Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S.-Iran relations

Do Americans Favor Appeasing Iran?

One of the foundations of President Obama’s push for détente with Iran is the assumption that Americans have had enough of conflicts in the Middle East. By seeking to strike a deal with Tehran on its nuclear-weapons program, the administration hopes to eliminate the chance of a confrontation with the Islamist regime on the issue. In order to defeat a campaign for tougher sanctions on Iran last year, Obama labeled critics of his weak interim deal with Iran as “warmongers,” an epithet that is considered to be an all-purpose argument winner in the aftermath of the Iraq war. But are those assumptions correct? According to pollster Frank Luntz, Americans are far more wary of appeasing Iran or allowing it to become a threshold nuclear power than the president and his supporters think.

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One of the foundations of President Obama’s push for détente with Iran is the assumption that Americans have had enough of conflicts in the Middle East. By seeking to strike a deal with Tehran on its nuclear-weapons program, the administration hopes to eliminate the chance of a confrontation with the Islamist regime on the issue. In order to defeat a campaign for tougher sanctions on Iran last year, Obama labeled critics of his weak interim deal with Iran as “warmongers,” an epithet that is considered to be an all-purpose argument winner in the aftermath of the Iraq war. But are those assumptions correct? According to pollster Frank Luntz, Americans are far more wary of appeasing Iran or allowing it to become a threshold nuclear power than the president and his supporters think.

According to a story in the Times of Israel, the veteran analyst claims a new poll shows that 69 percent of Americans oppose a deal with Iran leaving it with nuclear capabilities. This is significant, because even if we assume that Iran will eventually sign a new nuclear pact rather than just continuing to run out the clock by stalling Western negotiators as they have done for the last year, such a deal in which the Iranians keep their program is exactly what Secretary of State John Kerry is likely to bring home from the talks.

Just as important, the survey showed that huge majorities of Americans believe Iran is not negotiating in good faith and can’t be trusted to abide by any agreement it might sign. The poll also shows that 62 percent believe Iran is an enemy of the U.S.

These numbers should embolden Congress to act now to pass new sanctions that would both strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks as well as to make it clear that a return to a policy of pressure rather than appeasement is the only way to halt the nuclear threat short of using force.

It is true that even if we take these poll numbers into account, there probably isn’t much appetite for a new confrontation with Iran or even much interest in the issue, especially when compared with domestic issues. But the free ride that the president has been enjoying during the last two years as he fecklessly pursued détente with the ayatollahs may not last forever. Rather than going to sleep on foreign policy, the American people are genuinely alarmed about the way the president’s policy of retreat in the Middle East—of which his Iran engagement has been a central plank—has created new crises, facilitated the rise of ISIS, and made the world less safe. Indeed, Luntz’s poll shows that Americans think the world is more dangerous than it was under George W. Bush, a startling result considering that Obama rode into the White House by riding a tide of anger about the Iraq war.

These numbers don’t show that Americans want war with Iran. Nobody and certainly not those calling for tougher sanctions on Iran want that. But it does mean that the belief that the administration can sell any sort of nuclear deal with Iran to the public is misplaced. Americans rightly fear Iran and know that any deal that allows them to become a threshold nuclear power is not something that is compatible with the defense of U.S. security. After the rise of ISIS and the collapse of confidence in Obama’s foreign policy, the administration will have to do more than merely label critics of its Iran policy as warmongers if they wish to prevail.

The debate on Iran is only just beginning. Those who think that it can be squelched have not taken into account the fact that most Americans rightly fear the ayatollahs and don’t want their government to turn a blind eye to a nuclear program that threatens to destabilize the region and plunge the Middle East into even worse turmoil.

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Obama’s Iran Promises Ring Hollow

At yesterday’s post-midterm elections news conference President Obama was also asked about the nuclear negotiations with Iran. His reply was consistent with the rhetoric he has been using about this subject since he first was running for president in 2008. He told the country his goal was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that no deal with Tehran was better than a bad deal. As with most everything else he has said on the subject during his presidency, this is an exemplary statement of what America’s policy should be. The only problem is that his actions flatly contradict this pronouncement. While that fact was already no secret, today’s revelations about the president carrying on a correspondence with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further undermines his narrative about being tough with the Islamist regime.

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At yesterday’s post-midterm elections news conference President Obama was also asked about the nuclear negotiations with Iran. His reply was consistent with the rhetoric he has been using about this subject since he first was running for president in 2008. He told the country his goal was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that no deal with Tehran was better than a bad deal. As with most everything else he has said on the subject during his presidency, this is an exemplary statement of what America’s policy should be. The only problem is that his actions flatly contradict this pronouncement. While that fact was already no secret, today’s revelations about the president carrying on a correspondence with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further undermines his narrative about being tough with the Islamist regime.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama wrote to the Iranian leader in the context of the campaign against ISIS in Iraq, a common enemy of both the U.S. and the Islamist regime. The content of the letters as reported by the Journal is not as much a concern as the fact that the administration has kept its key allies in the Middle East, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates out of the loop on the correspondence much as it did last year when the U.S. conducted secret talks with Tehran in order to facilitate the interim nuclear accord signed last November. President Obama apparently is far more interested in ingratiating himself with Khamenei than with Israel.

This news casts a shadow over the president’s assurances given in his press conference yesterday about Iran. The president said that the U.S. would learn whether a deal could be obtained with Iran sometime in the “next several weeks.” But what Iran has already learned about U.S. policy in the last two years is that the best thing they have going for them in the talks is that the president’s obsession with creating a new détente with the regime always outweighs his supposed commitment to stopping them. Though he boasted of how tough he has been on them—taking credit for economic sanctions that he opposed tooth and nail prior to their adoption—the record of the past six years is quite different. The president jettisoned America’s considerable economic and military leverage over Iran last year when he agreed to tacitly recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and allowed them to keep their nuclear infrastructure.

In the follow-up talks conducted this year, which have predictably gone into overtime far past the original timeline and may well extend beyond the new November 24 deadline, he has offered even more concessions, including absurd proposals about disconnecting the pipes that link the centrifuges spinning the nuclear fuel. He continues to buy into the lie that Iran seeks nuclear power for its “peaceful energy needs”—a joke considering its oil reserves—and seems more interested in reintegrating the brutal, anti-Semitic regime back into the international economy than in halting their support of terrorism or forcing them to stop building missiles that couldn’t threaten the West as well as Israel and moderate Arabs.

The president has continued to frame opponents of his weak diplomacy as seeking war, a point he alluded to in his remarks. But the real alternative to Obama’s campaign of appeasement was the tougher sanctions proposed by a bipartisan congressional coalition that he expended considerable political capital to defeat last year.

The problem isn’t whether the Iranians will sign a deal either before November 24 or after it. It is, rather, why the U.S. has abandoned the stance the president enunciated in his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney when he said any agreement must result in the end of Iran’s nuclear program. Last year’s interim agreement ensured that its nuclear program would survive. If the leaks coming out of the current talks are right, there’s little doubt that the sanctions will be lifted (by Obama simply ordering them not to be enforced rather than by congressional vote as required by law) in exchange for measures that will do nothing to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state. But, as he did last year, the president will claim victory and count on his press cheerleaders to back up his assertions that critics are warmongers.

As troubling as the letters to Khamenei may be, it is Obama’s diplomatic initiative that is the real threat to America’s Middle East allies as well as to the long-term security interests of the West. What those worried about this threat need are not more hollow promises from the president but transparency about an appeasement strategy.

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Iran Appeasement at Stake in Midterms

American elections are always closely watched by foreign nations. But there may no more interested observers of tonight’s midterm results than the leaders of Iran. The ability of the Obama administration to pursue détente with Iran and to cut a new weak deal that will enable the Islamist regime to become a nuclear threshold state may rest on the ability of President Obama’s party to hold onto control of the Senate.

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American elections are always closely watched by foreign nations. But there may no more interested observers of tonight’s midterm results than the leaders of Iran. The ability of the Obama administration to pursue détente with Iran and to cut a new weak deal that will enable the Islamist regime to become a nuclear threshold state may rest on the ability of President Obama’s party to hold onto control of the Senate.

The administration’s zeal for a deal with the Iranians appears undiminished by Tehran’s decision to continue to impede the efforts of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to discover what is going on at their nuclear plants. As the Wall Street Journal reported last Friday, the IAEA has made public the fact that there has been no progress made in getting access for inspections despite a year of negotiations. The Iranians are, as is their wont, continuing to run out the clock on the West on those talks. At the same time they are stringing the U.S. along in its efforts to broker a deal despite reports of far-reaching concessions that would allow it to keep their nuclear infrastructure in any agreement.

Given the growing sentiment in Europe for ending economic sanctions on Iran, there is no guarantee that watering down the terms of an agreement even more will entice the Islamists to sign a deal ending the standoff. Yet given the administration’s signals about treating this issue as their top foreign-policy priority, it seems likely that Obama will get some kind of an accord that will enable him to say he has addressed the world’s concerns about the nuclear threat from Iran even if it does little to diminish that threat.

Obama’s ability to do as he likes on Iran stems in no small measure from the president’s ability to get the Democratic majority in the Senate—and in particular, Majority Leader Harry Reid—to do his bidding on the issue. Though a bipartisan proposal for toughening sanctions on Iran if the talks failed had overwhelming support in the Senate last winter, including the vocal advocacy of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez, Reid was able to spike the effort. If, as the administration has indicated, it will seek to bypass congressional approval for any new Iran deal, the president knows he can count on Reid to perform the same service this year despite complaints from fellow Democrat Menendez. But with the GOP in control of the Senate, the administration will have a lot less leeway in their pursuit of appeasement.

If a deal is signed, the president and his cheering section in the media will, no doubt, go all out to label any skeptics of the agreement as warmongers in much the same manner as they did last year. In order to end sanctions on Iran, a key requirement for Tehran in any accord, the president will suspend enforcement of the laws. But getting rid of them will require congressional action that is unlikely to occur. More to the point, Congress will have an opportunity to respond to an end run around the Constitution that requires Senate approval of all treaties with new sanctions on Iran.

Interestingly, the International Business Times speculates today that a switch in control of the Foreign Relations Committee could work to Obama’s advantage. If, as expected, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker replaces Menendez and Democrat Dick Durbin becomes the ranking member instead of Republican Mark Kirk, the IBT thinks this pair is more likely to do Obama’s bidding on Iran than the current team.

But that underestimates support throughout the Senate and on the committee for tougher sanctions on Iran. More to the point, the “sanctions mongers,” as the IBT refers to opponents of Iran appeasement, will likely have the backing of the putative Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. With or without a new weak deal with Iran, the odds are, Republicans in both the House and the Senate will pass a bill similar to the one proposed by Menendez and Kirk last year which sought to hold the president’s feet to the fire on Iran.

Those who think a GOP-run Senate will back Obama’s play on Iran are underestimating the skepticism about the president’s policy in Congress as well as the deep concern for Israel’s security in the GOP at a time when, as Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic column illustrated last week, the administration’s is seeking to chill relations with the Jewish state.

That’s why it won’t be just U.S. political junkies staying up tonight to see if Reid or McConnell is running the Senate next year. The ayatollahs understand their ability to manipulate a U.S. government that they have pegged as a weak negotiating partner may be dependent on the outcome.

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Is There a Tacit Obama-Iran Alliance?

One of the most important sidebars to the furor over the decision of two “senior administration officials” to tell columnist Jeffrey Goldberg that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a “chickenshit” coward was their boast that he had missed his chance to prevent them from making a weak deal allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear state. Aside from the general discussion about an administration that is diffident about criticizing actual enemies of the United States choosing to lob outrageous insults at America’s sole democratic ally is the question whether this was a part of an effort to pre-empt Israeli criticism of a weak Iran nuclear deal or was merely just another instance of the Obama foreign policy team’s lack of discipline and incompetence. The Washington Post editorial page has weighed in on behalf of the latter point of view. But unfortunately there is good reason to think this latest administration attack on Israel was part of a calculated strategy on Iran.

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One of the most important sidebars to the furor over the decision of two “senior administration officials” to tell columnist Jeffrey Goldberg that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a “chickenshit” coward was their boast that he had missed his chance to prevent them from making a weak deal allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear state. Aside from the general discussion about an administration that is diffident about criticizing actual enemies of the United States choosing to lob outrageous insults at America’s sole democratic ally is the question whether this was a part of an effort to pre-empt Israeli criticism of a weak Iran nuclear deal or was merely just another instance of the Obama foreign policy team’s lack of discipline and incompetence. The Washington Post editorial page has weighed in on behalf of the latter point of view. But unfortunately there is good reason to think this latest administration attack on Israel was part of a calculated strategy on Iran.

