Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barack Obama

Iran Announces Film to Celebrate Israel’s Coming Destruction

President Barack Obama has dismissed arguments that U.S. negotiators should demand that Iran recognize Israel and Israel’s right to exist as part of any final agreement. To do so would be too difficult, the president argues, and not relevant to the narrow goal at hand which is simply to strike an accord to constrain Iran’s nuclear breakout ability for a decade or so. Perhaps no statement better illustrates the moral and cultural equivalence that infuses President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

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President Barack Obama has dismissed arguments that U.S. negotiators should demand that Iran recognize Israel and Israel’s right to exist as part of any final agreement. To do so would be too difficult, the president argues, and not relevant to the narrow goal at hand which is simply to strike an accord to constrain Iran’s nuclear breakout ability for a decade or so. Perhaps no statement better illustrates the moral and cultural equivalence that infuses President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

It is akin to saying North Korea seeks South Korea’s destruction and it would be too complicated to impede Pyongyang’s murderous intent. Russian President Vladimir Putin has expansionist intent? Well, let’s not let his imperialist ambitions toward the Baltics, Poland, and the rest of Ukraine get in the way of our diplomacy.

The Iranian regime’s character isn’t some inconvenient detail; it is the central problem. And as if to underline the problem, the Islamic Republic has announced a new documentary film which will celebrate the life of Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. It’s bad enough lionizing a master terrorist responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the description of the film is even more telling: The film Commander will depict Iran’s and Soleimani’s strategic approach to destroy not only the Islamic State but also “the Zionist regime.” Importantly, the article describing the film was published after agreement on a nuclear framework between the P5+1 and Iran. Let’s hope that with their willful naivete, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry don’t get credit for small but important bit roles.

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Another Palestinian Statehood Bid?

Just three months since the UN Security Council rejected a resolution on Palestinian statehood, it appears another such resolution is being drafted. Back in December the Palestinian bid was rejected outright with no cause for a U.S. veto, but since then the membership of the Security Council has altered to include nations far more likely to support such a resolution. Added to that is the fact that this somewhat toned down French proposal may well win wider backing. Not to mention the growing threats from the Obama administration to withhold America’s veto and abandon Israel at the UN.

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Just three months since the UN Security Council rejected a resolution on Palestinian statehood, it appears another such resolution is being drafted. Back in December the Palestinian bid was rejected outright with no cause for a U.S. veto, but since then the membership of the Security Council has altered to include nations far more likely to support such a resolution. Added to that is the fact that this somewhat toned down French proposal may well win wider backing. Not to mention the growing threats from the Obama administration to withhold America’s veto and abandon Israel at the UN.

The very fact that the French are even planning to submit this resolution so soon after a similar one was rejected is itself an outrageous move. The French had been working closely with the Palestinian Authority regarding December’s statehood bid at the Security Council. The French had lobbied without success in an effort to get the Palestinians to submit a bid that the Europeans on the council could actually vote for. Yet astonishingly, when the Palestinians stuck to their guns and put forward a typically uncompromising text, both France and Luxembourg went ahead and voted in favor of the resolution anyway.

Now France is doing things its own way. This resolution calls for the old 1949/1967 Jordanian armistice lines to be the basis for borders, as well as making part of Jerusalem a Palestinian capital, and finding a “fair” solution for Palestinian refugees. There are conflicting reports on whether the resolution will recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Either way, only the other day President Abbas reiterated before the Executive Committee of the PLO that he would never recognize the Jewish state. So will the Obama administration now be threatening to abandon the Palestinians at the UN as they did following Netanyahu’s comparably milder comments during the Israeli elections?

Whatever the French actually decide to put in the final version, the fact that any such resolution is being put forward by France is itself bizarre. It is often asked why, of all the pressing concerns in the world today, is it the very much not pressing matter of Palestinian statehood that is awarded so much prominence? But one might just as well ask why, of all countries, is it France that has become so taken with forcing a Palestinian state into existence. What possible national advantage could there be for France in seeing a particularly dubious incarnation of a Palestinian state established—not alongside but rather right in the middle of the Jewish state?

Well, for one thing France’s Hollande-led government is desperately unpopular right now. And for another, the country has a large Muslim population that appears to be growing in both size and fury. And that’s the point: this does nothing to significantly advance French interests internationally, but it could do a great deal to improve the prospects of Hollande’s government at home.

This relationship between France’s domestic predicament and its actions on the world stage for the Palestinians is particularly unsettling. Because on the French domestic scene, the situation for Jews is becoming progressively worse.  And as French Jewry is being murdered and hounded out of the country, many are choosing to take refuge in the State of Israel. And yet it is the security of that very Jewish refuge that the French government now seems committed to jeopardizing.

Whether Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius realize it or not, there has never been a worse time to pursue Palestinian statehood. Frankly, it appears that they don’t care. Yet if a small, unstable, financially unviable Palestinian state was imposed on the West Bank tomorrow, there’s a very real chance that it would be well on the way to becoming just another of the region’s Iranian satellites the day after. Worse still, since the French proposal—like the Obama administration—seems determined to make the 1949 armistice lines Israel’s easternmost border, and not the more defensible Jordan valley, there is a very real threat of Islamist groups such as ISIS infiltrating the area from the east.

It is hard to comprehend that at a time when the Middle East is so perilously unstable, permanent Security Council members are hellbent on pursuing a policy that if implemented would make it radically more unstable. Similarly, it is mystifying that at a time when the West’s allies in the region already have their backs against the wall, Western countries appear prepared to push them still further. And all for the sake of feeding the deranged obsession for achieving imminent Palestinian statehood, no matter the cost.

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Obama Admits Iran’s Breakout Time Will Shrink

State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf did some fancy footwork today as she tried to explain a damning admission about the Iran nuclear deal made yesterday by President Obama in an interview with NPR. In addition to dismissing the possibility of asking Iran to back away from its threats about Israel’s existence before putting the Western seal of approval on it becoming a threshold nuclear power, the president also had something to say about the back end of the as-yet-unwritten agreement. In it, he conceded that in years 13, 14, and 15 of the restrictions that will be lifted at the end of that period, the “breakout” period for Iran to build a bomb despite its assurances to the contrary would be down to zero from the current two to three months. That tells us much about how little the nuclear agreement will accomplish in terms of keeping the president’s pledge to prevent Iran from getting a bomb.

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State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf did some fancy footwork today as she tried to explain a damning admission about the Iran nuclear deal made yesterday by President Obama in an interview with NPR. In addition to dismissing the possibility of asking Iran to back away from its threats about Israel’s existence before putting the Western seal of approval on it becoming a threshold nuclear power, the president also had something to say about the back end of the as-yet-unwritten agreement. In it, he conceded that in years 13, 14, and 15 of the restrictions that will be lifted at the end of that period, the “breakout” period for Iran to build a bomb despite its assurances to the contrary would be down to zero from the current two to three months. That tells us much about how little the nuclear agreement will accomplish in terms of keeping the president’s pledge to prevent Iran from getting a bomb.

Here’s what the president said:

What is a more relevant fear would be that in year 13, 14, 15, they have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.

Keep in mind, though, currently, the breakout times are only about two to three months by our intelligence estimates. So essentially, we’re purchasing for 13, 14, 15 years assurances that the breakout is at least a year … that — that if they decided to break the deal, kick out all the inspectors, break the seals and go for a bomb, we’d have over a year to respond. And we have those assurances for at least well over a decade.

And then in years 13 and 14, it is possible that those breakout times would have been much shorter, but at that point we have much better ideas about what it is that their program involves. We have much more insight into their capabilities. And the option of a future president to take action if in fact they try to obtain a nuclear weapon is undiminished.

According to Harf, what the president was trying to say is that he thinks the agreement guarantees a one-year breakout period throughout the years of restrictions. It doesn’t quite read that way though, does it?

A non-spin explication of the passage requires us to accept that the president is already conceding that Iran will continue to work on its nuclear program to the point that breakout times will continue to shrink throughout the agreement. Though he understands that this presents a danger, he appears to be insisting that somehow through the magic of diplomacy and inspections the U.S. will have learned so much about what the Islamist regime is up to that a future president will be in good shape to take immediate action if something is afoot.

There’s a lot to unwrap here. But let’s stick to what Obama said.

The first point to understand is that the president is conceding in a way that he has not previously acknowledged how close the Iranians are to a breakout right now. He’s hoping, and the word to be emphasized is “hope,” that the reductions in Iran’s nuclear infrastructure that are part of the deal he’s promoting will increase that period from three months to a year, even though experts say these are mere estimates while Obama is treating them as certainties.

The next point to hone in on is that although at one point the president claims that he is “purchasing” a longer breakout period throughout the length of the agreement, a few lines later he acknowledges that this won’t really be the case since that time will shrink during the course of the deal. Why is that? He doesn’t say. But what it clearly means is that despite his boasts about shutting down a path to a bomb, the Iranians will be busy throughout the agreement expanding their capabilities and their stockpile of nuclear fuel that can be quickly converted to use for a bomb should they ever choose to do so.

Even worse is the fact that despite the bold talk about tough inspections, the deal as the Iranians understand it doesn’t call for United Nations inspectors to have immediate access to nuclear facilities on a surprise basis. The Iranians will have the right to delay or deny access. That will, no doubt, lead to protests, but given the investment in keeping the deal alive, it’s unlikely that Obama or a Democratic successor would risk it in order to make a point about inspections.

In other words, while the president is making it clear that he understands Iran will continue to make progress toward a bomb even while they are supposedly abiding by the terms of the deal, should they choose to cheat on it–as they have on every previous arrangement–they will be even more likely to be ready to quickly break out to a bomb before it expires. Just as discouraging is the certitude that once it does end, Iran will have not only the wherewithal to immediately start producing a nuclear arsenal; they will be doing so with tacit Western approval in the absence of a follow-up agreement.

