Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barack Obama

‘The Situation Is Bad’

The New York Times has just published the most scathing indictment I have read of the Obama administration’s grossly inadequate train-and-assist program for the Syrian rebels. It didn’t appear on the editorial page but, rather, in the news columns. It contains no overt editorializing and is all the more damning for it.

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The New York Times has just published the most scathing indictment I have read of the Obama administration’s grossly inadequate train-and-assist program for the Syrian rebels. It didn’t appear on the editorial page but, rather, in the news columns. It contains no overt editorializing and is all the more damning for it.

The article, written by three Times reporters, is pegged to the embarrassing news that the commander and deputy commander and six other fighters of the only contingent of Syrian rebels so far trained by the Pentagon — a total of 54 men — have just been abducted by the al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda offshoot which evidently has more money, personnel, and weapons than the American-backed groups. Before being kidnaped, the rebel commander, Nadeen Hassan, had spoken to the Times of the troubles he and his men faced. He initially applied to train 1,200 men. But that number was quickly whittled down:

After screening, just 125 of his recruits were invited to the first course. Of those, more than half were thrown out or quit.

The rest, he said, had deployed back to Syria, but had not been told whether American warplanes would defend them if Syrian forces attacked.

Mr. Hassan said the Americans, worried about the lack of recruits, were recalling men they had once rejected. Some, expelled on suspicion of embracing “Islamic State doctrine,” are unavailable: They have since died in Syria, he said — battling the Islamic State.

Other problems cited by Hassan include the following:

Mr. Hassan said the Pentagon program had not provided night vision goggles to counter the Islamic State’s expert night attacks. Yet, he said Tuesday, trainers had been pushing his men to quickly join front-line insurgent groups, “so they can get results to show their bosses.”…

Better-financed groups are luring recruits awaiting the next course; they make $225 a month, and with no budget, Mr. Hassan said, “I can’t buy them lunch.”

“The situation is bad,” he said.

And then we come to the little matter of who the insurgents are supposed to be fighting. It is commonly believed among the rebels that they are being asked by the Americans to fight only ISIS — not Bashar Assad. The U.S. claims they are not being made to sign formal pledges not to fight Assad but they might as well be:

Trainees must promise “to defend the Syrian people from Daesh” and to refrain from harming civilians and prisoners. An English translation of the pledge, circulated through American military channels, does not mention Mr. Assad or the government.

But the insurgents’ misperception is understandable, given official statements. Trainees will lose American support, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, head of the United States Central Command said recently, if they “vector off and do things that we haven’t designed them to do initially.”

And while U.S. aircraft might bomb to protect the trainees from ISIS, they won’t bomb to protect anyone from Assad, even though his forces have killed far more people than ISIS has.

This is the most dysfunctional foreign assistance program ever. And it makes a mockery of recent administration claims that the U.S. and Turkey have agreed to set up an ISIS-free zone in northern Syria. As the Times notes: “Mr. Hassan’s trainees were mainly from villages within the 68-mile strip along the Turkish border that the moderate insurgents are supposed to seize, and had long been slated for deployment there. But, Mr. Hassan said, they are so few ‘they can barely cover 200 meters.’ “

Such shortcomings could be addressed if Turkey, the U.S., or other powers were willing to deploy their own troops to safeguard this safe zone. But there is no sign of that, which suggests that the safe-zone plan is DOA — just like so many of the rebels that the U.S. is counting on to fight for a Syria dominated neither by murderous Shiite nor by murderous Sunni extremists.

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Will Republicans Fumble Their Planned Parenthood Victory?

The release of yet another video exposing Planned Parenthood’s macabre culture of callous disregard for the bodies of aborted fetuses and the marketplace for their dismembered body parts represents another blow to the organization’s status as privileged recipient of taxpayer funds. Planned Parenthood is panicking, acting erratically, employing crisis communications professionals, and concocting flimsy exculpatory narratives aimed at impugning the motives of their critics. That’s a far cry from just three years ago, when Planned Parenthood’s celebrity president, Cecile Richards, addressed the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating convention in prime time. The organization’s erstwhile Democratic allies are getting squeamish. The way is clear for the GOP to deliver the coup de grâce; momentum is on their side. Only Republicans can rob their party of a long-sought political victory. But as much as pro-life activists might hope to see the GOP act hastily at this moment, such injudiciousness would be self-defeating. Read More

The release of yet another video exposing Planned Parenthood’s macabre culture of callous disregard for the bodies of aborted fetuses and the marketplace for their dismembered body parts represents another blow to the organization’s status as privileged recipient of taxpayer funds. Planned Parenthood is panicking, acting erratically, employing crisis communications professionals, and concocting flimsy exculpatory narratives aimed at impugning the motives of their critics. That’s a far cry from just three years ago, when Planned Parenthood’s celebrity president, Cecile Richards, addressed the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating convention in prime time. The organization’s erstwhile Democratic allies are getting squeamish. The way is clear for the GOP to deliver the coup de grâce; momentum is on their side. Only Republicans can rob their party of a long-sought political victory. But as much as pro-life activists might hope to see the GOP act hastily at this moment, such injudiciousness would be self-defeating.

Just over 24 hours ago, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told one of New Hampshire’s leading newspapers that the revelations contained in the Planned Parenthood videos were “disturbing.” She could not have known how right she was. On Thursday, a fourth installment in the series was released, and it was as repulsive as anything that has yet been revealed to the public.

In the video, Colorado-based Planned Parenthood Vice President Dr. Savita Ginde is featured explaining how her organization violates the spirit if not he letter of the law prohibiting institutions from profiting in the trade of human organs obtained through abortion. “Ginde also admits on video that some of the organ harvesting takes place on babies delivered intact and potentially alive first, which would violate the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act,” HotAir’s Ed Morrissey recounted.

“It’s another boy,” one medical technician exclaim in mock celebration after extracting another aborted fetus from the mother’s womb. “I just want to see one leg and one foot,” the technician added. “It’s a baby,” Dr. Ginde remarked as she observed the dismemberment of one of the extracted bodies.

In that moment, in which the aborted fetus is referred to as “a baby,” Planned Parenthood’s supporters’ most effective argument was shattered. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Christian Schneider has observed that the abortion industry’s defenders have conspicuously avoided making note of the fact that the byproducts of Planned Parenthood’s harvest are human body parts. In fact, they’re inclined to scold anyone who deviates from their preferred linguistic parameters:

Of course, we all know that in abortion lexicon, a fetus cannot be considered a “baby,” because ending a “baby’s” life is far less palatable than, say, “terminating a fetus.” Abortion advocates often denigrate human life by calling the child a “clump of cells” or an “embryo.”

In fact, the entire abortion industry coasts on a game of linguistics. In an article that forever euthanized satire, the New Republic called aborted babies “products of conception” and said referring to “baby parts” was an attempt to “anthropomorphize” the human fetus. “The term baby is medically incorrect as it doesn’t apply until birth,” said the article’s author, Dr. Jen Gunter.

Dr. Gunter has been undone, and by an ally no less.

As Planned Parenthood’s supporters begin to wither in the face of overwhelming if circumstantial evidence that grotesque inhumanity has become the defining feature of that institution, momentum is building in Congress to finally end the flow of taxpayer subsidies to the abortion provider. The bill to defund Planned Parenthood, written by freshman Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, directs all its funds toward other institutions that provide women’s health care-related services, like community hospitals and clinics. “There will be no reduction in overall federal funding available to support women’s health,” Senator Mitch McConnell said after promising to hold a vote on the measure before the August recess.

The reaction to the GOP’s move from traditional Democratic supporters of the abortion services provider has been surprisingly muted. Far from launching into a tirade of garment-rending lamentations about the GOP’s anti-women bigotry, Clinton called the Republican effort to defund Planned Parenthood “regrettable.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest repeated the condemnation of the videos and the surreptitious methods used to obtain the damning footage. When pressed as to whether the president would veto such a measure, however, Earnest said Barack Obama opposed the bill but declined to say if he would veto it.

For the time being, the political moment favors Planned Parenthood’s opponents. The revelations that have been exposed over the last month are so abhorrent that few prominent Democrats appear willing to stand by the organization. But the obstacles to passing a defunding measure and sending it to the president’s desk where Obama would face the hard choice of either vetoing it outright or pocketing it are not pro-choice liberals but Republicans and centrist Democrats. GOP Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois have already gone on record saying they will not support a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Democratic Senators Bob Casey and  Joe Manchin, too, have said they will not back such a bill.

With the House having already adjourned for the summer recess, the Senate has few incentives to pass such a controversial measure. To allow it to fester and generate controversy over the course of August would do the defund effort no favors — particularly considering that there is now talk of a new government shutdown over the defund effort. Even if there are enough votes in both the House and the Senate to pass a defund bill after the August recess, it’s unclear that the provision would even be legal. “The laws governing Medicaid – the health insurance program for low-income families – prevent states from excluding certain providers solely because of other medical services they provide, like abortions,” CBS News reported. “Those laws also say Medicaid recipients must be allowed to seek treatment from anyone who is qualified to perform the services. This is sometimes called a ‘freedom of choice’ provision.” The report added that a 2011 Indiana law that sought to prevent Medicaid recipients from obtaining services from Planned Parenthood did not survive scrutiny in the courts.

But these delays may be a blessing in disguise. A Los Angeles area court recently granted an injunction request that prevents the release of further videos featuring Planned Parenthood administrators behaving ghoulishly. However, as Popehat blogger Ken White noted, the order may allow for plaintiffs to pursue satisfaction for damages done after the videos have been released, but it almost certainly cannot preempt their release entirely. That is especially true if the group behind the videos, the Center for Medical Progress, has already provided them to a third party. Therefore, expect the many repulsive videos to keep coming – as many as eight more are reportedly on deck. And every one that comes out forces one more prominent Democrat to soften his or her support for Planned Parenthood. Drip, drip, drip; over the course of a sleepy August in which the only game in town is the increasingly rote and boorish performance art piece masquerading as a presidential campaign, the revelations about Planned Parenthood’s conduct will find their audience.

The tide is perceptibly turning. Republicans would be foolish to let the pressure on Planned Parenthood lapse, but nor should they make themselves the focus of this story. Republicans should avoid being drawn into a convoluted debate on the legal merits of the defund effort, or its viability in the courts. They would also be well served if they were to ignore arcane whip counting and decline to opine on the politics of a presidential veto. As long as the debate is a philosophical one over whether we as a society should allow this kind of barbarism, conservatives will find themselves on the winning side. In the meantime, let the videos flow and enjoy watching Planned Parenthood supporters squirm in the sunlight.

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Terrorism and the Latest Iran Deal Distraction

Though the polls show increasing opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, President Obama seems to be winning in the court of public opinion on the issue this week. The reason is that a series of inflammatory comments about the agreement from Republican presidential candidates have made it appear as if its critics are nothing but a pack of cynical partisans seeking to gain ground on Donald Trump by trying to outdo each other with outrageous insults of the president. Like Mike Huckabee’s crack about President Obama marching Israel “to the door of the ovens,” Senator Ted Cruz’s line about the pact making “the Obama administration the world’s leading financier of Islamic terrorism” has been widely panned. The president termed it “outrageous” and even Mitt Romney tweeted that it “was way over the line” and “hurts the cause” of those trying to stop it in Congress. Romney’s right in the sense that this kerfuffle is helping the president to pose as the adult in the conversation and being used by the administration to help portray its critics as crackpots or warmongers. But though it would be foolish to deny that these candidates to help their campaigns are using Iran, there’s more substance here than is being acknowledged by most of those commenting on it. The terror angle to the Iran agreement has been largely swept under the rug by the administration. Though Cruz’s effort probably won’t lead to much serious thought about it, that has more to do with the media’s antipathy for him and willingness to follow Obama’s lead than it does with the facts of the case.

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Though the polls show increasing opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, President Obama seems to be winning in the court of public opinion on the issue this week. The reason is that a series of inflammatory comments about the agreement from Republican presidential candidates have made it appear as if its critics are nothing but a pack of cynical partisans seeking to gain ground on Donald Trump by trying to outdo each other with outrageous insults of the president. Like Mike Huckabee’s crack about President Obama marching Israel “to the door of the ovens,” Senator Ted Cruz’s line about the pact making “the Obama administration the world’s leading financier of Islamic terrorism” has been widely panned. The president termed it “outrageous” and even Mitt Romney tweeted that it “was way over the line” and “hurts the cause” of those trying to stop it in Congress. Romney’s right in the sense that this kerfuffle is helping the president to pose as the adult in the conversation and being used by the administration to help portray its critics as crackpots or warmongers. But though it would be foolish to deny that these candidates to help their campaigns are using Iran, there’s more substance here than is being acknowledged by most of those commenting on it. The terror angle to the Iran agreement has been largely swept under the rug by the administration. Though Cruz’s effort probably won’t lead to much serious thought about it, that has more to do with the media’s antipathy for him and willingness to follow Obama’s lead than it does with the facts of the case.

