Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barack Obama

The Worst Way to Defend Obama’s Iran Nuclear Deal

Those with even limited knowledge of Iran’s history of diplomatic duplicity, not to mention its present financing and direction of a variety of insurgent and terroristic campaigns across the Middle East, are justifiably wary of the terms of the nuclear accord revealed this week. Critics of the deal contend that the lax inspections regime, dramatic sanctions relief, and the lifting of arms and ballistic missile embargos, among other gifts to Tehran, will only reward Iran’s destabilizing behavior and guarantee more of the same. It seems that the accord’s self-evident deficiencies have reduced its supporters to a defensive crouch. One of the most cutting examples of the defensiveness of the deal’s backers, however, should not be dismissed offhand. In at least one case, the left is inadvertently making the conservative case against this deal.  Read More

Those with even limited knowledge of Iran’s history of diplomatic duplicity, not to mention its present financing and direction of a variety of insurgent and terroristic campaigns across the Middle East, are justifiably wary of the terms of the nuclear accord revealed this week. Critics of the deal contend that the lax inspections regime, dramatic sanctions relief, and the lifting of arms and ballistic missile embargos, among other gifts to Tehran, will only reward Iran’s destabilizing behavior and guarantee more of the same. It seems that the accord’s self-evident deficiencies have reduced its supporters to a defensive crouch. One of the most cutting examples of the defensiveness of the deal’s backers, however, should not be dismissed offhand. In at least one case, the left is inadvertently making the conservative case against this deal. 

For many, the nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic, and not the elimination of the Iranian nuclear threat, is the true aim. The diplomatic process is an end in itself. A prototypical example of this self-affirmation masquerading as an argument was helpfully provided by The Guardian’s Trevor Timm who averred that only those hard-hearted enough to “love war” could be skeptical of this deal. “Republicans, who were always reflexively against any deal that would limit the Iranians’ nuclear program and may stave off war, seem downright furious diplomacy prevailed over the threat of more missiles,” Timm insisted. This contention does not deserve a response, but not everyone on the left has been reduced to this form of argumentum ad hominem.

Vox.com foreign affairs analyst Max Fisher took a not-entirely-unjustified swipe at former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush recently over his particular line of attack on the Iranian nuclear accord. “The nuclear agreement announced by the Obama Administration today is a dangerous, deeply flawed, and short sighted deal,” Bush wrote in a statement. “This isn’t diplomacy – it is appeasement.” Bush’s campaign later tweeted: “History is full of examples of when you enable people or regimes that don’t embrace democratic values, without any concessions, you get a bad result.” Fisher went on to accuse Bush of claiming that America should “never negotiate with dictators,” which has never been the policy of any American administration and does not resemble anything Bush said. But Fisher made a point that Republicans should welcome: He noted that both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush inked nuclear accords with aggressive, anti-democratic regimes. That’s true. In fact, it serves conservatives who are opposed to the terms of Barack Obama’s deal with Iran to review the nuclear deals the 41st and 43rd Presidents were able to secure.

To begin, comparing a sweeping nuclear treaty with a revisionist, terror-sponsoring regional actor to the last of several arms reduction treaties with a superpower and the world’s preeminent nuclear power, the Soviet Union, is inherently flawed. Nevertheless, the comparison is instructive. The 1991 START treaty was one of several bilateral arms treaties, and it completed the process of ending the arms race that had been a policy objective of the last five presidents. START compelled the Soviet Union to join the United States in reducing long-range missile and bomber fleets to 1982 levels.

“The Soviet Union will be required to cut its ballistic missile warheads by more than 35 percent, to about 7,000 warheads from about 11,000, and the United States will have to trim its ballistic missile arsenal by about 25 percent, to roughly 9,000 warheads from about 12,000,” the New York Times reported at the time. “The Soviets will also have to destroy half of their heavy SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missiles; the United States has no weapons in that category, and under the treaty is not permitted to build any.” Building on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, the START treaty included 12 different forms of inspection and allowed continuous monitoring of facilities in both countries that produced ballistic missiles. “This is far worse than the U.S.-Soviet arms agreements, in which the U.S. could protest directly to Moscow,” Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote of President Obama’s deal. “Iran now has an international bureaucratic guard to deflect and deter U.S. or IAEA concerns.”

But, as Fisher indicated, George W. Bush’s treaty with the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi provides perhaps the best model for how to draft a nuclear treaty with a rogue state. The world was stunned by the speed with which, in the immediate wake of Saddam Hussein’s ouster, Gaddafi surrendered his country’s nuclear weapons capabilities. When America was leading from behind in the skies over Libya in 2011, the New York Times reporter David Sanger offered belated praise for Bush’s 2003 accord with Libya noting that it had rendered the regime in Tripoli far less dangerous.

“The cache of nuclear technology that Libya turned over to the United States, Britain and international nuclear inspectors in early 2004 was large,” the New York Times reported, “far larger than American intelligence experts had predicted. There were more than 4,000 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium. There were blueprints for how to build a nuclear bomb – missing some critical components, but good enough to get the work started.” Libya, a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, had been subjected to an international inspections regime for years before it surrendered its unexpectedly sophisticated capabilities. The IAEA inspectors that tasked with verifying Tripoli’s compliance found their work surprisingly unimpeded and productive in the wake of Gaddafi’s about face.

In 2004, George W. Bush flew to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee where he was photographed touring the spoils of those centrifuges Libya surrendered. President Obama could only wish for a nuclear deal that also provided him with a victorious photo opportunity as he stood triumphantly over neutralized Iranian enrichment materials.

“The point is that, if you grew up in the Bush family, you are immediately related to some people who can tell you first-hand how awesome it is to negotiate nuclear deals with dictators, and have very strong track records to back that up,” Fisher rightly averred. That is undoubtedly correct, and a cursory review of the effect of those deals reveals how well-crafted they were. They stand in stark contrast to an arrangement many believe will leave Iran a much richer, better-armed, threshold (if not outright) nuclear state within a decade. Conservative opponents of the nuclear deal with Iran should be praising Fisher for citing splendid examples of how the work of nonproliferation and disarmament is done correctly.

Read Less

Obama’s Iran Deal Filibuster

The president gave a press conference today in which he spent, by my calculation, almost 45 minutes talking about the Iran deal. He knows it inside and out and he and his people have clearly spent days if not weeks pre-sculpting arguments against its weaknesses. He droned on, wouldn’t allow many questions, and was very boring and repetitive, but in an essential sense, he was effective in laying out the case — not for the deal itself exactly but against those who are against it. It boils down to this (these are my words, not his): “We wanted to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. We’ve done it. And if you say otherwise, you either don’t know what you’re talking about or you want war.” Read More

The president gave a press conference today in which he spent, by my calculation, almost 45 minutes talking about the Iran deal. He knows it inside and out and he and his people have clearly spent days if not weeks pre-sculpting arguments against its weaknesses. He droned on, wouldn’t allow many questions, and was very boring and repetitive, but in an essential sense, he was effective in laying out the case — not for the deal itself exactly but against those who are against it. It boils down to this (these are my words, not his): “We wanted to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. We’ve done it. And if you say otherwise, you either don’t know what you’re talking about or you want war.”