What the president was confirming, albeit unwittingly, is that even under the best of circumstances involving Iranian compliance, the most that can be hoped for from this agreement is that the Iranian bomb has been postponed for 15 years. It should be conceded that this is not completely negligible. But under the circumstances under which the West is throwing away all its economic, political, and military leverage for such a minimal achievement, it is a telling statement about the incompetence of American diplomacy.

All this also puts into proper perspective Obama’s refusal to include other issues, such as Iran’s support for terrorism, its threats against Israel’s existence, and its drive for regional hegemony (made clear by its push to take control of Yemen through Shia auxiliaries and financial support and arms supplies for Hamas terrorists in Gaza) in the deal. Rather than ensuring that Iran won’t get the bomb, the deal makes it a threshold nuclear power immediately. The best we can hope for from it going forward is a mere delay until the moment when an aggressive, anti-Semitic Islamist power gets a bomb. At worst, it will do little to reduce a breakout period that is already shrinking down to zero. That’s not much to show for all the concessions that Obama has made during the course of these negotiations.

If this is, as the president insists it is, the best America could possibly have achieved, how much more emboldened must an Islamist regime, which will soon have a bustling economy thanks to the end of sanctions, be to commit further mayhem in an already troubled region?

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Obama’s Right

Whenever Barack Obama says, as he often does, that another war in the Middle East is the only alternative to the deal he is making with Iran, his critics immediately accuse him of setting up a straw man, which indeed he also often does. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the sternest and most effective critic of Obama’s deal, declares that the true alternative to it is not war but “a better deal.” So, too, leading domestic opponents like Senators Lindsay Graham and Tom Cotton.

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Whenever Barack Obama says, as he often does, that another war in the Middle East is the only alternative to the deal he is making with Iran, his critics immediately accuse him of setting up a straw man, which indeed he also often does. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the sternest and most effective critic of Obama’s deal, declares that the true alternative to it is not war but “a better deal.” So, too, leading domestic opponents like Senators Lindsay Graham and Tom Cotton.

Now I consider the agreement Obama has negotiated a dishonorable and dangerous product of appeasement, and so it pains me to side with him against political figures I admire and generally support. Nevertheless, I have to confess that I think he is right in arguing that the only alternative to a deal is war.

By this I do not mean that war is the only alternative to Obama’s deal alone. What I mean is that war is the only alternative to any deal the Iranians would be willing to sign–if, that is, the purpose is really to prevent them from getting the bomb. Obama keeps insisting that this is what his deal will accomplish. But it seems increasingly clear that he no longer thinks, if he ever did, that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would be so dangerous that it must be prevented at all costs from getting them.

Up until a few years ago, there was hardly any dissent from this conviction. Yet while just about every political leader and pundit throughout the West agreed that the threat of military force had to be “kept on the table” in order for peaceful means to succeed, most of them were confident that a judicious combination of carrots and sticks would do the trick and that military force would never need to be taken off the table and actually used.

There was, however, a small minority–myself included–who contended that the Iranians were so determined to build a nuclear arsenal that nothing, not sanctions and not the chance (in Barack Obama’s words) to “get right with the world,” could ever induce them to give up their pursuit of it. And since we were convinced that negotiations could accomplish nothing but buy the Iranians more time to forge ahead, we also thought that the sooner we bombed their nuclear facilities the better.

We were fully aware that such a course was very risky. It would almost certainly trigger Iranian retaliation against our troops in the region and against Israel, and it might well lead to the dire economic consequences that Iran could let loose by blocking the flow of oil. Yet in our view all this was as nothing compared with the nuclear arms race that an Iranian bomb would set off throughout the Middle East.

Even worse, there was also the high probability that Iran–once possessed of the means to make good on their openly and repeatedly stated dream of “wiping Israel off the map”–would either provoke the Israelis into a preemptive nuclear strike or try to beat them to the punch with a preemptive nuclear strike of its own. Either way, the casualties and the destruction would reach unimaginable heights.

Our position was summed up in the slogan “the only thing worse than bombing Iran is letting Iran get the bomb.” And to those like President Obama who charged us with warmongering, our response was that the choice was not between a negotiated settlement and war. It was between a conventional war now and a nuclear war later.

As for the Obama deal, if its purpose were really to prevent the Iranians from getting the bomb, it would be a total failure, if only because it leaves their nuclear infrastructure intact and gives them plenty of room to cheat. But judging by deeds rather than words, it is reasonable to conclude that what Obama is trying to do is not to keep Iran from getting the bomb but to further his quest for a detente, or even a de facto alliance, with Iran. Already we see the foreshadowing of such an alliance in his willingness to cooperate with the Iranians in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and his reluctance to take any steps in the Middle East (against their ally Syria, for example) that might displease them.

At this point, the slogan that best applies comes from Winston Churchill’s devastating comment on Neville Chamberlain’s pact with Hitler at Munich in 1938: “You were given a choice between dishonor and war. You have chosen dishonor and now you will get war”–and this time a nuclear war at that. Unless, that is, the Israelis were to choose conventional war now over nuclear war later. My guess is that they will, but it is just as likely that Obama, despite his repeated assurances that he “has Israel’s back,” will stop them by threatening to withhold the diplomatic support and the resupply of lost weaponry they would need. In that case God help us all.

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What Is Schumer Really Up to on Iran Vote?

Yesterday Senator Chuck Schumer fired a shot over the bow of the White House when he reaffirmed his support for giving Congress a say in the Iran nuclear deal. At a time when President Obama is going all-out to convince the country—and especially wavering Senate Democrats—that he should be trusted to strike a nuclear bargain with the Islamist regime without congressional interference, Schumer’s defection is a blow to the administration. Or is it? Keen political observers need to judge Schumer’s conduct not so much on his own vote but by whether he helps persuade other Democrats to join him. If in the end, the Corker-Menendez bill that would mandate a Senate vote on any agreement with Iran falls short of a veto-proof majority, there will be reasonable suspicions as to whether Democrats played a vote-trading game that will allow senators with strong pro-Israel constituencies to vote against the White House while others provide Obama with the margin he needs.

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Yesterday Senator Chuck Schumer fired a shot over the bow of the White House when he reaffirmed his support for giving Congress a say in the Iran nuclear deal. At a time when President Obama is going all-out to convince the country—and especially wavering Senate Democrats—that he should be trusted to strike a nuclear bargain with the Islamist regime without congressional interference, Schumer’s defection is a blow to the administration. Or is it? Keen political observers need to judge Schumer’s conduct not so much on his own vote but by whether he helps persuade other Democrats to join him. If in the end, the Corker-Menendez bill that would mandate a Senate vote on any agreement with Iran falls short of a veto-proof majority, there will be reasonable suspicions as to whether Democrats played a vote-trading game that will allow senators with strong pro-Israel constituencies to vote against the White House while others provide Obama with the margin he needs.

As I wrote last week, Schumer is in a very difficult position on the Iran debate because of his status as the Senate Democratic leader-in-waiting. Having secured the support of his caucus 21 months in advance of current Minority Leader Harry Reid’s retirement, Schumer is preparing to assume a role that brings with it the responsibility of backing the president in confrontations with Republicans. While on most issues that will be no problem for a reliable liberal such as Schumer, with respect to Israel it is increasingly impossible for any Democrat to remain loyal to the president and to their principles about backing the Jewish state.

Contrary to the White House talking points in which tension between Israel and the United States is blamed on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s supposed tilt toward the Republicans, the fault for this situation is almost completely the work of President Obama. It is he who has sought to split the formerly bipartisan consensus on Israel and Iran sanctions by seeking to persuade Democrats to stick with him on a course of appeasement because of party loyalty. Though some, like currently embattled Senator Bob Menendez, have stood up to Obama, many others have backed away from their previous stands. Others, like Schumer, have tried to plot a middle course in which he seeks to keep good relations with the White House while taking an independent position.

But while it is one thing for members of the Senate who are not part of the leadership to challenge Obama, it is far more difficult for someone like Schumer. Seen in that light, his announcement about support for Corker-Menendez is quite significant. Indeed, it is possible that Schumer’s statement could give cover to other Democrats to follow suit. Given that a dozen are already on record as backing the bill, if all of them vote for it along with a unanimous Republican caucus, that would leave the measure just one vote short of a veto-proof majority.

Getting one more vote for something that he cares deeply about ought to be no trouble for a legislator of Schumer’s acumen. But getting to 67 votes for the bill as currently constituted may be a heavier lift than it looks. There are two distinct possibilities that may derail the effort.

One is if some of the dozen Democrats currently co-sponsoring Corker-Menendez are persuaded by the White House to agree to watering it down. The White House has said it is prepared to live with a version of the bill that would allow a purely symbolic vote on an Iran deal. That could satisfy some Democrats who want to be able to tell their constituents and pro-Israel donors that they had voted for accountability on the deal while at the same time they were actually doing the bidding of the president. Schumer has rightly said that Congress deserves an up-or-down vote on the deal itself rather than a meaningless symbolic ballot on it. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker has said that he also can’t accept that, even if he is someone who appears to want to do business with the administration and may not be counted on to hold the line on opposing a dangerously weak Iran deal. But it is possible that some of the Democratic co-sponsors like Kirsten Gillibrand or Joe Manchin may insist on symbolism rather than the Senate exercising its constitutional obligation to vote on what may be among the most significant foreign treaties agreed to by the United States in the last generation.

But assuming that Corker and Schumer stand up for a real vote, another possibility may prevent a veto-proof majority that seems easily within reach. With the White House ruthlessly lobbying Democrats to vote against the bill in order to defend the president’s prerogatives, it won’t be easy getting to 67. At that point, Schumer and other leading Democrats may engage in one of the age-old traditions of Congress in which votes are traded.

