Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S.-Iran policy

Who Made the Case for Iran Attack? Obama

In his column at the Daily Beast today on the prospect of hostilities with Iran, Peter Beinart assumes his usual role: defender of Barack Obama against Israel and its supporters. In this case, it’s the chutzpah of Israel’s government to demand that the administration issue some clear red lines about how long it will wait before taking action against the Iranian nuclear threat that bothers him. Israel’s warning that it may have to act on its own is seen on the left as an attempt to force him to launch an unnecessary war. But Beinart’s complaint that we haven’t had a full-scale debate on stopping Iran is more than a bit disingenuous. Far from no one making a case for the use of force on Iran — which he compares unfavorably to the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the invasion of Iraq — the president has been doing that ever since he started running for president.

If there hasn’t been much contention about pressuring Iran it’s because it’s been one of those issues on which there’s been a clear consensus. Stopping an Islamist regime that hates the West and America and which routinely calls for Israel’s elimination while promoting anti-Semitism and subsidizing terrorism is not a controversial goal. Obama and the Democrats and Romney and the Republicans both agree on this. The only question is which of them is serious about it. Beinart’s call for debate before any promises are made to Israel is part of an effort to back the president’s desire to keep kicking the can down the road until after the November election. Rather than really wanting a debate about a feckless administration policy that has wasted four years on dead-end diplomacy and engagement with Iran and only belatedly enacted sanctions that it are being loosely enforced, what Obama cheerleaders like Beinart really want is to find a way to put on brake on the use of force. But his assertion that no one has made a case for stopping Iran being an “American interest” is simply untrue.

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In his column at the Daily Beast today on the prospect of hostilities with Iran, Peter Beinart assumes his usual role: defender of Barack Obama against Israel and its supporters. In this case, it’s the chutzpah of Israel’s government to demand that the administration issue some clear red lines about how long it will wait before taking action against the Iranian nuclear threat that bothers him. Israel’s warning that it may have to act on its own is seen on the left as an attempt to force him to launch an unnecessary war. But Beinart’s complaint that we haven’t had a full-scale debate on stopping Iran is more than a bit disingenuous. Far from no one making a case for the use of force on Iran — which he compares unfavorably to the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the invasion of Iraq — the president has been doing that ever since he started running for president.

If there hasn’t been much contention about pressuring Iran it’s because it’s been one of those issues on which there’s been a clear consensus. Stopping an Islamist regime that hates the West and America and which routinely calls for Israel’s elimination while promoting anti-Semitism and subsidizing terrorism is not a controversial goal. Obama and the Democrats and Romney and the Republicans both agree on this. The only question is which of them is serious about it. Beinart’s call for debate before any promises are made to Israel is part of an effort to back the president’s desire to keep kicking the can down the road until after the November election. Rather than really wanting a debate about a feckless administration policy that has wasted four years on dead-end diplomacy and engagement with Iran and only belatedly enacted sanctions that it are being loosely enforced, what Obama cheerleaders like Beinart really want is to find a way to put on brake on the use of force. But his assertion that no one has made a case for stopping Iran being an “American interest” is simply untrue.

Indeed, the comparison to Iraq, where intelligence about weapons of mass destruction turned out to be incorrect, is apt but not in the way that opponents of force think. Unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Iranians haven’t been coy about their nuclear goals even if they claim they don’t want a bomb. There isn’t much of a dispute about whether they are refining uranium or that they are building underground bunkers for this material. Opponents of action don’t dispute that the Iranians have worked on military applications of their nuclear material. Nor is this belief limited to Americans. There happens to be an international consensus that there is solid proof that an Iranian bomb is a threat to world peace as well as the global economy. Why would diplomats like the European Union’s Catherine Ashton be involved in negotiations to halt the Iranian project if it were solely about Israel’s interests?

Nor is there any doubt about how dangerous Iran already has become. Via its allies Hezbollah and Hamas and the vicious Assad regime in Syria, Iran is a destabilizing force in the region and the main bulwark of terrorism. It’s recent Al Quds day festivities also serve as a reminder of the entrenched anti-Semitism that runs deep in the regime’s ideology. Even Tehran’s apologists have trouble justifying indifference toward a country that denies the Holocaust while constantly threatening a new one.

It is true that after Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans are war weary. But no one is suggesting an invasion. The U.S. and Israel have the capability to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities without injecting land forces. That would mean casualties as well as possible retaliation but comparison with either of Bush’s wars is completely misleading. Beinart is right that neither candidate is talking much about Iran on the campaign trail. But both agree that Iran must be stopped. Any debate about the advisability of making good on the country’s pledge to halt Iran would take place with only the far left and extremist libertarians speaking up in favor of letting the ayatollahs get their finger on the button. Were the president to make clear his red lines, few in either major party would disagree just as his pledge not to contain Iran went virtually unopposed.

The real debate is not about whether we should stop Iran but whether President Obama meant it when he pledged to do so. Ever since President Obama began running for the White House, he has used the sternest rhetoric about the nature of the Iranian threat and how unacceptable it would be for them to go nuclear. Until now, he has tried diplomacy and failed. What Israel wants is some idea of how long he will wait before acknowledging that failure. Unfortunately, the more his supporters call for delay, and the more administration spokespersons make statements about still believing that diplomacy can work, the less credible the president’s pledges on Iran sound. And that is what makes Israelis nervous and Iranians confident.

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Tisha B’Av and the Right of Self-Defense

Today is Tisha B’Av, the date in the Hebrew calendar on which a number of catastrophes have befallen the Jews. This is the date on which both of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. Since then, other anti-Semitic powers have taken delight in launching fresh atrocities on the day, including the expulsion from Spain in 1492 to massacres during the Holocaust. It is a solemn day of fasting and one on which Jewish tradition commands us to think about the mindless and sinful hatred within the community that has often brought down calamity on the Jewish people. Such reflection is important at a time when issues and rancor divide Jews and cause them to forget that the values that should unite them are far more important than the issues on which they differ. But it would be more than foolish not to give a thought today to the still potent external threats. Though Israel is beset by many problems, there is no greater menace to the continuance of Jewish life than that posed by Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

Thus, it was heartening today to hear thatwhile visiting the Jewish state, Mitt Romney plans to endorse Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran. Romney, who will speak tonight after the conclusion of the holiday, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, who rightly sounded a note of alarm about the failure of the sanctions belatedly enacted by the Obama administration on Iran. Though Washington has been boasting about their tough sanctions policy, today was an apt day for Netanyahu to point out their bravado was disconnected from reality.

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Today is Tisha B’Av, the date in the Hebrew calendar on which a number of catastrophes have befallen the Jews. This is the date on which both of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. Since then, other anti-Semitic powers have taken delight in launching fresh atrocities on the day, including the expulsion from Spain in 1492 to massacres during the Holocaust. It is a solemn day of fasting and one on which Jewish tradition commands us to think about the mindless and sinful hatred within the community that has often brought down calamity on the Jewish people. Such reflection is important at a time when issues and rancor divide Jews and cause them to forget that the values that should unite them are far more important than the issues on which they differ. But it would be more than foolish not to give a thought today to the still potent external threats. Though Israel is beset by many problems, there is no greater menace to the continuance of Jewish life than that posed by Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

Thus, it was heartening today to hear thatwhile visiting the Jewish state, Mitt Romney plans to endorse Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran. Romney, who will speak tonight after the conclusion of the holiday, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, who rightly sounded a note of alarm about the failure of the sanctions belatedly enacted by the Obama administration on Iran. Though Washington has been boasting about their tough sanctions policy, today was an apt day for Netanyahu to point out their bravado was disconnected from reality.

The Obama administration has sounded tough on Iran but has made it clear it does not wish Israel to strike on its own. Indeed, the president has seemed to be more concerned about preventing an Israeli strike than on stopping Iran. The only accomplishment of the dead-end negotiating process on which he has placed the country’s hopes for a resolution of the problem has been to make it difficult if not impossible for Israel to act.

The reason why Obama’s sanctions and diplomacy have failed is that the Iranians don’t take him seriously. The exemptions granted to the sanctions have maintained Iran’s oil trade and will keep the regime afloat. More to the point, the ayatollahs believe the president is not only unwilling to hold them accountable, but he will shield them from Israel. The only chance to persuade the Iranians to back down on their nuclear ambitions is to convince them they will pay a terrible price if they do not. Thus, Romney’s willingness to say that Israel has a right to try to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities and that the United States will stand by them if they do sends a significant message to Tehran.

It would be far better for Israel not to be forced to act on its own against Iran. But in the absence of a credible American policy on the nuclear issue, it is Netanyahu’s responsibility to think seriously about doing so if there is no other way out of the dilemma. He understands that the point of the State of Israel is that the Jews will no longer sit and wait while their enemies plot their destruction. If necessary, his government must act to avert or at least postpone the Iranian threat. And America’s leaders should be not only acting on their own to stop Iran but backing up Israel’s right of self-defense.

While this statement will be dismissed as Romney playing politics with foreign policy, it will do more than merely make Iran’s rulers anxious. It also has the potential to aid Obama’s diplomatic efforts. The ayatollahs must now realize that if Romney is elected all bets are off when it comes to their heretofore successful strategy of dealing with the West. For years, they have been able to talk and lie their way through the crisis because they understood the Obama administration was only interested in kicking the can down the road to avoid having to take action. But unless the Iranians are sure Obama will be re-elected, they have to consider the possibility that they must try and cut a deal now with Obama (and therefore boost his chances of winning) or be left to face a far less accommodating new president next year.

Given the ideological premise of their nuclear ambition, it is to be doubted that anything, even the threat of having to face Romney and Netanyahu in January, can convince Iran to back down. But as Jews remember their past today, let us hope that the rulers of Tehran, who have boasted of their desire to eliminate the State of Israel and seek the means to do so, will listen to what Romney said and draw the appropriate conclusion. On this day, it is important that those who are intent on creating new tragedies understand that this time, the Jews will strike first.

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Who Can Be Trusted to Act on Iran?

With Mitt Romney arriving in Israel this weekend, the focus of the presidential campaign will turn, albeit briefly, to a discussion of the way the Obama administration has distanced itself from the Jewish state and whether the president or his challenger can be trusted to act on the Iranian nuclear threat. In an in-depth interview with Haaretz prior to his visit, Romney reiterated his familiar positions of stalwart support for Israel. He made clear his disagreement with Obama on the fundamental question of whether it is wise for the United States to seek to publicly pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But he will get the most attention for his explicit avowal that he will not rule out the use of force against Iran.