The key to understanding the president’s argument is his conviction that the Iranians will hold to its terms, and that the methods it lays out to ensure it holds to the terms are sufficient to make them do so even if they want to cheat. The key to understanding the opposition to the deal is that those of us who are dismayed by it do not believe the Iranians will hold to its terms; do not believe its enforcement mechanisms will prevent them from doing whatever they feel they must.

There is literally no way to resolve this difference. That’s why the president can and will argue that, hey, it’s at least worth a try; someone else can bomb them later, and that someone will have more international support if he or she does. Nor does it speak to the fear that Iranian cheating may lead to an expansion of secret facilities which would make any military option far more difficult.

That, of course, is what happened between the first arguments that the Iranian program should be hit with air strikes back in 2006 and 2009, when we discovered that the regime had built an extensive underground facility in Fordo.

Nor does it address the undeniable reality that there will now be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. That point — the most dangerous of all — is all but moot now.

Read Less

The Deal Wasn’t About Iran’s Nukes

If you think the United States just struck a poor nuclear deal with Iran, you’re right; but if that’s your key takeaway, you’re missing the point. Iran’s nuclear program was last on the list of the Obama administration’s priorities in talking to Tehran. The administration readily caved on Iran’s nukes because it viewed the matter only as a timely pretense for achieving other cherished aims. These were: (1) preventing an Israeli attack on Iran; (2) transforming the United States into a more forgiving, less imposing power; (3) establishing diplomacy as a great American good in itself; (4) making Iran into a great regional power; and (5), ensuring the legacies of the president and secretary of state as men of vision and peace.

Read More

If you think the United States just struck a poor nuclear deal with Iran, you’re right; but if that’s your key takeaway, you’re missing the point. Iran’s nuclear program was last on the list of the Obama administration’s priorities in talking to Tehran. The administration readily caved on Iran’s nukes because it viewed the matter only as a timely pretense for achieving other cherished aims. These were: (1) preventing an Israeli attack on Iran; (2) transforming the United States into a more forgiving, less imposing power; (3) establishing diplomacy as a great American good in itself; (4) making Iran into a great regional power; and (5), ensuring the legacies of the president and secretary of state as men of vision and peace.

The administration has always viewed Israel as an intractable troublemaker and the main catalyst for the region’s woes. An Israeli strike on Iran, especially if supported by the United States, would have been yet another display of destabilizing Israeli aggression that put Middle East peace further out of reach. Barack Obama, therefore, repeatedly warned Israel against attacking Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu complied, and for his compliance White House officials taunted him in 2014 as a “chickenshit” whose window of opportunity had closed. That window is now barred. The Iran deal states that the U.S. will train Iranians to counter any sabotage attempts on its nuclear facilities and systems. This is aimed at frustrating Israeli action.

Obama came to office promising to limit American action as well. In his standard progressive view, the United States has been too eager to throw its weight around and impose its norms on other countries without giving sufficient thought to the resentment it might sow. He ended the war in Iraq and sought to remake the United States as a humble power. “Too often the United States starts by dictating,” he told a Saudi news outlet soon after being elected. He, by contrast, would do a lot of “listening.” The Iran negotiations became Obama’s magnum opus on the theme of listening. Americans listened to Iranians dictate terms, shoot down offers, insult the United States, and threaten allies. America has been humbled indeed.

But such humility is necessary if diplomacy is to be made into a nation-defining ethos. And if we could successfully negotiate with theocratic Iran, then surely Americans would see that diplomacy could conquer all. So, for the sake of proving this abstract principle, Obama foreclosed any non-diplomatic approach to Iran before a deal was reached. As he told Tom Friedman in April, “there is no formula, there is no option, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon that will be more effective than the diplomatic initiative and framework that we put forward — and that’s demonstrable.” So declared, so demonstrated.

Like the preeminence of diplomacy, the notion of Iran’s potential as a levelheaded regional power was a treasured abstract principle Obama hoped to substantiate through the nuclear talks. Once again, first came the declaration. Last December Obama speculated on the outcome of a completed nuclear deal: “There’s incredible talent and resources and sophistication inside of Iran, and it would be a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules, and that would be good for everybody.”

If Iran’s fanatical anti-Semitism called this sanguine view into question, that too could be explained. “Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival,” he told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. “It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations.” That the United States and Iran have now come to an agreement—whatever the details—is supposed to demonstrate the soundness of that principle.

As far as legacy, what politician doesn’t want one? For Obama, a nominal nuclear deal may make him feel as if he’s earned the Nobel Prize once furnished him as election swag. John Kerry’s own efforts to earn a Nobel by brokering Middle East peace became another footnote in the story of Palestinian obstinacy. He too had something to prove.

From the administration’s standpoint, the deal was a grand slam. If it left Iran as an official nuclear power on the perpetual verge of a breakout, well, that was always the bargaining chip to get everything else. And with the United States having shown extraordinary cooperation and forgiveness, the thinking goes, even a nuclear Iran will become a less bellicose and more collegial member of the community of nations. What good the deal has already done, the administration believes, will continue to pay dividends. As is his wont, Obama is now declaring as much. But by the time his vision is upended by facts, he’ll be out of office, and we won’t have the luxury of fighting reality with abstractions.

Read Less

Obama’s Worst Mistake

I wanted to add my voice to those who have already written about the deal between Iran and Western powers, led by the United States. It is an agreement that is likely to set in motion a terrible chain of events — reviving the Iranian economy while simultaneously putting Iran well on the road to gaining nuclear weapons and triggering a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Iran’s behavior is likely to be more, not less, aggressive, from threatening other nations to supporting terrorist organizations. Our allies can only conclude that the United States is unsteady and unreliable, having cast its lot with the most destabilizing regime in the world today — one that is an existential threat to Israel, and where chants of “Death to America!” can still be heard at prayer services every week. Historians may well consider this date to be a time when, as Max Boot put it, “American dominance in the Middle East was supplanted by the Iranian Imperium.” Read More

I wanted to add my voice to those who have already written about the deal between Iran and Western powers, led by the United States. It is an agreement that is likely to set in motion a terrible chain of events — reviving the Iranian economy while simultaneously putting Iran well on the road to gaining nuclear weapons and triggering a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Iran’s behavior is likely to be more, not less, aggressive, from threatening other nations to supporting terrorist organizations. Our allies can only conclude that the United States is unsteady and unreliable, having cast its lot with the most destabilizing regime in the world today — one that is an existential threat to Israel, and where chants of “Death to America!” can still be heard at prayer services every week. Historians may well consider this date to be a time when, as Max Boot put it, “American dominance in the Middle East was supplanted by the Iranian Imperium.”

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are betting that this agreement will tame the Iranian regime and turn it into a positive force in the Middle East and the world. This will turn out to be an incredibly ill-advised judgment — and as the details of the agreement spill out over the coming days, the magnitude of the capitulation by the president will be more and more evident. He was taken to the cleaners. I imagine even the Iranians were surprised by how much Mr. Obama buckled.