If Schumer is not truly serious about passing Corker-Menendez, what will follow will be a series of bargains struck between various senators and the White House that would allow just enough Democrats to vote for the bill without allowing it to get to 67. In that case, senators like Schumer and Gillibrand might be freed up to vote against the president just as long as they are sure that enough Democrats will vote with him in order to ensure the margin of victory falls short of the two-thirds mark that would make it veto-proof.

If that happens, then the blame will fall not just on the Democrats who allow the president to veto the bill with impunity but on those who helped negotiate the deals that enabled this to happen. And Chuck Schumer, the master-manipulator seeking to serve both the White House and the pro-Israel community, will stand accused as the chief architect of the outcome. Schumer may vote for Corker-Menendez but if it fails to get to 67, you may be sure that he had a hand in that coming to pass. If so, his protestations of sorrow about the failure may convince some of his supporters, but those with a better grasp of how the Senate works will know better.

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Why Is Obama’s Stance on Israel Questioned by So Many?

Yesterday in an interview with the New York Times Thomas Friedman, President Obama purported to be aggrieved that anyone would question his support for Israel or his respect for concerns about its security. Not satisfied with merely asserting his devotion to the Jewish state, he said it was “personally difficult” to hear such criticism and that he would consider his presidency “a failure” if anything he did weakened it. Six years of endless attempts to undermine Israel’s diplomatic position and the last few months of bitter, personal and even vulgar criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu culminating in threats to leave it isolated at the United Nations made his protestations absurd if not completely disingenuous. But Israelis could at least console themselves that in the course of trying to sell his appeasement of Iran to Congress, he was trying to downplay the crisis in the alliance that he had created. But it only took 24 hours for Obama to answer his own question about why so many Americans and Israelis question his attitude about Israel. In another interview, this time with another friendly questioner from the reliably liberal NPR, Obama dismissed the suggestion that Iran be asked to recognize Israel as part of the nuclear deal he is promoting. His reason: doing so would mean asking Iran to change the nature of its regime. To which critics must respond that this is exactly why it can’t be trusted with a nuclear infrastructure.

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Yesterday in an interview with the New York Times Thomas Friedman, President Obama purported to be aggrieved that anyone would question his support for Israel or his respect for concerns about its security. Not satisfied with merely asserting his devotion to the Jewish state, he said it was “personally difficult” to hear such criticism and that he would consider his presidency “a failure” if anything he did weakened it. Six years of endless attempts to undermine Israel’s diplomatic position and the last few months of bitter, personal and even vulgar criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu culminating in threats to leave it isolated at the United Nations made his protestations absurd if not completely disingenuous. But Israelis could at least console themselves that in the course of trying to sell his appeasement of Iran to Congress, he was trying to downplay the crisis in the alliance that he had created. But it only took 24 hours for Obama to answer his own question about why so many Americans and Israelis question his attitude about Israel. In another interview, this time with another friendly questioner from the reliably liberal NPR, Obama dismissed the suggestion that Iran be asked to recognize Israel as part of the nuclear deal he is promoting. His reason: doing so would mean asking Iran to change the nature of its regime. To which critics must respond that this is exactly why it can’t be trusted with a nuclear infrastructure.

Obama said the following to NPR’s Steve Inskeep:

The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.

Obama went on to say that he believed the reason why the deal couldn’t be struck in that matter was because his goal was to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and that he couldn’t count on it changing.

That makes a sort of superficial sense. And if the as yet unwritten deal actually ensured that Iran could never get a nuclear weapon, he might have a strong case for ignoring the nature of the Iranian government. But despite his ardent salesmanship, he can’t honestly claim that it does. Obama has made an endless string of concessions that have allowed to keep its nuclear infrastructure, included its fortified bunker at Fordow, not forced it to export its stockpile of nuclear fuel, reveal the extent of its nuclear research and put an expiration date on the restrictions on its program. All this means that Iran can, if it is patient, build up its nuclear capabilities and then have a bomb in short order at the end of the agreement. Or, if it is not that patient, it can easily cheat its way to a weapon due to the weakness of the deal and the lack of a truly strict inspections regime or the ability of the West to quickly reimpose sanctions.

At best, all Obama has accomplished is to delay an Iranian bomb. At worst, he has allowed it to get close to one with Western permission and after having made it impossible to reassemble the international coalition that might have brought Iran to its knees had it been led by an American president with the guts to stick to a tough line rather than one that folded at every opportunity. The reason for this was that Obama’s goal throughout this process was détente with an aggressive, anti-Semitic and tyrannical regime rather than an effort to keep his 2012 campaign promise to eliminate its nuclear program.

Thus, the question about forcing it to recognize Israel is actually an apt one. Having empowered Iran at a time when its quest for regional hegemony via actions in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and now Gaza are scaring Israelis as well as moderate Arabs, it is fair to ask why the deal ignored Tehran’s support for terrorism and its frequent threats to obliterate Israel.

The president is right that to ask Iran to give up its rhetoric about Israel, let alone its policies aimed at bringing its dream of its elimination about, is to seek to change the nature of its theocratic government. But that is exactly why any deal that leaves people who have such goals in possession of thousands of nuclear centrifuges and a stockpile of nuclear fuel and a free pass to build a bomb in 15 years is tantamount to saying you don’t give a damn about Israel’s legitimate worries about Iran.

It was beneath the dignity of the presidency for Obama to feign hurt feelings about criticism for his efforts to undermine the U.S.-Israel alliance. Had he not spent most of his presidency (with the exception of the one year grace period of a Jewish charm offensive that accompanied his re-election campaign) sniping at Netanyahu, tilting the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians and ignoring the latter’s consistent rejection of peace, there would be no justifications for questioning his bona fides as a friend of Israel.

But when he treats the vile threats against Israel as an insignificant detail about his prized negotiating partner, he betrays his own mindset that sees the Jewish state’s existential worries as a tiresome drag on his diplomatic ambitions. The president would probably prefer that the Iranians pipe down about their desire to destroy Israel but he doesn’t feel strongly enough about it to let it derail his grand design for a rapprochement with Tehran.

The president can complain about his hurt feelings as much as he wants though to do so strains even the credulity of his most fawning interviewers. But by agreeing to a deal that makes Iran a threshold nuclear power without insisting on it dropping its ideology of hate, the president has answered questions about his negative attitude toward Israel by confirming the worst fears of his critics.

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Netanyahu Can’t Back Down On Iran Now

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned up on the Sunday morning talk shows yesterday as the principal voice speaking out against the Iran nuclear deal, there’s little doubt that many people in the White House breathed a sigh of relief. Having sent President Obama out to talk to friendly outlets like the New York Times to defend an agreement that has yet to be put onto paper and which the Iranian regime is characterizing in a wholly different manner from that of the administration, they understand that the more the public understands about the details, the less they are going to like it. Advocacy for a pact about which the best that can be said is that it is better than a false choice of war is not easy. Nor is attempting to claim that the president alone ought to be able to decide about this rather than allowing Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibility to an up or down vote on foreign treaties. Yet the president is probably entirely comfortable if this argument is reduced to another Barack versus Bibi debate such as the one about the latter’s address to Congress last month. But though Netanyahu is being set up for another beating in the press, he has little choice but to continue to speak out.

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When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned up on the Sunday morning talk shows yesterday as the principal voice speaking out against the Iran nuclear deal, there’s little doubt that many people in the White House breathed a sigh of relief. Having sent President Obama out to talk to friendly outlets like the New York Times to defend an agreement that has yet to be put onto paper and which the Iranian regime is characterizing in a wholly different manner from that of the administration, they understand that the more the public understands about the details, the less they are going to like it. Advocacy for a pact about which the best that can be said is that it is better than a false choice of war is not easy. Nor is attempting to claim that the president alone ought to be able to decide about this rather than allowing Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibility to an up or down vote on foreign treaties. Yet the president is probably entirely comfortable if this argument is reduced to another Barack versus Bibi debate such as the one about the latter’s address to Congress last month. But though Netanyahu is being set up for another beating in the press, he has little choice but to continue to speak out.

The arguments about whether Netanyahu erred in accepting House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to speak to Congress earlier this year are moot. In doing so, he allowed the White House to divert the discussion from one about their indefensible appeasement of Iran to whether the prime minister and his GOP hosts had violated protocol or were “insulting” the president. That didn’t help those attempting to muster a veto-proof majority for more sanctions on Iran as well as the Corker-Menendez bill requiring the pact to be ratified by Congress before going into effect. But in the long run the arguments about the speech were meaningless. Netanyahu gave a great speech but nothing he said could have possibly altered the course of the negotiations in Switzerland. Nor did it galvanize Congress into immediate action.

Now that Iran has finally deigned to accept an agreement that allows it to become a threshold nuclear power and gives it a legal path to a bomb if it passes the time until the deal ends or to cheat its way to one if it doesn’t want to wait, Netanyahu has been put in an unenviable position. If he speaks up now, it allows the president to claim that the Israelis are allying themselves with his Republican opponents and gives him more ammunition with which he can try to persuade wavering Democrats to abandon the bipartisan consensus behind Corker-Menendez. If he remains silent, he abandons the field to Obama and his apologists at a time when Israel’s security—and that of its erstwhile antagonists among the moderate Arab nations in the region—is being imperiled.

It is unfortunate that the attitude among many Democrats, including many who claim to be friends of Israel, is such that they no longer hesitate to attack Netanyahu or dismiss his strong arguments about the nuclear deal with impunity. One such was California Senator Dianne Feinstein who more or less told Netanyahu to shut up and stop annoying his betters in an interview on CNN yesterday. Part of the fault for this is Netanyahu’s pre-election statements about the two-state solution and Arab voters that offended many Americans as well as the backwash from the speech controversy. But the bottom line here is that all of these anti-Netanyahu talking points have been ginned up primarily by an Obama administration that wants to silence the most prominent and articulate critic of its feckless quest for détente with Iran.