That President Obama has considered engagement with Iran as one of his foreign-policy priorities since coming to office is no secret. But that assumption was given further credence on Friday when the Washington Free Beacon reported on a tape of a talk given by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes (one of those suspected of being one of the sources for Goldberg’s infamous column) in which he declared that an Iran deal would be the most important objective of the president’s second term and the moral equivalent of ObamaCare as an administration priority.

But we didn’t need Rhodes to tell us that. In signing an interim nuclear deal last year with Tehran that did nothing to force it to give up its nuclear infrastructure or long-term hopes of a weapon, he threw away the West’s considerable economic and military leverage and began a process of unraveling sanctions. But in order to seal a final deal with Iran—assuming, that is, that the Islamist regime deigns to sign one rather than merely keep running out the clock as Obama vainly pursues them—he must do two things: overcome considerable bipartisan opposition from Congress and make sure that Israel and/or moderate Arab regimes equally scared by the Iranians aren’t able to scuttle an agreement.

The president’s formula for achieving this dubious goal is clear.

On the one hand, he will try to forge an agreement that will not require congressional approval. That will be no easy task as the Constitution requires the Senate to approve any treaty with a foreign power and only Congress can repeal the economic sanctions it passed in recent years. But as we already know this isn’t a president that is troubled much by having to tread on the Constitution or violate the law. He will, as has already been reported, attempt to portray an Iran deal as something other than a new treaty. He will also use his executive power to suspend enforcement of sanctions, perhaps indefinitely, in order to render existing laws null and void.

As for Israel, as Goldberg’s column indicated, the administration thinks they’ve already won since Netanyahu failed to order an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities during the president’s first term.

So where does this leave us?

According to the Washington Post editorial, Goldberg’s column was merely an indication of the loose tongues that operate in the West Wing. Assuming that the assault on Netanyahu’s character and the gloating about Israel’s inability to stop U.S. efforts to appease Iran was, in its view, giving the “White House too much credit for calculation” since the insults would make it harder for the U.S. to “reach an accommodation with Israel on Iran and settlements.”

But as the record of the last six years and Rhodes’s indiscreet talk verifies, this administration isn’t interested in an accommodation with Israel on key issues. Rather it seeks to crush Israel’s efforts to resist détente with Iran as well as to muscle it on the peace process with the Palestinians even though the latter have frustrated the administration by steadfastly refusing to make peace on even the most favorable of terms on a diplomatic playing field tilted in their direction by the White House.

Goals often dictate not only tactics employed but also the character of the conflict. Having set reconciliation with Iran as one of his chief objectives—something that was made clear in the president’s first inaugural address and reaffirmed by his subsequent decisions on the long running diplomatic engagement he has pursued—Obama has determined that achieving it is worth sacrificing the United States’ close relations with Israel as well as enraging Arab states that have, to their surprise, found themselves aligned with Israel on this issue rather than the Americans.

Though the administration has been rightly criticized for its habit of equivocation on foreign-policy crises, its single-minded determination to outmaneuver the Israelis on Iran while never giving up on efforts to appease the Islamist regime has been impressive. Having thrown away its previous positions on stopping Iran’s nuclear enrichment or dismantling its nuclear program (as President Obama vowed in his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney in 2012), it will clearly stop at nothing to get a deal if one is to be had.

Rather than a reset with Israel as the Post advises, Obama has something else in mind. While it may be going too far to say that the administration thinks of itself as entering into an alliance with the Iranians, the bottom line here is that the new Middle East that it envisions after an Iran deal is one in which traditional U.S. allies will be marginalized and endangered while Tehran and its terrorist allies will be immeasurably strengthened. The administration can only achieve that dubious goal by working assiduously against Israel and the bipartisan coalition that backs the alliance with the Jewish state in Congress.

It remains to be seen whether the next Congress will sit back and allow the administration to achieve a détente with the Islamic Republic that will amount to a new tacit U.S.-Iran alliance at the expense of the Jewish state. But whether Congress acts or not (and if the Senate is controlled by the Republicans it is far more likely to be able to thwart the president’s objectives), let no one say that we haven’t been warned about what was about to unfold.

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Congress Can Stop Obama’s Iran Appeasement End Run

While most of the attention on the Iran nuclear issue has rightly been on the negotiations being conducted by the U.S. and its allies with Tehran, the Obama administration is already planning for the aftermath of what it hopes will be a new agreement. But rather than preparing for an effort to persuade Congress of the merits of its diplomatic efforts, the president is planning on an end run around the laws it passed and unilaterally suspending enforcement of the sanctions on Iran. In doing so, he will not only be continuing a path he has pursued on issues such as immigration but will go even further in violating the constitutional requirement that the legislative branch approve all treaties with foreign powers.

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While most of the attention on the Iran nuclear issue has rightly been on the negotiations being conducted by the U.S. and its allies with Tehran, the Obama administration is already planning for the aftermath of what it hopes will be a new agreement. But rather than preparing for an effort to persuade Congress of the merits of its diplomatic efforts, the president is planning on an end run around the laws it passed and unilaterally suspending enforcement of the sanctions on Iran. In doing so, he will not only be continuing a path he has pursued on issues such as immigration but will go even further in violating the constitutional requirement that the legislative branch approve all treaties with foreign powers.

The president’s problem isn’t limited to the fact that many Americans are rightly worried that the deal in the works with Iran is one that won’t do much to prevent the Islamist regime from eventually realizing its nuclear ambition. It’s that the economic sanctions that were imposed on Iran by laws enacted by Congress must be rescinded in the same manner that they were passed: by a vote. If the agreement that the U.S. is pushing hard to conclude with Iran is a good one, then the president and Secretary of State John Kerry should have no problem selling it to Congress, which could then simply vote to rescind the sanctions.

But such a vote would require hearings and a full debate on the matter. During the course of that debate, it almost certainly would become clear that what the administration is prepared to allow Iran would fall far short of the president’s campaign pledges to end Tehran’s nuclear program or to prevent it from ever getting a bomb. The administration has already publicly floated some of the terms it is offering the Iranians. While last year’s weak interim deal tacitly endorsed Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium that could be used for a weapon, the U.S. has retreated further from its initial tough position and is now prepared to allow the Iranians to have at least 1,000 centrifuges that could process the material to build nuclear fuel. Since the Iranians are insisting with their usual persistence that they be allowed to keep all of their centrifuges, most observers now assume that the U.S. will agree to a deal that will allow them to have thousands.

In order to save face, American negotiators have reportedly suggested that the pipes connecting the centrifuges be disconnected, a pathetic stance that further undermines American credibility since it is understood that they can easily be reconnected anytime the ayatollahs deem it in their interest. The same can be said of Iran’s agreement to deactivate its existing stockpile of enriched uranium since that too can be reversed with ease.

Seen in that light any agreement—assuming the Iranians are willing to agree to another weak deal rather than simply waiting until the international coalition Obama is leading unravels—will be difficult to sell to a skeptical Congress that pushed an unwilling administration into agreeing to the sanctions in the first place.

In order to evade the law, the president will have to do two things.

First, he will have to declare that any agreement will be merely an informal add-on to existing international deals rather than a treaty and so avoid a constitutionally required two-thirds ratification vote in the Senate he’d be unlikely to win. That will be a blatant lie but since the move would have to be taken to court, it’s a gamble he’d likely win.

Second, he will have to unilaterally suspend enforcement of the sanctions on Iran passed by Congress rather than have them rescinded. As even the New York Times notes in its article on the topic yesterday, that is not a stance even most Democrats would tolerate.

More to the point, the president’s prepared end run also signals the resumption of a political battle over renewed sanctions that the administration thought it had conclusively won last winter. At the time, majorities in the House and the Senate were prepared to enact even tougher restrictions on commerce with Iran that would have tightened the noose on Tehran’s oil business. But, with the able assistance of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the president was able to stop the Senate from voting on the measure proposed by Senator Robert Menendez, the Foreign Relations Committee chair and Senator Mark Kirk. Supporters of more sanctions (which would not have gone into effect until the next phase of negotiations with Iran was pronounced a failure) were branded “warmongers” who didn’t want to give diplomacy a chance and thus effectively silenced.

But this time that strategy won’t work.

After a year of talks that have been dragged beyond the original six-month deadline and may yet be further extended as Iran continues its decade-old strategy of running out the clock on the West, it is no longer possible to argue that Obama needs to be given an opportunity to test the good will of the Iranians. Nor can the president pretend that the current terms are anything but a transparent surrender to Iranian demands and not a fulfillment of his pledges.

That’s why Menendez is prepared to try again this fall when Congress returns to Washington after the midterm elections. As the Times reports:

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat, said over the weekend that, “If a potential deal does not substantially and effectively dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, I expect Congress will respond. An agreement cannot allow Iran to be a threshold nuclear state.” He has sponsored legislation to tighten sanctions if no agreement is reached by Nov. 24.

If that weren’t enough of a threat to force the administration to stiffen its spin in negotiations with Iran, there is also the real possibility that in January the president will not be able to rely on Reid to spike sanctions legislation. If, as they are favored to do, the Republicans take control of the Senate, it is highly likely that Obama will find himself presented with new sanctions legislation on his desk in the new year whether or not he has signed off on a deal with Iran.

This is a crucial moment in the negotiations with Iran when the outcome is not yet determined. Unfortunately, the president’s efforts to loosen sanctions have already undermined international support for isolating Iran. With the possibility of a new deal, they are on the verge of complete collapse. But renewed and even tougher sanctions on Iran will signal to Europe that their expectations of a return to business as usual with Iran were a bit premature.

While the president thinks he can evade his constitutional requirements to let Congress vote on a treaty or rescind another law he doesn’t like, members of both parties appear ready to respond appropriately to this lawless plan. Unlike environmental regulations or even immigration laws, appeasement of Iran isn’t something that can be imposed on the country by presidential whim.

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Assessing the Iran Appeasement Project

Supporters of détente with Iran can almost taste it. After years of having to listen to even a liberal Democratic president vow to stop the Islamist regime’s drive for nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, Tehran’s apologists are tantalized by the prospect that President Obama will go all the way and sign on to a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran that will, they hope, put an end to the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. If true, it will mark a major victory for Iran and present a clear and present danger to both the West and Israel as the regime will be immeasurably strengthened and undeterred from its nuclear dreams.

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Supporters of détente with Iran can almost taste it. After years of having to listen to even a liberal Democratic president vow to stop the Islamist regime’s drive for nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, Tehran’s apologists are tantalized by the prospect that President Obama will go all the way and sign on to a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran that will, they hope, put an end to the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. If true, it will mark a major victory for Iran and present a clear and present danger to both the West and Israel as the regime will be immeasurably strengthened and undeterred from its nuclear dreams.

But though such a pact is not yet signed, Laura Rozen, one of the leading cheerleaders for this effort, writes in Al Monitor today that a lot of the credit (or blame, depending on your point of view, belongs to William Luers of the United Nations Association. While future historians probably label Luers as a minor figure among this generation’s Guilty Men who worked to appease a dangerous and possibly genocidal rising power, especially when compared to the central role played by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. But Luers’ work to normalize a government that ought to remain beyond the pale for decent people nevertheless deserves thorough scrutiny.

Luers, 85, is a former veteran diplomat who served in Moscow as head of the State Department’s Soviet Affairs desk and later as ambassador to Czechoslovakia before the fall of the Communist empire. In the last decade, however, he has devoted himself to fostering good relations with Iran, and becoming according to Rozen’s sources, the driving force behind a “track 2 dialogue” bringing together members of the Iranian regime with Americans. Luers and those backing his effort have also promoted The Iran Project, a think tank devoted to Iran détente and pooh-poohing concerns about the nuclear threat from Tehran.

The Iran Project is backed by major figures within the U.S. foreign policy establishment and has found an eager audience in the media for its reports downplaying the Iranian threat and promoting the virtues of friendship with the ayatollahs even as the regime’s domestic oppression and promotion of terror abroad has increased. More importantly, it has played a not insignificant role in convincing the Obama administration to abandon the president’s pledges to end Iran’s nuclear program and isolate the rogue regime and to pursue the current diplomatic track that Luers and his friends believe is so close to a happy conclusion.

What was the secret to their success?

First, it must be admitted that they have worked the system perfectly in championing the notion of a newly moderate Iran, a campaign that received a major boost when the seemingly more moderate and reasonable Hassan Rouhani replaced the seemingly irrational Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran last year. Since President Obama came into office determined to pursue a policy of “engagement” with Iran only to be repeatedly rebuffed by the Islamists. But advocates of the notion that Iran was only waiting to be embraced by the U.S. didn’t have to struggle too hard to get both the president and Kerry to try again. Their zeal for a deal overcame their common sense and the West wound up forfeiting the enormous economic and political leverage it had over Iran when an interim nuclear agreement was signed last November. That deal didn’t significantly lessen Iran’s ability to build a bomb but it did start the process of unraveling the international sanctions on the regime that had been so painstakingly built up in previous years.

