Commentary Magazine


Topic: UN Security Council

Israel Derangement Syndrome

The basic formula of IDS is that almost any negative consequences which derive from Arab attacks on Israel are blamed by enlightened elites not on the attackers themselves, but on Israel, especially when the Jewish state’s response to being assaulted does not take the form of absolute and total moral perfection as defined by the UN and the Guardian‘s editorial board. IDS in its more subtle forms is so pervasive it largely escapes notice. But it’s still worth noting, once in a while. Here are a couple of examples from recent days:

1. Reporting on a conversation in which Joschka Fischer claimed that Israel would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before the end of the year, Nouriel Roubini, an NYU business professor, declared that

if such action were to be taken by Israel the consequences outlined above would be the clear outcome: a major global recession, wars throughout the Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, Israel, etc.) and a major increase in geopolitical instability.

In other words, a litany of catastrophes would befall the world not because Iran is in violation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and three UN Security Council resolutions, is developing nuclear weapons, waging war against America, Israel, and Lebanon through proxy forces, and has repeatedly threatened to annihilate the state of Israel. None of those items inform the moral calculus. No, Roubini’s argument runs, Israel is to blame, because not allowing itself to be destroyed would upset global harmony. Nice.

2. The Gaza Fulbright scholars. Reports ABC News:

Seven Palestinian scholars may lose their prized Fulbright scholarships to attend American universities because Israel won’t let them out of the Gaza Strip.

So Israel is now responsible for ensuring the educational opportunities of Gaza students? The young soldiers of the IDF, according to this logic, must be put in harm’s way at the crossing points of Gaza — which are Hamas’ favorite ambush and attack sites — so that seven people may leave a territory into and out of which they would be able to freely travel any day they wished if Hamas was not engaged in a terror war against Israel. The point is not that limitations on Palestinian educational opportunities are a good thing; it is that such hardships have their origins not in Israeli cruelty, but in Palestinian violence. As someone once said, the Jewish state is expected to act like the only Christian nation in the world.

There are dozens more examples. But there is a group of people on whose behalf anything is rarely said. They are the Palestinians who detest the manner in which Hamas has imprisoned them in Gaza. These people have no spokesmen, not even among the western reporters who derive so much smug satisfaction in imagining themselves the champions of the voiceless. By falsely incriminating Israel and thereby apologizing for Hamas, such journalists only prolong the suffering of Palestinians. IDS hurts Arabs, too.

The basic formula of IDS is that almost any negative consequences which derive from Arab attacks on Israel are blamed by enlightened elites not on the attackers themselves, but on Israel, especially when the Jewish state’s response to being assaulted does not take the form of absolute and total moral perfection as defined by the UN and the Guardian‘s editorial board. IDS in its more subtle forms is so pervasive it largely escapes notice. But it’s still worth noting, once in a while. Here are a couple of examples from recent days:

1. Reporting on a conversation in which Joschka Fischer claimed that Israel would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before the end of the year, Nouriel Roubini, an NYU business professor, declared that

if such action were to be taken by Israel the consequences outlined above would be the clear outcome: a major global recession, wars throughout the Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, Israel, etc.) and a major increase in geopolitical instability.

In other words, a litany of catastrophes would befall the world not because Iran is in violation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and three UN Security Council resolutions, is developing nuclear weapons, waging war against America, Israel, and Lebanon through proxy forces, and has repeatedly threatened to annihilate the state of Israel. None of those items inform the moral calculus. No, Roubini’s argument runs, Israel is to blame, because not allowing itself to be destroyed would upset global harmony. Nice.

2. The Gaza Fulbright scholars. Reports ABC News:

Seven Palestinian scholars may lose their prized Fulbright scholarships to attend American universities because Israel won’t let them out of the Gaza Strip.

So Israel is now responsible for ensuring the educational opportunities of Gaza students? The young soldiers of the IDF, according to this logic, must be put in harm’s way at the crossing points of Gaza — which are Hamas’ favorite ambush and attack sites — so that seven people may leave a territory into and out of which they would be able to freely travel any day they wished if Hamas was not engaged in a terror war against Israel. The point is not that limitations on Palestinian educational opportunities are a good thing; it is that such hardships have their origins not in Israeli cruelty, but in Palestinian violence. As someone once said, the Jewish state is expected to act like the only Christian nation in the world.

There are dozens more examples. But there is a group of people on whose behalf anything is rarely said. They are the Palestinians who detest the manner in which Hamas has imprisoned them in Gaza. These people have no spokesmen, not even among the western reporters who derive so much smug satisfaction in imagining themselves the champions of the voiceless. By falsely incriminating Israel and thereby apologizing for Hamas, such journalists only prolong the suffering of Palestinians. IDS hurts Arabs, too.

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McCain on Iran

In his AIPAC speech this morning, John McCain talked tough on Iran:

[W]e hear talk of a meeting with the Iranian leadership offered up as if it were some sudden inspiration, a bold new idea that somehow nobody has ever thought of before. Yet it’s hard to see what such a summit with President Ahmadinejad would actually gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants, and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting another. Such a spectacle would harm Iranian moderates and dissidents, as the radicals and hardliners strengthen their position and suddenly acquire the appearance of respectability. Rather than sitting down unconditionally with the Iranian president or supreme leader in the hope that we can talk sense into them, we must create the real-world pressures that will peacefully but decisively change the path they are on. Essential to this strategy is the UN Security Council, which should impose progressively tougher political and economic sanctions. Should the Security Council continue to delay in this responsibility, the United States must lead like-minded countries in imposing multilateral sanctions outside the UN framework. I am proud to have been a leader on these issues for years, having coauthored the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act. Over a year ago I proposed applying sanctions to restrict Iran’s ability to import refined petroleum products, on which it is highly dependent, and the time has come for an international campaign to do just that. A severe limit on Iranian imports of gasoline would create immediate pressure on Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to change course, and to cease in the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

On the subject of Iraq he did not mince words:

It’s worth recalling that America’s progress in Iraq is the direct result of the new strategy that Senator Obama opposed. It was the strategy he predicted would fail, when he voted cut off funds for our forces in Iraq. He now says he intends to withdraw combat troops from Iraq – one to two brigades per month until they are all removed. He will do so regardless of the conditions in Iraq, regardless of the consequences for our national security, regardless of Israel’s security, and in disregard of the best advice of our commanders on the ground. This course would surely result in a catastrophe. If our troops are ordered to make a forced retreat, we risk all-out civil war, genocide, and a failed state in the heart of the Middle East. Al Qaeda terrorists would rejoice in the defeat of the United States. Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel, and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq’s neighbors, including an emboldened Iran. We must not let this happen. We must not leave the region to suffer chaos, terrorist violence and a wider war.

But the speech was more than a series of public policy pronouncements. It was in many ways a tender, heart-filled tribute to Israel. He concludes:

If there are ties between America and Israel that critics of our alliance have never understood, perhaps that is because they do not fully understand the love of liberty and the pursuit of justice. But they should know those ties cannot be broken. We were brought together by shared ideals and by shared adversity. We have been comrades in struggle, and trusted partners in the quest for peace. We are the most natural of allies. And, like Israel itself, that alliance is forever.

If there has been a sweeter public expression of affection for and solidarity with Israel I would be hard pressed to recollect it.

In his AIPAC speech this morning, John McCain talked tough on Iran:

[W]e hear talk of a meeting with the Iranian leadership offered up as if it were some sudden inspiration, a bold new idea that somehow nobody has ever thought of before. Yet it’s hard to see what such a summit with President Ahmadinejad would actually gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants, and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting another. Such a spectacle would harm Iranian moderates and dissidents, as the radicals and hardliners strengthen their position and suddenly acquire the appearance of respectability. Rather than sitting down unconditionally with the Iranian president or supreme leader in the hope that we can talk sense into them, we must create the real-world pressures that will peacefully but decisively change the path they are on. Essential to this strategy is the UN Security Council, which should impose progressively tougher political and economic sanctions. Should the Security Council continue to delay in this responsibility, the United States must lead like-minded countries in imposing multilateral sanctions outside the UN framework. I am proud to have been a leader on these issues for years, having coauthored the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act. Over a year ago I proposed applying sanctions to restrict Iran’s ability to import refined petroleum products, on which it is highly dependent, and the time has come for an international campaign to do just that. A severe limit on Iranian imports of gasoline would create immediate pressure on Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to change course, and to cease in the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

On the subject of Iraq he did not mince words:

It’s worth recalling that America’s progress in Iraq is the direct result of the new strategy that Senator Obama opposed. It was the strategy he predicted would fail, when he voted cut off funds for our forces in Iraq. He now says he intends to withdraw combat troops from Iraq – one to two brigades per month until they are all removed. He will do so regardless of the conditions in Iraq, regardless of the consequences for our national security, regardless of Israel’s security, and in disregard of the best advice of our commanders on the ground. This course would surely result in a catastrophe. If our troops are ordered to make a forced retreat, we risk all-out civil war, genocide, and a failed state in the heart of the Middle East. Al Qaeda terrorists would rejoice in the defeat of the United States. Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel, and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq’s neighbors, including an emboldened Iran. We must not let this happen. We must not leave the region to suffer chaos, terrorist violence and a wider war.

But the speech was more than a series of public policy pronouncements. It was in many ways a tender, heart-filled tribute to Israel. He concludes:

If there are ties between America and Israel that critics of our alliance have never understood, perhaps that is because they do not fully understand the love of liberty and the pursuit of justice. But they should know those ties cannot be broken. We were brought together by shared ideals and by shared adversity. We have been comrades in struggle, and trusted partners in the quest for peace. We are the most natural of allies. And, like Israel itself, that alliance is forever.

If there has been a sweeter public expression of affection for and solidarity with Israel I would be hard pressed to recollect it.

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Lebanon Recriminations

To add to Eric’s great post below, and to the thoughts of Michael Young and David Schenker, I think it’s appropriate, in the midst of the false denouement of the latest crisis, to take a moment and look at the dreadful behavior of the United Nations.

Remember UN Security Council Resolution 1559? It was passed way back in 2004, and it required the disarmament of Hezbollah. It was ignored. Then there is UNIFIL, the special UN blue-helmet force that, since the end of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, has sat in southern Lebanon doing little other than timidly dissuading Hezbollah from rebuilding its infrastructure in plain view on Israel’s border. When Hezbollah wants UNIFIL to leave, UNIFIL will leave. Before the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, UNIFIL did even less, and in one famous case actually collaborated with Hezbollah in the murder of Israeli soldiers. The 2006 war ended under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which authorized an “enhanced” UNIFIL that was tasked with preventing Hezbollah’s re-armament. That resolution was violated before its approval made it into the morning papers, and continues to be ignored with impunity by everyone from Iran and Syria to UNIFIL itself; Hezbollah today is better-armed than it was before the 2006 war.

Whatever else one wants to say about the Doha meeting, at least it didn’t involve the United Nations.

To add to Eric’s great post below, and to the thoughts of Michael Young and David Schenker, I think it’s appropriate, in the midst of the false denouement of the latest crisis, to take a moment and look at the dreadful behavior of the United Nations.

