan to deter the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons. We are headed for what candidate Barack Obama declared unacceptable: a Revolutionary Islamic state with nuclear weapons. Perhaps Joe Biden can explain to the Israelis on his visit why they should refrain from acting unilaterally to defend themselves against an existential threat to the Jewish state in light of the abject failure of the Obami’s Iran policy.

Rick, in addition to omitting a text and timetable, the Obami are omitting China from their Iran sanction plans, to the consternation of our allies:

The Obama administration is pushing to carve out an exemption for China and other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council from legislation pending in the Senate and the House that would tighten sanctions on companies doing business in Iran, administration and congressional sources said. . .

But the administration’s lobbying for a Chinese exemption has raised eyebrows in Congress and angered several allies, most notably South Korea and Japan, which would not be exempted under the administration’s plan.

“We’re absolutely flabbergasted,” said one senior official from a foreign country friendly to the United States. “Tell me what exactly have the Chinese done to deserve this?” Japan and South Korea, which are U.S. allies, have raised the issue with the Obama administration.

What has China done? They balked and hollered, and the Obami have no means of corralling their support, so they will simply give China a pass, making a mockery of the entire exercise. This has not gone unnoticed: “One foreign official complained that the administration’s efforts would encourage China to water down U.N. sanctions on Iran as much as possible and then push Chinese firms — should the U.S. law pass — to invest more in Iran’s oil and gas sector.” We also know that Turkey and Brazil are balking at sanctions.

So where’s the evidence of Obama’s charismatic power to move our allies? Where’s the evidence that engagement enabled us to gather international support for crippling sanctions? There isn’t any. Nor is there any game plan to deter the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons. We are headed for what candidate Barack Obama declared unacceptable: a Revolutionary Islamic state with nuclear weapons. Perhaps Joe Biden can explain to the Israelis on his visit why they should refrain from acting unilaterally to defend themselves against an existential threat to the Jewish state in light of the abject failure of the Obami’s Iran policy.

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Smart Diplomacy — Watch Out!

Watch out when the Obami use the word smart — or even worse, smarter. It usually means something very silly is in the cards. And it denotes an air of condescension — as if others who came before them practiced dumb or dumber diplomacy and their critics are opposed to being smart. “Smarter diplomacy,” however, brought us such dumb ideas as downplaying human rights, engaging Iran for a year, bullying Israel, backing Hugo Chavez’s lackey in Honduras, and pulling the rug out from under our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic. But the Obami aren’t done being smart. Hillary Clinton tells us what’s in store on Iran sanctions:

”It is clear that there is a relatively small group of decision makers inside Iran,” she told reporters traveling with her on the first leg of a nine-day trip across the Pacific. ”They are in both political and commercial relationships, and if we can create a sanctions track that targets those who actually make the decisions, we think that is a smarter way to do sanctions. But all that is yet to be decided upon.” …

Clinton mentioned that the meeting, of representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France — plus Germany would meet at the end of the week in New York. She did not cite a specific day. ”They will be exploring the kind and degree of sanctions that we should be pursuing,” she said. She was not specific about those inside Iran who might be targeted with new international sanctions, but her allusion to Iranian leaders with political and commercial ties suggested that she was referring to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite group that is separate from the Iranian military and is charged with protecting the Islamic revolution that brought the clerics to power in 1979.

So with all this time, they haven’t quite decided what would be smart. But they’re positive they can focus like a laser on just the right bad guys, because bad guys rarely know how to set up middle men and third-party relations to evade detection. And even smarter yet, we don’t have any date in mind. Brilliant, huh?

Actually it’s appalling. And it suggests that the Obami were never serious about crippling sanctions to begin with. Apparently they were interested in stringing engagement along until no one could quite keep a straight face. Now it seems that the Obama administration has no interest in regime change and no interest in exacting meaningful sanctions that might alter the mullahs’ nuclear plans. But maybe we all aren’t smart enough to figure out how this is going to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Because it sure looks like the next declaration of “smart” diplomacy will be an admonition that we have to live with Iran in the club of nuclear powers.

Watch out when the Obami use the word smart — or even worse, smarter. It usually means something very silly is in the cards. And it denotes an air of condescension — as if others who came before them practiced dumb or dumber diplomacy and their critics are opposed to being smart. “Smarter diplomacy,” however, brought us such dumb ideas as downplaying human rights, engaging Iran for a year, bullying Israel, backing Hugo Chavez’s lackey in Honduras, and pulling the rug out from under our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic. But the Obami aren’t done being smart. Hillary Clinton tells us what’s in store on Iran sanctions:

”It is clear that there is a relatively small group of decision makers inside Iran,” she told reporters traveling with her on the first leg of a nine-day trip across the Pacific. ”They are in both political and commercial relationships, and if we can create a sanctions track that targets those who actually make the decisions, we think that is a smarter way to do sanctions. But all that is yet to be decided upon.” …

Clinton mentioned that the meeting, of representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France — plus Germany would meet at the end of the week in New York. She did not cite a specific day. ”They will be exploring the kind and degree of sanctions that we should be pursuing,” she said. She was not specific about those inside Iran who might be targeted with new international sanctions, but her allusion to Iranian leaders with political and commercial ties suggested that she was referring to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite group that is separate from the Iranian military and is charged with protecting the Islamic revolution that brought the clerics to power in 1979.

So with all this time, they haven’t quite decided what would be smart. But they’re positive they can focus like a laser on just the right bad guys, because bad guys rarely know how to set up middle men and third-party relations to evade detection. And even smarter yet, we don’t have any date in mind. Brilliant, huh?

Actually it’s appalling. And it suggests that the Obami were never serious about crippling sanctions to begin with. Apparently they were interested in stringing engagement along until no one could quite keep a straight face. Now it seems that the Obama administration has no interest in regime change and no interest in exacting meaningful sanctions that might alter the mullahs’ nuclear plans. But maybe we all aren’t smart enough to figure out how this is going to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Because it sure looks like the next declaration of “smart” diplomacy will be an admonition that we have to live with Iran in the club of nuclear powers.