Second, Luers and company worked hard to cause opinion makers and administration officials ignore the truth about Iran. The idea of Iranian moderation, whether in the form of Rouhani, a veteran regime official who has boasted of deceiving Western negotiators in the past or others taking part in back channel talks sponsored by the appeasers, was always farcical. There has been no change in Iranian policies either at home (where oppression of dissidents is no less fierce than before and official anti-Semitism is rampant) or abroad (as Iran’s terrorist auxiliaries continue to kill and its rogue ally Assad butchers hundreds of thousands of innocents) in the last year. But the point of the Iran Project isn’t to highlight actual change but to promote the idea that the act of diplomacy will itself start the process of making Iran more peaceful.

In Luers’ world Iran is not a hostile power driven by extreme Islamist ideology, bent on regional hegemony and determined to use terror and armed force to intimidate moderate neighbors and support those bent on Israel’s destruction but a reasonable government just waiting for the right offer to be welcomed into the community of nations. In other words, appeasement of this evil government is just a rational response to a difficult problem that can be solved by diplomacy.

This is disturbing enough but what comes across in Rozen’s adoring article about Luers is the diplomat’s indifference to the dangers of the course that he has helped chart. The Iran Project has worked hard to emphasize the downside of confronting Iran over its nuclear effort but done little to point out the hazards of a policy of appeasement.

Interestingly, Rozen points out that Luers befriended Vaclav Havel when the latter was a dissident during the era of Communist rule in Prague. But we hear nothing about a similar effort to support those working to change regimes in Tehran. Indeed, the last thing the Iran Project seems interested in is anything that seeks to undermine the despotic rule of the ayatollahs. As with those who opposed President Ronald Reagan’s labeling of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” the Iran appeasers will hear no evil about their negotiating partners even if it means whitewashing a dangerous theocracy bent on obtaining a nuclear weapon.

If a nuclear deal is signed, it will be a triumph for Luers but it will not mark a new period of understanding between Iran and the United States. Iran’s character is as unchanged as its dangerous strategic goals. The only thing that will be altered is the West’s ability to resist an Islamist regime whose nuclear ambition will, at the very least, signal the start of an era of increased instability in the Middle East and bloodshed that will be worsened by the power the appeasers are handing Tehran.

Instead of celebrating Luers, honest observers should be ignoring his advice and pleading with the president to step back from this course of appeasement before it is too late to reverse the damage to Western security that has already been caused.

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Getting Into Bed with Iran in Iraq Will Have Consequences

At first glance, the idea that Iran’s elite shock troops operating in Iraq have been ordered to avoid targeting Americans seems like good news. But as much as we should hope that U.S. personnel (reportedly some 1,600 Americans are currently there advising Iraqi and Kurdish troops) will be able to operate without interference or attack from the Iranians, Eli Lake’s story in the Daily Beast about the latest intelligence assessment about Iraq is quite troubling especially in light of the U.S. making desperate offers to get Tehran to agree to another weak nuclear deal. If, contrary to public assurances from the administration, there is any quid pro quo between the U.S. and Iran over events in Iraq and Syria, then these dealings are indicative of the long-range problems brewing for American security.

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At first glance, the idea that Iran’s elite shock troops operating in Iraq have been ordered to avoid targeting Americans seems like good news. But as much as we should hope that U.S. personnel (reportedly some 1,600 Americans are currently there advising Iraqi and Kurdish troops) will be able to operate without interference or attack from the Iranians, Eli Lake’s story in the Daily Beast about the latest intelligence assessment about Iraq is quite troubling especially in light of the U.S. making desperate offers to get Tehran to agree to another weak nuclear deal. If, contrary to public assurances from the administration, there is any quid pro quo between the U.S. and Iran over events in Iraq and Syria, then these dealings are indicative of the long-range problems brewing for American security.

According to Lake, intelligence officials believes the Islamist regime has ordered its Quds Force to lay off Americans in order to make it easier for President Obama to persuade the international community to buy into another nuclear deal with Iran. This is significant because the Quds Force has a history of being among the most dangerous terrorists forces on the planet. It helped orchestrate terror campaigns against U.S. forces in Iraq and waged war on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria and against the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan. It also has a record of involvement in international heroin trafficking.

But for the moment the fact that ISIS is at war with both the U.S. and Iran is motivating Tehran to call off its terrorist dogs with respect to the presence of Americans in Iraq. Though the U.S. has explicitly pledged to avoid making common cause with Iran about ISIS, the idea that the two countries were going to conduct operations against the group without any cooperation, whether overt or tacit, in this conflict was always far-fetched. The administration is all too happy to make nice with the Iranians in the field against ISIS but also thrilled at any sign that the Iranians are actually interested in a new nuclear deal. But the informal cease-fire between Quds operatives and Americans after years of the Iranians targeting Americans is just another indication of the problems awaiting President Obama if his attempt to broker détente with Tehran succeeds.

From the beginning of his administration, the president has been eager to put an end to decades of confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. But in order to do that he must maneuver around his pledge not to allow the Islamists to obtain a nuclear weapon. After years of failed attempts at engagement, Congress dragged him into enforcing tough sanctions on the regime and the international coalition on the issue had backed the Iranians into a corner. But his zeal for a deal caused him to squander the immense economic and military leverage over Iran and the result was last November’s interim agreement that weakened sanctions while doing little to forestall the nuclear threat. After another year of talks, the Americans appear to be cracking again and making offers that build on last year’s concessions. The Iranians have now been told that not only will they continue to be able to enrich uranium but that they can keep their infrastructure including the centrifuges that create nuclear fuel for weapons. Instead of pushing for dismantling the centrifuges, which are not needed if Iran’s goal is truly to use its program for civilian purposes, American negotiators have offered to let Tehran keep its machines but asked that they be disconnected, a “compromise” that is little more than a fig leaf on a Western surrender to Iranian demands.

The fight against ISIS has only strengthened the president’s desire to make a deal with Iran. But while both nations have an interest in seeing the terror group destroyed, the unintended consequence of the administration’s belated recognition that its retreat from American commitments in the region has created havoc is that in doing so, it will strengthen the very forces—Iranian-backed Shiite terrorists in Iraq and the Assad government and the Iranian auxiliaries such as Quds force and Hezbollah in Syria—that are seeking to extinguish American influence in the region and extend Iranian hegemony across the region at the expense of U.S. allies such as the moderate Arab nations and Israel. Enlisting the aid of the arsonist in putting out the fire rarely works well for the burning building or the firemen.

If the Iranian strategy succeeds, they will not only have suckered the U.S. into going along with a pact that will make it more likely than not that Tehran will achieve is nuclear dream without having to worry about a Western coalition strangling its economy or threatening the use of force. By the same token, the tacit recognition of the right of Iran to operate with impunity in Iraq and Syria will, in the long run, make these nations more dangerous to the West, rather than less so. If we worry about ISIS, and we should, we should be even more worried about a new balance of power in which the terrorists and drug dealers of the Quds Force will be the ones in charge.

Deals with terrorists are never good bargains except for the terrorists. Getting into bed with Iran in Iraq for the sake of a nuclear deal the West should avoid is an unforced error on Obama’s part. He needs to back away from Iran both in Iraq and at the nuclear negotiating table quickly and ditch his foolish desire for a rapprochement with a regime that is as determined to undo the West as ISIS may be. If he doesn’t, the consequences may be Iranian rule in Iraq and Syria protected by a nuclear umbrella that the president has promised will never happen.

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Appeasement of Iran Should Be Unthinkable

The secret nuclear negotiations that have been going on recently between Iran and the States have, to date, yielded no results. But given the recent statements from both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry indicating their continuing zeal for a deal with Tehran, one shouldn’t discount the possibility that sometime in the coming month or those that follows, they will yield enough to the ayatollahs to secure some kind of agreement. If so, the question Americans will have to answer is whether they want to live in a world in which the administration’s drive for détente with Iran yields a new nuclear power.

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The secret nuclear negotiations that have been going on recently between Iran and the States have, to date, yielded no results. But given the recent statements from both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry indicating their continuing zeal for a deal with Tehran, one shouldn’t discount the possibility that sometime in the coming month or those that follows, they will yield enough to the ayatollahs to secure some kind of agreement. If so, the question Americans will have to answer is whether they want to live in a world in which the administration’s drive for détente with Iran yields a new nuclear power.

The president’s rhetoric on Iran has always been good. He pledged to stop Iran when he first ran for president in 2008 and went even further in 2012 as he vowed not to terminate its nuclear program. But last year’s interim nuclear revealed that his desire to “engage” Iran is clearly greater than any fears about giving the Islamist regime the ability to achieve their nuclear ambition if they are determined to do so. Last year’s deal was achieved only by the U.S. abandoning the considerable economic and military leverage it had over Iran. If Obama is to get another, he will have to go further and gut sanctions altogether while allowing Tehran to retain its nuclear infrastructure in exchange for precautions that cannot be enforced and can easily be reversed by the Iranians. The farcical nature of some of the proposals intended to ensure that Iran will not get a bomb indicates just how desperate the U.S. is to get any sort of deal that could allow the president to pretend that he had kept his promises.

But for the moment, let’s ignore the details and just think about what it will mean for the U.S. to end Iran’s isolation. Advocates for Iran, such as New York Times columnist Roger Cohen consider a “thinkable ally.” Cohen has long been besotted with the Islamist regime, going so far in 2009 to write a series of embarrassing columns in which he sought to argue that Jews were actually treated well by one of the planet’s most anti-Semitic regimes. Now he has returned to his dream and normalizing relations with the Islamist tyranny and believes the president can make it a reality if only he will stop worrying about Iran lying about its nuclear dreams and the fact that it is the world’s leading state sponsor of Islamist terrorism.

A world in which such a result is thinkable is one in which the United States will, despite the president’s stated goal of fighting ISIS, be complicit in the transformation of the Middle East into one dominated by Iran and its allies which include Bashar Assad’s murderous Syrian regime, Hezbollah and Hamas. It is one in which both moderate Arab regimes and Israel will rightly fear for their safety and which a newly empowered Iran will be able to threaten the West with the ballistic missiles, the U.S. isn’t interested in negotiating about and a nuclear program that will be easily converted to a weapon.

Americans are rightly afraid of ISIS and applaud the president’s desire to eliminate it. But if the U.S. surrenders to Iran in the nuclear negotiations, what will follow will be far more perilous than anything that ISIS could possibly achieve. This is not something sane persons should consider “thinkable.”

In the next 24 hours, Jews around the world will observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, during which they will contemplate their shortcomings and ask forgiveness for their sins. But we hope the president and those implementing his policies toward Iran will do the same about their plans. We don’t know what the world will look like a year from now. But if the U.S. does not step back from its course of appeasement of Iran, we know it will be even more dangerous than it is now.

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With Pipe Proposal U.S. Waves White Flag on Iran Nukes

The Obama administration thinks it may have found a way to solve the nuclear standoff with Iran. But the leak of this proposal, which was clearly intended to give the impression that its foreign policy isn’t as clueless as it seems, isn’t likely to improve its public-relations problem or reduce the chances of the Iranians building a nuclear weapon. Instead, by placing a proposal which called for dismantling the pipes connecting Iran’s nuclear centrifuges while leaving their nuclear infrastructure intact, Washington is demonstrating just how desperate its position has become. That Iran isn’t biting on even this abject attempt at outreach by the administration illustrates how strong it has been allowed to become by Obama.

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The Obama administration thinks it may have found a way to solve the nuclear standoff with Iran. But the leak of this proposal, which was clearly intended to give the impression that its foreign policy isn’t as clueless as it seems, isn’t likely to improve its public-relations problem or reduce the chances of the Iranians building a nuclear weapon. Instead, by placing a proposal which called for dismantling the pipes connecting Iran’s nuclear centrifuges while leaving their nuclear infrastructure intact, Washington is demonstrating just how desperate its position has become. That Iran isn’t biting on even this abject attempt at outreach by the administration illustrates how strong it has been allowed to become by Obama.

There are two issues raised by yesterday’s New York Times story in which the idea of pipe removal was mooted as a “glimmer of hope” coming out of the negotiations that the U.S. and Iran have been holding in New York this past week during the prelude to the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations. One is the way the Obama administration’s zeal for a deal has, piece by piece, dismantled its previous positions on stopping Iran to the point where there is almost nothing left of President Obama’s campaign promises about the Iranian nuclear threat. The second is the way this proposal demonstrates the strength of the Iranian position in which Tehran feels it doesn’t need to give an inch in talks with the West.