Remember UN Security Council Resolution 1559? It was passed way back in 2004, and it required the disarmament of Hezbollah. It was ignored. Then there is UNIFIL, the special UN blue-helmet force that, since the end of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, has sat in southern Lebanon doing little other than timidly dissuading Hezbollah from rebuilding its infrastructure in plain view on Israel’s border. When Hezbollah wants UNIFIL to leave, UNIFIL will leave. Before the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, UNIFIL did even less, and in one famous case actually collaborated with Hezbollah in the murder of Israeli soldiers. The 2006 war ended under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which authorized an “enhanced” UNIFIL that was tasked with preventing Hezbollah’s re-armament. That resolution was violated before its approval made it into the morning papers, and continues to be ignored with impunity by everyone from Iran and Syria to UNIFIL itself; Hezbollah today is better-armed than it was before the 2006 war.

Whatever else one wants to say about the Doha meeting, at least it didn’t involve the United Nations.

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Doh! (As in Doha)

Yesterday’s Qatari-sponsored agreement among Lebanese factions represents a major victory for Hezbollah and Syria. After all, both parties finally got what they had long demanded: Hezbollah will receive eleven seats in the cabinet-one more than it needed to secure veto power over all governmental decisions. The agreement also spells a major loss for the Bush administration, which had long demanded that Hezbollah submit to the will of the Lebanese majority and confirm General Michel Suleiman as president without such preconditions.

Of course, this didn’t stop the State Department from trying to sell the agreement as a “positive step.” During his press conference yesterday, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch argued that the agreement advanced UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, saying that there is “quite a bit of language” in the agreement regarding Hezbollah’s disarmament. Moreover, he said, the agreement signified that the “moral plane” had shifted against Hezbollah’s favor, catalyzing progress-however slowly-on this critical issue.

Yet Welch’s optimism is confounding. Indeed, the agreement says nothing at all about Hezbollah’s disarmament. Rather, it calls for “dialogue over strengthening state authority over all parts of Lebanon”–in other words, dialogue over an issue that was supposed to have been resolved after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war! Moreover, it calls for “defining the relations between the state and the different political groups in the country”–a process that will now lean heavily in Hezbollah’s favor, given its strengthened position within the Lebanese cabinet. Finally, there’s good reason to doubt that security and military powers will be “solely in the hands of the state” and that this authority will be spread out “over all parts of the country so that outlaws will have no safe havens.” Again, this is something that was supposed to have been in place following the 2006 war, but which Hezbollah has long evaded thanks to its military superiority and sustained support from Iran and Syria.

But perhaps the most troubling aspect of the “Doha agreement” is its transience: it will expire prior to the 2009 parliamentary elections, lasting just long enough for Hezbollah to exert substantial influence in drafting a new elections law. As a result, the agreement sounds eerily similar to the “Mecca Accord” that Hamas and Fatah signed in February 2007, which heralded an era of “national unity” governance-that is, until Hamas seized Gaza four months later. Indeed, we have seen how Hezbollah and Hamas both resort to violence in lieu of political compromise (h/t Noah Pollak). These short-term agreements are an integral part of that strategy.

Yesterday’s Qatari-sponsored agreement among Lebanese factions represents a major victory for Hezbollah and Syria. After all, both parties finally got what they had long demanded: Hezbollah will receive eleven seats in the cabinet-one more than it needed to secure veto power over all governmental decisions. The agreement also spells a major loss for the Bush administration, which had long demanded that Hezbollah submit to the will of the Lebanese majority and confirm General Michel Suleiman as president without such preconditions.

Of course, this didn’t stop the State Department from trying to sell the agreement as a “positive step.” During his press conference yesterday, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch argued that the agreement advanced UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, saying that there is “quite a bit of language” in the agreement regarding Hezbollah’s disarmament. Moreover, he said, the agreement signified that the “moral plane” had shifted against Hezbollah’s favor, catalyzing progress-however slowly-on this critical issue.

Yet Welch’s optimism is confounding. Indeed, the agreement says nothing at all about Hezbollah’s disarmament. Rather, it calls for “dialogue over strengthening state authority over all parts of Lebanon”–in other words, dialogue over an issue that was supposed to have been resolved after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war! Moreover, it calls for “defining the relations between the state and the different political groups in the country”–a process that will now lean heavily in Hezbollah’s favor, given its strengthened position within the Lebanese cabinet. Finally, there’s good reason to doubt that security and military powers will be “solely in the hands of the state” and that this authority will be spread out “over all parts of the country so that outlaws will have no safe havens.” Again, this is something that was supposed to have been in place following the 2006 war, but which Hezbollah has long evaded thanks to its military superiority and sustained support from Iran and Syria.

But perhaps the most troubling aspect of the “Doha agreement” is its transience: it will expire prior to the 2009 parliamentary elections, lasting just long enough for Hezbollah to exert substantial influence in drafting a new elections law. As a result, the agreement sounds eerily similar to the “Mecca Accord” that Hamas and Fatah signed in February 2007, which heralded an era of “national unity” governance-that is, until Hamas seized Gaza four months later. Indeed, we have seen how Hezbollah and Hamas both resort to violence in lieu of political compromise (h/t Noah Pollak). These short-term agreements are an integral part of that strategy.

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Europe and The Swiss

My seatmate at the Commentary Fund dinner, Max Boot, has already commented on some of the historical deficiencies and contemporary dilemmas inherent in the argument that Europe can safely play the role of “giant Switzerland”, as Gideon Rachman has described it in the Financial Times. Of course, Rachman is revisiting Robert Kagan’s “Mars and Venus” thesis about the U.S. and Europe: the Europeans are unassertive (appeasing, even) because they are weak, and they are weak because they delegitimized the use of force after 1945 and have been protected by the U.S. since then.

But, pace Max, today’s problem is not that the U.S.’s share of the burden of defending the Free World is “huge.” A hundred years from now, historians will not be amazed that the U.S. fought two wars while spending 5% of its GNP on defense: rather, they will be amazed that the world’s sole superpower was able to get away with spending ONLY 5% of its GNP on defense while fighting those wars and simultaneously doing much of the heavy lifting for the world’s other democracies. Clearly, some level of defense spending is too much, but there is no good reason to think that we are close to it. The problem in the U.S. today lies not in our inherent capacity, but in our willingness to draw upon it to any great extent.

And that is the real problem with Europe being Switzerland: the US will not forever be willing to defend those who do not defend themselves. European weakness cannot be supplemented indefinitely by American strength, not because we are not strong enough, but because we will become disgusted by the job. This was precisely the argument that European leaders in the early 1980′s drew on to make the case for deploying the Pershing II missiles in Europe: if the European allies did not make a public, visible commitment of their willingness to make a few sacrifices in the cause of their own defense, the U.S. would lose patience with their selfishness.

So far, the U.S. has stayed engaged. Though the Balkan Wars of the 1990′s, to which Rachman alludes in a carefree way, suggest what might happen if Europe faced a threat–deriving, maybe, from North Africa–that did not appear to pose any direct challenge to immediate U.S. interests. But if the instincts of weakness are now deeply ingrained in Europe, the tradition of isolationism is even stronger in the U.S. As Daniel Halper has pointed out, our allies are already taking alarm at Barack Obama’s neo-protectionism. The very last thing our friends should want to do is to give us a reason to indulge our worser instincts.

Rachman sheds some depressing light on how this dynamic will play out: he alludes to the wars “the U.S. has launched” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and claims that the far-too-limited European involvement in Afghanistan “actually increases the terrorist threat to Europe.” Apart from all its other justifications, the current war in Afghanistan is, simply put, the most legally correct war in human history: it flows directly from NATO’s invocation of Article 5 after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and from many UN Security Council resolutions.

If fulfilling those obligations encourages terrorism in Europe, then that is just too bad for Europe. But it is the idea that Afghanistan is a “war of choice”–a bad choice, it is of course implied–that is truly damaging. Rachman is part of the slow, steady drizzle that has caused the NATO force in Afghanistan to be caveat-ed into ineffectiveness, and will soon, in European eyes, deprive the war against the Taliban of its last shred of legitimacy. And if Europe is not willing to stick with the fight against them, then only the Swiss should be insulted by Rachman’s comparison.

My seatmate at the Commentary Fund dinner, Max Boot, has already commented on some of the historical deficiencies and contemporary dilemmas inherent in the argument that Europe can safely play the role of “giant Switzerland”, as Gideon Rachman has described it in the Financial Times. Of course, Rachman is revisiting Robert Kagan’s “Mars and Venus” thesis about the U.S. and Europe: the Europeans are unassertive (appeasing, even) because they are weak, and they are weak because they delegitimized the use of force after 1945 and have been protected by the U.S. since then.

But, pace Max, today’s problem is not that the U.S.’s share of the burden of defending the Free World is “huge.” A hundred years from now, historians will not be amazed that the U.S. fought two wars while spending 5% of its GNP on defense: rather, they will be amazed that the world’s sole superpower was able to get away with spending ONLY 5% of its GNP on defense while fighting those wars and simultaneously doing much of the heavy lifting for the world’s other democracies. Clearly, some level of defense spending is too much, but there is no good reason to think that we are close to it. The problem in the U.S. today lies not in our inherent capacity, but in our willingness to draw upon it to any great extent.

And that is the real problem with Europe being Switzerland: the US will not forever be willing to defend those who do not defend themselves. European weakness cannot be supplemented indefinitely by American strength, not because we are not strong enough, but because we will become disgusted by the job. This was precisely the argument that European leaders in the early 1980′s drew on to make the case for deploying the Pershing II missiles in Europe: if the European allies did not make a public, visible commitment of their willingness to make a few sacrifices in the cause of their own defense, the U.S. would lose patience with their selfishness.

So far, the U.S. has stayed engaged. Though the Balkan Wars of the 1990′s, to which Rachman alludes in a carefree way, suggest what might happen if Europe faced a threat–deriving, maybe, from North Africa–that did not appear to pose any direct challenge to immediate U.S. interests. But if the instincts of weakness are now deeply ingrained in Europe, the tradition of isolationism is even stronger in the U.S. As Daniel Halper has pointed out, our allies are already taking alarm at Barack Obama’s neo-protectionism. The very last thing our friends should want to do is to give us a reason to indulge our worser instincts.

Rachman sheds some depressing light on how this dynamic will play out: he alludes to the wars “the U.S. has launched” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and claims that the far-too-limited European involvement in Afghanistan “actually increases the terrorist threat to Europe.” Apart from all its other justifications, the current war in Afghanistan is, simply put, the most legally correct war in human history: it flows directly from NATO’s invocation of Article 5 after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and from many UN Security Council resolutions.

If fulfilling those obligations encourages terrorism in Europe, then that is just too bad for Europe. But it is the idea that Afghanistan is a “war of choice”–a bad choice, it is of course implied–that is truly damaging. Rachman is part of the slow, steady drizzle that has caused the NATO force in Afghanistan to be caveat-ed into ineffectiveness, and will soon, in European eyes, deprive the war against the Taliban of its last shred of legitimacy. And if Europe is not willing to stick with the fight against them, then only the Swiss should be insulted by Rachman’s comparison.

