Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barack Obama

How Much Israel-Bashing Will Liberal Jews Put Up With? Obama Wants to Find Out

Hindsight is 20/20, especially for an eventuality that was widely predicted in advance. As such, it’s pretty easy even for pro-Obama partisans to look back and see numerous red flags that should have told them the president’s “Bulworth” moment, in which he’d be fully honest about his feelings toward Israel, was going to precipitate a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. Nevertheless, there’s always been one red flag that, perhaps unfairly, stuck out in my mind from the 2008 election. And I’m reminded of it again as we read polls showing Obama’s approval rating among the Jewish community dropping during the somber week in which we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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Hindsight is 20/20, especially for an eventuality that was widely predicted in advance. As such, it’s pretty easy even for pro-Obama partisans to look back and see numerous red flags that should have told them the president’s “Bulworth” moment, in which he’d be fully honest about his feelings toward Israel, was going to precipitate a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. Nevertheless, there’s always been one red flag that, perhaps unfairly, stuck out in my mind from the 2008 election. And I’m reminded of it again as we read polls showing Obama’s approval rating among the Jewish community dropping during the somber week in which we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Leading up to the 2008 presidential election, both Barack Obama and John McCain sat for (separate) interviews with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, and the subject of their appreciation of Jewish thought and culture came up. Here was the relevant comment from Obama:

BO: I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.

And here’s the exchange from Goldberg’s interview with McCain:

JG: Not a big Philip Roth fan?

JM: No, I’m not. Leon Uris I enjoyed. Victor Frankl, that’s important. I read it before my captivity. It made me feel a lot less sorry for myself, my friend. A fundamental difference between my experience and the Holocaust was that the Vietnamese didn’t want us to die. They viewed us as a very valuable asset at the bargaining table. It was the opposite in the Holocaust, because they wanted to exterminate you. Sometimes when I felt sorry for myself, which was very frequently, I thought, “This is nothing compared to what Victor Frankl experienced.”

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying Roth’s work, of course. But Obama’s answer smacked of check-the-box pop blandness. When it came to discussions of philosophy and literature, Obama always seemed to be reading from Wikipedia summaries. McCain’s answer, on the other hand, demonstrated deep and true engagement with the subject matter, and it showed why his respect and affinity for the Jewish people came through so strongly.

Put simply, when it came to Jewish thought and history, McCain simply got it. Obama was lost at sea.

Which is why Obama’s flagging approval rating among Jews isn’t too surprising, whereas a major change in the presidential vote share would have been more surprising.

It makes sense for American Jews to register disapproval of Obama at this point in his presidency, for a few reasons. First, he’s earned it. Obama has never been able to fake a connection with the Jewish people that just wasn’t there, the way it was with Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. He never passed the “kishkes” test, so to speak, and never even really came close to passing it.

So he was always dependent on his policies speaking for him. Some of the president’s defenders try to point out that Obama has just pushed for a peace agreement along the lines of his predecessors, and that he is unfairly maligned for it. This is false: the differences may appear subtle to outsiders and rookies, but they are monumentally important.

Additionally, he has less of a margin for “error,” as it were, with his policies because he couldn’t make anyone believe that he truly loved the Jewish state and merely wanted what was best for it. Therefore, the trust in him was always going to be less when it came to throwing tantrums over Jewish residents of Jerusalem and the like.

The second reason it makes sense for Jews to make their voices heard now is that Obama has already been reelected, and so there won’t be any concern by left-leaning Jews that they may drive voters to (gasp!) vote Republican, or take other such action that would have actual consequences. This is a safe protest. It lets the president know his juvenile hounding of Israel and his overall incompetence are areas of genuine concern for a demographic group that has consistently been among his most reliable supporters.

And the third reason is that, as far as electoral coalitions are concerned, the Obama era is over. Not only are we past his reelection, but we’re also beyond the second-term congressional midterms. This, then, is a message to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party leadership for 2016.

In the end, it probably won’t matter much, especially because Hillary will no doubt say the right things over and over before Election Day 2016. That is, perhaps American Jews still haven’t reached their limit yet. But they can be sure that Obama, through trial and error, would like to discover precisely what that limit is.

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The Reverse Iran Deal Ratification Process

The day after the White House waved the white flag on the Corker-Menendez bill that would force President Obama to submit a nuclear deal with Iran for congressional approval some of his press cheering section is still lamenting this defeat. The New York Times editorial page continued to rage about the spectacle of Democrats uniting with Republicans to force some accountability on the president. Meantime, congressional critics of the president were likewise still celebrating and denouncing the administration’s claims that the amendments Corker allowed to be added to the bill substantially modified it as nothing more than cheap spin. But in a classic example of how our political class—both on the left and the right—can be equally mistaken despite holding opposite views, both the Times and conservative Obama critics are wrong. By embracing the Corker bill, the White House has more or less assured that a terrible Iran deal will be ratified.

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The day after the White House waved the white flag on the Corker-Menendez bill that would force President Obama to submit a nuclear deal with Iran for congressional approval some of his press cheering section is still lamenting this defeat. The New York Times editorial page continued to rage about the spectacle of Democrats uniting with Republicans to force some accountability on the president. Meantime, congressional critics of the president were likewise still celebrating and denouncing the administration’s claims that the amendments Corker allowed to be added to the bill substantially modified it as nothing more than cheap spin. But in a classic example of how our political class—both on the left and the right—can be equally mistaken despite holding opposite views, both the Times and conservative Obama critics are wrong. By embracing the Corker bill, the White House has more or less assured that a terrible Iran deal will be ratified.

Let’s pause a moment to note that the Times’s argument against congressional review of the Iran deal is yet one more example of the shameless and utterly unprincipled partisanship of the Democrats’ paper of record. Had this been a Democratic-controlled Congress seeking to force a Republican president like George W. Bush from concluding a foreign agreement without observing the constitutional niceties in which the Senate must approve such documents, the Times would be invoking the need to defend the rule of law and inveighing against a GOP imperial presidency. But since this is a Democratic president facing off against a Republican Congress, they take the opposite point of view and say Congress is meddling in the president’s business. Need we remind the editors of the Times about what The Federalist Papers say about the dangers of a president acting as if he is an “hereditary monarch” rather than an “elective magistrate” again?

But instead of wasting time pointing out the obvious, it might be just as important to tell the president’s critics to stop patting themselves on the back for forcing him to back down on Corker-Menendez. The more you look at what this bill accomplishes, the more likely it seems that Obama will get his way no matter how bad the final version of the Iran deal turns out to be.

Even if we dismiss the concessions Corker made to the president’s Democratic Senate allies as not significant, the basic facts of the situation are these. Instead of the Iran deal being presented to the Senate as a treaty where it would require, as the Constitution states, a two-thirds majority to pass, Corker-Menendez allows the deal to be voted upon as a normal bill. That means that opponents need only a simple majority to defeat it. That’s good for those who understand that this act of appeasement gives Iran two paths to a bomb (one by cheating on it via huge loopholes and one by abiding by it and patiently waiting for it to expire) and needs to be defeated, right? Wrong.

By treating it as a normal act of legislation, the president will be able to veto the measure. That sets up a veto override effort that will force Iran deal critics to get to 67 votes, a veto-proof majority. If that sounds reasonable to you, remember that in doing so the bill creates what is, in effect, a reverse treaty ratification mechanism. Instead of the president needing a two-thirds majority to enact the most significant foreign treaty the United States has signed in more than a generation, he will need only one-third of the Senate plus one to get his way.

By allowing pro-Israel Democrats a free pass to vote for Corker-Menendez the president is giving them a way to say they voted to restrain the president before also granting them a path to back him by either voting for the deal or failing to vote to override the president’s veto. That gives plenty of room for inveterate schemers such as Democratic Senate leader-in-waiting Chuck Schumer to make sure the president gets his 34 votes while giving some Democrats, including perhaps himself, impunity to vote against him.

What has happened here is that despite furious effort and hard legislative work all critics of Obama’s pursuit of détente with Iran have accomplished is to allow him the opportunity to legally make a historic and disgraceful act of betrayal of Western security with the least possible support. They may have had no better options and I’ll concede an ineffectual vote on an Iran deal might be better than no deal at all, but please spare me the praise for Corker’s bipartisanship or the chortles about how the White House was beaten. What happened yesterday actually advanced the chances for Iran appeasement. And that’s nothing to celebrate.

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Can We Speak of Iran and the Holocaust?

In Israel this evening, the nation began observing Yom HaShoah, its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. At the ceremony at the Yad Vashem Memorial, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke passionately about the failure of today’s democracies to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. In doing so, he directly compared appeasement of the Nazis with contemporary efforts to engage Iran and its nuclear threat via diplomacy. However, it is likely that much of what passes for liberal and enlightened opinion in both Europe and the United States will dismiss Netanyahu’s analogies as well as his warnings about the potential costs of the course of action pursued by President Obama and U.S. allies. Like his speech to Congress last month in which he attempted to warn about the perils of the nuclear deal that was concluded weeks later, the prime minister’s speech will be put down as apocalyptic rhetoric from an intemperate leader whose voice has long since ceased to be heeded by the White House. But as painful as it may be for Obama loyalists and other Netanyahu-bashers to admit, those who wish to ignore his points need to think carefully before brushing aside his remarks as over the top or inappropriate.

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In Israel this evening, the nation began observing Yom HaShoah, its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. At the ceremony at the Yad Vashem Memorial, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke passionately about the failure of today’s democracies to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. In doing so, he directly compared appeasement of the Nazis with contemporary efforts to engage Iran and its nuclear threat via diplomacy. However, it is likely that much of what passes for liberal and enlightened opinion in both Europe and the United States will dismiss Netanyahu’s analogies as well as his warnings about the potential costs of the course of action pursued by President Obama and U.S. allies. Like his speech to Congress last month in which he attempted to warn about the perils of the nuclear deal that was concluded weeks later, the prime minister’s speech will be put down as apocalyptic rhetoric from an intemperate leader whose voice has long since ceased to be heeded by the White House. But as painful as it may be for Obama loyalists and other Netanyahu-bashers to admit, those who wish to ignore his points need to think carefully before brushing aside his remarks as over the top or inappropriate.