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Re: More Than Words

Ever since his Nobel Speech in Oslo, the president and his supporters have been quoting Oslo as evidence that Obama now is stepping up his human rights rhetoric. Hillary Clinton did it in her December 14 human-rights speech. (“In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize last week, President Obama said that while war is never welcome or good, it will sometimes be right and necessary, because, in his words, “Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can be truly lasting.”) Obama did it again from Hawaii yesterday, observing that, “As I said in Oslo, it’s telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.”

It is an odd tic to quote oneself, but Obama tends to do that a lot — as if to say “Haven’t you been listening?” Or perhaps, and this is more troubling, he is inferring that a speech takes the place of action and is in and of itself proof of his own bona fides on human rights. Words, in his book, should silence all doubters. After all, he said it. In Oslo no less.

But there is a growing recognition that words, spoken to western audiences from a podium, mean not all that much when it comes to Iran. The Washington Post editors join the chorus of critics of Obama’s recent tentative remarks that cheered on (from a safe distance) the Iranian democracy protesters:

Russia and non-Western nations should be pressed to join in condemning the regime’s violence. Sanctions aimed at the Revolutionary Guard and its extensive business and financial network should be accelerated; action must not be delayed by months of haggling at the U.N. Security Council. More should be done, now, to facilitate Iranian use of the Internet for uncensored communication. The State Department continues to drag its feet on using money appropriated by Congress to fund firewall-busting operations and to deny support to groups with a proven record of success, like the Global Internet Freedom Consortium.

In short, words — especially Obama quoting himself — are insufficient. Now they only highlight the lack of any comprehensive effort to aid the protesters. As the editors put it, “It’s time for the United States to do whatever it can, in public and covertly, to help those Iranians fighting for freedom.” For the United States to do — not to say — whatever it can. But the president and his cocoon-sustaining spinners have often confused words with action. Remember how the Cairo Speech “changed everything” in the Middle East? Well, it didn’t. And neither will the president’s “Keep up the good work!” admonitions to the Iranian protesters.

Unfortunately, one suspects that this is the sum total of the president’s efforts to aid the democracy protesters. That it is an improvement over his previous muteness is really not cause for celebration, only for  reflection on just how putrid has been our entire policy of “engagement.”

Ever since his Nobel Speech in Oslo, the president and his supporters have been quoting Oslo as evidence that Obama now is stepping up his human rights rhetoric. Hillary Clinton did it in her December 14 human-rights speech. (“In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize last week, President Obama said that while war is never welcome or good, it will sometimes be right and necessary, because, in his words, “Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can be truly lasting.”) Obama did it again from Hawaii yesterday, observing that, “As I said in Oslo, it’s telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.”

It is an odd tic to quote oneself, but Obama tends to do that a lot — as if to say “Haven’t you been listening?” Or perhaps, and this is more troubling, he is inferring that a speech takes the place of action and is in and of itself proof of his own bona fides on human rights. Words, in his book, should silence all doubters. After all, he said it. In Oslo no less.

But there is a growing recognition that words, spoken to western audiences from a podium, mean not all that much when it comes to Iran. The Washington Post editors join the chorus of critics of Obama’s recent tentative remarks that cheered on (from a safe distance) the Iranian democracy protesters:

Russia and non-Western nations should be pressed to join in condemning the regime’s violence. Sanctions aimed at the Revolutionary Guard and its extensive business and financial network should be accelerated; action must not be delayed by months of haggling at the U.N. Security Council. More should be done, now, to facilitate Iranian use of the Internet for uncensored communication. The State Department continues to drag its feet on using money appropriated by Congress to fund firewall-busting operations and to deny support to groups with a proven record of success, like the Global Internet Freedom Consortium.

In short, words — especially Obama quoting himself — are insufficient. Now they only highlight the lack of any comprehensive effort to aid the protesters. As the editors put it, “It’s time for the United States to do whatever it can, in public and covertly, to help those Iranians fighting for freedom.” For the United States to do — not to say — whatever it can. But the president and his cocoon-sustaining spinners have often confused words with action. Remember how the Cairo Speech “changed everything” in the Middle East? Well, it didn’t. And neither will the president’s “Keep up the good work!” admonitions to the Iranian protesters.

Unfortunately, one suspects that this is the sum total of the president’s efforts to aid the democracy protesters. That it is an improvement over his previous muteness is really not cause for celebration, only for  reflection on just how putrid has been our entire policy of “engagement.”

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McCain on North Korea

While the mainstream media continues to fawn over Christopher Hill’s efforts in the Six Party talks, John McCain sets out his own views on North Korea (and Asia more generally) in the Asian Wall Street Journal. While much of the piece contains relatively familiar words of support for free trade and strengthening existing alliances, this jumps out:

We must use the leverage available from the U.N. Security Council resolution passed after Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear test to ensure the full and complete declaration, disablement and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear facilities, in a verifiable manner, which we agreed to with the other members of the six-party talks. We must reinvigorate the trilateral coordination process with Japan and South Korea. And we must never squander the trust of our allies and the respect for our highest office by promising that the president will embark on an open-ended, unconditional personal negotiation with a dictator responsible for running an international criminal enterprise, a covert nuclear weapons program and a massive system of gulags.

The first two sentences are aimed squarely at the Bush administration. Many voices are urging McCain to get to the left of Bush on foreign policy. But here McCain goes the other way, in essence crying foul on the increasingly preposterous attempts (detailed by Stephen Hayes most recently) to ignore North Korea’s nuclear testing and proliferation (not to mention gross human rights abuses) for the sake of what some call “legacy deals.”