Like Huckabee, Cruz is in a difficult position right now in the presidential race. While both were always long shot candidates, the Donald Trump boom has marginalized them, and the rest of the conservative field since the reality star seems to have cornered the market on outrage about Obama and illegal immigration. While Cruz has been waging a scorched earth campaign against Washington and the Republican establishment since he entered the Senate in January 2013, Trump’s outrageous behavior and willingness to say anything about anyone has seemingly rendered the Texan obsolete. Though that may change, there’s no doubt that there seems even less room for a Cruz or a Huckabee in the presidential sweepstakes than there was before.

But no matter what his motivations — and Cruz has been a consistent critic of administration policy on Iran throughout his brief career — may be, merely dismissing the terror angle to the deal isn’t sufficient.

It is true that the remarks are being interpreted as an accusation that President Obama actually wants to aid international terrorism rather than this result being an unfortunate result of a misguided policy. The same was true of Huckabee’s “oven” comment that was seen as an accusation that the president actually wanted Israel to be incinerated by an Iranian bomb rather than the deal being the fruit of Obama’s illusions about the Islamist regime’s willingness to change.

Obama dismissed Cruz by saying, “We’ve had a sitting senator, who also happens to be running for president, suggest that I’m the leading state sponsor of terrorism.”

It’s true that it would be inaccurate to say that Obama is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. That title belongs to his Iranian negotiating partners, as the State Department recently acknowledged.

But, as Cruz was pointing out, one of the key items in the nuclear deal that the president is championing, is the release of $100 billion to the regime that had been denied them due to economic sanctions. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that Iran won’t be able to use those funds to support its Hezbollah auxiliaries in Lebanon, its Hamas allies in Gaza, or the Houthi rebels in Yemen. But as even National Security Advisor Susan Rice admitted, once it is their hands, they will be free to do with the money, as they like. Kerry may have lectured members of Congress this week that it is already illegal for Iran to aid these groups. Yet those strictures haven’t hampered them in the past, and there’s no reason to believe that they will in a future in which the world is rushing to do business with Iran. Like it or not, the released funds are fungible, and some of it will, one way or another, wind up in the hands of Hezbollah and Hamas.

This is not a small point or a semantic argument. By choosing to strike a deal with Iran that deliberately ignored its role as a state sponsor of terror, its quest for regional autonomy, its tyrannical abuses at home or its oft-stated goal of destroying Israel, the president essentially gave all these elements of the regime Western sanction. The administration may say that it disapproves of all of it and will seek to curb Iranian excesses in the future. But the goal here is not merely a shaky nuclear deal that in the best-case scenario will only put off an Iranian bomb for a decade. The president’s objective has been something far more ambitious: a détente with Iran that will allow it “to get right with the world.” We may well scoff at such naïveté but, in order to buy into the Iran deal, you have to actually think that Iran will stop aiding terror or fomenting conflict throughout the Middle East. Once you discard this absurd hope, you have to accept the fact that the funds the U.S. is agreeing to release to Iran will soon be paying for a Hezbollah or Hamas rocket aimed at Israel or a murder squad roving Europe in search of some enemy of the Islamist regime.

So while Cruz’s comments were, like Huckabee’s (which alluded to the fact that Iran is threatening Israel with another Holocaust even if this time, the Jews are in a position to defend themselves rather than being marched to the slaughter as an indifferent West looks on) easy to distort or dismiss as an Iran deal distraction, they point to something all too real, not political hyperbole. If the administration wishes to make its case for the deal, it must do better than merely dismissing the likelihood that what it is doing is aiding terror, since that is very much what will happen.

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Good Advice Abroad but Not at Home

The Wall Street Journal yesterday ran an editorial praising President Obama’s speech in Kenya. It was indeed praiseworthy. Read More

The Wall Street Journal yesterday ran an editorial praising President Obama’s speech in Kenya. It was indeed praiseworthy.

He noted that sub-Saharan Africa has had a bleak history for the last 500 years. First the infamous slave trade and more recently colonial rule that was often oppressive and denied Africans their rightful place in the sun. But he noted that those days are over and now it is up to Africans to make their own future. As the Wall Street Journal put it:

…he argued that history is no excuse for a failed future.

“For too long, I think that many looked to the outside for salvation and focused on somebody else being at fault for the problems of the continent,” he said. He notably confined his discussion of U.S. aid to two oblique paragraphs, while devoting the better part of his speech to urging Africans to build stronger and more tolerant democracies. Traditions such as female genital mutilation, or keeping girls out of school, or sticking to Masai, Kikuyo, Luo or other tribal identities, he said, “may date back centuries; they have no place in the 21st century.”

At times Mr. Obama reminded us of Paul Wolfowitz, the former World Bank president who ran afoul of that organization by insisting that it actively fight corruption instead of merely pushing aid money out the door. Graft, the President said, is “not something that is just fixed by laws, or that any one person can fix. It requires a commitment by the entire nation—leaders and citizens—to change habits and change culture.”

This was very good advice, but I wonder why he confines this advice to Africans. After all, African-Americans shared much of the same bleak history. They were ripped from their homelands, forced to work for the benefit of others, and, even after the abolition of slavery, suffered an all-pervasive bigotry and discrimination. But here, too, those days are over. Instead of encouraging black Americans to look to the future and not wallow in the past, to make the changes necessary in the black community to break the culture of dependency, however,  the Democratic Party and most black leaders do exactly the opposite.

The reason is not hard to see. It suits the political interests of liberals and black leaders such as Al Sharpton to encourage black dependency on government. After all, if more and more blacks moved up into the middle class, they would be less inclined to vote Democratic.

As the Journal noted, “Mr. Obama has the personal background and standing to make these points to an African audience with an unapologetic clarity and a resonance that other Western leaders can’t match.” Equally, the country’s first black president has the personal background and moral authority to make the same points at home. The fact that he has not is one of his greatest failings as president.

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Obama, Kerry Sacrificing U.S.-Israel Alliance for Iran Deal

It’s the perfect metaphor for American foreign policy these days. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to the Middle East next week to discuss the Iran deal with various American allies, but he’s leaving out one important stop: Israel. According to Israel Army Radio, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the snub by saying, “He really has no reason to come here.” Unfortunately, the prime minister is right. Though the trip is just one of many that Kerry has made, it is a telling symbol for the approach of the Obama administration on the most important issue facing both countries: the Iran nuclear deal. President Obama and Kerry kept Israel out of the loop during the negotiations and ignored its vital interests when signing off on Iran’s demands. Combined with the rhetoric coming out of both men that seeks to isolate and threaten Israel, Kerry’s pointed omission of the Jewish state on his tour is just one more indication that they seek to expand what is already a serious rift between the two countries. Though friends of Israel are rightly focused on persuading Congress to vote down a terrible Iran deal, they must also ponder the long-term impact of the administration campaign against the Jewish state.

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It’s the perfect metaphor for American foreign policy these days. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to the Middle East next week to discuss the Iran deal with various American allies, but he’s leaving out one important stop: Israel. According to Israel Army Radio, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the snub by saying, “He really has no reason to come here.” Unfortunately, the prime minister is right. Though the trip is just one of many that Kerry has made, it is a telling symbol for the approach of the Obama administration on the most important issue facing both countries: the Iran nuclear deal. President Obama and Kerry kept Israel out of the loop during the negotiations and ignored its vital interests when signing off on Iran’s demands. Combined with the rhetoric coming out of both men that seeks to isolate and threaten Israel, Kerry’s pointed omission of the Jewish state on his tour is just one more indication that they seek to expand what is already a serious rift between the two countries. Though friends of Israel are rightly focused on persuading Congress to vote down a terrible Iran deal, they must also ponder the long-term impact of the administration campaign against the Jewish state.

Throughout the six and a half years as well as during the course of the negotiations with Iran, President Obama has maintained that he is a steadfast friend of Israel and will always look out for its security. If he criticized or sought to pressure its government it was, he has told us, only for its own good or because, as he noted in his recent speech to a Washington, D.C. synagogue, he wanted to help return Israel to a mythical past when it had the affection of Western liberals.

At this point, that pretense of friendship is wearing very thin. Secretary Kerry can quote a few stray retired Israeli security experts who endorse the Iran deal, but these largely disgruntled figures with political axes to grind against Netanyahu don’t speak for an Israel whose political leadership from right to left has united against the Iran deal. But the problem here goes deeper than even the profound differences over a pact that grants Iran’s nuclear program Western approval along with the end of sanctions and a vast cash bonus. The crisis in the alliance also transcends the personal disputes between Obama and Netanyahu.

The fact that the United States refused to give Israel all the details on the Iran deal that were part of its confidential appendices even after it was concluded also speaks not merely to the lack of trust between the two governments but also to the desire of the administration to cover up the extent of its effort to appease Tehran. Though it asserted there were no side deals with Iran, the appendices and the failure to make them available to Congress or the public compromise that claim. Even now, European diplomats visiting Israel are still refusing to divulge the contents of these documents to their hosts, making it difficult, if not impossible, to fully gauge the problem facing the Jewish state. All the Israelis do know at this point is that the U.S. has agreed to protect the Iranian program against further efforts to sabotage it. Along with the cooperation that now exists in Iraq and Syria between Washington and Tehran, it now appears that Israel is just one more American ally in the region and not the most influential one. Under the circumstances, Netanyahu’s bitter reflection about Kerry having no reason to come to the country may be unfortunate but it is also accurate.

The administration’s arguments that the alternative to the deal is a quicker Iranian path to a bomb or war are unpersuasive. Congress knows that tougher sanctions brought Iran to the table but that Obama’s abandonment of Western economic and political leverage over Iran during the talks is what left the U.S. with such dismal choices, not an inevitable need to bow to the dictates of the Islamist regime. But just as dangerous are Obama and Kerry’s other arguments aimed at silencing Israel and its friends.

Some of Netanyahu’s Israeli political opponents blame him for the estrangement between the countries. Those criticisms are not entirely off base because there is no secret about the fact that Obama and Netanyahu have a terrible relationship that has been exacerbated by the prime minister’s prickly personality. But the U.S.-Israel crackup isn’t a tabloid romance gone sour. The differences between the two countries are rooted in the administration’s reckless pursuit of an entente with Iran at the cost of its friendships with both Israel and moderate Arab states. That pursuit began in Obama’s first months in office, and nothing Netanyahu could have done or said would have deterred the president from this course of action. His success was achieved by a series of American concessions on key nuclear issues and not by pique about Israel’s stands on the peace process with the Palestinians or perceived rudeness on the part of Netanyahu.

Despite the attempt to portray Netanyahu’s interventions in the debate about Iran as a partisan move or an insult to Obama, keeping silent would not have advanced Israel’s interests or made more U.S. surrenders to Iran less likely. At this point, Israel has no choice but to remind U.S. lawmakers of the terrible blow to American credibility and regional stability from the Iran deal. It is the White House that has turned the Iranian nuclear threat — which was once the subject of a bipartisan consensus — into a choice between loyalty to the Democratic Party and its leader and friendship for Israel.

It is almost a given that the next president — no matter who he or she might turn out to be — will be friendlier to Israel than Obama. But the president’s legacy may not only be the strengthening of a terror state in Tehran. It has also chipped away at the U.S.-Israel alliance in a way that will make it that much harder to maintain the across-the-board pro-Israel consensus in Congress in the coming years. Given the growing dangers that the deal poses to Israel this is something that should have both Republicans and Democrats deeply worried.

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Democrats Own the Disaster in the Middle East

“Secretary of State Colin Powell told this president the Pottery Barn rule,” said then-Senator John Kerry in the final months of the 2004 presidential campaign. He was referring to the dismal state of affairs in Iraq 19 months after the coalition invasion. “Now if you break it, you made a mistake. It’s the wrong thing to do. But you own it. And then you’ve got to fix it and do something with it.” 11 years later, and Kerry is the highest-ranking Cabinet official in an administration that has presided over a proliferation of conflicts in the Middle East. President Barack Obama’s attempts to radically transform regional power dynamics makes George W. Bush look like a custodian of the status quo. Today, the Middle East and North Africa are in a state of crisis. But what looks outwardly like chaos is, in fact, a predictable realignment brought about by the president’s eager and overly ambitious effort to extricate the United States from regional affairs. The results of this project have been devastating to America’s stature in the Middle East and the long-term security of the West. Read More

“Secretary of State Colin Powell told this president the Pottery Barn rule,” said then-Senator John Kerry in the final months of the 2004 presidential campaign. He was referring to the dismal state of affairs in Iraq 19 months after the coalition invasion. “Now if you break it, you made a mistake. It’s the wrong thing to do. But you own it. And then you’ve got to fix it and do something with it.” 11 years later, and Kerry is the highest-ranking Cabinet official in an administration that has presided over a proliferation of conflicts in the Middle East. President Barack Obama’s attempts to radically transform regional power dynamics makes George W. Bush look like a custodian of the status quo. Today, the Middle East and North Africa are in a state of crisis. But what looks outwardly like chaos is, in fact, a predictable realignment brought about by the president’s eager and overly ambitious effort to extricate the United States from regional affairs. The results of this project have been devastating to America’s stature in the Middle East and the long-term security of the West.