For the administration and its loyal press cheerleaders, Netanyahu isn’t so much the boy who cried “wolf,” as some would have it, as he is a Cassandra constantly predicting doom. Though they will in moments of lucidity concede that Iran is a state sponsor of terror, seeks regional hegemony, promotes anti-Semitism, and threatens Israel with destruction, they insist that the best way of dealing with this threat is via diplomacy. The president has, they tell us, gotten the best possible deal with Iran that will, at the very least, postpone or lessen the prospect of Iran getting a bomb. They contend that there are no alternatives to the nuclear deal short of a war that no one wants and whose outcome would be uncertain. More to the point, most people are so tired of promiscuous use of Holocaust comparisons that the rule of thumb in modern debate has become that the first person to mention it loses.

This is an absurd distortion of the situation since what Netanyahu and other critics of the Iran deal have called for is tougher diplomacy, backed by enhanced sanctions, not war. They have also pointed out, with justice, that the deal embraced by the president offers Iran two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on an agreement with gaping loopholes and no real accountability or monitoring, and the other by abiding by its terms and waiting patiently for it to expire all the while continuing their nuclear research.

But even if we take President Obama at his word when he says that what he has done is intended to forestall Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he has also made it clear that his real agenda is not so much to put the Islamist regime in a corner as it is to allow it to “get right with the world” and to transform itself into a government that is both trustworthy and peaceful. This is why the president views the Iran deal as his foreign-policy legacy. His goal here is not just nuclear restrictions but détente with Tehran.

And that is why Netanyahu’s rhetoric is entirely appropriate.

The problem with much of the debate about Iran is that it is premised on the assumption that the nuclear issue can be isolated from the rest of Iranian policies. President Obama says it is because he knows Iran won’t change that he wants to take every opportunity to limit the nuclear program that he pledged to dismantle when running for reelection in 2012. But if Iran won’t change, then we must confront the nature of the regime and that is something those who support the president’s appeasement of Tehran consistently refuse to do.

Netanyahu is not engaging in hyperbole when he speaks of the anti-Semitism that is integral to Iranian state policy as well as its sponsorship of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Nor is he exaggerating a whit when he talks of its oppression of religious minorities and vows to spread its Islamic revolution via proxies all the while crying “death to America” and “death to Israel.” Iran is not monolithic, but the consensus among its factions on the question of Israel’s elimination and the desirability of obtaining a nuclear weapon, with which that goal might be achieved or at least threatened, is not in question.

American liberals may be tired of Netanyahu and bored with talk of the peril from Iran. But they must understand that, at best, the deal Obama has struck will make Iran a threshold nuclear power. At worst, he has smoothed their path to a bomb. Once that is understood, the administration’s efforts to understand and even sympathize with Iran’s concerns must be seen as folly, not wisdom or good policy.

Netanyahu is right when he points out that talk about the horrors of the Holocaust and vowing “never again” is cheap when it is tethered to policies that essentially empower those who not only deny the reality of the Shoah but also seek the means to perpetrate a new one. Iran is not Germany but on a day when the lessons of history should be uppermost in our minds, the burden of proof lies with those defending appeasement of a government that seeks to complete the work Hitler started, not with those lamenting this disgraceful attempt to make a devil’s bargain with a violent hate-filled theocratic regime.

In the United States, we have built many monuments and museums about the Holocaust. But we forget that the only proper monument to the Six Million is a defensible Jewish state that exists to safeguard those that the Nazis failed to murder and their descendants. Remembering the Holocaust in such a way as to forget this vital truth is meaningless. Seen in that light, Netanyahu is sadly dead right to invoke the Holocaust in the context of Iran. It is his critics who should be rethinking their refusal to think seriously about the verdict of history, not the prime minister.

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Did Obama Win By Losing on Corker’s Bill?

The big news today out of Washington isn’t that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker managed to appease enough Democrats to lock up what will probably be a veto-proof majority for a bill mandating a Senate vote on any final Iran deal. The real story is that the White House has now announced that it won’t, despite months of threats to do so, veto the amended bill. Their excuse is that the Democratic amendments Corker swallowed alter the bill so much that it no longer constitutes much of an obstruction to the president’s plans to pursue détente with the Islamist regime. That is, as Corker rightly insists, mostly spin. But the question we should be asking is whether conceding that Congress has a right to an up-or-down vote on the agreement will give the administration the room to maneuver that will enable it to pass the deal despite the clear sense of Congress that it is a disaster.

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The big news today out of Washington isn’t that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker managed to appease enough Democrats to lock up what will probably be a veto-proof majority for a bill mandating a Senate vote on any final Iran deal. The real story is that the White House has now announced that it won’t, despite months of threats to do so, veto the amended bill. Their excuse is that the Democratic amendments Corker swallowed alter the bill so much that it no longer constitutes much of an obstruction to the president’s plans to pursue détente with the Islamist regime. That is, as Corker rightly insists, mostly spin. But the question we should be asking is whether conceding that Congress has a right to an up-or-down vote on the agreement will give the administration the room to maneuver that will enable it to pass the deal despite the clear sense of Congress that it is a disaster.

The concessions Corker made are not insubstantial, but by themselves they don’t destroy the basic principle that he and Robert Menendez, the former ranking member of the committee, sought to establish. Despite the effort of the White House to portray the deal as something that doesn’t fall under the normal constitutional rubric of a treaty that must be submitted to the Senate for approval, Corker-Menendez will allow Congress the final say on a nuclear pact. That’s a victory for critics of the president’s diplomatic strategy as well as a blow struck for the sort of constitutional principles that this president has routinely trashed on issues such as environmental regulations and illegal immigration.

But by stating that he’ll sign Corker-Menendez, Obama may have won over a large number of Democratic senators who were planning to vote for Corker-Menendez as well as a bill promising more sanctions on Iran in the event that the diplomatic process fails. As Max Boot wrote earlier, the bill strengthens the president’s hand in the final negotiations with Iran since he can say that he is responsible to Congress and won’t be able to make as many concessions as he might have liked. But assuming that he does continue to make enough concessions to enable Iran to finally sign on to a written version of the agreement by June, the concessions the president won today will be useful to him as he seeks Senate approval for the deal.

One can view the White House waving the white flag on this issue as a signal defeat and in that sense it is. But in doing so the president has strengthened his ability to rally Democrats and perhaps some wavering Republicans—like Corker—to vote for the Iran deal once it is finished. Indeed, so long as they have their say on it, Democrats and Republicans may decide that procedure has precedence over substance and wind up giving the president what he wants anyway.

It may be that the White House move on Corker-Menendez ensures that Obama will get most Democrats to back the Iran deal no matter how awful a bargain it turns out to be. In addition, by forcing Corker to cut in half the amount of time the Senate has to study what will be a complicated document (from 60 days to 30) and by eliminating other issues from the mix—such as forcing the administration to certify that Iran is not supporting anti-American terrorism—he has simplified the president’s task in gaining the agreement’s eventual passage.

The main point here was never just about the president trying to act like a monarch and ratifying a treaty without Congress but whether the Senate could exercise its constitutional responsibilities in a way that could help get a better deal from Iran. The pact Obama has agreed to provides Iran with a path to a bomb both by easy cheating and by adhering to its terms provided they have the patience to wait until it expires.

Corker can, as Max noted, take a bow for working in a bipartisan manner and getting something passed. But just as the Iranians learned they could bulldoze the president in an impasse, what opponents of his appeasement must ponder is whether this is a precedent for future negotiations with the White House that will bring the Tennessee Republican over to the president’s side in a final vote on an Iran deal. If the Senate is outmaneuvered in the months ahead and winds up belatedly ratifying a weak deal, we may look back on today’s events and say this was the moment when the president finally wised up and locked up sufficient support for appeasement.

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Tom Friedman’s Iran Ignorance

Jonathan Tobin highlights well some problems with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s defense of President Barack Obama’s empathy with Iran. Perhaps a greater irony, however, is how wrong Friedman gets Iranian history. Friedman describes how:

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Jonathan Tobin highlights well some problems with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s defense of President Barack Obama’s empathy with Iran. Perhaps a greater irony, however, is how wrong Friedman gets Iranian history. Friedman describes how:

We, the United States, back in the ’50s, we toppled Iran’s democratically-elected government. You know, there might be some reason these people actually want to get a weapon that will deter that from happening again.

Three problems with this conventional wisdom:

  • Firstly, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq was not much of a democrat. Or, if he was a democrat, then he was a democrat in the mold of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide: he was democratic so long as you agreed with him; Iranians who voiced opposition might easily find themselves lynched.
  • Second, while Kermit Roosevelt wrote the main English-language account of the 1953 coup in Countercoup, he exaggerated his own and the United States role in what was a much broader operation. The idea for the coup was British because Mosaddeq had nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (a predecessor of British Petroleum) and then refused to negotiate. The United States was more concerned by Mosaddeq’s pro-Soviet proclivities. So too were the Iranians themselves, especially the military and the clergy. That’s right, the folks who run the Islamic Republic today were co-conspirators with the United States and deeply opposed to Mosaddeq’s anti-clerical attitudes. So when Friedman self-flagellates, he essentially is apologizing to the Iranians who supported the coup.
  • Third, Friedman gets the shah wrong. Mohammad Reza Shah was a deeply problematic figure, and he grew far more dictatorial after the 1953 coup, but at the time of the coup, he was a popular head of state whom Mosaddeq was seeking to force out in order to assume dictatorial power himself. Then again, he was a dictator in the mold of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey: he sought dictatorial powers to modernize Iran, making Iranians equal under the law regardless of religion and enfranchising women. Still, the shah’s regime was brutal at time, and there were no angels in this story. But the idea that the 1953 coup motivates the Iranian nuclear program is bizarre. While the shah had a nuclear program himself, the resurrection of the Iranian nuclear program after the Islamic Revolution can be traced more to Iraqi chemical weapons attacks on Iran.

There’s also a broader problem underlying both Obama’s and Friedman’s assumptions about Iranian motivations, and that is the assumption that grievance motivates the Iranian nuclear drive. That’s lazy thinking and belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic Republic. At its heart, the Islamic Republic is an ideological state. The reason why Obama’s interpretation that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s statements can be discounted because he’s playing to a political constituency are so bizarre is that such an explanation suggests ignorance of the fact that the supreme leader derives legitimacy from God rather than from the Iranian public. The Islamic Republic simply isn’t a normal, status quo state; it’s a revisionist, ideological power. Iran’s nuclear behavior is rooted not in grievances real or imagined, but rather in a desire to export its revolution.

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Did Corker Give Congress a Fighting Chance on Iran Deal?