Of all the missteps and unwise decisions and harmful acts by the Obama administration — the Affordable Care Act and the lies used to sell it, economic policies that have failed to create growth and led to dramatic increases in poverty and dramatic reductions in the labor force participation rate, the repeated acts of lawlessness, the use of the IRS to harass conservative groups, increasing polarization and divisions within America, the withdrawal from Iraq, the debacles in Syria, Libya and Yemen, the feebleness toward Russia, the failure to confront the rise of ISIS, the betrayal of our allies — the Iranian nuclear deal may well turn out to be worst of all.

It is a strategic disaster, a failure of leadership, of monumental significance.

Read Less

Iranian Media Gloats, Demonizes America

So how are the Iranians assessing the nuclear deal? Clearly, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is pleased: He has been grinning from ear-to-ear. President Hassan Rouhani is as well. Before accepting President Obama’s offer to talk, Iran’s economy was in the red, declining at least 5.4 percent over the previous year, but ever since talks began — with billions of dollars infused into the economy as an incentive — it has been back in the black. Now, with more than $100 billion due to enter the economy, he can fund almost any project he desires; not only in Iran, but also in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Read More

So how are the Iranians assessing the nuclear deal? Clearly, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is pleased: He has been grinning from ear-to-ear. President Hassan Rouhani is as well. Before accepting President Obama’s offer to talk, Iran’s economy was in the red, declining at least 5.4 percent over the previous year, but ever since talks began — with billions of dollars infused into the economy as an incentive — it has been back in the black. Now, with more than $100 billion due to enter the economy, he can fund almost any project he desires; not only in Iran, but also in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.

The Islamic Republic may be faction-ridden, but it is not free. The regime tolerates only a tiny fraction of the spectrum of political discourse, and that segment of permissible speech constantly shrinks (that is the real reason why, for example, a son of a former president and former presidential candidates now find themselves in prison or under house arrest). Within the range of permissible debate, factions control newspapers and so their attitudes can be divined by their headlines, articles, and editorials.

  • The editorial in Jomhuri-ye Eslami, a newspaper closely associated with the Intelligence Ministry: “We are Winning!”
  • Perhaps the most important is Kayhan, whose editor Hossein Shariatmadari is an appointee of the Supreme Leader. It reprinted an editorial from February 2014 entitled, “Do not Prepare a Prescription for Disaster,” which declared, “Those who recommend halting the nuclear program regardless of their true intentions and motivations are proposing to abandon scientific and technological development and prescribing the country’s backwardness!”
  • The English-language, hardline Tehran Times headlines with the speech of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei promising continued enmity toward the United States. “Leader: Campaign against arrogance not stoppable,” it reads. (The ‘Global Arrogance” is one of Khamenei’s chief pet names for the United States).
  • According to Open Source Center monitoring, Iranian television also carried Khamenei’s anti-American diatribe. Because it is Khamenei that defines what is permissible, he is making clear to all reformists, let alone all the youth who have completely given up on the system, that there will be no rapprochement, and that conflict with the United States will continue only with $100 billion more in Iran’s coffers.
  • And, as for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has conspicuously refused to endorse any negotiations with the United States, their web portal “Sepah News” had this to say: “America has committed numerous crimes against the nation of Iran due to its agents.”

Imagine the situation was reversed: Iran desperately sought a deal, serially violated its red lines in order to get a signature on paper, and then the President of the United States used the Oval Office to denounce and ridicule Iran. That wouldn’t go over well. That would be a sign of profound insincerity. Follow that up with an anti-Iran editorial in the New York Times, and columns replete with senior officials’ leaks declaring undying enmity to Tehran by writers like Fareed Zakaria and Jeffrey Goldberg, both of whom tend to transmit loyally administration talking points, and Iranian officials would be right to doubt the efficacy and sincerity of any agreement. That would simply be dispassionate analysis on their part. Back to reality: The man in charge of Iran and who bases his legitimacy in his role as the deputy of the messiah on earth promises continued enmity after receiving almost everything he demanded from the United States. The ambition of Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry may blind them to this reality, but it behooves candidates from both parties as well as the Congress not only to recognize the reality of the situation but to consider how to address the strategic deficit that will result.

Read Less

Will Obama Endanger Navy for Sake of Deal?

Secretary of State John Kerry announced that international negotiators would likely miss their political deadline to conclude a nuclear agreement by midnight in Washington, DC. With Kerry and his team having collapsed on almost every red line they previously laid out — allowing Iran more centrifuges than Pakistan had when it developed its nuclear arsenal; allowing Iran to keep its fortified, underground plant at Fordo; compromising on anytime, anywhere inspections; allowing Iran a plutonium path; and forcing Iran to come clean on its previous work on the military dimensions of a nuclear program—what is now holding up the agreement is reportedly Iran’s demand that sanctions on its ballistic missile program and arms exports be lifted.

Read More

Secretary of State John Kerry announced that international negotiators would likely miss their political deadline to conclude a nuclear agreement by midnight in Washington, DC. With Kerry and his team having collapsed on almost every red line they previously laid out — allowing Iran more centrifuges than Pakistan had when it developed its nuclear arsenal; allowing Iran to keep its fortified, underground plant at Fordo; compromising on anytime, anywhere inspections; allowing Iran a plutonium path; and forcing Iran to come clean on its previous work on the military dimensions of a nuclear program—what is now holding up the agreement is reportedly Iran’s demand that sanctions on its ballistic missile program and arms exports be lifted.

In order to defend itself against charges that it was not doing enough to address other Iranian bad behavior — its holding of four American hostages, its support for terrorism, its support for Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime, its gross violations of human rights — numerous Obama administration officials have repeatedly explained that they were limiting the talks with Iran to just the nuclear portfolio. That Iran is now holding the deal hostage in order to advance its ballistic missile program and ensure its ability to export weapons shows that Tehran is not approaching the deal from the same baseline. For Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, national interest is paramount; for President Obama, philosophy is.

Given both President Obama’s quest for a legacy and Kerry’s previous poor negotiating prowess, it is hard to believe that they will hold firm if the only thing preventing their deal with Iran was the extent to which Iran could develop ballistic missile technology (or satellite launchers, as the Iranian press often calls them) or export weaponry to their groups and proxies in what they increasingly refer to in Persian as the “Axis of Resistance,” which comprises Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

Let us hope that Kerry and his team do hold firm, though. Over recent weeks, Bahraini authorities have intercepted an Iranian weapons shipment meant to take the low-grade protest campaigns by the Bahraini Shi‘ite opposition and Saudi Shi‘ites to a new level. During the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, Hezbollah crippled an Israeli ship with an Iranian-made C-802 missile. Hezbollah has since bragged both about restocking and upgrading its missile arsenal and about developing an underwater sabotage capability. The Houthis in Yemen, meanwhile, have not only allowed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to transform them into an Iranian proxy, but they have also seized territory along the southeastern Yemeni coast, thereby endangering shipping through the Bab al-Mandab. In addition, the windfall the Obama administration is prepared to allow Tehran to go on a veritable shopping spree with not only Russia and China, but also perhaps even North Korea, France, and Germany.