But whether or not Democrats and other liberals are putting their fingers in their ears and chanting “la, la, la” every time he speaks up about the obvious weaknesses to the Iran deal, Netanyahu can’t back down now.

Some criticized his speech to Congress as a mere appeal to history rather than a pragmatic effort to influence U.S. policy. There was some truth to that point but it is not one that is to Netanyahu’s discredit. Given the presence in the White House of a president who has been obsessed with ending 35 years of enmity between the U.S. and Iran, there was never anything that Netanyahu or any Israeli leader could ever do to stop Obama from getting his deal if he made as many concessions to the Islamist regime as he did. All Netanyahu can do at this point is make clear the danger that the president is creating for Israel, moderate Arabs, and the West.

Moreover, despite the dismissals of his plea for Western patience and courage to broker a better deal with Iran, Netanyahu does have a coherent alternative to Obama’s path. The U.S. could have, and still could if it had a president who wasn’t besotted with Iran détente, use all the economic and political weapons at its disposal to bring Tehran’s economy to its knees. It could insist that any deal be dependent on an end to Iranian support for international terrorism as well as force it to give up far more of its nuclear infrastructure and its fuel stockpile. It won’t because Obama didn’t have the guts to stick to his position when push came to shove.

Israel has no good options to deal with the threat from Iran. It cannot—and won’t—bomb Iran while it is negotiating with the United States. Nor can it shame the West into better behavior. But Netanyahu can speak. In spite of the opprobrium that has been hurled against him, he remains a strong voice respected by most of the American public. The list of improvements in this very bad agreement put forward by the Israelis are informative and will be useful to Congress and members of the American general public. Netanyahu must, if possible, avoid making himself the center of the argument. But he cannot be silent. Though the chances of success in this effort may not be good, he has no choice but to continue to speak lest history judge him and anyone else who punts on the issue as being complicit in one of the most disgraceful examples of appeasement in modern history.

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The Most Troubling Line in Obama’s NYT Interview

Barack Obama sat down with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman over the weekend to defend his framework nuclear deal. Obama argues that he had a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and so he gave it a chance. And he also suggests that it was a risk worth taking. “We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing … people don’t seem to understand,” he said. This, of course, is ironic because the outside world often accuses Americans of navel-gazing and not caring about reverberations in the rest of the world. Here, however, the president once embraced as a multilateralist messiah—and a leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize on rhetoric alone—pretty much acknowledges that he discounts regional reverberations to his actions.

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Barack Obama sat down with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman over the weekend to defend his framework nuclear deal. Obama argues that he had a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and so he gave it a chance. And he also suggests that it was a risk worth taking. “We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing … people don’t seem to understand,” he said. This, of course, is ironic because the outside world often accuses Americans of navel-gazing and not caring about reverberations in the rest of the world. Here, however, the president once embraced as a multilateralist messiah—and a leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize on rhetoric alone—pretty much acknowledges that he discounts regional reverberations to his actions.

It’s almost as if Gerald Ford held an olive branch out to the Khmer Rouge, saying, “We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk,” never mind the regime’s genocidal ideology. Obama and supporters of his deal, of course, would argue that such a characterization isn’t fair: Obama took pains to tell Friedman how hurt he was that so many in Israel and the United States believed the U.S. president was willing to throw the Jewish state under the bus.

Obama also subtly changes U.S. policy. While across administrations, the policy of the United States was that Iran would not get a nuclear weapon, President Obama now seems to envision a Plan B of nuclear deterrence:

The notion that Iran is undeterrable — “it’s simply not the case,” he added. “And so for us to say, ‘Let’s try’ — understanding that we’re preserving all our options, that we’re not naïve — but if in fact we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies, and who knows? Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place.

First of all, Obama’s confidence is misplaced. The Iranian regime may not be suicidal, but what if it’s terminally ill? The most ideologically pure elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps would have custody over any nuclear arsenal, and if the regime were collapsing around them, they might launch for ideological reasons knowing the regime was over anyway. This is one of the reasons why America’s Gulf allies were so upset when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised a trial balloon of a nuclear umbrella should Iran achieve a nuclear weapon.

The most troubling line in Obama’s interview—and one upon which Friedman didn’t push the president—was this:

I’ve been very clear that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon on my watch, and I think they should understand that we mean it.

Here’s the problem: Obama’s watch will last just over another 20 months. The job of a U.S. president isn’t to squander tremendous diplomatic capital and leverage to kick the can down the road for 20 months and then claim, well, “it didn’t happen on my watch.” With this statement, Obama is effectively acknowledging that Iran very well develop a military nuclear capacity during the next administration. After all, the so-called nuclear fatwa which Obama repeatedly cites very specifically avoids the word never.

Obama’s political career may end in 2017. He may be short-sighted enough to care only about what such a deal would mean for him. Alas, neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia nor the rest of the world has the ability to force its security to conform to the exigencies of a Washington political calendar. It’s not Obama’s watch—or any politician’s tenure—that should be the basis for judging a deal’s success. It should be whether or not the deal allows Tehran to pursue a nuclear weapon should it so choose. Alas, it seems, Obama has just acknowledged voiding another red line.

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Iran Understands Momentum; Obama Does Not

President Barack Obama bases his surrender to Iran’s nuclear ambitions on the notion that his olive branch is reversible. In effect, he believes, it can’t hurt to talk. That’s a notion inculcated into diplomatic culture, and put forward by at various times by accomplished diplomats like Nicholas Burns and Ryan Crocker. It’s also a notion which is demonstrably wrong.

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President Barack Obama bases his surrender to Iran’s nuclear ambitions on the notion that his olive branch is reversible. In effect, he believes, it can’t hurt to talk. That’s a notion inculcated into diplomatic culture, and put forward by at various times by accomplished diplomats like Nicholas Burns and Ryan Crocker. It’s also a notion which is demonstrably wrong.

A nuclear deal isn’t like mail ordering a child’s toy with 100-percent guarantee on returns. Once Obama went down the path toward even a framework agreement—never mind that the framework seems increasingly illusionary by the day—he effectively ceded any and all momentum to the Iranians.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif once studied in the States. He speaks English. But spending time in America and speaking English does not make a foreign ideologue sympathetic to America; rather, it simply enables that ideologue to be able to communicate more easily with Americans. Just as after a visit to Damascus as senator, John Kerry became convinced of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s reformist nature, now as secretary of state, Kerry has allowed Zarif to substitute charm for sincerity.

Hence, Zarif’s triumphalist gloating upon his return to Tehran: Bahman Kalbasi, a correspondent for BBC TV Persian Service, tweeted, “State TV host: ‘But the US says the architecture of sanctions stays?’ Zarif laughs: It has already collapsed.” Rouhani, likewise, has been triumphalist as he once again lives up to his reputation as the regime’s “Mr. Fix-It,” getting the financial relief the Iranian leadership so craved at little or no cost to the Islamic Republic itself. The sanctions, Obama promised, would “snap back into place” if Iran didn’t meet its obligations.

But since the death fatwa against author Salman Rushdie, through the early days of Critical Dialogue (when, against Europe’s outstretched hand, Iranian hitmen assassinated dissidents in downtown Berlin), and after the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center, the Iranian government understands that the European Union cares more about mercantile issues than human rights or international security. Nor does Russian President Vladimir Putin even bother about the pretense of caring about human rights. Zarif is right; international sanctions crafted and carefully pushed through the Security Council by men like John Bolton (something Obama and partisans forget) have effectively been squandered upon the altar of Obama’s ego and Kerry’s ambition. There is no going back. Deal or no deal on June 30, Iran’s goal in negotiations has always been sanctions relief, not nuclear normalization. Tehran has won; international momentum against it has evaporated. From Iran’s perspective, Zarif has reason to gloat.

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Does Iran Agreement Make an Israeli Unity Government More Likely?

The negotiating posture of the Jewish Home party’s Naftali Bennett can best be described as a strange mix of hardball and desperation. After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats in last month’s Knesset elections, he was tasked with forming a governing coalition. Jewish Home’s share of the Knesset seats dropped to single digits. The result has left Bennett demanding a princely sum to join the coalition while also insisting he’s being ignored so Likud can bring Labor into the coalition. Only a couple of weeks ago it seemed completely unrealistic, but is it less so now in light of the U.S.-Iran “framework” agreement?

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The negotiating posture of the Jewish Home party’s Naftali Bennett can best be described as a strange mix of hardball and desperation. After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats in last month’s Knesset elections, he was tasked with forming a governing coalition. Jewish Home’s share of the Knesset seats dropped to single digits. The result has left Bennett demanding a princely sum to join the coalition while also insisting he’s being ignored so Likud can bring Labor into the coalition. Only a couple of weeks ago it seemed completely unrealistic, but is it less so now in light of the U.S.-Iran “framework” agreement?

The argument goes something like this. The classic cliché of Israeli politics is that only the left can make war and only the right can make peace, because each would have enough support for the initiative from the opposition leaders to prevent domestic politics from getting in the way. It’s an exaggeration but there’s much truth to it. Netanyahu signed a deal with Arafat at Wye River and Ariel Sharon instituted the Gaza disengagement, while Israel’s major land wars were mostly wrapped up by the time the left lost its first Knesset election.

This dynamic, plus the politician’s ever-present desire to be a part of legacy-defining events, has made a possible unity government in which Likud would bring Labor into the coalition more realistic. The event in question, of course, is an attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

If a final deal on Iran’s nuclear program does actually get signed, whether it’s by the June 30 deadline or a later date, the devil will be in the details. But the framework agreement, intended to be an outline for a final deal, is a monument to the Obama administration’s serial capitulation.