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McCain Is Losing the Iran Debate

Two thoughts on the Obama-Iran-appeasement controversy:

1. It seems to me that it’s a victory for Obama. The Iran debate is being defined as one of diplomatic engagement versus diplomatic isolation, with Obama presenting himself as the bearer of a new strategy while McCain is portrayed as obdurately insisting on the approach of the Bush administration. This, of course, creates an unsavory political problem for McCain, in which he is said to represent a third Bush term. But it also allows the recent history of Iran diplomacy to become completely fictionalized.

Over the past six years, we have seen almost exactly an Obama approach to Iran, save for Obama’s promised “presidential diplomacy” (which sounds more like a graduate school course than a national security strategy, but I digress). From 2002 to 2006, the EU-3 (Germany, France, the UK) and the IAEA attempted to dissuade the Iranians from their nuclear program through high-level diplomacy, and when that saga of fruitlessness was finally handed over to the UN Security Council, Russia and China saw to it that the only sanctions passed would illustrate nothing more than the ambivalence and impotence of the international community.

So it seems to me that McCain should be making a bigger deal over the fact that the western world has indeed been deeply involved in attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear program through almost exactly the kind of diplomacy that Obama says has yet to be tried. McCain should emphasize the fact that the Iranians have not only been unmoved by this “diplomatic offensive,” but have used the negotiations in order to buy time for nuclear development.

2. Why is McCain allowing himself to be dragged into a debate about presidential-level diplomacy, when the more important question — and the question whose answer is more politically favorable to McCain — is whether diplomatic engagement will actually get anything accomplished? McCain should be asking Obama what concessions he realistically thinks he’s going to get from the Iranians upon going hat in hand to Tehran. UN Security Council sanctions have done virtually nothing to impede Iran, nor have EU diplomacy or IAEA reports. Russia and China continue to stand as the major impediments to the kind of UN sanctions that might so cripple Iran that it would give up its nuclear development. The hard question for Obama, who says he wishes to pursue “tough diplomacy,” is how he proposes to get these two stalwarts on board. The question of whether the President should go calling on Assad and Ahmadinejad is an important one, and it says a lot about a person’s understanding of foreign policy and the Middle East. But ultimately it is a diversion that does no favors for McCain.

Two thoughts on the Obama-Iran-appeasement controversy:

1. It seems to me that it’s a victory for Obama. The Iran debate is being defined as one of diplomatic engagement versus diplomatic isolation, with Obama presenting himself as the bearer of a new strategy while McCain is portrayed as obdurately insisting on the approach of the Bush administration. This, of course, creates an unsavory political problem for McCain, in which he is said to represent a third Bush term. But it also allows the recent history of Iran diplomacy to become completely fictionalized.

Over the past six years, we have seen almost exactly an Obama approach to Iran, save for Obama’s promised “presidential diplomacy” (which sounds more like a graduate school course than a national security strategy, but I digress). From 2002 to 2006, the EU-3 (Germany, France, the UK) and the IAEA attempted to dissuade the Iranians from their nuclear program through high-level diplomacy, and when that saga of fruitlessness was finally handed over to the UN Security Council, Russia and China saw to it that the only sanctions passed would illustrate nothing more than the ambivalence and impotence of the international community.

So it seems to me that McCain should be making a bigger deal over the fact that the western world has indeed been deeply involved in attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear program through almost exactly the kind of diplomacy that Obama says has yet to be tried. McCain should emphasize the fact that the Iranians have not only been unmoved by this “diplomatic offensive,” but have used the negotiations in order to buy time for nuclear development.

2. Why is McCain allowing himself to be dragged into a debate about presidential-level diplomacy, when the more important question — and the question whose answer is more politically favorable to McCain — is whether diplomatic engagement will actually get anything accomplished? McCain should be asking Obama what concessions he realistically thinks he’s going to get from the Iranians upon going hat in hand to Tehran. UN Security Council sanctions have done virtually nothing to impede Iran, nor have EU diplomacy or IAEA reports. Russia and China continue to stand as the major impediments to the kind of UN sanctions that might so cripple Iran that it would give up its nuclear development. The hard question for Obama, who says he wishes to pursue “tough diplomacy,” is how he proposes to get these two stalwarts on board. The question of whether the President should go calling on Assad and Ahmadinejad is an important one, and it says a lot about a person’s understanding of foreign policy and the Middle East. But ultimately it is a diversion that does no favors for McCain.

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No Indigenous Enrichment

Writing in yesterday’s Washington Post, Ray Takeyh attacks the Bush Administration’s decision to support a new incentive package for Iran. According to Takeyh,

As President Bush addressed the Israeli parliament last week, denouncing negotiations with recalcitrant regimes as the “false comfort of appeasement,” his diplomats, in conjunction with their European counterparts, offered Iran another incentive package to stop enriching uranium. Even though they are making another effort to disarm Iran through mediation, the administration’s approach is hopelessly defective. Beyond insisting on onerous conditions that are unlikely to be met by any Iranian government, the United States and its allies still hope that Tehran will trade its enrichment rights for inducements. If Washington is going to mitigate the Iranian nuclear danger, it must discard the formula of exchanging commercial contracts for nuclear rights and seek more imaginative solutions.

There may be plenty of good reasons to criticize the new incentive package–though its exact details are not yet known–and there are obvious partisan reasons, in the midst of an electoral campaign, for Takeyh to accuse the administration of hypocrisy. The fact is, the U.S. administration has agreed to enhance the incentives package because Europeans have so persistently claimed that Iran will concede on enrichment only if there are solid U.S. incentives on the table (an oblique admission of failure on Europe’s part, after six years of dialogue with Iran). But the U.S. is not only offering incentives in the delusional hope that somehow Iran will relent under a mixture of pressure and temptation. The U.S. and its European allies assume that the offer will be presented and either accepted or rejected before the IAEA releases its expected report–due by June 3. A further Iranian rejection–which Takeyh himself anticipates, given statements by Iran’s Supreme Leader to this extent–will provide grounds for additional consensus-based sanctions at the UN level, or at least at the EU level. It may not be much of a strategy, but it is something, and it is hardly appeasement–given that the incentives, once trumped by Iran, will make it easier to tighten sanctions.

What’s the alternative?

Takeyh says that ‘it is time to discard the formula of “suspension for incentives” for one that trades “enrichment for transparency.” He is proposing, in other words, indigenous enrichment, but under tight international control–something along the lines recently suggested by William Luers, Thomas Pickering, and Jim Walsh in the New York Review of Books.

There is no ideal solution to the nuclear standoff with Iran. But to suggest that, because Iran got away with its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is set to cross the nuclear threshold sometimes soon, we have no choice but to concede and hope for the best, does not seem to be the preferred alternative to the current course. After all, there is no tight control regime. Iran may have several undeclared clandestine facilities at work. Iran’s history of nuclear deception makes it harder to believe that what we see is what we have–we may concede on enrichment and transfer of technology and still get an Iranian nuclear bomb.

But beyond the risks of letting enrichment happen in Iran’s specific case, the lesson learned from this debacle would be for other countries to trump the NPT as Iran did and go along the path of nuclearization. Iran would be rewarded for violating the NPT and for ignoring successive UN Security Council resolutions. We would forego our principles and handsomely reward bad behavior–a practice that, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, may well be called “appeasement”: “to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles.”

Writing in yesterday’s Washington Post, Ray Takeyh attacks the Bush Administration’s decision to support a new incentive package for Iran. According to Takeyh,

As President Bush addressed the Israeli parliament last week, denouncing negotiations with recalcitrant regimes as the “false comfort of appeasement,” his diplomats, in conjunction with their European counterparts, offered Iran another incentive package to stop enriching uranium. Even though they are making another effort to disarm Iran through mediation, the administration’s approach is hopelessly defective. Beyond insisting on onerous conditions that are unlikely to be met by any Iranian government, the United States and its allies still hope that Tehran will trade its enrichment rights for inducements. If Washington is going to mitigate the Iranian nuclear danger, it must discard the formula of exchanging commercial contracts for nuclear rights and seek more imaginative solutions.

There may be plenty of good reasons to criticize the new incentive package–though its exact details are not yet known–and there are obvious partisan reasons, in the midst of an electoral campaign, for Takeyh to accuse the administration of hypocrisy. The fact is, the U.S. administration has agreed to enhance the incentives package because Europeans have so persistently claimed that Iran will concede on enrichment only if there are solid U.S. incentives on the table (an oblique admission of failure on Europe’s part, after six years of dialogue with Iran). But the U.S. is not only offering incentives in the delusional hope that somehow Iran will relent under a mixture of pressure and temptation. The U.S. and its European allies assume that the offer will be presented and either accepted or rejected before the IAEA releases its expected report–due by June 3. A further Iranian rejection–which Takeyh himself anticipates, given statements by Iran’s Supreme Leader to this extent–will provide grounds for additional consensus-based sanctions at the UN level, or at least at the EU level. It may not be much of a strategy, but it is something, and it is hardly appeasement–given that the incentives, once trumped by Iran, will make it easier to tighten sanctions.

What’s the alternative?

Takeyh says that ‘it is time to discard the formula of “suspension for incentives” for one that trades “enrichment for transparency.” He is proposing, in other words, indigenous enrichment, but under tight international control–something along the lines recently suggested by William Luers, Thomas Pickering, and Jim Walsh in the New York Review of Books.

There is no ideal solution to the nuclear standoff with Iran. But to suggest that, because Iran got away with its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is set to cross the nuclear threshold sometimes soon, we have no choice but to concede and hope for the best, does not seem to be the preferred alternative to the current course. After all, there is no tight control regime. Iran may have several undeclared clandestine facilities at work. Iran’s history of nuclear deception makes it harder to believe that what we see is what we have–we may concede on enrichment and transfer of technology and still get an Iranian nuclear bomb.

But beyond the risks of letting enrichment happen in Iran’s specific case, the lesson learned from this debacle would be for other countries to trump the NPT as Iran did and go along the path of nuclearization. Iran would be rewarded for violating the NPT and for ignoring successive UN Security Council resolutions. We would forego our principles and handsomely reward bad behavior–a practice that, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, may well be called “appeasement”: “to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles.”

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We’re the Real Enemy

Last year, barely a month after the UN Security Council had approved Res. 1747, instituting new sanctions against Iran, Austrian energy giant, OMV, signed the biggest energy deal to date ($22 billion) with the Islamic Republic.

The deal was the focus of attention at yesterday’s OMV annual shareholders’ meeting. Questioned about the soundness–moral and otherwise–of his company’s natural gas deal with Iran, OMV CEO Wolfgang Ruttenstorfer replied that “The details are to be negotiated” and there is “no foreseeable result” regarding the implementation of the deal, according to a Jerusalem Post article. OMV potentially faces obstacles and pressures from the UN and the U.S.

However, added Ruttenstorfer, things might change. According to the Post, Ruttenstorfer thinks “time is an ally.” Not, as you might hope, because he believes that with time a new, non-oppressive regime might rise in Tehran. No, the kind of political change OMV hopes for is in the U.S., so that OMV can proceed unhindered in its lucrative deal–even if such a deal will strengthen an oppressive regime with hazardous nuclear ambitions.