Bipartisanship is as rare these days in Washington as a duck-billed platypus. That it prevailed on so controversial an issue as the Iranian nuclear deal is a tribute to the negotiating skills of Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has long been pressing for legislation, co-authored with Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, that would force President Obama to submit any deal for congressional approval. The president has been threatening to veto any such legislation, claiming that “partisan” criticism of the deal “needs to stop” and not-so-subtly suggesting that his critics must be in favor of war with Iran—because that is the only alternative to the generous deal he has crafted. Or so he claims.

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Bipartisanship is as rare these days in Washington as a duck-billed platypus. That it prevailed on so controversial an issue as the Iranian nuclear deal is a tribute to the negotiating skills of Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has long been pressing for legislation, co-authored with Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, that would force President Obama to submit any deal for congressional approval. The president has been threatening to veto any such legislation, claiming that “partisan” criticism of the deal “needs to stop” and not-so-subtly suggesting that his critics must be in favor of war with Iran—because that is the only alternative to the generous deal he has crafted. Or so he claims.

Yet today Corker managed to convince every member of the Foreign Relations Committee to endorse a bill that would give Congress the right to approve any lifting of sanctions as a result of the nuclear deal. So thoroughly did he manage to win over Democrats that Obama, facing a veto-proof majority, had no choice but to concede that he would sign the legislation. How did Corker do it? It’s hard to know exactly from the outside but it sounds as if, in negotiating with committee Democrats, he made some cosmetic changes, such as shortening the congressional review period from 60 to 30 days and not requiring Obama to certify that Iran has gotten out of the business of supporting anti-American terrorism. Such changes will spark criticism from some on the right, but the essential point appears intact—namely, that Obama will have to allow Congress to weigh in, something that he has so far adamantly resisted doing.

Ironically, this legislation could actually strengthen Obama’s hand with the Iranians: Secretary of State John Kerry can now plausibly tell his Iranian interlocutors that, however much he would like to concede their points, Congress won’t stand for it. But the larger message of today’s action should not be comforting to a president who has bet his entire foreign-policy legacy on reaching a deal with Iran regardless of its contents.

The basic message, from Democrats and Republicans alike, is that there is deep unease in Congress, as well as in the country at large, about the terms of the accord that Obama is negotiating. And for good cause: As former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger have noted, “negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years.” Those concerns were only exacerbated by Russia’s announcement yesterday that it will move ahead with the delivery of a sophisticated S-300 air defense system to Iran that will make its nuclear plants much harder to hit from the air in the future. Now at least there will be a fighting chance for Congress to try to stop a bad deal, even if the odds still favor the president, given his enormous leeway in the conduct of foreign affairs.

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What’s Wrong with Obama Walking in the Ayatollah’s Slippers?

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman performed a useful service for President Obama last week when he used his perch on the New York Times op-ed page to give the president a forum from which he could make a full-throated defense of his Iran nuclear deal. But speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program yesterday, he went further in defending the president as a leader with the greatness of spirit and the breadth of experience to see the world from the perspective of foreign antagonists. According to Friedman the main difference between Obama and, say, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that Obama is able to walk in the shoes of the Iranians while Netanyahu can’t. If so, that is an asset, but Friedman is confusing understanding with empathy. Contrary to the stereotype of U.S. conservatives or Israelis that Friedman is propagating, critics of the deal don’t lack knowledge about what Iranians think or want. The difference between them and Obama is that he not only understands Iran’s demands; he seems to sympathize with them in a way that has led him to make a series of concessions that gave them what they want.

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New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman performed a useful service for President Obama last week when he used his perch on the New York Times op-ed page to give the president a forum from which he could make a full-throated defense of his Iran nuclear deal. But speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program yesterday, he went further in defending the president as a leader with the greatness of spirit and the breadth of experience to see the world from the perspective of foreign antagonists. According to Friedman the main difference between Obama and, say, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that Obama is able to walk in the shoes of the Iranians while Netanyahu can’t. If so, that is an asset, but Friedman is confusing understanding with empathy. Contrary to the stereotype of U.S. conservatives or Israelis that Friedman is propagating, critics of the deal don’t lack knowledge about what Iranians think or want. The difference between them and Obama is that he not only understands Iran’s demands; he seems to sympathize with them in a way that has led him to make a series of concessions that gave them what they want.

Here’s the gist of Friedman’s argument:

What really came through to me in the interview really is a couple things that really do show you the difference between him and Netanyahu. Obama is someone who has lived abroad, maybe more than any president in a long time. And because of that, he actually knows what America looks like from the outside in. And he can actually see America even to some point from the Iranian perspective. And it comes through when he says let’s remember we, the Unites States, back in the ’50s, we toppled Iran’s democratically-elected government. You know, there might be some reason these people actually want to get a weapon that will deter that from happening again.

Friedman is right that understanding your adversary is a vital tool for any world leader. It is possible that the president’s experience of living abroad in his youth is an asset in that it does help him understand the way foreigners view the United States. Perhaps that has aided his efforts to think seriously about Iran and to realize that it is a vast complex country with a government with competing factions vying for influence in an undemocratic structure, at the top of which sits a supreme leader who ultimately calls the shots.

No one who thinks about Iran policy should be ignorant of the narrative of their country’s modern history that the leaders of the Islamist regime have carefully propagated, though it’s more likely that that the president learned about this from leftist professors at Columbia University and not at the Indonesian school where he studied as a boy. As Friedman rightly notes, Iran’s rulers see their nuclear-weapons project as an insurance policy against any threat of regime change that might, as many of those Iranians who took to the streets in a “Green Revolution” in 2009 may have hoped, lead to a government that would allow them more freedom than their current theocratic masters with whom the president prefers to do business will ever allow.

Friedman contrasts what he claims is Obama’s nuanced view of Iran with the more simplistic understanding of the country that he attributes to Netanyahu. The latter, he says, views it as a country with no politics and where 85 million people get up every morning clamoring for a bomb to drop on the Jews. The president and Friedman see it as more complex and think the right sort of diplomacy will tip the balance toward more moderate factions and away from extremists.

That is an interesting scenario that most in the West would applaud. But it is also the point at which walking in another fellow’s shoes becomes wishful thinking about that other person wanting the same things you want. In the case of Iran such thinking is not a triumph of understanding. It is delusional.

A truly nuanced view of Iran would incorporate the ideology that runs throughout the Islamist regime encompassing the worldview of both the so-called “moderates,” supposedly led by President Hassan Rouhani, and the hardliners, whose most prominent personality is the supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As much as there is certainly a political struggle between the two factions (though Rouhani has always been a faithful servant of the country’s extremist leaders), they don’t disagree about wanting a bomb. Nor do they differ much on the nation’s goal of regional hegemony or the desirability of obliterating Israel by any means possible. In that sense, Netanyahu’s supposedly more primitive grasp of the situation (a misnomer since the prime minister has devoted far more time to scholarship and writing about the Middle East than Obama has ever done, but never mind) is actually far closer to the truth.

The problem here isn’t that critics of Iran don’t get the motivations of those in power in Tehran. It’s that Obama and his foreign-policy team have bought into a myth about the potential for Iranian moderation that is rooted in their hopes for détente and completely divorced from recent history or Iran’s behavior. Having placed himself in the ayatollah’s slippers, President Obama has not only sought to gain a grasp of his prejudices; he has adopted them and treated them as normative and even worth defending. It is this mindset that caused him to assess his adversary in the talks and to discard the West’s enormous economic and political leverage and give in to Iran’s obdurate demands to keep its nuclear infrastructure rather than face them down.

This is not wisdom or understanding. It is folly and the sort of misplaced empathy with foes that has served as the rationale for every act of appeasement of tyrants throughout history.

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The Only Iran Contradictions Are Obama’s

The Obama administration has a difficult task in selling the country on the weak nuclear deal it has struck with Iran. They have no answers for the long list of shortcomings in the agreement that both congressional critics and the Israelis have cited. Nor is there much use pretending that a pact that has yet to be committed to paper and which the other side publicly asserts doesn’t mean what you say it means will do much to constrain Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. So instead the White House and its press cheering section must revert to cheap talking points. One of their favorites is one President Obama cited over the weekend and which was obligingly fleshed out in a column by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank: that critics are being inconsistent because they would prefer the situation with Iran being kept where it is now under the terms of the interim deal they attacked when it was first signed in November 2013. But contrary to Milbank’s puerile comparison of this “Iran contradiction” to “Iran Contra,” there’s no contradiction here at all. The interim deal was awful but compared to the follow-up agreement, it is preferable.

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The Obama administration has a difficult task in selling the country on the weak nuclear deal it has struck with Iran. They have no answers for the long list of shortcomings in the agreement that both congressional critics and the Israelis have cited. Nor is there much use pretending that a pact that has yet to be committed to paper and which the other side publicly asserts doesn’t mean what you say it means will do much to constrain Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. So instead the White House and its press cheering section must revert to cheap talking points. One of their favorites is one President Obama cited over the weekend and which was obligingly fleshed out in a column by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank: that critics are being inconsistent because they would prefer the situation with Iran being kept where it is now under the terms of the interim deal they attacked when it was first signed in November 2013. But contrary to Milbank’s puerile comparison of this “Iran contradiction” to “Iran Contra,” there’s no contradiction here at all. The interim deal was awful but compared to the follow-up agreement, it is preferable.

If critics of the current Iran deal had their way, we wouldn’t roll the situation back to November 2013. Rather, we’d go back to where we were before the president discarded the enormous economic and political leverage it had over the Islamist regime when he signed off on that pact. The interim deal fundamentally altered the landscape of the negotiations because, as critics repeatedly charged at the time, for the first time the West implicitly granted an Iranian “right” to enrich uranium and to hold onto its nuclear infrastructure in a flat contradiction of past United Nations resolutions. It loosened sanctions whose enacting had taken long years of congressional debates over Obama administration objections and foot dragging from allies and frenemies like Russia and China. And it established a model by which Iran would be allowed to hold onto the considerable stockpile of enriched uranium it amassed in a form that could be easily and quickly reconverted for potential use for a bomb.

That result was obtained by a series of breathtaking concessions by the Obama administration that flatly contradicted the president’s 2012 campaign promises about Iran in which he pledged that any deal with the regime would be predicated on the end of its nuclear program. But both the president and Secretary of State Kerry claimed it was the best that could possibly be achieved because the Iranians wouldn’t agree to anything better. More than that, using the president’s trademark straw man style of argument, they asserted the only alternative to bending to the will of the ayatollahs was war. That was, of course, absurd, since the clear alternative was to stick to the tough sanctions that were in place and then tighten them further to squeeze Iran to the point where its failing economy and low oil prices would bring the regime to its knees. Once there it might be expected to be more amenable to restrictions that would actually forestall their efforts to build a bomb.