A best-case scenario is that the deal would establish and legitimize Iran as a threshold nuclear power–though it is unlikely anyone will be able to see the best-case scenario from wherever we actually end up in late June. All of which means Obama is willing to toss some more fuel on the fires of the Middle East on his way out the door. The allies he’s abandoned to this future will have to decide how best to put out the flames of Obama’s failures.

One way would be do something Netanyahu has always wanted to avoid: an Israeli strike on Iran. The Obama administration has boasted in the past that it exploited Netanyahu’s hesitation to use military force and Israel’s trust in America to prevent a strike on Iran. Team Obama now thinks an Israeli strike is so unlikely as to openly mock Bibi’s moderation (a moderation they won’t admit to unless it involves getting to toss grade-school insults at the Israelis).

Isaac Herzog, whose Labor Party seemed poised to go into the opposition, is not the dove the White House obviously thinks he is. Hence, a unity government might make sense.

But those who advocate a unity government, such as Haaretz’s Aluf Benn, are missing the fact that it is Herzog, not Netanyahu who is likely to be the largest impediment to such a coalition. Benn writes:

Netanyahu needs Herzog as a moderate foreign minister, who will be in charge of repairing relations with the Obama administration. There is no one suitable for the job in the proposed right-wing government. … Appointing Herzog will also enable Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, a right-wing political hack who is disconnected from the administration, to be replaced by a professional diplomat with experience and multiple connections, such as Israel’s ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor.

Why would Netanyahu dislike this arrangement? He would oppose swapping out Dermer not because he’d have any objection to Prosor but because it would be a stinging rebuke to his own close advisor. But giving a major position like foreign minister to Herzog would have a great deal of upside for him. Bringing Herzog into the government gives him an excuse not to have to choose between Avigdor Lieberman and Bennett for the Foreign Ministry. It would give him a more expansive governing mandate. It would not only tamp down leftist discontent if Israel does decide it needs to strike Iran but would also make it more challenging for Western leaders to whine about right-wing militancy after such a strike. It would clear the space, also, for possible electoral reforms that might make coalition-building less of a headache. And it would have Labor buy-in on Netanyahu’s preferred economic policies.

Indeed, in 2009 Netanyahu brought Labor into his coalition, though he perhaps wanted to have Ehud Barak as his defense minister more than any other benefit the party brought to the table. And he wanted the opposition party, Tzipi Livni’s Kadima, in the coalition too. Why not? The more the merrier.

But is there such a clear case for Herzog? Here he has to game out a few scenarios. Kadima went into steep decline soon after that election and Livni lost a battle for the party’s leadership. So Herzog might look at that and think the lesson is he should join the government when given the opportunity. Yet at the same time, Labor’s joining the Netanyahu government in that very same coalition was the final straw for Laborites who finally had their opportunity to get rid of Barak.

Herzog also has to be quite careful about internal dissent. After improving Labor’s gains in the last election, then-party leader Shelly Yachimovich lost her leadership battle to … Herzog. Meanwhile, Yachimovich might have been better positioned to lead Labor in this past election, in which economic issues played an important role. The last thing Herzog needs now is buyer’s remorse from his own supporters.

Additionally, Labor was neck and neck with Likud in the polls and then established a lead before the elections. Yet they lost, and it wasn’t all that close either. Perhaps Labor dropped the ball, or perhaps they just didn’t see what Likud pollsters swear they saw all along. Whatever the case, discontent with Herzog is likely to bubble up to the surface.

Will joining a Netanyahu government protect his leadership? It can be argued that it will increase his national stature by demonstrating a willingness to put patriotism above politics. And it might show the country that he is, in fact, no dove, and thus make him a more plausible prime minister going forward.

The problem is that all these benefits will likely inflame his leftist base, who are not so hawkish and who are sensitive to the idea of being coopted by Likud. Herzog will try to find the right balance, but it’s doubtful Netanyahu is the one who needs convincing here.

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Iran Funds the Building of New Terror Tunnels for Hamas

President Obama’s all-out effort to sell his deal with Iran has largely gained a sympathetic hearing in the press. But while Obama is trying to pretend to be on his guard about Iran’s ambitions and even, in a departure from recent statements, showing respect for Israel’s legitimate concerns about this, the Iranians are, once again, demonstrating their contempt for Western illusions. The point isn’t just that Iran’s understanding of their commitments under the yet-to-be-drafted deal differs markedly from what the United States has claimed. It’s that the underlying purpose of President Obama’s initiative—allowing Iran to “get right with the world” and to inaugurate a new era of cooperation with Tehran—is being undermined by Iranian actions that already demonstrate that they intend to redouble efforts to achieve their goal of regional hegemony and destabilization of U.S. allies. Even before the announcement of last week’s agreement, Iranian-backed Shia rebels were taking over Yemen. But now comes news that makes the president’s hopes for a more moderate Iran seem even more ludicrous: the Islamist regime is funneling money to Hamas in Gaza to help it rebuild the tunnels it hopes to use to launch new terror raids inside Israel.

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President Obama’s all-out effort to sell his deal with Iran has largely gained a sympathetic hearing in the press. But while Obama is trying to pretend to be on his guard about Iran’s ambitions and even, in a departure from recent statements, showing respect for Israel’s legitimate concerns about this, the Iranians are, once again, demonstrating their contempt for Western illusions. The point isn’t just that Iran’s understanding of their commitments under the yet-to-be-drafted deal differs markedly from what the United States has claimed. It’s that the underlying purpose of President Obama’s initiative—allowing Iran to “get right with the world” and to inaugurate a new era of cooperation with Tehran—is being undermined by Iranian actions that already demonstrate that they intend to redouble efforts to achieve their goal of regional hegemony and destabilization of U.S. allies. Even before the announcement of last week’s agreement, Iranian-backed Shia rebels were taking over Yemen. But now comes news that makes the president’s hopes for a more moderate Iran seem even more ludicrous: the Islamist regime is funneling money to Hamas in Gaza to help it rebuild the tunnels it hopes to use to launch new terror raids inside Israel.

As Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports:

Iran has sent Hamas’s military wing tens of millions of dollars to help it rebuild the network of tunnels in Gaza destroyed by Israel’s invasion last summer, intelligence sources have told The Sunday Telegraph. It is also funding new missile supplies to replenish stocks used to bombard residential neighbourhoods in Israel during the war, code-named Operation Protective Edge by Israel.

Much like the White House’s determination to ignore everything the Iranians have continued to say about eliminating Israel, not to mention its history of violating commitments, this effort isn’t influencing the administration’s determination to press ahead with the nuclear agreement. Everything that might distract us from embracing the possibility that Iran is changing and will use its nuclear technology for peaceful purposes is deemed irrelevant to the issue at hand by the president and his defenders. So no one should think the thought of Iran directly attempting to foment a new war between Israel and Hamas will lessen the president’s enthusiasm for what he clearly believes to be a legacy achievement.

But those who, unlike President Obama, are not already besotted with the notion of détente with Iran should think very seriously about what this means for the future of the Middle East.

Even if the Iranians observe the rather loose limits on their nuclear ambitions and do not cheat their way to a bomb—as they could easily do given their continued possession of their nuclear infrastructure and stockpile—it must be understood that the deal makes their eventual possession of a bomb inevitable once the agreement expires. But even if we are to, as the administration demands, ignore this certainty, we must confront just how much the economic boost the deal will give its economy and the legitimacy it will grant the regime will impact its efforts to spread its influence and sow the seeds of conflict between Arab and Jew as well as Sunni and Shia.

It is one thing to claim, as President Obama does, that he got the best deal with Iran that was possible. On its face, that assertion can sound reasonable even if it is given the lie by the fact that he spent the last two years discarding all of his political and economic leverage over the Islamist regime and making endless concessions that make it a threshold nuclear power. But it is not much of a secret that the president sees his diplomatic efforts as having a larger goal than a technical and rather insubstantial check on the nuclear program that he pledged to dismantle in his 2012 reelection campaign.

The ultimate goal of the negotiations is to end the 36 years of strife between Iran and the West that followed the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought the theocratic regime to power. After decades of supporting terrorism against the West and threatening Israel’s destruction, the president is laboring under the delusion that what he has done is to open up a chance for a true rapprochement with Iran. That’s the argument some of his cheerleaders like the New York Times’s Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof have been making. They have long campaigned for changing the West’s view of Iran from that of a rigid, tyrannical, aggressive, and anti-Semitic regime to one that Americans can feel comfortable doing business with and embracing. The images of a kind, friendly Iran these writers and others like them have worked so hard to promote is based on the notion that the differences between the countries are just politics. The president’s own assertions about Iran being a “complicated” country that is on some levels no different from the United States echoes these disingenuous claims.

But while Iran has political factions that contend for influence and is populated by many nice people who might want to be kind to visiting Americans, none of this changes the fact that its government and military have very different intentions. The real Iran is not the picture postcard version writers like Cohen and Kristof give us but the cold hard facts of Iranian arms shipments and financial support for terrorists in Gaza and its auxiliaries in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria. None of those “complicated” factions disagree about war on Israel or their nuclear goals.

This agreement will not just empower Iran’s nuclear efforts but will strengthen the regime economically in such a way as to make its replacement by more moderate forces unthinkable.

While Americans dream of an entente with exotic Persia, Iran’s leaders are busy preparing the way for violence. The Gaza terror tunnels and missiles are just the tip of the iceberg of Iranian efforts. The American seal of approval that the deal will give will make it easier for them to spread their influence, further isolating and endangering both moderate Arab governments and Israel. That is the cold, hard reality of Iranian power that defenders of this effort to appease Tehran must take into account. Senators pondering whether to vote to give themselves the right to approve the deal should be focused on events in Gaza and Yemen and not just the president’s empty promises about a new era of hope and change in the Middle East.