The menace of the Islamic State militia movement — a proto-state that devours the corpses of Iraq and Syria from within and which threatens the viability of the very Westphalian system of nation-states with defined borders – is an immense and growing one. Only after intense external pressure did Obama agree to craft two distinct coalitions to fight the same war on either side of the functionally nonexistent Iraqi-Syrian border. Nearly one year after the commencement of initial coalition airstrikes on ISIS targets, the ragtag militia group and the territory it controls remains largely intact. More disturbingly, the strategy the president embraced to prevent American involvement in the conflict is faltering.

By this point, the administration had hoped to train a substantial number of the thousands of Syrian rebels it needed to roll back ISIS in Syria. As of July, only 60 had been trained and equipped. Similarly, the Iraqi Security Forces and the Shiite militias aligned with Baghdad that were to serve as the indigenous “boots on the ground” in Iraq have only enjoyed limited successes. The ground forces on which the West pinned its hopes have largely failed to stem the ISIS tide. The Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria that have made substantial gains against ISIS are the exception to this rule. It is a testament to the fecklessness of the West’s strategy to combat ISIS that its most productive ally on the ground is now being targeted from the air by another.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has apparently decided to use the opportunity provided by Islamic State terror attacks inside Turkey and on the Syrian border to launch a regional war on the region’s Kurdish population. While Ankara has also mounted a series of belated airstrikes on ISIS positions in Syria, Turkish warplanes are also invading Iraqi airspace and targeting Kurds linked to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Marxist Kurdish militia, though ideologically aligned against the West and which the president called “terrorists” just two years ago, has nevertheless served as an effective partner in the war on ISIS. “Some senior U.S. and British diplomats said the time has come for the U.S. and some European states to consider a broader rapprochement with the PKK,” the Wall Street Journal reported last week. Not if Turkey has anything to say on the matter.

Turkey’s airstrikes on Kurdish positions in Iraq has sent shockwaves through the anti-ISIS alliance. “In Iraq, which is fighting to regain large areas from Islamic State militants, the government declared the Turkish attack on the P.K.K. in Iraqi territory ‘a dangerous escalation and an offense to Iraqi sovereignty,’” the New York Times noted. “A senior American official, discussing operational planning on the condition of anonymity, said over the weekend that the Turkish attacks on the P.K.K. were ‘complicating the relationship’ with the Syrian Kurdish militias. The official said the United States was pressuring Turkey not to attack the Syrian Kurds.” But Turkey, a NATO member state, is not listening. For now, Ankara has refrained from engaging in hostilities with other Kurdish militias – the PKK-aligned Democratic Unity Party (PYD) and its armed forces, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – but it does not appear inclined to allow the opportunity to neutralize Kurdish separatists in Iraq and Syria go to waste.

The chaotic course of the war against ISIS is merely one facet of the realignment in the Middle East facilitated by Barack Obama’s ideologically motivated desire to extricate the U.S. from regional security matters. The kinetic military dimensions of that realignment are only the most outwardly perceptible sign of this tectonic shift. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have conducted unannounced airstrikes on militants in the shattered Libya that NATO forces failed to secure after speeding the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi. A ten-member Sunni coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, continues to conduct strikes on Yemeni territory where the Iran-backed Houthis are stationed. Iran, the world’s foremost sponsored of state terrorism and the beneficiary of a grand rapprochement in the form of a nuclear accord with the West, maintains its campaign of terror across the region. The sustained target of its wrath, Bahrain, a nation the Islamic Republic regards as its “fourteenth province,” suffered a deadly terrorist bombing just Monday in which two police officers were killed and six others wounded. “Early information suggests that the explosives used in today’s terrorist attack are of the same type that were recently intercepted coming from Iran,” Bahraini state television reported prior to the announcement that the government in Manama had recalled its ambassador in Tehran.

The diplomatic repercussions of the president’s withdrawal from the region are even more striking. Anwar Sadat’s determination to decouple the fate of Egypt from that of the U.S.S.R. has been all but undone by Obama’s disinterest in the region coupled with Vladimir Putin’s revanchist determination to revive Soviet glories. Russia has compensated for the military aid the United States cut off to Cairo following the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi. Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has even flirted with membership in Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union, an economic zone comprised of former Soviet Republics designed to compete with the EU. The Saudi Kingdom, too, has turned away from its suddenly untrustworthy allies in Washington. Riyadh instead turns toward France and Russia in pursuit of nuclear technology in the event that it must prepare for an atomic arms race with Iran. They host the Yemeni government-in-exile that was chased out of Sana’a by a Houthi militia group that Washington courted and sought to legitimize despite its virulent anti-Americanism and links to Tehran. Most strikingly, Washington’s favoritism toward Iran has compelled the Saudis to, for the most part, bury their historic animosity toward Israel. This represents an astounding détente, particularly considering Riyadh’s rejection of the Camp David accords that yielded normalized relations between Jerusalem and Cairo. But whereas Jimmy Carter ensured that the United States was central to that new understanding between formerly hostile powers, today America is on the outside looking in as Israel and the Saudis reconcile.

If you break it, you own it. That’s the supposed rule that Democrats imposed on the Bush administration as it allowed Iraq to descend into bloody chaos. If George W. Bush owned the Iraqi disaster, Barack Obama owns the implosion of America’s position in the Middle East. The region he will bequeath to his successor makes the Middle East he inherited appear placid and stable by comparison.

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Whose Iran Rhetoric is Worse? Huckabee’s or Obama’s?

Mike Huckabee probably thought he hit the jackpot today when President Obama responded directly to the former Arkansas governor’s characterization of the Iran nuclear deal as something that would “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” When you are running for the Republican presidential nomination and struggling to get some attention in the midst of the obsessive coverage of Donald Trump, anything, even a quote that is branded on Morning Joe as the most outrageous comment yet made on the 2016 campaign trail is a positive of a sort. Yet Huckabee shouldn’t be crowing. As Joe Scarborough pointed out, raising the specter of the Holocaust in that manner actually does the administration a favor since it allows the president to dismiss his critics as hysterics and to pose as the adult in the room. Nevertheless, liberals shouldn’t be allowed to get away with denouncing the irresponsible hyperbole of Iran deal critics in this manner. As much as Huckabee’s statement was inappropriate, it is hard to argue that it is much worse than the president’s characterization of all of those opposing his policy as warmongers or Secretary of State John Kerry’s repeated efforts to intimidate both Israelis and American Jews into silence on the issue by claiming that speaking up will “isolate” them or cause the world to blame Jews for the potential defeat of a terrible agreement. Is Huckabee’s Iran deal rhetoric said really any worse?

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Mike Huckabee probably thought he hit the jackpot today when President Obama responded directly to the former Arkansas governor’s characterization of the Iran nuclear deal as something that would “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” When you are running for the Republican presidential nomination and struggling to get some attention in the midst of the obsessive coverage of Donald Trump, anything, even a quote that is branded on Morning Joe as the most outrageous comment yet made on the 2016 campaign trail is a positive of a sort. Yet Huckabee shouldn’t be crowing. As Joe Scarborough pointed out, raising the specter of the Holocaust in that manner actually does the administration a favor since it allows the president to dismiss his critics as hysterics and to pose as the adult in the room. Nevertheless, liberals shouldn’t be allowed to get away with denouncing the irresponsible hyperbole of Iran deal critics in this manner. As much as Huckabee’s statement was inappropriate, it is hard to argue that it is much worse than the president’s characterization of all of those opposing his policy as warmongers or Secretary of State John Kerry’s repeated efforts to intimidate both Israelis and American Jews into silence on the issue by claiming that speaking up will “isolate” them or cause the world to blame Jews for the potential defeat of a terrible agreement. Is Huckabee’s Iran deal rhetoric said really any worse?

Faced with criticism Huckabee did not back down. Instead, he defended his remarks as being entirely appropriate because of the potentially disastrous impact of the administration’s diplomacy on Western and Israeli security. The candidate is right to call out the president for failing to draw the correct conclusions from Iran’s refusal to back down on its support for terror and dedication to Israel’s destruction, even in exchange for a deal that makes them a threshold nuclear power and rewards the regime with over $100 billion. But his comment violated a standard rule of political discourse in which the person who invokes a Holocaust analogy first always loses.

It is one thing to say that the Iran deal will not prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and, at best, only delays it until the agreement expires even as Tehran continues its nuclear research with its infrastructure intact with U.S. approval. But to speak of ovens is to take a rhetorical leap into an assumption that the president is pursuing this policy because he wants another Holocaust rather than as a result of naïve assumptions about the nature of Iran’s regime or their desire to “get right with the world.” That may be a leap that many of the president’s more rabid critics are prepared to make but speaking in this manner is not going to convince wavering pro-Israel Democrats to abandon the president and vote down the deal. Indeed, such loose talk about ovens merely makes it easier for Obama and Kerry to dismiss even the most pointed and well-founded criticisms.

But the faux outrage about Huckabee’s bad taste is entirely hypocritical. The president has no business playing the victim when it comes to extreme rhetoric about the nuclear deal. He and Kerry have been guilty of comments that are, if anything, just as bad as those of Huckabee.

This is, after all, the same White House that characterized peaceful protests against his deal and in favor of tough diplomacy that would hold Iran accountable in major cities around the nation as “pro-war demonstrations.” Throughout the debate about Iran, Obama has used his favorite rhetorical tic in which he always mischaracterizes the arguments of opponents and frames issues in terms of false choices. In this case, that meant labeling opponents as warmongers; the sort of scare tactic that is every bit as reprehensible as calling him another Neville Chamberlain.

As I noted last week, the president did not hesitate to use the same sort of rhetoric that earned the first President Bush the opprobrium of the Jewish world when he attempted to rally the country against “lobbyists” against the Iran agreement. Speaking on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Obama invoked traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes when he spoke of “money and lobbyists” directing the opposition to the deal. That was a direct attack on the ability of AIPAC to speak for the broad pro-Israel consensus on a life and death issue for the Jewish state. Just as bad were his comments in which he said opponents sought to involve the country in a war in which “they were not going to be making sacrifices,” an echo of Pat Buchanan’s smears of Jews during the debate over the first Gulf War.

Kerry has been just as offensive. Last week when he spoke to a group of American Jewish leaders about the Iran deal, he warned them Israel and its supporters would pay a price for their opposition to his appeasement of Iran. He said that, “if Congress were to overturn it, our friends in Israel could actually wind up being more isolated and more blamed.” Though that was framed as his “fear,” few in attendance could mistake the nature of the threat. Those who dare to seek to derail the president’s signature foreign policy achievement will be branded as obstructing efforts to further peace. At a time of rising anti-Semitism around the globe, such a warning is a not-so-subtle reminder to Israelis and Jews that they can be easily isolated.

Seen in that context, Huckabee’s rant against the deal may be seen as intemperate, but it was far less sinister than a president and secretary of state using language intended to intimidate opponents into silence and to brand them as inciting war. Huckabee ought to walk back Holocaust language. But it would be far more important if Obama and Kerry were to scale back their rhetoric about Iran. Unfortunately, the failure of the mainstream media to call out the administration for the lobby smear and other offensive comments means that even if Huckabee were to walk back his statement, it would not be matched by similar apologies from the White House and the State Department that need to be made.

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To Save Syria from Assad, the U.S. Must Act

As I predicted, the ISIS suicide bombing in the Turkish town of Suruc has motivated Turkey to take a much more active role in the anti-ISIS fight. Not only have Turkish aircraft been bombing ISIS (along with Kurdish) positions but Turkey is now said to have reached agreement with the U.S. on creating a 60-mile wide “safe zone” in northern Syria that would be ISIS-free. Read More

As I predicted, the ISIS suicide bombing in the Turkish town of Suruc has motivated Turkey to take a much more active role in the anti-ISIS fight. Not only have Turkish aircraft been bombing ISIS (along with Kurdish) positions but Turkey is now said to have reached agreement with the U.S. on creating a 60-mile wide “safe zone” in northern Syria that would be ISIS-free.