Who will be most vulnerable to this Iranian military build-up? Well, certainly ordinary Syrian citizens who are already suffering between the twin evils of the Assad regime and the Islamic State. But also the U.S. Navy. Khamenei has repeatedly demanded that U.S. forces leave the Persian Gulf, international waters be damned. And contrary to left-wing political activist turned Washington Post correspondent Ishaan Tharoor, the Iranian regime does subscribe to a notion of “Iranzamin” or “Greater Iran” based on the Persian Empire’s historical legacy. This will put Iran and the U.S. Navy on a collision course. That might be inevitable, but allowing Iran to equip itself with sophisticated missiles and weaponry that might have a higher chance to penetrate American defenses, that is unconscionable. Let Obama be a neighborhood organizer for the world after his term ends; while he is in the White House his chief job is to protect Americans lives, livelihood, and security.

Read Less

Who Benefits From Endless Iran Negotiations?

In the hands of a president that was tough enough to mean what he said when he threatened to walk away from nuclear talks with Iran if it didn’t get what it wanted, a negotiating deadline would be an effective tool to obtain the West’s objectives. But over the course of the last two years, the Obama administration has realized that when a deadline loomed they were the only players in the diplomatic standoff that started to sweat. The Iranians quickly learned that faced with the prospect of President Obama’s cherished dream of a new détente with their regime, the West preferred concessions to walkouts and accordingly stiffened their stands on outstanding issues. That’s why the U.S. has treated every such recent deadline as a flexible rather than a rigid concept, a decision that was repeated when first the June 30 date for an end to the talks and then the July 7th date that was regarded as the true end point passed without either an agreement or the U.S. team packing their bags and leaving Vienna. Even many of the administration’s critics see this as not an altogether bad thing since more talking is to be preferred to another Western collapse. But with their hotel reservations now extended until Saturday, the question arises as to who will benefit from the seemingly endless Iran negotiations?

Read More

In the hands of a president that was tough enough to mean what he said when he threatened to walk away from nuclear talks with Iran if it didn’t get what it wanted, a negotiating deadline would be an effective tool to obtain the West’s objectives. But over the course of the last two years, the Obama administration has realized that when a deadline loomed they were the only players in the diplomatic standoff that started to sweat. The Iranians quickly learned that faced with the prospect of President Obama’s cherished dream of a new détente with their regime, the West preferred concessions to walkouts and accordingly stiffened their stands on outstanding issues. That’s why the U.S. has treated every such recent deadline as a flexible rather than a rigid concept, a decision that was repeated when first the June 30 date for an end to the talks and then the July 7th date that was regarded as the true end point passed without either an agreement or the U.S. team packing their bags and leaving Vienna. Even many of the administration’s critics see this as not an altogether bad thing since more talking is to be preferred to another Western collapse. But with their hotel reservations now extended until Saturday, the question arises as to who will benefit from the seemingly endless Iran negotiations?

There are good reasons why everyone from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker to many Israelis seem unperturbed by the latest extension of the talks. They are sure that if President Obama thought either the June 30 or the July 7 dates were his last chance for signing an agreement with Iran, Tehran’s intransigence on a number of key points would have been rewarded with American surrenders. They think that because the last two years of negotiations with Iran have been largely characterized by a series of U.S. retreats on uranium enrichment, the retention of the regime’s nuclear infrastructure in the form of thousands of centrifuges, and the drafting of a deal that expired after ten years rather than one that created permanent restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program were largely the result of the administration’s panic. Faced with the choice between no deal and one that favored Iran, the president has always chosen the latter.

So it’s no surprise that critics prefer that the Americans stay in Vienna and stick to their demands for an agreement that would provide a rigorous inspection process, full access to Iran’s past military nuclear research, as well as provisions for sanctions to be lifted gradually and to be able to be snapped back immediately in the event of a violation.

But as we learned from the New York Times today, a “senior administration official” that briefed reporters in Vienna on the talks made it clear that plenty of “progress” was being made to justify the continued discussions. But in this case, the meaning of “progress” ought not to encourage those hoping that the administration is actually digging in its heels and insisting that any deal live up to the promises the president made about the nuclear framework when it was first announced in April. According to the official, the U.S. is negotiating a system of “managed access” to Iranian nuclear sites that will allow Iran to “shield conventional, secret military facilities” from inspections. According to the Americans, that’s reasonable since the right of all nations to protect their military secrets must be respected.

But such a formulation speaks more to the administration’s belief in the future of an entente with Iran more than a devotion to ferreting out the truth about its nuclear activities. In this case, “managed access” seems to allow Iran the ability to keep the West guessing rather than the achievement of genuine transparency. Once certain places become off-limits to United Nations inspectors, what’s to stop Tehran from conducting illicit research or other nuclear activity at these facilities? More to the point, no matter you define it, “managed access” falls far short of the anywhere, anytime standard that the administration seemed to promise when it announced the framework.

The official also seemed to indicate that discussions that would also deal with the problem of Iran’s ongoing nuclear research might not be made public making it impossible to gauge whether Iran would be in a position to race to a bomb once the deal expired. That’s a sure sign that the result of the negotiations would embarrass the administration and please Iran.

Similarly, Iran’s latest demands about lifting the embargo on their ability to import arms were also on the table instead of being kept in place.

So while it is true that the administration has acquitted itself of the charge of “rushing” to conclude an agreement because of its willing to keep the negotiations going into overtime, the results of their continued stay in Vienna is hardly encouraging.

Thanks to the intrepid reporters on the scene, we know how many Twizzlers and Rice Krispie Treats the diplomats have consumed in the course of their discussions. We also know that they are suffering from the heat because the air conditioning in their Viennese hotel is failing due to the unusual heat in Austria this summer. But we also know that, despite the consensus that the U.S. staying at the table was preferable to a collapse at the end of last month, their intake of snacks hasn’t stiffened the spines of Secretary of State John Kerry or top negotiator Wendy Sherman.

If this administration were truly willing to walk away from a bad deal, their tactics wouldn’t be a matter of concern. But the relief about their flexibility about deadlines has been entirely premature. Whether they stay another two days, a week or a month, Iran knows that the Americans will cave in sooner or later. Whether the deadlines are respected or the talks are allowed to drag out endlessly, the Iranians seem to benefit either way. Congress, which will apparently be given an extra month to consider the deal due to the extended deadline, should be paying attention to this depressing spectacle and draw the right conclusions about their duty to vote it down.

