Commentary Magazine


Topic: UN Security Council

Flotsam and Jetsam

The exception to the rule that I never mention poetry.

Dan Coats takes a big lead in Indiana. “Newly chosen Republican nominee Dan Coats earns 51% support while his Democratic rival Brad Ellsworth’s attracts 36% in the first Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of the Indiana Senate race following Tuesday’s GOP Primary.”

A huge majority — 60 to 32 percent — still favor offshore drilling. And that’s in the Daily Kos poll.

When more people get hired, more enter the job market, and there aren’t enough new jobs to absorb them. So despite 290,000 new jobs: “The unemployment rate, however, crept up to 9.9 percent in April from 9.7 percent in March, mostly the government said, because about 805,000 people joined the labor force either working or looking for work. Yet in a sign that many will not be able to find a job even as the economy improves, the number of people who have been out of work for more than six months hit 6.7 million, nearly 46 percent of the unemployed.”

The result of 15 months of Obama’s Iran policy: “Iran will not stop enriching uranium and has a right to pursue atomic technology, the country’s foreign minister told UN Security Council diplomats at a private dinner. A US official familiar with Thursday night’s meeting in New York told The Associated Press that Manouchehr Mottaki was defiant in the face of demands that Iran halt the process that can produce fuel for a nuclear weapon. … Mottaki said Iran would not suspend uranium enrichment, according to the US official. The foreign minister said that position was firm and would not change even if Iran accepted a proposal to send uranium from a medical research reactor in Teheran abroad for reprocessing, the official said Friday.”

Maybe it is because, as Israel’s UN Ambassador says, the sanctions under contemplation “are not going to be crippling. … They’re not even going to be biting. … They’re going to be moderate, watered down, diluted.”

Eric Holder only allows career employees with nice things to say about the administration to speak up. “So here were two customs officers speaking on national television about what they did in this case, revealing to the world (and any terrorist networks) the strengths and weaknesses of our airline-security system. They obviously could not appear without having gotten permission from the highest levels of the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, which is handling the prosecution of this case. Yet Eric Holder refuses to let his front-line Voting Section employees talk about what happened in the New Black Panther case (even purely factual matters having nothing to due with any DOJ deliberations), unlawfully defying subpoenas from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.”

Ronald Brownstein is surprised: “The great political surprise of Obama’s presidency is that amid these hard times, the electorate has directed its frustration less against Big Business (though it is hardly popular) than against Big Government, especially as Obama has aggressively expanded Washington’s reach in response to the economic crisis.” I think it’s because Obama has aggressively expanded Washington’s reach.

The exception to the rule that I never mention poetry.

Dan Coats takes a big lead in Indiana. “Newly chosen Republican nominee Dan Coats earns 51% support while his Democratic rival Brad Ellsworth’s attracts 36% in the first Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of the Indiana Senate race following Tuesday’s GOP Primary.”

A huge majority — 60 to 32 percent — still favor offshore drilling. And that’s in the Daily Kos poll.

When more people get hired, more enter the job market, and there aren’t enough new jobs to absorb them. So despite 290,000 new jobs: “The unemployment rate, however, crept up to 9.9 percent in April from 9.7 percent in March, mostly the government said, because about 805,000 people joined the labor force either working or looking for work. Yet in a sign that many will not be able to find a job even as the economy improves, the number of people who have been out of work for more than six months hit 6.7 million, nearly 46 percent of the unemployed.”

The result of 15 months of Obama’s Iran policy: “Iran will not stop enriching uranium and has a right to pursue atomic technology, the country’s foreign minister told UN Security Council diplomats at a private dinner. A US official familiar with Thursday night’s meeting in New York told The Associated Press that Manouchehr Mottaki was defiant in the face of demands that Iran halt the process that can produce fuel for a nuclear weapon. … Mottaki said Iran would not suspend uranium enrichment, according to the US official. The foreign minister said that position was firm and would not change even if Iran accepted a proposal to send uranium from a medical research reactor in Teheran abroad for reprocessing, the official said Friday.”

Maybe it is because, as Israel’s UN Ambassador says, the sanctions under contemplation “are not going to be crippling. … They’re not even going to be biting. … They’re going to be moderate, watered down, diluted.”

Eric Holder only allows career employees with nice things to say about the administration to speak up. “So here were two customs officers speaking on national television about what they did in this case, revealing to the world (and any terrorist networks) the strengths and weaknesses of our airline-security system. They obviously could not appear without having gotten permission from the highest levels of the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, which is handling the prosecution of this case. Yet Eric Holder refuses to let his front-line Voting Section employees talk about what happened in the New Black Panther case (even purely factual matters having nothing to due with any DOJ deliberations), unlawfully defying subpoenas from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.”

Ronald Brownstein is surprised: “The great political surprise of Obama’s presidency is that amid these hard times, the electorate has directed its frustration less against Big Business (though it is hardly popular) than against Big Government, especially as Obama has aggressively expanded Washington’s reach in response to the economic crisis.” I think it’s because Obama has aggressively expanded Washington’s reach.

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Less Engagement on the Middle East, Please

It was George W. Bush’s supposed “cowboy diplomacy” — high-handed, unilateral, and dismissive of valued allies — that incurred the ire of the left. (Never mind that we had warm relations with Europe, Israel, India, and other democracies.) Yet it is Obama who is unrivaled when it comes to shunning allies. If consensus with allies was really the order of the day in the Obama era, we would not have pulled the rug out from our Eastern European allies, repeatedly snubbed the Brits, irritated the French, bullied the Hondurans, and assaulted the Israelis. Jackson Diehl observes:

Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been defined so far by his attempts to “engage” with adversaries or rivals of the United States, such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. The results have been mixed. But now the president’s focus is visibly shifting. In the next 18 months, Obama’s record abroad will be made or broken by his ability to do business with two nominal U.S. allies: Hamid Karzai and Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Obami of late have tried to repair the frayed relationship with Karzai but have shown no indication that they desire a more hospitable relationship with Bibi. Diehl speculates that perhaps it was “hubris from health care that brought on this burst of presidential imperialism” that precipitated the public war of words with both Karzai and Bibi. But there is, I think, a fundamental  difference between the assault on each leader and the clean-up-the-mess gambit that has followed.

With Karzai, it appears that the Obami reacted out of pique and with the nastiness that surfaces whenever — be it a foreign leader, a cable-news network, or a Supreme Court justice — they are confronted with insufficiently obsequious rivals. But with regard to Karzai, the verbal fisticuffs did not imply a change of policy. The Obami are not pulling up stakes, at least not yet, in Afghanistan and seem committed, at least for the balance of Obama’s 18-month time frame, to achieving success.

Bibi is a different story. Here the deliberate and sustained assault (from the fit over Jerusalem housing to the threats of an imposed peace plan and an abstention in the UN Security  Council) suggests that more than personal ire or irritation is at play. Here Obama plainly intends — he’s told us as much — a change in American policy. The charm offensive is meant to quiet domestic Jewish opinion, not to repair or moderate its stance toward the Jewish state.

Diehl argues that a personal failing on Obama’s part is at the root of these conflicts. (“Public bullying won’t do it. Assurances of U.S. support and stroking by special envoys go only so far. What’s missing is personal chemistry and confidence, the construction of a bond between leaders that can persuade a U.S. ally to take a risk; in other words, presidential ‘engagement.’ Isn’t that what Obama promised?”) But with regard to Israel, there is something far more fundamental at issue. Despite the PR offensive, Obama’s goal is not to re-establish a more robust relationship with the Jewish state; it is merely to mask the animus that bubbled to the surface over the past two months. It is not through neglect that relations with Israel have been strained — it is by design. We therefore should not expect that increased presidential attention will result in an improved U.S.-Israel relationship. Frankly, the more Obama focuses on Israel, the more damage to the relationship is likely to occur. At this point, benign neglect would be a welcome development.

It was George W. Bush’s supposed “cowboy diplomacy” — high-handed, unilateral, and dismissive of valued allies — that incurred the ire of the left. (Never mind that we had warm relations with Europe, Israel, India, and other democracies.) Yet it is Obama who is unrivaled when it comes to shunning allies. If consensus with allies was really the order of the day in the Obama era, we would not have pulled the rug out from our Eastern European allies, repeatedly snubbed the Brits, irritated the French, bullied the Hondurans, and assaulted the Israelis. Jackson Diehl observes:

Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been defined so far by his attempts to “engage” with adversaries or rivals of the United States, such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. The results have been mixed. But now the president’s focus is visibly shifting. In the next 18 months, Obama’s record abroad will be made or broken by his ability to do business with two nominal U.S. allies: Hamid Karzai and Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Obami of late have tried to repair the frayed relationship with Karzai but have shown no indication that they desire a more hospitable relationship with Bibi. Diehl speculates that perhaps it was “hubris from health care that brought on this burst of presidential imperialism” that precipitated the public war of words with both Karzai and Bibi. But there is, I think, a fundamental  difference between the assault on each leader and the clean-up-the-mess gambit that has followed.

With Karzai, it appears that the Obami reacted out of pique and with the nastiness that surfaces whenever — be it a foreign leader, a cable-news network, or a Supreme Court justice — they are confronted with insufficiently obsequious rivals. But with regard to Karzai, the verbal fisticuffs did not imply a change of policy. The Obami are not pulling up stakes, at least not yet, in Afghanistan and seem committed, at least for the balance of Obama’s 18-month time frame, to achieving success.

Bibi is a different story. Here the deliberate and sustained assault (from the fit over Jerusalem housing to the threats of an imposed peace plan and an abstention in the UN Security  Council) suggests that more than personal ire or irritation is at play. Here Obama plainly intends — he’s told us as much — a change in American policy. The charm offensive is meant to quiet domestic Jewish opinion, not to repair or moderate its stance toward the Jewish state.

Diehl argues that a personal failing on Obama’s part is at the root of these conflicts. (“Public bullying won’t do it. Assurances of U.S. support and stroking by special envoys go only so far. What’s missing is personal chemistry and confidence, the construction of a bond between leaders that can persuade a U.S. ally to take a risk; in other words, presidential ‘engagement.’ Isn’t that what Obama promised?”) But with regard to Israel, there is something far more fundamental at issue. Despite the PR offensive, Obama’s goal is not to re-establish a more robust relationship with the Jewish state; it is merely to mask the animus that bubbled to the surface over the past two months. It is not through neglect that relations with Israel have been strained — it is by design. We therefore should not expect that increased presidential attention will result in an improved U.S.-Israel relationship. Frankly, the more Obama focuses on Israel, the more damage to the relationship is likely to occur. At this point, benign neglect would be a welcome development.

Read Less

Hillary Speaks to the AJC

Last night Hillary Clinton spoke to the AJC gala in Washington D.C. Her speech is a hodgepodge of platitudes and reveals how sharply the Obami’s rhetoric departs from their policies — the inevitable result of a disingenuous “charm” offensive that seeks to soothe domestic critics of their assault on Israel while continuing their disastrous approach to the Middle East.

She began, as she did with AIPAC, with a series of fluffy assurances, which bear no relationship to the Obami’s actions:

We Americans may never fully understand the implications of this history on the daily lives of Israelis – the worry that a mother feels watching a child board a school bus or a child watching a parent go off to work. But we know deep in our souls that we have an unshakable bond and we will always stand not just with the Government of Israel but with the people of Israel. (Applause.)

Lovely sentiments but disconnected from their recent conduct. Was she feeling that unshakable bond deep in her soul when she chewed out Bibi for 43 minutes and instructed her State Department flack to relate the tongue-lashing to the entire world? Did Obama think he was standing with the government of Israel when he treated its prime minister with appalling rudeness?

Next, Hillary defends the administration’s defense of Israel in international institutions:

That is why the United States is fighting against anti-Semitism in international institutions — our special envoy for anti-Semitism is traveling the world as we speak, raising the issue at the highest levels of countries from one end of the world to the next. It is why we led the boycott of the Durban Conference. (Applause.) It is why we repeatedly and vigorously voted against and spoke out against the Goldstone Report. (Applause.) And it is why we have worked to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge, providing nearly $3 billion in annual military assistance. When I became Secretary of State, I asked my longtime defense and foreign policy advisor from my years in the Senate, Andrew Shapiro, to personally manage our defense consultations with Israel. And today, I am proud to say our partnership is broader, deeper, and more intense than ever before. (Applause.)

That envoy would be the one who slapped down Michael Oren, not exactly the sort of defender Israel needs. And as for the UN, she doesn’t of course bring up the anti-Israel resolution we failed to block or explain how our presence on the UN Human Rights Council or our muteness on the admission of Iran to the Commission on the Status of Women helps Israel’s cause.