The Austrian government owns 31.5 percent of OMV. It’s regrettable that a nominal U.S. ally did not oppose OMV’s deal with Iran. For some in Europe, evidently, the real threat to European interests is not Iran but America.

Last year, barely a month after the UN Security Council had approved Res. 1747, instituting new sanctions against Iran, Austrian energy giant, OMV, signed the biggest energy deal to date ($22 billion) with the Islamic Republic.

The deal was the focus of attention at yesterday’s OMV annual shareholders’ meeting. Questioned about the soundness–moral and otherwise–of his company’s natural gas deal with Iran, OMV CEO Wolfgang Ruttenstorfer replied that “The details are to be negotiated” and there is “no foreseeable result” regarding the implementation of the deal, according to a Jerusalem Post article. OMV potentially faces obstacles and pressures from the UN and the U.S.

However, added Ruttenstorfer, things might change. According to the Post, Ruttenstorfer thinks “time is an ally.” Not, as you might hope, because he believes that with time a new, non-oppressive regime might rise in Tehran. No, the kind of political change OMV hopes for is in the U.S., so that OMV can proceed unhindered in its lucrative deal–even if such a deal will strengthen an oppressive regime with hazardous nuclear ambitions.

The Austrian government owns 31.5 percent of OMV. It’s regrettable that a nominal U.S. ally did not oppose OMV’s deal with Iran. For some in Europe, evidently, the real threat to European interests is not Iran but America.

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Things Get Worse in Lebanon

Things continue to heat up in Lebanon. This week Hezbollah gunmen seized control of large parts of Beirut, and today shut down the “Future News” television station , run by Saad Hariri, leader of the government-supporting majority party in parliament. Clashes have erupted between the Shi’ite terror group and militia forces loyal to the government, with Israel radio reporting at least 10 dead. As Noah Pollak reported below, the current battle began with the government’s decision to shut down Hezbollah’s private telephone network, which it set up with Iran; and to fire the head of security at Beirut’s airport, who is loyal to Hezbollah. The group’s head, Hassan Nasrallah, declared the government’s steps to be

a declaration of war and the launching of war by the government against the resistance and its weapons for the benefit of America and Israel.

Let’s hope he’s right. This high-stakes game may be Lebanon’s only hope for regaining its sovereignty, ending tension with Israel once and for all, rolling back Iran’s advances in the region, and building some form of coherent democratic life in the country. For decades, the country has acted as a staging ground for first Palestinian then Iranian-backed Shiite terror, with the south being transformed into a terror-state within a state. After the 2006 Lebanon war, the UN Security Council resolution 1701 called for “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that . . . there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” For Hezbollah, however, to disarm is to commit ideological suicide, so the only long-term solution is that they be disarmed by force.

Of course, if the government loses such a war, Lebanon as a whole turns into an Iranian satellite. This is not something the West can sit back and watch. With the U.S. distracted by an election, eyes will be turning to France, the former colonial power which still has deep ties in Lebanon. Let’s see what Sarkozy can come up with.

Things continue to heat up in Lebanon. This week Hezbollah gunmen seized control of large parts of Beirut, and today shut down the “Future News” television station , run by Saad Hariri, leader of the government-supporting majority party in parliament. Clashes have erupted between the Shi’ite terror group and militia forces loyal to the government, with Israel radio reporting at least 10 dead. As Noah Pollak reported below, the current battle began with the government’s decision to shut down Hezbollah’s private telephone network, which it set up with Iran; and to fire the head of security at Beirut’s airport, who is loyal to Hezbollah. The group’s head, Hassan Nasrallah, declared the government’s steps to be

a declaration of war and the launching of war by the government against the resistance and its weapons for the benefit of America and Israel.

Let’s hope he’s right. This high-stakes game may be Lebanon’s only hope for regaining its sovereignty, ending tension with Israel once and for all, rolling back Iran’s advances in the region, and building some form of coherent democratic life in the country. For decades, the country has acted as a staging ground for first Palestinian then Iranian-backed Shiite terror, with the south being transformed into a terror-state within a state. After the 2006 Lebanon war, the UN Security Council resolution 1701 called for “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that . . . there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” For Hezbollah, however, to disarm is to commit ideological suicide, so the only long-term solution is that they be disarmed by force.

Of course, if the government loses such a war, Lebanon as a whole turns into an Iranian satellite. This is not something the West can sit back and watch. With the U.S. distracted by an election, eyes will be turning to France, the former colonial power which still has deep ties in Lebanon. Let’s see what Sarkozy can come up with.

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Giving Away the (Nuclear) Store

A Reuters report states that the Bush administration will, within a month, send to Congress a pact on civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia. The agreement will take effect within 90 legislative days unless Congress votes it down. The President discussed the arrangement with Vladimir Putin at their summit earlier this month in Sochi.

Should the United States cooperate with Russia on civilian nuclear technology? In general, that’s a wonderful concept. In this particular case, however, the idea is fundamentally flawed. The Bush administration apparently thinks the proposed deal would support Russia’s plan to enrich uranium for Iran. “We can’t isolate ourselves from Russia and then expect that these are the proposals that are going to be the solution to the Iranian nuclear program,” says an unnamed State Department official.

I, on the other hand, am all for isolating ourselves from counterproductive concepts. There will one day be a solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, but it will not run through Moscow. Moscow, we should remember, is a huge part the problem. It has been blocking effective action against Iran at the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council, it has supplied the reactors at Iran’s Bushehr generating station and delivered its uranium fuel, and it has sold Iran air-defense systems to protect its nuclear sites. And all this against the express wishes of . . . the Bush administration. So why does the President think the Russians are going to be any more cooperative in the future? I have stared into Putin’s soul and seen–among other things–an unrepentant proliferator.

Moscow’s fuel bank proposal is tailored to help Tehran. Iranians will undoubtedly end up working at the Russian facility. As they do so, they will pick up critical expertise that can be used back home in covert locations. So why should we help Iran obtain advanced nuclear technology? President Bush needs to come up with a better explanation if he wants to ink this stinker of a deal.

A Reuters report states that the Bush administration will, within a month, send to Congress a pact on civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia. The agreement will take effect within 90 legislative days unless Congress votes it down. The President discussed the arrangement with Vladimir Putin at their summit earlier this month in Sochi.

Should the United States cooperate with Russia on civilian nuclear technology? In general, that’s a wonderful concept. In this particular case, however, the idea is fundamentally flawed. The Bush administration apparently thinks the proposed deal would support Russia’s plan to enrich uranium for Iran. “We can’t isolate ourselves from Russia and then expect that these are the proposals that are going to be the solution to the Iranian nuclear program,” says an unnamed State Department official.

I, on the other hand, am all for isolating ourselves from counterproductive concepts. There will one day be a solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, but it will not run through Moscow. Moscow, we should remember, is a huge part the problem. It has been blocking effective action against Iran at the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council, it has supplied the reactors at Iran’s Bushehr generating station and delivered its uranium fuel, and it has sold Iran air-defense systems to protect its nuclear sites. And all this against the express wishes of . . . the Bush administration. So why does the President think the Russians are going to be any more cooperative in the future? I have stared into Putin’s soul and seen–among other things–an unrepentant proliferator.

Moscow’s fuel bank proposal is tailored to help Tehran. Iranians will undoubtedly end up working at the Russian facility. As they do so, they will pick up critical expertise that can be used back home in covert locations. So why should we help Iran obtain advanced nuclear technology? President Bush needs to come up with a better explanation if he wants to ink this stinker of a deal.

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A False Iraq Analogy

Discussing Iran on “Hardball,” John McCain explained that the case for war against Iran would be hard to make with the American people because of a “credibility gap” generated by the WMD flop in Iraq. According to Reuters,

Senator McCain said he would have to make an “even more convincing argument that it was necessary to do so because of our failure to find weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

One cannot but concur with Senator McCain that among the arguments voiced to shield Iran from Western pressure–including, possibly, a military strike–there’s the analogy with Iraq. Former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter made that argument recently in The Guardian:

Iraq had been placed in the impossible position of having to prove a negative, a doomed process which led to war. I am fearful that the EU-3 is repeating this same process, demanding Iran refute something that doesn’t exist except in the overactive imaginations of diplomats pre-programmed to accept at face value anything negative about Iran, regardless of its veracity. The implications of such a morally and intellectually shallow posture could very well be disastrous.

One must be mindful of the kind of arguments our allies and friends across the Western world consider serious and legitimate–though Ritter and the Guardian may not necessarily qualify as either. But Senator McCain should also know that this analogy is false.

Firstly, the IAEA says very clearly that the Iranian nuclear program looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck. Is it not, then, a duck? As IAEA director general, Dr. Mohammad El-Baradei wrote in November 2003,

Iran’s nuclear programme, as the Agency currently understands it, consists of a practically complete front end of a nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, heavy water production, a light water reactor, a heavy water research reactor and associated research and development facilities.

Iran was given over five years to prove otherwise. So far, Iran has failed to reassure the international community on the nature and aims of its nuclear program. The passing of three UN Security Council sanctions resolutions against Iran–two unanimously, one with Indonesia abstaining–indicates that the entire international community is concerned about Iran’s motives for such a reckless pursuit of nuclear power.

So how, you ask, is Iran’s case different from Iraq’s? Precisely because of the absence of an existent Iraqi weaponization program. In Iran, the evidence is in plain sight. IAEA inspectors are currently monitoring a program that (even in its publicly visible parts) should make everyone anxious, especially in light of the fact that Iran concealed its existence for at least eighteen years and procured its initial blueprints and technology A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. According to the IAEA’s report of February 22, 2008, Iran did not deny having received from Khan the designs for a nuclear warhead in 1987. It only lamely protested that it did not ask for them. Doesn’t this admission, coupled with the subsequent two decades of concealment, comprise grounds for further suspicion?

Iran also has an advanced ballistic missile program with links to North Korea, a nuclear power with a strong record of proliferation, as well as operational missiles that can strike as far as Israel and southern Europe, and it is developing longer-range ones, too: up to 4,000 miles.

Missiles with such range make sense, strategically, only if they carry unconventional warheads. In its most recent report, the IAEA cites evidence of Iranian designs for a nuclear warhead for Iran’s existing missiles, notably the Shihab-3 (based on a North Korean design).

inally, there is the mountain of circumstantial evidence which, in light of Iran’s history of concealment and deception, should put all doubts to rest: the fact that Iran does not need to enrich uranium, since the fuel for its reactor at Bushehr is being supplied by Russial; that fact that Iran’s nuclear power infrastructure does not require a heavy water facility, like the one Iran is building in Arak. Such reactors are useful only for producing plutonium, which Iran has no use for as a reactor fuel. The only conceivable reason Iran has for trying to produce plutonium is to make nuclear weapons.

There is, in other words, a very long list of reasons why Iran is not Iraq. Senator McCain is right to be cautious in his statements. But one hopes he is aware of the difference and, when the time comes, will not abide by this false analogy.