Read Less

The Implosion of Obama’s Syria Strategy

For President Barack Obama, the deteriorating situation in Syria has always been a political problem rather than a pressing national security challenge. When the president was faced with a regime that flouted international norms and precedents by using chemical weapons, he set a “red line” for action that failed to deter Syria’s Bashar al-Assad from continuing along his destabilizing course. Even while amassing international and domestic support for intervention in Syria, Obama was groping for a way out of the trap he had set for himself – a way that he was provided by Assad’s duplicitous patrons in Moscow. When the Islamic State militancy exploded out of its Syrian cradle, Obama only reluctantly began to address the threat to the region posed by the then fully metastatic Syrian crisis. By crafting two distinct international coalitions to fight the same war on two sides of an arbitrary Middle Eastern border that no longer existed, Obama signaled his lack of seriousness in combating the extremist threat in the Levant. But the core of Obama’s scheme to limit American involvement in the war on ISIS, his Rube Goldberg proposal for creating an indigenous Syrian army to fight ISIS, was the most laughable element of his strategic approach to avoiding a new entanglement. It should be abundantly clear today that this White House has no interest in prosecuting this war or achieving realistic and realizable goals.  Read More

For President Barack Obama, the deteriorating situation in Syria has always been a political problem rather than a pressing national security challenge. When the president was faced with a regime that flouted international norms and precedents by using chemical weapons, he set a “red line” for action that failed to deter Syria’s Bashar al-Assad from continuing along his destabilizing course. Even while amassing international and domestic support for intervention in Syria, Obama was groping for a way out of the trap he had set for himself – a way that he was provided by Assad’s duplicitous patrons in Moscow. When the Islamic State militancy exploded out of its Syrian cradle, Obama only reluctantly began to address the threat to the region posed by the then fully metastatic Syrian crisis. By crafting two distinct international coalitions to fight the same war on two sides of an arbitrary Middle Eastern border that no longer existed, Obama signaled his lack of seriousness in combating the extremist threat in the Levant. But the core of Obama’s scheme to limit American involvement in the war on ISIS, his Rube Goldberg proposal for creating an indigenous Syrian army to fight ISIS, was the most laughable element of his strategic approach to avoiding a new entanglement. It should be abundantly clear today that this White House has no interest in prosecuting this war or achieving realistic and realizable goals. 

“Those inside the administration advocating for going after ISIS in both Iraq and Syria were sorely disappointed – and lamented their boss’s lack of urgency in rooting out a threat that only days before was being described in near-apocalyptic terms,” The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin and Eli Lake reported in the summer of 2014, nearly a year after the president had accepted the terms of an arrangement that supposedly stripped Assad’s regime of chemical weaponry. “The meeting was the culmination of an intense week-long process that included series of lower level meetings and at last one Principals’ Committee that officials described as an effort to convince Obama to expand his air war against ISIS in Iraq to Syria as well. But before the meeting even started, the president seemed to have made up his mind.”

Inevitably, though, the president did lend America’s diplomatic weight to the mission of creating an international coalition dominated by Arab states. That coalition would lend legitimacy to the air war targeting ISIS positions inside Syria to which he reluctantly committed American military power. But in order to keep Western “boots” off of Syrian soil, the White House devised an absurdly complex process through which the West’s engagement in Syria could be reduced. That strategy consisted of identifying combat-ready rebel groups inside Syria that are willing to fight ISIS but were relatively secular and unlikely to turn on their Western backers once the Islamic State had been routed. From there, those fighters identified as good candidates would be transported out of Syria, sent to a third-party country in the region, trained, equipped, and reintroduced into the Syrian theater.

The Pentagon estimated in December of last year, two months after this strategy was approved by Congress, it would take up to one year from the beginning of the process and no fewer than 15,000 fighters to complete the job, although only 5,000 would be needed at the start. More than six months later, it should be abundantly clear that the administration has no interest in combating ISIS in Syria. Of those initial 5,000 Syrian rebels necessary to dislodge the Islamic State, Defense Sec. Ashton Carter confessed that only 60 individuals have so far been identified and are being trained.

“This number is much smaller than we’d hoped for at this point, partly because of the vetting standards,” Carter conceded in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “But we know this program is essential.”

“We need a partner on the ground in Syria to ensure ISIL’s lasting defeat,” he continued. “And as training progresses, we’re learning more about the opposition groups and building important relationships which increases our ability to attract recruits and provides valuable intelligence for counter-ISIL operations.”

This revelation comes on the heels of a press conference in which the president told Pentagon reporters that he would order an intensification of the anti-ISIS air campaign over Syria. In that press conference, Obama touted the fact that ISIS was losing some territory to assaults from indigenous groups, but nearly all that progress is due to the work of Kurdish forces inside Syria. They have grown increasingly suspicious of both this White House and the supposedly moderate Arab rebel militias that the administration has sought to elevate.

“In the lead-up to the mainly Kurdish capture of the Syrian border town of Tal Abayad last month, Islamic extremists panicked the town’s Arab population by warning that fighters with the YPG, People’s Protection Units, which are dominated by Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), would run amok,” read a recent Voice of America report. “This prompted thousands of Arab residents to flee to Turkey.”

“Some circles are trying to ignite a Kurdish-Arab military conflict,” one PYD leader told VOA reporters. These tensions are growing increasingly acute as Kurdish fighters expel ISIS from territory in Syria’s north and establish a proto-Kurdistan on Turkey’s border.

The administration has most likely allowed the window in which it would have been feasible to arm and train an effective, secular indigenous force that could combat ISIS. If it has not, the current rate at which rebel combatants are being readied for the fight is preposterously cautious. At present, the administration’s anti-ISIS strategy is maturing at a rate slow enough to instill mistrust in those forces that are supposed to be the West’s ally in this fight, and it is likely making the next president’s job in the Middle East that much harder.

 

Read Less

Can Iranian Nuclear Deal Compliance Ever be Verified?

The following is a dispatch from Omri Ceren of the Israel Project regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran: Read More

The following is a dispatch from Omri Ceren of the Israel Project regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran:

The parties missed another deadline this morning, and talks are now expected to go through the end of the week. Mogherini told reporters this morning: “I am not talking about extension. I am talking about taking the hours we need to try to complete our work.”  The overwhelming consensus from press and analysts here in Vienna nonetheless hasn’t changed: The parties will indeed announce some kind of agreement before they leave, though it will almost certainly have details that will need to be sorted out in future negotiations. How that aligns with the administration’s legal obligation to provide Congress with all final details the deal is anyone’s guess at this point.

Meanwhile the Obama administration and its allies are laying the groundwork for another U.S. collapse, this time on inspections. Couple of indicators:

(1) They’re giving up on promising the most robust inspection/verification regime in history: Here’s President Obama during his April 2 speech about the Lausanne announcement: “Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.” Here’s White House spokesman Josh Earnest at the beginning of May echoing the boast: “what President Obama has indicated must be part of any nuclear agreement… is the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program.”

But now here’s White House validator Daryl Kimball talking to Politico a couple days ago: “this particular agreement will establish the most extensive, multilayered system of nuclear monitoring and verification for any country not defeated in a war.”

Catch the caveat about wartime defeat? The talking point had already been floated at the beginning of the Vienna talks by RAND’s Alireza Nader talking the JTA: “If the goal is ‘anytime, anywhere’ access and unlimited inspections, it’s not realistic asking a sovereign country not defeated in war.”

Yesterday Jofi Joseph, a former nonproliferation official in the Obama White House, told the Los Angeles Times that the Iranians can’t be expected to submit to anytime/anywhere inspections for the same reason: “What is forgotten is that Iraq was militarily defeated in a humiliating rout and had little choice but to accept [anytime/anywhere inspections].”