President Obama has pushed back hard against talk about using force against Iran, but his rhetoric has been equally strong about the need to prevent the Islamist regime from gaining nuclear weapons. That leaves us pondering which of the two men is more likely to do what needs to be done to actually make good on their pledges of preventing a nuclear Iran. Romney’s position seems far less equivocal. Earlier this week in his speech to the VFW he explicitly said Iran should not be allowed to refine any uranium, a position that contradicts a weak compromise offered Iran by Obama in the P5+1 negotiations. Though Romney continues to speak of force as a last resort, he does not seem to labor under the same illusions that Obama has about the efficacy of diplomatic outreach with Iran. Nevertheless, in his column at Bloomberg today, Jeffrey Goldberg outlines the case for believing it is Obama rather than Romney who is more likely to actually take action against Iran. Though he makes some cogent points about the problems a Romney administration would face, the argument fails because it rests on the shakiest of all possible assumptions: that Obama fully understands the danger and has the will to do whatever it takes, even the use of force to stop the Iranians.

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With Mitt Romney arriving in Israel this weekend, the focus of the presidential campaign will turn, albeit briefly, to a discussion of the way the Obama administration has distanced itself from the Jewish state and whether the president or his challenger can be trusted to act on the Iranian nuclear threat. In an in-depth interview with Haaretz prior to his visit, Romney reiterated his familiar positions of stalwart support for Israel. He made clear his disagreement with Obama on the fundamental question of whether it is wise for the United States to seek to publicly pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But he will get the most attention for his explicit avowal that he will not rule out the use of force against Iran.

President Obama has pushed back hard against talk about using force against Iran, but his rhetoric has been equally strong about the need to prevent the Islamist regime from gaining nuclear weapons. That leaves us pondering which of the two men is more likely to do what needs to be done to actually make good on their pledges of preventing a nuclear Iran. Romney’s position seems far less equivocal. Earlier this week in his speech to the VFW he explicitly said Iran should not be allowed to refine any uranium, a position that contradicts a weak compromise offered Iran by Obama in the P5+1 negotiations. Though Romney continues to speak of force as a last resort, he does not seem to labor under the same illusions that Obama has about the efficacy of diplomatic outreach with Iran. Nevertheless, in his column at Bloomberg today, Jeffrey Goldberg outlines the case for believing it is Obama rather than Romney who is more likely to actually take action against Iran. Though he makes some cogent points about the problems a Romney administration would face, the argument fails because it rests on the shakiest of all possible assumptions: that Obama fully understands the danger and has the will to do whatever it takes, even the use of force to stop the Iranians.

It should be acknowledged that Goldberg is absolutely right it is always easier for a Democrat to wage war than a Republican. Most liberals will only back a military intervention launched by a Democrat, while most conservatives can be counted on to follow the flag and back any military adventure. If Romney were to order a strike on Iran, he must expect to be subjected to the same sort of opprobrium that George W. Bush got, whereas Obama would be widely applauded.

Goldberg is also right to point out that next year when it is likely that the proverbial manure will hit the fan on Iran’s nuclear program, Romney’s foreign policy team would be inexperienced. They might hesitate to attack Iran, something Bush refused to do.

But Goldberg’s assumption that Obama will act on Iran seems unsupported by anything we have observed about the president. Though he has often said the right thing about the Iranian threat, he is in marked contrast to Romney, who seems to instinctively understand the realities of the Middle East better than Obama even though he has little foreign policy experience. Obama is too much a believer in the efficacy of multi-lateral diplomacy and too eager to be loved by the Muslim world. Goldberg believes the president’s experience in building an international coalition against Iran is another reason to believe he could act effectively. But the coalition he has built is predicated on the ability of its least trustworthy members — Russia and China — to block any effective diplomacy let alone the use of force. Rather than being a reason to act, the president’s love of the United Nations and faith in diplomacy will act as a deterrent to action, not a spur.

It is entirely true we don’t really know what Romney will do once in office. He may prove to be a disappointment. But his statements about Israel demonstrate that, unlike Obama, he understands the Jewish state’s dilemma. As he rightly said in his Haaretz interview, the problem in the Middle East is not the debate about a Palestinian state but the effort to eradicate the one Jewish state. His instincts and principles on these issues are clearly good. And we already know Obama is someone whose views incline him to be less supportive of Israel even though Iran is just as much of a threat to America as it is to the Jewish state. Goldberg has every right to doubt Romney and to point out the difficulties he will face if elected, but his blind faith in Obama’s willingness to act on Iran is a leap of faith unsupported by any objective criteria.

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Did Romney Offer an Alternative on Iran?

Mitt Romney’s foreign policy address at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention today rehearsed some of the themes he has been trying to promote throughout the campaign. Romney got a standing ovation when he mentioned President Obama’s habit of giving apologies for America “that were not due” and also scored points on the topic of White House leaks of classified information and the administration’s “shabby” treatment of Israel. But in his survey of the country’s standing abroad, his strongest point was his highlighting of the president’s failure to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Though President Obama continues to promise that Iran will not go nuclear on his watch, this is the one foreign policy front on which Romney’s attempt to pose the “are you better off than you were four years ago” question gives him a clear advantage. While the Republican candidate’s critique of the president’s announcement of a withdrawal date for all U.S. troops from Afghanistan is well-taken — and prompted an angry pushback from the president in his VFW speech yesterday — Obama is probably right to count on a war weary public to give him a pass on the advantage he has handed the Taliban. But the Iranian nuclear threat, which Obama has met with feckless “engagement,” futile diplomacy and belated and half-heartedly enforced sanctions, is an issue on which his position is difficult to defend. The question is, did Romney offer a coherent alternative policy? The answer is a qualified yes.

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Mitt Romney’s foreign policy address at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention today rehearsed some of the themes he has been trying to promote throughout the campaign. Romney got a standing ovation when he mentioned President Obama’s habit of giving apologies for America “that were not due” and also scored points on the topic of White House leaks of classified information and the administration’s “shabby” treatment of Israel. But in his survey of the country’s standing abroad, his strongest point was his highlighting of the president’s failure to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Though President Obama continues to promise that Iran will not go nuclear on his watch, this is the one foreign policy front on which Romney’s attempt to pose the “are you better off than you were four years ago” question gives him a clear advantage. While the Republican candidate’s critique of the president’s announcement of a withdrawal date for all U.S. troops from Afghanistan is well-taken — and prompted an angry pushback from the president in his VFW speech yesterday — Obama is probably right to count on a war weary public to give him a pass on the advantage he has handed the Taliban. But the Iranian nuclear threat, which Obama has met with feckless “engagement,” futile diplomacy and belated and half-heartedly enforced sanctions, is an issue on which his position is difficult to defend. The question is, did Romney offer a coherent alternative policy? The answer is a qualified yes.

Romney was eloquent in outlining the danger from Iran and in noting that Obama’s policies have only brought the nation four years closer to nuclear peril. But he was short on details. He did say that in his administration sanctions on Iran “would be enforced without exceptions.” Though he did not explicitly say so, this is an allusion to the exemptions Obama gave to China and India to go on importing Iranian oil. The Treasury Department has also granted thousands of exemptions to companies wishing to continue doing business with Iran.

In speaking of not allowing Iran any right to refine uranium, Romney also drew a clear distinction between his view and the negotiating position of the P5+1 group that the president has entrusted to negotiate with Iran. The P5+1 alliance led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has made it clear to the Iranians that if they will only agree to some sort of deal, their right to go on refining uranium will probably be protected. If Romney is telling us that his administration takes the position that he will not acquiesce to any kind of Iranian nuclear program, he is articulating a clear difference with Obama. That makes good sense because, as past nuclear talks with both North Korea and Iran proved, leaving Tehran any nuclear facilities ensures they will cheat on any deal and ultimately get their weapon.

Romney also probably knows that at this late date in the game, even the most rigidly enforced sanctions are not likely to make enough of a difference. As Romney told the VFW, the ayatollahs are not going to be talked out of their nuclear ambitions. His veiled reference to the use of force in which he said he “will use every means” to protect U.S. security illustrates a greater understanding that this issue is not going to be resolved with more engagement.

Though his Iran policy is still a loose outline rather than a coherent plan, Romney was still able to show where he differs from the president. On this point as well as on others (such as the president’s attitude toward Israel that will be highlighted by Romney’s upcoming trip to the Jewish state), the GOP challenger made a good start to showing why foreign policy can be a strength rather than a weakness for his campaign.

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Why is WH Meeting With Iran Apologists?

White House officials held a day-long meeting yesterday with the National Iranian American Council, a group that advocates for policies supported by the Iranian regime, including opposition to sanctions and acceptance of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Officials in attendance included Valerie Jarrett and Treasury Department Secretary for Financial Institutions Cyrus Amir-Mokri, according to a posting on NIAC’s website:

In a demonstration of the Obama administration’s eagerness to build and sustain relations with the Iranian-American community, top officials yesterday hosted the first ever Iranian-American Community Leader’s Roundtable at the White House.

The day-long roundtable was attended by National Iranian American Council staff, as well as individual community leaders and representatives of national organizations, including Iranian Alliances Across Borders and Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans. …

The officials on hand were eager to listen to the interests and concerns of the Iranian-American community and to determine ways to better serve and inform the Iranian-American community about important policies and programs.  All of the officials made clear that there would be a sustained effort to engage with Iranian Americans going forward.  “This is not good-bye,” many of the officials repeated, “this is hello.”

The fact that this meeting took place the day after five Israeli tourists were killed in what is believed to be an Iranian suicide attack in Bulgaria is a slap in the face to the pro-Israel community.

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White House officials held a day-long meeting yesterday with the National Iranian American Council, a group that advocates for policies supported by the Iranian regime, including opposition to sanctions and acceptance of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Officials in attendance included Valerie Jarrett and Treasury Department Secretary for Financial Institutions Cyrus Amir-Mokri, according to a posting on NIAC’s website:

In a demonstration of the Obama administration’s eagerness to build and sustain relations with the Iranian-American community, top officials yesterday hosted the first ever Iranian-American Community Leader’s Roundtable at the White House.