It should first be stated that the leak of the proposal to the New York Times, and in particular its chief Washington correspondent David Sanger, was utterly predictable. For the past six years, the Times has been the beneficiary of numerous leaks from administration sources as the White House and its leading press cheerleader were always ready to help each other out. But the practice has escalated since John Kerry became secretary of state and stories under Sanger’s byline became the place to go for scoops intended to bolster the image of President Obama’s foreign-policy team. But this latest example of how the information pipeline between Foggy Bottom and the Grey Lady works isn’t likely to do much to solve the administration’s public-relations problems.

The proposal is, on its face, a devastating indictment of how far the administration has retreated from President Obama’s avowal during his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney in 2012 that he wouldn’t settle for anything less than the elimination of Iran’s nuclear program. Last November, Kerry signed an interim agreement with Iran that weakened sanctions in exchange for both a tacit Western recognition of the Islamist regime’s “right” to refine uranium and a moratorium on weapons-level refinement that could be easily reversed. Since then negotiations on a final accord have stalled because the Iranians have stood their ground and refused to dismantle their nuclear infrastructure while also stonewalling United Nations inspectors eager to learn how far their advanced efforts into military application of their nuclear technology have gone.

But rather than stick to a principled insistence on ensuring that Iran could not retain the capability to build a bomb, the U.S. has been on a path of constant retreat. If the leak to the Times is accurate, this means that Obama and Kerry have abandoned even the pretense of trying to stop Iran. If Kerry’s interim deal that left Iran the option of reconstituting its stockpile of nuclear fuel at the whim of the ayatollahs was weak, this idea of merely disconnecting pipes is a joke.

The conceit of the proposal is that if the pipes were removed, that would mean a reconstruction of the connections would take so long that it would allow the West sufficient time to respond if there were signs that Iran was violating such an agreement. The possibility that disconnecting the pipes could be even more easily reversed than other ideas for delaying an Iranian “breakout” to a bomb is fairly obvious. But even if we assume this would be a serious obstacle, without a rigorous inspection system that isn’t on the table the notion that the West would really know what was going on in Iran’s nuclear plants isn’t credible. Nor is there any assurance that an Obama administration and its allies—who are even less enthusiastic about tough sanctions on Iran—would do anything after it had supposedly “solved” the problem. While the Times claimed the point of the proposal was to allow Iran to save face under Western pressure, it is far more likely to be aimed at saving Obama’s face as he abandons his pledge against stopping Iran.

But the mere airing of such a preposterous proposal illustrates above all the weakness of the Obama administration’s position vis-à-vis Iran. As even the Times story reports, the Iranians are on the offensive in New York, hyping their opposition to ISIS as bait to further entice Obama to, as Reuters reported today, exchange their support for a campaign against the terrorist group for Western acquiescence to their nuclear ambitions.

This is an astonishing reversal of fortune from a year ago when the Obama administration could boast, with some justice, of constructing a system of international sanctions that were beginning to hurt Iran. But Obama and Kerry discarded the enormous economic and military leverage they had over Tehran in last year’s interim agreement. Now, their dubious pursuit of détente with Iran is looking even more likely after the president’s dithering on Syria and abandonment of Iraq led to the rise of ISIS.

But as much as the West needs to clean up the mess Obama helped create in Iraq and Syria with his inaction, it cannot give Iran a pass to create an even more deadly nuclear threat. An Iranian bomb is, as the president has often said, a foreign-policy “game changer” that will, at best, undermine the same Arab regimes opposed by ISIS, threaten Israel with destruction and pose a genuine danger to the West.

The ridiculous pipe proposal is one more sign that the administration is in retreat mode on Iran. But an even more worrisome sign of Iran’s strength is the contempt with which it is treating this evidence of Western appeasement.

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Iran Has Obama Cornered on Nuclear Issue

They good news out of the White House is that President Obama has no plans at present to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani next week at the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. If such a meeting were being touted, it might signal an impeding agreement between the two nations that would likely do little to avert the Iranian nuclear threat. The bad news is that Iran’s open display of defiance heading into the talks that began this week in New York is a sign that American economic and military leverage over the Islamist regime is now so slight that the most likely outcome of this latest round of diplomatic futility is for the negotiations to continue to be strung out indefinitely, something that will lead inevitably to the Iranian bomb Obama has vowed to stop.

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They good news out of the White House is that President Obama has no plans at present to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani next week at the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. If such a meeting were being touted, it might signal an impeding agreement between the two nations that would likely do little to avert the Iranian nuclear threat. The bad news is that Iran’s open display of defiance heading into the talks that began this week in New York is a sign that American economic and military leverage over the Islamist regime is now so slight that the most likely outcome of this latest round of diplomatic futility is for the negotiations to continue to be strung out indefinitely, something that will lead inevitably to the Iranian bomb Obama has vowed to stop.

As I wrote earlier this week, the European Union has already signaled that it is preparing for yet another extension of the talks past November by appointing current foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to continue to represent the EU in negotiations with Tehran. These are, of course, the talks that were supposed to have a six-month time limit so as to prevent Iran from continuing its delaying tactics that have worked so well over the past decade. But that time limit — an integral part of the interim nuclear accord signed last November by the United States and its allies with Iran — was already extended once over the summer.

That ought to mean the current talks being held in New York ought to be make or break time for an administration that spiked Congress’s attempt to strengthen economic sanctions on Iran last winter by promising that diplomacy could work without the extra leverage tougher restrictions on doing business with Tehran would give it. But in the last year the administration’s diplomatic efforts have gone nowhere on the nuclear issue. The loosening of the sanctions in the interim accord removed the West’s ace in the hole against the ayatollahs and signaled the world that Iran would soon be open for business again.

Combined with the tension between Russia and the West after the invasion of Ukraine that provided Iran with a crucial friend and you have a formula that left Tehran feeling strong enough to resist President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s entreaties to make a deal and inaugurate a new era of U.S.-Iran détente. Throw in the fact that the U.S. and Iran are allegedly now on the same side in the struggle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria (where Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad has survived and also, as Kerry said, “played footsie with ISIS”) and Iran has zero incentive to give an inch on nuclear issues.

With little hope of progress this week, Rouhani can go to New York and thumb his nose on the nuclear issue at the U.S. with impunity. That leaves President Obama’s promises about stopping Iran and letting diplomacy work without Congressional interference look hollow if not mendacious. The Iranians feel they have Obama right where they want him, knowing he has even less appetite for a confrontation with them than he does with ISIS. The terrorist group presents a clear and present danger to the nation that the administration is right to begin to address. But by neglecting the even more deadly peril from an Iranian nuke and allowing Tehran to think they have nothing to lose by stiffing the West in the talks, Obama is endangering U.S. security and setting himself up for a legacy of foreign policy catastrophe.

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Will Iraq Lead to Retreat on Iran Nukes?

If, as is now being reported, the U.S. and Iran are planning to work together to contain the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the consequences for the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy are incalculable. Given the stakes involved in the sweep through Iraq being conducted by the radical Sunni Islamists, it is clear that the Obama administration must do more than wring its hands with the president once again playing Hamlet as an international crisis gets out of control. Iran is even more heavily invested in the survival of the Shiite majority government in Baghdad, so it is likely that it will be only too happy to coordinate with the U.S.–though the ayatollahs may be about to discover that Barack Obama is a much better person to have as an adversary than as an ally. But even if the U.S. proves to be too fearful of being drawn back into a war that the president has constantly boasted of having “ended” to be of much use in Iraq, the Iranians still have a lot to gain from cooperation on this front.

As our Michael Rubin observed earlier today, past efforts at U.S.-Iran coordination in Iraq did not exactly work to the benefit of the Americans—or the Iraqis. The example he cited of what happened when Iranian auxiliaries become entrenched—as was the case in Lebanon—is very much to the point. Any hopes that the free Iraq that thousands of Americans died to create—and which seemed well within reach when George W. Bush left the presidency after his victorious surge—can be salvaged seem utterly lost. But there is another, potentially bigger problem that stems from this decision to work with Tehran that is being forgotten amid the justified concerns about the collapse of Iraq: Iran’s nuclear program.

Though the Iranians don’t wish to see the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad fall, this crisis couldn’t have come at a better time for them. After months of stonewalling the Obama administration’s efforts to craft another nuclear deal that would at least look like the West was doing something to stop Tehran’s weapons program, Iran’s leverage over Washington and its European allies has just increased exponentially.

There is plenty of blame to go around here. Critics of the U.S. invasion of Iraq are right when they point out that Iran was immeasurably strengthened by the fall of Saddam Hussein as well as by the diversion of attention from their terrorism and nuclear program. It must also be acknowledged that President Obama’s haste in fleeing from Iraq led directly to the successful revival of the Sunni insurgency.

The administration’s zeal for a deal that would end the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been no secret since it concluded an interim pact last November that tacitly recognized Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and started the unraveling of the economic sanctions that had taken years to enact and enforce. The Iraqi crisis not only strengthens Tehran’s already strong bargaining position in the continuing P5+1 talks; it also gives President Obama one more reason to seek to appease Iran rather than pressure it to make concessions on outstanding issues such as its ballistic missile program or its nuclear military research.

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If, as is now being reported, the U.S. and Iran are planning to work together to contain the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the consequences for the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy are incalculable. Given the stakes involved in the sweep through Iraq being conducted by the radical Sunni Islamists, it is clear that the Obama administration must do more than wring its hands with the president once again playing Hamlet as an international crisis gets out of control. Iran is even more heavily invested in the survival of the Shiite majority government in Baghdad, so it is likely that it will be only too happy to coordinate with the U.S.–though the ayatollahs may be about to discover that Barack Obama is a much better person to have as an adversary than as an ally. But even if the U.S. proves to be too fearful of being drawn back into a war that the president has constantly boasted of having “ended” to be of much use in Iraq, the Iranians still have a lot to gain from cooperation on this front.

As our Michael Rubin observed earlier today, past efforts at U.S.-Iran coordination in Iraq did not exactly work to the benefit of the Americans—or the Iraqis. The example he cited of what happened when Iranian auxiliaries become entrenched—as was the case in Lebanon—is very much to the point. Any hopes that the free Iraq that thousands of Americans died to create—and which seemed well within reach when George W. Bush left the presidency after his victorious surge—can be salvaged seem utterly lost. But there is another, potentially bigger problem that stems from this decision to work with Tehran that is being forgotten amid the justified concerns about the collapse of Iraq: Iran’s nuclear program.

Though the Iranians don’t wish to see the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad fall, this crisis couldn’t have come at a better time for them. After months of stonewalling the Obama administration’s efforts to craft another nuclear deal that would at least look like the West was doing something to stop Tehran’s weapons program, Iran’s leverage over Washington and its European allies has just increased exponentially.

There is plenty of blame to go around here. Critics of the U.S. invasion of Iraq are right when they point out that Iran was immeasurably strengthened by the fall of Saddam Hussein as well as by the diversion of attention from their terrorism and nuclear program. It must also be acknowledged that President Obama’s haste in fleeing from Iraq led directly to the successful revival of the Sunni insurgency.

The administration’s zeal for a deal that would end the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been no secret since it concluded an interim pact last November that tacitly recognized Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and started the unraveling of the economic sanctions that had taken years to enact and enforce. The Iraqi crisis not only strengthens Tehran’s already strong bargaining position in the continuing P5+1 talks; it also gives President Obama one more reason to seek to appease Iran rather than pressure it to make concessions on outstanding issues such as its ballistic missile program or its nuclear military research.

Earlier this year the president demonstrated that he could sell even an embarrassingly weak deal with Iran to the country by branding its critics as warmongers when they tried unsuccessfully to get Congress to pass new sanctions legislation. But if he can claim that Iran is helping out in Iraq, it will be that much easier for him to stifle criticism of the next nuclear pact even if all it does is to make it a little bit harder for Tehran to “break out” and obtain a weapon after the deal is signed. Even worse, it may provide an excuse for the administration to backtrack from his 2012 promise that he would never countenance a policy of “containment” of a nuclear Iran. Since Iran’s conduct in Iraq will be portrayed as evidence of its rationality and willingness to be part of the international community, its potential to create a nuclear arsenal will likely also be dismissed as regrettable but no great threat to U.S. security.

But any such assumption would be a tragic mistake.