McCain continued these themes in a speech today on nuclear proliferation, stating that

North Korea pursues a nuclear weapons program to the point where, today, the dictator Kim Jong-Il has tested a nuclear weapon, and almost certainly possesses several more nuclear warheads. And it has shared its nuclear and missile know-how with others, including Syria. It is a vital national interest for the North Korean nuclear program to be completely, verifiably and irreversibly ended. . . .

Again, this criticism seems to be directed mainly at the unwillingness of the Bush administration to push for verifiable restraints on North Korea’s nuclear program. The latter may not do much to endear McCain to mainstream pundits, but it will likely cheer the conservative base (which has grown increasingly disgusted with Bush’s second term foreign policy record). North Korea is one issue on which McCain seems inclined to break with Bush, albeit not the way most critics envisioned.

While the mainstream media continues to fawn over Christopher Hill’s efforts in the Six Party talks, John McCain sets out his own views on North Korea (and Asia more generally) in the Asian Wall Street Journal. While much of the piece contains relatively familiar words of support for free trade and strengthening existing alliances, this jumps out:

We must use the leverage available from the U.N. Security Council resolution passed after Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear test to ensure the full and complete declaration, disablement and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear facilities, in a verifiable manner, which we agreed to with the other members of the six-party talks. We must reinvigorate the trilateral coordination process with Japan and South Korea. And we must never squander the trust of our allies and the respect for our highest office by promising that the president will embark on an open-ended, unconditional personal negotiation with a dictator responsible for running an international criminal enterprise, a covert nuclear weapons program and a massive system of gulags.

The first two sentences are aimed squarely at the Bush administration. Many voices are urging McCain to get to the left of Bush on foreign policy. But here McCain goes the other way, in essence crying foul on the increasingly preposterous attempts (detailed by Stephen Hayes most recently) to ignore North Korea’s nuclear testing and proliferation (not to mention gross human rights abuses) for the sake of what some call “legacy deals.”

McCain continued these themes in a speech today on nuclear proliferation, stating that

North Korea pursues a nuclear weapons program to the point where, today, the dictator Kim Jong-Il has tested a nuclear weapon, and almost certainly possesses several more nuclear warheads. And it has shared its nuclear and missile know-how with others, including Syria. It is a vital national interest for the North Korean nuclear program to be completely, verifiably and irreversibly ended. . . .

Again, this criticism seems to be directed mainly at the unwillingness of the Bush administration to push for verifiable restraints on North Korea’s nuclear program. The latter may not do much to endear McCain to mainstream pundits, but it will likely cheer the conservative base (which has grown increasingly disgusted with Bush’s second term foreign policy record). North Korea is one issue on which McCain seems inclined to break with Bush, albeit not the way most critics envisioned.

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Every Which Way on the NIE

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at West Point last night, said that Iran remains “hell-bent” on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Does Michael Hayden, CIA director, agree? Speaking with Tim Russert  on Meet the Press on March 30, he said that “we stand by the judgment” in the NIE. That seems unequivocal.

But Hayden then began to equivocate. Russert asked him point blank: “Do you believe the Iranians are trying to develop a nuclear program?” Here is the transcript:

GEN. HAYDEN:  I–personal…

MR. RUSSERT: Yes.

GEN. HAYDEN: Personal belief? Yes. It’s hard for me to explain. And, you know, this is not court of law stuff. This is, this is, you know, in terms of beyond all reasonable doubt, this is, this is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence. OK. Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they’re doing now if they did not have, at a minimum, at a minimum, if they did not have the desire to keep the option open to, to develop a nuclear weapon and perhaps even more so, that they’ve already decided to do that? It’s very difficult for us to judge intent, and so we have to work back from actions. Why the continuing production of fissile material, and Natanz? They say it’s for civilian purposes, and yet the, the planet, the globe, states around the world have offered them fissile material under controls so they can have their, their, their civilian nuclear program. But the Iranians have rejected that. I mean, when you start looking at that, and you get, not just the United States, but you get the U.N. Security Council imposing sanctions on them, why would they go through that if it were not to develop the technology that would allow them to create fissile material not under international control?

What about Mike McConnell, director of National Intelligence? Here he is defending the NIE in congressional testimony on February 5:

I’d start by saying that the integrity and the professionalism in this NIE is probably the highest in our history in terms of objectivity, and quality of the analysis, and challenging the assumptions, and conducting red teams on the process, conducting a counterintelligence assessment about were we being misled or so on.

That sounds unequivocal. But then McConnell, too, begins to equivocate:

The only thing that they’ve halted was nuclear weapons design, which is probably the least significant part of the program. So if I’d had until now to think about it, I probably would have changed a thing or two.

So, with Secretary Gates joining in, we now have a trifecta of confusion. The top three intelligence and defense officials of the Bush administration are disavowing the NIE even as the adminstration stands by it.

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at West Point last night, said that Iran remains “hell-bent” on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Does Michael Hayden, CIA director, agree? Speaking with Tim Russert  on Meet the Press on March 30, he said that “we stand by the judgment” in the NIE. That seems unequivocal.

But Hayden then began to equivocate. Russert asked him point blank: “Do you believe the Iranians are trying to develop a nuclear program?” Here is the transcript:

GEN. HAYDEN:  I–personal…

MR. RUSSERT: Yes.

GEN. HAYDEN: Personal belief? Yes. It’s hard for me to explain. And, you know, this is not court of law stuff. This is, this is, you know, in terms of beyond all reasonable doubt, this is, this is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence. OK. Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they’re doing now if they did not have, at a minimum, at a minimum, if they did not have the desire to keep the option open to, to develop a nuclear weapon and perhaps even more so, that they’ve already decided to do that? It’s very difficult for us to judge intent, and so we have to work back from actions. Why the continuing production of fissile material, and Natanz? They say it’s for civilian purposes, and yet the, the planet, the globe, states around the world have offered them fissile material under controls so they can have their, their, their civilian nuclear program. But the Iranians have rejected that. I mean, when you start looking at that, and you get, not just the United States, but you get the U.N. Security Council imposing sanctions on them, why would they go through that if it were not to develop the technology that would allow them to create fissile material not under international control?