The day-long roundtable was attended by National Iranian American Council staff, as well as individual community leaders and representatives of national organizations, including Iranian Alliances Across Borders and Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans. …

The officials on hand were eager to listen to the interests and concerns of the Iranian-American community and to determine ways to better serve and inform the Iranian-American community about important policies and programs.  All of the officials made clear that there would be a sustained effort to engage with Iranian Americans going forward.  “This is not good-bye,” many of the officials repeated, “this is hello.”

The fact that this meeting took place the day after five Israeli tourists were killed in what is believed to be an Iranian suicide attack in Bulgaria is a slap in the face to the pro-Israel community.

On Wednesday, NIAC’s leader Trita Parsi suggested that Israel intentionally provoked the suicide bombing so it would have justification to attack Iran’s nuclear program:

U.S. officials have privately expressed concern that one of the purposes of Israeli attacks in Iran has been to generate an Iranian response that could serve as a casus belli for Israel. That way, Israel could target Iran’s nuclear facilities without paying the heavy political cost of starting a preventive war.

It was partly for this reason that the U.S. immediately and forcefully condemned the latest assassination of an Iranian scientist and denied any U.S. involvement. Simultaneously, other major powers pressed Iran not to retaliate, arguing that Israel would use any retaliation to expand the war.

The next day, Parsi’s organization went to the White House and met with high-ranking officials who were reportedly “eager to listen” to their “interests and concerns.” NIAC’s interests and concerns include advocating for pro-regime policies, opposing serious efforts to halt Iran’s enrichment program, and — apparently — blaming Israel for inciting Iranian terrorist attacks. The administration appeared to have distanced itself from NIAC in 2009, after the Washington Times reported that the group was setting up meetings between Iran’s UN ambassador and members of Congress — a potential violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act. If the White House is now back to courting NIAC that raises serious concerns.

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Ahmadinejad Brags, U.S. Rationalizes

The day after the terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, a senior U.S. official admitted to the New York Times that what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said publicly yesterday was true: Hezbollah did it at the behest of its Iranian sugar daddy. This was, according to the Times, confirmed by two other U.S. government figures who also declined to speak on the record. But if you don’t want to take the word of these anonymous Americans, all you have to do is listen to what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said about it on Iranian television yesterday.

As the Times of Israel reports, when speaking of the bombing in Bulgaria, Ahmadinejad said the following:

“The bitter enemies of the Iranian people and the Islamic Revolution have recruited most of their forces in order to harm us,” he said in a speech reported by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “They have indeed succeeded in inflicting blows upon us more than once, but have been rewarded with a far stronger response.”

He added: “The enemy believes it can achieve its aims in a long, persistent struggle against the Iranian people, but in the end it will not. We are working to ensure that.”

His bragging about the slaughter of five Israeli tourists (including a pregnant woman) and a Bulgarian bus driver contradicted the indignant official denials that were issued yesterday by the Iranian government in the wake of Netanyahu’s accusations. Yet one thing said by the senior U.S. official was almost as bad as Ahmadinejad’s appalling candor. The official described the atrocity as a case of “tit for tat,” meaning that the United States merely considered the slaughter as merely retaliation for Western and/or Israeli efforts to halt Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. By rationalizing the terrorist attack in this manner, the official, who was clearly speaking on behalf of the administration (and to the newspaper which has served as the primary outlet for a series of leaks about policy and secret operations concerning Iran), demonstrated President Obama and his foreign and defense policy team don’t really understand the nature of the Iranian regime. Just as dangerously, the statement betrays a certain annoyance with Israel’s concerns about a genocidal terror-sponsor obtaining nuclear weapons.

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The day after the terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, a senior U.S. official admitted to the New York Times that what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said publicly yesterday was true: Hezbollah did it at the behest of its Iranian sugar daddy. This was, according to the Times, confirmed by two other U.S. government figures who also declined to speak on the record. But if you don’t want to take the word of these anonymous Americans, all you have to do is listen to what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said about it on Iranian television yesterday.

As the Times of Israel reports, when speaking of the bombing in Bulgaria, Ahmadinejad said the following:

“The bitter enemies of the Iranian people and the Islamic Revolution have recruited most of their forces in order to harm us,” he said in a speech reported by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “They have indeed succeeded in inflicting blows upon us more than once, but have been rewarded with a far stronger response.”

He added: “The enemy believes it can achieve its aims in a long, persistent struggle against the Iranian people, but in the end it will not. We are working to ensure that.”

His bragging about the slaughter of five Israeli tourists (including a pregnant woman) and a Bulgarian bus driver contradicted the indignant official denials that were issued yesterday by the Iranian government in the wake of Netanyahu’s accusations. Yet one thing said by the senior U.S. official was almost as bad as Ahmadinejad’s appalling candor. The official described the atrocity as a case of “tit for tat,” meaning that the United States merely considered the slaughter as merely retaliation for Western and/or Israeli efforts to halt Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. By rationalizing the terrorist attack in this manner, the official, who was clearly speaking on behalf of the administration (and to the newspaper which has served as the primary outlet for a series of leaks about policy and secret operations concerning Iran), demonstrated President Obama and his foreign and defense policy team don’t really understand the nature of the Iranian regime. Just as dangerously, the statement betrays a certain annoyance with Israel’s concerns about a genocidal terror-sponsor obtaining nuclear weapons.

This “tit for tat” comment will help feed the mainstream media narrative that the Jews murdered by Iran/Hezbollah had it coming, because Israel has been accused of assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists. But it ignores the fact that Iran and its loyal Lebanese Hezbollah auxiliaries have been in the business of killing Jews — and Americans — for decades whenever they had the opportunity. Does the Obama administration think Israel’s concerns about Iranian nuclear weapons inspired Iran to commission terrorists to blow up a Jewish community building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 18 years ago this week? Tehran makes no secret of the official embrace of vile anti-Semitism of the Islamist regime that has ruled there for 33 years. Iran has also been listed a state sponsor of terror for decades and with good reason, as it has targeted Americans as well as Israelis.

Just as bad is the way the comment reflects a certain degree of American impatience with the sense of urgency about the Iranian nuclear threat that is clearly not shared by the Obama administration. Though the president has often pledged to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the administration waited three years to enact tough sanctions on the regime. Today, it continues to insist diplomacy is the only way to approach the problem even though the P5+1 talks it sponsored have failed. The Iranians have taken the measure of President Obama and believe he isn’t serious about stopping them but is, instead, more concerned — as are they — with averting an Israeli attack on their nuclear facilities.

Far from being a responsible actor that merely strikes out in retaliation for Israeli attacks and which can be trusted to keep its word about confining nuclear research to civilian purposes, Iran is a terrorist state, infused with Jew-hatred and determined to achieve its nuclear goal. Until the administration starts talking — and acting — as if it understands this, its Iran policy will remain a muddle of half-hearted and ineffective measures.

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Chavez Not a Threat? Only to Obama

President Obama’s interview with a Spanish-language television station in the Miami market wouldn’t have drawn much attention if he had stuck to the normally sensitive question of Cuba on which he made it plain that better relations with the Communist regime would have to await progress on human rights there. Instead, the president drew fire for claiming that Hugo Chavez’s dictatorial government “has not had a serious national security impact on us.”

In response, Sen. Marco Rubio said this made it look as if the president “was living under a rock” not to have noticed that Chavez was not just destroying democracy in Venezuela but had turned the country into a base for international terror, a money laundering center for FARC narco-terrorists while also undermining U.S. sanctions on Syria. Rubio also mentioned that Chavez’s consul general in Miami was expelled on Obama’s watch for links to cyber attacks on the United States. But Rubio neglected to mention that Venezuela has become one of Iran’s leading trading partners and diplomatic allies and an obstacle to what the president has said is one of his key foreign policy objectives in stopping their nuclear program.

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President Obama’s interview with a Spanish-language television station in the Miami market wouldn’t have drawn much attention if he had stuck to the normally sensitive question of Cuba on which he made it plain that better relations with the Communist regime would have to await progress on human rights there. Instead, the president drew fire for claiming that Hugo Chavez’s dictatorial government “has not had a serious national security impact on us.”

In response, Sen. Marco Rubio said this made it look as if the president “was living under a rock” not to have noticed that Chavez was not just destroying democracy in Venezuela but had turned the country into a base for international terror, a money laundering center for FARC narco-terrorists while also undermining U.S. sanctions on Syria. Rubio also mentioned that Chavez’s consul general in Miami was expelled on Obama’s watch for links to cyber attacks on the United States. But Rubio neglected to mention that Venezuela has become one of Iran’s leading trading partners and diplomatic allies and an obstacle to what the president has said is one of his key foreign policy objectives in stopping their nuclear program.

If all that hasn’t “had a serious national security impact” on the United States, what is there Venezuela could do, short of start a shooting war, to ruffle the president’s feathers? This comment tells us all we need to know about this administration’s foreign policy and what we can expect in the next four years if the president is re-elected.

While the Venezuelans were merely trying to topple the pro-American government in Colombia, perhaps the global implications of Chavez’s regime could be downplayed. But his alliance with Iran changes all that.

The problem here is not just that the president is soft-peddling the most severe challenge to U.S. interests in the Western hemisphere since Fidel Castro was actively seeking to export communism to the rest of Latin America. It is that the president seems to genuinely think that the conversion of Venezuela into a safe haven for Islamist terrorists and its success in undermining the administration’s feckless attempts to isolate Iran is not a big deal.

The alliance between Iran and Venezuela is not a minor annoyance for U.S. security. If the president is truly serious about stopping Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons — a point on which informed observers can differ — then he needs to come to grips with the fact that Tehran presents a serious national security threat not just to U.S. interests but to the safety of Americans. Having a powerful, oil-rich ally in the heart of the Western Hemisphere gives the Iranians a way of fighting back against American-led sanctions. It also provides the ayatollahs with a way of launching a terrorist offensive not just in the Middle East but also in our own backyard.

This is the most severe sort of threat to American security. But not in President Obama’s eyes. If he is re-elected and gains the “flexibility” he desires to appease Russia and perhaps the Palestinians, Chavez may entertain hopes that he, too, will be treated even more gently in the second Obama administration.