This is something I and many others have long advocated: the creation of “safe zones” where neither Bashar Assad’s nor ISIS’s forces could penetrate, allowing the moderate Syrian opposition (which is newly united, at least on paper) to train its fighters and to gain the ability to govern. Refugees could also flock there to be safe from attack. Such zones, which should have been set up years ago, can be created not only in northern Syrian along the Turkish border but also in southern Syria along the Jordanian border. The idea is that eventually, when Assad falls, the safe zones could be expanded to encompass the entire country, thus creating a post-Assad future that is not ruled by ISIS or the Nusra Front.

But we are a long way yet from that vision, and many questions about the emerging safe zone in northern Syria remain to be answered before it can become a reality. Two questions, in particular, loom large: Will the U.S. be willing to fight Assad as well as ISIS? And will Turkey, the U.S., or some other outside power be willing to put in ground troops to protect this liberated land?

From what I have read so far, Turkey and the U.S. are talking about using their airpower exclusively against ISIS although Turkey would like to target Assad as well. Reports also indicate that neither country is willing to put troops on the ground to protect this safe zone. They are counting on Syrian opposition fighters to do all the fighting on the ground with support from allied airpower.

If that’s the case, I have serious doubts about whether this plan will work. As the New York Times notes:

That is an ambitious military goal, because it appears to include areas of great strategic and symbolic importance to the Islamic State, and it could encompass areas that Syrian helicopters regularly bomb. If the zone goes 25 miles deep into Syria, as Turkish news outlets have reported, it could encompass the town of Dabiq, a significant place in the group’s apocalyptic theology, and Manbij, another stronghold. It could also include the Islamic State-held town of Al Bab, where barrel bombs dropped by Syrian aircraft have killed scores, including civilians, in recent weeks.

Given (a) the threat posed by Assad’s air force and (b) the weakness of the moderate Syrian opposition (the Pentagon has trained only 60 Syrian fighters in the last year), it is hard to imagine this ambitious scheme working unless Turkey and the U.S. stop Assad’s air force from flying and unless they are willing to commit some troops, at least at first, to help call in air strikes and to generally buttress the Free Syrian Army’s efforts. On the American side, this would probably require some Special Operations Forces; on the Turkish side, probably a larger commitment, perhaps supported by forces from the Arab League. Kurdish fighters, who have wrested part of northern Syria away from ISIS with the help of American air strikes, could fill the gap in the ground, but these are not exclusively Kurdish areas and Turkey is unlikely to take any actions that could create a new Kurdish state.

I think stepping up to truly protect this safe zone on the ground and from the air would be very much in Western interests and could begin to nudge Syria–the most dangerous place on earth–in the right direction. But it is unlikely that President Obama will take these steps given his extreme reluctance to put any troops in harm’s way in the Middle East or to do anything that would undermine the Assad regime, which is a close ally of America’s new de facto partner in the Middle East–the Islamic Republic of Iran.

I sincerely hope my fears are unfounded. It would be good news indeed if, after having concluded a nuclear deal with Iran, Obama were to actually take steps to try to contain non-nuclear Iranian aggression. Syria would be the natural starting point for that effort. But I am skeptical that Obama will be willing to take this leap.

More likely, he is still focused on fighting only ISIS. Indeed, a large part of the reason why American training efforts of the moderate Syrian opposition have been so ineffectual is that the U.S. has demanded that they sign pledges that they will only fight ISIS, not Assad. Few Syrians are willing to make that commitment, understandably, because Assad’s forces have killed far more people than ISIS has.

Any solution to the problem of Syria must rid that country not only of ISIS but also of Assad. Until Obama reaches that realization, it is unlikely that this safe zone scheme will be effective. Indeed, the worst possible outcome would be to declare a safe zone and then allow Assad to bomb it: that is a tragedy we must avoid.

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What the Syrian Weapons Charade Says About the Iran Deal

The Wall Street Journal has an eye-opening expose today about how Syria failed to comply with its obligations under the agreement with the United States to get rid of all of its chemical weapons. Reporters David Entous and Naftali Bendavid write, “One year after the West celebrated the removal of Syria’s arsenal as a foreign-policy success, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the regime didn’t give up all of the chemical weapons it was supposed to.” Indeed, Bashar Assad continues to drop chemical weapons, specifically chlorine bombs. Read More

The Wall Street Journal has an eye-opening expose today about how Syria failed to comply with its obligations under the agreement with the United States to get rid of all of its chemical weapons. Reporters David Entous and Naftali Bendavid write, “One year after the West celebrated the removal of Syria’s arsenal as a foreign-policy success, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the regime didn’t give up all of the chemical weapons it was supposed to.” Indeed, Bashar Assad continues to drop chemical weapons, specifically chlorine bombs.

How did this happen? The reasons are instructive in light of the administration’s argument that Iran will be forced to comply with the nuclear deal. The article notes:

The Syrians laid out the ground rules. Inspectors could visit only sites Syria had declared, and only with 48-hour notice. Anything else was off-limits, unless the regime extended an invitation.

“We had no choice but to cooperate with them,” said Mr. Cairns [the leader of the UN inspection team]. “The huge specter of security would have hampered us had we gone in there very aggressively or tried to do things unilaterally.”

The U.S. and other powers had the right to demand access to undeclared sites if they had evidence they were part of the chemical-weapons program. But that right was never exercised, in part, inspectors and Western officials say, because their governments didn’t want a standoff with the regime.

This is how inspections operate in reality — and it’s not the way that Secretary of State John Kerry claims in touting the effectiveness of sanctions. In reality, inspectors are at the mercy of their hosts who, after all, control the country and can use force if necessary to prevent the inspectors from going where they are not wanted. Advocates of the Iran deal suggest that it includes a way to force inspections of undeclared nuclear sites — but that will take a minimum of 24 days and probably longer. That’s a lot longer than the 48-hour inspections that the Syrians allowed and even those weren’t enough.

What happens if the Iranians block the inspectors? Advocates of the deal like to pretend this would lead to “snapback” sanctions. In the real world, however, neither the inspectors nor the U.S. government is going to blow up the accord — which is what would happen if sanctions were re-imposed — over what may or may not be a violation on the part of the Iranians. Both the inspectors and the U.S. government are far more likely to overlook supposedly minor violations, or to allow the Iranians to “rectify” them ex post facto, while telling themselves that it’s for the greater good because being overly confrontational will destroy the entire agreement.

The Syrian precedent clearly shows how Iran, Assad’s sponsor, can cheat on its arms control obligations. And even if it’s caught, as Syria has been caught, what will happen? The Syrian example suggests the answer is: Nothing. Even though the Obama administration is well aware that Assad has not gotten rid of all of his chemical weapons and that indeed he continues to use them, there have been no repercussions for Syria. Does anyone imagine that the U.S. will be any quicker to confront Iran, a far more powerful regime than Assad’s, and one that will get stronger still once the bans on conventional weapons and missile sales are lifted?

 

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The Devil Isn’t in the Details of the Iran Deal

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry went to a Senate hearing room on Thursday to put forward talking points about the Iran nuclear deal that are by now as familiar as the condescending sneer he employs against anyone who questions his positions. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew also recited their scripted defense of the agreement. The other participants in the ritual were just as predictable as Senate Republicans tore into the trio of secretaries over the terms of the pact while Democrats did their best to lob softball questions in order to provide cover to the administration. But, according to the New York Times, only one side in this standoff is doing any serious thinking about the implications of approving the deal. The headline of the Times article (labeled “news analysis,” but which belonged on the paper’s op-ed page rather than in the news section) on the hearing was “Republicans Have Minds Made Up as Debate Begins on Iran Nuclear Deal.” There is some truth to that assertion but the same could be said of most of the Democrats in attendance. But by attempting to portray the Republicans as mindless partisans obsessed with block the administration, the Times missed the point of the entire debate. It’s not just that everyone already understands the Iran deal details and their weakness. Rather, it’s that the implications of this push for what amounts to a new détente with the Islamist regime is just as important as anything that will be revealed in classified committee sessions.

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Today, Secretary of State John Kerry went to a Senate hearing room on Thursday to put forward talking points about the Iran nuclear deal that are by now as familiar as the condescending sneer he employs against anyone who questions his positions. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew also recited their scripted defense of the agreement. The other participants in the ritual were just as predictable as Senate Republicans tore into the trio of secretaries over the terms of the pact while Democrats did their best to lob softball questions in order to provide cover to the administration. But, according to the New York Times, only one side in this standoff is doing any serious thinking about the implications of approving the deal. The headline of the Times article (labeled “news analysis,” but which belonged on the paper’s op-ed page rather than in the news section) on the hearing was “Republicans Have Minds Made Up as Debate Begins on Iran Nuclear Deal.” There is some truth to that assertion but the same could be said of most of the Democrats in attendance. But by attempting to portray the Republicans as mindless partisans obsessed with block the administration, the Times missed the point of the entire debate. It’s not just that everyone already understands the Iran deal details and their weakness. Rather, it’s that the implications of this push for what amounts to a new détente with the Islamist regime is just as important as anything that will be revealed in classified committee sessions.

The Times portrayed the Republicans as not listening to the secretaries and not even willing to hear more about the security implications of their efforts in private:

While Mr. Corker, who promised a considered assessment of the agreement, may have seemed close to an endgame during a hearing on Capitol Hill, the vast majority of Republicans appear to have made up their minds before a single classified briefing, hearing or visit with administration officials.

Their view seems born of genuine distaste for the deal’s details, inherent distrust of President Obama, intense loyalty to Israel and an expansive view of the role that sanctions have played beyond preventing Iran’s nuclear abilities.

Accusing the critics of the deal of lack interest in its details is disingenuous. The basic framework of the agreement is no secret and its provisions have been a matter of vigorous public debate for months. The problem for the administration and its apologists is not that opponents aren’t listening but that they are rightly dismissing the spin about them coming from both the president and his team that span the spectrum from mere distortions to outright lies. The misrepresentation of the provisions about inspections that the president promised would be intrusive and comprehensive now requires Kerry and Moniz to claim that a process that gives Iran more than three weeks notice of an inspection is sufficient. They similarly ignore the implications of allowing Iran to continue its nuclear research with advanced equipment (while, as Corker rightly pointed out, discarding outdated centrifuges allowing the administration to portray the discards as concessions).

But in one sense the Times is right to assert that Republican support for the deal did not hinge on the fine print of the agreement. The devil is not in its details but in the nature of a pact whose core is a desire on the part of the administration to embrace Iran and bring it back into the community of nations from its current state of isolation.

The administration defends the deal as the only alternative to war. That is a false choice that attempts to obfuscate the fact that it was President Obama who discarded the political and economic leverage the West held over Iran prior to the start of the string of concessions he made to the ayatollahs over the course of the last two years of negotiations. But even if we leave this deceptive argument aside, the real problem with their approach is that by solely focusing on the details of a nuclear agreement, the administration chose to ignore the real reason why Iran should not be allowed such capabilities.

If, as President Obama seems to believe, Iran’s government is capable not only of rational analysis but of transforming itself into a reasonable and responsible international actor, its possession of a nuclear program would not be so troubling. True, the U.S. wishes to limit the spread of nuclear weapons but the club of countries with a bomb is already not so small. One more in and of itself would not be a threat to world peace.

But allowing an Islamist theocratic tyranny that is the world’s leading state sponsor of terror with hopes of achieving regional hegemony and pledged to the destruction of Israel to have a nuclear program is a threat. Giving its nuclear infrastructure western approval and a path to an eventual bomb is a danger to the entire region as well as the West. Handing it a massive cash bonus in the form of relaxed sanctions will enhance its ability to foment terrorism and spread violence through its auxiliaries and allies.

Opponents of the deal rightly decry this embrace of Iran not just because the inspections are insufficiently rigorous, the nuclear provisions weak and will eventually expire giving the Islamist regime a clear path to a bomb. They also oppose it because despite their occasional attempts to pose as tough-minded in their approach to Iran, the basic premise of the deal is President Obama’s quest for the regime to “get right with the world.”

In order to believe that is possible, we must forget everything we know about the nature of a regime that is inherently aggressive and motivated by an extreme religious ideology that sees moderate Arabs, the West, the United States and Israel as enemies to be destroyed, not partners for peace and cooperation.

Iran won the lenient terms of the deal by being tough in the negotiations and convincing weak-willed interlocutors such as Obama and Kerry that they would never be moved by Western pressure or threats. Critics of the deal view it with disdain because they correctly perceive its premise to be the hope of an entente with Iran, not a treaty aimed at limiting its power. Seen from that perspective the details of the deal are not only unpersuasive, they are beside the point despite the effort of the Times and other pro-Obama media cheerleaders to depict the GOP as knee-jerk naysayers. That is why sensible Republicans and Democrats will reject Kerry’s arrogant lobbying efforts and vote a deal rooted in appeasement down.