What about Mike McConnell, director of National Intelligence? Here he is defending the NIE in congressional testimony on February 5:

I’d start by saying that the integrity and the professionalism in this NIE is probably the highest in our history in terms of objectivity, and quality of the analysis, and challenging the assumptions, and conducting red teams on the process, conducting a counterintelligence assessment about were we being misled or so on.

That sounds unequivocal. But then McConnell, too, begins to equivocate:

The only thing that they’ve halted was nuclear weapons design, which is probably the least significant part of the program. So if I’d had until now to think about it, I probably would have changed a thing or two.

So, with Secretary Gates joining in, we now have a trifecta of confusion. The top three intelligence and defense officials of the Bush administration are disavowing the NIE even as the adminstration stands by it.

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“They Want to Destroy People”

“They’ve declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people,” said President Bush Wednesday, referring to Iran’s theocrats. The leader of the free world did not have to wait long for criticism. “That’s as uninformed as McCain’s statement that Iran is training al-Qaeda,” remarked nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione. “Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It’s just not true.”

It is true that Iranian leaders have never publicly proclaimed their desire for the ultimate weapon in history. In fact, they have said exactly the opposite. So award a point to Cirincione.

Yet make that an exceedingly technical point. On the broader issue of truth, the President scores higher. In my book, a nation has essentially declared it wants the bomb when it, like Iran, hides parts of its nuclear program, possesses plans for nuclear warheads, conducts nuclear weaponization experiments, builds ballistic missiles, and voices a desire to wipe another country off the map. If I ever have an opportunity to talk to Cirincione, I will ask this: “Is there any room in your world for common sense?”

In any event, there’s none in Kofi Annan’s universe, at least judging from his comments reported by the Associated Press on Friday. The former U.N. secretary-general, in remarks summarized by that news organization, said he “didn’t have enough information to comment on the justification for the U.N. Security Council’s demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment.” Nonetheless, the retired diplomat felt confident enough to say this: “We cannot, I’m sure, take on another military action in Iran, and I hope no one is contemplating it.”

Well, I hope no one is contemplating listening to Annan. As a matter of logic, one cannot comment on military action if one is too ignorant to discuss why the U.N. has demanded that Iran stop enrichment in the first place.

Until Kofi catches up on his reading, we should take our advice from Dick Cheney. On Wednesday, while visiting Oman, the Vice President said that “Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.” Why? Because Annan is correct about one thing. In his recent comments he said that all Security Council members must live up to their “responsibility to protect.” If this noble concept means anything, it means stopping militant regimes like Iran’s from getting the capability to “destroy people.”

“They’ve declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people,” said President Bush Wednesday, referring to Iran’s theocrats. The leader of the free world did not have to wait long for criticism. “That’s as uninformed as McCain’s statement that Iran is training al-Qaeda,” remarked nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione. “Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It’s just not true.”

It is true that Iranian leaders have never publicly proclaimed their desire for the ultimate weapon in history. In fact, they have said exactly the opposite. So award a point to Cirincione.

Yet make that an exceedingly technical point. On the broader issue of truth, the President scores higher. In my book, a nation has essentially declared it wants the bomb when it, like Iran, hides parts of its nuclear program, possesses plans for nuclear warheads, conducts nuclear weaponization experiments, builds ballistic missiles, and voices a desire to wipe another country off the map. If I ever have an opportunity to talk to Cirincione, I will ask this: “Is there any room in your world for common sense?”

In any event, there’s none in Kofi Annan’s universe, at least judging from his comments reported by the Associated Press on Friday. The former U.N. secretary-general, in remarks summarized by that news organization, said he “didn’t have enough information to comment on the justification for the U.N. Security Council’s demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment.” Nonetheless, the retired diplomat felt confident enough to say this: “We cannot, I’m sure, take on another military action in Iran, and I hope no one is contemplating it.”

Well, I hope no one is contemplating listening to Annan. As a matter of logic, one cannot comment on military action if one is too ignorant to discuss why the U.N. has demanded that Iran stop enrichment in the first place.

Until Kofi catches up on his reading, we should take our advice from Dick Cheney. On Wednesday, while visiting Oman, the Vice President said that “Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.” Why? Because Annan is correct about one thing. In his recent comments he said that all Security Council members must live up to their “responsibility to protect.” If this noble concept means anything, it means stopping militant regimes like Iran’s from getting the capability to “destroy people.”

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Fool Us Twice . . .

Today, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected talks with the European Union over his country’s nuclear program and said he would discuss this subject only with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

This development followed yesterday’s successful maneuvering by Russia and China, which together forced European nations to drop their efforts to have the IAEA Board of Governors adopt a resolution targeting Iran’s nuclear program. The failure of Britain, France, and Germany to increase the pressure on Tehran came a day after the U.N. Security Council imposed a third set of sanctions on Iran for failing to halt its enrichment of uranium. Some nations on the IAEA board felt that a second resolution in a single week might antagonize the mullahs. As one Asian diplomat said, “The board doesn’t need to compete with the Security Council.”

The failure of the governing board to take up the issue is an unmistakable defeat for the West and will have consequences. As an initial matter, a stiff IAEA resolution condemning Tehran might have had a bigger effect on the Iranian regime than Monday’s Security Council resolution. In January, Ahmadinejad said “Nobody except the International Atomic Energy Agency has the right to make decisions or impose anything on the Iranian nation.” He is undoubtedly insincere—he is not about to listen to anyone who disagrees with him—but he probably made that statement because developing nations, which have traditionally befriended Iran, comprise almost half of the IAEA’s Board of Governors. In short, a board resolution would have strongly signaled intolerance of Iran’s delaying tactics by its friends as well as its adversaries.