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Fearsome Iran Sanctions Just a Ruse

To read some accounts of the impact of the latest Western sanctions on Iran, you’d think the ayatollahs ought to be packing their bags for exile in Paris. Today’s front page feature in the New York Times about the Islamist regime using out-of-service tankers as storage facilities for all the oil they can no longer sell paints a dismal picture of the country’s economy. The story spoke of the squeeze being put on Iran and the prospect that more economic pain is in the offing as the effects of the sanctions start being felt. All of which ought to presage either the collapse of the government or a decision on the part of its leaders that discretion is the better part of valor when it comes to their nuclear ambitions.

But the colorful imagery of the tankers notwithstanding there was nothing in this piece or any other that would lead one to believe that the ayatollahs are really worried. And that’s a point that left-wing pundit Robert Dreyfuss makes all too clear in an article in The Diplomat. Though an Israel-hater like Dreyfuss being right about a Middle East issue is a case of the proverbial blind squirrel finding an acorn, he’s right when he notes that President Obama’s Iran sanctions policy has more of a feel of a ruse aimed at quieting the concerns of friends of Israel than an actual method of heading off the nuclear threat. Nobody in Washington really thinks the sanctions will work and that includes members of the administration which is touting their ability to make the Iranians give in.

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To read some accounts of the impact of the latest Western sanctions on Iran, you’d think the ayatollahs ought to be packing their bags for exile in Paris. Today’s front page feature in the New York Times about the Islamist regime using out-of-service tankers as storage facilities for all the oil they can no longer sell paints a dismal picture of the country’s economy. The story spoke of the squeeze being put on Iran and the prospect that more economic pain is in the offing as the effects of the sanctions start being felt. All of which ought to presage either the collapse of the government or a decision on the part of its leaders that discretion is the better part of valor when it comes to their nuclear ambitions.

But the colorful imagery of the tankers notwithstanding there was nothing in this piece or any other that would lead one to believe that the ayatollahs are really worried. And that’s a point that left-wing pundit Robert Dreyfuss makes all too clear in an article in The Diplomat. Though an Israel-hater like Dreyfuss being right about a Middle East issue is a case of the proverbial blind squirrel finding an acorn, he’s right when he notes that President Obama’s Iran sanctions policy has more of a feel of a ruse aimed at quieting the concerns of friends of Israel than an actual method of heading off the nuclear threat. Nobody in Washington really thinks the sanctions will work and that includes members of the administration which is touting their ability to make the Iranians give in.

It’s a sad fact that although the Iranian people are in for a rough time this year, the impact of the sanctions may involve nothing more than another round of belt-tightening for a nation all too used to having to put up with hardships since it came under the thumb of Islamic theocrats.

Dreyfuss also points out something you rarely read about on the front page of the Times. Though Iran’s exports are down, the granting of waivers to its biggest trading partners in China and India means that flow of cash into the ayatollah’s exchequer is reduced but still considerable. He quotes one analyst who points out that the $40 billion Iran will get in oil revenue this year is still twice as much that it got only a decade ago. While the administration is “huffing and puffing” like the Big Bad Wolf about what it is doing to Iran, it hasn’t escaped Dreyfuss’s attention — or that of Tehran — that President Obama and his foreign policy team have spent their entire term of office trying to “oppose, deflect, and tried to weaken sanctions legislation enacted by Congress.”

That these supposedly crippling sanctions on Iran are toothless is something that writers on both the left and the right are coming to realize. It’s just the administration and their cheerleaders who are still pretending as if they present a real threat to either the Iranian regime or its ability to keep investing in its nuclear program. U.S. policy toward Iran, is, like the sanctions exemptions granted to China, a “polite fiction” intended to kick the can down road until after November when a re-elected President Obama would then have the “flexibility” to back down from his pledges about stopping the nuclear threat.

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Iran Worried? Obama Guts Sanctions

Three rounds of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran have proven President Obama’s “window of diplomacy” a colossal failure. But Secretary of State Clinton as well as various administration cheerleaders have been reminding us lately that the international sanctions on Tehran that have been belatedly put in place are just about to really bite. At the end of the month, the West will impose an oil embargo on Iran that could really hurt its economy and perhaps bring the regime to its knees if it is universally observed and vigorously enforced.

But today’s announcement that the Obama administration will grant China and Singapore a six-month exemption from the sanctions shows the confident manner the Iranians displayed at the nuclear talks was not a false front. Having forearmed themselves in the period leading up to the sanctions by securing more contracts with the Chinese, Iran dared the Americans to risk a confrontation with Beijing. The result is that Tehran’s belief President Obama and his Western allies are bluffing has been confirmed rather than debunked. This will act as a virtual green light for the Iranians to keep pushing ahead toward their nuclear goal while Western leaders posture but do little to stop them.

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Three rounds of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran have proven President Obama’s “window of diplomacy” a colossal failure. But Secretary of State Clinton as well as various administration cheerleaders have been reminding us lately that the international sanctions on Tehran that have been belatedly put in place are just about to really bite. At the end of the month, the West will impose an oil embargo on Iran that could really hurt its economy and perhaps bring the regime to its knees if it is universally observed and vigorously enforced.

But today’s announcement that the Obama administration will grant China and Singapore a six-month exemption from the sanctions shows the confident manner the Iranians displayed at the nuclear talks was not a false front. Having forearmed themselves in the period leading up to the sanctions by securing more contracts with the Chinese, Iran dared the Americans to risk a confrontation with Beijing. The result is that Tehran’s belief President Obama and his Western allies are bluffing has been confirmed rather than debunked. This will act as a virtual green light for the Iranians to keep pushing ahead toward their nuclear goal while Western leaders posture but do little to stop them.

The dirty secret about the Western sanctions on Iran is that their leader advocate has never bothered to enforce them. The weak sanctions that were in place were selectively policed by the United States, with the Treasury Department granting exemptions to thousands of firms that allowed them to go on doing business there. But that is nothing when compared to giving China and Singapore, two of Iran’s major business partners, a free pass to conduct business as usual.

It is true that Chinese imports from Iran dropped 25 percent in the first six months of 2012, a factor that the administration used as an excuse to justify their exemptions. But oil analysts are predicting that far more Iranian oil will be sold to China this summer due to the contracts that Tehran wisely signed with Beijing in order to compensate for any European losses. Though Clinton has argued that the world must be gradually weaned from Iranian oil, what is happening is that Iran is simply changing its customer list and counting on the enormous clout of the Chinese to deter the Americans from cracking down on those who violate the embargo.

Thus, rather than Iran spending the summer feeling even more isolated, the ayatollahs can point to the U.S. exemptions as yet another diplomatic victory that will allow them to continue on their nuclear path.

Even if the sanctions were enforced now, it may be too late to completely stop the Iranians without resorting to the use of force. Having wasted the first three and a half years of his administration on a comical attempt to “engage” Iran and in feckless negotiations, President Obama is now speaking as if he has Tehran just where he wants it. But all he has accomplished is to kick the can down the road just as his predecessor did. Though the sporadically enforced sanctions are hurting Iran, the Iranians don’t seem to be anywhere close to giving up.

To the contrary, the more the West talks about getting tough, the more Iran believes talk is all they will do. The exemptions will only reinforce their conviction that President Obama is a paper tiger who also only wishes to keep the diplomatic process going in order to deter Israel from attacking Iran and to keep the issue from bubbling up during his re-election campaign. Iran is acting as if it is winning the confrontation with the West over its quest for a nuclear weapon. But after today, who can blame them?

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The Window for Iran Diplomacy Just Closed

If the Obama administration was seeking to reassure the pro-Israel community, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to make a joint appearance with James Baker on PBS’s Charlie Rose was a curious way to go about it. Baker, who earned a reputation as one of the least sympathetic to Israel of all of Clinton’s predecessors, joined with the current secretary in making it clear the Jewish state should under no circumstances be allowed to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities on its own. Baker was right when he said stopping Iran is an American responsibility rather than that of Israel. But coming as it did in the days following the failure of the administration’s latest diplomatic initiative with Iran, the current secretary’s faith in efforts to keep trying to talk with the Iranians and to wait for them to buckle under the weight of sanctions is evidence that neither she nor the president have a clue as to how to stop the nuclear threat.

Clinton’s assertion to Rose that U.S. policy was to “take this meeting by meeting and pursue it as hard as we can” was an indication that the sense of urgency about the problem is clearly lacking. Clinging to the false belief that the president has expressed in the existence of a “window of diplomacy” with Iran, Clinton seems to regard the international coalition she has assembled to pursue the talks and sanctions as an accomplishment in of itself, even though it seems incapable of bringing about a solution to the problem. It is that attitude that makes it hard to believe even after the latest P5+1 standoff in Moscow, this administration will ever come to grips with the fact that the Iranians don’t think they are serious.

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If the Obama administration was seeking to reassure the pro-Israel community, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to make a joint appearance with James Baker on PBS’s Charlie Rose was a curious way to go about it. Baker, who earned a reputation as one of the least sympathetic to Israel of all of Clinton’s predecessors, joined with the current secretary in making it clear the Jewish state should under no circumstances be allowed to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities on its own. Baker was right when he said stopping Iran is an American responsibility rather than that of Israel. But coming as it did in the days following the failure of the administration’s latest diplomatic initiative with Iran, the current secretary’s faith in efforts to keep trying to talk with the Iranians and to wait for them to buckle under the weight of sanctions is evidence that neither she nor the president have a clue as to how to stop the nuclear threat.

Clinton’s assertion to Rose that U.S. policy was to “take this meeting by meeting and pursue it as hard as we can” was an indication that the sense of urgency about the problem is clearly lacking. Clinging to the false belief that the president has expressed in the existence of a “window of diplomacy” with Iran, Clinton seems to regard the international coalition she has assembled to pursue the talks and sanctions as an accomplishment in of itself, even though it seems incapable of bringing about a solution to the problem. It is that attitude that makes it hard to believe even after the latest P5+1 standoff in Moscow, this administration will ever come to grips with the fact that the Iranians don’t think they are serious.

Though characteristically harsh about Israel and expressing the sort of “realist” views about foreign policy that marked his own unhappy tenure at the State Department during the presidency of the first George Bush, Baker did assert that it would be America’s job to take out the Iranian nuclear program if “at the end of the day” diplomacy failed. That was a bit farther than Clinton, who made the usual noises about keeping all options open, would go. But the reason why the Iranians acted in Moscow as if they had all the cards in their hands is that they think the Obama administration will never admit that “the end of the day” for diplomacy will ever come.