She defensively repeats Obama’s retort that there is “‘noise and distortion’ about this Administration’s approach in the Middle East.” It’s all a grand misunderstanding, you see. Weren’t we listening, she says, when she went to AIPAC and told us how devoted she was to the Jewish state? Weren’t we listening when she made another speech at the Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace? It is quite telling that her “defense” in the face of criticism is to cite her own pablum-filled speeches. This, she imagines, should put the whole matter to rest.

She then repeats the flawed premise of the Obami’s Middle East policy, namely:

Well, tonight I want to focus on the regional threats to Israel’s security and the imperative of reaching a comprehensive regional peace that will help defuse those threats. Because without a comprehensive regional peace, the Middle East will never unlock its full potential, and Israel will never be truly secure. Pursuing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and its neighbors can be a mutually reinforcing process, and today it is more essential than ever to make progress on all tracks.

This falsely assumes that Iran’s nuclear threat will melt when peace breaks out with the Palestinians. It assumes that Assad and his Hezbollah surrogates will no longer threaten Israel once the peace deal is inked. In short, it ignores reality — both the impossibility of a peace deal in the near future and the lack of relevance such a deal has to Israel’s most pressing challenge: the existential threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran.

Remarkably, she then undermines her own case by pointing to Syria (Assad is going to be impressed with proximity talks? He’ll rein in Hezbollah as soon as Israel gives up the Old City?) and offering only words, again disconnected from reality and the Obami’s actions:

We have spoken out forcefully about the grave dangers of Syria’s transfer of weapons to Hezbollah. We condemn this in the strongest possible terms and have expressed our concerns directly to the Syrian Government. Transferring weapons to these terrorists — especially longer-range missiles – would pose a serious threat to the security of Israel. It would have a profoundly destabilizing effect on the region. And it would absolutely violate UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans the unauthorized importation of any weapons into Lebanon.

We do not accept such provocative and destabilizing behavior — nor should the international community. President Assad is making decisions that could mean war or peace for the region. We know he’s hearing from Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. It is crucial that he also hear directly from us, so that the potential consequences of his actions are clear. That’s why we are sending an ambassador back to Syria. There should be no mistake, either in Damascus or anywhere else: The United States is not reengaging with Syria as a reward or a concession. Engagement is a tool that can give us added leverage and insight, and a greater ability to convey strong and unmistakably clear messages aimed at Syria’s leadership. (Applause.)

Here we go again with “accept” (the Obami’s favorite word when they are doing nothing about a disagreeable situation) — we don’t accept it, but what are we doing about it? How does “engagement” not appear as a reward or a concession? And wouldn’t a military strike on those rockets be a superior method of conveying a strong and unmistakably clear message to Syria’s leadership, rather than dispatch an ambassador to glad-hand with Assad?

Her discussion of Iran consists of a single, terse paragraph in which she admits we’ve accomplished nothing by engagement but aren’t doing much else. And there is again no mention of “all options” remaining at our disposal to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Iran, with its anti-Semitic president and hostile nuclear ambitions, also continues to threaten Israel, but it also threatens the region and it sponsors terrorism against many. The United States has worked with the international community to present the leaders in Tehran with a clear choice: Uphold your international obligations and reap the benefits of normal relations, or face increased isolation and painful consequences. At every turn, Iran has met our outstretched hand with a clenched fist. But our engagement has helped build a growing global consensus on the need to pressure Iran’s leaders to change course. We are now working with our partners at the United Nations to craft tough new sanctions. The United States is committed to pursuing this diplomatic path. But we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. (Applause.)

She then prattles on, paragraph after paragraph, describing the wonders of the peace process. On Jerusalem she sidesteps all the condemning and the administration’s reneging on prior agreements with another bit of sly puffery. (“The United States recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply, profoundly, important issue for Israelis and Palestinians, for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. And we believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem and safeguards its status for people around the world.”) So why demand a unilateral concession from Israel now, in advance of any negotiations?

All in all, the speech is a vivid example of the degree to which the Obami are willing and able to divorce rhetoric from action, and policy from reality. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if the “applause” reflects genuine enthusiasm for her display of hypocrisy. If so, it’s confirmation that American Jewry — at least those represented by organizations like the AJC — is eager to be sold a bill of goods. Meanwhile, the administration undermines sanctions, threatens an imposed peace deal, and dawdles on the Scud missiles. But they’ve got a heck of a PR plan.

Last night Hillary Clinton spoke to the AJC gala in Washington D.C. Her speech is a hodgepodge of platitudes and reveals how sharply the Obami’s rhetoric departs from their policies — the inevitable result of a disingenuous “charm” offensive that seeks to soothe domestic critics of their assault on Israel while continuing their disastrous approach to the Middle East.

She began, as she did with AIPAC, with a series of fluffy assurances, which bear no relationship to the Obami’s actions:

We Americans may never fully understand the implications of this history on the daily lives of Israelis – the worry that a mother feels watching a child board a school bus or a child watching a parent go off to work. But we know deep in our souls that we have an unshakable bond and we will always stand not just with the Government of Israel but with the people of Israel. (Applause.)

Lovely sentiments but disconnected from their recent conduct. Was she feeling that unshakable bond deep in her soul when she chewed out Bibi for 43 minutes and instructed her State Department flack to relate the tongue-lashing to the entire world? Did Obama think he was standing with the government of Israel when he treated its prime minister with appalling rudeness?

Next, Hillary defends the administration’s defense of Israel in international institutions:

That is why the United States is fighting against anti-Semitism in international institutions — our special envoy for anti-Semitism is traveling the world as we speak, raising the issue at the highest levels of countries from one end of the world to the next. It is why we led the boycott of the Durban Conference. (Applause.) It is why we repeatedly and vigorously voted against and spoke out against the Goldstone Report. (Applause.) And it is why we have worked to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge, providing nearly $3 billion in annual military assistance. When I became Secretary of State, I asked my longtime defense and foreign policy advisor from my years in the Senate, Andrew Shapiro, to personally manage our defense consultations with Israel. And today, I am proud to say our partnership is broader, deeper, and more intense than ever before. (Applause.)

That envoy would be the one who slapped down Michael Oren, not exactly the sort of defender Israel needs. And as for the UN, she doesn’t of course bring up the anti-Israel resolution we failed to block or explain how our presence on the UN Human Rights Council or our muteness on the admission of Iran to the Commission on the Status of Women helps Israel’s cause.

She defensively repeats Obama’s retort that there is “‘noise and distortion’ about this Administration’s approach in the Middle East.” It’s all a grand misunderstanding, you see. Weren’t we listening, she says, when she went to AIPAC and told us how devoted she was to the Jewish state? Weren’t we listening when she made another speech at the Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace? It is quite telling that her “defense” in the face of criticism is to cite her own pablum-filled speeches. This, she imagines, should put the whole matter to rest.

She then repeats the flawed premise of the Obami’s Middle East policy, namely:

Well, tonight I want to focus on the regional threats to Israel’s security and the imperative of reaching a comprehensive regional peace that will help defuse those threats. Because without a comprehensive regional peace, the Middle East will never unlock its full potential, and Israel will never be truly secure. Pursuing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and its neighbors can be a mutually reinforcing process, and today it is more essential than ever to make progress on all tracks.

This falsely assumes that Iran’s nuclear threat will melt when peace breaks out with the Palestinians. It assumes that Assad and his Hezbollah surrogates will no longer threaten Israel once the peace deal is inked. In short, it ignores reality — both the impossibility of a peace deal in the near future and the lack of relevance such a deal has to Israel’s most pressing challenge: the existential threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran.

Remarkably, she then undermines her own case by pointing to Syria (Assad is going to be impressed with proximity talks? He’ll rein in Hezbollah as soon as Israel gives up the Old City?) and offering only words, again disconnected from reality and the Obami’s actions:

We have spoken out forcefully about the grave dangers of Syria’s transfer of weapons to Hezbollah. We condemn this in the strongest possible terms and have expressed our concerns directly to the Syrian Government. Transferring weapons to these terrorists — especially longer-range missiles – would pose a serious threat to the security of Israel. It would have a profoundly destabilizing effect on the region. And it would absolutely violate UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans the unauthorized importation of any weapons into Lebanon.

We do not accept such provocative and destabilizing behavior — nor should the international community. President Assad is making decisions that could mean war or peace for the region. We know he’s hearing from Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. It is crucial that he also hear directly from us, so that the potential consequences of his actions are clear. That’s why we are sending an ambassador back to Syria. There should be no mistake, either in Damascus or anywhere else: The United States is not reengaging with Syria as a reward or a concession. Engagement is a tool that can give us added leverage and insight, and a greater ability to convey strong and unmistakably clear messages aimed at Syria’s leadership. (Applause.)

Here we go again with “accept” (the Obami’s favorite word when they are doing nothing about a disagreeable situation) — we don’t accept it, but what are we doing about it? How does “engagement” not appear as a reward or a concession? And wouldn’t a military strike on those rockets be a superior method of conveying a strong and unmistakably clear message to Syria’s leadership, rather than dispatch an ambassador to glad-hand with Assad?

Her discussion of Iran consists of a single, terse paragraph in which she admits we’ve accomplished nothing by engagement but aren’t doing much else. And there is again no mention of “all options” remaining at our disposal to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Iran, with its anti-Semitic president and hostile nuclear ambitions, also continues to threaten Israel, but it also threatens the region and it sponsors terrorism against many. The United States has worked with the international community to present the leaders in Tehran with a clear choice: Uphold your international obligations and reap the benefits of normal relations, or face increased isolation and painful consequences. At every turn, Iran has met our outstretched hand with a clenched fist. But our engagement has helped build a growing global consensus on the need to pressure Iran’s leaders to change course. We are now working with our partners at the United Nations to craft tough new sanctions. The United States is committed to pursuing this diplomatic path. But we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. (Applause.)

She then prattles on, paragraph after paragraph, describing the wonders of the peace process. On Jerusalem she sidesteps all the condemning and the administration’s reneging on prior agreements with another bit of sly puffery. (“The United States recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply, profoundly, important issue for Israelis and Palestinians, for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. And we believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem and safeguards its status for people around the world.”) So why demand a unilateral concession from Israel now, in advance of any negotiations?

All in all, the speech is a vivid example of the degree to which the Obami are willing and able to divorce rhetoric from action, and policy from reality. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if the “applause” reflects genuine enthusiasm for her display of hypocrisy. If so, it’s confirmation that American Jewry — at least those represented by organizations like the AJC — is eager to be sold a bill of goods. Meanwhile, the administration undermines sanctions, threatens an imposed peace deal, and dawdles on the Scud missiles. But they’ve got a heck of a PR plan.

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Too Busy to Enforce Sanctions

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered revealing remarks yesterday during the first meeting of the Iran sanctions conference committee.

Berman noted that there have been five UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and end its nuclear-weapons-related programs; that Iran has continued its march toward nuclear weapons and may already have enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb; and that “it remains to be seen when and whether a [UN] resolution will emerge.”

Then he gave a description of enforcement by the U.S. of prior sanctions legislation, indicating that it has had no effect whatsoever:

And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton’s determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports – and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website – have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran’s energy sector of sanctionable levels.

Berman argues that the pending bill needs to require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, determine whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, “if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.” But Berman knows that the Obama administration opposes even that:

I know the Administration officials don’t want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don’t want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don’t want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns.

Workload concerns.

Perhaps the administration could free up some people now reviewing housing permits in Jerusalem to work on this.

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered revealing remarks yesterday during the first meeting of the Iran sanctions conference committee.

Berman noted that there have been five UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and end its nuclear-weapons-related programs; that Iran has continued its march toward nuclear weapons and may already have enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb; and that “it remains to be seen when and whether a [UN] resolution will emerge.”

Then he gave a description of enforcement by the U.S. of prior sanctions legislation, indicating that it has had no effect whatsoever:

And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton’s determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports – and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website – have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran’s energy sector of sanctionable levels.

Berman argues that the pending bill needs to require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, determine whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, “if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.” But Berman knows that the Obama administration opposes even that:

I know the Administration officials don’t want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don’t want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don’t want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns.

Workload concerns.

Perhaps the administration could free up some people now reviewing housing permits in Jerusalem to work on this.

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The Distracted President, the Frustrated Prime Minister

You can imagine Bibi Netanyahu’s frustration: a nuclear-armed Iran is perhaps only a year away and all Obama wants to talk about is Jerusalem housing and proximity talks with intransigent Palestinians who are utterly unprepared for a “peace” deal. As this report makes clear, Bibi is struggling to get the American president to focus on the real issue:

“If you stop Iran from importing refined petroleum — that’s a fancy word for gasoline — then Iran simply doesn’t have refining capacity and this regime comes to a halt,” Netanyahu said on the morning [ABC Good Morning] program.

The U.S. is leading a push in the United Nations to apply another round of sanctions against Iran in an effort to stop it from pursuing a nuclear program that Western nations believe is aimed at building atomic weapons.

Tehran says its program is designed to produce electricity for civilian use.