Discussing Iran on “Hardball,” John McCain explained that the case for war against Iran would be hard to make with the American people because of a “credibility gap” generated by the WMD flop in Iraq. According to Reuters,

Senator McCain said he would have to make an “even more convincing argument that it was necessary to do so because of our failure to find weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

One cannot but concur with Senator McCain that among the arguments voiced to shield Iran from Western pressure–including, possibly, a military strike–there’s the analogy with Iraq. Former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter made that argument recently in The Guardian:

Iraq had been placed in the impossible position of having to prove a negative, a doomed process which led to war. I am fearful that the EU-3 is repeating this same process, demanding Iran refute something that doesn’t exist except in the overactive imaginations of diplomats pre-programmed to accept at face value anything negative about Iran, regardless of its veracity. The implications of such a morally and intellectually shallow posture could very well be disastrous.

One must be mindful of the kind of arguments our allies and friends across the Western world consider serious and legitimate–though Ritter and the Guardian may not necessarily qualify as either. But Senator McCain should also know that this analogy is false.

Firstly, the IAEA says very clearly that the Iranian nuclear program looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck. Is it not, then, a duck? As IAEA director general, Dr. Mohammad El-Baradei wrote in November 2003,

Iran’s nuclear programme, as the Agency currently understands it, consists of a practically complete front end of a nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, heavy water production, a light water reactor, a heavy water research reactor and associated research and development facilities.

Iran was given over five years to prove otherwise. So far, Iran has failed to reassure the international community on the nature and aims of its nuclear program. The passing of three UN Security Council sanctions resolutions against Iran–two unanimously, one with Indonesia abstaining–indicates that the entire international community is concerned about Iran’s motives for such a reckless pursuit of nuclear power.

So how, you ask, is Iran’s case different from Iraq’s? Precisely because of the absence of an existent Iraqi weaponization program. In Iran, the evidence is in plain sight. IAEA inspectors are currently monitoring a program that (even in its publicly visible parts) should make everyone anxious, especially in light of the fact that Iran concealed its existence for at least eighteen years and procured its initial blueprints and technology A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. According to the IAEA’s report of February 22, 2008, Iran did not deny having received from Khan the designs for a nuclear warhead in 1987. It only lamely protested that it did not ask for them. Doesn’t this admission, coupled with the subsequent two decades of concealment, comprise grounds for further suspicion?

Iran also has an advanced ballistic missile program with links to North Korea, a nuclear power with a strong record of proliferation, as well as operational missiles that can strike as far as Israel and southern Europe, and it is developing longer-range ones, too: up to 4,000 miles.

Missiles with such range make sense, strategically, only if they carry unconventional warheads. In its most recent report, the IAEA cites evidence of Iranian designs for a nuclear warhead for Iran’s existing missiles, notably the Shihab-3 (based on a North Korean design).

inally, there is the mountain of circumstantial evidence which, in light of Iran’s history of concealment and deception, should put all doubts to rest: the fact that Iran does not need to enrich uranium, since the fuel for its reactor at Bushehr is being supplied by Russial; that fact that Iran’s nuclear power infrastructure does not require a heavy water facility, like the one Iran is building in Arak. Such reactors are useful only for producing plutonium, which Iran has no use for as a reactor fuel. The only conceivable reason Iran has for trying to produce plutonium is to make nuclear weapons.

There is, in other words, a very long list of reasons why Iran is not Iraq. Senator McCain is right to be cautious in his statements. But one hopes he is aware of the difference and, when the time comes, will not abide by this false analogy.

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The Ultimate Test of American Leadership

Today, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his country would announce a new diplomatic initiative soon. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is trying to come up with a proposed package in an effort to resolve regional and international problems in dialogue with opposing parties,” he stated. Mottaki implied that the “new orientation” would relate to Tehran’s nuclear program. The foreign minister’s words followed Saturday’s announcement that Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, will meet with the IAEA’s Mohamed ElBaradei tomorrow in Vienna.

The two announcements come within days of Wednesday’s gathering in Shanghai of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the P5 + 1. The group is expected to discuss sweetening incentives for Iran to drop its enrichment of uranium.

Are there any coincidences when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program? Yes, but this series of events is not one of them. Tehran knows it can buy itself at least another year by holding out hope at this time that there can be a peaceful resolution to the impasse. Therefore, the announcements of yesterday and today are, like all of its past offers, insincere.

This is not to say that Iranians cannot be talked out of their enrichment program. They can—but only when they know they have been defeated. At this moment, however, the mullahs appear to believe they are the ones who are prevailing. So, contrary to what the New York Times has just suggested, it is pointless to begin a new round of negotiations. On Friday, the paper stated that “Washington needs to make Iran a serious offer to talk about everything, including security assurances and diplomatic and economic relations if it is willing to give up its fuel program and cooperate fully with inspectors.”

What Washington really needs to do is make sure that Iran’s new diplomatic offensive does not succeed and that the P5+1 pushes through a tougher round of sanctions soon. President Bush has staked so much on cooperation with Beijing and Moscow in the past few years. Yet if the Chinese and Russians cannot cooperate on such a basic matter as Iran’s nuclear program when it is on the verge of creating a weapon, then it is pointless to maintain dialogue with them because nothing much else will matter.

It is, of course, unlikely that these two nations will reverse course at this time. So we are at one of those moments when conventional diplomacy is failing. When that happens—when what is necessary is no longer considered practical—the world often experiences uncertainty, turbulence, and death in great numbers.

If the Bush administration cannot change the course of events one more time, then we could travel from the best moment in history to the worst. This is, up to now, the ultimate test of American leadership.

Today, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his country would announce a new diplomatic initiative soon. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is trying to come up with a proposed package in an effort to resolve regional and international problems in dialogue with opposing parties,” he stated. Mottaki implied that the “new orientation” would relate to Tehran’s nuclear program. The foreign minister’s words followed Saturday’s announcement that Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, will meet with the IAEA’s Mohamed ElBaradei tomorrow in Vienna.

The two announcements come within days of Wednesday’s gathering in Shanghai of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the P5 + 1. The group is expected to discuss sweetening incentives for Iran to drop its enrichment of uranium.

Are there any coincidences when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program? Yes, but this series of events is not one of them. Tehran knows it can buy itself at least another year by holding out hope at this time that there can be a peaceful resolution to the impasse. Therefore, the announcements of yesterday and today are, like all of its past offers, insincere.

This is not to say that Iranians cannot be talked out of their enrichment program. They can—but only when they know they have been defeated. At this moment, however, the mullahs appear to believe they are the ones who are prevailing. So, contrary to what the New York Times has just suggested, it is pointless to begin a new round of negotiations. On Friday, the paper stated that “Washington needs to make Iran a serious offer to talk about everything, including security assurances and diplomatic and economic relations if it is willing to give up its fuel program and cooperate fully with inspectors.”

What Washington really needs to do is make sure that Iran’s new diplomatic offensive does not succeed and that the P5+1 pushes through a tougher round of sanctions soon. President Bush has staked so much on cooperation with Beijing and Moscow in the past few years. Yet if the Chinese and Russians cannot cooperate on such a basic matter as Iran’s nuclear program when it is on the verge of creating a weapon, then it is pointless to maintain dialogue with them because nothing much else will matter.

It is, of course, unlikely that these two nations will reverse course at this time. So we are at one of those moments when conventional diplomacy is failing. When that happens—when what is necessary is no longer considered practical—the world often experiences uncertainty, turbulence, and death in great numbers.

If the Bush administration cannot change the course of events one more time, then we could travel from the best moment in history to the worst. This is, up to now, the ultimate test of American leadership.

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Iran Wants What?

In a 20-page letter dated Monday and released yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki threatened legal action for losses his country sustained due to UN Security Council sanctions on its nuclear program. “The Islamic Republic of Iran and its citizens have the right to resort to legal actions to seek redress against the sponsors of these unlawful actions,” the letter, addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, states.

The sponsors of the sanctions, Mottaki maintains, “should, as a minimum step, admit their mistakes, apologize to the great nation of Iran, correct their behavior, and above all, compensate for all the damages they have inflicted on the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The demand for compensation is apparently directed to the United States, Britain, France, and Germany.

Secretary-General Ban did not comment on Mottaki’s letter. I suspect he did not want to dignify it with a response, but let me take this opportunity to address the fundamental point raised by the Iranian foreign minister. If the United Nations has no authority to impose sanctions or take action against Iran, as Tehran maintains, then it is up to every member of the international community to decide what to do. Iran’s proven violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its failure to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency are justifications for the use military force. Why? Because nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous and, therefore, automatically raise the right of self-defense, which every member state of the UN retains.

So go right ahead, Mr. Mottaki: make our day by de-legitimizing the UN. I hope that the United States can peacefully convince your nation to give up its nuclear program. But, if we can’t, then we have no choice but to end it by any and all necessary means.

In a 20-page letter dated Monday and released yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki threatened legal action for losses his country sustained due to UN Security Council sanctions on its nuclear program. “The Islamic Republic of Iran and its citizens have the right to resort to legal actions to seek redress against the sponsors of these unlawful actions,” the letter, addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, states.

The sponsors of the sanctions, Mottaki maintains, “should, as a minimum step, admit their mistakes, apologize to the great nation of Iran, correct their behavior, and above all, compensate for all the damages they have inflicted on the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The demand for compensation is apparently directed to the United States, Britain, France, and Germany.

Secretary-General Ban did not comment on Mottaki’s letter. I suspect he did not want to dignify it with a response, but let me take this opportunity to address the fundamental point raised by the Iranian foreign minister. If the United Nations has no authority to impose sanctions or take action against Iran, as Tehran maintains, then it is up to every member of the international community to decide what to do. Iran’s proven violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its failure to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency are justifications for the use military force. Why? Because nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous and, therefore, automatically raise the right of self-defense, which every member state of the UN retains.

So go right ahead, Mr. Mottaki: make our day by de-legitimizing the UN. I hope that the United States can peacefully convince your nation to give up its nuclear program. But, if we can’t, then we have no choice but to end it by any and all necessary means.

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Europe’s Energy Submission

The energy deal that Swiss energy utility company EGL signed with Iran last week has triggered criticism both inside and outside the Alpine nation. Outside Switzerland, the most forceful complaints came from the U.S. and Israel–coming as it did barely two weeks after UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was passed, it clearly sent the wrong signal to Tehran. Europeans are not giving due weight to the strategic worries behind the new round of sanctions and prefer to increase their dependence on Iranian energy than add pressure on Tehran.

Inside Switzerland, though, the criticism focused more on the outfit chosen for the occasion by Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who was in Tehran to witness the signature alongside her Iranian counterpart, Manuchehr Mottaki. Swiss politicians were outraged by the fact that Calmy-Rey –a longtime advocate of women’s rights–chose to wear a veil and appear “submissive.” Many of her crticis later recognized she had no choice. This brings up a further question, though: why is submissiveness necessary to deal with Iran?

A look at European energy options might offer an answer: Europe’s main natural gas suppliers is Russia. Tehran, with its readiness to welcome foreign energy companies for joint ventures, is an ideal alternative. It sits on the second-biggest known reserves of natural gas in the world and, unlike other Middle Eastern countries, is willing to share profits in exchange for the technology and investments needed to develop its vastly undertapped resources.