 

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Hillary Clinton May Have to Scorch the Earth to Win the White House

Polls at this point in the presidential race do not mean a thing. That is, of course, except when they do. The latest Quinnipiac University poll of three swing states – Virginia, Iowa, and Colorado – is one such poll. In all three states, the poll shows that Clinton’s favorability ratings have plummeted, voters no longer trust her, and, against three of the GOP’s top-tier candidates, she is losing. No, polls at this stage of the race are not predictive, but they do set expectations and they focus the minds of the donor class who don’t want to throw good money after bad. If this survey is a portent of things to come, it foreshadows a general election campaign that will make the president’s brutal, no-holds-barred 2012 reelection effort appear the height of cordiality by comparison.  Read More

Polls at this point in the presidential race do not mean a thing. That is, of course, except when they do. The latest Quinnipiac University poll of three swing states – Virginia, Iowa, and Colorado – is one such poll. In all three states, the poll shows that Clinton’s favorability ratings have plummeted, voters no longer trust her, and, against three of the GOP’s top-tier candidates, she is losing. No, polls at this stage of the race are not predictive, but they do set expectations and they focus the minds of the donor class who don’t want to throw good money after bad. If this survey is a portent of things to come, it foreshadows a general election campaign that will make the president’s brutal, no-holds-barred 2012 reelection effort appear the height of cordiality by comparison. 

It’s not the head-to-head matchups in Quinnipiac’s latest survey that should trouble Democrats – it’s the rapid deterioration of Clinton’s image among voters. Even in the state that proved definitively for the left that demography is destiny, Virginia, majorities have an unfavorable opinion of Hillary Clinton. Substantial majorities told pollsters they do not trust the prohibitive Democratic presidential nominee. But the worst numbers, the one that is surely prompting bouts of hushed panic among Democratic operatives, were the responses generated when voters were asked if Clinton “cares about the needs and problems of people like you.” Among swing-state voters in Iowa, Virginia, and Colorado, solid majorities believed that Clinton did not care about them. By contrast, the 2012 exit polls revealed that Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama on every issue with the exception of the intangible matter of caring more about the little guy. Obama beat Romney on that issue by an astounding 63-point margin, and he rode that perceived empathy all the way into another four-year term in the White House.

Hillary Clinton has been a prominent figure in American politics for a quarter-century. She is already, perhaps unalterably, defined in the minds of voters. The Republican candidates, meanwhile, are not. Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter observed that Clinton and her fellow Democrats would do all within their power over the course of the nearly yearlong presidential campaign to define the nominee in negative terms. The natural headwinds confronting Democrats in their effort to secure a third consecutive term in the White House will ensure that the process of “defining” the GOP nominee is a pitiless one. But those natural headwinds are compounded by the fact that Hillary Clinton is not the political talent that Obama was.

It’s a bit trite, but it’s worth considering the substantial “coolness” deficit that Democrats are about to face. After almost eight years of branding itself as a vibrant, youthful institution whose leader was as apt to be seen in the Oval Office as he was on the set of a late-night comedy program, Democrats are about to hemorrhage some of that accumulated hipness. The tortured effort by some young progressives in the media to craft a trendy brand around the octogenarian Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg exposes the terrifying shallowness of the left’s bench of fashionable political figures. Democrats who watched a recent video released by Hillary Clinton, in which the candidate hawked her campaign’s branded “chillery” beer cozy and declared that she was “just chilling” herself, must have cringed; an android in a Philip K. Dick novel struggling to mimic human emotion could display more charisma and sincerity. Like the 82-year-old “Notorious R.B.G.,” Clinton will require a transparently fabricated campaign to be perceived as current and something that appeals to a younger generation. Among Democrats with ample national name recognition, only Joe Biden effortlessly projects the kind of approachability and nonchalance that drew young voters to Barack Obama, and he is not in the race. Yet.

If Clinton sacrifices even a modest amount of support among young voters, that must be made up on other fronts. The demographic perhaps most amenable to Clinton’s overtures are women, and the former secretary of state has already ramped up the gender-centric attacks on her adversaries. Speaking to a group of Kentucky voters, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently observed that Clinton pitch relies extensively on the candidate’s gender and has focused conspicuously on women’s issues. “You may recall my election last year,” McConnell said of his vanquished opponent, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, “the gender card alone is not enough.” Clinton’s team responded by playing the gender card with even more reckless abandon.

“There is a gender card being played in this campaign,” Clinton wrote on Facebook. “It’s played every time Republicans vote against giving women equal pay, deny families access to affordable child care or family leave, refuse to let women make decisions about their health or have access to free contraception.” Her team followed up with a web-based advertisement featuring McConnell’s remarks and scolding several members of the GOP’s 2016 field for supporting measures Clinton’s campaign dubbed “anti-women.”

The other pillar of Barack Obama’s coalition that Clinton must ensure remains intact if she is to win in 2016 are the minority voters who turned out in substantial numbers to ensure the nation’s first African-American president won two terms in the White House. The time will come when the Clinton campaign must turn the Hispanic community against the Republican nominee – a substantial task if the GOP nominates Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio – but, for now, the former secretary of state is focused on her support among African-American Democrats.

In June, Clinton called voter identification laws and efforts to curtail early voting to within two weeks of Election Day “a sweeping effort to disempower and disenfranchise people of color, poor people and young people from one end of our country to the other.” She went further by contending that Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and Rick Perry were “deliberately trying to stop” black voters from exercising the franchise. “Note the language here,” Fox News analyst Chris Stirewalt observed. “It’s not a misguided effort with an unfortunate result, it is a deliberate effort to prevent minorities from voting. That’s not just racist, that’s evil.”

This is a theme that you can expect the likely Democratic nominee to pound repeatedly over the course of her campaign in the uphill effort to ensure African-American turnout in 2016 matches the rates set in 2008 and 2012.

The stakes are high in 2016 – more so for Democrats than they were in 2012, when Barack Obama’s allies went so far as to accuse Mitt Romney of complicity in negligent homicide. We may come to look back on that campaign as an epoch of civility. If the GOP nominates a competent candidate, and they have a variety from which to choose, Hillary Clinton and her allies will have to scorch the earth in order to win. The torches are already lit.

 

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Obama Lobby Smear in Iran Deal Debate Cannot Go Unanswered

The debate over the Iran nuclear deal signed last week is just beginning but the willingness of the administration to smear its opponents is already clear. Both in his speech yesterday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Pittsburgh and then later on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, President Obama cast the divide on the issue as one between warmongers and peacemakers, linking opponents to the Iraq War. Having won the presidency twice by running against George W. Bush, it is hardly surprising that he would return to that familiar theme. Nor is it any shock that he would, as he has throughout a period in which he systematically abandoned his past stands on what a deal with Iran should look like, claimed that the only alternative to surrendering to Tehran’s demands was war. But there was one line in his softball interview with Stewart that should have set off alarm bells throughout the pro-Israel community, including among those who are loyal Democrats and inclined to support the White House on this and any other issue. By urging citizens to contact Congress to counteract the influence of “the money, the lobbyists,” Obama was smearing the pro-Israel community and AIPAC as seeking to involve the country in a war where “they would not going to be making sacrifices.” In doing so, he conjured up memories of both President George H.W. Bush’s controversial stand against AIPAC during the 1991 debate about loan guarantees to Israel but also writer Pat Buchanan’s claim that Jews were pushing for wars in which they wouldn’t fight.

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The debate over the Iran nuclear deal signed last week is just beginning but the willingness of the administration to smear its opponents is already clear. Both in his speech yesterday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Pittsburgh and then later on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, President Obama cast the divide on the issue as one between warmongers and peacemakers, linking opponents to the Iraq War. Having won the presidency twice by running against George W. Bush, it is hardly surprising that he would return to that familiar theme. Nor is it any shock that he would, as he has throughout a period in which he systematically abandoned his past stands on what a deal with Iran should look like, claimed that the only alternative to surrendering to Tehran’s demands was war. But there was one line in his softball interview with Stewart that should have set off alarm bells throughout the pro-Israel community, including among those who are loyal Democrats and inclined to support the White House on this and any other issue. By urging citizens to contact Congress to counteract the influence of “the money, the lobbyists,” Obama was smearing the pro-Israel community and AIPAC as seeking to involve the country in a war where “they would not going to be making sacrifices.” In doing so, he conjured up memories of both President George H.W. Bush’s controversial stand against AIPAC during the 1991 debate about loan guarantees to Israel but also writer Pat Buchanan’s claim that Jews were pushing for wars in which they wouldn’t fight.

Obama’s claims that the only alternative to his appeasement of Iran would be war have always been a false choice. Having cornered Iran into negotiations after being forced by Congress to accept harsher sanctions than he wanted, Obama immediately discarded all the West’s political and military leverage by agreeing to Iranian demands about allowing them to enrich uranium and keep their nuclear infrastructure in secret talks in 2013. This came only a year after he had pledged in his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney that any Iran deal would require them to give up their nuclear program. Over the course of the next two years, he systematically abandoned nearly every previous U.S. on the issue and eventually agreed to a pact that expired after ten years and even guaranteed the Iranians the right to continue nuclear research and with an inspections program that gave them 24 days notice. Having undermined the international consensus in favor of isolating Iran, he now accuses critics of wanting war. But all they have been asking for is the sort of tough diplomacy that would have avoided the kind of proliferation that his deal makes inevitable.

The analogies with Iraq and the invocation of the name of former Vice President Dick Cheney is a punch line, not a coherent argument. There is no comparison between a willingness to allow Iran to become a threshold nuclear state and to enrich the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism and the decision to topple Saddam Hussein. But it is an attempt to signal to Democrats that Obama sees Iran appeasement as a core partisan issue on which no dissent should be tolerated. And that is the context in which Obama’s cracks about money and lobbyists and who makes the sacrifices should be viewed.

In 1991, when the elder President Bush was seeking to undermine support for Israel, he let loose with a memorable rant to the White House press corps about being “one lonely little guy” fighting a big powerful AIPAC. That was a gross distortion of reality, especially since AIPAC’s power could not be compared to the influence of the oil industry and the pro-Arab lobby with which the president was apparently more comfortable. Pro-Israel and Jewish groups that saw him as invoking arguments that smacked of traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes rightly excoriated Bush. Buchanan was similarly criticized for the same kind of sleight of hand when he falsely tried to cast the argument about the first Gulf War as one in which Jews were pushing other Americans to fight a war they would sit out.

Though the case for the Iran deal is weak, it is one on which a civil debate is possible. But the administration’s line that opponents want war is not only misleading, it is an attempt to avoid rational debate and to demonize the president’s critics. Yet the fact that Obama is now using the same sort of language that once was clearly labeled as out of bounds when they were employed by Republicans is not only reprehensible. It is a challenge to pro-Israel and Jewish Democrats that they cannot ignore.

Jewish Republicans and other pro-Israel conservatives never forgave George H.W. Bush for his slur about AIPAC and he paid a heavy political price for it in his 1992 re-election bid. It is too late to hold Obama accountable in a similar manner but that does not relieve Jewish liberals and Democrats from warning Obama to stand down on his attempt to employ the same kinds of smears against supporters of Israel on the Iran deal. While Obama’s goal is to make Iran a partisan issue on which pro-Israel Democrats will choose loyalty to the president over principle, it does not excuse members of his party from their obligation to stand up against these sort of vile tactics. If they fail to speak out against the Obama lobby smear, they will not merely be acquiescing amid the marginalization of the pro-Israel community, they will be giving a seal of approval to the sort of behavior that they were quick to denounce when Republicans were the offenders.

 

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Can Schumer Finesse His Iran Deal Vote Dilemma?

For a politician who normally would do anything for publicity or attention, Senator Chuck Schumer has been mighty quiet the last week. The reason isn’t a mystery. The signing of the Iran nuclear deal has put Schumer into a tight spot. As the designated successor to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Schumer is obligated not to lend assistance to the effort to stop a pact that is President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement. Yet, at the same time, he is under enormous pressure to make good on his past promises to oppose a weak Iran deal and to stand up in defense of the State of Israel, whose security is compromised by the administration’s appeasement policy. Schumer has spent his entire political career positioning himself as an outspoken supporter of Israel as well as a fearsome partisan Democrat. Under most circumstances, that needn’t be a contradiction in terms, but with President Obama lobbying Congress hard to back his deal, they are now. For once, Schumer must choose. But the question is not only what choice will he make but also whether his attempts to keep his feet firmly planted in both the pro-Israel camp and that of the administration can possibly succeed.