It is true that at the end of the month, the first step toward the implementation of a partial oil boycott of Iran will begin. That’s the sort of sanction that should have been put in place years ago rather than the foolish charade of diplomacy that characterized U.S policy toward Iran under George W. Bush and the farce of Obama’s attempt to “engage” Tehran. Unfortunately, with the Iranians having already stepped up refinement of uranium and now erasing evidence of their military research, it may be too late for even the toughest of sanctions to force them to back down.

That means months more of futile talks and meetings on Obama and Clinton’s watch will only bring the Iranians that much closer to their nuclear goal, with little indication that they are anywhere close to understanding that the “window” they have been trying to exploit closed even before they tried to open it. And so long as she is partnering with the Russians and the Chinese, Clinton should know by now that they have no intention of ever letting the U.S. prevail on this issue.

Though it would certainly be better for all the parties, especially the Iranians, if they were persuaded to give up before it comes to the use of force, it is time for Clinton to start sounding more like Baker when it comes to threatening Iran. Until the Iranians are finally convinced the president knows that “the end of the day” for diplomacy is about to arrive, there is little chance they will be persuaded that the Americans will ever really lift a finger to stop them.

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Can Obama Solve Iran By “Going Big?”

Since the P5+1 negotiations with Iran began much of the speculation about the diplomatic activity centered on the fact that it was clearly in the interests of both sides to keep talking for as long as possible rather than to allow an impasse to break talks off. The Iranians, the Obama administration and its diplomatic partners share a desire to keep diplomacy alive so as to make it impossible for Israel to launch an attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities. But even if a deal is possible, the incremental arrangement offered by the West is worrisome for those who fear any such agreement will almost certainly be evaded and ultimately lead to a nuclear Iran.

The Iranians have balked at the West’s terms that would have allowed them to keep their nuclear program. However, as Laura Rozen reports on Al Monitor, there is another possibility in the works that may present an even greater danger of letting Iran off the hook. Rozen writes that the Obama administration is considering putting forward a grand proposal that would try for a permanent fix rather than a gradual process that might put in place an interim deal that could never be followed up. But it is far from clear whether “going big” with Iran will get the United States any closer to permanently removing the nuclear threat than the less ambitious P5+1 approach.

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Since the P5+1 negotiations with Iran began much of the speculation about the diplomatic activity centered on the fact that it was clearly in the interests of both sides to keep talking for as long as possible rather than to allow an impasse to break talks off. The Iranians, the Obama administration and its diplomatic partners share a desire to keep diplomacy alive so as to make it impossible for Israel to launch an attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities. But even if a deal is possible, the incremental arrangement offered by the West is worrisome for those who fear any such agreement will almost certainly be evaded and ultimately lead to a nuclear Iran.

The Iranians have balked at the West’s terms that would have allowed them to keep their nuclear program. However, as Laura Rozen reports on Al Monitor, there is another possibility in the works that may present an even greater danger of letting Iran off the hook. Rozen writes that the Obama administration is considering putting forward a grand proposal that would try for a permanent fix rather than a gradual process that might put in place an interim deal that could never be followed up. But it is far from clear whether “going big” with Iran will get the United States any closer to permanently removing the nuclear threat than the less ambitious P5+1 approach.

As Rozen presents the debate within the administration, the Defense Department is pushing for presenting a final proposal to Iran that would be accompanied by a military threat that would be the alternative if Tehran balked. The State Department wants to stick with the existing process. The argument for the “go big” approach is that even if Iran went along with the West’s current offer via the P5+1 group, such a deal would not be definitive and would probably never be followed up as the circumstances that brought the West together for the talks will not be replicated. Once there is an agreement in place the urgency that led to increased sanctions and diplomacy will be lost, and the West will probably go to sleep on the issue in the same manner that allowed the North Koreans to exploit the six-party talks on their program into a path to nuclear capability.

As Rozen’s sources note, the P5+1 deal offered the Iranians involves “reversible steps” that would be no bar to a determined effort to go nuclear. But missing from the story is any idea of how much tougher the “go big” solution would be. The notion of scrapping the current process is tempting because it would mean a direct U.S.-Iran negotiation rather than the dance being led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Yet if the “big” American proposal also lets the Iranians keep their nuclear program and grants them the right to go on refining uranium, albeit at low rates, then it may turn out to be just as reversible as the P5+1 diplomacy.

Even more to the point, going big is just as dependent on a belief that Iran would ever be willing under any circumstances to give up hope of attaining a nuclear weapon. If the pace of the current talks and the willingness of the Europeans to settle for an unsatisfactory deal frustrate U.S. officials, there is no guarantee they can do better themselves. It is just as easy to imagine the Iranians snookering the Obama administration in direct talks as it is to see them doing so to Ashton.

With Tehran stalling the International Atomic Energy Agency on inspections again and with the P5+1 talks giving every impression they are merely a delaying tactic, a change in diplomatic tactics is clearly necessary. A U.S. ultimatum to Iran is a good idea in principle. If the president embraces such a strategy once it is widely apparent (as it is already to anyone who’s really paying attention), it might provide the shock treatment the Iranians need. The problem is, they don’t believe the president is any more willing to credibly threaten a military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities than the Europeans. And with divided counsels in Washington making it unlikely that the president will go big anytime soon on Iran, the prospect of a year of ineffective diplomacy that will only bring us closer to the day when the ayatollahs have a nuke is still the most likely outcome.

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Latest Leak: Obama the Computer Warrior

New York Times reporter David Sanger received wide access to high-ranking members of the Obama administration and the security apparatus to write his book about what he has termed “Obama’s Secret Wars.” The latest excerpt published in the Times today shows that Sanger is rewarding his subject with yet another account portraying the president as a bold warrior against America’s foes. The subject this time is the cyber warfare being waged by the United States and Israel against Iran and, according to Sanger, Obama was an eager advocate of turning American nerds loose on Tehran’s computers. But, as was the case with other successful elements of Obama administration counter-terrorism strategy such as the use of drones, the use of cyber weapons is another example of the president merely continuing an initiative developed by the Bush administration.

The impetus for the publication of this report may have been the revelations about a new virus called Flame that has infected Iranian computers. However, that story as well as the interesting tale Sanger tells about the last three years of covert American and Israeli efforts to halt or delay Iran’s nuclear program by means of cyber attacks, shouldn’t deceive anyone into thinking that any of these clever stratagems are a substitute for a real commitment to put an end to the threat.

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New York Times reporter David Sanger received wide access to high-ranking members of the Obama administration and the security apparatus to write his book about what he has termed “Obama’s Secret Wars.” The latest excerpt published in the Times today shows that Sanger is rewarding his subject with yet another account portraying the president as a bold warrior against America’s foes. The subject this time is the cyber warfare being waged by the United States and Israel against Iran and, according to Sanger, Obama was an eager advocate of turning American nerds loose on Tehran’s computers. But, as was the case with other successful elements of Obama administration counter-terrorism strategy such as the use of drones, the use of cyber weapons is another example of the president merely continuing an initiative developed by the Bush administration.

The impetus for the publication of this report may have been the revelations about a new virus called Flame that has infected Iranian computers. However, that story as well as the interesting tale Sanger tells about the last three years of covert American and Israeli efforts to halt or delay Iran’s nuclear program by means of cyber attacks, shouldn’t deceive anyone into thinking that any of these clever stratagems are a substitute for a real commitment to put an end to the threat.

While the president deserves credit for following the advice President Bush gave him about continuing the secret program (or at least what used to be secret before the president and his staff decided they needed to spill the beans so as to enhance his chances for re-election) code-named “Olympic Games,” the subtext of the story is that the effort hasn’t really succeeded.

Though the administration gives itself great credit for proceeding with the Stuxnet virus attack even after it became public knowledge, the results do not seem to have been as impressive as the president’s cheering section would like us to think. As even Sanger notes:

These officials gave differing assessments of how successful the sabotage program was in slowing Iran’s progress toward developing the ability to build nuclear weapons. Internal Obama administration estimates say the effort was set back by 18 months to two years, but some experts inside and outside the government are more skeptical, noting that Iran’s enrichment levels have steadily recovered, giving the country enough fuel today for five or more weapons, with additional enrichment.

If that is true then it must be acknowledged that though both Bush and Obama were right to try Stuxnet and other cyber attacks, they aren’t the solution. As smart as the American and Israeli computer geeks might be, the assumption that the Iranians are too stupid or backward to defend their systems is absurd. As has always been the case with every sort of military technology invented, for every offensive tactic developed there is a defense. The fact is, despite Stuxnet and Flame, the Iranian centrifuges are still turning. The military research at Parchin has already been conducted and may now have been removed to a site Western sources don’t know about. Despite the cyber attacks and the inherent flaws that may exist in the Iranian program, they have managed to develop facilities and technology that is getting them closer to a bomb.

The covert action undertaken by the administration was appropriate and should be continued. But for all of the breathless patting themselves on the back that comes through in the Sanger piece, another familiar theme to observers of the Obama administration emerges: hostility to Israel. Sanger’s sources claim that Stuxnet’s failure was Israel’s fault.

An error in the code, they said, had led it to spread to an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges. When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world. Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.

“We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,” one of the briefers told the president, “and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.”

Mr. Obama, according to officials in the room, asked a series of questions, fearful that the code could do damage outside the plant. The answers came back in hedged terms. Mr. Biden fumed. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” he said. “They went too far.”

We don’t really know whether this true and neither does Sanger or Vice President Biden, but it is telling that in a piece dedicated to promoting the idea of President Obama as a ground-breaking cyber warrior, there would have to be a passage trashing the Israelis.

Leaks like these can only add to the level of distrust the Israelis feel for the administration’s intentions on Iran. The administration’s effort to enhance its image via these stories is a poor substitute for a genuine commitment to do whatever it takes to end the nuclear threat that can’t be stopped by viruses alone.

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While West Talks, Iran Gets Closer to Nuke

Most Western diplomats have spent the last day patting themselves on the back for showing a little spine during the latest P5+1 nuclear talks in Baghdad. Faced with yet another Iranian refusal to agree to the conciliatory proposal to ease the way toward an end to the crisis, the West did not give in and remove the tough sanctions that have been belatedly imposed on the Islamist regime. Nor did they promise not to implement the oil embargo on Iran that is supposed to go into effect in July. But by agreeing to another meeting next month in Moscow and the implicit promise to go on negotiating all summer and fall if need be, Iran knows that its centrifuges can keep spinning and they can get closer to their nuclear goal while they allow the clock to run out.