For 20 months, the administration promised Congress that Iran had been sufficiently coerced by sanctions that Tehran would accept anytime/anywhere inspections. Many in Congress disagreed and urged the administration to boost American leverage by working with the Hill to pass time-triggered sanctions. The administration responded with two different media wars that included accusations – including some by the president – describing lawmakers as warmongers beholden to “donor” money. Congress was right and the administration was wrong. Why would lawmakers now accept a weaker inspection regime than what the administration said it could secure, and what administration officials smeared lawmakers for doubting?

(2) A new talking point is that the IAEA’s technology makes up for the P5+1 collapsing on inspections – This appeared in two articles yesterday (the New York Times and the Daily Beast). The two stories are fantastically geeky reads about the IAEA’s toys, but that’s not what the administration officials and validators wanted to focus on. Instead you had Energy Secretary Moniz telling the NYT that the technology “lowers the requirement for human inspectors going in” and Kimball telling the Daily Beast that the technology meant that the IAEA would be able to “detect [nuclear activities] without going directly into certain areas.”

This argument is terrible and scientists should be embarrassed they’re making it. In its story the NYT quoted Olli Heinonen – a 27-year veteran of the IAEA who sat atop the agency’s verification shop – all but rolling his eyes.

Mr. Heinonen, the onetime inspection chief, sounded a note of caution, saying it would be naïve to expect that the wave of technology could ensure Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. In the past, he said, Tehran has often promised much but delivered little. “Iran is not going to accept it easily,” he said, referring to the advanced surveillance. “We tried it for 10 years.” Even if Tehran agrees to high-tech sleuthing, Mr. Heinonen added, that step will be “important but minor” compared with the intense monitoring that Western intelligence agencies must mount to see if Iran is racing ahead in covert facilities to build an atomic bomb.

The most fundamental problem is that IAEA procedures require physical environmental samples to confirm violations. They can use futuristic lasers and satellites to *detect* that Iran is cheating. But to *confirm* the cheating they need environmental samples, and usually multiple rounds of samples. Without that level of proof – which requires access – the agency simply wouldn’t tell the international community that it was certain Iran is violation. If you need a paragraph on the procedure click on this link and ctrl-f to “Yet if Iran tries to conceal what it is doing…”  If inspectors can’t get into a facility, it’s highly unlikely they’d ever be comfortable declaring that Iran was violating its obligations.

That’s before even beginning the discussion about why technology can’t make up for access to people, facilities, and documents – without which the IAEA won’t even know where to point its lasers and satellites.

But is what the administration has left: the Iranians can’t be expected to grant anytime/anywhere access but that’s OK because the IAEA has cool toys.

 

Read Less

Independence Day and the Left’s Unseemly Vanity

As most of the nation is preparing to celebrate the 239th anniversary of its founding, the left is going about producing self-affirmations and reinforcing its narcissistic prejudices. Read More

As most of the nation is preparing to celebrate the 239th anniversary of its founding, the left is going about producing self-affirmations and reinforcing its narcissistic prejudices.

This is hardly a new phenomenon, but it has become more pronounced as the present era of progressivism reaches a zenith and invites what history suggests will be a correction in a more conservative direction. The latest example of this unattractive tendency was submitted by Vox.com’s Dylan Matthews who, in a sprawling tome, contended that the American Revolution was a mistake, an unfortunate accident of history, and that mankind would be better off had it never occurred.

Matthews based this contention on three pillars. The first is that the practice of African slavery in North America would have been abolished perhaps twenty years earlier and perhaps without any bloodshed had the colonies continued to fly the British flag. This claim is easy to make for someone who has so consciously determined to ignore the rebellious and individualistic nature of the American character. If Americans were so passive that they would simply accept British abuses in the late 18th Century, surely the planter class in the American South would have been equally servile in the early 19th Century. In Matthews’ fantasy, Southerners would have given up on the practice of slavery peacefully in response to an edict drawn up by an unrepresentative parliamentary body in London.

Matthews’ second contention is that, like American slaves, Native American tribes preferred the British to the American colonists and fought on their behalf during the Revolutionary War. What’s more, he contends that they were right to do so. “Absent the revolution, Britain probably would’ve moved into Indian lands. But fewer people would have died,” he averred. Matthews ignores or is simply unaware of many tribes who fought on the behalf of the Colonists. George Washington personally requested and was provided with Maine’s Passamaquoddy warriors. Massachusetts passed a resolution calling for the employment of 500 Malisset and Micmac Indians by the Continental Army. Indeed, those tribes that did side with the rebellious Americans did so because they believed siding with the devil they knew would better preserve their political neutrality. There was and remains no monolithic Native American position on the Revolutionary War, and to suggest that there was is nothing short of misinformation.

But the many paragraphs Matthews devoted to his self-flagellating sop to identity politics are a mere smokescreen that disguises his true aim: the condemnation of republicanism itself. “In the UK, the Conservative government decided it wanted a carbon tax. So there was a carbon tax. Just like that,” Matthews remarked. “Passing big, necessary legislation — in this case, legislation that’s literally necessary to save the planet — is a whole lot easier with parliaments than presidential systems.” He goes on to insist that the American governmental system is lamentably democratic insofar as it gives “Wyoming the same power as California” in the upper chamber of Congress, and that the need to craft national consensus in order to advance his policy preferences is a lamentable millstone around the neck of “progress.”

It is tempting to dismiss Matthews’ self-loathing tract as just the latest example of ham-fisted provocative “takes” written and published only in order to attract views; a modern example of Barnum’s American Museum, a low form of entertainment in which oddities and curiosities violate taboos and titillate the intrigued. But this would be a disservice to Matthews and the tyrannical progressivism he represents. Though his is supposedly a sermon in praise of constitutional monarchy, he only celebrates the British system’s least democratic elements. Matthews wrote in praise of undiluted authoritarianism. On the left, he is not alone in this impulse. His admiration for anti-democratic governance is not all that dissimilar from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s desire to see America be “China for a day.”

“One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks,” Friedman graciously conceded. “But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.” Among those disadvantages Friedman underemphasized is the persistent historical fact that one-party autocracy tends not to surrender its power after that one productive day in the absence of considerable social upheaval and, often, butchery.

But Matthews and Friedman shouldn’t be dismissed as mere click-seekers. Their honesty in admiration for the authoritarianism that our enlightened Founders sloughed off in favor of revolutionary democratic republicanism is admirable. Conservatives would do well to note often and frequently that their opponents on the left are not fans of the messy and inefficient process of seeking public approval for their policy preferences. The left’s most honest voices openly concede that they would prefer you be made to accept their edified fiat at gunpoint.

A less toxic example of this grotesque self-assuredness was demonstrated by President Barack Obama’s White House this week. In keeping with this president’s desire to see every holiday politicized and to foist upon exhausted families one of his true believers who will ceaselessly proselytize in favor of the president’s policies, the administration asked its devotees to praise and promote the Affordable Care Act over the Fourth of July weekend. In a blog post, the Department of Health and Human Services provided administration supporters a script that they can recite for the unbelievers in their midst. “With greater access to affordable, quality health insurance, the Affordable Care Act is helping individuals and strengthening our economy!” HHS invited its backers to exclaim. “Now would you like more corn?”