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For a politician who normally would do anything for publicity or attention, Senator Chuck Schumer has been mighty quiet the last week. The reason isn’t a mystery. The signing of the Iran nuclear deal has put Schumer into a tight spot. As the designated successor to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Schumer is obligated not to lend assistance to the effort to stop a pact that is President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement. Yet, at the same time, he is under enormous pressure to make good on his past promises to oppose a weak Iran deal and to stand up in defense of the State of Israel, whose security is compromised by the administration’s appeasement policy. Schumer has spent his entire political career positioning himself as an outspoken supporter of Israel as well as a fearsome partisan Democrat. Under most circumstances, that needn’t be a contradiction in terms, but with President Obama lobbying Congress hard to back his deal, they are now. For once, Schumer must choose. But the question is not only what choice will he make but also whether his attempts to keep his feet firmly planted in both the pro-Israel camp and that of the administration can possibly succeed.

Though the administration is seeking with the assistance of left-wing groups to promote the notion that the Iran deal is good for Israel that flimsy argument is deceiving no one. The pact grants Western approval for Iran’s status as a nuclear threshold state enriches it via the collapse of sanctions and provides few safeguards (a 24-day warning period for inspections makes promises about monitoring cheating a joke) against its eventual acquisition of a nuclear weapon once the deal expires. The deal will not only enable Iran to give more support for Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists but will assist Tehran’s goal of regional hegemony.

It is one thing for those whose support for Israel has always been secondary to their left-wing ideology or pro-Obama partisanship (such as the J Street lobby or the National Jewish Democratic Council) to endorse this brazen act of appeasement. For Schumer, a man who has staked his career on being the shomer (Hebrew for guardian) of Israel’s security in Congress, it would be a stunning betrayal that he would never live down.

As I wrote back in April, Schumer’s stance on the Iran deal won’t be the whole story. Even if he chooses to vote in favor of a resolution that seeks to nullify the pact, he may also work behind the scenes to ensure that at least 34 Democrats back the president so as to ensure that an Obama veto won’t be overridden. Such vote trading is routine in Congress and allows House members and senators to tell constituents that they voted one way when they are really conspiring to help those who are working against that goal.

But whether he finesses this vote in that manner or not, it would be mistaken to think that there won’t be serious political consequences for Schumer no matter how he votes.

It may be that the administration will give Schumer a pass for voting against the deal provided that he ensures that other Democrats give the president the votes he needs. But Schumer must also know that his succession as minority leader may be threatened by a vote against Obama. The Senate may be the world’s most exclusive club, but it is entirely possible that his vote will be reason enough for some liberal colleague to challenge him. Any senator that does so will be counting on the active support of the party’s increasingly ascendant left wing that regards Schumer as an ally of Wall Street.

On the other hand, the cost of doing Obama’s bidding could be even higher for Schumer. New York has become a virtual one-party state and Schumer faced only token opposition from Republicans while gaining re-election in 2004 and 2010. But if he were to vote for the Iran deal, it would virtually guarantee that his 2016 re-election race would become very interesting if not competitive. While there is no obvious formidable challenger on the horizon, Schumer knows that the GOP wouldn’t have much difficulty finding one and that such a person would have no trouble raising all the money needed for a race that would become a referendum of Schumer’s possible betrayal of Israel on the Iran nuclear threat.

The first shot fired over his bow comes today in the form of what pro-Israel activists hope will be a massive demonstration in New York’s Times Square. Billed as a “Stop Iran Now” rally, the purpose will be to ensure that Congress knows that the overwhelming majority of the pro-Israel community is united behind the effort to oppose the deal.

If Schumer, and other pro-Israel Democrats stick with Obama they will be allying themselves with J Street over AIPAC, a strategic decision that would be the moral equivalent of choosing a water pistol to use in a fight with a tank when it comes to future electoral support.

But the real problem for Schumer and other Democrats goes beyond the danger of alienating pro-Israel donors. Only those so blinded by their support for Obama fail to see that the Iran deal vote is one of those rare Congressional decisions that present a clear moral choice. If Schumer sticks with Obama, that may secure his future as the Democrats’ Senate leader. But if will come at the cost of his reputation as a defender of Israel and make his seat a lot less safe than it might otherwise be.

 

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Cementing Iran’s Hold on Iraq

After the Iran deal was announced, my old boss Leslie Gelb (who is well connected with the Obama administration) confirmed what Michael Doran and I have been writing for a while. “According to top administration officials,” Gelb wrote, “Mr. Obama has always been after something much bigger than capping Iran’s nuclear program, and he got it — the strategic opportunity to begin converting Iran from foe to ‘friend.'” Read More

After the Iran deal was announced, my old boss Leslie Gelb (who is well connected with the Obama administration) confirmed what Michael Doran and I have been writing for a while. “According to top administration officials,” Gelb wrote, “Mr. Obama has always been after something much bigger than capping Iran’s nuclear program, and he got it — the strategic opportunity to begin converting Iran from foe to ‘friend.'”

Such naive hopes should have been dashed by the Supreme Leader’s response to the Iran deal.

“Our policy regarding the arrogant U.S. government will not change,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised address on Saturday, while his supporters chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” “We don’t have any negotiations or deal with the U.S. on different issues in the world or the region.”

For good measure, he added, “We will not give up on our friends in the region.” That would be “friends” like Bashar Assad whose forces are now said to be dropping naval mines — the kind designed to destroy warships — on civilian areas. Or like Hezbollah, which is not only fighting to preserve the brutal Assad regime but also stockpiling at least 50,000 missiles aimed at Israel. How many more missiles will Hezbollah be able to afford when it receives its share of Iran’s $100 billion first-year windfall, one wonders?

Yet the Obama administration seems blithely untroubled by evidence – both in rhetoric and action – showing that Iran has no intention of giving up its mantle as the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Instead, the U.S. is acting as if Iran is really our de facto ally not only in nuclear arms control but also in fighting terrorism.

The latest evidence of the administration’s misguided faith in the Islamic Republic is its decision to deliver the first four F-16s to Iraq, which it did just before the Iran deal was signed. Thirty-two more F-16s are scheduled to arrive in Iraq eventually. Assuming that these advanced warplanes are not captured by ISIS (as has been the case with many Humvees, MRAPS, and even Abrams tanks that the U.S. has provided to Iraq), they will be operated by an Iraqi regime that has been thoroughly subverted by Iran’s agents and proxies.

The most powerful man in Iraq is not the ineffectual prime minister but rather Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, who (in yet another boost for Iranian regional designs) will be taken off the European and U.N. sanctions lists by the terms of the Iran deal. The second most powerful man is probably his close ally, Hadi al-Ameri, the minister of transportation and head of the Badr Corps, the Shiite militia that has become more powerful than the Iraqi armed forces. As a Sunni politician said earlier this year, “Iran now dominates Iraq.”

It is more than a bit shocking that the Obama administration is willing to deliver such advanced aircraft to an Iranian-dominated regime. That makes no sense unless the administration thinks the airplanes will be used to fight ISIS, a battle in which the US and Iran supposedly have a common stake. It may well be that the aircraft will be used to bomb ISIS. Or perhaps they will be used to randomly bomb Sunni population centers, as Assad’s aircraft do on a daily basis in Syria.

Whatever the case, of one thing we can be sure: The aircraft will further increase the power not of Iraq’s moderate Sunnis, Kurds, or even Shiites, but rather the power of the Iranian-backed radicals who are in de facto control in Iraq. The aircraft could even wind up in Iranian hands, allowing Iran to get a head-start on breaking the arms embargo that is due to expire in no more than five years anyway.

From the American standpoint, that is about as self-defeating a strategy as it possible to imagine. As I’ve argued repeatedly, any increase in Iranian power actually redounds to the benefit of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other Sunni radicals who can then posture as defenders of their communities against “Persian” aggression. We should be arming and supporting real and potential partners such as the Kurds and the Sunni tribes in Anbar Province. Instead, we are assisting Iran in extending its growing empire.

Even if Congress can’t stop the Iranian nuclear deal, it should stop further F-16 deliveries to Iraq as long as Iran continues to dominate in Baghdad.

 

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Iran and the Hubris of Appeasement

Following through on its strategy of trying to make Congressional approval of the Iran nuclear deal irrelevant, the Obama administration pushed through a resolution implementing the agreement today at the United Nations Security Council. Both Congressional Republicans and Democrats attacked that move, but that did not deter the president and his foreign policy team from following through on their plan to make an end run around Congress. This arrogant slight to the legislative branch will add fuel to the fire of critics of the Iran pact as they push to shame Democrats into making good on their past promises to insist on an agreement that would, at the very least, live up to the administration’s past promises about inspections and transparency. Yet even in the face of this presidential chutzpah and staggering betrayal of principle, the odds still heavily favor his effort to get the necessary votes from his party to sustain this strategy. Thus, while those Democrats who view their campaign pledges about both the Iranian threat and the security of Israel as still binding should be focusing on the gaping holes in the agreement, they should also ponder the presidential hubris that is at the core of this effort to marginalize their Constitutional obligation to weigh in on the most important foreign treaty signed by the United States. Read More

Following through on its strategy of trying to make Congressional approval of the Iran nuclear deal irrelevant, the Obama administration pushed through a resolution implementing the agreement today at the United Nations Security Council. Both Congressional Republicans and Democrats attacked that move, but that did not deter the president and his foreign policy team from following through on their plan to make an end run around Congress. This arrogant slight to the legislative branch will add fuel to the fire of critics of the Iran pact as they push to shame Democrats into making good on their past promises to insist on an agreement that would, at the very least, live up to the administration’s past promises about inspections and transparency. Yet even in the face of this presidential chutzpah and staggering betrayal of principle, the odds still heavily favor his effort to get the necessary votes from his party to sustain this strategy. Thus, while those Democrats who view their campaign pledges about both the Iranian threat and the security of Israel as still binding should be focusing on the gaping holes in the agreement, they should also ponder the presidential hubris that is at the core of this effort to marginalize their Constitutional obligation to weigh in on the most important foreign treaty signed by the United States.

That arrogance was on display yesterday as Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary made the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows. Their blithe assurances about the deal make the U.S. safer could be dismissed as mere hyperbole but their insistence that there is “no such thing in arms control as anytime, anywhere,” inspections of nuclear sites is not only a lie. It is also a direct contradiction of their past pledges on the issue. Indeed, Moniz specifically said, “We expect to have anywhere, anytime access” to Iranian military sites in April during an interview with Bloomberg. Kerry has been navigating a similar zigzag course on a host of other issues regarding the deal including that about Tehran coming clean on past military nuclear research.

We can and should continue to focus on these specifics during the course of the debate about the Iran deal. But the main point to be understood here is that no evidence about the weakness of the deal, its failure not only to stop Iran’s nuclear program but the ways in which it makes it stronger and more likely to eventually build a weapon will ever be sufficient to answer the administration. That’s because the motivation of Obama and Kerry and their minions are not merely wrongheaded notions about non-proliferation or misplaced faith in Iran’s intentions but rather a hubristic belief in their ability to change history.

Obama and Kerry can mislead the nation about the sunset provision in the agreement that will make it possible for Iran to proceed to a weapon with little interference after it expires because they think with this stroke they have transcended the petty details that encumber those who deal with real world facts about despotic religious states like Iran. Iran’s ability to either easily evade the deal’s restrictions or to patiently wait for them to end doesn’t give the president or the secretary pause because their object in these negotiations wasn’t merely a nuclear deal but an attempt to restructure American foreign policy in a way that would end decades of enmity with the Islamist state and give birth to a new détente with Iran.

That’s why at every point during two and a half years of negotiations with Iran the administration steadily gave ground. The point of the talks wasn’t merely bridging gaps between the two sides but an obvious belief that the details weren’t as important as the mere act of negotiation and agreement. The president came into office pledging amity for the Iranian regime and never truly deviated from it even as both Iran’s obstinacy and Congress forced him to accept sanctions that the White House never wanted. Iran’s refusal to give ground on each issue was rationalized not because it made sense to do so but because it was required if Obama was going to have his entente with Tehran.

Analogies to past efforts at appeasing dictators inevitably fall afoul of the problem of comparing any country — no matter how awful — with the Nazis and the Holocaust. But the point of comparison is not so much any supposed similarities between the two regimes as it is to the way in which those who sought to appease them consciously denied facts and arrogantly believed that their good intentions, desire for peace and vision for a world that would eschew conflict transcended what they saw as the small-minded and war-mongering attitudes of their critics. Tough-minded diplomacy — the real alternative to Obama and Kerry’s appeasement rather than war — would not have been as satisfying to these men.

It is that belief in his own righteousness that sustains President Obama as he lies to the American people about inspections, snap-back sanctions, the way the deal expires, and his belief that Iran will become “less aggressive, less hostile more cooperative” and “to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave” even after he will have given international approval to its nuclear program, enriched it, given it access to arms, and treated its support for terrorism and building of ballistic missiles as unimportant details. This foolishness is not merely a matter of bad judgment. This sort of epic folly is only the product of a hubris that sees such minor matters as insignificant when compared to the chance to make history.