Yesterday’s setback is also a signal to the West. The European retreat demonstrates that Moscow and Beijing are calling the tune on issues involving Iran. We should remember they similarly demanded a slow pace on sanctions on North Korea, thereby giving Pyongyang time to succeed in weaponizing the atom. In short, the Russian and Chinese approach has already failed to stop nuclearization this decade. Now, the U.S. and Europe are letting these two large authoritarian states adopt the same maneuver. It is grossly irresponsible for the Chinese and Russians to support Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon. And we are inexcusably feckless if we permit them to do so—again.

Today, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected talks with the European Union over his country’s nuclear program and said he would discuss this subject only with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

This development followed yesterday’s successful maneuvering by Russia and China, which together forced European nations to drop their efforts to have the IAEA Board of Governors adopt a resolution targeting Iran’s nuclear program. The failure of Britain, France, and Germany to increase the pressure on Tehran came a day after the U.N. Security Council imposed a third set of sanctions on Iran for failing to halt its enrichment of uranium. Some nations on the IAEA board felt that a second resolution in a single week might antagonize the mullahs. As one Asian diplomat said, “The board doesn’t need to compete with the Security Council.”

The failure of the governing board to take up the issue is an unmistakable defeat for the West and will have consequences. As an initial matter, a stiff IAEA resolution condemning Tehran might have had a bigger effect on the Iranian regime than Monday’s Security Council resolution. In January, Ahmadinejad said “Nobody except the International Atomic Energy Agency has the right to make decisions or impose anything on the Iranian nation.” He is undoubtedly insincere—he is not about to listen to anyone who disagrees with him—but he probably made that statement because developing nations, which have traditionally befriended Iran, comprise almost half of the IAEA’s Board of Governors. In short, a board resolution would have strongly signaled intolerance of Iran’s delaying tactics by its friends as well as its adversaries.

Yesterday’s setback is also a signal to the West. The European retreat demonstrates that Moscow and Beijing are calling the tune on issues involving Iran. We should remember they similarly demanded a slow pace on sanctions on North Korea, thereby giving Pyongyang time to succeed in weaponizing the atom. In short, the Russian and Chinese approach has already failed to stop nuclearization this decade. Now, the U.S. and Europe are letting these two large authoritarian states adopt the same maneuver. It is grossly irresponsible for the Chinese and Russians to support Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon. And we are inexcusably feckless if we permit them to do so—again.

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Spielberg Withdraws from the Olympics

Yesterday, Steven Spielberg announced that he had severed his role as artistic advisor to this year’s Summer Olympics, which begins in August. “I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue business as usual,” he said in a statement. “At this point, my time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies, but on doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur.”

China is committing no such crimes in Darfur. It is, however, providing crucial material support to the government in Khartoum as well as diplomatic help, especially in the U.N Security Council. That government, in turn, is sponsoring the Janjaweed militia, which has rightly been accused of genocide. So far, about 200,000 to 400,000 people have died according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Spielberg, by refusing to continue his work on the opening and closing ceremonies, implicitly says that participation in the Olympics is tantamount to supporting the atrocities, including mass murder and rape, taking place in western Sudan.

In the wake of the famed director’s withdrawal, Human Rights Watch has asked others to think about their personal responsibility. “These influential players should be prepared to show the steps they are taking to address the worsening rights climate in China, or they risk being tarnished by a human rights debacle,” said Minky Worden, the group’s media director, yesterday.

Worden raises a fundamental issue: At what point does personal participation imply guilt? Beijing’s response is predictable: “As the Darfur issue is neither an internal issue of China, nor is it caused by China, it is completely unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair for certain organizations and individuals to link the two as one,” the Chinese embassy in Washington said in a statement yesterday. Beijing’s position, however reasonable it seems on its face, is unconvincing simply because the tragedy in Darfur would not be occurring were it not for China.

Today, there is a growing sentiment that China is too damn close to the Janjaweed militia. On Tuesday, 25 individuals, including Nobel peace laureates, called on Chinese President Hu Jintao to take steps to end the slaughter sponsored by Khartoum. Whether Beijing likes it or not, people are starting to make the connections between death in Darfur and the celebrations in Beijing. It is high time we examine our national—and personal—responsibility for China’s acts because we are enabling the Chinese regime through our policies of engagement.

“Repression in China is on the rise, and Olympic sponsors, governments, or world leaders—especially those planning to attend the Games—can’t pretend otherwise,” said Worden. At least Prince Charles is on the side of the angels. He has said that he will not attend the Games. President Bush, however, is going to Beijing in August for the spectacle. Regrettably, he has tried to lessen his personal responsibility by saying that he is doing so only as a sports fan. As Spielberg has just shown us, however, that is not possible in today’s climate. Let me quote Bush to Bush: you’re either with the Chinese autocrats or against them.

And if you’re with me, you insist that your leaders in Washington not associate themselves with ugly events taking place in Darfur by supporting the extravaganza in Beijing.

Yesterday, Steven Spielberg announced that he had severed his role as artistic advisor to this year’s Summer Olympics, which begins in August. “I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue business as usual,” he said in a statement. “At this point, my time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies, but on doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur.”

China is committing no such crimes in Darfur. It is, however, providing crucial material support to the government in Khartoum as well as diplomatic help, especially in the U.N Security Council. That government, in turn, is sponsoring the Janjaweed militia, which has rightly been accused of genocide. So far, about 200,000 to 400,000 people have died according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Spielberg, by refusing to continue his work on the opening and closing ceremonies, implicitly says that participation in the Olympics is tantamount to supporting the atrocities, including mass murder and rape, taking place in western Sudan.

In the wake of the famed director’s withdrawal, Human Rights Watch has asked others to think about their personal responsibility. “These influential players should be prepared to show the steps they are taking to address the worsening rights climate in China, or they risk being tarnished by a human rights debacle,” said Minky Worden, the group’s media director, yesterday.