Of course, the trade-off–quite apart from the obvious implications for the sanctions’ regime and the ability of the West to put pressure on Iran– is that Iran’s regime benefits from access to Western technology. But it may be recalled that earlier this year Turkmenistan shut off its gas supply to Tehran–a move that caused severe gas shortages inside Iran in the middle of an unusually harsh winter. Iran, in other words, despite its giant gas fields, is a net importer of gas and is thus vulnerable to external pressure. Selling Iran technology and joining its national gas and oil companies to develop its energy resources will help Iran become a net exporter and will make its regime’s economic and political fortune. Deals like the one signed by EGL, in other words, prolong this regime’s shelf life and all that comes with it, nuclear ambitions included.

Europe’s economic engagement with Iran, especially in light of Russia’s stricter oil policies, makes sense. Except for Iran’s nuclear program and the spoiling role it plays in just about every crisis Europe wishes to solve in the Middle East. The answer to the above dilemma is long term and demands. For the time being, European temptation by Iranian oil must be understood within this context: Europe is not yet in a strong enough position to forego such deals. In this sense, Swiss politicians were right to call Calmy-Rey’s choice of the veil submissive. Submissiveness might be the only option Europe has in this situation, unless Iran’s behavior–and its regime–can be changed.

The energy deal that Swiss energy utility company EGL signed with Iran last week has triggered criticism both inside and outside the Alpine nation. Outside Switzerland, the most forceful complaints came from the U.S. and Israel–coming as it did barely two weeks after UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was passed, it clearly sent the wrong signal to Tehran. Europeans are not giving due weight to the strategic worries behind the new round of sanctions and prefer to increase their dependence on Iranian energy than add pressure on Tehran.

Inside Switzerland, though, the criticism focused more on the outfit chosen for the occasion by Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who was in Tehran to witness the signature alongside her Iranian counterpart, Manuchehr Mottaki. Swiss politicians were outraged by the fact that Calmy-Rey –a longtime advocate of women’s rights–chose to wear a veil and appear “submissive.” Many of her crticis later recognized she had no choice. This brings up a further question, though: why is submissiveness necessary to deal with Iran?

A look at European energy options might offer an answer: Europe’s main natural gas suppliers is Russia. Tehran, with its readiness to welcome foreign energy companies for joint ventures, is an ideal alternative. It sits on the second-biggest known reserves of natural gas in the world and, unlike other Middle Eastern countries, is willing to share profits in exchange for the technology and investments needed to develop its vastly undertapped resources.

Of course, the trade-off–quite apart from the obvious implications for the sanctions’ regime and the ability of the West to put pressure on Iran– is that Iran’s regime benefits from access to Western technology. But it may be recalled that earlier this year Turkmenistan shut off its gas supply to Tehran–a move that caused severe gas shortages inside Iran in the middle of an unusually harsh winter. Iran, in other words, despite its giant gas fields, is a net importer of gas and is thus vulnerable to external pressure. Selling Iran technology and joining its national gas and oil companies to develop its energy resources will help Iran become a net exporter and will make its regime’s economic and political fortune. Deals like the one signed by EGL, in other words, prolong this regime’s shelf life and all that comes with it, nuclear ambitions included.

Europe’s economic engagement with Iran, especially in light of Russia’s stricter oil policies, makes sense. Except for Iran’s nuclear program and the spoiling role it plays in just about every crisis Europe wishes to solve in the Middle East. The answer to the above dilemma is long term and demands. For the time being, European temptation by Iranian oil must be understood within this context: Europe is not yet in a strong enough position to forego such deals. In this sense, Swiss politicians were right to call Calmy-Rey’s choice of the veil submissive. Submissiveness might be the only option Europe has in this situation, unless Iran’s behavior–and its regime–can be changed.

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Tehran’s Big Deal

Swiss energy giant EGL just disclosed what is perhaps the biggest energy contract with Iran in recent history–between 28 and 42 billion dollars, according to its spokesman, who insisted that the exact figure not be revealed. Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey visited Tehran to crown the deal. Calmy-Rey–photographed wearing a veil alongside her male Iranian counterparts–praised Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA and generally speaking scored a great own goal for the international community’s efforts to push Iran into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 1696, 1737, 1747 and 1803.

Faced with international criticism, Calmy-Rey was adamant that Switzerland was not violating any law. True–but what kind of signal does a Western foreign minister send by going to Iran to bless a business deal two weeks after the UN adopted a sanctions resolution? Switzerland has slapped the world in the face. Europe, apparently, should not shy away from Iranian markets. Business, after all, is business.

The next weeks and months will tell whether European business will follow suit or if this is a lamentable one-off. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana-a nuclear physicist by training and the man officially appointed by the UN Security Council to negotiate with Iran-defined Iran’s nuclear program as a “strategic threat” to Europe on Sunday during a conversation with David Ignatius at the Brussels Forum. Asked by Steve Erlanger of the New York Times whether George W. Bush’s description of a nuclear Iran as “intolerable” was shared in Europe, Solana laconically and bluntly responded “Yes!” Barely a day later, Calmy-Rey was in Tehran, dressed so as not to offend her hosts, to sign a giant deal. Clearly, Switzerland begs to differ. And if the Swiss view were to take hold again in Europe (Europe remains Iran’s biggest trade partner, let’s not forget), it would not be long before that threat either materializes thanks to European technological sales and funds–or before someone acts upon the operational consequences of the world “intolerable.”

Swiss energy giant EGL just disclosed what is perhaps the biggest energy contract with Iran in recent history–between 28 and 42 billion dollars, according to its spokesman, who insisted that the exact figure not be revealed. Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey visited Tehran to crown the deal. Calmy-Rey–photographed wearing a veil alongside her male Iranian counterparts–praised Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA and generally speaking scored a great own goal for the international community’s efforts to push Iran into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 1696, 1737, 1747 and 1803.

Faced with international criticism, Calmy-Rey was adamant that Switzerland was not violating any law. True–but what kind of signal does a Western foreign minister send by going to Iran to bless a business deal two weeks after the UN adopted a sanctions resolution? Switzerland has slapped the world in the face. Europe, apparently, should not shy away from Iranian markets. Business, after all, is business.

The next weeks and months will tell whether European business will follow suit or if this is a lamentable one-off. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana-a nuclear physicist by training and the man officially appointed by the UN Security Council to negotiate with Iran-defined Iran’s nuclear program as a “strategic threat” to Europe on Sunday during a conversation with David Ignatius at the Brussels Forum. Asked by Steve Erlanger of the New York Times whether George W. Bush’s description of a nuclear Iran as “intolerable” was shared in Europe, Solana laconically and bluntly responded “Yes!” Barely a day later, Calmy-Rey was in Tehran, dressed so as not to offend her hosts, to sign a giant deal. Clearly, Switzerland begs to differ. And if the Swiss view were to take hold again in Europe (Europe remains Iran’s biggest trade partner, let’s not forget), it would not be long before that threat either materializes thanks to European technological sales and funds–or before someone acts upon the operational consequences of the world “intolerable.”

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No More Carrots for Iran

Less than a week after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1803, empowering EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana to meet with Iran’s officials for talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran has announced that it will only talk to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran’s decision is a slap in the face not only of the Security Council, but of the Europeans, who have long advocated the use of the carrot and stick with Iran–especially the carrot. Rumor had it in Brussels that Europe was preparing a much bigger incentive package for Iran than the one Iran was offered in June 2006–a package which resolution 1803 reiterates. Regardless, for now Iran will only talk to IAEA’s director general, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

The word in Brussels is that Iran is not interested in a new European offer because it lacks U.S. backing. The biggest prize for Tehran,  European pundits reason, is an American carrot in the form of explicit security guarantees. This much may be true. But the real reason for Iran to insist on talking with ElBaradei alone, at this point, is that the Director General has shown uncommon kindness to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His latest report is a near-total whitewash of Iran’s activities. Had it not been for critical evidence supplied to the IAEA by several member states only a few weeks before ElBaradei submitted his report, Iran might have gotten away with its program and would have received a clean bill of health from ElBaradei.

As it happens, ElBaradei–whose track record suggests he is more worried about a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities than Iran getting nuclear weapons–managed to close just about every file of the nuclear dossier, often accepting Iran’s lame explanations at face value.

Will the IAEA’s director general give Iran another free pass in 90 days, when,  as requested by Resolution 1803, he must report again? Given that it took nearly a year for the international community to pass even a largely symbolic resolution, perhaps Iran hopes so. But this would be a mistake on their part–and on ElBaradei’s part as well. Given the evidence submitted to the IAEA and the nature of Iran’s nuclear program, a clean bill of health offered by ElBaradei will only further weaken the international resolve behind non-military pressure on Iran. Which will, of course, help to provide a case for military action to those who cannot afford to live under the shadow of Iran’s nuclear bomb.

Less than a week after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1803, empowering EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana to meet with Iran’s officials for talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran has announced that it will only talk to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran’s decision is a slap in the face not only of the Security Council, but of the Europeans, who have long advocated the use of the carrot and stick with Iran–especially the carrot. Rumor had it in Brussels that Europe was preparing a much bigger incentive package for Iran than the one Iran was offered in June 2006–a package which resolution 1803 reiterates. Regardless, for now Iran will only talk to IAEA’s director general, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

The word in Brussels is that Iran is not interested in a new European offer because it lacks U.S. backing. The biggest prize for Tehran,  European pundits reason, is an American carrot in the form of explicit security guarantees. This much may be true. But the real reason for Iran to insist on talking with ElBaradei alone, at this point, is that the Director General has shown uncommon kindness to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His latest report is a near-total whitewash of Iran’s activities. Had it not been for critical evidence supplied to the IAEA by several member states only a few weeks before ElBaradei submitted his report, Iran might have gotten away with its program and would have received a clean bill of health from ElBaradei.

As it happens, ElBaradei–whose track record suggests he is more worried about a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities than Iran getting nuclear weapons–managed to close just about every file of the nuclear dossier, often accepting Iran’s lame explanations at face value.

Will the IAEA’s director general give Iran another free pass in 90 days, when,  as requested by Resolution 1803, he must report again? Given that it took nearly a year for the international community to pass even a largely symbolic resolution, perhaps Iran hopes so. But this would be a mistake on their part–and on ElBaradei’s part as well. Given the evidence submitted to the IAEA and the nature of Iran’s nuclear program, a clean bill of health offered by ElBaradei will only further weaken the international resolve behind non-military pressure on Iran. Which will, of course, help to provide a case for military action to those who cannot afford to live under the shadow of Iran’s nuclear bomb.

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Samantha Power: the Salon Interview

It might be time that I downgraded my opinion of Samantha Power from someone who I believe holds naive and mischievous opinions on the Middle East to someone who for the most part simply doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She gave a must-read interview yesterday to Salon.com.

What is the biggest foreign policy challenge for the next president?

The next president is really going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time, because no long-term peace in the Middle East is possible until we get some kind of modus vivendi in the Arab-Israeli situation.

Remarkable. Neither the Iraq war, nor the Iranian nuclear program, nor North Korean nuclear proliferation, nor the situation in Pakistan, nor the ascendant Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, in Power’s assessment, is comparable to “the Arab-Israeli situation.” This is, of course, the view of the world one gets from watching too many Christiane Amanpour specials on CNN; but it is also one that has virtually no currency among serious people.