This suggestion is in keeping with past administration behavior. It is, however, almost more unseemly for the secularists in this government to infringe upon the solemnity of the celebration of America’s birth than it is to invite Obama’s backers to spoil overtly or inherently religious affairs like Christmas or Thanksgiving. At a time when Americans should be reflecting on the sacrifices of the Founders and those subsequent generations who sacrificed so much to preserve freedom and self-determination, the administration’s narcissists prefer that you revel in their own accomplishments. This sentiment is of a kind with that expressed by first lady Michelle Obama who remarked that she had never been prouder of the United States than when it appeared set to elect her husband to the presidency. Rather than reflect on the sacrifices of those Americans who toiled so that we might enjoy our present comfort and security, those like Matthews, the first lady, and this administration prefer the reflection in the mirror.

Most Americans still know that the Founders who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor were not penning some frat house oath; in revolt against the Crown, those things were truly in the balance. Most Americans do not pine for the legislative efficiency of dictatorial government; they have voted for a divided Washington consistently since 2010, and only the most arrogant would contend that the voters simply don’t know what they want. Most Americans value the country that is still the shining city upon the hill, the golden door besides which Emma Lazarus eloquently noted the lady in the harbor lifts her lamp. Most Americans give thanks that their nation is the Arsenal of Democracy, and know innately that other less altruistic powers would fill that vacuum in her absence. Most Americans – left, right, and unaffiliated — are not as infatuated with themselves as are those who populate pro-administration blogs with content.

Most Americans do not cringe when they hear their neighbor unashamedly wish them a happy Independence Day, and they do not recoil when that is followed by the appeal to heaven that seeks God’s blessing on America. That was so for 239 years, and may it ever be thus.

 

Read Less

Despite Obama, Business as Usual for Cuban Tyrants

Yesterday, President Obama formally announced his plan to re-open a U.S. embassy in Cuba at an event held in the Rose Garden in the White House, declaring that he was opening a “new chapter” in relations between the two countries. But while he was saying that “we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past,” the communist dictatorship in Havana was demonstrating that it had no intention of changing its character in order to justify the enormous boost the infusion of American cash will give the regime. In recent weeks, while the president was preparing to pat himself on the back for ending a policy aimed at isolating the Castro government, the Cuban tyrants arrested a prominent artist who had returned home to test whether Obama’s rapprochement would yield any tangible benefits for those seeking to promote freedom in the island nation. The answer to that query from the president’s new partners was a resounding “no.” The Congress, which is being asked to both fund the new embassy and to lift the embargo on Cuba, should be paying more attention to that arrest than to Obama’s talk about reconciliation.

Read More

Yesterday, President Obama formally announced his plan to re-open a U.S. embassy in Cuba at an event held in the Rose Garden in the White House, declaring that he was opening a “new chapter” in relations between the two countries. But while he was saying that “we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past,” the communist dictatorship in Havana was demonstrating that it had no intention of changing its character in order to justify the enormous boost the infusion of American cash will give the regime. In recent weeks, while the president was preparing to pat himself on the back for ending a policy aimed at isolating the Castro government, the Cuban tyrants arrested a prominent artist who had returned home to test whether Obama’s rapprochement would yield any tangible benefits for those seeking to promote freedom in the island nation. The answer to that query from the president’s new partners was a resounding “no.” The Congress, which is being asked to both fund the new embassy and to lift the embargo on Cuba, should be paying more attention to that arrest than to Obama’s talk about reconciliation.

As the Arts section of the New York Times noted yesterday, performance artist Tania Bruguera returned to her native Cuba last December at the same time as the president’s announcement of his decision to resume diplomatic relations with the island’s communist government. As the newspaper reported, “implicit in this development was the idea that Cuba would gradually loosen up on its policing of public dissent. Ms. Bruguera decided to stage a public performance that would put that to the test.”

Her venue for that test was the Havana Biennial, an arts festival that draws international attention, and to which artists and art critics have flocked. Bruguera used the occasion to perform something she calls “Tatlin #6” in Havana’s Revolution Plaza. It consists of her setting up a microphone and inviting anyone who wanted to participate one minute to speak without censorship. But as soon as Bruguera announced her intentions, she was arrested. She was later released and then staged a marathon reading with supporters of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism at her Havana home. A government-hired road crew set up outside to drown out participants’ voices with jackhammers. Afterwards, she was again taken into custody and questioned for hours.

Bruguera’s fate is not yet decided. The regime would clearly like her to leave the country again but the artist has so far resisted, knowing she would likely be never allowed back home again.

The Times declared her protest a “success” since it overshadowed the festival and exposed the realities of Cuba that the government and the arts establishment in that country wish the world to ignore. That may well be true but unfortunately one of those who continue to ignore Cuban realities is the man in the White House, who worries more about American policy being “imprisoned” by the need to go on resisting Cuban tyranny than the actual imprisonment of dissidents in that country.

The problem with Obama’s decision is not so much that he is trying to deal with Cuba; it’s that he has gotten virtually nothing in return for the economic bounty and legitimacy that U.S. recognition will give one of the last vestiges of communism in the world. Like his negotiations with Iran, the president cared more about getting an agreement at any price than obtaining concessions from Cuba that might have justified the move (other, that is, than the release of American hostage Alan Gross). The repression of Tania Bruguera is just one small example of how Cuban tyranny operates in a country whose prisons are filled with dissenters. Though the president may argue that a U.S. diplomatic presence in Havana could aid dissenters, his embrace of the regime, without forcing it to change, undermines any notion that America will make much of a difference on the ground. The only thing we know for sure is that if the president gets his way, the regime will be enriched (along with those American businesses that choose to profit from the relationship) and that ordinary Cubans will remain silenced and impoverished.

That is why Congress should resist the president’s appeal to lift the embargo. If Cuba wants the benefits of relations with the United States, it must cease imprisoning people like Bruguera and allow genuine freedoms. In the absence of such a shift, Congress must maintain the embargo and refuse to fund the new embassy. Though foreign policy remains the province of the executive, in this case the power of the purse allows the legislative branch to take up a task that the president has shown no interest in pursuing: defending American principles and values.

 

Read Less

Lawless Administration Won’t Enforce Law Against Israel Boycotts

The signing of a trade bill last week that included provisions specifically requiring U.S. trade negotiators to oppose European boycotts of Israel was a signal defeat for the BDS — boycott, divest, sanction — movement. The willingness of a bipartisan majority of Congress to label efforts to wage economic war on the Jewish state as inconsistent with American law was especially important since it rightly dismissed any distinction between boycotts of all of Israel and those that only target Jewish communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. But it appears celebrations about that victory were premature. Comments by State Department spokesman John Kirby let it be known that, although President Obama signed the bill, he won’t enforce it. As it has on so many other issues, such as immigration, this administration regards laws that it likes differently from those it doesn’t and will simply ignore the latter.