Calling the standoff with Iran “the biggest issue facing our times,” Netanyahu said the international community could deliver “crippling sanctions,” without the support of China and Russia, both permanent members of the UN Security Council.

“You’re left doing it outside the Security Council,” Netanyahu said. “There’s a coalition of the willing and you can have very powerful sanctions.”

Asked whether Obama had given assurances Washington would go along with refined oil sanctions and other restrictions, Netanyahu said: “What the United States has said is that they’re determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and I think that’s an important statement.”

Well, that’s a “no” on oil sanctions, obviously. Obama is getting little push-back domestically for his lackadaisical attitude, and Bibi is having little success redirecting the Obami, who don’t have a real answer to the dilemma of Iran. So naturally, they’d rather talk about virtually anything else and spend their time on eye-catching summits. What is missing is that sense of urgency one would expect from an administration facing the most perilous national security challenge in a generation. But I suppose they don’t see it that way.

You can imagine Bibi Netanyahu’s frustration: a nuclear-armed Iran is perhaps only a year away and all Obama wants to talk about is Jerusalem housing and proximity talks with intransigent Palestinians who are utterly unprepared for a “peace” deal. As this report makes clear, Bibi is struggling to get the American president to focus on the real issue:

“If you stop Iran from importing refined petroleum — that’s a fancy word for gasoline — then Iran simply doesn’t have refining capacity and this regime comes to a halt,” Netanyahu said on the morning [ABC Good Morning] program.

The U.S. is leading a push in the United Nations to apply another round of sanctions against Iran in an effort to stop it from pursuing a nuclear program that Western nations believe is aimed at building atomic weapons.

Tehran says its program is designed to produce electricity for civilian use.

Calling the standoff with Iran “the biggest issue facing our times,” Netanyahu said the international community could deliver “crippling sanctions,” without the support of China and Russia, both permanent members of the UN Security Council.

“You’re left doing it outside the Security Council,” Netanyahu said. “There’s a coalition of the willing and you can have very powerful sanctions.”

Asked whether Obama had given assurances Washington would go along with refined oil sanctions and other restrictions, Netanyahu said: “What the United States has said is that they’re determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and I think that’s an important statement.”

Well, that’s a “no” on oil sanctions, obviously. Obama is getting little push-back domestically for his lackadaisical attitude, and Bibi is having little success redirecting the Obami, who don’t have a real answer to the dilemma of Iran. So naturally, they’d rather talk about virtually anything else and spend their time on eye-catching summits. What is missing is that sense of urgency one would expect from an administration facing the most perilous national security challenge in a generation. But I suppose they don’t see it that way.

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RE: What the U.S. Should Do About the SCUDs

The U.S. government has confirmed the delivery of SCUD missiles by Syria to Hezbollah. Its response? A remarkably tough press release from a State Department spokesman, which reads as follows:

The most senior Syrian diplomat present in Washington today, Deputy Chief of Mission Zouheir Jabbour, was summoned to the Department of State to review Syria’s provocative behavior concerning the potential transfer of arms to Hezbollah.  This was the fourth occasion on which these concerns have been raised to the Syrian Embassy in recent months, intended to further amplify our messages communicated to the Syrian government. Our dialogue with Syria on this issue has been frank and sustained. We expect the same in return.

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the transfer of any arms, and especially ballistic missile systems such as the Scud, from Syria to Hezbollah. The transfer of these arms can only have a destabilizing effect on the region, and would pose an immediate threat to both the security of Israel and the sovereignty of Lebanon. The risk of miscalculation that could result from this type of escalation should make Syria reverse the ill-conceived policy it has pursued in providing arms to Hezbollah. Additionally, the heightened tension and increased potential for conflict this policy produces is an impediment to on-going efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. All states have an obligation under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to prevent the importation of any weapons into Lebanon except as authorized by the Lebanese Government.

We call for an immediate cessation of any arms transfers to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations in the region. Syria’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is directly related to its support for terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah.

This is certainly a step above what we usually hear from the Obami when it comes to aggression by their friends in the “Muslim World” — silence. It doesn’t exactly say what consequences there will be for violation of the UN Resolution 1701. But after all, there has already been such a violation. And who knows what we and Israel have agreed on. It would be nice if we’ve changed our mind about sending our ambassador to Damascus (should he ever be confirmed). And it would be even better if we actually mentioned Israel and its right of self-defense. But this is the first sign that reality has crept into Foggy Bottom and that some re-evaluation of our Syrian engagement policy is underway. Perhaps next we could go to the UN to get a declaration that Syria is in violation of 1701 and that states in the region are entitled to act in self-defense. Well, we can always hope.

The U.S. government has confirmed the delivery of SCUD missiles by Syria to Hezbollah. Its response? A remarkably tough press release from a State Department spokesman, which reads as follows:

The most senior Syrian diplomat present in Washington today, Deputy Chief of Mission Zouheir Jabbour, was summoned to the Department of State to review Syria’s provocative behavior concerning the potential transfer of arms to Hezbollah.  This was the fourth occasion on which these concerns have been raised to the Syrian Embassy in recent months, intended to further amplify our messages communicated to the Syrian government. Our dialogue with Syria on this issue has been frank and sustained. We expect the same in return.

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the transfer of any arms, and especially ballistic missile systems such as the Scud, from Syria to Hezbollah. The transfer of these arms can only have a destabilizing effect on the region, and would pose an immediate threat to both the security of Israel and the sovereignty of Lebanon. The risk of miscalculation that could result from this type of escalation should make Syria reverse the ill-conceived policy it has pursued in providing arms to Hezbollah. Additionally, the heightened tension and increased potential for conflict this policy produces is an impediment to on-going efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. All states have an obligation under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to prevent the importation of any weapons into Lebanon except as authorized by the Lebanese Government.

We call for an immediate cessation of any arms transfers to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations in the region. Syria’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is directly related to its support for terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah.

This is certainly a step above what we usually hear from the Obami when it comes to aggression by their friends in the “Muslim World” — silence. It doesn’t exactly say what consequences there will be for violation of the UN Resolution 1701. But after all, there has already been such a violation. And who knows what we and Israel have agreed on. It would be nice if we’ve changed our mind about sending our ambassador to Damascus (should he ever be confirmed). And it would be even better if we actually mentioned Israel and its right of self-defense. But this is the first sign that reality has crept into Foggy Bottom and that some re-evaluation of our Syrian engagement policy is underway. Perhaps next we could go to the UN to get a declaration that Syria is in violation of 1701 and that states in the region are entitled to act in self-defense. Well, we can always hope.

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Any Deal, However Meaningless

In case you were momentarily hopeful that the “agreement” with China to pursue sanctions against Iran was real or that “pass sanctions in the Spring” meant sometime soon, think again. This report explains:

The United States is pressing the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Iran, allow foreign states to seize Iranian ships suspected of carrying materials linked to its nuclear program, and curtail Tehran’s ability to raise new investment in the country’s energy sector, according to U.N.-based diplomats familiar with the confidential text of the proposed resolution. . . .

China objected strenuously to the U.S. proposal for sanctions on energy investments during a big-power meeting on the text last week in New York, and insisted that it would not accept any provisions that challenged its commercial interests in Iran, according to council diplomats. But Beijing has begun to engage in direct negotiations, offering some suggestions this week on how the United States should modify its text.

The developments follow a high-level meeting in Washington on Monday between President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. After the meeting, U.S. officials said that Obama received a commitment from Hu to continue negotiations on a new sanctions resolution. But the Chinese have yet to agree to endorse any specific measures against Tehran.

And the timing of this? “U.S. officials hope to adopt a sanctions resolution punishing Iran for its nuclear activities before the end of April, but some council officials said it was more likely it would pass in June.” These time frames have a way of slipping, we’ve learned.

Clearly, diplomats love to make deals and the focus is now on getting an international agreement, any agreement. But this is different from doing something calculated to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. That’s not in the realm of consideration here. We know petroleum sanctions aren’t even on the Obami’s wish list and now we must tiptoe around China’s economic interests. The mismatch between means and ends is vast. The Iranians can see that even if Obama refuses to.

In case you were momentarily hopeful that the “agreement” with China to pursue sanctions against Iran was real or that “pass sanctions in the Spring” meant sometime soon, think again. This report explains:

The United States is pressing the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Iran, allow foreign states to seize Iranian ships suspected of carrying materials linked to its nuclear program, and curtail Tehran’s ability to raise new investment in the country’s energy sector, according to U.N.-based diplomats familiar with the confidential text of the proposed resolution. . . .

China objected strenuously to the U.S. proposal for sanctions on energy investments during a big-power meeting on the text last week in New York, and insisted that it would not accept any provisions that challenged its commercial interests in Iran, according to council diplomats. But Beijing has begun to engage in direct negotiations, offering some suggestions this week on how the United States should modify its text.

The developments follow a high-level meeting in Washington on Monday between President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. After the meeting, U.S. officials said that Obama received a commitment from Hu to continue negotiations on a new sanctions resolution. But the Chinese have yet to agree to endorse any specific measures against Tehran.

And the timing of this? “U.S. officials hope to adopt a sanctions resolution punishing Iran for its nuclear activities before the end of April, but some council officials said it was more likely it would pass in June.” These time frames have a way of slipping, we’ve learned.

Clearly, diplomats love to make deals and the focus is now on getting an international agreement, any agreement. But this is different from doing something calculated to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. That’s not in the realm of consideration here. We know petroleum sanctions aren’t even on the Obami’s wish list and now we must tiptoe around China’s economic interests. The mismatch between means and ends is vast. The Iranians can see that even if Obama refuses to.

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Obama’s Empty Nuclear Posturing

I find it hard to get excited about the Nuclear Posture Review released today by the Obama administration, in part because the relationship between “declaratory” nuclear policy and actual nuclear policy has always been tenuous at best. During the Cold War, the U.S. always reserved the right of first use of nuclear weapons, meaning that it if the Red Army rolled into Europe, we would supposedly nuke Moscow. What would have happened in an actual World War III is hard to know, but there is good reason to doubt that any U.S. president would have been the first to order nuclear escalation, whether the Russian hordes were crossing the Fulda Gap or not.

Likewise, today, for all the speculation going on about whether the U.S. will extend its nuclear umbrella to Iran’s neighbors in case the Islamic Republic acquires nuclear weapons, there is good cause to doubt whether the U.S. (especially under the leadership of Nobel Laureate Barack Obama!) would really be prepared to incinerate Tehran in the event of Iranian aggression against Saudi Arabia or even Israel.

Thus, I don’t attach much significance to the Obama administration’s narrowing the categories under which the U.S. would supposedly use nuclear weapons. As the Washington Post account notes:

Under the new policy, the administration will foreswear the use of the deadly weapons against nonnuclear countries, officials said, in contrast to previous administrations, which indicated they might use nuclear arms against nonnuclear states in retaliation for a biological or chemical attack.

But Obama included a major caveat: The countries must be in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations under international treaties. That loophole would mean Iran would remain on the potential target list.

I suppose the administration gets credit for resisting liberal pressure to foreswear any first use of nukes, but, to my mind, any such policy, whether it remains on the books or not, is not terribly credible. It’s fine to keep a small nugget of deterrence alive by not formally burying it, but it’s hard to imagine the U.S. ever using nukes unless it had first been attacked with WMD – meaning nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. The Obama review says that countries that employ only biological or chemical weapons won’t be nuked unless they’re out of compliance with nuclear nonproliferation treaties. Actually, the administration is leaving even more wiggle room than that. According to the New York Times:

White House officials said the new strategy would include the option of reconsidering the use of nuclear retaliation against a biological attack, if the development of such weapons reached a level that made the United States vulnerable to a devastating strike.

In short, the Obama policy isn’t that big of a change from the policy it inherited. It is, as the Washington Post has it, a “middle course.”

To my mind, the real test of our nonproliferation policy isn’t how we claim we will respond to hypothetical scenarios but rather what we do about actual current dangers. In regard to Iran – the world’s No. 1 proliferation threat – the auguries aren’t propitious, with the Financial Times reporting that a new round of sanctions won’t be on the UN Security Council agenda in April. Thus, Obama’s threats to hit Iran with tough sanctions if his entreaties to talk were rejected are increasingly being exposed as hollow. That kind of wishy-washiness is something that Iran and other rogue regimes understand. By comparison, the theoretical language contained in the Nuclear Posture Review seems more like, well, academic posturing.

I find it hard to get excited about the Nuclear Posture Review released today by the Obama administration, in part because the relationship between “declaratory” nuclear policy and actual nuclear policy has always been tenuous at best. During the Cold War, the U.S. always reserved the right of first use of nuclear weapons, meaning that it if the Red Army rolled into Europe, we would supposedly nuke Moscow. What would have happened in an actual World War III is hard to know, but there is good reason to doubt that any U.S. president would have been the first to order nuclear escalation, whether the Russian hordes were crossing the Fulda Gap or not.