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America’s Cooperation with Iran in Iraq Has Consequences

The Obama administration seems to be taking a victory lap after ISIS fighters were pushed from Tikrit, but the aftermath of the town’s fall has not been pretty. The Iranian-backed Shiite militias, which the administration disingenuously claimed had left the scene prior to the start of U.S. bombing, rushed into the Sunni town and launched a wave of looting, murder, arson, and general mayhem.

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The Obama administration seems to be taking a victory lap after ISIS fighters were pushed from Tikrit, but the aftermath of the town’s fall has not been pretty. The Iranian-backed Shiite militias, which the administration disingenuously claimed had left the scene prior to the start of U.S. bombing, rushed into the Sunni town and launched a wave of looting, murder, arson, and general mayhem.

Reuters reports: “Near the charred, bullet-scarred government headquarters, two federal policemen flanked a suspected Islamic State fighter. Urged on by a furious mob, the two officers took out knives and repeatedly stabbed the man in the neck and slit his throat….In addition to the killing of the extremist combatant, Reuters correspondents also saw a convoy of Shi’ite paramilitary fighters – the government’s partners in liberating the city – drag a corpse through the streets behind their car.”

Some might say “good riddance” to the supposed ISIS fighters who are receiving what might be seen as rough justice. But of course there is no impartial court to judge guilt or innocence. Those being tortured could have been chosen simply because they are Sunnis, not because they were members of ISIS. Certainly the stores being looted and the homes being burned did not belong to ISIS but to local Sunnis. The abuse they have suffered at the hands of Shiite militias will make Sunnis resist all the harder in places like Mosul when the Shiite hordes appear before their gates.

And who is responsible for this undisciplined mob violence? The primary perpetrators are of course the Shiite militias themselves, but their enablers are both Iran and the United States. In a remarkably candid account, the New York Times disposes of administration claims that it is not cooperating with Iran.

Writes the Times: “In the battle to retake Saddam Hussein’s hometown, Tikrit, from the Islamic State, the United States and Iran have found a template for fighting the Sunni militancy in other parts of Iraq: American airstrikes and Iranian-backed ground assaults, with the Iraqi military serving as the go-between for two global adversaries that do not want to publicly acknowledge that they are working together.”

Further, the Times quotes a “senior administration official” disavowing the comments made by Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of Central Command, who told Congress: “I will not — and I hope we will never — coordinate or cooperate with Shiite militias,” which of course  were responsible for killing hundreds of U.S. soldiers in Iraq from 2003 to 2011. The administration official told the Times that Austin’s comments  “may have gone a little far.” “What we’ve been trying to say is that we are not coordinating directly with Iran,” said the official, suggesting that indirect cooperation is just fine.

The administration may be proud of its Machiavellian machinations, but it should own up to the consequences of its indirect cooperation with Iran: The U.S. is enabling an Iranian power grab in Iraq that is not only enhancing Iran’s regional power but also marginalizing the Sunni community and driving them further into the arms of ISIS. It is hard to imagine a more self-defeating or ill-advised policy.

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Inability to Free Iran’s American Hostages Shows Deal’s Faulty Logic

With the United States, as part of the P5+1, striking a framework deal with Iran, the issue of the four American hostages seized in and still held by Iran has once again come to the forefront. It’s hard to conceive that the United States would have given the Islamic Republic of Iran $11.9 billion in unfrozen assets and not received a simple gesture of goodwill in return, although it is also true that the United States should not offer concessions to regimes like Iran and North Korea which so often seek to profit from seizing Americans.

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With the United States, as part of the P5+1, striking a framework deal with Iran, the issue of the four American hostages seized in and still held by Iran has once again come to the forefront. It’s hard to conceive that the United States would have given the Islamic Republic of Iran $11.9 billion in unfrozen assets and not received a simple gesture of goodwill in return, although it is also true that the United States should not offer concessions to regimes like Iran and North Korea which so often seek to profit from seizing Americans.

Beyond the fate of the individual hostages, the inability of the Obama administration to release them—despite Secretary of State John Kerry insisting he raises their cases at every opportunity—suggests a greater logical flaw in Obama’s outreach to Iran. In briefings with Congress, former Policy Planning Director Jake Sullivan—an initiator of the talks under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—has suggested that Team Obama sees Rouhani as a Deng Xiaoping figure. They believe that by working with Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and giving them a victory of an economy-rescuing deal, they can permanently strengthen the reformist camp against regime hardliners. This represents a fundamental misreading of Rouhani, who is Khamenei’s “Mr. Fix-It,” but even that can be put aside.

Here’s the problem: If Obama and Kerry give Rouhani and Zarif a pass on the hostages because, presumably, Rouhani and Zarif say that they are held by hardline circles to embarrass the United States and cannot easily be sprung, then what does that say about Rouhani and Zarif’s ability to impact the more troubling aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, for example its possible military dimensions. After all, if Rouhani and Zarif cannot overcome hardliners on such a simple matter as the hostages, how can they be expected to overcome the Iranian hardline bureaucracy which controls the nuclear program? Obama may believe he has negotiated a “historic” deal, but all indications are he might have simply bought the Brooklyn Bridge—or perhaps the Karun River Bridge—because if Team Obama’s failure to spring the hostages is any indication, they are negotiating with Iranian figures who lack the power to impact Iranian policy. No wonder Rouhani is already back-peddling.

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Rouhani Throws Down the Gauntlet on Lifting Sanctions

Despite President Obama’s straw man argument positing a false choice between diplomacy and war, critics of Obama administration strategy object not to the idea of diplomacy with Iran, but rather the manner in which Team Obama carried it out. Whereas Ronald Reagan prefaced his diplomacy with the Soviet Union with a massive military buildup both to negotiate from a position of strength and, in hindsight, to bankrupt his Soviet adversary, President Obama’s willingness to unfreeze assets and offer sanctions relief suggested the White House considered leverage a dirty word.

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Despite President Obama’s straw man argument positing a false choice between diplomacy and war, critics of Obama administration strategy object not to the idea of diplomacy with Iran, but rather the manner in which Team Obama carried it out. Whereas Ronald Reagan prefaced his diplomacy with the Soviet Union with a massive military buildup both to negotiate from a position of strength and, in hindsight, to bankrupt his Soviet adversary, President Obama’s willingness to unfreeze assets and offer sanctions relief suggested the White House considered leverage a dirty word.

When engaging rogue regimes—and Iran is the textbook example of the concept encoded by President Clinton’s national security advisor Tony Lake—it is important to recognize that not all parties come to the bargaining table motivated by the same desires. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry may truly have sought to bring an enemy in from the cold, and their actions may also have been motivated by ambition, hence the liberal use of the term “historic” in their subsequent statements. But for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, traditionally the supreme leader’s Mr. Fix-It, the goal was simply to relieve the financial pressure decades of mismanagement, declining oil prices, and sanctions had put upon the Islamic Republic.

Hence, as Seth Mandel notes, the idea of how to implement, and the extent of, sanctions relief seems increasingly to loom large and could potentially disrupt the entire accord. Obama suggested—wisely—that any relief would be gradual, calibrated to Iranian behavior. Speaking from the Rose Garden yesterday, he said:

In return for Iran’s actions, the international community has agreed to provide Iran with relief from certain sanctions — our own sanctions, and international sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.  This relief will be phased as Iran takes steps to adhere to the deal.

The State Department’s press sheet, for its part, says:

Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments. U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place… All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency).

That’s not the Iranian understanding, however, nor does the Iranian leadership believe this to be an issue that can be swept under the rug. Speaking on Iranian television today at around 2 p.m. Tehran time, Rouhani said:

All sanctions will be terminated on the day of the agreement’s implementation. Based on this framework, all sanctions — financial, economic, and banking sanctions — will be terminated on the same day that the agreement is implemented. On the same day of the deal’s implementation, all [UN Security Council] Resolutions against Iran — meaning six resolutions — will be terminated.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been increasingly strident in his tweets regarding the question of when Iran would see sanctions relief.

The questions before President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are: first, whether they will forfeit what little remaining leverage the international community has in order to keep Iran at the table. And, second, how such a misunderstanding could occur between Kerry and Zarif after the two spent so much time together. Simply put, did Zarif say one thing to Kerry, and then another to Rouhani? If so, then what does this suggest about the charming diplomat’s integrity and the future course of the agreement?

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Obama’s Legacy and the Verdict of History

Yesterday’s announcement of a framework for a nuclear deal with Iran is being sold by the administration as a historic foreign-policy triumph for President Obama. Most of his press cheering section seems to agree. The president has told us that he has begun a process that forecloses Iran’s path to a bomb. Just as importantly, he sees it as an achievement which, like his massive federal health-care initiative, will fulfill his boasts about changing the world that were so much a part of his initial campaign for the presidency. Though the Iran framework is filled with so many caveats and loopholes that may allow Iran to easily evade its strictures and will, in any event, grant it impunity to do as it likes in ten or 15 years, this seems a flimsy foundation for a legacy. Yet the president may be right about it being integral to his legacy. The only problem is that what could follow from this turning point may not burnish his reputation as a peacemaker as much as it will solidify his place in history as an appeaser that empowered a violent, hate-driven regime.