Worden raises a fundamental issue: At what point does personal participation imply guilt? Beijing’s response is predictable: “As the Darfur issue is neither an internal issue of China, nor is it caused by China, it is completely unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair for certain organizations and individuals to link the two as one,” the Chinese embassy in Washington said in a statement yesterday. Beijing’s position, however reasonable it seems on its face, is unconvincing simply because the tragedy in Darfur would not be occurring were it not for China.

Today, there is a growing sentiment that China is too damn close to the Janjaweed militia. On Tuesday, 25 individuals, including Nobel peace laureates, called on Chinese President Hu Jintao to take steps to end the slaughter sponsored by Khartoum. Whether Beijing likes it or not, people are starting to make the connections between death in Darfur and the celebrations in Beijing. It is high time we examine our national—and personal—responsibility for China’s acts because we are enabling the Chinese regime through our policies of engagement.

“Repression in China is on the rise, and Olympic sponsors, governments, or world leaders—especially those planning to attend the Games—can’t pretend otherwise,” said Worden. At least Prince Charles is on the side of the angels. He has said that he will not attend the Games. President Bush, however, is going to Beijing in August for the spectacle. Regrettably, he has tried to lessen his personal responsibility by saying that he is doing so only as a sports fan. As Spielberg has just shown us, however, that is not possible in today’s climate. Let me quote Bush to Bush: you’re either with the Chinese autocrats or against them.

And if you’re with me, you insist that your leaders in Washington not associate themselves with ugly events taking place in Darfur by supporting the extravaganza in Beijing.

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Iran’s Grand Strategy

This week China and Russia unexpectedly dropped their opposition to a third set of U.N. sanctions on Iran for continuing its enrichment of uranium. Why did they do so? This could be a concerted effort to assist Tehran in its campaign to avoid Security Council involvement in its nuclear program. Unfortunately, the United States may be acquiescing in a course of action that will permit the “atomic ayatollahs” to keep their centrifuges.

Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explained that the draft resolution does not contain “any harsh sanctions.” Instead, the draft, which has not yet been released, merely asks nations to be vigilant about transferring prohibited nuclear material. The terms of the new resolution, Lavrov explained, “will be enforced until the International Atomic Energy Agency’s concerns are resolved.”

This statement was certainly music to the ears of the mullahs. On the 12th of this month Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with, and lectured, Mohamed ElBaradei. “There is no justification for Iran’s nuclear dossier to remain at the U.N. Security Council,” Iran’s supreme leader told the head of the IAEA. At the same time Iran pledged to cooperate with ElBaradei’s agency and wrap up all remaining questions within weeks. In a sign of cooperation, Iran allowed ElBaradei and one of his chief deputies to walk around the site where it is developing its advanced P-2 centrifuge. Yesterday, Reuters reported that the IAEA was close to finishing its years-long inquiry on Iran.

Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice, after failing to get Russia and China to agree to tougher sanctions, adopted a conciliatory tone and offered the prospect of better relations with Tehran. “We could work over time to build a new, more normal relationship—one defined not by fear and mistrust, but growing cooperation, expanding trade and exchange, and the peaceful management of our differences,” said the secretary of state, speaking from Davos yesterday. “This problem can and should be resolved through diplomacy.”

I admire her optimism. On the day she signaled compromise, both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili ruled it out. Rice of course insisted that Iran stop enrichment, but the direction of her remarks revealed that the United States had given up confronting the intransigent Iranians.

So, it appears that the IAEA will certify that Iran is not trying to weaponize the atom, the Russians and Chinese will insist that the Security Council end its oversight of Iran, and the United States will meekly go along.

This week China and Russia unexpectedly dropped their opposition to a third set of U.N. sanctions on Iran for continuing its enrichment of uranium. Why did they do so? This could be a concerted effort to assist Tehran in its campaign to avoid Security Council involvement in its nuclear program. Unfortunately, the United States may be acquiescing in a course of action that will permit the “atomic ayatollahs” to keep their centrifuges.

Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explained that the draft resolution does not contain “any harsh sanctions.” Instead, the draft, which has not yet been released, merely asks nations to be vigilant about transferring prohibited nuclear material. The terms of the new resolution, Lavrov explained, “will be enforced until the International Atomic Energy Agency’s concerns are resolved.”

This statement was certainly music to the ears of the mullahs. On the 12th of this month Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with, and lectured, Mohamed ElBaradei. “There is no justification for Iran’s nuclear dossier to remain at the U.N. Security Council,” Iran’s supreme leader told the head of the IAEA. At the same time Iran pledged to cooperate with ElBaradei’s agency and wrap up all remaining questions within weeks. In a sign of cooperation, Iran allowed ElBaradei and one of his chief deputies to walk around the site where it is developing its advanced P-2 centrifuge. Yesterday, Reuters reported that the IAEA was close to finishing its years-long inquiry on Iran.

Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice, after failing to get Russia and China to agree to tougher sanctions, adopted a conciliatory tone and offered the prospect of better relations with Tehran. “We could work over time to build a new, more normal relationship—one defined not by fear and mistrust, but growing cooperation, expanding trade and exchange, and the peaceful management of our differences,” said the secretary of state, speaking from Davos yesterday. “This problem can and should be resolved through diplomacy.”

I admire her optimism. On the day she signaled compromise, both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili ruled it out. Rice of course insisted that Iran stop enrichment, but the direction of her remarks revealed that the United States had given up confronting the intransigent Iranians.

So, it appears that the IAEA will certify that Iran is not trying to weaponize the atom, the Russians and Chinese will insist that the Security Council end its oversight of Iran, and the United States will meekly go along.