Likewise, today, for all the speculation going on about whether the U.S. will extend its nuclear umbrella to Iran’s neighbors in case the Islamic Republic acquires nuclear weapons, there is good cause to doubt whether the U.S. (especially under the leadership of Nobel Laureate Barack Obama!) would really be prepared to incinerate Tehran in the event of Iranian aggression against Saudi Arabia or even Israel.

Thus, I don’t attach much significance to the Obama administration’s narrowing the categories under which the U.S. would supposedly use nuclear weapons. As the Washington Post account notes:

Under the new policy, the administration will foreswear the use of the deadly weapons against nonnuclear countries, officials said, in contrast to previous administrations, which indicated they might use nuclear arms against nonnuclear states in retaliation for a biological or chemical attack.

But Obama included a major caveat: The countries must be in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations under international treaties. That loophole would mean Iran would remain on the potential target list.

I suppose the administration gets credit for resisting liberal pressure to foreswear any first use of nukes, but, to my mind, any such policy, whether it remains on the books or not, is not terribly credible. It’s fine to keep a small nugget of deterrence alive by not formally burying it, but it’s hard to imagine the U.S. ever using nukes unless it had first been attacked with WMD – meaning nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. The Obama review says that countries that employ only biological or chemical weapons won’t be nuked unless they’re out of compliance with nuclear nonproliferation treaties. Actually, the administration is leaving even more wiggle room than that. According to the New York Times:

White House officials said the new strategy would include the option of reconsidering the use of nuclear retaliation against a biological attack, if the development of such weapons reached a level that made the United States vulnerable to a devastating strike.

In short, the Obama policy isn’t that big of a change from the policy it inherited. It is, as the Washington Post has it, a “middle course.”

To my mind, the real test of our nonproliferation policy isn’t how we claim we will respond to hypothetical scenarios but rather what we do about actual current dangers. In regard to Iran – the world’s No. 1 proliferation threat – the auguries aren’t propitious, with the Financial Times reporting that a new round of sanctions won’t be on the UN Security Council agenda in April. Thus, Obama’s threats to hit Iran with tough sanctions if his entreaties to talk were rejected are increasingly being exposed as hollow. That kind of wishy-washiness is something that Iran and other rogue regimes understand. By comparison, the theoretical language contained in the Nuclear Posture Review seems more like, well, academic posturing.

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Another Cairo Speech

Lady Catherine Ashton is no Barack Obama, and she should be forgiven if her utterances may not generate the kind of wild adoration (adulation?!) that the U.S. president became accustomed to earning at each speech. But speeches are about the message and not only the charisma with which they are delivered, and Lady Ashton’s speech, yesterday, in Cairo, has so much substance that it deserves some comment.

There are three elements to her speech. First message: the nature and importance of the relation between Europe and the Arab world. Second message: the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. Third message: the importance and urgency of the peace process. Let’s dissect them by first quoting her words.

On relations between the EU and the Arab world, Ashton says:

I am especially pleased to be here at the headquarters of the Arab League. For Europe and the Arab world share a common history and, I believe, a common destiny. Our relations go back a long way. The footprints of your culture are scattered throughout Europe: literature and science, words and music, and of course our food.

No mention of human rights’ violations there — only a reference to orange water in Naples’ Pastiera cake and the sprinkle of Arabic in Sicilian dialect (but, presumably, not to the croissant, which was thus shaped to celebrate the Arab defeat at the Gates of Vienna). And yes, the footprint is truly scattered all over Europe: the watchtowers on the entire Mediterranean coast to warn of Arab marauders coming to kill, loot, plunder and enslave; the glorious-sounding names of battlefields like Poitiers and of naval battles like Lepanto; the early French literature of the Chanson de Roland — and many others. It all attests to conflict, war, clashes, and attempts to conquer, efface, subdue.

A common history, perhaps — but only to a certain extent. And hardly a common destiny. Like President Obama, then, Lady Ashton’s speech is an exercise in historical revisionism — papering over the inconvenient truth of the past as a way to appease our interlocutors, reminding them of a mythical time of idyllic friendship that never existed in order not to remind them of their present shortcomings: authoritarianism, social and economic injustice, human rights’ abuses, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, fomenting of hatred, condoning of terrorism, among other things. By ignoring the present and subverting the past, Lady Ashton has confirmed what the EU priorities are in the region — work with the powers that be, condone their errors as well as their horrors, ignore the broader regional context, and focus on one thing and one thing only: Israel.

This she does well, but not before she lists the perfunctory policy guidelines on Iran:

Our double track approach remains valid and we stand ready for dialogue. But the EU also fully supports the UN Security Council process on additional measures if, as is the case today, Iran continues to refuse to meet its international obligations. Our position is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs.

Now that must have been exceptionally hard to pronounce. It almost sounds like a threat! How ominous, to have an EU high official (the highest one, in fact, when it comes to foreign policy) evoke the threat of a “proliferation cascade” throughout the Middle East.

So to ensure that no one became upset that the EU foreign-policy tsar was thundering, for a moment, against a Muslim nation without apologizing first, Lady Ashton threw in this closing line: “A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.” That little reference to Israel gets everyone off the hook!

It seemed the perfectly seamless way to transition from the things she had to say pro forma and what she really wished to say:

The primary purpose of my visit is to show the continued importance that the European Union attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a vital European interest and is central to the solution of other problems in the region.

Truly central: if you are a political prisoner languishing in an Egyptian prison and electric wires are about to be attached to your genitals for a bit of rough interrogation (surely not the one EU officials denounce on their trips to Cairo), what are the chances that you’ll feel better knowing the Palestinians will get a state? And what are the chances the police will forego this act of kindness as a result of Palestinian statehood?

Lady Ashton may not have the charisma of Barack Obama — but she can’t be so naïve as to believe that what is currently happening in Yemen is a byproduct of Palestinian-Israeli disputes; that piracy off the coast of Somalia would be called off at the announcement of a historic compromise; that al-Qaeda would lay down its weapons and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would stop calling President Mubarak “Pharaoh” as soon as the Palestinian flag flies over the Noble Sanctuary. She must know. And so she says what she says — “central to the solution of other problems in the region” — because she is pandering to an audience of Arab autocrats.

From this we move on to the next step — one where Israeli wrongs are listed in excruciating detail and Israel’s government is slapped on the wrist repeatedly — its intentions are called into questions and its actions are blamed for lack of progress. But what of the Palestinians?

Much in the way of “the footprint of your culture” and other such rhetorical niceties, the share of responsibility the Palestinians get in the list of Lady Ashton’s no-no’s comes down to a gentle reminder to be more fraternal to one another. Just compare and contrast.

Premise of her comments on peacemaking:

Everyone has to make their contribution and take their responsibility. As the European Union we have a firm commitment to the security of Israel; and we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom and dignity to the Palestinians.

The overall goal:

The parameters of a negotiated settlement are well known. A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

So far, nothing too shocking. But then Ashton offers details to her vision of a negotiated settlement:

Our aim is a viable State of Palestine in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, on the basis of the 1967 lines. If there is to be a genuine peace a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and Palestine. And we need a just solution of the refugee issue.

The EU is here reiterating its bias in favor of the Palestinian position. But there is more:

Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks. …

Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. …

The decision to list cultural and religious sites based in the occupied Palestinian territory as Israeli is counter-productive. …

The blockade of Gaza is unacceptable. It has created enormous human suffering and greatly harms the potential to move forward.

So many details of Israeli mischief! But, again, what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians too of course have responsibilities. First however I want to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for showing us that they can build the institutions of a future Palestinian State. But the Palestinians must get their house in order. Continued Palestinian divisions do not serve their interests. The political and physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous. Palestinian reconciliation is more crucial than ever. The PLO must take its responsibilities in this regard, and face the challenge of renewal and reform.

Yes, that’s what is wrong with the Palestinian side of the equation. They are not fraternal enough to one another and the political and physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous — though Ashton blamed Israel for it before!

For a brief period in the long history of EU-Israel relations, it looked like the EU had finally understood that to influence Israel it had to be friendlier to Israel — not just in words but also in deeds. That included being more understanding of Israeli concerns and more nuanced about the complexities and intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its history, and its challenges.

Lady Ashton has just made it abundantly clear that Europe has reverted to its old habits of appeasing Arab authoritarianism while chastising Israeli democracy.

In a different time, we would have dismissed it all as yet another example of European irrelevance and a guarantee that only the U.S. would really have a role in being the midwife of regional peace. But now, given the United States’s substantive and rhetorical posture vis-à-vis Israel, Lady Ashton’s speech should have Jerusalem worried. There aren’t any friends left around to shield Israel from this kind of European worldview — and so it might just stick.

Lady Catherine Ashton is no Barack Obama, and she should be forgiven if her utterances may not generate the kind of wild adoration (adulation?!) that the U.S. president became accustomed to earning at each speech. But speeches are about the message and not only the charisma with which they are delivered, and Lady Ashton’s speech, yesterday, in Cairo, has so much substance that it deserves some comment.

There are three elements to her speech. First message: the nature and importance of the relation between Europe and the Arab world. Second message: the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. Third message: the importance and urgency of the peace process. Let’s dissect them by first quoting her words.

On relations between the EU and the Arab world, Ashton says:

I am especially pleased to be here at the headquarters of the Arab League. For Europe and the Arab world share a common history and, I believe, a common destiny. Our relations go back a long way. The footprints of your culture are scattered throughout Europe: literature and science, words and music, and of course our food.

No mention of human rights’ violations there — only a reference to orange water in Naples’ Pastiera cake and the sprinkle of Arabic in Sicilian dialect (but, presumably, not to the croissant, which was thus shaped to celebrate the Arab defeat at the Gates of Vienna). And yes, the footprint is truly scattered all over Europe: the watchtowers on the entire Mediterranean coast to warn of Arab marauders coming to kill, loot, plunder and enslave; the glorious-sounding names of battlefields like Poitiers and of naval battles like Lepanto; the early French literature of the Chanson de Roland — and many others. It all attests to conflict, war, clashes, and attempts to conquer, efface, subdue.

A common history, perhaps — but only to a certain extent. And hardly a common destiny. Like President Obama, then, Lady Ashton’s speech is an exercise in historical revisionism — papering over the inconvenient truth of the past as a way to appease our interlocutors, reminding them of a mythical time of idyllic friendship that never existed in order not to remind them of their present shortcomings: authoritarianism, social and economic injustice, human rights’ abuses, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, fomenting of hatred, condoning of terrorism, among other things. By ignoring the present and subverting the past, Lady Ashton has confirmed what the EU priorities are in the region — work with the powers that be, condone their errors as well as their horrors, ignore the broader regional context, and focus on one thing and one thing only: Israel.

This she does well, but not before she lists the perfunctory policy guidelines on Iran:

Our double track approach remains valid and we stand ready for dialogue. But the EU also fully supports the UN Security Council process on additional measures if, as is the case today, Iran continues to refuse to meet its international obligations. Our position is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs.

Now that must have been exceptionally hard to pronounce. It almost sounds like a threat! How ominous, to have an EU high official (the highest one, in fact, when it comes to foreign policy) evoke the threat of a “proliferation cascade” throughout the Middle East.

So to ensure that no one became upset that the EU foreign-policy tsar was thundering, for a moment, against a Muslim nation without apologizing first, Lady Ashton threw in this closing line: “A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.” That little reference to Israel gets everyone off the hook!

It seemed the perfectly seamless way to transition from the things she had to say pro forma and what she really wished to say:

The primary purpose of my visit is to show the continued importance that the European Union attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a vital European interest and is central to the solution of other problems in the region.

Truly central: if you are a political prisoner languishing in an Egyptian prison and electric wires are about to be attached to your genitals for a bit of rough interrogation (surely not the one EU officials denounce on their trips to Cairo), what are the chances that you’ll feel better knowing the Palestinians will get a state? And what are the chances the police will forego this act of kindness as a result of Palestinian statehood?

Lady Ashton may not have the charisma of Barack Obama — but she can’t be so naïve as to believe that what is currently happening in Yemen is a byproduct of Palestinian-Israeli disputes; that piracy off the coast of Somalia would be called off at the announcement of a historic compromise; that al-Qaeda would lay down its weapons and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would stop calling President Mubarak “Pharaoh” as soon as the Palestinian flag flies over the Noble Sanctuary. She must know. And so she says what she says — “central to the solution of other problems in the region” — because she is pandering to an audience of Arab autocrats.

From this we move on to the next step — one where Israeli wrongs are listed in excruciating detail and Israel’s government is slapped on the wrist repeatedly — its intentions are called into questions and its actions are blamed for lack of progress. But what of the Palestinians?