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Yesterday’s announcement of a framework for a nuclear deal with Iran is being sold by the administration as a historic foreign-policy triumph for President Obama. Most of his press cheering section seems to agree. The president has told us that he has begun a process that forecloses Iran’s path to a bomb. Just as importantly, he sees it as an achievement which, like his massive federal health-care initiative, will fulfill his boasts about changing the world that were so much a part of his initial campaign for the presidency. Though the Iran framework is filled with so many caveats and loopholes that may allow Iran to easily evade its strictures and will, in any event, grant it impunity to do as it likes in ten or 15 years, this seems a flimsy foundation for a legacy. Yet the president may be right about it being integral to his legacy. The only problem is that what could follow from this turning point may not burnish his reputation as a peacemaker as much as it will solidify his place in history as an appeaser that empowered a violent, hate-driven regime.

It is possible that some of the president’s hopes will be fulfilled. Perhaps Iran’s leaders have been telling the truth about not wanting to build a bomb, though everything they have done leads to the opposite conclusion. Perhaps they will keep their promises and not cheat on a deal that will give them ample opportunities to do so even though the history of this regime tells us that this would be the first time such a thing would happen. It is also possible that those who constantly tell us of the innate moderation of the Iranian people will be right and the opening up of the Iranian economy to the world will set in motion fundamental changes in their society that will transform its government and cause it to cease its campaign to undermine the stability of Arab governments in the region, stop supporting terrorism, and give up its dream of obliterating Israel.

If all those things happen, then President Obama has been right and his critics, including the majority of both houses of Congress and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, will have been wrong. But everything we know about the nature of the regime that he has pursued so relentlessly informs us that this is unlikely to be the case.

Indeed, the course of the negotiations into which the president has invested so much time and political capital shows that Tehran is prepared to ferociously defend not only its nuclear options but also its ideology. Even as the president was instructing his negotiators to give way on almost every key point during the negotiations—including the location of Iran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel, the retention of thousands of centrifuges, the reimposition of sanctions, and its unwillingness to tell the truth about the extent of its military research program—the Islamist regime was expanding its reach throughout the Middle East as its auxiliaries and allies strengthened their hold on Syria, Iraq, and now Yemen. Nor did it trouble to lower its voice about threatening Israel with destruction (a point which one of its top military leaders said was “not negotiable” just days before the happy announcement in Lausanne). Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plea that final deal signed in June includes Iran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist is a forlorn hope that has zero chance of fulfillment. That’s not only because Iran would never do so but because the United States has not asked for such a thing any more than it has demanded that an end to Iranian support for terrorism or its building of ballistic missiles be included in the deal.

Having agreed to measures that will jumpstart an Iranian economy that might have been brought to its knees had President Obama stuck to the strategy that brought the regime to the negotiating table, the notion that it will moderate its ambitions is simply wishful thinking. Nor is there any reason to think that a government that has always treated its nuclear program as a key symbol and tool of their ability to defy the West will step back from their ambition to create a weapon.

At the same time, Arab governments whose existence is being threatened by Iranian-back subversion, and who rightly understand that they are as much in the crosshairs of Tehran as Israel, will now begin their own races to a bomb. Though President Obama clings to the notion that what he has done is to help Iran “get right with the world,” its neighbors understand that what is happening is the strengthening of a dangerous revolutionary power whose goals have nothing to do with peace.

President Obama may get his deal in June and he may even be able to pick off enough Democratic senators whose party loyalty exceeds their devotion to principles to prevent the passage of the Corker-Menendez bill that would force any such agreement to be subject, as it should under the Constitution, to a vote by Congress. He may well exit the White House claiming that his diplomacy has prevented Iran from getting a bomb, making him a great success in his own eyes and in those of his many fans in the press and the country.

But if we strip away the gloss of false optimism and subject the deal to cold, hard logic, the best-case scenario for this effort is that it will put off an Iranian bomb by a decade, though it will become a threshold nuclear power almost immediately. In the meantime, a dangerous Islamist regime will be strengthened, American allies weakened, and the stage will be set for a series of proxy wars across the Middle East as well as a surge in Iranian-backed terrorism. A more pessimistic assessment would see Iran cheat its way to a bomb much sooner with an emboldened Tehran using its enhanced diplomatic, economic, and political power to transform the Shia-Sunni split from a regional source of tension to a new age of religious wars in the region with untold consequences and casualties. Either way, U.S. influence will suffer a blow with equally uncertain costs.

President Obama should enjoy the adulation he is receiving today. He is a young man who will hopefully enjoy a long post-presidency that will enable him to witness what his attempt to forge a legacy will mean for the world. But that is a dangerous position for any appeaser to be in. If, contrary to his hubristic assumptions, Iran is not transformed into a peaceful partner of the U.S., he will have an equally long time to account for his folly and to face the awful truth about the destruction caused by his feckless pursuit of détente with Iran.

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The Iran Deal “Framework” Is Bad, But It’ll Probably Get Even Worse

Lost in much of the discussion about why President Obama was so determined to announce a “framework” for an Iran deal this week is that, in addition to delaying sanctions and portraying opponents of the agreement as warmongers, the president was surely aware that before it’s actually signed, this deal is likely to get worse. And there are two ways the already disappointing deal can degenerate further between now and then.

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Lost in much of the discussion about why President Obama was so determined to announce a “framework” for an Iran deal this week is that, in addition to delaying sanctions and portraying opponents of the agreement as warmongers, the president was surely aware that before it’s actually signed, this deal is likely to get worse. And there are two ways the already disappointing deal can degenerate further between now and then.

The first way is obvious: all the vague language in the deal leaves it open to fudging on both sides. And the Obama administration, which has telegraphed its desperation for a deal, will be negotiating from a position of weakness until the June 30 deadline. Will Obama walk away from an imperfect PMD (possible military dimension) verification regime? Almost certainly not. And so that’s precisely the kind of verification regime the Iranians and Russians will demand, making Obama’s “unprecedented” claims look silly. (Throughout his presidency, when Obama says something is “unprecedented” it usually means he must assert it because he can’t demonstrate it or prove it.)

Indeed, the language on PMDs is quite telling: “Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program.” In other words, on this crucial aspect of inspections and verification, we’re still at square one. It’s the kind of detail that could make or break a deal under any sane negotiations, but Obama’s basically saying “we’ll get around to it.” As such, it doesn’t really exist in a meaningful sense right now.

The sanctions relief is also quite vague, and the Iranians are already telegraphing they expect Obama to cave on them too. The sanctions most certainly cannot be “snapped back” into place as soon as the Iranians are accused of cheating, as the president dishonestly claimed yesterday. Any sanctions lifted are likely to stay that way. This will encourage the Iranians to cheat sooner rather than later, because the Obama administration will let them keep their Fordow facility as well, meaning the deal could quite possibly enable Iran to get the bomb soon and free of (most) sanctions. It’s a worst-case scenario, but it’s also quite likely.

The second way the deal could deteriorate between now and June 30 is on the hard numbers already “agreed to.” Remember, as our Abe Greenwald made a point of saying yesterday, there is no deal.

So ask yourself the following question: From what we know of the nuclear diplomacy with Iran thus far, are the Iranians more likely to take the current non-agreement as sincere obligations, or are they more likely to use this list of understandings as a baseline for the next three months of negotiations?

As you consider the question, remember that Obama has already capitulated on various aspects of the deal on which he supposedly stood firm in the past. When you look at the list of details in this framework, what you are seeing is confirmation of the erosion of America’s demands over time.

As Michael Rubin noted yesterday, the baseline trick is a regular feature of rogue regimes’ negotiations with the West. Rubin wrote:

Here’s how it goes: When the United States (or any other democracy) is making a big push for a final agreement, negotiate, extract compromises, and collect those final last-minute concessions while up against the wire. Then go home, and treat those concessions as a baseline for the start of new negotiations: What had been the last-minute deal suddenly becomes the opening position in a pattern that provides a distinct disadvantage to the party which wants the deal more.

We don’t yet know if Iran is willing to get to yes. But we know they’d be willing to walk away. So far, that hasn’t been true of Obama. The president and Secretary Kerry, over the next few months, are going to be presented with more Iranian demands, and each time those demands will be important enough to the Iranians to walk away from the table. That won’t be the case for Obama and Kerry, who have shown a willingness to capitulate on all manner of demands precisely because they can’t stomach the idea that this or that one concession could torpedo everything.

They’ve invested too much in this. This is, as the president’s advisor once said, the ObamaCare of the administration’s second term. It is the central pillar in Obama’s foreign-policy legacy. And it’s why the agreed framework, as weak a deal as it already portends, is likely to get even worse for the West from here on out.

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Russia to Take Iran Deal to the Bank—By Selling Arms

Well, if President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are to be believed, then the preliminary framework accord that the P5+1 struck with Iran was truly historic, and will usher in a new era of peace.

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Well, if President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are to be believed, then the preliminary framework accord that the P5+1 struck with Iran was truly historic, and will usher in a new era of peace.

Someone may have forgotten to tell Russian President Vladimir Putin that. According to RIA Novosti (and translated by the Open Source Center):

Russia may resume the implementation of the contract to ship S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Iran if the UN Security Council lifts sanctions against Tehran, head of the Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade Igor Korotchenko was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti (part of the state-owned International News Agency Rossiya Segodnya) on 3 April. “The lifting of sanctions from Iran, including sanctions on arms trade – would be a perfectly logical development of the current situation. The contract to ship the latest modifications of the S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran is of key importance to Russia. That contract may be renewed on conditions that Moscow and Tehran find suitable,” Korotchenko said.

The S-300, of course, is one of the most sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons. In 2007, Iran agreed to purchase the S-300 for $800 million, but delayed the sale as a result of U.S. and European diplomatic pressure, ultimately suspending it in 2010, citing United Nations sanctions. Thanks to Kerry et al., it seems to be back on. Given Iran’s promise to export such weaponry, perhaps Obama simply hopes to add it as an agenda item at his after-the-fact Camp David consultation with the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders and, separately, in his telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Alas, the rest of the Middle East resides in the real world rather than a bubble of rhetoric. They understand that the tremendous infusion of power with which Obama bestowed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will cost lives. Who wins? Alas, only Putin, and of course his bank account.