If Washington were to make the leap from irresolute diplomacy to a policy shift that treated the nuclear issue as a sidebar to the more important question of Iraq, the result would make an already unstable Middle East even more dangerous for the U.S. and its allies. While the prospect of letting either parts or the entirety of Iraq fall into the hands of al-Qaeda-allied Islamists is a grim one, American acceptance of Iran’s nuclear dreams would be an even greater calamity. As President Obama has already repeatedly stated, Iranian nuclear weapons would be “a game changer” that would plunge the region into further conflict and instability even if the “rational” rulers of Tehran never used one. Iran’s network of state-sponsored international terrorists would gain a nuclear umbrella. Moderate Arab states would, at best, be endangered and would look to obtain their own nuclear option. The already remote chances of Middle East peace would be finished.

The president’s defenders may claim that he is capable of working with the ayatollahs in Iraq without abandoning his pledges never to accept an Iranian nuke. There is also no question that the administration must act expeditiously in Iraq and some coordination or at least communication about the struggle with Iran is necessary. But given that the entire thrust of U.S. diplomacy in the last year has been focused not so much on a nuclear compromise as on an effort to foster a new détente with the Islamist regime, it is difficult to imagine how the events of the last week will do anything but diminish his already flagging determination to stop Iran.

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Why Is Obama “Happy” About Rouhani’s Iran?

Though the latest nuclear talks with Iran failed to yield progress toward an agreement, the Obama administration isn’t rethinking its commitment to engagement with Iran. Having come into office determined to find a way to end the nuclear standoff, President Obama has taken every opportunity to demonstrate that he wishes to create warmer relations with Tehran, even staying largely silent while the Islamists brutally suppressed dissidents in 2009. That’s why he seized upon the faux election last summer that resulted in Hassan Rouhani becoming Iran’s president to justify the decision to trust the regime when it came to the nuclear question. Though the secret negotiations that led to a weak interim agreement with Tehran preceded that vote, Rouhani’s more moderate image has been useful in dampening outrage about the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran which seems oriented more toward détente than actually preventing the regime from attaining nuclear capability.

But yesterday we got another reminder of the naïveté of Western hopes for Rouhani’s moderation. Days after Rouhani had given speech extolling the need for greater Internet freedom in his country, Iranian police arrested six young people and paraded them on national television for the crime of creating an Internet video in which they danced and sang to Pharrell Williams’s song “Happy.” According to Hossein Sajedinia, the head of the Tehran police, the harmless video was “a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity.” But after being forced to publicly repent, and with a worldwide furor growing over their arrest, the six who appeared on screen were freed today, apparently none the worse for wear for their ordeal and humiliation, though their director is still in jail. Rouhani celebrated their release with the following tweet:

#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy

So should we be celebrating the advance of human rights in Iran today? And what has this to do with the nuclear talks?

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Though the latest nuclear talks with Iran failed to yield progress toward an agreement, the Obama administration isn’t rethinking its commitment to engagement with Iran. Having come into office determined to find a way to end the nuclear standoff, President Obama has taken every opportunity to demonstrate that he wishes to create warmer relations with Tehran, even staying largely silent while the Islamists brutally suppressed dissidents in 2009. That’s why he seized upon the faux election last summer that resulted in Hassan Rouhani becoming Iran’s president to justify the decision to trust the regime when it came to the nuclear question. Though the secret negotiations that led to a weak interim agreement with Tehran preceded that vote, Rouhani’s more moderate image has been useful in dampening outrage about the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran which seems oriented more toward détente than actually preventing the regime from attaining nuclear capability.

But yesterday we got another reminder of the naïveté of Western hopes for Rouhani’s moderation. Days after Rouhani had given speech extolling the need for greater Internet freedom in his country, Iranian police arrested six young people and paraded them on national television for the crime of creating an Internet video in which they danced and sang to Pharrell Williams’s song “Happy.” According to Hossein Sajedinia, the head of the Tehran police, the harmless video was “a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity.” But after being forced to publicly repent, and with a worldwide furor growing over their arrest, the six who appeared on screen were freed today, apparently none the worse for wear for their ordeal and humiliation, though their director is still in jail. Rouhani celebrated their release with the following tweet:

#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy

So should we be celebrating the advance of human rights in Iran today? And what has this to do with the nuclear talks?

The answer is simple. Despite Iran’s attempt to persuade the world otherwise, it remains a brutal theocracy where anything, even a simple video can land you in jail if it rubs the Islamist authorities the wrong way. Rouhani, a veteran operative of the regime, is no moderate even though he is attempting to put forward a more human face to the world than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But power—including everything having to do with the country’s nuclear project—remains in the hands of his boss, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Incidents like the arrest of the video makers are designed to chill any signs of liberalization and dissent. As such, it was quite effective since few are bold enough to risk jail and a TV perp walk on the assumption that international attention will lead to their release. Unlike the lucky six, most Iranians who are arrested by the regime don’t become a trend on Twitter and simply disappear into the bowels of Tehran’s police dungeons.

But the Obama administration may argue that even if Iran is still a tyranny, that shouldn’t affect America’s decision to enter into a nuclear agreement with it. The danger Iran poses to the rest of the world stems from their ability to create a nuclear weapon, not policies designed to repress free spirits.

But the problem with America’s nuclear diplomacy is that it is based on the idea that Iran can be trusted to keep its agreements and that the further loosening of sanctions will aid the country’s progress toward better relations with the West. Unfortunately, Iran has proven time and again that it regards agreements with foreign powers as pieces of paper that it can tear up at will. And once sanctions are lifted, there is little chance the U.S. will ever be able to persuade a reluctant Europe to stop doing business with Iran.

So in order to rationalize a plan of action that is predicated on Iran turning the page from its past as a rogue regime, the U.S. must pretend that a regime that practices religious persecution and represses even the most innocuous sign of dissent is somehow changing. That’s why the administration’s negotiators have not even tried to raise the issues of Iranian sponsorship of terrorism in the talks. The more the discussion centers on Iranian behavior—whether as a backer of terrorists or as a vicious foe of human rights—the harder it will be for the president to persuade Americans that Iran means to keep even a weak deal that will give it plenty of leeway to cheat and get to a bomb.

Thus, far from being irrelevant to the talks that have been going on in Vienna, the “happy” dancers are a reminder that Iran isn’t the country Barack Obama would like it to be. The longer Americans cling to the delusion that Rouhani has genuine power and that he really can moderate the Islamist regime, the less chance there is that they will think clearly about the nuclear threat and a diplomatic process that seems to guarantee that it won’t be averted.

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Terrorist Envoy Symbolizes “New” Iran

For those still trying to pedal the line that Iran is becoming a beacon of moderation in the region under President Rouhani, it must be deflating to learn that Iran is to appoint one of the 1979 U.S. embassy hostage takers as its new ambassador to the United Nations. Of course, this is really just one more reason to question either the judgment or the integrity of those who continue to insist that Rouhani’s Iran is a state that the West can do business with. Naturally, Monday morning’s press briefing at the State Department saw reporters eager to extract some official comment on the matter. But in the typically dismissive tone now symptomatic of State Department spokespeople, Marie Harf refused to give anything away, instead maintaining that this was a confidential visa issue; just like any other.

The man that Iran has made this supposedly unremarkable visa request on behalf of is Hamid Aboutalebi who was part of the militant group that took 52 American embassy staff hostage for 444 days in the wake of Iran’s Islamic revolution. The U.S. embassy in Tehran was seized and occupied in 1979 by the radical group Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line, of which Aboutalebi was a member. Although Aboutalebi has at times attempted to play down his role in the hostage taking–claiming that he simply acted as a translator–his picture is still displayed on the page of the group’s website that celebrates the hostage taking. Besides, Aboutalebi began working as a diplomat for the Islamic regime shortly after the revolution. He and another of the hostage takers were sent on a diplomatic mission to Algeria at a time when the country was a locus for Third World terror groups, including the PLO.

Since then Hamid Aboutalebi has had a prestigious career. He has served as the Iranian ambassador to Australia, Belgium and Italy. And it should also be noted that Aboutalebi was part of Iran’s diplomatic service under previous President Ahmadinejad. And so really his appointment to represent Iran at the UN is just another reminder that Rouhani’s administration has preserved more continuity with previous Iranian governments than it has brought change. This should hardly be considered surprising. If Rouhani had genuinely represented such a radical break then Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameini never would have allowed his name to go onto the ballot slip in the first place. Those prone to delusional levels of wishful thinking delight in parading Rouhani’s tweet wishing Jews new year’s greetings, but when it came to celebrating the revolution’s anniversary, Iranian state television broadcast simulated footage of Iran carpet bombing the Jewish state and attacking U.S. naval vessels. Rouhani’s regime is clearly lying to the West.

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For those still trying to pedal the line that Iran is becoming a beacon of moderation in the region under President Rouhani, it must be deflating to learn that Iran is to appoint one of the 1979 U.S. embassy hostage takers as its new ambassador to the United Nations. Of course, this is really just one more reason to question either the judgment or the integrity of those who continue to insist that Rouhani’s Iran is a state that the West can do business with. Naturally, Monday morning’s press briefing at the State Department saw reporters eager to extract some official comment on the matter. But in the typically dismissive tone now symptomatic of State Department spokespeople, Marie Harf refused to give anything away, instead maintaining that this was a confidential visa issue; just like any other.

The man that Iran has made this supposedly unremarkable visa request on behalf of is Hamid Aboutalebi who was part of the militant group that took 52 American embassy staff hostage for 444 days in the wake of Iran’s Islamic revolution. The U.S. embassy in Tehran was seized and occupied in 1979 by the radical group Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line, of which Aboutalebi was a member. Although Aboutalebi has at times attempted to play down his role in the hostage taking–claiming that he simply acted as a translator–his picture is still displayed on the page of the group’s website that celebrates the hostage taking. Besides, Aboutalebi began working as a diplomat for the Islamic regime shortly after the revolution. He and another of the hostage takers were sent on a diplomatic mission to Algeria at a time when the country was a locus for Third World terror groups, including the PLO.

Since then Hamid Aboutalebi has had a prestigious career. He has served as the Iranian ambassador to Australia, Belgium and Italy. And it should also be noted that Aboutalebi was part of Iran’s diplomatic service under previous President Ahmadinejad. And so really his appointment to represent Iran at the UN is just another reminder that Rouhani’s administration has preserved more continuity with previous Iranian governments than it has brought change. This should hardly be considered surprising. If Rouhani had genuinely represented such a radical break then Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameini never would have allowed his name to go onto the ballot slip in the first place. Those prone to delusional levels of wishful thinking delight in parading Rouhani’s tweet wishing Jews new year’s greetings, but when it came to celebrating the revolution’s anniversary, Iranian state television broadcast simulated footage of Iran carpet bombing the Jewish state and attacking U.S. naval vessels. Rouhani’s regime is clearly lying to the West.

It should be obvious to most that Iran appointing a former hostage taker to be its ambassador to the UN is a hostile act. It certainly would be hard work to misconstrue it as a friendly one. Yet in the West politicians have been working hard to portray Rouhani’s regime as being if not friendly, then at least reasonable; open to discussion about its illegal nuclear program. The Europeans are desperate to lift sanctions so as to resume trade with Iran, the Obama administration is desperate to avoid the use of force in confronting the coming nuclear crisis.

No wonder then that the State Department was hardly enthusiastic about discussing this. When questioned on the matter Ms Harf first sought to divert the conversation to the riveting matter of administrating visas saying, “We don’t discuss individual visa cases. People are free to apply for one, and their visas are adjudicated under the normal procedures that we adjudicate people’s. And we don’t comment and we don’t make a prediction about the outcome of what that process might look like.” When that failed to satisfy reporters, Harf tried moving the conversation along by raising the matter of the latest round of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program saying; “Those are moving forward – difficult, but businesslike and on track for the third round.” No mention of whether or not Iran’s appointment of such a man as Aboutalebi to just about the highest diplomatic office is likely to harm cooperation with the West, including on such sensitive matters as the nuclear negotiations.

Clearly Aboutalebi’s appointment is significant. Such a move would not have been taken without consideration of its implications for relations with the U.S. and the West generally. Yet this move, if it goes ahead, will undoubtedly have consequences and is just another reminder that Rouhani’s Iran really isn’t so different from Ahmadinejad’s.

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Will Obama Listen to What Iran is Saying?

Earlier this week, President Obama sent a celebratory message to the people and the leaders of Iran on the occasion of the Nowruz, the Persian New Year. The annual videotaped presidential missive was very much in the spirit of the administration’s policy toward Iran emphasizing not only holiday cheer but also a belief in the need for the U.S. and Iran to resolve their differences, especially with regard to the nuclear negotiations now going on. In doing so, the president went even further than previous statements about the talks in which he said he supported a peaceful Iranian nuclear program and predicted a deal that would strengthen the economy of the Islamist regime. Israeli President Shimon Peres also sent his own equally conciliatory message to Iran that emphasized peace.