That was bad, but it was far preferable to the Iranians’ astonishing victory in the negotiations that followed. Building on past concessions extracted from the West, the Iranians are now in a position where they will be allowed to keep thousands of centrifuges, their impregnable nuclear plant at Fordow, maintain their pace of nuclear research, and keep their stockpile of uranium in an agreement that will actually expire in 15 years, after which they will be free to do anything they like. Nor does this deal constrain their building of ballistic missiles that could reach the West or force them to stop supporting terrorism, threatening Israel with destruction, or undermining the stability of moderate Arab regimes. On top of that, the Iranians are making it clear they will not allow surprise inspections (the only way the West has a prayer of monitoring compliance) or open up their facilities so the United Nations can assess its progress on military use of nuclear technology, flatly contradicting the assertions about the deal made by Kerry. Compared to this debacle, the November 2013 agreement seems very stout indeed.

We are also told by the administration that the Iranians have abided by the interim deal but given the paucity of Western intelligence about the secret nuclear sites that all the parties openly concede must be there and the lack of real inspections, such assertions are at best conjectures but more likely mere wishful thinking.

Given a choice between maintaining the status quo and agreeing to a new deal that will allow the Iranians to easily cheat their way to a bomb quickly or get one by showing a bit more patience while actually abiding by it, the status quo is far more palatable. But that doesn’t mean that first retreat was wise or serve as a testimonial for a follow-up agreement that doubles down on appeasement in an unprecedented manner.

Having taken us down this road with Iran in a way that makes it difficult if not impossible to stop or even turn back to a situation where the West might regain its leverage over Iran, the administration’s apologists are in no position to claim that their opponents are being inconsistent. The problem here is not a partisan Republican opposition that will disagree with anything the president does but an administration that has piled mistake upon mistake to create a situation that isn’t easily rectified. The baseline established by the interim deal made the concessions of the current agreement inevitable. The United States would be wise to start walking back these mistakes, undeterred by false arguments about war or Iran never agreeing to a better deal. But the president is so committed to the chimera of détente with the Islamist regime he will never admit his initial mistakes. Instead, he claims they were brilliant strokes and press toadies like Milbank applaud such deceptions. The only “Iran Contradictions” here are the ones between Obama’s concessions and his promise to stop them from getting a bomb.

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Why China Won’t Support “Snapback” Iran Sanctions

No one can accuse the Iranian government of being stupid. They entered into negotiations with their economy tanking and very little leverage, and came out of talks with an outright victory. It was the equivalent of a pair of twos beating a full house in poker.

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No one can accuse the Iranian government of being stupid. They entered into negotiations with their economy tanking and very little leverage, and came out of talks with an outright victory. It was the equivalent of a pair of twos beating a full house in poker.

President Barack Obama has famously promised “snapback” sanctions: If Iran doesn’t meet its obligations, then the sanctions that brought Tehran to the table will simply be restored. What Obama ignores, however, is that the United Nations is not an institution in which members leave national interests at the door in order to embrace lofty values, but rather a tool by which the world’s dictatorships launder their cravenness through the illusion of principle.

Hence, for snapback sanctions to be successful, Obama will needs Russian President Vladimir Putin or his representatives not only to agree that the Islamic Republic is in violation but also that snapping sanctions back in place is in Moscow’s interests. That will be a tough hurdle, given Russia’s military and nuclear investment in Iran. Regardless, the Kremlin believes it has found a win-win formula: Support Iran’s nuclear program and make billions of dollars selling goods to the Islamic Republic. If, however, the situation collapses and Israel or some other power launches military strikes on Iran, sending the price of oil and gas through the roof, then Moscow laughs its way to the bank.

China has traditionally approached both the Middle East and Middle Eastern issues at the United Nations with exceeding caution. When most countries vote up or down on issues, China abstains. The Iranian government, however, recognizes that to make China into a reliable ally, it needs to rope China into the Iranian economy in a way that re-sanctioning hurts. And that is exactly the effect of the deal that Iranian authorities have just announced.

Today, according to this Fars News Agency article (alas, still only in Persian), Behruz Kamalvandi, deputy director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced that China will help Iran build a new nuclear power plant, a multibillion dollar exercise. But with Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry releasing nearly $12 billion in previously frozen assets, cash is no longer a problem.

Two years ago, I published an analysis for the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office examining Iran’s diplomatic outreach toward Africa. What immediately became clear was that Tehran targeted those countries who sat as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council or were on the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In effect, Iran sought shamelessly to buy their votes.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Obama and Kerry may have overseen the normalization of Iran’s once-covert nuclear program, but the Islamic Republic knows that the United States is a democracy and that the diplomatic duo will soon be lounging in Hawaii or yachting off Nantucket. They do not know who will be in the White House next and so they want insurance; i.e., the Chinese vote in Tehran’s pocket. More importantly, Iran’s efforts to buy votes to ensure that sanctions never snap back is as good an indication as ever that Tehran plans to comply neither with the letter nor spirit of its nuclear agreements.

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ISIS and the Stalingradization of Yarmouk

In 2009, Jeffrey Goldberg recounted a conversation he had with a Kurdish leader who told him that his fellow Kurds had been cursed. Goldberg asked him to be more specific. Goldberg relates the response: “He said the Kurds were cursed because they didn’t have Jewish enemies. Only with Jewish enemies would the world pay attention to their plight.” It’s a principle proved over and over again, and the plight of the Palestinian residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp is yet our latest example.

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In 2009, Jeffrey Goldberg recounted a conversation he had with a Kurdish leader who told him that his fellow Kurds had been cursed. Goldberg asked him to be more specific. Goldberg relates the response: “He said the Kurds were cursed because they didn’t have Jewish enemies. Only with Jewish enemies would the world pay attention to their plight.” It’s a principle proved over and over again, and the plight of the Palestinian residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp is yet our latest example.

Yarmouk is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, not far from Damascus. The refugees, already struggling through Syria’s civil war, found themselves in an almost Stalingrad-like state this month when ISIS laid siege to the camp. CNN describes what happened next:

Besieged and bombed by Syrian forces for more than two years, the desperate residents of this Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus awoke in early April to a new, even more terrifying reality — ISIS militants seizing Yarmouk after defeating several militia groups operating in the area.

“They slaughtered them in the streets,” one Yarmouk resident, who asked not to be named, told CNN. “They (caught) three people and killed them in the street, in front of people. The Islamic State is now in control of almost all the camp.”

An estimated 18,000 refugees are now trapped inside Yarmouk, stuck between ISIS and Syrian regime forces in “the deepest circle of hell,” in the words of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. …

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says ISIS and the al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front control about 90% of the camp. The organization also claims that the Syrian government has dropped barrel bombs on the camp in an effort to drive out armed groups.

The plight of the Yarmouk camp isn’t exactly capturing the world’s attention. And a big reason for that, as even Israel’s critics are now acknowledging, mirrors the Kurdish complaint to Goldberg. The Palestinians of Yarmouk are cursed with three barbaric enemies, none of them Jews. And so the world yawns.

Mehdi Hasan, who would never be mistaken for a Zionist shill, takes to the pages of the Guardian, which would never be mistaken for a pro-Israel bullhorn, to call out the hypocrisy. He explains the terrible condition of the camp and the horrors endured by its residents throughout the civil war. Then he (of course) engages in the requisite throat-clearing about Israel’s “crimes” and the “occupation of Palestine.”

But he finally gets around to his point:

Can we afford to stay in our deep slumber, occasionally awakening to lavishly condemn only Israel? Let’s be honest: how different, how vocal and passionate, would our reaction be if the people besieging Yarmouk were wearing the uniforms of the IDF?

Our selective outrage is morally unsustainable.

That is the first of three lessons of the story of Yarmouk: that the world cares about Palestinian suffering when it can be blamed on the Jews. For the sake of posterity, Hasan even runs down a list of atrocities perpetrated on the Palestinians by other Arabs. It’s not a new phenomenon, nor would anybody in his right mind try to deny it. At least Hasan wants to change it.

The second lesson is that the Palestinians and their advocates often have unexpected allies, and rather than embrace even a temporary alliance they live in denial. Hasan illustrates this as well when he writes:

So what, if anything, can be done? The usual coalition of neoconservative hawks and so-called liberal interventionists in the west want to bomb first and ask questions later, while the rest of us resort to a collective shrug: a mixture of indifference and despair. Few are willing to make the tough and unpopular case for a negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict or, at least, a truce and a ceasefire, a temporary cessation of hostilities.

That is an Obama-level false choice hand in hand with a straw man. And it shows just how unwilling Hasan is to make common cause with people he dislikes politically. Neoconservatives are not nearly so pro-intervention in Syria as Hasan suggests (this is a common mistake that virtually every non-neoconservative who talks about the Syria conflict makes). But notice how quickly Hasan seems to change key: it’s a crisis, and has been a burgeoning disaster for years, and yet those who want to intervene are slammed as wanting to “ask questions later.”

Meanwhile, the negotiated track has failed. This is the reality: Assad has the upper hand, and ISIS has had success with their brutality, and neither one is ready to sit down at the table with representatives of Palestinian refugees to shake hands and end the war.

And that brings us to the third lesson, related to the second. Just as the Palestinians’ opponents are sometimes their best allies, the Palestinians’ friends often turn out to be anything but. There is no negotiated solution for the Palestinians of Yarmouk on the horizon because President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have already thrown them to the wolves.

The Obama administration, which happily hammers Israel for every perceived violation of Palestinian rights, has struck a bargain to reorder the Middle East by elevating Iran and its proxies, such as Assad. The plight of the Palestinians in Yarmouk does not interest this president and his team in the least. After all, it can’t be blamed on Israel.

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Obama’s the Partisan on Iran, Not the GOP

President Obama had a response ready after Senator John McCain said Secretary of State John Kerry was “delusional” when he had the bad manners to point out that Iran was making it clear that they had no intention of agreeing to much of what the U.S. was saying was part of the nuclear deal it had struck with the Islamist regime. Speaking yesterday in Panama, the president praised Kerry and said that for McCain and other Republicans to treat the secretary’s statements about the deal as “somehow less trustworthy in the interpretation of what’s in a political agreement than the supreme leader of Iran, that’s an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all boundaries.” But the problem with that argument is that you don’t have to be a Republican to understand that Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei genuinely means what he says while the administration is obfuscating the truth about the Iran deal. Though calling Republicans partisans makes an easy sound bite, the truth is, it’s been Obama that’s been playing the partisan card throughout the debate about Iran.