Much in the way of “the footprint of your culture” and other such rhetorical niceties, the share of responsibility the Palestinians get in the list of Lady Ashton’s no-no’s comes down to a gentle reminder to be more fraternal to one another. Just compare and contrast.

Premise of her comments on peacemaking:

Everyone has to make their contribution and take their responsibility. As the European Union we have a firm commitment to the security of Israel; and we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom and dignity to the Palestinians.

The overall goal:

The parameters of a negotiated settlement are well known. A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

So far, nothing too shocking. But then Ashton offers details to her vision of a negotiated settlement:

Our aim is a viable State of Palestine in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, on the basis of the 1967 lines. If there is to be a genuine peace a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and Palestine. And we need a just solution of the refugee issue.

The EU is here reiterating its bias in favor of the Palestinian position. But there is more:

Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks. …

Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. …

The decision to list cultural and religious sites based in the occupied Palestinian territory as Israeli is counter-productive. …

The blockade of Gaza is unacceptable. It has created enormous human suffering and greatly harms the potential to move forward.

So many details of Israeli mischief! But, again, what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians too of course have responsibilities. First however I want to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for showing us that they can build the institutions of a future Palestinian State. But the Palestinians must get their house in order. Continued Palestinian divisions do not serve their interests. The political and physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous. Palestinian reconciliation is more crucial than ever. The PLO must take its responsibilities in this regard, and face the challenge of renewal and reform.

Yes, that’s what is wrong with the Palestinian side of the equation. They are not fraternal enough to one another and the political and physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous — though Ashton blamed Israel for it before!

For a brief period in the long history of EU-Israel relations, it looked like the EU had finally understood that to influence Israel it had to be friendlier to Israel — not just in words but also in deeds. That included being more understanding of Israeli concerns and more nuanced about the complexities and intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its history, and its challenges.

Lady Ashton has just made it abundantly clear that Europe has reverted to its old habits of appeasing Arab authoritarianism while chastising Israeli democracy.

In a different time, we would have dismissed it all as yet another example of European irrelevance and a guarantee that only the U.S. would really have a role in being the midwife of regional peace. But now, given the United States’s substantive and rhetorical posture vis-à-vis Israel, Lady Ashton’s speech should have Jerusalem worried. There aren’t any friends left around to shield Israel from this kind of European worldview — and so it might just stick.

Read Less

Procrastination on Iran

At a weekend retreat in Finland, the foreign ministers of the EU met alongside the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Among the topics discussed was Iran. And among the conclusions emerging from the gathering, there is the admission by the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, that there is little chance that new sanctions will be passed by the UN Security Council before June. Citing objections from China and Russia, Kouchner said: “We are … talking and talking, trying to get an agreement by negotiation and at the same time working on sanctions. I believe that yes, before June it will be possible, but I’m not so sure.”

Nor is there certainty about the alternative – which, according to the news report, would be unilateral sanctions by the EU and the U.S.

Clearly, there are obstacles on the road to unilateral sanctions – philosophically, many EU countries oppose unilateralism and wish to proceed only after the UN has given the green light. Then, there is the skepticism about sanctions that are not binding on some of Iran’s main trading partners because such measures would fail to bite.

In short, sanctions, even limited ones, are a long way away, and it does not offer any succor to know that EU ministers are “talking about it.”

The fact of the matter is, the last time sanctions were approved was in March 2008, when UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was approved. That was two years ago. Then there was a U.S. presidential election. Then there was a U.S. policy review. Then there were Iranian presidential elections that nobody wished to interfere with. Then there was a summer holiday that nobody wished to spoil. Then there was a U.S. effort to engage the Iranian regime that nobody wished to undermine. Then there was a failed nuclear deal that everyone thought was a win-win situation. Then there was an end-of-the-year deadline that came and went without any Plan B ready to roll out on Jan. 1. Then there was the talking to convince China and Russia (to say nothing of Turkey, which meanwhile became a member of the Security Council), and now there is more talking for Plan C in case Plan B fails. What will the next reason for delay be?

The bottom line is that these are excuses, pretexts, and little else.

There is abundant evidence of Iranian mischief. There is nothing new by now about Iran’s policy of stalling talks. Russian and Chinese interests remain unchanged. The available options for sanctions have been dissected, debated, weighed, assessed, and are known.

It therefore comes down to the following: do the U.S. and the EU wish to stop Iran’s nuclear quest? If so, are they prepared to pay the political price required to make, at least, an honest and worthy effort? Are they willing to face up to the reality that there is simply no international backing for the kind of policies needed to stop Iran now and to avoid conflict in the Persian Gulf later?

If the answer to these questions is yes, there is no need to wait for June. Otherwise, we know what a June deadline means – it means more stalling, more temporizing, more talking, and more procrastinating.

At a weekend retreat in Finland, the foreign ministers of the EU met alongside the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Among the topics discussed was Iran. And among the conclusions emerging from the gathering, there is the admission by the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, that there is little chance that new sanctions will be passed by the UN Security Council before June. Citing objections from China and Russia, Kouchner said: “We are … talking and talking, trying to get an agreement by negotiation and at the same time working on sanctions. I believe that yes, before June it will be possible, but I’m not so sure.”

Nor is there certainty about the alternative – which, according to the news report, would be unilateral sanctions by the EU and the U.S.

Clearly, there are obstacles on the road to unilateral sanctions – philosophically, many EU countries oppose unilateralism and wish to proceed only after the UN has given the green light. Then, there is the skepticism about sanctions that are not binding on some of Iran’s main trading partners because such measures would fail to bite.

In short, sanctions, even limited ones, are a long way away, and it does not offer any succor to know that EU ministers are “talking about it.”

The fact of the matter is, the last time sanctions were approved was in March 2008, when UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was approved. That was two years ago. Then there was a U.S. presidential election. Then there was a U.S. policy review. Then there were Iranian presidential elections that nobody wished to interfere with. Then there was a summer holiday that nobody wished to spoil. Then there was a U.S. effort to engage the Iranian regime that nobody wished to undermine. Then there was a failed nuclear deal that everyone thought was a win-win situation. Then there was an end-of-the-year deadline that came and went without any Plan B ready to roll out on Jan. 1. Then there was the talking to convince China and Russia (to say nothing of Turkey, which meanwhile became a member of the Security Council), and now there is more talking for Plan C in case Plan B fails. What will the next reason for delay be?

The bottom line is that these are excuses, pretexts, and little else.

There is abundant evidence of Iranian mischief. There is nothing new by now about Iran’s policy of stalling talks. Russian and Chinese interests remain unchanged. The available options for sanctions have been dissected, debated, weighed, assessed, and are known.

It therefore comes down to the following: do the U.S. and the EU wish to stop Iran’s nuclear quest? If so, are they prepared to pay the political price required to make, at least, an honest and worthy effort? Are they willing to face up to the reality that there is simply no international backing for the kind of policies needed to stop Iran now and to avoid conflict in the Persian Gulf later?

If the answer to these questions is yes, there is no need to wait for June. Otherwise, we know what a June deadline means – it means more stalling, more temporizing, more talking, and more procrastinating.

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Annals of Smart Diplomacy: No Text, No Timetable

Asked today about the apparent lack of progress in convincing Brazil or China of the need for additional sanctions against Iran, Asst. Secretary P.J. Crowley said dialogue will continue and “at the end of the process we are going to present our proposals to the Security Council” for “consequences” for Iran. And what would those proposals be?

QUESTION: Speaking of the UN and a resolution, are you circulating a draft or is – are any of the P-5+1 circulating a draft at the moment?

MR. CROWLEY: There’s no draft resolution. We are working within the P-5+1 and with others on – sharing our ideas on possible steps. I think there’s a growing understanding that Iran should face consequences for its defiance of international obligations. We’ve having very serious and high-level conversations, but there is not, as of yet, a draft resolution text.

Well, is there at least a schedule for producing a draft resolution?

QUESTION: When do you think there will be [a draft text]?

MR. CROWLEY: We don’t have a timetable. We want to move as rapidly as possible, but at the end of this, we want to have action that is effective, sends the right signal, puts the right pressure on Iran, and we hope ultimately secures Iran’s compliance under the NPT and UN Security Council resolutions.

Asked today about the apparent lack of progress in convincing Brazil or China of the need for additional sanctions against Iran, Asst. Secretary P.J. Crowley said dialogue will continue and “at the end of the process we are going to present our proposals to the Security Council” for “consequences” for Iran. And what would those proposals be?

QUESTION: Speaking of the UN and a resolution, are you circulating a draft or is – are any of the P-5+1 circulating a draft at the moment?

MR. CROWLEY: There’s no draft resolution. We are working within the P-5+1 and with others on – sharing our ideas on possible steps. I think there’s a growing understanding that Iran should face consequences for its defiance of international obligations. We’ve having very serious and high-level conversations, but there is not, as of yet, a draft resolution text.

Well, is there at least a schedule for producing a draft resolution?

QUESTION: When do you think there will be [a draft text]?

MR. CROWLEY: We don’t have a timetable. We want to move as rapidly as possible, but at the end of this, we want to have action that is effective, sends the right signal, puts the right pressure on Iran, and we hope ultimately secures Iran’s compliance under the NPT and UN Security Council resolutions.

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Ontario Defies Israel Apartheid Week

This week is Israel Apartheid Week on college campuses worldwide — an annual hatefest devoted to demonizing Israel and mobilizing support for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), made even more grotesque by the numerous Israelis serving as featured speakers. But this year, pushback came from a surprising direction: the provincial legislature of Ontario, Canada, voted unanimously to condemn this extravaganza, because it “serves to incite hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights, and … diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.”

Two things make this decision remarkable. One is that Ontario has long been a hotbed of anti-Israel activity. For instance, its largest labor union, the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, enthusiastically promotes BDS; in 2006, the chapter voted to boycott Israel until it accepts a Palestinian “right of return,” otherwise known as committing demographic suicide. Thus Ontario legislators defied a powerhouse vote machine over an issue with little political traction, just because they thought it was right.

The second is that not long ago, Canada’s foreign policy was hostile to Israel. In October 2000, for instance, days after the intifada erupted, Canada voted for a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for the violence, without a word of blame for the Palestinians. And that vote was typical, not exceptional. Thus the Ontario decision represents a sharp turnabout in a fairly short period of time.

The man primarily responsible for the change is undoubtedly Canada’s Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, who has turned his country into one of Israel’s most reliable supporters. Under his leadership, Canada has repeatedly cast the sole “no” vote on anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Human Rights Council (for example, a January 2009 resolution condemning Israel’s war in Gaza); Canada became the first country — even before Israel — to announce a boycott of last year’s Durban II conference because of its anti-Israel tone; and Harper has worked to end Canadian government support for nongovernmental organizations that demonize Israel. In short, he has made it respectable to publicly support Israel in Canada. So it’s unsurprising that the legislator who introduced Ontario’s anti–Apartheid Week resolution belonged to Harper’s party.

But Harper’s revolution alone cannot explain the Ontario vote. The Conservatives have only 24 seats in Ontario’s parliament; the rival Liberal Party, which has no reason to toe Harper’s line, has 71. Yet Liberals who, as one noted, normally disagree with Conservatives over almost everything united with them on this. It’s worth reading the debate in full to appreciate the depth and breadth of the legislators’ support.

The obvious conclusion is that Israel’s case can be persuasive to people of goodwill of all political stripes — if Israel and its supporters bother to make it. Activists in Ontario clearly have, creating fertile soil for Harper’s moves; last week’s assembly vote was the fruit. It’s a lesson pro-Israel activists facing uphill battles elsewhere should remember. For not long ago, Canada, too, seemed lost.

This week is Israel Apartheid Week on college campuses worldwide — an annual hatefest devoted to demonizing Israel and mobilizing support for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), made even more grotesque by the numerous Israelis serving as featured speakers. But this year, pushback came from a surprising direction: the provincial legislature of Ontario, Canada, voted unanimously to condemn this extravaganza, because it “serves to incite hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights, and … diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.”

Two things make this decision remarkable. One is that Ontario has long been a hotbed of anti-Israel activity. For instance, its largest labor union, the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, enthusiastically promotes BDS; in 2006, the chapter voted to boycott Israel until it accepts a Palestinian “right of return,” otherwise known as committing demographic suicide. Thus Ontario legislators defied a powerhouse vote machine over an issue with little political traction, just because they thought it was right.

The second is that not long ago, Canada’s foreign policy was hostile to Israel. In October 2000, for instance, days after the intifada erupted, Canada voted for a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for the violence, without a word of blame for the Palestinians. And that vote was typical, not exceptional. Thus the Ontario decision represents a sharp turnabout in a fairly short period of time.