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First Friday Prayers after Deal: “Death to America”

Well, Mohammad Javad Zarif might know how to charm politicians like Secretary of State John Kerry and his diplomatic team but, increasingly, it seems as if President Obama’s notion of a historic change in Iranian behavior was, well, a bit premature.

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Well, Mohammad Javad Zarif might know how to charm politicians like Secretary of State John Kerry and his diplomatic team but, increasingly, it seems as if President Obama’s notion of a historic change in Iranian behavior was, well, a bit premature.

Every Friday afternoon in Iran, in Tehran and every major provincial capital and town, a senior cleric will give a sermon which outlines the themes and beliefs of the regime. Think of it as a religiously-oriented weekly State of the Union address.

Two weeks ago, chants of “Death to America” against the backdrop of a sermon by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made headlines, although some journalists tried to put a positive spin on the event. Well, fast forward two weeks. As Iran is 8.5 hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States, Friday afternoon has come and passed in Tehran, so what happened after yesterday’s game-changer?

Crowds chanted “Death to America” and “Death to the al-Sa’ud” according to the Iranian press, not just in one city but across the country. Indeed, here it says that finally, the “Death to America” mantra is being realized.

John Kerry, call your office.

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How Does Iran Interpret the Agreement?

Well, this is a bit inconvenient. Iran’s state-controlled Tehran Times gives a breakdown of the takeaway from its nuclear negotiations. And it’s not exactly consistent with President Barack Obama’s triumphalist take.

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Well, this is a bit inconvenient. Iran’s state-controlled Tehran Times gives a breakdown of the takeaway from its nuclear negotiations. And it’s not exactly consistent with President Barack Obama’s triumphalist take.

Here’s what Obama had to say:

And after many months of tough and principled diplomacy, the United States — joined by the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union — achieved the framework for a deal that will cut off every pathway Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon… It will not enrich uranium with its advanced centrifuges for at least the next 10 years.

Here’s what the Tehran Times took away with regard to the research and development Obama blessed:

Iran will continue research and development program on advanced centrifuge machines and will be also able to keep initiating and completing its R & D program on IR-4, IR-5, IR-6 and IR-8 machines in the 10-year period of the agreement.

So, far from being limited to less powerful centrifuges, Iran simply is able to bypass a few generations, and then be ahead of the game when the sunset period expires.

As for the once-secret Fordow plant buried under a mountain near Qom, Obama said:

Iran has agreed that its installed centrifuges will be reduced by two-thirds.  Iran will no longer enrich uranium at its Fordow facility.  Iran will not enrich uranium with its advanced centrifuges for at least the next 10 years.  The vast majority of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will be neutralized.

Here’s the Tehran Times’s understanding:

According to the joint statement, Fordow nuclear facility will be turned into a research center for nuclear science and physics. More than 1,000 centrifuges will be maintained at this facility and two centrifuge cascades will keep operating.

And the concern with regard to the plutonium produced at Arak? Obama minced no words:

First, Iran will not be able to pursue a bomb using plutonium, because it will not develop weapons-grade plutonium.  The core of its reactor at Arak will be dismantled and replaced. The spent fuel from that facility will be shipped out of Iran for the life of the reactor.  Iran will not build a new heavy-water reactor.  And Iran will not reprocess fuel from its existing reactors — ever.

Alas, the Iranian understanding seems to be that plutonium production will be reduced, but they specifically do not say it will be eliminated:

…The heavy water reactor in the Iranian city of Arak will remain in place but will be redesigned and updated. The redesigning process will greatly increase efficiency of the reactor while reducing the amount of plutonium produced in the facility.

Again, the difference between eliminated and reduced could be the difference between zero nuclear bombs and ten. The devil is in the details, and the Iranian negotiators have been masters at massaging the language to achieve what they need.

How about that unprecedented verification? Obama said, “This deal is not based on trust, it’s based on unprecedented verification.” But, according to Iran, its compliance with such verification as laid out in the Additional Protocol will only be done on a voluntary basis:

Iran will implement the Additional Protocol temporarily and voluntarily in line with its confidence-building measures and after that the protocol will be ratified in a time frame by the Iranian government and parliament (Majlis).

Sure, that includes a promise to ratify it. But a promise that could be a year away or ten years. It’s certainly not the fool-proof verification which Obama claimed.

And, lastly, the idea of sanctions relief. Obama suggested it would be gradual:

In return for Iran’s actions, the international community has agreed to provide Iran with relief from certain sanctions — our own sanctions, and international sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.  This relief will be phased as Iran takes steps to adhere to the deal.  If Iran violates the deal, sanctions can be snapped back into place.

That’s not the Iranian understanding (I’ve added emphasis):

Following the implementation of the Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action, all the UN Security Council sanctions as well as all economic and financial embargos by the US and the European Union, including bans on banks, insurance, investment, and all other related services in different fields, including petrochemical, oil, gas and automobile industries will be lifted. Besides, all nuclear-related sanctions against real and legal entities, state and private organizations and institutions, including those sanctions imposed against the Central Bank of Iran, other financial and banking institutions, SWIFT system, and the country’s shipping and aviation sectors, and Iran’s tanker company will be immediately lifted all at once.

Furthermore, that Iranian belief about sanctions relief suggests that Iran expects not only sanctions related to its nuclear program, but those imposed on its other proliferation activities will be lifted. But what of Obama’s promise to “snap” those sanctions back in place? Missing from Obama’s statement is any indication about who will make such a determination regarding Iranian cheating, and who will snap those sanctions back in place.

President Obama has never been a student of history, and it’s always dangerous when politicians claim the foresight to know what represents historic breakthrough. In the case of Iran, it seems, Obama had not read his history and does not understand the “Tehran two-step,” i.e., one step forward two steps back. It seems Obama’s self-congratulations may have been a bit premature. Unfortunately, the president’s ego will likely prevent him from acknowledging that.

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Lausanne and an Empowered Iran

In his Rose Garden appearance touting the “framework agreement” concluded in Lausanne, President Obama said the U.S. and its negotiating partners had “reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

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In his Rose Garden appearance touting the “framework agreement” concluded in Lausanne, President Obama said the U.S. and its negotiating partners had “reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

Even based on the little we know about what was agreed, a couple of qualifiers are in order. First, even assuming the most heroic possible implementation of the accord, Iran will be prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon for perhaps ten years at most–not for all time. The mullahs, who do not have to shut down a single nuclear facility or (apparently) export already enriched uranium, can use that decade to enrich more uranium in their 5,000-plus legal centrifuges, weaponize nuclear warheads, and do everything else needed to assemble a formidable atomic arsenal the second that Iranian leaders decide to break out.

But–and this is the second caveat–even this assumption, which stops far short of what Obama is promising, is itself based on the belief that Iran will abide by the accord. Given the history of other hostile states, such as the Soviet Union and North Korea, in cheating on arms-control agreements, that is quite a Panglossian assumption to make. Perhaps there will be truly strict verification procedures that the Iranians will not be able to subvert–by, for example, setting up a separate, undeclared nuclear facility as they have done in the past–but there is reason for skepticism given how hard the Iranians bargained simply to be able to keep all of their existing facilities open.

While Iranian compliance with the nuclear accord–should one actually be completed in June–remains a speculative proposition, there is much greater reason to think that multilateral sanctions will be lifted and stay lifted no matter if Iran abides by the agreement or not. One of the many unknowns regarding what was announced in Lausanne–an unknown that could actually scuttle the real agreement supposed to be reached in June–is when the sanctions will come off. The Iranians are saying they will be lifted the second a final agreement is signed. The Americans are saying they will be lifted in stages based on Iranian compliance. We’ll see which version is closer to reality if and when the world is actually allowed to read the fine print of any agreement–and assuming there are no secret codicils that remain classified.

But it seems safe to speculate that if Iran signs a piece of paper in June the multilateral sanctions regime will collapse sooner rather than later. This means that Iranian coffers will be flooded with hundreds of billions of dollars in new income.  What will the money be used for? Some undoubtedly will go for social services to buy off a long-suffering Iranian population and prevent an insurrection against the ayatollahs. But it is certain that a large chunk of the money also will go to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which not only runs the nuclear program and a ballistic-missile program but also is in charge of exporting the Iranian revolution abroad. There is absolutely nothing in the Lausanne accord that does anything to hinder much less stop Iran’s support for terrorism or its ballistic-missile programs–both subjects ignored in the Obama administration’s frenzied quest for a nuclear accord, no matter its specifics.

The IRGC, and specifically its elite Quds Force under Gen. Qassem Suleimani, has been busy for decades exporting Iranian power to countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Its subversive efforts have borne fruit in recent years by creating a virtual Iranian Empire stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. Iranian lucre has funded the barrel bombs that Bashar Assad has been dropping on civilians and the abusive militias which Shiite leaders in Iraq have been assembling to undermine the Iraqi state. And that is what Iran has achieved with an economy still in a sanctions straitjacket. What will it be able to do once that straitjacket has come off?

That is the grim prospect that will now confront Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other states that feel a mortal threat emanating from Iran. They will now have to face an Iran with a nuclear program delayed but not dismantled, and an Iran with growing power to undermine and dominate its neighbors. Under such a scenario do not be surprised if Saudi Arabia proceeds with a nuclear program of its own, as it has long threatened to do.

President Obama likes to claim, erroneously, that anyone who opposes his accord must be in favor of World War III. He would make a more persuasive case for the accord if he would more honestly grapple with its baleful consequences for enhancing Iran’s regional power–power which is already at a 30-year high and which now promises to grow even greater.

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