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President Obama had a response ready after Senator John McCain said Secretary of State John Kerry was “delusional” when he had the bad manners to point out that Iran was making it clear that they had no intention of agreeing to much of what the U.S. was saying was part of the nuclear deal it had struck with the Islamist regime. Speaking yesterday in Panama, the president praised Kerry and said that for McCain and other Republicans to treat the secretary’s statements about the deal as “somehow less trustworthy in the interpretation of what’s in a political agreement than the supreme leader of Iran, that’s an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all boundaries.” But the problem with that argument is that you don’t have to be a Republican to understand that Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei genuinely means what he says while the administration is obfuscating the truth about the Iran deal. Though calling Republicans partisans makes an easy sound bite, the truth is, it’s been Obama that’s been playing the partisan card throughout the debate about Iran.

The claim of partisanship has been an essential part of the administration’s game plan on Iran. Instead of relying on his less than convincing arguments justifying his indefensible concessions to the Islamist regime, the president made the very smart tactical decision to play offense instead of defense. That worked pretty well when it allowed him to make Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s acceptance of House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress on the Iran nuclear threat seem more like a Republican initiative rather than a wake-up call on an issue of paramount importance. And it may work again as he fends off complaints about the nuclear deal he has truck with Iran that Tehran keeps telling us won’t constrain their ambitions in the way Kerry and Obama claim it will.

The president is, after all, faced with a difficult dilemma. The agreement with Iran was only achieved after a breathtaking series of retreats on the part of American negotiators. Obama had pledged when running for reelection in 2012 that any Iran deal would involve the end of its nuclear program. Instead, he has signed off on a deal that will leave them in possession of thousands of centrifuges, all of their nuclear plants (including the impregnable mountainside redoubt at Fordow) and in possession of a large stockpile of nuclear material that can easily be re-converted for use in a bomb. The president has acknowledged that the Iranians will continue to work on nuclear research and that the “breakout” time to a bomb will be less at the end of the deal than at the start. He has also agreed to a sunset clause that will end restrictions on Iranian activity in 15 years enabling Iran to get a bomb by adhering to the agreement even if they don’t take advantage of the ample chances to cheat on it.

So what else can he do but to claim Republicans are just opposing it because they don’t like anything he does? The GOP may be ready to say no to most anything he would try, but the problem for the administration is that if there has been any issue on which there has been a bipartisan consensus these last six years, it is Iran. Large bipartisan majorities were mustered for Iran sanctions that the president opposes, though he now takes credit for those measures bringing Iran to the table. Similarly large majorities existed at the start of the year for more sanctions on Iran in order to strengthen Obama’s hand in the talks and might have given him the ability to resist Iranian pressure to make even more concessions to them. If those majorities have cracks in them today it is only because the White House has worked furiously since January to convince wavering Democrats that opposing sanctions, or even the Corker-Menendez bill that would compel the administration to submit a deal to Congress for approval, would be a betrayal of their party loyalty. The same trick was tried to make Democrats boycott Netanyahu’s speech.

For Obama, Iran has become a test of Democrats’ fealty to his personal rule as an executive who refuses to let his pursuit of détente with Iran be constrained even by the Senate performing its constitutional obligation to ratify foreign treaties.

Can this tactic work? Washington is a city where politics always rules triumphant so there’s no reason to think it won’t. The only problem is that Iran won’t play along, as its supreme leader continues to point out that he will insist on keeping its nuclear secrets, refusing surprise inspections (the only way monitoring of their efforts will have a chance of working) and insisting that sanctions are lifted immediately. Given his track record of folding to Iran at every point in the talks, there’s no reason to believe Obama won’t do it again in order to get the Iranians to sign a written agreement by June. McCain is right about Kerry being “delusional” if he believes the Iranians won’t count on the U.S. backing down again.

But unfortunately, Obama is right about the impact of partisanship. Though he is projecting onto Republicans his own trademark tactic for winning battles, it’s likely that he will be able to use party loyalty to convince enough Democrats to defect from the bipartisan consensus on stopping Iran. Hypocrisy has never stopped him before, even if it means he is, like his secretary of state, being less honest about the deal than the leader of an anti-Semitic, terror-sponsoring Islamist regime.

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Historic Hillary? She’s Running for Someone Else’s Third Term

The keyword for today’s launch of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency is a prefix: re. For Mrs. Clinton, it’s all about re-inventing and re-introducing. What is being described as a “low key” and “small scale” announcement via social media is an effort to learn the mistakes from her failed 2008 campaign. There will be plenty of money raised and a fair amount of adulation from the always-compliant mainstream liberal media that will take seriously her claim to be running because she cares about the economic security of middle-class families. She doesn’t have any serious competition for the Democratic nomination and can still count on the energy that will be generated by the possibility of electing of our first female president. Yet the hoopla about the start of her coronation tour can’t conceal the fact that she has no real rationale for her candidacy other than it may finally be her turn. More troubling for the former first lady and secretary of state is the fact that she will be running for Barack Obama’s third term as well as that of her husband Bill. That’s why all that reinventing and reintroducing are bound to fall flat outside of the precincts of Clinton loyalists.

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The keyword for today’s launch of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency is a prefix: re. For Mrs. Clinton, it’s all about re-inventing and re-introducing. What is being described as a “low key” and “small scale” announcement via social media is an effort to learn the mistakes from her failed 2008 campaign. There will be plenty of money raised and a fair amount of adulation from the always-compliant mainstream liberal media that will take seriously her claim to be running because she cares about the economic security of middle-class families. She doesn’t have any serious competition for the Democratic nomination and can still count on the energy that will be generated by the possibility of electing of our first female president. Yet the hoopla about the start of her coronation tour can’t conceal the fact that she has no real rationale for her candidacy other than it may finally be her turn. More troubling for the former first lady and secretary of state is the fact that she will be running for Barack Obama’s third term as well as that of her husband Bill. That’s why all that reinventing and reintroducing are bound to fall flat outside of the precincts of Clinton loyalists.

Mrs. Clinton has demonstrated repeatedly over the last 15 years of her political career as she tried to emerge from the shadow of the 42nd president, she is not much of a retail politician. Though possessed of great intelligence and a keen political mind, she has no talent for charming the masses as her husband did. She is a policy wonk at heart that longs for achieving big things like health-care reform, but always lacked the ability to sell them to the country. Her new pose of affection for the middle class is a stage prop meant to distract us from the fact that she is merely recycled goods, as she attempts to give the American people a chance to right the wrong they did her when they preferred the fresh and charismatic Barack Obama in 2008 to her.

But the inevitable subtext of her campaign launch is Clinton’s struggle to rally Obama’s loyalists while also trying to strike out on her own. That’s an effort that is bound to fall flat.

Whether it is about emails, scandals, or election cycles, the Clintons always like to think the rules of political life don’t apply to them. Their chutzpah and Bill’s charm enabled them to survive some things that would have destroyed less determined politicians. But Clinton’s problem heading into the 2016 campaign isn’t limited to her Nixonian approach to transparency and her conduct in office. Democrats don’t care about her emails or Benghazi. But as she glides her way to her party’s nomination, the electorate understands that what she is essentially asking them to do is to give her party a third consecutive term in the White House with someone who has been a major figure in the last two Democratic administrations.

Clinton can’t evade the fact that she was a major player in Obama’s first term, albeit while serving as one of our most inconsequential secretaries of state in generations. Nor can she pretend that her talk about the middle class isn’t merely recycled campaign rhetoric left over from Obama, albeit shorn of the hope and change electricity that made it sound so good when coming out of the mouth of a man with genuine political talent (although none for governance) and a sense of his place in history.

As someone who could claim a place in history as important as Obama, her effort ought to seem fresh and exciting. But whether it is all glitz, as it was in 2008, or today’s low-key start, the main point about all this is that there’s nothing new or interesting about her.

While the Republicans have a bevy of interesting and possibly flawed candidates, there is no getting around the fact that whether you love them or hate them, with the exception of Jeb Bush, the most likely contenders have a new car smell about them. That’s why Bush has a heavier lift than most of his establishment backers realize. And it’s also why Clinton’s long wait may ultimately lead to disappointment.

It’s possible that Hillary’s willingness to put herself forward primarily as the first woman president will play better than her 2008 decision not to run as if that was the main reason to elect her to the presidency. You can also make a strong argument that the Democrats’ Electoral College advantage and the potential for the Republicans to nominate someone who can never gain the support of a majority of voters will save her from her flaws as a politician and her sense of entitlement.

But running as the standard-bearer of the third Obama or Clinton terms would be a heavy burden for even a more able politician than Hillary. There’s no way to re-sell the public on a person that they haven’t been able to escape for 23 years. At times they have respected her (as a frequent flying though never successful secretary of state) and at other times they sympathized with her (Monica). But they have never really liked her much. Nor, other than her gender, do they see any reason to elect her beyond the notion of rewarding her for hanging around this long. Though she wants to be seen as a feminist avatar this time, next year she’ll just be the stand-in for Barack and Bill. Unless her Republican foes save her from herself the way the cowardice of her potential Democratic rivals has done (and yes, I’m talking about you, Elizabeth Warren), carrying all the baggage of the last two Democratic presidents isn’t a formula for a successful presidential campaign.

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Does Anyone Think Obama Won’t Fold to Iran Again?

Whether it was theatrics aimed at Congressional critics or the Iranian leadership, Secretary of State John Kerry sounded pretty tough yesterday when discussing what Tehran would be required to do in the final written version of the nuclear deal he struck with the Islamist regime last week. Kerry said Iran would have to open up its facilities to United Nations inspectors so that they could gauge the extent of research that had been conducted on possible military dimensions of their work. What’s more, a State Department spokesperson said today that sanctions on Iran would only be ended in a phased manner as the regime proved itself to be in compliance with the restrictions in the agreement. Yet today we also heard from Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who stated clearly that while he was not directly opposed to the deal, sanctions would have to be lifted the day it was signed and that he would never allow the United Nations to inspect the military sites Kerry referenced. Does anyone want to bet on who will prevail in this test of wills?