The man primarily responsible for the change is undoubtedly Canada’s Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, who has turned his country into one of Israel’s most reliable supporters. Under his leadership, Canada has repeatedly cast the sole “no” vote on anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Human Rights Council (for example, a January 2009 resolution condemning Israel’s war in Gaza); Canada became the first country — even before Israel — to announce a boycott of last year’s Durban II conference because of its anti-Israel tone; and Harper has worked to end Canadian government support for nongovernmental organizations that demonize Israel. In short, he has made it respectable to publicly support Israel in Canada. So it’s unsurprising that the legislator who introduced Ontario’s anti–Apartheid Week resolution belonged to Harper’s party.

But Harper’s revolution alone cannot explain the Ontario vote. The Conservatives have only 24 seats in Ontario’s parliament; the rival Liberal Party, which has no reason to toe Harper’s line, has 71. Yet Liberals who, as one noted, normally disagree with Conservatives over almost everything united with them on this. It’s worth reading the debate in full to appreciate the depth and breadth of the legislators’ support.

The obvious conclusion is that Israel’s case can be persuasive to people of goodwill of all political stripes — if Israel and its supporters bother to make it. Activists in Ontario clearly have, creating fertile soil for Harper’s moves; last week’s assembly vote was the fruit. It’s a lesson pro-Israel activists facing uphill battles elsewhere should remember. For not long ago, Canada, too, seemed lost.

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Deterring Ourselves

Two news reports from the last day highlight poignantly the paralysis of the West in the face of a nuclearizing Iran. One is a Washington Times piece by Eli Lake outlining recent and prospective developments with the financial “pressure track” against Iran.  The other is Der Spiegel Online’s account of the sanctions package being prepared by the EU nations.

The Lake piece is less remarkable: one of many that clarify how heavily dependent any sanctions regime will be on the honest participation of China. The piece makes a telling foil to the Der Spiegel report, however, in part because the two articles share a particular rhetorical characteristic. They lead with language that evokes strength and energy in the approach of the West to Iran. Momentum-sapping caveats are sequestered at the end of each article, receiving little treatment of any kind and certainly not consideration commensurate with their significance.

Der Spiegel’s report has quite a promising tone overall: “massive sanctions,” “choke off imports,” “banish the Iranian central bank.” But read to the end and you find that the emerging European proposal is hostage to two self-imposed constraints listed briefly in the final paragraph: a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution as a legal foundation, and the backing of nations like Turkey, Brazil, and the Persian Gulf states.

Getting a UNSC resolution is, of course, dependent on Russia and China, which can exercise vetoes. That challenge has proved insuperable for years. But the stated reason for the second constraint — obtaining the backing of non-Western nations — is a window on the soul of the modern West. The purpose is not the practical one we might expect: to strengthen the effectiveness of sanctions, which Turkey and the Gulf states in particular could easily undermine. The concern is rather that Iran could complain of being targeted by a Western conspiracy, or the “vassals of Israel.”

To give the Europeans the benefit of the doubt, we may assume that they’re thinking of the backlash from Islamists in their own capitals if Iran claims such victimhood. But this point is only superficially persuasive. For one thing, the mullahs accuse everyone who opposes Iran of conspiracy and vassalage to Israel. It’s reflexive, not contingent on the exact nature of what anyone else does. Moreover, any backlash would probably create worse domestic problems for Turkey and the Gulf nations than it would for Europe, so attempts to gain their overt political support are unlikely to meet with success.

But the more profound concern is that if no action is taken, and taken soon, the outcome will be a nuclear-armed theocratic pariah state, one whose leaders have an apocalyptic vision of their nation’s role on earth. This nation already sponsors terrorism and insurgencies abroad. Having nuclear arms will give Iran’s disruptive activism a new strategic cover. Europe will be in range of Iranian nuclear missiles before North America is. Yet the West clearly doesn’t take this threat seriously enough to lift the self-imposed constraints — even the patently absurd ones — that are the main obstacles to action.

If Iran’s revolutionary regime does acquire nuclear weapons, the reported EU concern about a pre-nuclear Iran playing the victim card for effect will go down as one of the most foolish in history. Surely, future generations might say, the men and women of the 2010s didn’t stay their hand against Iran because of that.

Two news reports from the last day highlight poignantly the paralysis of the West in the face of a nuclearizing Iran. One is a Washington Times piece by Eli Lake outlining recent and prospective developments with the financial “pressure track” against Iran.  The other is Der Spiegel Online’s account of the sanctions package being prepared by the EU nations.

The Lake piece is less remarkable: one of many that clarify how heavily dependent any sanctions regime will be on the honest participation of China. The piece makes a telling foil to the Der Spiegel report, however, in part because the two articles share a particular rhetorical characteristic. They lead with language that evokes strength and energy in the approach of the West to Iran. Momentum-sapping caveats are sequestered at the end of each article, receiving little treatment of any kind and certainly not consideration commensurate with their significance.

Der Spiegel’s report has quite a promising tone overall: “massive sanctions,” “choke off imports,” “banish the Iranian central bank.” But read to the end and you find that the emerging European proposal is hostage to two self-imposed constraints listed briefly in the final paragraph: a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution as a legal foundation, and the backing of nations like Turkey, Brazil, and the Persian Gulf states.

Getting a UNSC resolution is, of course, dependent on Russia and China, which can exercise vetoes. That challenge has proved insuperable for years. But the stated reason for the second constraint — obtaining the backing of non-Western nations — is a window on the soul of the modern West. The purpose is not the practical one we might expect: to strengthen the effectiveness of sanctions, which Turkey and the Gulf states in particular could easily undermine. The concern is rather that Iran could complain of being targeted by a Western conspiracy, or the “vassals of Israel.”

To give the Europeans the benefit of the doubt, we may assume that they’re thinking of the backlash from Islamists in their own capitals if Iran claims such victimhood. But this point is only superficially persuasive. For one thing, the mullahs accuse everyone who opposes Iran of conspiracy and vassalage to Israel. It’s reflexive, not contingent on the exact nature of what anyone else does. Moreover, any backlash would probably create worse domestic problems for Turkey and the Gulf nations than it would for Europe, so attempts to gain their overt political support are unlikely to meet with success.

But the more profound concern is that if no action is taken, and taken soon, the outcome will be a nuclear-armed theocratic pariah state, one whose leaders have an apocalyptic vision of their nation’s role on earth. This nation already sponsors terrorism and insurgencies abroad. Having nuclear arms will give Iran’s disruptive activism a new strategic cover. Europe will be in range of Iranian nuclear missiles before North America is. Yet the West clearly doesn’t take this threat seriously enough to lift the self-imposed constraints — even the patently absurd ones — that are the main obstacles to action.

If Iran’s revolutionary regime does acquire nuclear weapons, the reported EU concern about a pre-nuclear Iran playing the victim card for effect will go down as one of the most foolish in history. Surely, future generations might say, the men and women of the 2010s didn’t stay their hand against Iran because of that.

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The Media Spins More Nonsense About the Arms Trade Treaty

UPI is running a story that sums up a lot of bad reporting about a favorite liberal cause: the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty. The piece – headlined “Arms Trade Plagued By Corruption” – is halfway between reporting and editorializing. It’s occasioned by the arrest in Las Vegas, after a two-and-a-half-year undercover Department of Justice sting operation, of 22 Americans, Britons, Israelis, and others at an arms expo. They are charged with trying to bribe an individual they thought was an African defense minister to obtain a $15 million contract. Bribing foreign officials is a violation of the 1977 U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The story – dated from Beirut, which helps explain its emphasis on Western wrongdoings in general, especially directed at the Israelis, Americans, and British – emphasizes how international arms trade should be controlled by the UN, and how UN action has been stymied by the UN Security Council’s permanent members, especially the United States. According to UPI, the Obama administration’s support last fall for an arms-trade treaty, and its willingness to arrest the individuals in Las Vegas, shows that times and the mood of the U.S. are finally changing.

This is ridiculous. The DoJ investigation began under President George W. Bush, so the arrests tell us nothing about changing U.S. policy. It’s wrong to presume guilt, but if those arrested in Las Vegas did seek to violate the 1977 Act, then U.S. authorities did the right thing by arresting them. The tale of the U.S. as the preeminent hold-out against good and right is contradicted by the story’s emphasis on BAE’s legal difficulties in Britain over bribes that may have been paid to facilitate sales in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Saudi Arabia, and by its summary of the conviction in October of the son of Francois Mitterand, the late President of France, on charges of trafficking arms to Angola during its civil war. What is striking is that the U.S. is the only state that engaged in preemptive investigative action, which is in line with its reputation as one of the very few states that is serious about enforcing its export controls.

But the main nonsense is the story is simply this: the UN’s resolutions on the treaty say nothing about bribery. Their goal – supposedly – is to establish “common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.” Even if the UN gets its treaty, bribery will remain what it is today: a crime (or not) for various states to define, investigate, and prosecute (or not) as they see fit.

Supporters of the treaty, like Britain, point out the need for signatories to “subscribe to the highest standards of good governance, including the need to tackle bribery and corruption.” But if states do not do this now, there is no reason to believe that a treaty will make them behave. Far from demonstrating the need for a treaty, the Las Vegas arrests sum up why a treaty will be irrelevant: what matters is not the creation of new common international standards but the ability and willingness of states to make and enforce good laws. The U.S. does this. Regrettably, the vast majority of the states negotiating the UN’s treaty do not.

UPI is running a story that sums up a lot of bad reporting about a favorite liberal cause: the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty. The piece – headlined “Arms Trade Plagued By Corruption” – is halfway between reporting and editorializing. It’s occasioned by the arrest in Las Vegas, after a two-and-a-half-year undercover Department of Justice sting operation, of 22 Americans, Britons, Israelis, and others at an arms expo. They are charged with trying to bribe an individual they thought was an African defense minister to obtain a $15 million contract. Bribing foreign officials is a violation of the 1977 U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The story – dated from Beirut, which helps explain its emphasis on Western wrongdoings in general, especially directed at the Israelis, Americans, and British – emphasizes how international arms trade should be controlled by the UN, and how UN action has been stymied by the UN Security Council’s permanent members, especially the United States. According to UPI, the Obama administration’s support last fall for an arms-trade treaty, and its willingness to arrest the individuals in Las Vegas, shows that times and the mood of the U.S. are finally changing.

This is ridiculous. The DoJ investigation began under President George W. Bush, so the arrests tell us nothing about changing U.S. policy. It’s wrong to presume guilt, but if those arrested in Las Vegas did seek to violate the 1977 Act, then U.S. authorities did the right thing by arresting them. The tale of the U.S. as the preeminent hold-out against good and right is contradicted by the story’s emphasis on BAE’s legal difficulties in Britain over bribes that may have been paid to facilitate sales in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Saudi Arabia, and by its summary of the conviction in October of the son of Francois Mitterand, the late President of France, on charges of trafficking arms to Angola during its civil war. What is striking is that the U.S. is the only state that engaged in preemptive investigative action, which is in line with its reputation as one of the very few states that is serious about enforcing its export controls.

But the main nonsense is the story is simply this: the UN’s resolutions on the treaty say nothing about bribery. Their goal – supposedly – is to establish “common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.” Even if the UN gets its treaty, bribery will remain what it is today: a crime (or not) for various states to define, investigate, and prosecute (or not) as they see fit.

Supporters of the treaty, like Britain, point out the need for signatories to “subscribe to the highest standards of good governance, including the need to tackle bribery and corruption.” But if states do not do this now, there is no reason to believe that a treaty will make them behave. Far from demonstrating the need for a treaty, the Las Vegas arrests sum up why a treaty will be irrelevant: what matters is not the creation of new common international standards but the ability and willingness of states to make and enforce good laws. The U.S. does this. Regrettably, the vast majority of the states negotiating the UN’s treaty do not.

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Stick a Fork in It

The Jan. 16 meeting of the P5+1 ended ingloriously. The U.S. representative said the P5+1, which will confer again by phone this month, remains committed to the “dual track” approach, in which the possibility of sanctions on Iran is part of the “pressure track.” Western media uniformly characterize the meeting’s outcome as indecisive; but although Russia’s envoy made no definitive pronouncements, the headline at state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti was categorical: “Iran Six decides [sic] against new sanctions on Tehran.”

China, meanwhile, created impressive diplomatic theater by shifting veteran P5+1 negotiator He Yafei to a new post just before the Jan. 16 meeting, sending a low-ranking functionary in his stead and failing to provide contact information for Mr. He’s replacement. According to the UK Times, the P5+1 negotiators don’t know whom to contact in Beijing to schedule the phone conversation proposed for later this month.  The Washington Post reports that “diplomats said they did not know China’s motive” for these measures, but it cites the diplomats’ speculating — with straight faces, as far as we know — that “it might be to illustrate Beijing’s resistance to punishing Iran with more sanctions or dismay at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.” China’s obstructionist behavior effectively ended any hope for progress on Saturday.