The West already knew this, but it appears t the danger is worse than anyone in the Obama administration or Europe thought. The Associated Press is reporting this morning that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have discovered  the Iranians are refining uranium at a rate of up to 27 percent at their Fordo enrichment plant. This is far higher than previous estimates of their capacity that was only at 20 percent. Because the West has been attempting to cajole Tehran into giving up refinement at that 20 percent level, the news that they have already far exceeded that level ought to dispel the administration’s complacent attitude that assumed Iran’s program was already operating at maximum capacity. Because the 20 percent fuel is already at the level where it can easily turned into weapons grade material, the uranium spike is a troubling sign for those who assume that the West has plenty of time to keep talking about the problem before the Iranians achieve their goal.

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Most Western diplomats have spent the last day patting themselves on the back for showing a little spine during the latest P5+1 nuclear talks in Baghdad. Faced with yet another Iranian refusal to agree to the conciliatory proposal to ease the way toward an end to the crisis, the West did not give in and remove the tough sanctions that have been belatedly imposed on the Islamist regime. Nor did they promise not to implement the oil embargo on Iran that is supposed to go into effect in July. But by agreeing to another meeting next month in Moscow and the implicit promise to go on negotiating all summer and fall if need be, Iran knows that its centrifuges can keep spinning and they can get closer to their nuclear goal while they allow the clock to run out.

The West already knew this, but it appears t the danger is worse than anyone in the Obama administration or Europe thought. The Associated Press is reporting this morning that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have discovered  the Iranians are refining uranium at a rate of up to 27 percent at their Fordo enrichment plant. This is far higher than previous estimates of their capacity that was only at 20 percent. Because the West has been attempting to cajole Tehran into giving up refinement at that 20 percent level, the news that they have already far exceeded that level ought to dispel the administration’s complacent attitude that assumed Iran’s program was already operating at maximum capacity. Because the 20 percent fuel is already at the level where it can easily turned into weapons grade material, the uranium spike is a troubling sign for those who assume that the West has plenty of time to keep talking about the problem before the Iranians achieve their goal.

Some nuclear experts were willing to discount this development as a mistake due to technicians overshooting their goal as they calibrated the refinement process. While that is possible, it is also just as likely that, contrary to the West’s expectations, the Iranians are secretly raising their enrichment threshold to a weapons-grade level.

While it would be comforting to accept the rationalizations about this finding or to believe that it is somehow a mistake, it is worth recalling that at every step of the way during this process, the West has underestimated Iran’s progress and its will to pursue its nuclear ambitions. The Iranians believe the events of the last few years prove that they can transgress any red lines set by the West and get away with it. Even the proposal at the P5+1 talks that they turned down this week confirms their dim view of Western resolve, as even this supposedly hard line stance would have allowed Iran to keep its nuclear program as part of a deal.

Many observers have noted that the Iranians share a common agenda at the talks with President Obama and the Europeans. Both sides want to keep the negotiations alive so as to make it impossible for Israel to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. And both would like the process to drag on for a while. President Obama doesn’t want the situation to blow up during his re-election campaign. The Iranians are just trying to run out the clock the way they have been doing for years. The new uranium enrichment findings are troubling not just because they may show that Iran’s stockpile of refined uranium may be greater than we thought, but because it also may mean the sanguine assessment of western intelligence agencies about the time Iran needs to build a bomb may have been wildly optimistic. This should cause the West to give up any idea of more concessions to the Iranians. If the 27 percent uranium doesn’t illustrate the futility of the talks to President Obama, then perhaps nothing will.

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A Difference Between Romney and Obama?

You don’t have to be a foreign policy expert to have noticed that issues of war and peace have played a very small part in this year’s election. The nation’s main worry as well as the chief point of contention between the two major parties is the economy, and it is no accident that the main item on the resume of the man Republicans are choosing to try to defeat President Obama is his business expertise. But according to the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller, the lack of foreign policy talk is not just the result of Americans being distracted by their financial woes. As he writes in an article in Foreign Policy, there is a new bipartisan consensus on foreign policy that has minimized the differences between Republicans and Democrats. Indeed, as far as he is concerned, the policies Romney would pursue abroad are likely to be almost identical to those of Obama leaving him to joke that if the president is re-elected he could safely appoint the Republican as his secretary of state.

Miller, who has been saying and writing a lot of very smart things since he quit the State Department and stopped trying to conjure up mythical progress toward Middle East peace, concedes there are differences between Romney and Obama on Israel, Russia and to a lesser extent China. But he thinks these have more to do with nuance than substance or will be ameliorated if the Republican is actually elected. However, I think he is underestimating the implications of those nuances. Even more important, his belief in the president’s willingness to use force to stop Iran’s nuclear program and/or to back an Israeli strike seems more a leap of faith than something grounded in evidence. Considering that these issues are likely to be among the trickiest America faces in the next four years, the notion that there is no choice this year on foreign policy must be considered a gross exaggeration.

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You don’t have to be a foreign policy expert to have noticed that issues of war and peace have played a very small part in this year’s election. The nation’s main worry as well as the chief point of contention between the two major parties is the economy, and it is no accident that the main item on the resume of the man Republicans are choosing to try to defeat President Obama is his business expertise. But according to the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller, the lack of foreign policy talk is not just the result of Americans being distracted by their financial woes. As he writes in an article in Foreign Policy, there is a new bipartisan consensus on foreign policy that has minimized the differences between Republicans and Democrats. Indeed, as far as he is concerned, the policies Romney would pursue abroad are likely to be almost identical to those of Obama leaving him to joke that if the president is re-elected he could safely appoint the Republican as his secretary of state.

Miller, who has been saying and writing a lot of very smart things since he quit the State Department and stopped trying to conjure up mythical progress toward Middle East peace, concedes there are differences between Romney and Obama on Israel, Russia and to a lesser extent China. But he thinks these have more to do with nuance than substance or will be ameliorated if the Republican is actually elected. However, I think he is underestimating the implications of those nuances. Even more important, his belief in the president’s willingness to use force to stop Iran’s nuclear program and/or to back an Israeli strike seems more a leap of faith than something grounded in evidence. Considering that these issues are likely to be among the trickiest America faces in the next four years, the notion that there is no choice this year on foreign policy must be considered a gross exaggeration.

Miller isn’t entirely wrong in speaking of the common ground that now exists on a lot of issues. Though he campaigned as a critic of George W. Bush’s war on terror, President Obama has kept those policies in place, something only his critics on the far left speak much about. The failure of his early attempts at engagement with countries like Iran has also sobered up the president to some extent. And there’s no denying that neither side of the political aisle has much interest in the idea of new foreign adventures or, it must be admitted, keeping faith in those conflicts in which we are already embroiled.

But that said, there is still a world of difference between the two men in their views of some of the most important challenges facing the country. Obama has been hopelessly naive about Vladimir Putin’s Russia and its desire to rekindle the old superpower rivalry. His reset has been a joke, and no one has laughed harder than the Russians. If elected, Romney will come into office already understanding the grave danger that the successor regime to the old evil empire poses to the stability of the West. Romney also will take a far more aggressive policy toward China. There should be no kowtowing to Beijing on its currency manipulations or its human rights abuses.

Miller is right that the president could not totally abandon Israel because the overwhelming bipartisan consensus in support of the Jewish state would not allow him to do so even if he were re-elected. But he is wrong to minimize the impact that Obama’s hostility toward the government of the Jewish state and what he rightly described as his “colder and more calculating” instincts about Israel has had on the alliance. Israelis understand that just as Obama would be more “flexible” in his attitude toward Russia, once the need for the election year charm offensive toward American Jews is gone, the president will revert to a policy of pressure to revive a doomed peace process. If Obama is re-elected, the Palestinians will expect him to hammer Israel again, something that could encourage violence as well as intransigence.

But the real question here is Iran. Miller assumes the lip service that Obama has given to the idea that Iran must not be allowed to go nuclear would lead him to back an Israeli attack or launch U.S. strikes on Tehran’s facilities. I think that’s a doubtful proposition at best. But the problem here is not just that it is hard to believe the president would act in this manner. Far more likely is the prospect that Obama and his allies in the P5+1 negotiations will cut an unsatisfactory deal with Iran that he will claim has removed the danger but will in fact only facilitate Iran’s ability to keep on making progress toward a bomb. If Obama allows the current talks with Iran to drag on all summer or if he weakens any of the sanctions that he was so reluctant to impose on the Islamist regime, the voters will already have gotten a preview of what is to come should he be given another four years.

Though there is a consensus on many aspects of foreign policy, the differences between a second Obama administration and a Romney presidency on foreign policy will be considerable.

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Media Hypes Manufactured Iran Optimism

Last Monday, Geneive Abdo — who is the director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington, and who will never be mistaken for a neocon — described optimism emerging from the P5+1 talks as a “pretense” designed to “buy time to avert a unilateral attack by Israel” and buttress “Obama’s wish to get through the November election.”

Abdo specifically cited statements made by Saeed Jalili, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, to the effect that Iran’s “national resistance” had put the country on an “irreversible” nuclear path. A few days later Reuters passed along IAEA information indicating Iran has installed 350 new centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility. (In February the IAEA reported that Iran already tripled its output of 20 percent uranium at Fordow, but apparently the Iranians concluded that wasn’t enough.) Perhaps as a kind of exclamation point, Iran also held military maneuvers this week ostensibly aimed at “global arrogance.”

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Last Monday, Geneive Abdo — who is the director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington, and who will never be mistaken for a neocon — described optimism emerging from the P5+1 talks as a “pretense” designed to “buy time to avert a unilateral attack by Israel” and buttress “Obama’s wish to get through the November election.”

Abdo specifically cited statements made by Saeed Jalili, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, to the effect that Iran’s “national resistance” had put the country on an “irreversible” nuclear path. A few days later Reuters passed along IAEA information indicating Iran has installed 350 new centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility. (In February the IAEA reported that Iran already tripled its output of 20 percent uranium at Fordow, but apparently the Iranians concluded that wasn’t enough.) Perhaps as a kind of exclamation point, Iran also held military maneuvers this week ostensibly aimed at “global arrogance.”