Given the pull of partisan loyalties and the still potent hold of President Obama over many members of his party the chances of Congress stopping him are slim. But as those Democrats with troubled consciences over the choice facing them think about their votes, they would do well to understand that the root cause of this disaster isn’t merely a policy dispute but the conviction on the part of the president and his chief diplomat that the rules of history don’t apply to them. As it always does, the world may pay a terrible price in blood and treasure for appeasement on this scale.

 

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The Left’s Nuclear Fairy Tales

Before the stresses and strains associated with sitting behind the Resolute Desk had turned President Barack Obama’s hair grey, the president still paid homage to the childlike liberal fantasies with which he was preoccupied as a Chicago-based activist. When he still believed that his own force of personality could command the tides to recede, and while he maintained the adoration of a world happy to see anyone other than George W. Bush in the Oval Office, the president lent his support to that most prototypical of “progressive” goals: the rolling of the clock back to a time before mankind split the atom. The fantasy of “global nuclear zero” is a disquieting example of the left’s preference for comforting fictions. The nuclear accord this administration recently reached with the Islamic Republic of Iran has exposed the left’s steadfast refusal to appreciate the forces that govern nuclear deterrence and nonproliferation.  Read More

Before the stresses and strains associated with sitting behind the Resolute Desk had turned President Barack Obama’s hair grey, the president still paid homage to the childlike liberal fantasies with which he was preoccupied as a Chicago-based activist. When he still believed that his own force of personality could command the tides to recede, and while he maintained the adoration of a world happy to see anyone other than George W. Bush in the Oval Office, the president lent his support to that most prototypical of “progressive” goals: the rolling of the clock back to a time before mankind split the atom. The fantasy of “global nuclear zero” is a disquieting example of the left’s preference for comforting fictions. The nuclear accord this administration recently reached with the Islamic Republic of Iran has exposed the left’s steadfast refusal to appreciate the forces that govern nuclear deterrence and nonproliferation. 

In light of the ballyhooed Iran deal, President Barack Obama’s supporters should review a speech he delivered in Prague in April of 2009. It is a testament to this administration’s commitment to transforming soothing bromides into actionable policy.

“Some argue that the spread of these weapons cannot be stopped, cannot be checked – that we are destined to live in a world where more nations and more people possess the ultimate tools of destruction,” the president insisted, adopting his favored tactic of rejecting a “false choice” that the more seasoned among us would call opportunity costs. “Such fatalism is a deadly adversary.”

“If we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then in some way we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable,” Obama fretted. After issuing this bizarre pronouncement, Obama went on to declare that the United States would serve as an example of a nuclear state leading the way by unilaterally dismantling and failing to modernize its nuclear arsenal. As for present and aspiring nuclear states around the world, he advocated the strengthening of the international non-proliferation regime. “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something,” he added. They’re laughing in Tehran.

Six months later, Obama would cancel a Bush-era deal with Poland and the Czech Republic to station radar and interceptor missiles there, angering the uniquely pro-American governments in those former Warsaw Pact states. Though he assured the Czechs in that fantastical speech that the United States nuclear umbrella would continue to keep them safe, the president has only allowed America’s nuclear deterrent to atrophy. Russia, China, India, and Pakistan are all engaged in the modernization and development of their strategic and tactical, low yield arsenals. In Moscow, financial constraints have compelled the Kremlin to rely heavily on these weapons as a crucial element of the Russian Federation’s defense doctrine.

Meanwhile, in America, nuclear scientists are departing for the private sector. Research into the development and effects of nuclear weapons is, as former Defense Nuclear Agency chief Robert Monroe wrote, “virtually nonexistent.” And programs aimed at developing next-generation delivery systems have stalled.

For the left, these are all welcome developments. A fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of mutual deterrence has led liberals to view the West’s defensive nuclear doctrine as needlessly provocative. Similarly, progressives are often at sea when confronted with the failure of toothless nuclear nonproliferation regimes. Obama insisted that the enforcement of nonproliferation demands that “words must mean something,” but talk is cheap. Only the cold calculus imposed on nation states by particular and existential national security threats, or the absence thereof, governs the spread of nuclear weapons technology.

Among the many concerns critics of the Iran deal have voiced is the likelihood that it leaves Iran a nuclear threshold state when it expires, presuming Iran does not violate the terms of the deal and race for nuclear breakout while the paralyzed international community looks on in horror. According to the deal’s liberal defenders, however, that’s not much of a concern. In fact, nuclear proliferation is no real threat at all. “Nuclear proliferation is a myth,” wrote Arash Heydarian Pashakhanlou in a piece republished in The New Republic. They’re laughing in Pyongyang.

“Proliferation, after all, means rapid spread. And whereas nuclear weapons have proliferated ‘vertically’, with existing nuclear states adding to their existing nuclear arsenals, there has not been a ‘horizontal’ nuclear weapons proliferation – that is, a fast spread of these weapons to new nations,” Pashakhanlou wrote. “On the contrary, nuclear weapons have spread slowly across the world.” He noted that 31 predominantly Western nations have the capability to develop a weapons program, but haven’t. What’s more, he noted that many other nations with similar capabilities have shelved or renounced nuclear weapons altogether. Bizarrely, he acts as though this was a natural phenomenon attributable to the laws of physics rather than the robust efforts of the American diplomatic and military sectors.

South Africa, Belarus, and Ukraine surrendered their nuclear stockpiles when and only when the perilous threat environment in their immediate neighborhood abated. Apartheid South Africa, fearing both its anti-Apartheid neighbor states and a Cuban-fueled communist insurgency sheltered in Angola, gave up its weapons program as the Soviet Union began to dissolve in 1991. Pretoria acceded to a comprehensive verification regime when it rejoined the African community following Mandela’s election. Ukraine and Belarus, founding members of the Commonwealth of Independent States treaty with Russia, surrendered their weapons in exchange for international security guarantees. Brazil and Argentina gave up their weapons programs only when the two nations put aside their historic animosities: a diplomatic coup culminating in the Treaty of Tlatelolco. But when the wave of democratization that crested in the mid-1990s began to recede, so did the progress toward reducing the number of nuclear states. The nuclearization of the Asian Subcontinent in the late 1990s is a testament to the forces that induce nations to go nuclear. When the perceived benefits outweigh the considerable costs, particularly when those benefits include self-preservation, no amount of gauzy appeals to common humanity will dissuade nations from developing a nuclear deterrent.

This measurable dynamic is why analysis that predicts a forthcoming era of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is sound. Already, the signs they are right are apparent. In October, Egypt revealed plans to construct a 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor, sparking fears that Cairo’s 60-year-old nuclear weapons program (shelved temporarily following rapprochement with the West and Israel) could be revisited. Turkey, too, has begun constructing nuclear reactors with the assistance of a French-Japanese consortium. And officials in Saudi Arabia, an oil-rich state that has nevertheless contacted with South Korea to build indigenous nuclear reactors, have intimated that they may soon have a nuclear weapon program. That is, if Riyadh does not simply purchase off-the-shelf fissionable devices from Pakistan.

The left’s capacity for self-delusion, particularly where nuclear weapons are concerned, is limitless. The terms of the accord with Iran make that fact plain. But their faith in their own sophistry is incredibly dangerous, and it is making the world a more threatening place at a terrifying pace.

 

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The Deal That Dare Not Be Considered Under Regular Order

Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, the president, within five calendar days after reaching an agreement with Iran, must transmit to Congress the agreement, side agreements, technical understandings, implementing materials, and certain reports and certifications specified in the law. The 60-day period for Congress to vote on the deal then commences. As of yesterday, the transmittal had not yet occurred, which means Congress will have until at least September 15 for its review – unless the administration undermines it, as it plans to do, by taking the deal immediately to the U.N. Security Council for a resolution that revokes all previous U.N. resolutions regarding Iran and endorses the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) instead. Earlier this year, the president tried to keep Congress out of the process entirely; then he agreed to let Congress consider the deal as long as a two-thirds vote was required to stop him; now he effectively seeks to avoid even that. Read More

Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, the president, within five calendar days after reaching an agreement with Iran, must transmit to Congress the agreement, side agreements, technical understandings, implementing materials, and certain reports and certifications specified in the law. The 60-day period for Congress to vote on the deal then commences. As of yesterday, the transmittal had not yet occurred, which means Congress will have until at least September 15 for its review – unless the administration undermines it, as it plans to do, by taking the deal immediately to the U.N. Security Council for a resolution that revokes all previous U.N. resolutions regarding Iran and endorses the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) instead. Earlier this year, the president tried to keep Congress out of the process entirely; then he agreed to let Congress consider the deal as long as a two-thirds vote was required to stop him; now he effectively seeks to avoid even that.

Yesterday, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker, and its ranking member, Senator Ben Cardin, wrote jointly to the president urging him to postpone a UN vote until after Congress considers the deal:

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, a bill which 98 Senators and 400 Representatives supported and you signed, established a 60-day period for Congress to consider the nuclear agreement. We are deeply concerned that your administration plans to enable the United Nations Security Council to vote on the agreement before the United States Congress can do the same.

Doing so would be contrary to your statement that “it’s important for the American people and Congress to get a full opportunity to review this deal…our national security policies are stronger and more effective when they are subject to the scrutiny and transparency that democracy demands.”

Yesterday the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (Ed Royce, R-CA) and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee (Michael McCaul, R-TX) likewise sent a joint letter to the president, asserting that Congress should consider the deal before any UN action:

Any U.S.-supported effort to lift UN sanctions before Congress has weighed-in on the terms of the agreement would undermine our oversight responsibilities and violate the spirit of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which you signed into law. … The full 60 day review period and parliamentary procedures prescribed by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act should be allowed to play out before action at the Security Council.

It is unclear whether the president will slow down. In May, he signed the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015 and then in July negotiated the JCPOA that provides for submission of a new resolution to the U.N. Security Council “promptly [after negotiations are concluded] … for adoption without delay.” The JCPOA makes no mention of the law the president signed.

This is a deal the president has not dared to let Congress consider under regular order. If presented as a treaty requiring two-thirds consent, it could not possibly pass. If presented for a simple majority vote, it would likely not pass either. Having signed a law that permits him to proceed if he simply musters a one-third vote, he now seeks to do an end-run around that too.

One of the consequences of the delays in negotiating with Iran and in submitting the deal to Congress is that the period for Congressional consideration will not end for at least a week after Congress returns from its summer recess, currently scheduled from August 10 to September 7. Earlier this week, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) had the following colloquy with Hugh Hewitt about the resulting procedure:

Hugh Hewitt: … I’ll tell you, it’ll be hard to persuade my audience that this is as serious as it is if the Congress goes on vacation for four weeks. Think that recess ought to be cancelled?

Senator Cotton: Hugh, I’m open to modifying the recess, whether it means to stay in session longer, to complete all the hearings of the Foreign Relations Committee, Intelligence Committee and Armed Services Committee need to conduct, or returning earlier so we have more time to debate the final resolution of disapproval on the back end. I would offer a little bit different perspective, though.

I think it’s a good thing for Senators and Congressmen to have to go home and listen to their constituents about this agreement. If you recall, Hugh, Obamacare faced some of its toughest times during the August recess in 2009 when Senators and Congressmen went home and had town halls and faced their voters. …

So I actually think it could be a healthy thing to have some period of time during this 60 day window that will be coming up for Senators and Congressmen to have to be in their districts and in their states listening to those people they serve, because I’m confident the American people will repudiate this agreement. … I do think it’s a very good thing to have Congressmen and Senators at home listening to those people they serve and having to explain why we are putting a rogue, terror-sponsoring regime on the path to getting nuclear weapons. [Emphasis added].

And having to explain why the president seems hell-bent on getting the JCPOA enshrined in a UN resolution before Congress and the people can weigh in.

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Obama Sacrifices American Sovereignty For Iran Deal

The administration made many compromises in the effort to secure a deal — any deal — with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Perhaps the concession that most frustrated the White House was the fact that frantic negotiations exceeded the period that would have limited Congressional consideration to just 30 days. The longer the terms of this accord are exposed to public scrutiny, the White House sensibly reasoned, the less viable it would become. But last-minute appeals from Iran compelled the negotiators to remain at the table, and Congress will now have until early September to review and vote on the ratification of this treaty. It seems that the White House believes this existential threat to Barack Obama’s central second term foreign policy achievement cannot be tolerated. In their haste to ensure that this deal’s terms become a new, irrevocable status quo, the president has instead turned to the United Nations to secure its imprimatur and render the legislature’s political authority to legitimize international treaty moot.  Read More

The administration made many compromises in the effort to secure a deal — any deal — with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Perhaps the concession that most frustrated the White House was the fact that frantic negotiations exceeded the period that would have limited Congressional consideration to just 30 days. The longer the terms of this accord are exposed to public scrutiny, the White House sensibly reasoned, the less viable it would become. But last-minute appeals from Iran compelled the negotiators to remain at the table, and Congress will now have until early September to review and vote on the ratification of this treaty. It seems that the White House believes this existential threat to Barack Obama’s central second term foreign policy achievement cannot be tolerated. In their haste to ensure that this deal’s terms become a new, irrevocable status quo, the president has instead turned to the United Nations to secure its imprimatur and render the legislature’s political authority to legitimize international treaty moot. 