This meeting, of course, was the threat hanging over Iran if it elected not to comply with President Obama’s Dec. 31 deadline. As Rick Richman pointed out last week, Obama’s State Department was already soft-peddling the deadline in mid-December, an approach unlikely to impress Iran with our seriousness. In fairness, however, making such an impression would require overcoming the relentless countersignals coming from our negotiating partners, whose businesses have spent recent months deepening their commercial ties with Iran. Whether it’s France’s Total SA bidding with China to develop Iranian gas fields or German port operator HPC contracting to manage the container port in Iran’s Bandar Abbas complex, our P5+1 partners are engaging themselves to make a lot of money from precisely the commercial activities we would have to sanction to affect Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Recent summaries like the ones here and here recount the many ways in which commerce is outrunning the political sentiment for sanctions. That sentiment is by no means strong or unified to begin with: Russia has been extraordinarily consistent in its position that there’s no evidence Iran is even pursuing nuclear weapons. Vladimir Putin reiterated that position on Jan. 7 after two previous Russian assertions to the same effect in December (here and here). Indeed, Putin said it in 2008, 2007, and 2005, a record we have heroically disregarded in our eagerness to negotiate alongside Moscow.

Obama’s effort, launched in September with the dramatic revelation about the nuclear site near Qom, is done. On assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on Jan. 5, China announced that sanctions against Iran will not be on the council’s agenda for January — a promise more credible than Obama’s December deadline. Either we change the pace of our diplomacy right now, or the nations concerned will conclude that U.S. diplomacy is irrelevant. Procrastination at this point means certain failure.

The Jan. 16 meeting of the P5+1 ended ingloriously. The U.S. representative said the P5+1, which will confer again by phone this month, remains committed to the “dual track” approach, in which the possibility of sanctions on Iran is part of the “pressure track.” Western media uniformly characterize the meeting’s outcome as indecisive; but although Russia’s envoy made no definitive pronouncements, the headline at state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti was categorical: “Iran Six decides [sic] against new sanctions on Tehran.”

China, meanwhile, created impressive diplomatic theater by shifting veteran P5+1 negotiator He Yafei to a new post just before the Jan. 16 meeting, sending a low-ranking functionary in his stead and failing to provide contact information for Mr. He’s replacement. According to the UK Times, the P5+1 negotiators don’t know whom to contact in Beijing to schedule the phone conversation proposed for later this month.  The Washington Post reports that “diplomats said they did not know China’s motive” for these measures, but it cites the diplomats’ speculating — with straight faces, as far as we know — that “it might be to illustrate Beijing’s resistance to punishing Iran with more sanctions or dismay at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.” China’s obstructionist behavior effectively ended any hope for progress on Saturday.

This meeting, of course, was the threat hanging over Iran if it elected not to comply with President Obama’s Dec. 31 deadline. As Rick Richman pointed out last week, Obama’s State Department was already soft-peddling the deadline in mid-December, an approach unlikely to impress Iran with our seriousness. In fairness, however, making such an impression would require overcoming the relentless countersignals coming from our negotiating partners, whose businesses have spent recent months deepening their commercial ties with Iran. Whether it’s France’s Total SA bidding with China to develop Iranian gas fields or German port operator HPC contracting to manage the container port in Iran’s Bandar Abbas complex, our P5+1 partners are engaging themselves to make a lot of money from precisely the commercial activities we would have to sanction to affect Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Recent summaries like the ones here and here recount the many ways in which commerce is outrunning the political sentiment for sanctions. That sentiment is by no means strong or unified to begin with: Russia has been extraordinarily consistent in its position that there’s no evidence Iran is even pursuing nuclear weapons. Vladimir Putin reiterated that position on Jan. 7 after two previous Russian assertions to the same effect in December (here and here). Indeed, Putin said it in 2008, 2007, and 2005, a record we have heroically disregarded in our eagerness to negotiate alongside Moscow.

Obama’s effort, launched in September with the dramatic revelation about the nuclear site near Qom, is done. On assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on Jan. 5, China announced that sanctions against Iran will not be on the council’s agenda for January — a promise more credible than Obama’s December deadline. Either we change the pace of our diplomacy right now, or the nations concerned will conclude that U.S. diplomacy is irrelevant. Procrastination at this point means certain failure.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Noemie Emery says the elite pundits blew it in hawking Obama’s candidacy: “Could it be that The One has misjudged both the times and the country?; that he made a strategic mistake in pushing for health care (and a tactical one in trusting the Congress)?; that he created a nightmare for most in his party, who face epic losses this year? … To acknowledge this is to indict their own judgment, to face the fact they themselves may be less than insightful, that ‘talking like us’ means next to nothing, and that writing for magazines doesn’t equip one for greatness, or leadership. In fact, it only equips one to write for more magazines.”

Rep. Bart Stupak is holding firm for now. He isn’t buying the Reid–Ben Nelson abortion compromise language, “arguing that the Senate bill would effectively allow millions to buy insurance plans covering abortion because of federal subsidies and break the long-standing Hyde rule preventing federal funding of abortions — even if the federal government isn’t signing the checks directly, as it would have with the now-dead public insurance option.” The Democrats claim they have enough votes even without Stupak and pro-life Democrats. Really? We’ll find out.

Talking Points Memo or American Spectator? “Most campaign-type Democrats think Coakley will pull out a victory Tuesday despite a lackluster campaign and independents and undecideds rapidly slipping from their column, but some openly warn that a close race in the Bay State is a real warning sign for November’s mid-term elections.”

Barack Obama or Newt Gingrich? “That’s what’s been lost this year … that whole sense of changing how Washington works.”

A former Justice Department official doesn’t think much of the Obama team’s flurry of excuses for not responding to discovery requests in the New Black Panther Party case: “They are relying on privileges that the Office of Legal Counsel says do not exist. … There is no privilege, for instance, saying that the Justice Department will not identify personnel working on the case. … Generally, a number of these privileges [are ones] I’ve literally never heard of.” Well, who ever heard of executive privilege for a social secretary?

New Hampshire once looked like a potential lost seat for the GOP. Not anymore. The Republican front-runner, Kelly Ayotte, leads Paul Hodes by 9 points in the latest poll.

Good for him: “The top Senate Democrat in charge of military affairs on Wednesday ended a three-day trip to Afghanistan with a message of optimism that the U.S. mission can still succeed. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he sees a higher confidence among U.S. military leaders and Afghan leaders that the war against insurgents can be successful.” And a lesson for Obama: if he leads on national security, his base will follow.

Politico has a forum on: “Massachusetts: Does the closer-than-anyone-expected race jeopardize the Democratic agenda?” If you have to ask, the answer is yes.

All that groveling for nothing: “Although a State Department China hand described constructive U.S.-China cooperation on Iran in Hill testimony today, there are more signs that China is trying to put the breaks on moving forward with new Iran sanctions at this time. … But a diplomatic source tells POLITICO that China is saying its political director may not necessarily be able to come to a meeting of the P5+1 — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany — that is scheduled for next weekend in New York.”

Noemie Emery says the elite pundits blew it in hawking Obama’s candidacy: “Could it be that The One has misjudged both the times and the country?; that he made a strategic mistake in pushing for health care (and a tactical one in trusting the Congress)?; that he created a nightmare for most in his party, who face epic losses this year? … To acknowledge this is to indict their own judgment, to face the fact they themselves may be less than insightful, that ‘talking like us’ means next to nothing, and that writing for magazines doesn’t equip one for greatness, or leadership. In fact, it only equips one to write for more magazines.”

Rep. Bart Stupak is holding firm for now. He isn’t buying the Reid–Ben Nelson abortion compromise language, “arguing that the Senate bill would effectively allow millions to buy insurance plans covering abortion because of federal subsidies and break the long-standing Hyde rule preventing federal funding of abortions — even if the federal government isn’t signing the checks directly, as it would have with the now-dead public insurance option.” The Democrats claim they have enough votes even without Stupak and pro-life Democrats. Really? We’ll find out.

Talking Points Memo or American Spectator? “Most campaign-type Democrats think Coakley will pull out a victory Tuesday despite a lackluster campaign and independents and undecideds rapidly slipping from their column, but some openly warn that a close race in the Bay State is a real warning sign for November’s mid-term elections.”

Barack Obama or Newt Gingrich? “That’s what’s been lost this year … that whole sense of changing how Washington works.”

A former Justice Department official doesn’t think much of the Obama team’s flurry of excuses for not responding to discovery requests in the New Black Panther Party case: “They are relying on privileges that the Office of Legal Counsel says do not exist. … There is no privilege, for instance, saying that the Justice Department will not identify personnel working on the case. … Generally, a number of these privileges [are ones] I’ve literally never heard of.” Well, who ever heard of executive privilege for a social secretary?

New Hampshire once looked like a potential lost seat for the GOP. Not anymore. The Republican front-runner, Kelly Ayotte, leads Paul Hodes by 9 points in the latest poll.

Good for him: “The top Senate Democrat in charge of military affairs on Wednesday ended a three-day trip to Afghanistan with a message of optimism that the U.S. mission can still succeed. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he sees a higher confidence among U.S. military leaders and Afghan leaders that the war against insurgents can be successful.” And a lesson for Obama: if he leads on national security, his base will follow.

Politico has a forum on: “Massachusetts: Does the closer-than-anyone-expected race jeopardize the Democratic agenda?” If you have to ask, the answer is yes.

All that groveling for nothing: “Although a State Department China hand described constructive U.S.-China cooperation on Iran in Hill testimony today, there are more signs that China is trying to put the breaks on moving forward with new Iran sanctions at this time. … But a diplomatic source tells POLITICO that China is saying its political director may not necessarily be able to come to a meeting of the P5+1 — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany — that is scheduled for next weekend in New York.”

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“Please Take a Moment . . .”

The Obami have been no friends to human-rights activists and democracy promoters around the globe. Leading the charge … er … retreat has been Hillary Clinton, who infamously told the Chinese that human rights shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with other, more pressing issues like global warming. (Something real, and tangible, you see.) And this is the administration that stiffed the Iranian democracy protesters and defunded them, while Hillary and crew have been busy “engaging” the despotic regimes of Burma and Sudan.

So you can imagine my surprise when an e-mail from Hillary’s longtime gal-pal and frequent media spinner Ann Lewis came to me (well, me and anyone who signed up to get information from Hillary’s failed presidential campaign). It’s actually a fundraising letter and spin-gram from NoLimits.org — born when Hillary discovered there were limits to the Democratic party’s toleration of the Clintons — touting, yes, Hillary’s “strong commitment to human rights and women’s rights.” December 10 is Human Rights Day, so Lewis breathlessly reminds us:

In the last year, she has appointed the first ever Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, chaired the first UN Security Council session on violence against women, and offered significant medical help and protection for rape victims in the Congo. Secretary Clinton has spoken out for religious freedom and diversity in Tazakh, LGBT rights in town halls from Washington, D.C. to Moldova, and increased access to technology for grassroots advocates fighting to be heard in Iran. She’s condemned the murder of journalists in Russia, and called on China to release those still imprisoned for their actions during the protests in Tiananmen Square two decades ago.

Hmm. I think the administration isn’t exactly eager to help Iranian protesters with technology, because that might help Chinese democracy protesters. And we can’t have that. But fidelity to details was never part of Hillary’s campaign operation, so let’s not get too deeply mired in facts.

All this seemed rather out of joint, as if dropped from a time capsule. It seems to be from another year, another decade, in which Hillary was out trolling for support and in which human rights topped the agenda. And then I saw the accompanying photo, which seemed indeed to be from another era, five or six hairstyles ago.

box_join_us

Well, perhaps someone has been messing with the space-time continuum. Or maybe Hillary has been watching those Obama poll numbers that look like the hill for advanced skiers (i.e., featuring a really precipitous decline) — and she’s just keeping her options open.

The Obami have been no friends to human-rights activists and democracy promoters around the globe. Leading the charge … er … retreat has been Hillary Clinton, who infamously told the Chinese that human rights shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with other, more pressing issues like global warming. (Something real, and tangible, you see.) And this is the administration that stiffed the Iranian democracy protesters and defunded them, while Hillary and crew have been busy “engaging” the despotic regimes of Burma and Sudan.

So you can imagine my surprise when an e-mail from Hillary’s longtime gal-pal and frequent media spinner Ann Lewis came to me (well, me and anyone who signed up to get information from Hillary’s failed presidential campaign). It’s actually a fundraising letter and spin-gram from NoLimits.org — born when Hillary discovered there were limits to the Democratic party’s toleration of the Clintons — touting, yes, Hillary’s “strong commitment to human rights and women’s rights.” December 10 is Human Rights Day, so Lewis breathlessly reminds us:

In the last year, she has appointed the first ever Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, chaired the first UN Security Council session on violence against women, and offered significant medical help and protection for rape victims in the Congo. Secretary Clinton has spoken out for religious freedom and diversity in Tazakh, LGBT rights in town halls from Washington, D.C. to Moldova, and increased access to technology for grassroots advocates fighting to be heard in Iran. She’s condemned the murder of journalists in Russia, and called on China to release those still imprisoned for their actions during the protests in Tiananmen Square two decades ago.