And then as if to prove Abdo’s point about pretenses, the New York Times headlined its article yesterday as “Iran Talks Are Extended as Signs of Common Ground Are Seen.” But even the Times, which has been doing yeoman’s work helping the Obama administration minimize Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon, had to open with the observation that there was no actual evidence of common ground. Luckily, the paper managed to track down an anonymous administration source to assert it exists. Very convenient, and good enough for a headline:

Iran appeared to balk Wednesday at a detailed proposal presented by six world powers to address urgent concerns about its nuclear program, including a freeze on its enrichment of uranium that could be converted to bomb-grade fuel, because of what the Iranian side suggested was an insufficient easing of sanctions in exchange.

But after a long day of diplomatic negotiations, both sides agreed to keep talking into Thursday. A senior American official said that despite disagreements some common ground had been reached, suggesting that diplomats had extended the constructive atmosphere that has prevailed since the talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program were resumed last month.

“We’re getting to things that matter,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks. “Even if we disagree on the shape, we think there is the beginning of a negotiation.”

That’s really what passes for a “constructive atmosphere” these days, isn’t it? Iran’s lead negotiator preemptively closing the door on compromise, Iran’s military holding war games aimed at P5+1 members, and the West pretending that none of that is true. “Despite little progress,” by the by, the next round of negotiations have been set for mid-June. It’s almost difficult to understand why the Israelis have no confidence in the talks.

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Iran Isn’t Taking the West’s First Offer

To their credit, Western negotiators at the P5+1 talks in Baghdad did not completely fold before the negotiations began. They presented a proposal that, while still granting legitimacy to the Iranian nuclear program, did not remove existing sanctions or the threat of an oil embargo in advance of Tehran’s agreement to stop refining weapons-grade uranium and to ship their stockpile out of the country. The Iranian reaction to this mild offer was predictable. They claimed it was not only unreasonable but that it violated what the Islamist regime says was agreed to at the previous meeting in Istanbul.

That means those who feared the Baghdad meeting would lead to an unsatisfactory agreement that could be represented as ending the crisis but by no means removing the Iranian nuclear threat can exhale. But that does not mean the danger of an Iranian diplomatic victory is averted. Quite the contrary, the Iranians view their indignant refusal as just the start of the bargaining process by which they will ultimately get what they want: the West’s endorsement of their right to a nuclear program and removal of sanctions. The question here is whether the negotiators, led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and backed up by political leaders such as President Obama and French President Hollande, have the will to stick to this position rather than being enticed into a bazaar-style barter in which the Iranians are bound to win. If, as is reported, the West’s stance is just a preliminary bid, then we will soon know the answer.

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To their credit, Western negotiators at the P5+1 talks in Baghdad did not completely fold before the negotiations began. They presented a proposal that, while still granting legitimacy to the Iranian nuclear program, did not remove existing sanctions or the threat of an oil embargo in advance of Tehran’s agreement to stop refining weapons-grade uranium and to ship their stockpile out of the country. The Iranian reaction to this mild offer was predictable. They claimed it was not only unreasonable but that it violated what the Islamist regime says was agreed to at the previous meeting in Istanbul.

That means those who feared the Baghdad meeting would lead to an unsatisfactory agreement that could be represented as ending the crisis but by no means removing the Iranian nuclear threat can exhale. But that does not mean the danger of an Iranian diplomatic victory is averted. Quite the contrary, the Iranians view their indignant refusal as just the start of the bargaining process by which they will ultimately get what they want: the West’s endorsement of their right to a nuclear program and removal of sanctions. The question here is whether the negotiators, led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and backed up by political leaders such as President Obama and French President Hollande, have the will to stick to this position rather than being enticed into a bazaar-style barter in which the Iranians are bound to win. If, as is reported, the West’s stance is just a preliminary bid, then we will soon know the answer.

The trouble is both sides in this negotiation have a common goal: keeping Israel from launching a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities and avoiding an oil embargo. Yet, while both the possibility of an Israeli attack and increased Western sanctions worry the Iranians, they appear to have great confidence in their ability to talk their way out of what seems on the surface to be a perilous position. If, as reports indicate, the West doesn’t merely leave their proposal on the table but holds out the possibility of future sessions without Iran’s compliance with even these first steps, then Tehran has good reason to believe they have Ashton, Obama and Hollande right where they want them.

It must be understood that even if Iran agreed to the current Western proposal that would by no means alleviate worries about the regime going nuclear. So long as the Iranians are refining uranium — even with the permission to do so only at lower rates of refinement — there is no reason to believe they will give up their quest for a bomb. Indeed, giving their facilities a Western seal of approval under any circumstances will facilitate the continuance of their military project by less public means. Putting this approval on the table now only means that the final agreement, if Iran ever consents to an accord, will be even more generous. And because, as the AP reported yesterday, Iran has already started transferring uranium refined at a weapons grade level of 20 percent to their reactors, there is no way of telling whether they can even be made to comply with the terms Ashton laid on the table.

Nevertheless, if the West is more desperate than Iran to keep the talks going, there is little doubt the terms will start to be sweetened. It takes quite a leap of faith to imagine President Obama won’t fall for Iran’s negotiating ploys.

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Obama Wants to Keep Dancing With Iran

In just the latest of what has been a series of featured articles on U.S. policy on Iran all generated by leaks from “senior administration officials,” the New York Times led its front page yesterday with a piece outlining Washington’s nearly unbridled optimism about securing a nuclear deal on Iran. Using the Times as its mouthpiece, the Obama administration again sent a very loud signal about its naïveté about Iran’s determination to realize its nuclear ambitions, and its willingness to start making concessions to the ayatollahs in order to keep negotiations going throughout the rest of the year so as to avoid the necessity of taking action on the issue during the president’s re-election.

The outline of the president’s plans to make the Iran nuclear threat go away is pretty clear. The West’s negotiators at the P5+1 talks in Baghdad later this month will start the process of backing away from the serious sanctions that were belatedly applied to the regime in the hope that the Iranians will consent to a deal that would, at least in principle, halt their refining of uranium that could make a bomb. If the Iranians agree, then that would lead to more frequent meetings during the summer that could culminate in an agreement. But rather than the harbinger of a successful diplomatic offensive, the administration’s decision to present the Iranians with a present in advance of the meeting will only confirm Tehran’s belief in the president’s weakness and give it even more confidence that the talks are the perfect venue to achieve all of their nuclear goals.

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In just the latest of what has been a series of featured articles on U.S. policy on Iran all generated by leaks from “senior administration officials,” the New York Times led its front page yesterday with a piece outlining Washington’s nearly unbridled optimism about securing a nuclear deal on Iran. Using the Times as its mouthpiece, the Obama administration again sent a very loud signal about its naïveté about Iran’s determination to realize its nuclear ambitions, and its willingness to start making concessions to the ayatollahs in order to keep negotiations going throughout the rest of the year so as to avoid the necessity of taking action on the issue during the president’s re-election.

The outline of the president’s plans to make the Iran nuclear threat go away is pretty clear. The West’s negotiators at the P5+1 talks in Baghdad later this month will start the process of backing away from the serious sanctions that were belatedly applied to the regime in the hope that the Iranians will consent to a deal that would, at least in principle, halt their refining of uranium that could make a bomb. If the Iranians agree, then that would lead to more frequent meetings during the summer that could culminate in an agreement. But rather than the harbinger of a successful diplomatic offensive, the administration’s decision to present the Iranians with a present in advance of the meeting will only confirm Tehran’s belief in the president’s weakness and give it even more confidence that the talks are the perfect venue to achieve all of their nuclear goals.

In theory, a deal that would remove the stockpile of weapons grade uranium and halt any more production would hamper Iran’s plans for a bomb. But any agreement that leaves those facilities intact, rather than having them dismantled and which would allow the production of more refined uranium, even if it is supposed to be not useful for a bomb, is the sort of framework the Iranians could use to bypass the restrictions. Moreover, any diplomatic process that can be dragged out for many months before it is put into effect will simply allow Iran more time to get closer to a bomb, and at the end of the process, it could, as it has done with previous Western-brokered deals for uranium shipment, simply opt out of the agreement.

The difference, the senior administration officials are telling us, is that the tough sanctions and plans for an oil embargo on Iran have finally brought them to their knees. In this optimistic view of events, recent statements from the Iranians that they have already beaten the West in the talks are just for domestic consumption and designed to make it easier for the regime to sell the concessions they will have to make to a public that views the nuclear program as an expression of nationalism.

But the problem with Iran’s boasting about its diplomatic victories is that their claims are largely correct. They have crossed every “red line” set out by the West — putting nuclear plants online, building heavy water facilities and refining uranium and doing so at grades that could produce weapons, and working on triggers and other devices that have only military applications — and gotten away with it. Any deal that will allow them to keep their nuclear facilities operating and which will scale back sanctions will be an enormous victory for the regime. Such a victory could, without all that much effort to deceive Western inspectors, allow them to continue working toward a nuclear weapon and greatly strengthen it at home.

Those are two things President Obama ought to be worried about but, as even his cheerleaders at the Times have noticed, he has other priorities:

For President Obama, the stakes are huge. A successful meeting could prolong the diplomatic dance with Tehran, delaying any possible military confrontation over the nuclear program until after the presidential election. It could also keep a lid on oil prices, which fell again this week in part because of the decrease in tensions. Lower gasoline prices would aid the economic recovery in the United States, and Mr. Obama’s electoral prospects.

But while prolonging “the diplomatic dance” will aid the president’s re-election prospects, it also very much plays into Tehran’s goals. So long as the talks go on, an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is out of the question. And though some administration officials have made noises about America’s contingency plans for an attack, it’s difficult to see why Iran would take such talk seriously so long as “senior administration officials” are promising them lollipops even before the Baghdad talks start. Once re-elected, the president will, as he has said in other contexts, have the “flexibility” to change his mind about some issues. Iran has little reason to believe they are in any danger as long as they can keep Washington dancing. And as the president and his foreign policy team have made clear, they have no intention of stopping.

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Was Ambassador’s Iran Threat Credible?