On Thursday, Foreign Policy reporters revealed that United Nations Ambassador Susan Power began circulating on Monday a legally binding UN Security Council resolution that would cement the nuclear accord’s sanctions relief to which they agreed in exchange for supposedly giving up a nuclear weapon development program. The resolution would also force signatory states to take no actions that would “undermine” the accord. The terms of the nuclear deal were, however, only supposedly reached on Tuesday.

The president was compelled in April to consent to a legislative package that reinforced Congress’s traditional authority to ratify international treaties. Among those compromises with a co-equal branch to which the president reluctantly agreed was the fact he could not unilaterally lift sanctions on Iran during the congressional review period, but that doesn’t mean the international community cannot begin the process of implementing the deal even without the consent of the American legislature.

The UNSC is likely to hold a vote on this new binding resolution by next week.

“The decision to take the deal to the Security Council before the U.S. Congress has concluded its own deliberations on the agreement places lawmakers in the uncomfortable position of potentially breaching a binding resolution by voting down the deal,” read the Foreign Policy report. “The strategy has infuriated some Republican lawmakers, who see the administration making an end run around Congress.”

They should be. According to reporting, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker attempted to storm into a closed-door meeting between Vice President Joe Biden and the committee’s Democrats when he learned of the White House’s attempt to undermine the legislature’s authority. A Fox News producer described Corker as “livid.” But this is hardly surprising. The text of the nuclear deal itself made it clear that the only legislative body that would be afforded any deference in this process was Iran’s.

“‘Adoption Day’ is the next major milestone, coming either 90 days after the approval of the Security Council resolution or ‘at an earlier date by mutual consent,’” read a Wall Street Journal op-ed via the American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Kagan, who noted full adoption could come as early as October.

“At that point Iran commits to apply the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which governs enhanced international inspections. But this commitment is provisional, ‘pending ratification by the Majlis’ — the Iranian parliament,” he continued. “It is again noteworthy that no mention is made of any action to be taken by the U.S. Congress, despite the nod to Iran’s legislature.”

The Congress is an afterthought; an obstacle that must be avoided or handcuffed. Max Boot predicts that this United Nation resolution will have precisely that effect. “If the UN Security Council approves the plan, that will put added pressure on Congress to go along, lest it be accused of sabotaging an international consensus,” he wrote. Bipartisan legislators who are jealous guards of their constitutional authority will bark, Boot noted, but that will be the extent of their protest.

But there is another source of political authority to which the Congress can appeal: the public. Members of the federal legislature deserve nothing less than a long, hot summer of confrontations with their constituents over this deal. Events have been set in motion that the president will attempt to preserve with all his power, but there is a precedent for Democratic politicians bucking a president from their party and derailing a bad treaty. The late West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd personally traveled to Leningrad in 1979 to explain to Leonid Brezhnev “the requirements of our Constitution” that require Senate ratification of foreign treaty. This was no courtesy call; Byrd made the trip in order to ensure that the SALT II agreement President Jimmy Carter submitted to the Senate was an acceptable one. The deal was never ratified by the upper chamber of Congress, and Obama’s Iran gambit can be similarly delegitimized.

The Iran nuclear deal may not be derailed, but its implementation will be cautious and the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nominee warier of embracing it in full if a bipartisan cast of legislators revolt over their sidelining. The White House’s overt efforts to shield this deal from scrutiny even after its terms have been publicly revealed exposes the degree to which this deal merits extensive consideration. Let’s hope that the members of this Congress exercises some of the authority that the founders vested in them and do not simply bow to the will of the imperial executive.

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Sorry, Liberals, Obama is No Reagan

One of the more amusing things to see in journalism is for committed liberals who didn’t work for Ronald Reagan, who didn’t vote for Ronald Reagan and who were fiercely critical of Ronald Reagan to invoke his name in order to instruct conservatives on how to better understand Ronald Reagan. Read More

One of the more amusing things to see in journalism is for committed liberals who didn’t work for Ronald Reagan, who didn’t vote for Ronald Reagan and who were fiercely critical of Ronald Reagan to invoke his name in order to instruct conservatives on how to better understand Ronald Reagan.

The most recent example of this is E. J. Dionne, Jr. of the Washington Post, who argues in his column that Barack Obama’s Iran strategy parallels Reagan’s approach to Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s. In fact, the lessons are exactly the opposite.

For all the criticisms of the left against Reagan that he was a rigid ideologue, he was, in fact, a man who was quite willing and able to adjust his views in light of shifting circumstances. That is precisely what he and Margaret Thatcher did in the case of Mr. Gorbachev.

To their credit, both Reagan and Thatcher were dedicated anti-Communists. They understood the evil nature of the Soviet regime and they took a hard-line stance against it for most of their careers. But equally to their credit, they saw that Gorbachev was someone with whom, in Thatcher’s words in 1984, “We can do business together.” And they did. Both Reagan nor Thatcher were able to revise their assumptions based on new facts, new actors on the world stage, and new opportunities. They were not dogmatists.

Mr. Obama, on the other hand, most assuredly is. He has been ideologically committed to a rapprochement with Iran even before he was elected president; it has been his foreign policy holy grail for his entire tenure. Nothing was going to keep him from striking a bargain with which he was obsessed. (It explains in part why the president was so passive during the Green Revolution in 2009, essentially siding with the Iranian regime over the democratic movement seeking to topple it.)

And here’s a key difference between Reagan and Thatcher and Obama. The former revised their approach based on an accurate assessment of Gorbachev and, therefore, the Soviet regime he ruled. Mr. Obama, on the other hand, was determined to strike a deal with Iran despite there being no compelling evidence that the basic nature of the regime has changed. If anything, in recent years Iran has acted more aggressively and destructively. Consider just a partial review of Iran’s record: support for the butcher in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad and the Shi’ite Houthi militia that seized Yemen’s capital in September; destabilization of Iraq and subversion of the broader Middle East; unmatched aid and succor to terrorist groups (including Hezbollah, several Iraqi Shia militant groups, Hamas, and the Palestine-Islamic Jihad); defiance of U.N. resolutions; white-hot hatred for Israel and the United States; and repression at home. This New York Times story, published just last month, reported on the Obama administration’s own State Department’s annual report on terrorism. According to the Times:

Iran continued its “terrorist-related” activity last year and also continued to provide broad military support to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the State Department said Friday in its annual report on terrorism.

The assessment suggests that neither the election of President Hassan Rouhani nor the prospect of a nuclear accord with the United States and its negotiating partners has had a moderating effect on Iran’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

“In 2014, Iran continued to provide arms, financing, training and the facilitation of primarily Iraq Shia and Afghan fighters to support the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown,” the report said… it paints a picture of an aggressive Iranian foreign policy that has often been contrary to the interests of the United States.

The State Department report itself states “Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism worldwide remained undiminished” in 2014. Contrary to what Mr. Dionne claims, then, Barack Obama is all about trust and completely indifferent to verify. The president was determined to strike a deal with Iran, any deal, for the sake of a deal. The Iranians, knowing this, were able to win one concession after another from the president. It was an astonishing act of abdication and surrender, the product of an unusually adamantine and doctrinaire mind.

The comparison between Reagan and Gorbachev and Obama and Iran, then, isn’t only superficial. It makes precisely the opposite point claimed by the partisan progressives who make it. Mr. Reagan negotiated from a position of strength and operated within the four corners of reality; Mr. Obama negotiates from a position of weakness and operates in a world of his own imagination.

Ronald Reagan was a man of deep and admirable convictions, but his mind was far more supple and empirical than the left ever acknowledged. It was a far more supple and empirical mind, it turns out, than Barack Obama’s.

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An Alternative to Obama’s Bad Deal

Congress is now on a 60-day clock (two days gone already) to offer its verdict on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal with Iran is formally known. There are plenty of concerns about the agreement being raised even by Democrats such as Dennis Ross and Les Gelb. In the Senate, Politico reports, several Democrats have expressed disquiet. If enough Democrats defect (admittedly an unlikely scenario), there is the possibility not only of voting down the treaty but also overriding President Obama’s expected veto. Read More

Congress is now on a 60-day clock (two days gone already) to offer its verdict on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal with Iran is formally known. There are plenty of concerns about the agreement being raised even by Democrats such as Dennis Ross and Les Gelb. In the Senate, Politico reports, several Democrats have expressed disquiet. If enough Democrats defect (admittedly an unlikely scenario), there is the possibility not only of voting down the treaty but also overriding President Obama’s expected veto.

Faced with this opposition to his signature foreign policy achievement, Obama has a hard-ball tactic and a specious argument.

The tactic is to present the agreement for early approval by the United Nations Security Council, something that he could do as soon as next week. If the UN Security Council approves the plan, that will put added pressure on Congress to go along, lest it be accused of sabotaging an international consensus. Sens. Bob Corker and Ben Cardin, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who helped to pass a bipartisan bill giving Congress a 60-day review period, are protesting this White House tactic, but there is no question that it would be effective.

The argument is simple — and oft-repeated. As Obama never gets tired of saying: “Without a deal we risk even more war in the Middle East.” In other words, there is no credible alternative to the current agreement–since no one presumably is in favor of “more war.”

Obama’s argument is superficially compelling but breaks down on several levels.

First, his deal with Iran makes war more, not less, likely. After all, even by the best case scenario, at the end of ten years’ time Iran will be left as a nuclear threshold state — only a turn of the screw away from being a full-fledged nuclear power — with a powerful arsenal of conventional weapons and ballistic missiles. In the meantime, Tehran would have been enriched with well over $100 billion, some portion of which undoubtedly will be used to support terrorists and militias in neighboring states.

Faced with the growing power of the new Persian Empire, the Arab states will not stand idle. They will arm themselves with more conventional and nuclear weapons, and they will support Sunni extremist groups such as the Nusra Front and possibly even the Islamic State as a hedge against Iranian-supported proxies such as Hezbollah and the Badr Organization and the Houthis. This is a recipe for an even more combustible Middle East where the risk of war rises, not falls.

And — a significant point — the kind of war we risk in the future is far worse than in the present. Fighting an Iran armed with nuclear weapons and the best conventional arms and ballistic missiles that their oil billions can buy will be substantially more difficult than fighting today’s Iran which is still severely constrained by sanctions. In fact, a conflict with Iran today would most likely resemble Bill Clinton’s Operation Desert Fox, four days of air strikes against Iraq in 1998. A conflict with Iran in the future will be a much more serious undertaking. That will make Iran feel bullet-proof as it expands its domination of a region with nearly half of the world’s proven oil reserves.

Obama’s argument falls apart for another reason as well: There is an alternative to both his treaty and to war with Iran. That alternative is a better treaty, one that actually dismantles Iran’s nuclear program rather than preserving it. Ah, but the president will say, getting such an agreement is impossible. Iran would never agree.

Maybe, maybe not. Recall that the only time when Iran actually stopped its nuclear weapons work was in 2003, right after the successful U.S. invasion of Iraq, because that was the one moment when it feared American military action. But then U.S. forces became bogged down in Iraq, and the threat faded. Under President Obama, there has been no threat at all because he has made clear that he views bombing Iran as a greater danger than allowing Iran to get the Bomb.

Imagine if the situation were different. Imagine if Obama asked for and received from Congress an Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Iran. Imagine if Obama issued an ultimatum to Iran to dismantle all of its centrifuges or face military action. Imagine if Obama actually began bombing the forces of Iran’s client, Bashar Assad, to make clear that he was serious.  And finally imagine if, instead of negotiating to lift all sanctions, Obama deployed all of his rhetorical and political skills to strengthen sanctions, including lifting waivers that have allowed American allies in Asia to continue doing business with Iran.

This is, admittedly, in the realm of fantasy. It would never happen. But it could happen, at least theoretically. It is all within the president’s power to do, and if it were done it might well ratchet up sufficient pressure on the mullahs to force them to make much more meaningful concessions than they have made to date.

The point of this thought experiment is simply to show that, at least in theory, there is an alternative to the terrible treaty that Obama has negotiated–and it doesn’t embroil the United States in World War III. It merely involves the kind of coercive diplomacy that Obama has been unwilling to carry out.

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