But if either leader were expecting a friendly reply from Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, they were disappointed. Speaking earlier today to commemorate the holiday, Khamenei brushed off conciliation, attacking the idea of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, questioning the Holocaust and vowing to triumph over international sanctions.

Given Khamenei’s history of hate speech directed at both the “Great Satan” (the U.S.) and the “Little Satan” (Israel), none of this is particularly surprising. Khamenei is the embodiment of a regime saturated in hostility to the West and anti-Semitism and whose support of international terrorism and a nuclear weapon is closely tied to its ideological goals. The only mystery about this is why Americans refuse to take him seriously when he speaks in this manner.

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Earlier this week, President Obama sent a celebratory message to the people and the leaders of Iran on the occasion of the Nowruz, the Persian New Year. The annual videotaped presidential missive was very much in the spirit of the administration’s policy toward Iran emphasizing not only holiday cheer but also a belief in the need for the U.S. and Iran to resolve their differences, especially with regard to the nuclear negotiations now going on. In doing so, the president went even further than previous statements about the talks in which he said he supported a peaceful Iranian nuclear program and predicted a deal that would strengthen the economy of the Islamist regime. Israeli President Shimon Peres also sent his own equally conciliatory message to Iran that emphasized peace.

But if either leader were expecting a friendly reply from Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, they were disappointed. Speaking earlier today to commemorate the holiday, Khamenei brushed off conciliation, attacking the idea of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, questioning the Holocaust and vowing to triumph over international sanctions.

Given Khamenei’s history of hate speech directed at both the “Great Satan” (the U.S.) and the “Little Satan” (Israel), none of this is particularly surprising. Khamenei is the embodiment of a regime saturated in hostility to the West and anti-Semitism and whose support of international terrorism and a nuclear weapon is closely tied to its ideological goals. The only mystery about this is why Americans refuse to take him seriously when he speaks in this manner.

According to the Times of Israel, this is what Khamenei had to say about the Holocaust:

“The Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it’s uncertain how it has happened,” Khamenei said during his address, according to a Twitter account under his name thought to be run by his office.

“Expressing opinion about the Holocaust, or casting doubt on it, is one of the greatest sins in the West. They prevent this, arrest the doubters, try them while claiming to be a free country,” said Khamenei, who has repeatedly called the Holocaust a “myth.”

“They passionately defend their red lines … How do they expect us to overlook our red lines that are based on our revolutionary and religious beliefs.”

As much as the president insists that he has his eyes wide open when it comes to Iran, his policies toward it have always reflected a degree of naïveté about the nature of its government and an unwillingness to confront it. From his first attempts at “engagement” to his shameful silence during the 2009 repression of demonstrators in Tehran to the current interim nuclear deal that granted Iran significant concessions in return for nothing of substance from them, Obama has been consistent in his desire for a new détente with the regime.

The administration has disingenuously sought to use the victory of Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s faux presidential election last year to justify a belief in Iranian moderation but the end of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s term in office changed nothing. Holocaust denial is pervasive throughout the Iranian leadership not because they like to offend Jewish and Western sensibilities but because it is integral to their anti-Semitic worldview. Rouhani is no moderate but even if he were one, it is Khamenei who runs the country.

This week’s exchange of greetings proves again that Iran has always viewed Western efforts at appeasement with contempt. They have given every indication that they consider Obama weak and too irresolute to hold them accountable for terrorism, arms smuggling aimed at inciting Palestinian violence or their nuclear quest. Nothing Khamenei says will likely deter President Obama from pursuing a nuclear deal. But the administration must, above all, learn to take Iran at its word when it threatens genocide and or says it will never back down on the nuclear question. If not, this pointless back and forth will be merely the forerunner of even more dangerous dialogue that will be heard after the Iranians reach their nuclear goal.

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Rouhani Spikes the Ball in Obama’s Face

President Obama and his allies are working overtime this week to lobby the Senate against passage of a new round of tough sanctions on Iran. The conceit of his campaign to persuade Congress not to give him more leverage over Tehran is that even the threat of further economic pressure on the regime would cause it to scuttle more nuclear talks. According to the administration, any further sanctions would “break faith” with a country that Obama wants to do business with on the nuclear question as well as on the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

But while the president is bending over backward trying to avoid giving offense to his diplomatic dance partners, the Iranians have a very different mindset. Rather than displaying the skittish fear of blowing up the talks the president is displaying, the Iranians are spending the days after the finalization of the interim deal signed in November spiking the football in Obama’s face. That’s the only way to interpret the tweet put out this morning by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the so-called moderate whose victory in a faux election last summer was seen by the administration as a sign Iran was changing for the better, in which he said:

Our relationship with the world is based on Iranian nation’s interests. In #Geneva agreement world powers surrendered to Iranian nation’s will.

While such gloating is unseemly even for a functionary of a tyrannical regime, given the terms of the deal and the publicly stated fears of the president that Iran might flee the talks if the Senate did anything to offend them, it’s hard to argue with Rouhani’s assessment of the situation. The president and Secretary of State Kerry have represented the nuclear deal as a victory for the West since it supposedly hits the pause button on the Iranian program while maintaining almost all of the economic sanctions that brought Tehran to the negotiating table in the first place. But the Iranians, buoyed by a resurgent economy, have a very different perspective on the accord. The willingness of Iran’s leaders—both the so-called “moderates” and their “hard-line” opponents—to characterize the agreement as a triumph for Iran’s foreign-policy goals as well as its nuclear ambition makes the administration’s fear of offending them look ridiculous, not to mention downright craven.

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President Obama and his allies are working overtime this week to lobby the Senate against passage of a new round of tough sanctions on Iran. The conceit of his campaign to persuade Congress not to give him more leverage over Tehran is that even the threat of further economic pressure on the regime would cause it to scuttle more nuclear talks. According to the administration, any further sanctions would “break faith” with a country that Obama wants to do business with on the nuclear question as well as on the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

But while the president is bending over backward trying to avoid giving offense to his diplomatic dance partners, the Iranians have a very different mindset. Rather than displaying the skittish fear of blowing up the talks the president is displaying, the Iranians are spending the days after the finalization of the interim deal signed in November spiking the football in Obama’s face. That’s the only way to interpret the tweet put out this morning by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the so-called moderate whose victory in a faux election last summer was seen by the administration as a sign Iran was changing for the better, in which he said:

Our relationship with the world is based on Iranian nation’s interests. In #Geneva agreement world powers surrendered to Iranian nation’s will.

While such gloating is unseemly even for a functionary of a tyrannical regime, given the terms of the deal and the publicly stated fears of the president that Iran might flee the talks if the Senate did anything to offend them, it’s hard to argue with Rouhani’s assessment of the situation. The president and Secretary of State Kerry have represented the nuclear deal as a victory for the West since it supposedly hits the pause button on the Iranian program while maintaining almost all of the economic sanctions that brought Tehran to the negotiating table in the first place. But the Iranians, buoyed by a resurgent economy, have a very different perspective on the accord. The willingness of Iran’s leaders—both the so-called “moderates” and their “hard-line” opponents—to characterize the agreement as a triumph for Iran’s foreign-policy goals as well as its nuclear ambition makes the administration’s fear of offending them look ridiculous, not to mention downright craven.

 As the New York Times reports, the “hardliners” who are reportedly working to undermine Rouhani are actually quite pleased with what their country’s negotiators achieved in Geneva. Conservative clerics in Iran’s parliament are acknowledging that the deal sanctioned Iran’s continuing enrichment of uranium, thereby upending years of United Nations resolutions attempting to stop the practice. They also know that, despite the downplaying of these gifts by Kerry, their country received significant relief from sanctions that will make it far easier for the regime to continuing selling oil. That will keep their government afloat as well as finance Iran’s nuclear project, its interventions in Syria and Iraq, and its support of international terrorism.

What’s more, far from displaying any worry about the U.S. withdrawing these benefits, Iran’s leaders also seem to think now is a good time to rub the Americans’ faces in their disgrace. Rouhani’s foreign minister, Mohamad Javid Zarif, who was shaking hands with Kerry in Geneva in November, yesterday took time out to lay a wreath at the grave of the man who planned the terrorist attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 as well as other crimes against Americans. As Tower.org reported, Zarif paid homage to Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh in Lebanon yesterday, making clear that the new moderate government maintains the same policy priorities as the hardliners.

Of course, the revelation that the secret diplomatic back-channel talks that led to the November deal began before Rouhani’s election last summer gave the lie to the notion that the renewed talks were the result of changes on Iran’s part rather than Obama’s decision to give Tehran what it wanted. But as Elliott Abrams noted today at Pressure Points, the juxtaposition between the administration’s weakness and Iran’s chutzpah bodes ill for the next round of nuclear talks.

The Iranians have always acted as if they thought Obama was a weakling, but their brazen behavior this week demonstrates again that they think there is nothing they can do or say that could possibly provoke a reaction from Washington. While the president pulls out all the stops to prevent even the threat of future sanctions—the proposal being considered by the Senate would not go into effect until after the next round of talks fails—the Iranians are showing they will agree to nothing that will thwart their nuclear ambitions and think Obama won’t lift a finger to stop them.

Rather than bolstering the president’s effort to stop the sanctions bill, Rouhani’s tweet, Zarif’s photo op, and the general applause for the deal being sounded by Iran’s theocrats should convince the Senate to pass the sanctions bill. While Iran is unlikely to halt its  nuclear program under any circumstances, any slim hope of diplomatic success rests on a credible threat of U.S. pressure on the regime. Far from sparking conflict, the sanctions bill may be the only hope Washington has of influencing the Iranians to turn back before it’s too late.

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Iran and the U.S. Don’t Share Goals

When it comes to Iran, hopes in Washington appear to be outrunning the reality on the ground. Based on the fact that Iran has agreed to a slowdown in its nuclear program–nothing more, and even that hasn’t actually been implemented yet–many policymakers and analysts are envisioning a new alignment in which the U.S. and Iran work together for the greater good of the Middle East.

As Jonathan Tobin wrote earlier today, this New York Times article from Tehran, written by Thomas Erdbrink, is indicative of the current zeitgeist. It claims that Washington and Tehran “are being drawn together by their mutual opposition to an international movement of young Sunni fighters, who with their pickup trucks and Kalashnikovs are raising the black flag of Al Qaeda along sectarian fault lines in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.”

There is no doubt that Iran has cause to be unhappy about Sunni Islamist extremists in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon who are fighting its proxies–even going so far as to bomb the Iranian embassy in Beirut. But that is a far cry from claiming that the U.S. and Iran share identical goals in the region.

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When it comes to Iran, hopes in Washington appear to be outrunning the reality on the ground. Based on the fact that Iran has agreed to a slowdown in its nuclear program–nothing more, and even that hasn’t actually been implemented yet–many policymakers and analysts are envisioning a new alignment in which the U.S. and Iran work together for the greater good of the Middle East.

As Jonathan Tobin wrote earlier today, this New York Times article from Tehran, written by Thomas Erdbrink, is indicative of the current zeitgeist. It claims that Washington and Tehran “are being drawn together by their mutual opposition to an international movement of young Sunni fighters, who with their pickup trucks and Kalashnikovs are raising the black flag of Al Qaeda along sectarian fault lines in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.”

There is no doubt that Iran has cause to be unhappy about Sunni Islamist extremists in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon who are fighting its proxies–even going so far as to bomb the Iranian embassy in Beirut. But that is a far cry from claiming that the U.S. and Iran share identical goals in the region.

The U.S. grand objective is pretty clear: stability above all, even if many Americans disagree about whether long-term stability is better achieved by backing dictatorships or nascent democracies. Under the rubric of stability, the U.S. would specifically like to see the defeat of al-Qaeda, the end of the Iranian nuclear program, the negotiation of an accord between Israel and the Palestinians, and the end of the Syrian civil war, among other objectives.

Now what is the Iranian goal? Is it stability above all? Hardly. If that were the case, why would the Iranians be backing insurgent groups such as Hezbollah (which is receiving long-range Iranian rockets) and the opposition in Bahrain (which was the would-be recipient of a boatload of arms from Iran that was intercepted by Bahraini authorities)?

Iran is a revolutionary, not a status quo power, and its goal above all is regional hegemony. Only by accepting Iranian hegemony could the U.S. truly get on the same page as the Islamic Republic. But the cost of such acceptance would be so high (Do we truly want the Quds Force dominant in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Kabul, Bahrain, Doha, Abu Dhabi, and other capitals? Do we want to permanently alienate allies in Saudi Arabia and Israel?) that it would be unacceptable.