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Whether it was theatrics aimed at Congressional critics or the Iranian leadership, Secretary of State John Kerry sounded pretty tough yesterday when discussing what Tehran would be required to do in the final written version of the nuclear deal he struck with the Islamist regime last week. Kerry said Iran would have to open up its facilities to United Nations inspectors so that they could gauge the extent of research that had been conducted on possible military dimensions of their work. What’s more, a State Department spokesperson said today that sanctions on Iran would only be ended in a phased manner as the regime proved itself to be in compliance with the restrictions in the agreement. Yet today we also heard from Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who stated clearly that while he was not directly opposed to the deal, sanctions would have to be lifted the day it was signed and that he would never allow the United Nations to inspect the military sites Kerry referenced. Does anyone want to bet on who will prevail in this test of wills?

In the best tradition of the perennially over-optimist Kremlin watchers of the Cold War era, some supporters of the Iran deal are claiming that Khamenei’s speech constitutes a victory for President Obama. That argument, an opinion put forward in the guise of analysis in the New York Times news story about the speech, holds that the ayatollah’s remarks constitutes a grudging acceptance of the need to make peace with the West and a signal to the country’s “hardliners” that they will gradually have to get used to the limitations on their nuclear program.

That’s an interesting theory that tells us more about the hopes of supporters of the president’s effort to create a new détente with Iran than it does about Khamenei and his followers. Moreover, it is flatly contradicted by the history of the past two years of nuclear negotiations with the Islamist regime. Every previous time the Iranians have said no to the West on an important issue, the result is always the same: President Obama and his envoys are the ones who gradually get used to not having their way and eventually bow to the demands of Iranian negotiators who are, by the way, the ones that the smart analysts consider to be the “moderates” in the Iranian political universe.

After all, it wasn’t that long ago that President Obama was vowing during his re-election campaign that any deal with Iran would involve the end of their nuclear program. Yet last week he boasted of an agreement that would leave it with thousands of centrifuges.

We were also told that Iran would have to submit to rigorous inspections of its facilities anytime and anywhere without prior warning. This week the administration is defending the absence of such inspections and telling us they are unnecessary.

The world was assured that Iran would have to ship its stockpile of nuclear fuel out of the country in the event of an agreement. Now we understand that it will remain on Iranian soil where it can be easily reconverted to use for a bomb.

Indeed, the list of U.S. concessions to Iran is endless. That is why the president is forced to defend a deal with a sunset clause that will, at best, limit Iran’s ability to build a bomb for only 15 years. Thanks to Iran’s tough stands in the talks, it can easily cheat its way to a bomb but it can also get one by complying with the deal’s terms if it is patient enough.

The reason for all these concessions is that the president decided that a deal that imposes even a slight burden on Iran’s ability to construct a weapon is better than no deal at all. When faced with the possibility of Iran walking away from the talks over any of these and other significant points of contention, the U.S. decided that squandering a chance for an agreement on virtually any terms would be a far worse outcome than watering down an already weak deal.

Why then should we believe that now that the president has achieved what his media cheering section is calling a legacy-making diplomatic triumph, he will throw it away just for the sake of closing a few more loopholes through Iran could squeeze through to make a bomb?

As has been the case throughout the negotiations, Iran continues to hold the whip hand over the U.S. because the president and Kerry want a deal a lot more than the Iranians. That’s in spite of the fact that it is an economically distressed Iran that has far more to gain from a deal than the Americans. Yet that didn’t stop Obama from throwing away the vast economic and political leverage that he had over Khamenei throughout the talks. Having already given up so much to get so little, the president is in too deep to pull back now. Nor can the president, who has invested so much scarce political capital in the effort to fend off Congressional or Israeli interference in his rush to an entente with Tehran, suddenly declare that the deal is off because of problems that he has already dismissed as mere details.

That’s why Khamenei is confident that, as he has at every previous impasse in the talks, it will be Obama who blinks first. Given Obama’s track record, it seems as if the Iranians are a safe bet to prevail once again and that it will be Kerry who will be eating his words in June, not the Grand Ayatollah.

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Obama Signals Early Onset of Dems’ Walker Derangement Syndrome

Pundits pricked up their ears earlier this week when President Obama decided to play favorites in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. The president went out of his way to blast Scott Walker for his vow to get rid of the weak deal Obama has struck with Iran, saying that the Wisconsin governor ought to “take some time to bone up on foreign policy.” It wasn’t the first such shot at Walker by Obama, who also singled him out for attack on his signing of a Wisconsin right-to-work bill and even poked fun at Walker in his Gridiron dinner speech for not condemning Rudy Giuliani for saying he didn’t love America. Considering that no other Republican in the crowded GOP presidential field has gotten this kind of attention from the country’s top Democrat, at this point it’s worth asking why. The answer lies in part in the possibility that Walker really is a frontrunner to succeed Obama. But more than that, the governor seems to have what may be a prerequisite for the presidency in this era of hyper-partisanship: the ability to evoke a derangement syndrome among his opponents.

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Pundits pricked up their ears earlier this week when President Obama decided to play favorites in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. The president went out of his way to blast Scott Walker for his vow to get rid of the weak deal Obama has struck with Iran, saying that the Wisconsin governor ought to “take some time to bone up on foreign policy.” It wasn’t the first such shot at Walker by Obama, who also singled him out for attack on his signing of a Wisconsin right-to-work bill and even poked fun at Walker in his Gridiron dinner speech for not condemning Rudy Giuliani for saying he didn’t love America. Considering that no other Republican in the crowded GOP presidential field has gotten this kind of attention from the country’s top Democrat, at this point it’s worth asking why. The answer lies in part in the possibility that Walker really is a frontrunner to succeed Obama. But more than that, the governor seems to have what may be a prerequisite for the presidency in this era of hyper-partisanship: the ability to evoke a derangement syndrome among his opponents.

That Walker, of all Republicans, is the one that seems to have gotten Obama’s attention this year is a curious development. Indeed, the only person the president seems to dislike more than Walker is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But if the current trend continues, Walker, who was subjected to death threats and a campaign of intimidation over his clashes with public-worker unions, may soon be reading about how White House officials consider him to be “chickens*!t too. It’s also interesting that the president would bother to talk about Walker as a critic of the disastrous deal he has made with Iran when many other Republicans, as well as a few courageous Democrats, have also stated their opposition.

The Democratic pushback against Walker must be traced to the polls that have vaulted him from marginal presidential contender to first-tier status in the GOP race. The president has signaled, perhaps to Hillary Clinton’s dismay, that he intends to work hard for the Democrats in next year’s presidential election, so getting started early on Walker makes sense in that context.

But the nasty tone that Obama has employed toward Walker bespeaks something a little more than partisanship. As CNN noted, Walker seems to have gotten under Obama’s skin in a way that even more bitter critics of the president like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul don’t seem to have accomplished.

The answer for this irritation with Walker is a recognizable phenomenon. Over the course of the last 20 years, what we have seen is that each of the men who emerged from the cauldron of presidential politics had one thing in common. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all demonstrated the capacity to provoke extreme reactions from partisan opponents. Clinton derangement syndrome on the right gave way to Bush derangement on the left and then to Obama derangement syndrome. We don’t know how 2016 will play out or who will win the presidency, but the one thing we can be sure of is that whoever does prevail will be someone that will drive the other party crazy.

We already know that Hillary Clinton can do that to conservatives, who not only haven’t gotten over their antipathy to her husband but have already been fed enough material by the putative 2016 Democratic candidate to fuel four or eight more years of that derangement syndrome. But the question remains which of the pack of Republicans are best suited to wreak havoc on liberal sensibilities.

One could argue that a firebrand like Cruz fits that bill. But as we have seen with our last three presidents, derangement syndromes do the most damage to their victims when the object of their dislike is someone that can otherwise be portrayed as an ordinary, even likeable person by their supporters. Walker, with his ordinary-guy, can-do pragmatist persona has that. But more importantly, he has already shown that he can drive Democrats nuts in a way that other Republicans may not be able to do.

At a time when a number of successful Republican governors have made their mark, none has been subjected to as much abuse as Walker. His decision to push through reforms of collective bargaining in order to save his state from bankruptcy provoked an epic struggle in Madison in which Democrats tried to shut down the government by having legislators flee the state while union thugs flooded the state capitol building. Walker was subjected to unprecedented personal abuse and then forced to defend his tenure in a recall election halfway through his first term in office. He survived the storm, got his bills passed, and then easily fended off the recall. He then followed that with a decisive re-election victory giving him three wins in a purple state in four years. Each time, Democrats thought they had him beaten only to see him prevail and get stronger in the process. That’s the same kind of thing that drove Republicans nuts about Bill Clinton.

Walker has a lot to prove before he can really be called a frontrunner for the GOP nomination. Recent gaffes have shown that for all of the attention he got in Wisconsin, the white heat of a presidential contest is another thing entirely. But President Obama and other Democrats seem to be telling us that Walker has that intangible quality that seems to be essential to electoral success at a time when partisanship is getting increasingly bitter all the time. If we’re looking to see which of the GOP candidates is more likely to drive Democrats over the edge, Walker might really be the one who heads into 2016 with a clear advantage.

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The Growing Chorus Against the Iran Deal

President Obama would like to pretend that anyone who opposes the nuclear deal with Iran which he is in the process of striking must be a warmonger—because war is the (supposed) consequence of not doing a deal. But that charge is hard to level against some of the high-profile critics who had spoken out in recent days.

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President Obama would like to pretend that anyone who opposes the nuclear deal with Iran which he is in the process of striking must be a warmonger—because war is the (supposed) consequence of not doing a deal. But that charge is hard to level against some of the high-profile critics who had spoken out in recent days.

—In the Wall Street Journal, former secretaries of State George Shultz (architect of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union) and Henry Kissinger (architect of the Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement with the USSR and the “opening” to China) blast Obama’s deal-making. They warn that not only will the agreement be extremely difficult to enforce, it is unlikely sanctions will be reimposed even if Iran is caught cheating: “Iran is in a position to violate the agreement by executive decision. Restoring the most effective sanctions will require coordinated international action.”

The result of these talks, they warn, will be an increase in Iran’s regional power and a nuclear arms race in the Middle East: “For the U.S., a decade-long restriction on Iran’s nuclear capacity is a possibly hopeful interlude. For Iran’s neighbors—who perceive their imperatives in terms of millennial rivalries—it is a dangerous prelude to an even more dangerous permanent fact of life. Some of the chief actors in the Middle East are likely to view the U.S. as willing to concede a nuclear military capability to the country they consider their principal threat. Several will insist on at least an equivalent capability. Saudi Arabia has signaled that it will enter the lists; others are likely to follow. In that sense, the implications of the negotiation are irreversible.”