Hmm. I think the administration isn’t exactly eager to help Iranian protesters with technology, because that might help Chinese democracy protesters. And we can’t have that. But fidelity to details was never part of Hillary’s campaign operation, so let’s not get too deeply mired in facts.

All this seemed rather out of joint, as if dropped from a time capsule. It seems to be from another year, another decade, in which Hillary was out trolling for support and in which human rights topped the agenda. And then I saw the accompanying photo, which seemed indeed to be from another era, five or six hairstyles ago.

box_join_us

Well, perhaps someone has been messing with the space-time continuum. Or maybe Hillary has been watching those Obama poll numbers that look like the hill for advanced skiers (i.e., featuring a really precipitous decline) — and she’s just keeping her options open.

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Re: The Value of an International Guarantee

Let me add a note to Evelyn Gordon’s important posts yesterday and today regarding Mahmoud Abbas’s weekend assertion that the UN should endorse a two-state solution “based on the June 4, 1967 borders” – a solution he contends is reflected in the relevant UN Security Council resolution and the Roadmap.

As Evelyn’s first post demonstrated, Resolution 242 (1967) refers to a withdrawal from an unspecified portion of “territories” (not “the” or “all the” territories) and to “secure and recognized boundaries.” Former UN Ambassador Arthur J. Goldberg wrote that “the notable omissions in language used to refer to withdrawal are the words the, all, and the June 5, 1967 lines.” The resolution was intended to ensure that Israel would not have to withdraw to the indefensible borders that provoked the Six-Day War.

The Roadmap calls for final-status negotiations in Phase III “based on UNSCR 242.” It does not mention the June 4, 1967, lines, much less endorse them as “borders.” The U.S. has at least three times formally assured Israel of “defensible borders” as the outcome of the peace process: (1) in the January 16, 1997, letter from Secretary of State Warren Christopher to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; (2) in the April 14, 2004, letter from President George W. Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; and (3) in the January 16, 2009, Memorandum of Agreement between the U.S. and Israel. Only such borders meet the Resolution 242 requirement that Israel’s borders be not only recognized but also secure.

Evelyn’s second post demonstrates that it would be a breach of a longstanding international guarantee to Israel for the UN to endorse the June 4, 1967, lines as the basis of a Palestinian state. It would also violate repeated assurances made to Israel by the United States.

Let me add a note to Evelyn Gordon’s important posts yesterday and today regarding Mahmoud Abbas’s weekend assertion that the UN should endorse a two-state solution “based on the June 4, 1967 borders” – a solution he contends is reflected in the relevant UN Security Council resolution and the Roadmap.

As Evelyn’s first post demonstrated, Resolution 242 (1967) refers to a withdrawal from an unspecified portion of “territories” (not “the” or “all the” territories) and to “secure and recognized boundaries.” Former UN Ambassador Arthur J. Goldberg wrote that “the notable omissions in language used to refer to withdrawal are the words the, all, and the June 5, 1967 lines.” The resolution was intended to ensure that Israel would not have to withdraw to the indefensible borders that provoked the Six-Day War.

The Roadmap calls for final-status negotiations in Phase III “based on UNSCR 242.” It does not mention the June 4, 1967, lines, much less endorse them as “borders.” The U.S. has at least three times formally assured Israel of “defensible borders” as the outcome of the peace process: (1) in the January 16, 1997, letter from Secretary of State Warren Christopher to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; (2) in the April 14, 2004, letter from President George W. Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; and (3) in the January 16, 2009, Memorandum of Agreement between the U.S. and Israel. Only such borders meet the Resolution 242 requirement that Israel’s borders be not only recognized but also secure.

Evelyn’s second post demonstrates that it would be a breach of a longstanding international guarantee to Israel for the UN to endorse the June 4, 1967, lines as the basis of a Palestinian state. It would also violate repeated assurances made to Israel by the United States.

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The Value of an International Guarantee

Yesterday, I noted that a UN Security Council endorsement of “a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders,” such as Mahmoud Abbas is seeking, would radically alter the existing international position, prejudice the outcome of negotiations, and probably spark an escalating war of unilateral moves and countermoves. But it would also have another deleterious effect: it would provide further proof that international guarantees to Israel are worthless. And because reliable international guarantees will be a necessary part of any Israeli-Palestinian agreement, this would make a deal significantly less likely.

After all, Resolution 242 was the strongest international guarantee anyone could hope for: a binding Security Council resolution that, as explained yesterday, explicitly assured Israel that it would not have to withdraw to the 1967 lines. And all subsequent Israeli governments relied on this assurance: while Labor and Likud governments disagreed over where Israel’s final border should run, each built settlements in those areas they thought Israel would retain under any peace deal.

Thus if the Security Council were to change its mind now and retroactively invalidate the guarantee it gave Israel in 242, it could clearly change its mind on anything — meaning that Israel could not rely on any international guarantee it might receive as part of a final-status deal.

In truth, the Security Council has already made this pretty clear, via its treatment of Resolution 1310, which certified Israel’s unilateral pullout from Lebanon in 2000 as complete to the last inch. Almost immediately after that resolution passed, Hezbollah began insisting that the pullout was not complete because Israel still occupied the “Lebanese territory” of Shaba Farms. Yet UN experts had previously determined that Shaba was Syrian, not Lebanese, and that determination served as the basis for both Israel’s pullout and the subsequent Security Council endorsement.

But instead of sticking by this endorsement, the international community quickly backtracked: in 2006, the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1701, which ordered the UN to delineate “the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including by dealing with the Shebaa farms area.” The UN subsequently set up a new mapping commission to do so. And while the commission has yet to submit its final conclusions, the Israeli press reported two years ago already that it intends to declare Shaba Lebanese

This sends a pretty clear message: there’s no such thing as a “final” border for Israel; anytime an Arab state demands additional territory, the UN will happily scrap its own previous determination of the “final” border and favorably consider the new Arab request.

Nevertheless, many Israelis still view this as an aberration rather than a precedent. If the Security Council decides to scrap 242 as well, that illusion will be even harder to maintain.

Hence before considering Abbas’s proposal, the council ought to ask itself how many promises to Israel it can violate before even the most optimistic Israelis conclude that no such promise can be trusted — and whether that really serves the cause of peace.

Yesterday, I noted that a UN Security Council endorsement of “a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders,” such as Mahmoud Abbas is seeking, would radically alter the existing international position, prejudice the outcome of negotiations, and probably spark an escalating war of unilateral moves and countermoves. But it would also have another deleterious effect: it would provide further proof that international guarantees to Israel are worthless. And because reliable international guarantees will be a necessary part of any Israeli-Palestinian agreement, this would make a deal significantly less likely.

After all, Resolution 242 was the strongest international guarantee anyone could hope for: a binding Security Council resolution that, as explained yesterday, explicitly assured Israel that it would not have to withdraw to the 1967 lines. And all subsequent Israeli governments relied on this assurance: while Labor and Likud governments disagreed over where Israel’s final border should run, each built settlements in those areas they thought Israel would retain under any peace deal.

Thus if the Security Council were to change its mind now and retroactively invalidate the guarantee it gave Israel in 242, it could clearly change its mind on anything — meaning that Israel could not rely on any international guarantee it might receive as part of a final-status deal.

In truth, the Security Council has already made this pretty clear, via its treatment of Resolution 1310, which certified Israel’s unilateral pullout from Lebanon in 2000 as complete to the last inch. Almost immediately after that resolution passed, Hezbollah began insisting that the pullout was not complete because Israel still occupied the “Lebanese territory” of Shaba Farms. Yet UN experts had previously determined that Shaba was Syrian, not Lebanese, and that determination served as the basis for both Israel’s pullout and the subsequent Security Council endorsement.

But instead of sticking by this endorsement, the international community quickly backtracked: in 2006, the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1701, which ordered the UN to delineate “the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including by dealing with the Shebaa farms area.” The UN subsequently set up a new mapping commission to do so. And while the commission has yet to submit its final conclusions, the Israeli press reported two years ago already that it intends to declare Shaba Lebanese

This sends a pretty clear message: there’s no such thing as a “final” border for Israel; anytime an Arab state demands additional territory, the UN will happily scrap its own previous determination of the “final” border and favorably consider the new Arab request.

Nevertheless, many Israelis still view this as an aberration rather than a precedent. If the Security Council decides to scrap 242 as well, that illusion will be even harder to maintain.

Hence before considering Abbas’s proposal, the council ought to ask itself how many promises to Israel it can violate before even the most optimistic Israelis conclude that no such promise can be trusted — and whether that really serves the cause of peace.

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Unilateral Moves and Countermoves

Interviewed by BBC Arabic this weekend, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas denied reports that he would seek UN Security Council approval for unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state. Rather, he said, “We will turn to the United Nations and the Security Council to strengthen what has been agreed on in the road map and approved by the Security Council, a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders.”

That may sound innocuous. But in fact, Security Council acquiescence to this proposal would both radically alter the current international position and demolish the already faltering principle that the talks’ outcome should not be prejudiced by unilateral action.

While most of the world already believes the 1967 lines should be the final border, the formal basis for the talks remains Security Council Resolution 242, which says no such thing. This resolution purposefully required an Israeli withdrawal only from “territories” captured in 1967, not “the territories” or “all the territories.” As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted 242, explained, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” America’s then UN ambassador, Arthur Goldberg, similarly said the two omitted words “were not accidental …. the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.” This was equally clear to the Soviet Union and Arab states, which is why they unsuccessfully pushed to include those extra words.

Formally, therefore, the final border is subject to negotiations: The Palestinians can seek the 1967 lines, but Israel is free to seek to retain parts of the territories. However, should the council endorse “a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders,” this would no longer be true: Instead, the world would have formally adopted the Palestinian position in a binding resolution — thereby blatantly prejudicing the outcome of the talks.

Ironically, this could force Israel to respond with accelerated unilateral action of its own: settlement construction, and perhaps even formal annexation. A major spur to continued settlement construction in recent years has been the escalating international pressure on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines, which led Jerusalem to conclude that its only chance of retaining areas it deems critical for its security was to put so many people there that moving them would be impossible. If this pressure switched from de facto to de jure, more aggressive Israeli countermeasures might become necessary.

In contrast, had the world really treated the border as negotiable rather than openly backed the Palestinian position, Israel could have agreed to freeze settlement construction, because creating “facts on the ground” would not have been necessary to protect its interests.

An escalating war of unilateral moves and countermoves would not be conducive to any agreement. That might not disturb Abbas, who has repeatedly demonstrated a preference for dictated rather than negotiated solutions. But it ought to disturb all those Security Council members who claim to view an Israeli-Palestinian agreement as top priority.

Interviewed by BBC Arabic this weekend, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas denied reports that he would seek UN Security Council approval for unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state. Rather, he said, “We will turn to the United Nations and the Security Council to strengthen what has been agreed on in the road map and approved by the Security Council, a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders.”

That may sound innocuous. But in fact, Security Council acquiescence to this proposal would both radically alter the current international position and demolish the already faltering principle that the talks’ outcome should not be prejudiced by unilateral action.

While most of the world already believes the 1967 lines should be the final border, the formal basis for the talks remains Security Council Resolution 242, which says no such thing. This resolution purposefully required an Israeli withdrawal only from “territories” captured in 1967, not “the territories” or “all the territories.” As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted 242, explained, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” America’s then UN ambassador, Arthur Goldberg, similarly said the two omitted words “were not accidental …. the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.” This was equally clear to the Soviet Union and Arab states, which is why they unsuccessfully pushed to include those extra words.

Formally, therefore, the final border is subject to negotiations: The Palestinians can seek the 1967 lines, but Israel is free to seek to retain parts of the territories. However, should the council endorse “a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders,” this would no longer be true: Instead, the world would have formally adopted the Palestinian position in a binding resolution — thereby blatantly prejudicing the outcome of the talks.

Ironically, this could force Israel to respond with accelerated unilateral action of its own: settlement construction, and perhaps even formal annexation. A major spur to continued settlement construction in recent years has been the escalating international pressure on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines, which led Jerusalem to conclude that its only chance of retaining areas it deems critical for its security was to put so many people there that moving them would be impossible. If this pressure switched from de facto to de jure, more aggressive Israeli countermeasures might become necessary.

In contrast, had the world really treated the border as negotiable rather than openly backed the Palestinian position, Israel could have agreed to freeze settlement construction, because creating “facts on the ground” would not have been necessary to protect its interests.

An escalating war of unilateral moves and countermoves would not be conducive to any agreement. That might not disturb Abbas, who has repeatedly demonstrated a preference for dictated rather than negotiated solutions. But it ought to disturb all those Security Council members who claim to view an Israeli-Palestinian agreement as top priority.

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