The U.S. and Iran can still cooperate occasionally against common foes–for example the Taliban in 2001. But absent American acceptance of Iranian hegemony such cooperation is likely to prove fleeting and inconsequential–witness more recent Iranian smuggling of arms to the Taliban. The suggestion that some kind of grand bargain is in the offing between Washington and Tehran strikes me as fanciful–unless President Obama is prepared to maker greater concessions to the Iranians that anyone can presently imagine.

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The Iranian Enemy of Our Enemy Is Also Our Enemy

Skeptics of President Obama’s attempt to engage Iran have long feared that the goal of his administration’s diplomatic efforts was a new détente with Tehran rather than bring an end to its nuclear program or to halt its support for terrorism. Even in the wake of the nuclear deal signed in Geneva in November that, astonishingly, granted tacit Western approval to Iran’s enrichment of uranium and loosened economic sanctions, the administration’s defenders scoffed at those concerned about the feckless new foreign-policy approach that seemed geared more toward warming relations with the Islamist regime than to isolating it. But Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to invite the Iranians to participate in discussions about the future of Syria—a nation which continues to be ruled by a murderous tyrant largely because of Iranian intervention on his behalf in the civil war there—in addition to the clear signals that Washington and Tehran will also be cooperating in Iraq have made it clear that détente with Iran is already a fait accompli, and not merely fodder for the speculation of pundits.

The justification for this policy is the notion that when facing a common enemy, countries otherwise at each other’s throats will prefer to cooperate. As the New York Times notes today in a front-page feature touting this new approach as reason enough to justify U.S.-Iranian amity, the renewed threat from al-Qaeda in Iraq has created a situation in which both the U.S. and Iran share a desire to see the existing governments in Iraq remain in place. To that end, it is certainly in the interests of U.S. policy to try to ensure that Iran does not destabilize the situation. But to assume that just because the ayatollahs dislike al-Qaeda the U.S. should embrace this new ally is a dangerous miscalculation. Iran may be the enemy of our enemy, but contrary to the adage now popular among the administration’s cheering section at the Times, that doesn’t make Tehran a friend. In this case, the Iranian enemy of America’s al-Qaeda enemy is also our enemy.

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Skeptics of President Obama’s attempt to engage Iran have long feared that the goal of his administration’s diplomatic efforts was a new détente with Tehran rather than bring an end to its nuclear program or to halt its support for terrorism. Even in the wake of the nuclear deal signed in Geneva in November that, astonishingly, granted tacit Western approval to Iran’s enrichment of uranium and loosened economic sanctions, the administration’s defenders scoffed at those concerned about the feckless new foreign-policy approach that seemed geared more toward warming relations with the Islamist regime than to isolating it. But Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to invite the Iranians to participate in discussions about the future of Syria—a nation which continues to be ruled by a murderous tyrant largely because of Iranian intervention on his behalf in the civil war there—in addition to the clear signals that Washington and Tehran will also be cooperating in Iraq have made it clear that détente with Iran is already a fait accompli, and not merely fodder for the speculation of pundits.

The justification for this policy is the notion that when facing a common enemy, countries otherwise at each other’s throats will prefer to cooperate. As the New York Times notes today in a front-page feature touting this new approach as reason enough to justify U.S.-Iranian amity, the renewed threat from al-Qaeda in Iraq has created a situation in which both the U.S. and Iran share a desire to see the existing governments in Iraq remain in place. To that end, it is certainly in the interests of U.S. policy to try to ensure that Iran does not destabilize the situation. But to assume that just because the ayatollahs dislike al-Qaeda the U.S. should embrace this new ally is a dangerous miscalculation. Iran may be the enemy of our enemy, but contrary to the adage now popular among the administration’s cheering section at the Times, that doesn’t make Tehran a friend. In this case, the Iranian enemy of America’s al-Qaeda enemy is also our enemy.

Before anyone hops on the bandwagon forming to welcome Iranian intervention in the widening conflict in Iraq, it’s important to remember that these same hopes were once widely expressed about Tehran’s role in stabilizing Afghanistan. Though Iran has more at stake in any battle to preserve the government of fellow Shiites in Baghdad, anyone who believes Tehran’s goal is regional stability hasn’t been paying attention to Iranian foreign policy over the last 20 years.

Iran’s goals in the Middle East have been remarkably consistent for decades. It worked hard to forge an alliance with Syria to outflank Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime with which it fought a bloody war in the 1980s. Saddam’s fall and ultimate replacement by a majority-Shiite government gave Iran the opportunity to make Iraq an ally. Tehran did its best to hamper U.S. efforts to create stability–although it ultimately acquiesced in the creation of a majority-Shiite government. When President Obama left Iraq with no structure in place to maintain U.S. interests, that too worked to Iran’s advantage. Saddam—for all his massive, homicidal villainy—did serve as a check on Iran.

But the main battle that has interested Tehran in more recent years has been the one it has waged in Syria to preserve the murderous regime of Bashar Assad. When President Obama called for Assad to leave office but failed to do anything to bring about that result, the Iranians stepped into the vacuum, sending massive amounts of military aid and deploying their auxiliaries in the form of Hezbollah shock troops to shore up a tottering Damascus government. While the West dithered, Iran’s troops turned the tide.There is little doubt that Assad’s hold on power—despite murdering more than 100,000 Syrians—is secure.

Iran’s victory in Syria combined with Hezbollah’s grip on Lebanon have created a pro-Tehran axis that threatens the security of moderate Arab governments in the region, as well as that of Israel, as much as al-Qaeda’s resurgence. Rather than a solution to America’s problems, every effort to move closer to Iran is tantamount to placing a Western imprimatur on the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism. Just as the deal signed by Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva gives Iran’s nuclear program a Western seal of approval, additional cooperation with Tehran elsewhere creates a perilous situation in which the West, in its folly, is agreeing to the existence of an Iranian sphere of influence that fundamentally alters the balance of power in the region.

Every advantage the U.S. thinks it gains from détente with Iran in the present will be paid in the future as the Islamist regime consolidates its power, especially if the diplomatic shell game Tehran is playing with Kerry leads to the complete collapse of Western economic sanctions. That is the key for the Iranians, because once that happens there will be no reassembling the reluctant coalition that the U.S. spent the last decade cobbling together.

A wise U.S. foreign policy would be one that recognizes that common ground with Iran is a Western illusion. The gap that separates the U.S. from a radical Islamist, anti-Semitic and terror-sponsoring government in Tehran, one with an openly-stated goal of annihilating the State of Israel cannot be bridged by a misguided understanding of realpolitik or the perception of shared interests in either Syria or Iraq. Dreams of détente with Iran will only lead to a nightmare Middle East in which genuine U.S. allies are left alone to deal with a genocidal Islamist nuclear regional power. The enemy of our enemy in Iraq is still our enemy.

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What Should the U.S. Ask from Iran?

The Obama administration’s decision to sign a deal with Iran has brought the differences between the U.S. and Israel on the issue of the Islamist regime’s nuclear ambitions out into the open. Much of the debate about the question has focused on the fears of the Israeli government and many Americans that an agreement that loosened sanctions while allowing Tehran to continue enriching uranium and while retaining its nuclear infrastructure will not halt Iran’s march to a weapon. Both countries have sought to minimize the argument by focusing on disagreements about negotiations or the proper timing and application of sanctions while still insisting that they share a common goal. But this may obscure a more fundamental disagreement about whether an Iran run by extremist clerics and still dedicated to spreading terror and achieving regional hegemony can be integrated into the international community.

That is the backdrop for the anger being expressed by the administration and its cheerleaders in the foreign-policy establishment at Israel’s criticisms of the Iran deal. As this analysis by Reuters explains, supporters of the administration’s policy believe the conditions being proposed by Israel about a final deal with Iran are intended to sabotage the diplomatic process. In this version of events, Reuters’ sources say Netanyahu’s attempt to get the West to force Iran not only to reduce its enrichment but also dismantle its nuclear plants, end its ballistic missile project, cease supporting terrorism and incitement against Israel, and commit to respecting human rights are “crazy maximalist demands.” In doing so, Netanyahu is seen as not only trying to derail the talks with Iran but also inciting Congress to forestall any effort to expand upon them to create a new détente between the ayatollah’s regime and the U.S. But rather than focusing solely on the administration’s frustration at Jerusalem’s efforts to slow down the administration’s rush to end the conflict, perhaps it might be a good time to ask what exactly the United States wants from Iran.

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The Obama administration’s decision to sign a deal with Iran has brought the differences between the U.S. and Israel on the issue of the Islamist regime’s nuclear ambitions out into the open. Much of the debate about the question has focused on the fears of the Israeli government and many Americans that an agreement that loosened sanctions while allowing Tehran to continue enriching uranium and while retaining its nuclear infrastructure will not halt Iran’s march to a weapon. Both countries have sought to minimize the argument by focusing on disagreements about negotiations or the proper timing and application of sanctions while still insisting that they share a common goal. But this may obscure a more fundamental disagreement about whether an Iran run by extremist clerics and still dedicated to spreading terror and achieving regional hegemony can be integrated into the international community.

That is the backdrop for the anger being expressed by the administration and its cheerleaders in the foreign-policy establishment at Israel’s criticisms of the Iran deal. As this analysis by Reuters explains, supporters of the administration’s policy believe the conditions being proposed by Israel about a final deal with Iran are intended to sabotage the diplomatic process. In this version of events, Reuters’ sources say Netanyahu’s attempt to get the West to force Iran not only to reduce its enrichment but also dismantle its nuclear plants, end its ballistic missile project, cease supporting terrorism and incitement against Israel, and commit to respecting human rights are “crazy maximalist demands.” In doing so, Netanyahu is seen as not only trying to derail the talks with Iran but also inciting Congress to forestall any effort to expand upon them to create a new détente between the ayatollah’s regime and the U.S. But rather than focusing solely on the administration’s frustration at Jerusalem’s efforts to slow down the administration’s rush to end the conflict, perhaps it might be a good time to ask what exactly the United States wants from Iran.

Dating back to his first presidential campaign, President Obama has been clear about his desire to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. There has never been any deviation from that goal in the rhetoric of the administration. But he has also been consistent in his desire not so much to strip the ayatollahs of their nuclear toys but to create a dialogue and an end to decades of confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. Obama’s desire for engagement with Iran was no secret during the 2008 campaign and was given a prominent mention in his first inaugural address. During his five years in office, Obama’s efforts to achieve engagement have been as fruitless as those of his predecessors. But the Geneva accord has given new life to the effort.

The desire for more than a nuclear deal with Iran is the only logical explanation for the hysteria emanating from the White House at the prospect of Congress passing another round of sanctions. Since the proposal being pushed by a bipartisan coalition in the Senate would do nothing more than strengthen Obama’s leverage in the talks with Iran, his threat of a veto and talk about opposing anything that would “break faith” with a regime that has never acted or negotiated in good faith seems bizarre. But if the president’s real object is not the narrow goal of ending the Iranian nuclear threat, it makes sense.

The same question applies to the anger expressed in Washington and in European capitals at Israel’s attempt to remind the West that uranium enrichment isn’t the only aspect of Iranian policy of concern.

First of all, it should be remembered that Netanyahu’s effort to get the West to force Iran to dismantle its nuclear project isn’t a new demand invented by Israel to stop the talks. It reflects President Obama’s explicit promises about the nuclear threat including this passage from his October 22, 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney:

So the work that we’ve done with respect to sanctions now offers Iran a choice. They can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program or they will have to face a united world and a United States president, me, who said we’re not going to take any options off the table.

As the president rightly indicated at that time, anything short of that would pave the way for a bomb, especially given Iran’s history of promise-breaking and America’s experience of such deals with other scofflaws like North Korea.

Just as important, a tunnel vision-like focus on the nuclear issue that ignores Iran’s ballistic weapons program would be more than shortsighted. Iran may claim the goal of its missiles is a peaceful space program, but the Islamist regime is no more interested in space than it is in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. If anything, it would be “crazy” for the U.S. to ignore the missiles that could deliver potential Iranian weapons not only to Israel but also to Western targets.

Critics of Israel claim these are unrealistic demands, but that view reflects a defeatism about diplomacy that is unwarranted. With the military and economic leverage the U.S. possesses, there is no reason to think Iran can’t be compelled to give up its nukes or missiles.

That also applies to acknowledging  the fact that Iran is a state sponsor of terror as well as understanding that another Iranian goal is to extend its sphere of influence beyond its borders throughout the Middle East via allies like Bashar Assad, Hezbollah, and perhaps even Hamas. Nor should Iran’s demonization of Israel that Jerusalem has rightly termed “genocidal” be off the table. If Iran is really changing its stripes, a dubious assertion based on the victory of Hassan Rouhani in the country’s faux presidential election last summer, then surely it is not too much to ask that it change its tune about terror and end its incitement against Israel along with its nuclear project.