—On the Journal’s website, Aaron David Miller (one of Bill Clinton’s chief negotiators in the 1990s working on a deal between Israel and the Palestinians) is even more stark—“what we know now,” he writes, “suggests that the mullahs got the better end of the deal.” “The U.S. went from seeking to dismantle a putative nuclear weapons program to trying to impose limitations on one,” he explains. “Score one for the mullahs. By the time a final agreement is reached, Iran’s right to enrich uranium and its nuclear infrastructure may be validated in a U.N. Security Council resolution. That would be another win for the mullahs.” Finally Miller notes: “it’s stunning that the president of the United States is protesting Mr. Netanyahu’s terrible statements about Israeli Arabs and not blasting Tehran for its human rights abuses.”

—Also in the Journal, William Galston (another former Bill Clinton aide and a veteran Democratic thinker) doesn’t come out completely against the agreement but he advocates greatly strengthening it, in ways that, among others, the Israeli government has advocated—and that Obama is certain to reject. He also writes: “Many of our traditional allies in the Middle East fear that they are being sacrificed to Mr. Obama’s aspiration to achieve a historic breakthrough with the Islamic Republic. He should reassure them by strengthening U.S. security guarantees, pledging the long-term presence of U.S. military assets, and by acting far more forcefully against Iranian meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.…. And finally, the Obama administration should relax its opposition to meaningful congressional involvement in vetting a final agreement.”

Asked about the Kissinger-Shultz op-ed, the best that the State Department spokesman could do was to describe it as a “lot of big words and big thoughts,” as if that’s a criticism. (Does this administration favor small words and small thoughts?) Wonder what the White House thinks about what Shultz, Kissinger, Miller, and Galston have said? Are they neocon warmongers too? Or is it just possible that they are reasonable centrists who have grave reservations about the unprecedented concessions that the president is making to a regime whose animating slogan is “Death to America”?

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Obama to Bibi: The Jerk Store Called, They’re Running Out of You!

After State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf dismissed Henry Kissinger and George Shultz’s critique of the Iran framework deal as “a lot of big words and big thoughts,” David Brooks responded by asking, “Are we in nursery school?” The evidence for answering that question in the affirmative continued to mount yesterday. Following on last month’s Twitter trolling of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (broadly criticized as mortifyingly undignified), the Obama administration did it again, proving once again the administration’s embarrassing immaturity and the fact that it is Obama who is keeping the public feud with Israel alive.

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After State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf dismissed Henry Kissinger and George Shultz’s critique of the Iran framework deal as “a lot of big words and big thoughts,” David Brooks responded by asking, “Are we in nursery school?” The evidence for answering that question in the affirmative continued to mount yesterday. Following on last month’s Twitter trolling of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (broadly criticized as mortifyingly undignified), the Obama administration did it again, proving once again the administration’s embarrassing immaturity and the fact that it is Obama who is keeping the public feud with Israel alive.

This time the White House tweeted out a picture that was expressly intended to mock Netanyahu’s famous bomb diagram at the UN in September 2012. At that time, Netanyahu used the picture to illustrate Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. The cartoon bomb appeared to backfire because it looked like something out of a Warner Bros. cartoon, no doubt leading the White House to hope an Acme anvil would drop out of the sky and onto the podium at that moment. But the illustration did at least draw attention to Netanyahu’s message, and succeeded in driving the conversation in the media.

Yesterday, the White House tweeted out the following picture:

whbomb

The “facts” in the diagram are mostly spin, though I don’t think anyone expects anything accurate out of the Obama administration’s press shop. The point of the diagram–the only point, since the picture isn’t actually informative and the president could have put out this information any number of ways–was to mock the Israeli prime minister on Twitter for something that happened in 2012.

Obama is essentially George Castanza finally coming up with what he believes is a great, though hilariously delayed, response to an earlier insult. Obama’s message to Bibi is: “The jerk store called, they’re running out of you!”

On a more serious note–though at this part we’ll surely lose the president and his spokespersons–does the Obama administration consider how this looks to the world? I doubt it. For example, the Russians just loved it–not because it was funny, but because the Kremlin-directed media expressed what appears to be Vladimir Putin’s uncontainable glee at watching the supposed leader of the free world (or at least Stephen Harper’s deputy leader of the free world, at this point) throw food at the Israeli prime minister in public.

If you’re an American adversary, you don’t even really have to do anything at this point. You can just sit and watch the Obama administration melt down under the weight of its own childish ignorance. Here’s Sputnik:

In three hours, the image had been retweeted nearly 700 times, with one user quipping “Apparently, the #WhiteHouse has hired #Netanyahu ‘s graphic design team.”

All in good fun. Except, you know, for the fact that the Obama administration apparently thinks a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is a big joke.

The last time the Obama administration did this was in early March. Its trolling then was more explicitly aimed at picking a fight with Netanyahu but, unlike this latest trolling, was at least above the intellectual maturity of a preschooler. The National Security Council tweeted out a column by Fareed Zakaria attempting to rebut Netanyahu. But the NSC’s tweet was more than just a link; it also added this administration’s trademark bitterness:

Yesterday’s trolling, ironically, actually confirmed Netanyahu’s success at controlling the conversation about Iranian nukes. The president has been trying to think of a comeback for two and a half years. And the picture, clearly, stuck in the minds of those who saw it.

If you’re thinking that, for an Ivy League-educated president of the United States, we’re sure using the word “trolling” an awful lot–well, yes. That’s one lesson of this whole affair. The president likes to troll allies on Twitter. Is there a better use of his time? I would imagine so.

But to realize that he would need a certain degree of self-awareness. It’s times like this the president’s tendency to hire young communications officials, inexperienced campaign hacks, and a Cabinet and inner circle of yes-men catches up with him.

The other lesson here is that it shows beyond all doubt (if anyone still had doubts) that Obama is the one who wants to keep this feud going, and publicly. At this point it’s obvious that Obama’s obsessive focus on Netanyahu’s campaign comments were merely a pretext to threaten to take action the administration was always planning on taking.

But this makes it crystal clear that when the administration gets all the mileage possible out of one manufactured controversy, and the prime minister hasn’t said anything they could harp on again, they’ll merely drop all pretense and just start taking potshots. Obama does not want this feud dropped, and he does not want reconciliation. He just wants to keep fighting. And our adversaries are just enjoying the show.

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The Iran Nuclear Deal Collapses

Today is National Nuclear Technology Day in Iran, and so a number of senior Iranian officials have given speeches regarding the ongoing negotiations process with the United States and the other members of the P5+1. Long story short: The Framework Agreement, at least that described by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, is dead. It was either a figment of Mr. Kerry’s imagination or simply rejected by the Iranian regime despite the promises and charm of Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister who, alas, has had a history of deceiving American negotiators.

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Today is National Nuclear Technology Day in Iran, and so a number of senior Iranian officials have given speeches regarding the ongoing negotiations process with the United States and the other members of the P5+1. Long story short: The Framework Agreement, at least that described by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, is dead. It was either a figment of Mr. Kerry’s imagination or simply rejected by the Iranian regime despite the promises and charm of Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister who, alas, has had a history of deceiving American negotiators.

Yesterday, the Iranian defense minister ruled out any inspections at military sites, a statement that contradicts Obama’s statements regarding verification. After all, most of the Iranian work on “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program occurred on military bases and, especially, at Parchin.

Today, the supreme leader of Iran, who has hitherto been silent, posted the following statement on his website which the Open Source Center translated:

The Leader of the Revolution, in a meeting with religious eulogists, said: They are asking why has he not taken a position on the nuclear [issue]. There was no need to take a position. The officials are saying that nothing has been done yet and nothing is obligatory. I neither agree nor disagree.

So, what Obama has called a “Framework Agreement” turns out to be nothing at all. Indeed, Khamenei is not optimistic:

Everything is in the details; it is possible that the untrustworthy side wants to restrict our country in the details. Your current congratulations to me and others are meaningless. Whatever has been done so far does not ensure either the principle — and content — or that the talks will reach the end.

Khamenei has thrown down the gauntlet: Either you accept Iran’s positions or Iran walks away. “Not making a deal is more honorable than making a deal that destroys our interests and the nation’s dignity,” Khamenei told an audience of religious eulogists.

And as for Rouhani, whom the Obama administration has consistently misread as a reformist, here’s what he had to say on Iranian television earlier today, with the transcript provided by the Open Source Center:

“The president of America said in those days ‘We have come to this conclusion that the Iranian nation will not surrender to pressure, sanctions and force,” Rouhani said. “Our victory is that the largest military and economic power of the world, that is to say America, and the president of this country, admitted this reality,” he said.

Rouhani then declared, “We will not sign any agreement that does not immediately abolish all economic sanctions from the first day of the implementation of the agreement.”

Completing the troika is Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator. Here’s what he had to say with regard to the State Department’s fact sheet: “The fact sheet is of no legal value and it should not be considered important.”

The Iranian behavior should not surprise. For Iran, the negotiations were never about resolving outstanding nuclear questions. Had they been, negotiations would hardly have been necessary; all Iran had to do was comply with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement with which the International Atomic Energy Agency had, in 2005, found it in breach. Rather, it was about sanctions relief. And, indeed, here Zarif’s behavior has been most telling. Asked on Iranian television about the idea that the sanctions’ architecture would remain in place, in effect allowing sanctions to “snap back” in case of Iranian cheating, as Obama has promised, he reportedly laughed and declared that the international sanctions regime had already collapsed.

President Obama has had his celebration, but it is now time to return to reality and address the farce which he, Secretary of State John Kerry, or their nuclear negotiation team has led the United States. This should not be a partisan football. It is hard to imagine any Democrat or Republican could agree to a plan whose basic principles as described by Obama and Kerry are now no longer valid. Mr. President, Mr. Kerry, please explain what has happened and how this has happened.

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New Japan-U.S. Defense Guidelines Are Really About Japan

Washington-based security analysts not surprisingly interpret almost everything through a parochial lens, seeing how it affects America and domestic interests. Such an approach sometimes can miss the bigger picture. I would argue that such is the case with the new U.S.-Japan defense guidelines, which are nearing completion and were the subject of much of U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s first visit to Tokyo this week.