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The Matthews Thesis

On last night’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews said:

[D]o you think it was odd of the president of the United States, who’s basically against multilateralism, period . . . to be quoting the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights. I mean, where did he-who is he, Eleanor Roosevelt all of a sudden? I mean, where’d he come from with this? And talking about the American outrage against Burma – the American people are outraged about New Orleans. They’re not focused on Burma. Nobody that I know of has even thought about it. . . . Why did he say the American people are outraged at Burma, when you [David Gergen] and I, who do read the papers—I don’t even think you and I are outraged, and we read the paper every day. Ninety percent of the American people are not outraged at hardly anything right now, but the idea that they’re outraged about Burma is ludicrous.

These are the type of insights we’ve come to expect from Mr. Matthews over the years—and they are worth unpacking.

First, Matthews’s charge that the President is “basically against multilateralism, period” is comically uninformed. Matthews seems not to understand the difference between multilateral efforts and having the backing of the United Nations. One often has the former without the latter. For example, the United States has gained unprecedented cooperation in the war against jihadists from countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. Traditional allies in Europe have helped in tracking and arresting terrorists and blocking their financing. We’re witnessing unprecedented cooperation in law enforcement, intelligence, military actions, and diplomacy. And more than 70 countries have joined the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a comprehensive enforcement mechanism aimed at restricting trafficking of WMD.

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On last night’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews said:

[D]o you think it was odd of the president of the United States, who’s basically against multilateralism, period . . . to be quoting the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights. I mean, where did he-who is he, Eleanor Roosevelt all of a sudden? I mean, where’d he come from with this? And talking about the American outrage against Burma – the American people are outraged about New Orleans. They’re not focused on Burma. Nobody that I know of has even thought about it. . . . Why did he say the American people are outraged at Burma, when you [David Gergen] and I, who do read the papers—I don’t even think you and I are outraged, and we read the paper every day. Ninety percent of the American people are not outraged at hardly anything right now, but the idea that they’re outraged about Burma is ludicrous.

These are the type of insights we’ve come to expect from Mr. Matthews over the years—and they are worth unpacking.

First, Matthews’s charge that the President is “basically against multilateralism, period” is comically uninformed. Matthews seems not to understand the difference between multilateral efforts and having the backing of the United Nations. One often has the former without the latter. For example, the United States has gained unprecedented cooperation in the war against jihadists from countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. Traditional allies in Europe have helped in tracking and arresting terrorists and blocking their financing. We’re witnessing unprecedented cooperation in law enforcement, intelligence, military actions, and diplomacy. And more than 70 countries have joined the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a comprehensive enforcement mechanism aimed at restricting trafficking of WMD.

For the Matthews Thesis to have merit, he would have to erase virtually all of the day-to-day activity of the war against radical Islam, which consists of unprecedented levels of cooperation and integrated planning across scores of countries. He would have to ignore our trade and development policy. And he would have to ignore the fact that the United States went to war with Iraq with a coalition of more than two dozen countries.

Second, President Bush is not against the United Nations as a matter of principle. After all, the United States helped shepherd through a unanimous U.N. Security Council vote (1441) finding Iraq in material breach of its previous ceasefire agreements and offering Iraq a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations. But a willingness to work through the U.N. is different than ceding authority to conduct American foreign policy to it. Mr. Matthews may be in favor of that; the President is not.

A third point: it makes great sense for the President to quote the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, which is fully consistent with the President’s freedom agenda (and, in fact, the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights echoes the principles found in our own Declaration of Independence). It is perfectly reasonable to insist that the United Nations live up to its founding charter.

As for Burma: what we are seeing unfold there is a stirring and courageous stand by Buddhist monks and democratic activists against a brutal military junta, which is now using violence to put an end to the uprising. This moment—like the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the Martyr’s Square protest in Lebanon in 2005—is important and it ought to command our attention and support. It is exactly the type of issue that should be raised at the U.N.

Chris Matthews, ever voluble and confused on the facts, is critical of the President for not being sufficiently multilateral and (presumably) not solicitous enough of regimes like Syria and China—yet he appears to be morally indifferent to a great struggle for liberty that is unfolding before our eyes. All of which is a reminder why Chris Matthews is a perfect choice to host a program on MSNBC.

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Where’s the U.N.?

Last week, Lebanese legislator Antoine Ghanem was assassinated by a powerful bomb, the signature weapon of Syria’s secret service. He was at least the fifth member of the Lebanese legislature to die in this manner. Of course, there is no proof of the bombers’ identity, but all five victims have been distinguished by their anti-Syrian positions. If the perpetrator was not the Syrian regime, it was its fairy godmother.

This adds up to a blatant act of international aggression, the very thing that the United Nations was founded to prevent. And it is unfolding in full view. Where is the U.N. Security Council? Where is the Secretary General? Where are all those who preach greater reliance on the world body as the guarantor of “peace and security?” Where is the chorus that sings of international law, at least when it comes to rebuking the United States? (Where, for that matter, is Washington?)

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Last week, Lebanese legislator Antoine Ghanem was assassinated by a powerful bomb, the signature weapon of Syria’s secret service. He was at least the fifth member of the Lebanese legislature to die in this manner. Of course, there is no proof of the bombers’ identity, but all five victims have been distinguished by their anti-Syrian positions. If the perpetrator was not the Syrian regime, it was its fairy godmother.

This adds up to a blatant act of international aggression, the very thing that the United Nations was founded to prevent. And it is unfolding in full view. Where is the U.N. Security Council? Where is the Secretary General? Where are all those who preach greater reliance on the world body as the guarantor of “peace and security?” Where is the chorus that sings of international law, at least when it comes to rebuking the United States? (Where, for that matter, is Washington?)