Rather than carping about Israel, these are exactly the questions that both the media and Congress should be asking about the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran in the wake of the Geneva deal. Were Iran as moderate as the U.S. hopes, its nuclear program would not be so troubling. The choice with Iran is not one between war and peace. Instead, it is whether the U.S. is prepared to make its peace with an aggressive nuclear Iran or a peaceful nation that is not a threat to its Arab neighbors as well as to Israel. If the administration isn’t prepared to ask Iran to change, then the result of any nuclear deal isn’t likely to make the region or the United States safer. Even assuming the doubtful proposition that the current diplomatic effort will actually stop Iran’s weapons program, a nuclear deal that leaves the ayatollah’s missiles, terror, and hate in place is an open invitation to future conflict, not peace or détente.

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Enrichment Leaves Iran Path to the Bomb

The U.S. foreign-policy establishment has been adamant in its support for President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. They believe criticism of the accord reached in Geneva from Israel and Americans who worry the president has thrown away the West’s economic leverage in pursuit of a foolish hope of détente with the Islamist regime is wrong because the deal is a reasonable first step toward ending the threat of a bomb. If America’s policy were actually to achieve that end and conclusively forestall any hope of an Iranian bomb, that establishment consensus will prove to be correct. But unfortunately the indications coming out of Washington make those assumptions look silly.

Though it didn’t make headlines, the confirmation that any follow-up deal with Iran will protect their “right” to enrich uranium is the worst sign that the ultimate conclusion to this story won’t wind up making Obama and his cheerleaders look too smart. The Washington Free Beacon first reported yesterday that the administration was exploring ways to craft a nuclear agreement that would give Iran its own “domestic” enrichment program:

“Over the next six months, we will explore, in practical terms, whether and how Iran might end up with a limited, tightly constrained, and intensively monitored civilian nuclear program, including domestic enrichment,” White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman Caitlin Hayden told the Washington Free Beacon.

“Any such program,” she said, “would be subject to strict and verifiable curbs on its capacity and stockpiles of enriched uranium for a significant number of years and tied to practical energy needs that will remain minimal for years to come.”

But the problem with the curbs any such deal would put in place is that they could be easily and quickly evaded in any nuclear breakout toward a bomb. By leaving Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place and giving them the ability to build up their stockpile of nuclear fuel, the West is relying on monitoring, inspections, and agreements to ensure that won’t happen. But the only way to ensure that it won’t is to insist on Iran dismantling its centrifuges and exporting its hoard of enriched uranium. By not only tacitly acknowledging Iran’s enrichment in the current deal and then also openly saying that it won’t insist on those practical measures in follow-up talks, the administration is dooming any hope that its strategy will achieve the objective of preventing an Islamist nuke.

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The U.S. foreign-policy establishment has been adamant in its support for President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. They believe criticism of the accord reached in Geneva from Israel and Americans who worry the president has thrown away the West’s economic leverage in pursuit of a foolish hope of détente with the Islamist regime is wrong because the deal is a reasonable first step toward ending the threat of a bomb. If America’s policy were actually to achieve that end and conclusively forestall any hope of an Iranian bomb, that establishment consensus will prove to be correct. But unfortunately the indications coming out of Washington make those assumptions look silly.

Though it didn’t make headlines, the confirmation that any follow-up deal with Iran will protect their “right” to enrich uranium is the worst sign that the ultimate conclusion to this story won’t wind up making Obama and his cheerleaders look too smart. The Washington Free Beacon first reported yesterday that the administration was exploring ways to craft a nuclear agreement that would give Iran its own “domestic” enrichment program:

“Over the next six months, we will explore, in practical terms, whether and how Iran might end up with a limited, tightly constrained, and intensively monitored civilian nuclear program, including domestic enrichment,” White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman Caitlin Hayden told the Washington Free Beacon.

“Any such program,” she said, “would be subject to strict and verifiable curbs on its capacity and stockpiles of enriched uranium for a significant number of years and tied to practical energy needs that will remain minimal for years to come.”

But the problem with the curbs any such deal would put in place is that they could be easily and quickly evaded in any nuclear breakout toward a bomb. By leaving Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place and giving them the ability to build up their stockpile of nuclear fuel, the West is relying on monitoring, inspections, and agreements to ensure that won’t happen. But the only way to ensure that it won’t is to insist on Iran dismantling its centrifuges and exporting its hoard of enriched uranium. By not only tacitly acknowledging Iran’s enrichment in the current deal and then also openly saying that it won’t insist on those practical measures in follow-up talks, the administration is dooming any hope that its strategy will achieve the objective of preventing an Islamist nuke.

Most of the discussion about uranium has focused on the efforts of Western negotiators to get the Iranians to agree not to enrich up to 20 percent or higher, the threshold at which the material becomes suited for military purposes rather than civilian energy production or research. Thus we are told that accords that limit Iranian enrichment to below five percent is the magic bullet that will prevent the nightmare of an Iranian bomb. But what those putting this message out consistently fail to say is that uranium enriched at low levels could be refined to get to the far higher percentage needed for a bomb. While the process to do this is not done in the snap of a finger, such a breakout is not a long-term project. With enough centrifuges—and the Iranians already have enough—it would only take a matter of weeks. The interim agreement President Obama got the Iranians to sign only lengthens that breakout period to a matter of weeks.

What all this means is that if the final agreement that the administration is hoping to get Iran to sign leaves them the ability to keep enriching uranium and the equipment to perform a breakout, the entire concept is based more on trusting the Iranians to keep their promises than anything else. Indeed, with the U.S. stating this openly now, there is no reason for the Iranians not to plan on breaking out whenever they think the time is right.

Perhaps President Obama is hoping that moment will come in 2017 or later when he is safely out of office and can hope to evade the blame for such a disaster. But whenever it happens—and given the importance the ayatollahs have placed on their nuclear quest, in the absence of measures that would actually prevent it, there is no reason to think it won’t eventually happen—there should be no doubt about what led to such a result.

The West entered negotiations with Iran with all the advantages on its side: tough economic sanctions that crippled its economy and a credible military threat from either the U.S. or Israel to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities if the ayatollahs remained obdurate. But instead of using that edge to force the Iranians to dismantle their program, President Obama opted instead to act as if he had no choice but to bow to Iran’s demands. The alternative to appeasement wasn’t war but more pressure on Iran to get an outcome that would end the nuclear threat. Instead the president has chosen to leave the Iranians a path to a weapon in the hope that diplomacy could achieve a genuine détente with a terrorist-sponsoring regime that spews hate and hostility to the West. By agreeing to enrichment, Obama is leaving a loophole a mile wide for the Iranians to push through to a bomb.

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Who Let Iran Get So Close to a Nuke?

The smoke signals coming from the first session of the reconvened P5+1 talks in Geneva today don’t tell us much about whether Iran’s charm offensive is succeeding. The Iranians presented a plan to the group of negotiators representing the members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany that will do little to alter their drive to gain a nuclear weapon. Tehran is counting on the ardent desire of the Obama administration for an end to the confrontation over the issue echoed by some (though perhaps not all) of its European partners to enable them to at least draw out the negotiations over the coming months if not to fool the West into signing onto a deal that will be easily evaded by the ayatollahs.

So far, we have little indication as to whether the U.S. is willing to accept the sort of “bad deal” that Secretary of State John Kerry, let alone Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, has warned against. But there is one thing that we know. The reason why the negotiations are so critical is that over the past several years Iran has made so much progress toward the completion of a bomb that there isn’t time for a long drawn out diplomatic process. As the New York Times reports:

On Monday, a senior American official said that the United States wanted Iran to take steps that were “transparent and verifiable” to constrain its program and to assure the West that it was not intending to produce a nuclear bomb.

Iran’s nuclear efforts had advanced so much, the American official added, that Iran needed to take stops now to halt or even reverse its nuclear program so there was time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.

It’s fair to point out that American officials have spent the last five years persuading those who are worried about the nuclear threat reassuring us that there is plenty of time to talk about it and that the “window of diplomacy” was still open. To that end, the Obama administration has wasted years on laughable attempts to engage the Islamist regime and on diplomacy aimed at assembling a weak international coalition willing to impose sanctions on Iran and a diplomatic process that consistently flopped. Thus, if Iran is so much closer to realizing its dream of obtaining a genocidal weapon and making diplomacy difficult it is only because they have successfully manipulated a U.S. administration that wanted to be deceived. That’s something to be taken into consideration as we observe the ability of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to persuade the West to restart diplomacy almost as if the past decade of talks had never occurred.

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The smoke signals coming from the first session of the reconvened P5+1 talks in Geneva today don’t tell us much about whether Iran’s charm offensive is succeeding. The Iranians presented a plan to the group of negotiators representing the members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany that will do little to alter their drive to gain a nuclear weapon. Tehran is counting on the ardent desire of the Obama administration for an end to the confrontation over the issue echoed by some (though perhaps not all) of its European partners to enable them to at least draw out the negotiations over the coming months if not to fool the West into signing onto a deal that will be easily evaded by the ayatollahs.

So far, we have little indication as to whether the U.S. is willing to accept the sort of “bad deal” that Secretary of State John Kerry, let alone Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, has warned against. But there is one thing that we know. The reason why the negotiations are so critical is that over the past several years Iran has made so much progress toward the completion of a bomb that there isn’t time for a long drawn out diplomatic process. As the New York Times reports:

On Monday, a senior American official said that the United States wanted Iran to take steps that were “transparent and verifiable” to constrain its program and to assure the West that it was not intending to produce a nuclear bomb.

Iran’s nuclear efforts had advanced so much, the American official added, that Iran needed to take stops now to halt or even reverse its nuclear program so there was time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.

It’s fair to point out that American officials have spent the last five years persuading those who are worried about the nuclear threat reassuring us that there is plenty of time to talk about it and that the “window of diplomacy” was still open. To that end, the Obama administration has wasted years on laughable attempts to engage the Islamist regime and on diplomacy aimed at assembling a weak international coalition willing to impose sanctions on Iran and a diplomatic process that consistently flopped. Thus, if Iran is so much closer to realizing its dream of obtaining a genocidal weapon and making diplomacy difficult it is only because they have successfully manipulated a U.S. administration that wanted to be deceived. That’s something to be taken into consideration as we observe the ability of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to persuade the West to restart diplomacy almost as if the past decade of talks had never occurred.

While the details of the Iranian proposal were not made public, the regime’s representatives have made it clear that they have no intention of exporting their existing stockpile of enriched uranium or of halting their production of more nuclear fuel. But even if the West rejects, as they likely will, the Iranian proposal, there is little doubt that the talks will continue. But the Iranians have already scored a triumph by getting the U.S. to concede their right to a nuclear program, as President Obama said at the United Nations last month, albeit one whose purpose is peaceful. So long as Iran keeps enriching and their existing supply remains within their borders, they retain the capacity to quickly repossess it and get it up to military grade thus rendering the safeguards proposed by Western negotiators meaningless.

Most of those pushing for the new talks because of their belief in Rouhani’s supposed moderation have emphasized the need to turn the page on the failure of past diplomatic endeavors with Iran. But it is precisely because the Iranians have been so good at deceiving the West before that skepticism should be the main theme of American diplomacy with Iran.

This is, after all, not the first time that a president came into office determined to push diplomacy on this issue. When President Obama arrived at the White House in January 2009, he acted as if his predecessor had never tried to reach out to the Iranians. Though the Iranians had repeatedly stiffed the Bush administration’s efforts to cut a nuclear deal with them (with Rouhani being the point man in the deception at one point), President Obama insisted that the U.S. had to restart the process at square one as his outreach efforts were employed.

If rather than ignoring the past in 2009, Obama had built upon the experiences of the past the U.S. might not be in the difficult position in which it now finds itself with little margin for error when it comes to Iran. Had tough sanctions been imposed in 2009 rather than waiting until 2012, not only would the Islamist regime be far weaker, they would also be approaching nuclear talks without having used that time to build up its supply of enriched uranium.

The point of rehashing this history is not so much to blame the president for leaving the world so little margin of error on this threat — though he certainly deserves it — but to illustrate that there is a high price to pay for mistakes. Giving the diplomats more time to fail is not, as the administration seems to think, a cost-free exercise. Having spent five years failing to halt Iran, the same president is now embarking on a diplomatic process that may well prove to be open-ended and unlikely to succeed. Another such triumph for Iran may take the U.S. to the point where it may well be too late to use force to stop the Iranians. If so, instead of merely chalking that up to Iranian bad faith, we would do well to hold accountable those in the West that made this possible.

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