America’s ambassador to Israel sounded a reassuring note today to Israelis and others wondering whether the direction of the West’s negotiations with Iran was leading inevitably to appeasement of Tehran. Ambassador Dan Shapiro seemed to be echoing the tough talk uttered by President Obama when he spoke to the AIPAC conference in March when, according to the AP, he made the following comments:

Shapiro told the Israel Bar Association the U.S. hopes it will not have to resort to military force.

“But that doesn’t mean that option is not fully available. Not just available, but it’s ready,” he said. “The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready” …

“We do believe there is time. Some time, not an unlimited amount of time,” Shapiro said. “But at a certain point, we may have to make a judgment that the diplomacy will not work.”

Though it would certainly be to the advantage of the West were Iran to believe it is in genuine peril of an attack if they refuse to abandon their nuclear ambitions, given the fact that it is EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton who is running the P5+1 talks, and not someone like Shapiro, Iran’s obvious confidence that it will prevail in the negotiations is hardly unfounded.

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America’s ambassador to Israel sounded a reassuring note today to Israelis and others wondering whether the direction of the West’s negotiations with Iran was leading inevitably to appeasement of Tehran. Ambassador Dan Shapiro seemed to be echoing the tough talk uttered by President Obama when he spoke to the AIPAC conference in March when, according to the AP, he made the following comments:

Shapiro told the Israel Bar Association the U.S. hopes it will not have to resort to military force.

“But that doesn’t mean that option is not fully available. Not just available, but it’s ready,” he said. “The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready” …

“We do believe there is time. Some time, not an unlimited amount of time,” Shapiro said. “But at a certain point, we may have to make a judgment that the diplomacy will not work.”

Though it would certainly be to the advantage of the West were Iran to believe it is in genuine peril of an attack if they refuse to abandon their nuclear ambitions, given the fact that it is EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton who is running the P5+1 talks, and not someone like Shapiro, Iran’s obvious confidence that it will prevail in the negotiations is hardly unfounded.

No one, not even the most sanguine leaders of the Iranian regime, doubt there are contingency plans in place for an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Unlike the difficulties that the Israeli Air Force would face in mounting such an operation, American forces in the Persian Gulf region are more than adequate to accomplish the task. But to say there are plans is one thing. To believe President Obama would order the use of force if Iran refuses to give ground in the talks is quite another.

Indeed, far from the Iranians doing the retreating, it has been the West that has, as the Iranians haven’t failed to note. Every red line set by the West on Iran’s nuclear program has been transgressed. From the putting of reactors on line to the construction of heavy water facilities and now to the refining uranium at a rate that is needed to produce a nuclear weapon, the Iranians acted and then waited for the West to eventually concede the point. That is why they are heading to Baghdad for the next round of talks so confident that the West will allow them to keep their nuclear toys that they are actually demanding the crippling international sanctions that were belatedly imposed on the regime be lifted.

We hope the Iranians are mistaken about President Obama’s resolve but nothing he has done — as opposed to the many things he has said about the topic — has led them to believe they can’t get away with building up their capability to the point where converting it to military uses will be quite simple. And because, as the International Atomic Energy Agency has noted, devices for testing military uses of nuclear power are already in place in Iran, they have every expectation that sooner or later they will be able to confront the world with a nuclear fact.

Like much of what the administration has said and done in recent months, Ambassador Shapiro’s comments seem to be geared more toward convincing Israel to refrain from its own strike on Iran — for which the IAF has proclaimed its readiness — than a genuine demonstration of an American will to act to forestall the threat.

But rather than judge the administration on its words, it is far wiser to judge them on what happens in the coming negotiations. If, as the Iranians expect, the EU, Russia and China, with President Obama, as always, leading from behind, make “progress” in the coming weeks toward a deal that will leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place, we will know the ambassador’s statement was merely an empty threat.

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Iran Sends Louder Syria Signal Than U.S.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the United States tiptoed closer to helping the rebels trying to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Post said the Obama administration had not decided to contribute to the fund that Gulf States have started to pay for arms for the rebels. But let no one say President Obama was doing nothing to support the effort to halt the massacres being perpetrated by the Assad regime. The U.S. is providing those aiding the rebels with “assessments of rebel credibility and command-and-control infrastructure.” In other words, Washington is merely offering advice.

But while some optimists are interpreting this as a signal to Syrian ally Iran that the president means business, Tehran is sending a more significant message to the West than the free advice offered by Washington. Reuters reports Iran is continuing to export military equipment to Syria that Assad is using to kill thousands. Rather than being intimidated by the half-hearted and belated help being extended to the rebels, Iran has been violating a United Nations Security Council ruling that imposed an embargo on giving arms to Assad. A UN panel has issued a report detailing Iran’s shipment of arms to Syria that also discussed their efforts to evade sanctions aimed at halting their nuclear program.

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The Washington Post reported yesterday that the United States tiptoed closer to helping the rebels trying to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Post said the Obama administration had not decided to contribute to the fund that Gulf States have started to pay for arms for the rebels. But let no one say President Obama was doing nothing to support the effort to halt the massacres being perpetrated by the Assad regime. The U.S. is providing those aiding the rebels with “assessments of rebel credibility and command-and-control infrastructure.” In other words, Washington is merely offering advice.

But while some optimists are interpreting this as a signal to Syrian ally Iran that the president means business, Tehran is sending a more significant message to the West than the free advice offered by Washington. Reuters reports Iran is continuing to export military equipment to Syria that Assad is using to kill thousands. Rather than being intimidated by the half-hearted and belated help being extended to the rebels, Iran has been violating a United Nations Security Council ruling that imposed an embargo on giving arms to Assad. A UN panel has issued a report detailing Iran’s shipment of arms to Syria that also discussed their efforts to evade sanctions aimed at halting their nuclear program.

Iran has no intention of standing by while Assad — their most important ally in the region — is driven from power. From the beginning of the protests against Assad’s rule last year, Tehran has been pumping in arms and “volunteers” from both Iran and their Lebanese Hezbollah auxiliaries. Combined with Assad’s willingness to slaughter as many of his compatriots as necessary, Iran’s support has enabled the Syrian to survive a rebellion and foreign sanctions.

Those who foolishly expect Iran to give up their nuclear ambitions need to understand Syria is a test case that illustrates that the ayatollahs are playing for keeps. With European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton apparently encouraging them to believe they can beat the West and continue refining uranium, they likely believe they can face the EU down on Syria as well. The arms pouring into Damascus show the ayatollahs are convinced they are tougher than President Obama. Until the president convinces them otherwise, the odds of stopping their drive for nuclear weapons or ousting Assad are negligible.

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Administration Iran Leakfest Means Obama’s Tough Stance is Just Talk

Nothing annoys foreign policy establishment types more than the need for presidents to pander to the opinions of the voters. That’s even more true this year than most as President Obama’s desire to pose as Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House has caused him to take stands that not only bother veteran Foggy Bottom “realists” but also his core supporters and staffers who apparently take a dim view of the desire of the overwhelming majority of the American people to support Israel and to vigorously oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But though Obama’s Jewish charm offensive may still be in full swing, government insiders are apparently working overtime to send Israel and the rest of the world the signal that the president’s political commitments ought not to be taken all that seriously.

That’s the upshot of a week of heavy duty leaking on the part of administration officials who are less than thrilled about the fact that the president has publicly enlisted them in an effort to stop Iran. Yesterday, there was the attempt by Washington to expose Israel’s secret alliance with Azerbaijan and thereby ensure that it would be broken off so as to render an attack on Iran more difficult. Today, the New York Times has another leaked story in which anonymous government figures state their concern the president’s public rhetoric on Iran has boxed them into a spot that neither he nor they want to be in.

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Nothing annoys foreign policy establishment types more than the need for presidents to pander to the opinions of the voters. That’s even more true this year than most as President Obama’s desire to pose as Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House has caused him to take stands that not only bother veteran Foggy Bottom “realists” but also his core supporters and staffers who apparently take a dim view of the desire of the overwhelming majority of the American people to support Israel and to vigorously oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But though Obama’s Jewish charm offensive may still be in full swing, government insiders are apparently working overtime to send Israel and the rest of the world the signal that the president’s political commitments ought not to be taken all that seriously.

That’s the upshot of a week of heavy duty leaking on the part of administration officials who are less than thrilled about the fact that the president has publicly enlisted them in an effort to stop Iran. Yesterday, there was the attempt by Washington to expose Israel’s secret alliance with Azerbaijan and thereby ensure that it would be broken off so as to render an attack on Iran more difficult. Today, the New York Times has another leaked story in which anonymous government figures state their concern the president’s public rhetoric on Iran has boxed them into a spot that neither he nor they want to be in.

The leaking demonstrates just how unhappy the Washington foreign and defense policy establishment is about the way the president’s re-election campaign has led him to commit himself to action on Iran. Lest there be any doubt about the purpose of these disclosures, the officials tell the Times their hope is these stories as well as the recent leak about a Pentagon war simulation that was specifically crafted to feed speculation about possible U.S. casualties in the event of a conflict with Iran are designed to “provide the president with some political cover.”

The “cover” will presumably be necessary because the administration has no intention of ever actually going to the mat with Iran in spite of all the tough talk that comes out of the president’s mouth when addressing pro-Israel audiences. Some of the anonymous sources for the Times story are worried about the tough talk taking on a life of its own and overwhelming their proposed diplomatic plans on Iran. But the underlying assumption of these leaks is that the real truth about the president’s plans was revealed in his “hot mic” moment with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev when he spoke of having more “flexibility” after his “last election,” not his speech to AIPAC.

But for all the duplicity involved in the formulation of current U.S. policy toward Iran, the leakers have brought attention to a genuine dilemma. The president has condemned “loose talk” about war with Iran and has stuck to his belief that diplomacy can find a way to beguile the Iranians to abandon their nuclear plans. But the talkative administration officials understand all too well that the president’s “window of diplomacy” never really existed. No matter how much they boast of their success in creating an international coalition to back sanctions against Iran, they know this is mere talk. The Iranians don’t believe the Europeans will, when push comes to shove, enforce crippling sanctions against them. And they have no intention of backing down.

That means sooner or later, President Obama will have to choose between actually taking action on Iran and breaking his promise to ensure that Iran never goes nuclear. His staffers just hope that moment comes after November when, they presume, he can safely break his word. After all these leaks, if the Iranians didn’t already know this to be true, they know it now.

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