You recently wrote in Time magazine that the U.S. needs to “rethink Iran.” What did you mean?

…To neutralize the support Ahmadinejad has domestically, we need to stop threatening and to get in a room with him — if only to convey grave displeasure about his tactics regionally and internationally — and then try to build international support for measures to prevent him from supporting terrorism and pursuing a nuclear program. If we’re ever going to actually put in place multilateral measures to contain Iran, the only way we’re going to do that is if we do it in a more united way with our allies.

To this, one can only reply: “Donny, you’re out of your element.” For starters, Ahmadinejad essentially has no domestic popularity in Iran. He is aggressively detested by everyone in the country with a reformist cast of mind, and he is widely blamed for crippling the Iranian economy through his imposition of some of the most half-baked centralized planning that exists in the world today. This Washington Post piece delves into Ahamadinejad’s domestic unpopularity; this piece from the Asia Times discusses his abysmal poll ratings. If Power thinks that we’re going to get anywhere with Iran by undermining Ahmadinejad’s “domestic support,” let me be the first to inform her: he doesn’t have any domestic support to begin with.

But that’s just a nitpick. The real swindle here is Power’s implication that the U.S. has yet to pursue a multilateral strategy for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, a fascinating rewriting of history. Between 2002 and 2006, the Bush administration delegated Iran diplomacy to the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the UK), specifically in pursuit of the cultivation of an international consensus against Iran’s nuclear program. The EU-3, working extensively through the IAEA — another of those international bodies that Power believes has been sidelined by the Bush administration — demonstrated nothing more than the ease with which it could be repeatedly manipulated and thwarted.

By the summer of 2006, the matter was handed over to the UN Security Council, another multilateral lever. The Security Council has since then produced a series of wrist-slaps on Iran. Power’s complaint — that the U.S. hasn’t acted multilaterally — is a fantasy. The real problem with the past six years of Iran diplomacy is that the multilateral channels through which our diplomacy has found expression have proven themselves utterly incapable of dealing with the problem. But I suppose it’s much easier to give interviews to credulous Salon reporters and pretend that we never tried, rather than confront the much thornier problem — that we have been trying, and failing.

Samantha Power believes that people like me, who raise perfectly legitimate questions about her judgment and knowledge of the Middle East, are trafficking in “fabrications” and a “smear campaign” against her and the Obama campaign. In everything I’ve written about her, including this post, I have always linked to what Power herself has said, so that readers could judge for themselves whether I’ve treated her fairly. Is it a smear to accuse someone of a smear, when none has been committed?

UPDATE: Michael Young weighs in here: “the egghead smells a foreign policy post.

It might be time that I downgraded my opinion of Samantha Power from someone who I believe holds naive and mischievous opinions on the Middle East to someone who for the most part simply doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She gave a must-read interview yesterday to Salon.com.

What is the biggest foreign policy challenge for the next president?

The next president is really going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time, because no long-term peace in the Middle East is possible until we get some kind of modus vivendi in the Arab-Israeli situation.

Remarkable. Neither the Iraq war, nor the Iranian nuclear program, nor North Korean nuclear proliferation, nor the situation in Pakistan, nor the ascendant Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, in Power’s assessment, is comparable to “the Arab-Israeli situation.” This is, of course, the view of the world one gets from watching too many Christiane Amanpour specials on CNN; but it is also one that has virtually no currency among serious people.

You recently wrote in Time magazine that the U.S. needs to “rethink Iran.” What did you mean?

…To neutralize the support Ahmadinejad has domestically, we need to stop threatening and to get in a room with him — if only to convey grave displeasure about his tactics regionally and internationally — and then try to build international support for measures to prevent him from supporting terrorism and pursuing a nuclear program. If we’re ever going to actually put in place multilateral measures to contain Iran, the only way we’re going to do that is if we do it in a more united way with our allies.

To this, one can only reply: “Donny, you’re out of your element.” For starters, Ahmadinejad essentially has no domestic popularity in Iran. He is aggressively detested by everyone in the country with a reformist cast of mind, and he is widely blamed for crippling the Iranian economy through his imposition of some of the most half-baked centralized planning that exists in the world today. This Washington Post piece delves into Ahamadinejad’s domestic unpopularity; this piece from the Asia Times discusses his abysmal poll ratings. If Power thinks that we’re going to get anywhere with Iran by undermining Ahmadinejad’s “domestic support,” let me be the first to inform her: he doesn’t have any domestic support to begin with.

But that’s just a nitpick. The real swindle here is Power’s implication that the U.S. has yet to pursue a multilateral strategy for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, a fascinating rewriting of history. Between 2002 and 2006, the Bush administration delegated Iran diplomacy to the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the UK), specifically in pursuit of the cultivation of an international consensus against Iran’s nuclear program. The EU-3, working extensively through the IAEA — another of those international bodies that Power believes has been sidelined by the Bush administration — demonstrated nothing more than the ease with which it could be repeatedly manipulated and thwarted.

By the summer of 2006, the matter was handed over to the UN Security Council, another multilateral lever. The Security Council has since then produced a series of wrist-slaps on Iran. Power’s complaint — that the U.S. hasn’t acted multilaterally — is a fantasy. The real problem with the past six years of Iran diplomacy is that the multilateral channels through which our diplomacy has found expression have proven themselves utterly incapable of dealing with the problem. But I suppose it’s much easier to give interviews to credulous Salon reporters and pretend that we never tried, rather than confront the much thornier problem — that we have been trying, and failing.

Samantha Power believes that people like me, who raise perfectly legitimate questions about her judgment and knowledge of the Middle East, are trafficking in “fabrications” and a “smear campaign” against her and the Obama campaign. In everything I’ve written about her, including this post, I have always linked to what Power herself has said, so that readers could judge for themselves whether I’ve treated her fairly. Is it a smear to accuse someone of a smear, when none has been committed?

UPDATE: Michael Young weighs in here: “the egghead smells a foreign policy post.

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Assad Suckers Obama

Senator Barack Obama went on the record about the never-ending political meltdown in Lebanon, and for a moment there I thought he might have it just right.

“The ongoing political crisis is resulting in the destabilization of Lebanon,” he said, “which is an important country in the Middle East. The US cannot watch while Lebanon’s fresh democracy is about to collapse.” So far so good. “We must keep supporting the democratically-elected government of PM Fouad Siniora, strengthening the Lebanese army and insisting on the disarmament of Hezbollah before it leads Lebanon into another unnecessary war.”

This is all excellent, so let’s get something out of the way. Barack Obama is not a leftist. He is a liberal. The difference between an American liberal and an American leftist on Lebanon is enormous. I can’t tell you how many Western leftists I’ve met who ran off to Beirut where they endlessly excuse or even outright support Hezbollah. (They are “victims” of Zionism, they aren’t pro-American like those icky “right-wing” bourgeois Maronite Christians, etc.) Some of these Hezbollah supporters, tragically, are journalists. They put me in the right-wing “imperialist” and “orientalist” camp for no more than saying what Barack Obama just said.

Obama’s problem isn’t that he’s on the wrong side. His problem is he’s the latest in a seemingly limitless supply of naïve Westerners who think they can reason with Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad.

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Senator Barack Obama went on the record about the never-ending political meltdown in Lebanon, and for a moment there I thought he might have it just right.

“The ongoing political crisis is resulting in the destabilization of Lebanon,” he said, “which is an important country in the Middle East. The US cannot watch while Lebanon’s fresh democracy is about to collapse.” So far so good. “We must keep supporting the democratically-elected government of PM Fouad Siniora, strengthening the Lebanese army and insisting on the disarmament of Hezbollah before it leads Lebanon into another unnecessary war.”

This is all excellent, so let’s get something out of the way. Barack Obama is not a leftist. He is a liberal. The difference between an American liberal and an American leftist on Lebanon is enormous. I can’t tell you how many Western leftists I’ve met who ran off to Beirut where they endlessly excuse or even outright support Hezbollah. (They are “victims” of Zionism, they aren’t pro-American like those icky “right-wing” bourgeois Maronite Christians, etc.) Some of these Hezbollah supporters, tragically, are journalists. They put me in the right-wing “imperialist” and “orientalist” camp for no more than saying what Barack Obama just said.

Obama’s problem isn’t that he’s on the wrong side. His problem is he’s the latest in a seemingly limitless supply of naïve Westerners who think they can reason with Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad.

“Washington must rectify the wrong policy of President George Bush in Lebanon and resort to an efficient and permanent diplomacy, rather than empty slogans,” he said.

“What is bizarre about this sentence,” Lebanese political analyst Tony Badran said to me in an email, “is that the Lebanon policy has been precisely that. While Sen. Obama’s statement — and indeed conventional wisdom — tries to paint all Bush administration policies with the old brush of arrogant unilateralism, in reality, the Lebanon policy has always been a multilateral policy of consensus, through the UN security council, through international law, and through close partnership with European and regional allies like France and Saudi Arabia. It is unclear how Sen. Obama wishes to ‘replace’ that. The current policy is as consensual, multilateral and internationalist as you can get. What you need to replace ‘hollow rhetoric,’ as he put it, is not more ‘diplomatic engagement,’ it’s more tools of pressure.”

This is exactly right. Pressure of one kind or another is the only thing Bashar Assad, or his more ruthless father Hafez Assad, ever responds to.

Syria has exported terrorism to almost all its neighbors – to Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey. So far only Turkey has managed to put an end to it once for all, and did so by threatening to invade. Turkey could smash Syria to pieces almost as quickly and easily as the Israelis were they so inclined. So that, as they say, was that.

Likewise, Assad withdrew all his occupation troops from Lebanon in 2005 after a million Lebanese citizens – almost a third of the total population – protested in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square and demanded their evacuation. It wasn’t the protest, though, that forced Assad out. It was what he felt was extraordinary pressure from the international community, most pointedly from the United States. “I am not Saddam Hussein,” he said at the time. “I want to cooperate.”

I doubt the Bush Administration threatened an invasion of Syria. It wasn’t necessary. The United States had just pulled the trigger in Iraq.

“We have,” Tony Badran continued, “as have our allies and friends, tried talking to the Syrians and the result is always the same: disastrous failure. Mr. Obama might think that his own personal charm is enough to turn Assad into a gushing 14 year old girl at an N’Sync concert, but he should pay close attention to the recent experience of one of our closest trans-Atlantic allies, French president Nicholas Sarkozy.”

Sarkozy thought he could achieve what Obama says he’ll achieve. After finally getting over the learning curve he decided, as have all others before him, that the only solution is a united Western front against Syria. That united Western front would join the already existing united Arab front against Syria. Every Arab government in the world is aligned against Syria already. The only Assad-friendly government in the region is the (Persian) Islamic Republic of Iran. All Arab governments are ahead of Obama, just as they were ahead of Sarkozy, who refused to listen when they warned him.