Aggression has long been recognized as the most fundamental crime under international law, but for generations nations failed to agree on a definition. Then, the U.N. Charter gave it clear definition, making this the essential principle of world order. Article 2.4 outlaws “the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

Could there be a clearer case of the use of force against the political independence of a state than what Syria is doing to Lebanon? By murdering anti-Syrian legislators, Damascus hopes to tilt the delicate balance of power in Lebanon in its own favor when it comes to selecting a new Lebanese president to replace the incumbent, Emile Lahoud. Lahoud plays Charlie McCarthy to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s Edgar Bergen. It was for his objections to giving Lahoud an illegal additional term of office that former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Harari was blown to smithereens. This was the most dramatic crime of al-Assad’s murder spree (which the U.N. may or may not get around to prosecuting).

But the crime at hand is more serious than serial killing. It is the attempt to rob a nation of its political independence. Will anyone take notice? Will anyone take action?

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Russia’s Question

Yesterday, Moscow took one more step away from the West when it announced that it would not support tougher sanctions against Iran for failing to halt its efforts to enrich uranium. The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to discuss implementing a third set of coercive measures against Tehran. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country wants to give the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, additional time to obtain cooperation from Iran pursuant to a deal arranged last month. On Friday, China announced its desire to see more negotiations with the Iranians, thereby supporting the Kremlin.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, at the conclusion of his meeting with Lavrov in Moscow, said yesterday that, should the Security Council fail to impose new measures, the European Union should create a sanctions regime similar to America’s. That set off Lavrov: “If we decided to act collectively on the basis of consensual decisions in the U.N. Security Council, what good does it do to take unilateral decisions?”

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Yesterday, Moscow took one more step away from the West when it announced that it would not support tougher sanctions against Iran for failing to halt its efforts to enrich uranium. The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to discuss implementing a third set of coercive measures against Tehran. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country wants to give the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, additional time to obtain cooperation from Iran pursuant to a deal arranged last month. On Friday, China announced its desire to see more negotiations with the Iranians, thereby supporting the Kremlin.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, at the conclusion of his meeting with Lavrov in Moscow, said yesterday that, should the Security Council fail to impose new measures, the European Union should create a sanctions regime similar to America’s. That set off Lavrov: “If we decided to act collectively on the basis of consensual decisions in the U.N. Security Council, what good does it do to take unilateral decisions?”

The assumption implicit in Lavrov’s question is that the world’s great powers, acting together, can solve the world’s great problems. It is the basis of Bush administration policy. It is the notion that all of us want to believe. It is, unfortunately, no longer true—if it ever was.

Why? On Monday, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, trying to forestall the talk of war over Iran, asked the West to remember the lessons of Iraq. I do, and here they are in ascending order of importance: the American military can destroy almost any adversary, democracy cannot be imposed by force, and the concept of collective security no longer works. Before President Bush talked about democracy in Iraq, even before he mentioned weapons of mass destruction, American diplomats discussed the failure of the United Nations to enforce its own resolutions against Saddam’s regime.

Russia and China this week have made it clear they will side with Iran until the theocrats announce they have the bomb—all the while saying they are defending the concept of joint action. As Thomas Friedman says, we are entering the post-post-cold-war period. And in that period the West has no choice but to realize that the world’s authoritarian nations are banding together, and Russia and China are undermining the concept of collective security. Whether we like it or not, we are now engaged in a series of global struggles, with neither Beijing nor Moscow on our side.

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“The Worst, Sir, Is War.”

Yesterday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, while calling for more effective sanctions against Iran, said that the world should be getting ready to use force to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons. “We must prepare for the worst,” he said. “The worst, sir, is war.”

Unfortunately, peaceful efforts to stop Iran’s theocrats have been getting nowhere. In July of last year, the U.N. Security Council demanded that Tehran stop its efforts to enrich uranium; the Council then imposed two sets of sanctions, in December and March. In response to these actions, Tehran has issued a series of increasingly defiant refusals to comply. It has, however, enlisted an invaluable ally. Last month, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, undercut the Security Council sanctions by cutting a deal with Iran. The arrangement, which seeks Iran’s cooperation, does not require the country to stop enrichment and effectively prevents the Security Council from enacting a needed third set of coercive measures.

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Yesterday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, while calling for more effective sanctions against Iran, said that the world should be getting ready to use force to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons. “We must prepare for the worst,” he said. “The worst, sir, is war.”

Unfortunately, peaceful efforts to stop Iran’s theocrats have been getting nowhere. In July of last year, the U.N. Security Council demanded that Tehran stop its efforts to enrich uranium; the Council then imposed two sets of sanctions, in December and March. In response to these actions, Tehran has issued a series of increasingly defiant refusals to comply. It has, however, enlisted an invaluable ally. Last month, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, undercut the Security Council sanctions by cutting a deal with Iran. The arrangement, which seeks Iran’s cooperation, does not require the country to stop enrichment and effectively prevents the Security Council from enacting a needed third set of coercive measures.

In the last few days, Tehran has made even more progress. On September 10, Itar-Tass carried a report suggesting that Russia had settled its differences with Iran and had agreed to supply uranium to the Bushehr nuclear plant. On Friday, Beijing issued its latest pronouncement, which essentially endorsed Iran’s delaying tactics.

Time, unfortunately, is growing short. It appears that at some point in the next two years Iranian specialists, unless they are stopped, will gain all the technology and know-how necessary for the building of a nuclear weapon. It would be wonderful if peaceful methods would deter Iran, but that appears extremely unlikely. Russia and China have demonstrated that they will use their Security Council vetoes to prevent the U.N. from imposing meaningful sanctions, and American and EU measures, on their own, will not be sufficient.

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking on Fox News Sunday, said the Bush administration is committed to “diplomatic and economic means” to stop Iran. We all want peaceful solutions, but as each day passes it becomes increasingly clear that Gates’s words have no substantive content; he has been unable to persuade Russia and China to take a clear stand against Iran.

So Kouchner was right to get the West to focus on an unpleasant reality. We are rapidly approaching the point where we have to make a consequential decision—either accept Iran as a nuclear weapons state or take away its arms by force.

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