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Washington-based security analysts not surprisingly interpret almost everything through a parochial lens, seeing how it affects America and domestic interests. Such an approach sometimes can miss the bigger picture. I would argue that such is the case with the new U.S.-Japan defense guidelines, which are nearing completion and were the subject of much of U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s first visit to Tokyo this week.

The revised guidelines, Carter said in a press conference, will “transform” the alliance, allowing Tokyo and Washington to “cooperate seamlessly” across the globe. Last modified in 1997, the guidelines will be overhauled to include cyber and space issues, as well as the possibility of Japan participating in collective self-defense. This last is a major departure for Tokyo, which has been restrained by a self-imposed ban on cooperative defense activities for decades.

The revised guidelines will indeed help make the U.S.-Japan alliance more responsive and flexible, though the devil will be in the implementation of the details. But as much as Carter’s trip was designed to highlight the new era of cooperation between the United States and Japan, and to reinforce the message of President Obama’s pivot, I would argue that the revised guidelines say more about Japan than they do about the United States.

In fact, while Asia watchers in America are prone to view the U.S.-Japan alliance through a D.C.-centric lens, in this case the alliance modernization is actually just a small part of Japan’s much broader security revolution. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it may not be going too far to say that U.S.-Japan cooperation is being used to serve larger Japanese purposes. Thus, instead of seeing the permission of collective self-defense in terms of the alliance, the revised alliance guidelines should be seen as supporting Japan’s expanded range of security activities.

For the past two years, Prime Minister Abe has enhanced Japan’s relationship with a host of nations, including India, Australia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. He has scrapped the ban on exporting arms, and has provided maritime patrol boats to Hanoi and Manila, while agreeing to develop submarine technology with Canberra, and possibly sell submarines to New Delhi.

Vice Admiral Robert Thomas, the commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, which is based in Japan, has encouraged Japan to engage in collective self-defense with countries other than America. This perfectly fits Abe’s plans, and is a realistic interpretation of where the Japanese leader hopes to bring his nation.

The obvious driver for all this activity is China, whose nonstop military modernization over the past two decades has eroded Japan’s once undeniable military edge, and even called into question the credibility of the alliance. Now, concerned about maintaining its control over its far-flung southwestern islands, and facing a China that has ballistic missiles that can range all of its territory, Tokyo is finally dramatically changing the way it thinks about and pursues security.

While Japan’s ability to grow the size of its armed forces is limited, and it will never match China in quantitative terms, it is instead recasting the whole range of its security relationships to take advantage of widespread regional concern over China’s trajectory. This, of course, dovetails with Washington’s goals of maintaining U.S. military predominance in Asia, but Abe’s goals are far more of a “pivot” than are Washington’s.

None of this is to deny the utility of the revised alliance guidelines, nor its role in U.S. security planning in Asia. Yet viewing it from a different perspective shows how Washington is not necessarily driving the trends that will reshape Asia over the coming decades.

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A Bad Nuclear Deal? Never Mind!

Rather than merely inveigh against the seeming betrayal of the U.S.-Israel alliance represented by President Obama’s pursuit of détente with Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government is attempting to reason with the administration. It has issued a detailed list of shortcomings with the as-yet-unwritten deal with Tehran that illustrate just how flimsy are the assurances about the nuclear threat the administration has been giving the nation. The president has dismissed some of them but for the most part the White House has ignored, at least in public, the specific problems with the pact. But the New York Times editorial page, which continues to serve as the president’s chief cheerleader, did deign to notice the Israeli list today. And while the editors of the Times acknowledged that all of the Israeli points were troubling, their response was straight out of a classic Saturday Night Live comedy routine: Never mind. While this is quite a commentary on the poor reasoning of the deal’s chief advocates, it also illustrates that their boasts about the agreement’s worth are as hollow as the president’s assurances that it will stop Iran from getting a bomb.

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Rather than merely inveigh against the seeming betrayal of the U.S.-Israel alliance represented by President Obama’s pursuit of détente with Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government is attempting to reason with the administration. It has issued a detailed list of shortcomings with the as-yet-unwritten deal with Tehran that illustrate just how flimsy are the assurances about the nuclear threat the administration has been giving the nation. The president has dismissed some of them but for the most part the White House has ignored, at least in public, the specific problems with the pact. But the New York Times editorial page, which continues to serve as the president’s chief cheerleader, did deign to notice the Israeli list today. And while the editors of the Times acknowledged that all of the Israeli points were troubling, their response was straight out of a classic Saturday Night Live comedy routine: Never mind. While this is quite a commentary on the poor reasoning of the deal’s chief advocates, it also illustrates that their boasts about the agreement’s worth are as hollow as the president’s assurances that it will stop Iran from getting a bomb.

Though the Times terms the deal “surprisingly comprehensive,” the most interesting thing about the editorial is that it can’t dismiss the list of problems that Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz has produced. On each point, even the Times, which has been consistently and scathingly critical of the Netanyahu government on Iran as well as every other possible issue, admits the Israelis generally have a good argument.

The Times admits that eliminating Iran’s centrifuges, closing down the impregnable mountainside facility at Fordow, and mandating inspections anytime and anywhere would be preferable to what President Obama has accepted.

On other points, the Times notes Israel’s objections, but disingenuously claims that the agreement satisfies them. One such is the question of the stockpile of enriched uranium that, contrary to the expectations of even critics of the administration’s negotiating strategy, will not be shipped out of Iran and will instead remain under the regime’s control. The Times says that this stockpile, like the continued operation of the thousands of centrifuges that will continue to operate, means that “Iran can’t enrich material for nuclear weapons.” But that is not true since the stockpile can be easily and quickly reconverted to use for nuclear fuel. So, too, can any centrifuges that are being reconfigured for other uses.

Elsewhere, the Times merely engages in wishful thinking. That is especially true in its reaction to the Israelis pointing out that Iran has continued to stonewall the International Atomic Energy Agency on its past research on military use of nuclear material. The fact that the deal does not require Iran to tell the truth about this is a fatal flaw since without knowing how much progress they’ve made, all estimates about the time needed for a nuclear “breakout” are uninformed guesses. To this point, the Times merely breezily pretends that the written final version of the agreement will ensure that Iran does open up on this issue.

That is nonsense, since Iran has already learned that when faced with a refusal in a negotiation, the Obama administration always folds. And that is the entire point of both the editorial and the cogent criticisms that have been made about the deal.

It is true that, as the Times states, negotiations require compromises. But if the goal of this agreement is to ensure that Iran doesn’t either cheat its way to a bomb, or, as is just as likely, get one by abiding by a pact whose restrictions will expire in 15 years, then compromise that allows either scenario to happen is counter-productive.

The administration and the Times claims that to insist on any of the Israeli points would be to scuttle the deal. But all that tells us is that, as has been evident since the start of the negotiations, President Obama’s main purpose was to get a deal at any price, not to insist on one that would fulfill his campaign promises about eliminating Iran’s nuclear program. To claim that a deal that would fit Israel’s parameters is “unworkable” is merely to cravenly accept Iran’s frame of reference about the nuclear issue.

The Israeli objections are a viable alternative because they provide a path to a deal that would actually fulfill the avowed purpose of the negotiations. An agreement that would impose inspections, reduce Iran’s nuclear infrastructure to a bare minimum, and remove all possibility of their ever breaking out would do just that. So, too, would one that wouldn’t expire in a few years which, given the huge nuclear establishment left in place, almost guarantees that the Islamist regime will be in possession of a bomb sooner or later.

The gap between Israel and the United States is not so much about the details but as to goals. The administration and its supporters have abandoned the quest to stop Iran or decided that it’s just too heavy a lift to keep trying. Israel and rational critics of the president in Congress understand that the alternative is to demand a good deal or to ratchet up sanctions and isolation that would force Iran to give way. It is true that in the absence of a leader with the intestinal fortitude to push the Iranians hard and to credibly threaten force, that may be impossible.

But the Times editorial shows us there is no substantive debate about the shortcomings of the deal with Iran. If even the president’s most ardent backers seem to understand that it is a flimsy check on Tehran even if they continue to describe it with meaningless laudatory phrases about it being “groundbreaking” and even having “potential” (a piece of unintended comedy if ever there was one), then how can open-minded observers take their defense of it seriously?

Supporters of the administration understand that their only real talking point is one that claims that even a weak deal is better than none at all. That is not a compelling argument about any issue and certainly not one that involves giving a vicious, aggressive anti-Semitic regime the status of a threshold nuclear power.

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Iran: Military Sites Off-Limits to Inspectors

President Barack Obama called the framework agreement Secretary of State John Kerry and other representatives of the P5+1 reached in Lausanne “historic.” Alas, as time passes and more is learned about the agreement and Iran’s understanding of it, the more it does seem to be “historic,” but for all the wrong reasons.

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President Barack Obama called the framework agreement Secretary of State John Kerry and other representatives of the P5+1 reached in Lausanne “historic.” Alas, as time passes and more is learned about the agreement and Iran’s understanding of it, the more it does seem to be “historic,” but for all the wrong reasons.

One of the key concerns of the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency has been “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program (see the annex to this IAEA report for a listing of these). Much of the work Iran conducted on military dimensions of a nuclear program occurred in Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities and on their bases.

Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan today said that the Lausanne Framework does not commit Iran to provide international inspectors access to such military facilities. From Fars News:

Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan has rejected reports on inspection of the country’s military facilities being included in the recent deal achieved by Iran and the world powers (P5+1) in Switzerland’s Lausanne on April 2, Fars news agency reported on April 8. According to Fars, commenting on “domestic media highlighting such baseless claims by foreign media about the Lausanne agreement,” Dehqan said, “Such actions do not serve national interests, but in fact set the ground for enemy’s excessive demands… The Supreme Leader’s, the government’s approach and the determination of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team together do not allow the other party to impose anything on the Iranian nation.” Referring to “false claims by foreign media outlets such as the Guardian newspaper” on inspection of the country’s military facilities being a part of the Lausanne statement, Dehqan stressed: “There is no such agreement. Basically, inspection of military facilities is a red line and no inspection of any kind from such facilities would be accepted.”

So the Iranian government now contradicts President Obama’s announcement and the State Department fact-sheet with regard to when sanctions will be lifted, centrifuges, enrichment, and even plutonium. Now let’s add inspections and possible military dimensions to the list. Obama is right. The Lausanne agreement is historic. It will be studied by generations of diplomats who will use it to illustrate American naïveté, Iranian duplicity, and the dangers of not actually gaining agreements in writing.

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