Assad is not going to break the Syrian-Iranian-Hamas-Hezbollah axis because Obama talks him into it over tea after everyone else who has ever tried has failed utterly. Obama could be counted on to iron out at least some differences with European diplomats and Republicans in Congress, but that’s because they’re democratic, civilized, and basically on the same side. Syria is an enemy state and acts accordingly. Assad isn’t a spouse in a troubled marriage on the Dr. Phil show. Obama is no more able to flip Syria into the Western camp than Syria can convince the U.S. to join Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

Common ground does not exist. We have nothing to talk about because what Assad wants first and foremost – Syria’s re-domination of Lebanon and its absorption into its state-sponsored terrorist axis – is unacceptable for everyone involved from Barack Obama to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

A united Arab-Western front against Syria might be effective. That’s what Assad is afraid of, and it’s the reason he continues to pretend what he wants is just “dialogue.” As if he just wants a friend and Bush is mean for not listening, as if “dialogue” is a cry for help so someone can help him kick his terrorist habit. There is always another sucker, somewhere, who thinks he or she can talk sense into the man and is willing to sabotage a united front in order to try.

Everyone who has ever tried to reason with Assad at length will tell you what I’m telling you now. It’s not a “liberal” or “conservative” thing, it just is. Obama is like the smart and popular college kid with a bright future, yet who still needs time to learn how the world works. He hasn’t acquired any foreign policy experience or expertise, and unfortunately his advisors are failing him here. They, of all people, should know this by now, yet they do not.

Obama desperately needs an advisor who understands Syria, and if he wants one who isn’t conservative he could could far worse than bringing on board political analyst and blogger Abu Kais, a Lebanese Shia who moved to Washington and is a critic of the Bush Administration.

“Murder has been profitable in our country, and in the region,” he wrote last month after assassins murdered anti-terrorist investigator Wissam Eid with a car bomb. “No one is going after the killers – their harshest punishment to date took the form of ‘initiatives’ and ‘dialogue.’ Lebanon, once again, is where anything goes, a free killing zone sanctioned by its enemies, and by friends who talk too much and do nothing.”

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“Can Friends of Israel–and Jews–Trust Obama?”

So runs the title of a piece posted today on The New Republic‘s website, authored by Marty Peretz, that answers the question in the affirmative. Peretz poses three questions about Israel and says that Obama answers them “at a level of sophistication that ought to be a relief, if not a rebuke, to those who fret about his lack of foreign policy ‘experience.’”

First, Obama says that Israeli concessions should only be made on “the confidence that the Palestinians can enforce an agreement.” (Obama’s words.) Second, Obama believes in strengthening, and only dealing with, the Palestinian moderates. And third, Obama understands the need for Palestinian cultural reform–or as he puts it, “now is the time for them to step out of the ideological blind alley that they’ve been in for so long.”

All well and good. But isn’t there something missing here? Something that portends to be far more dangerous than Palestinian recalcitrance? There is, and it is the Iranian nuclear project. And it is on this issue that friends of Israel are most concerned.

In his Foreign Affairs piece, Obama says, as he does frequently, that

Our diplomacy should aim to raise the cost for Iran of continuing its nuclear program by applying tougher sanctions and increasing pressure from its key trading partners. The world must work to stop Iran’s uranium-enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Isn’t this exactly what the Bush administration has been doing for many years, to very little effect? Didn’t the Bush administration delegate Iran diplomacy to the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the UK) between 2002 and 2006? And is it not true that this coalition, working through Obama-approved international bureaucracies such as the IAEA, demonstrated nothing more than its own utter inability to stop, or even impede, the Iranian program?

Iran’s easy defeat of the EU-3 and IAEA culminated, in August 2006, in the referral of the matter to the UN Security Council, which itself has been unable to produce anything other than a series of enervated and ineffective sanctions resolutions. But Barack Obama responds to all of this by repeatedly bragging that he has never given “George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran.” Well, George Bush hasn’t actually been all that involved in Iran–the nations and bureaucracies in which Obama promises to more heavily invest have, and what exactly does anyone but Iran have to show for it?

The real problem with Obama has little to do with Israel–it is the problem that, at every step of the way, his stated foreign policy strategy is to do something that has worked out very well for him domestically: to talk, to use his charisma and elan to win people’s enthusiasm and loyalty. And so Obama’s foreign policy rhetoric is always consumed by promises of “rallying” and “forging” and “pressuring” and building “partnerships and coalitions.” What is missing from all of this is some indication from Obama–or really from any of the liberal internationalists who see their worldview articulated by him–of how he proposes to create red lines that the international community would realistically be able to enforce. This has always been the fatal flaw of the internationalists, and there actually would be some audacity to Obama’s views if he offered something new in this regard.

I wonder how, exactly, Barack Obama proposes to convince China and Russia to support the kind of robust sanctions on Iran that today those two countries reject? Does he really believe that the absence of George W. Bush, combined with the transformative power of his rhetoric, is going to make the difference?

It’s not so much that “friends of Israel” shouldn’t trust Obama. I think that anyone who cares about the seriousness of American foreign policy shouldn’t trust Obama–at least not yet.

So runs the title of a piece posted today on The New Republic‘s website, authored by Marty Peretz, that answers the question in the affirmative. Peretz poses three questions about Israel and says that Obama answers them “at a level of sophistication that ought to be a relief, if not a rebuke, to those who fret about his lack of foreign policy ‘experience.’”

First, Obama says that Israeli concessions should only be made on “the confidence that the Palestinians can enforce an agreement.” (Obama’s words.) Second, Obama believes in strengthening, and only dealing with, the Palestinian moderates. And third, Obama understands the need for Palestinian cultural reform–or as he puts it, “now is the time for them to step out of the ideological blind alley that they’ve been in for so long.”

All well and good. But isn’t there something missing here? Something that portends to be far more dangerous than Palestinian recalcitrance? There is, and it is the Iranian nuclear project. And it is on this issue that friends of Israel are most concerned.

In his Foreign Affairs piece, Obama says, as he does frequently, that

Our diplomacy should aim to raise the cost for Iran of continuing its nuclear program by applying tougher sanctions and increasing pressure from its key trading partners. The world must work to stop Iran’s uranium-enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Isn’t this exactly what the Bush administration has been doing for many years, to very little effect? Didn’t the Bush administration delegate Iran diplomacy to the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the UK) between 2002 and 2006? And is it not true that this coalition, working through Obama-approved international bureaucracies such as the IAEA, demonstrated nothing more than its own utter inability to stop, or even impede, the Iranian program?

Iran’s easy defeat of the EU-3 and IAEA culminated, in August 2006, in the referral of the matter to the UN Security Council, which itself has been unable to produce anything other than a series of enervated and ineffective sanctions resolutions. But Barack Obama responds to all of this by repeatedly bragging that he has never given “George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran.” Well, George Bush hasn’t actually been all that involved in Iran–the nations and bureaucracies in which Obama promises to more heavily invest have, and what exactly does anyone but Iran have to show for it?

The real problem with Obama has little to do with Israel–it is the problem that, at every step of the way, his stated foreign policy strategy is to do something that has worked out very well for him domestically: to talk, to use his charisma and elan to win people’s enthusiasm and loyalty. And so Obama’s foreign policy rhetoric is always consumed by promises of “rallying” and “forging” and “pressuring” and building “partnerships and coalitions.” What is missing from all of this is some indication from Obama–or really from any of the liberal internationalists who see their worldview articulated by him–of how he proposes to create red lines that the international community would realistically be able to enforce. This has always been the fatal flaw of the internationalists, and there actually would be some audacity to Obama’s views if he offered something new in this regard.

I wonder how, exactly, Barack Obama proposes to convince China and Russia to support the kind of robust sanctions on Iran that today those two countries reject? Does he really believe that the absence of George W. Bush, combined with the transformative power of his rhetoric, is going to make the difference?

It’s not so much that “friends of Israel” shouldn’t trust Obama. I think that anyone who cares about the seriousness of American foreign policy shouldn’t trust Obama–at least not yet.

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Europe Doesn’t Back Down

The NIE release on Iran’s nuclear program has had some peculiar effects on so many erstwhile critics of U.S. intelligence. It’s been variously welcomed as a sign that the same intelligence community that got it tragically wrong before 9/11 and spectacularly wrong before the Iraq war now has it absolutely right. It’s been viewed as the greenlight for turning off the missile defense project in Europe and as the evidence that it’s high time to end the sanctions regime and start engaging Iran.

Not so.

While pundits are busy dreaming up the next free trade zone in Bandar Abbas and European industries plan their next business deal with Iran’s revolutionary guards’ front companies, European leaders have managed to notice the subtext of the NIE release—what’s truly in it, and what’s missing. And they are not rushing to sign new trade agreements and friendship treaties with Tehran.

If true, the NIE confirms what neither the IAEA nor the UN Security Council could conclusively say until today: Iran had a clandestine nuclear weapons program. As noted in yesterday‘s New York Times, the NIE tells us that the weapons’ part of the program only was brought to a halt—but not the other two critical components: enrichment, which the NIE says is proceeding until, ‘eventually’, Iran will have enough weapons’ grade uranium and plutonium for a nuclear bomb; and ballistic missiles, which can only be explained in the context of WMD, and which the NIE does not mention.

UN sanctions were approved to pressure Iran to come clean on the nature and extent of its nuclear program. The IAEA’s most recent report confirms that Iran has much to explain still. It must tell the world why it has 3,000 operational centrifuges (and counting) when it could get its nuclear fuel from Russia and need not enrich it indigenously. It needs to explain why it has a plutonium enrichment plant in Arak, which makes sense only for military reasons. Now that the NIE has revealed to the world that the Iranians were trying to build a bomb, Iran must explain even more, not less.

The NIE release on Iran’s nuclear program has had some peculiar effects on so many erstwhile critics of U.S. intelligence. It’s been variously welcomed as a sign that the same intelligence community that got it tragically wrong before 9/11 and spectacularly wrong before the Iraq war now has it absolutely right. It’s been viewed as the greenlight for turning off the missile defense project in Europe and as the evidence that it’s high time to end the sanctions regime and start engaging Iran.

Not so.

While pundits are busy dreaming up the next free trade zone in Bandar Abbas and European industries plan their next business deal with Iran’s revolutionary guards’ front companies, European leaders have managed to notice the subtext of the NIE release—what’s truly in it, and what’s missing. And they are not rushing to sign new trade agreements and friendship treaties with Tehran.

If true, the NIE confirms what neither the IAEA nor the UN Security Council could conclusively say until today: Iran had a clandestine nuclear weapons program. As noted in yesterday‘s New York Times, the NIE tells us that the weapons’ part of the program only was brought to a halt—but not the other two critical components: enrichment, which the NIE says is proceeding until, ‘eventually’, Iran will have enough weapons’ grade uranium and plutonium for a nuclear bomb; and ballistic missiles, which can only be explained in the context of WMD, and which the NIE does not mention.

UN sanctions were approved to pressure Iran to come clean on the nature and extent of its nuclear program. The IAEA’s most recent report confirms that Iran has much to explain still. It must tell the world why it has 3,000 operational centrifuges (and counting) when it could get its nuclear fuel from Russia and need not enrich it indigenously. It needs to explain why it has a plutonium enrichment plant in Arak, which makes sense only for military reasons. Now that the NIE has revealed to the world that the Iranians were trying to build a bomb, Iran must explain even more, not less.

Read Less




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