Read More

The signing of a trade bill last week that included provisions specifically requiring U.S. trade negotiators to oppose European boycotts of Israel was a signal defeat for the BDS — boycott, divest, sanction — movement. The willingness of a bipartisan majority of Congress to label efforts to wage economic war on the Jewish state as inconsistent with American law was especially important since it rightly dismissed any distinction between boycotts of all of Israel and those that only target Jewish communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. But it appears celebrations about that victory were premature. Comments by State Department spokesman John Kirby let it be known that, although President Obama signed the bill, he won’t enforce it. As it has on so many other issues, such as immigration, this administration regards laws that it likes differently from those it doesn’t and will simply ignore the latter.

The statement by Kirby, which was related on Twitter by the Associated Press’ Matt Lee and picked up by Lori Lowenthal Marcus of the Jewish Press, makes it clear that laws passed by Congress and signed by the president are null and void if they conflict with administration policy. According to Kirby:

By conflating Israel and “Israeli-controlled territories,” a provision of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation runs counter to longstanding U.S. policy towards the occupied territories, include with regard to settlement activity. Every U.S. administration since 1967 — Democrat and Republican alike — has opposed Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines. This administration is no different. The U.S. government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them, and by extension, does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them.

Kirby is right that the U.S. government has never formally recognized the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem or the West Bank. But he’s wrong to assert that President Obama’s policies are entirely consistent with that of his predecessors. This administration has made an issue of the existence of 40-year-old neighborhoods in Jerusalem in a way that is unprecedented since it treats the presence of Jews in parts of Israel’s capital as being just as illegitimate as the most remote West Bank settlement. Moreover, no previous administration has ever considered boycotts of Israel, whether of the entire country or of the half million Jews who live on the other side of the 1967 lines as legitimate. Kirby’s statement is an implicit endorsement of some Israel boycotts while opposing others.

Nor does the focus on settlements aid the cause of peace as the administration claims. Israel has already made far-reaching offers of withdrawal from the West Bank including statehood that has been repeatedly rejected by the Palestinians. The refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn is the obstacle to peace, not the presence of Jews in Jerusalem or the West Bank.

As I have written previously, the notion that it is okay to boycott some Jews but not others is one that sends a dangerous signal to Israel’s enemies. Once it is deemed lawful to anathematize parts of the Israeli economy, it is a slippery slope to treating all such boycotts as legitimate. Since the original Arab boycott that sought to strangle the Israeli economy was only broken by U.S. efforts to ban trade with those who enforced the boycott, a Congressional effort to move against BDS now was entirely in keeping with longstanding U.S. policy. But since this administration is obsessed with the idea of banning settlements, it is prepared to let a Europe in which a rising tide of anti-Semitism has fueled support for BDS activity get away with such boycotts.

This is a disgrace, but any thought of a legal challenge to the decision is a waste of time. Since the U.S. Supreme Court gave President Obama the right to invalidate laws about Israeli rights to Jerusalem in a decision handed down earlier this month, he can be confident that he will be granted similar latitude to ignore anti-BDS law.

But it isn’t just friends of Israel who should be outraged about this decision. This is an administration that views law enforcement as an option, not an imperative. Just as he did on immigration, where he ignored the will of Congress and used executive orders to effectively annul legislation by not enforcing those concerning illegal immigrants, President Obama regards his personal opinion as being above the law. That is a dangerous tendency to substitute his preferences for the rule of law ought to scare all Americans, regardless of their views about trade or Israel.

 

Read Less

Obama’s ‘Best Week Ever’ and the Coming Backlash

Unless you’ve managed to lock yourself away in Henry Bemis’s bank vault, you’ve probably heard the national political press declare that President Barack Obama is once again cured of lame duck syndrome. Largely as a result of exogenous events over which this White House had little or no control, the political media is celebrating, some shamelessly and without regard for the pretense of objectivity, Obama’s “best week ever.” We’ve been here before. Concomitant with the impression that Obama is once again in command of events rather than battered by them, the president’s job approval ratings are on the rebound. Movement conservatives are understandably disappointed by the course of recent events, but there is every reason to believe that the American political pendulum hasn’t finished swinging back in the GOP’s direction. Read More

Unless you’ve managed to lock yourself away in Henry Bemis’s bank vault, you’ve probably heard the national political press declare that President Barack Obama is once again cured of lame duck syndrome. Largely as a result of exogenous events over which this White House had little or no control, the political media is celebrating, some shamelessly and without regard for the pretense of objectivity, Obama’s “best week ever.” We’ve been here before. Concomitant with the impression that Obama is once again in command of events rather than battered by them, the president’s job approval ratings are on the rebound. Movement conservatives are understandably disappointed by the course of recent events, but there is every reason to believe that the American political pendulum hasn’t finished swinging back in the GOP’s direction.

In a typically insightful column, National Review’s Kevin Williamson recently observed that we might have entered a period of “peak liberalism” characterized by frantic, almost manic, pursuits of trivial cultural victories followed by excessive celebratory displays that serve primarily as tribal self-affirmations. Williamson suggests that this conspicuous behavior might be a subtle acknowledgment of the fact that cultural progressivism has reached its zenith and will soon being to recede. “If there is desperation, it probably is because the Left is starting to suspect that the permanent Democratic majority it keeps promising itself may yet fail to materialize,” he wrote. Williamson has identified a condition of which partisans on either side of the aisle would be shocked to learn. For those on the left, progressivism’s march is relentless; it’s speed, constant; it’s course, unalterable. For conservatives, the Obama era has been an endless stream of disappointments punctuated by only occasional and minor reprieve. If there were a pendulum swing in the works, both Democratic and Republican partisans would probably contend that it is sub-rosa to the point of imperceptibility.

But conservatives have reason to indulge in a little optimism. Since the end of World War II, American political culture has a remarkably constant tendency to counter the excesses of those in power. At the presidential level, this propensity is exaggerated and most easily observed (there’s a reason why only once has a party won three consecutive terms in the White House in the post-war period). To some extent, this is a natural function of the physics of political coalitions. As Real Clear Politics analyst Sean Trende put it, political coalitions are like water balloons: “When you press down on one side, another side pops up,” he noted. A winning national coalition must necessarily be so broad and diverse that it will eventually mature into something unwieldy without substantial maintenance. As the Democratic coalition of voters forged in the New Deal era dissolved amid neglect, Republicans began to pick off key elements of this coalition (working class whites, in particular). Democrats hope to replace their winning alliance of voters with a new emerging group of ascendant voters – the backbone of which is made up of students, women, and minorities. Hillary Clinton’s frantic efforts to ingratiate herself to Barack Obama’s voters are indicative of how uncertain Democrats are that Obama’s coalition of voters is now a permanent Democratic voting bloc.

Making it permanent is an urgent Democratic project, in part, because history suggests that the wind will not be at Democratic backs in 2016. No matter how “ascendant” your coalition may be, securing that elusive third term in the White House, much less maintaining coattails for your party’s down-ballot candidates, is always a struggle. This condition will probably be made worse for Democrats insofar as the electorate has been registering various levels of dissatisfaction with the state of affairs now for three consecutive elections, only to see progressive causes continually advanced.

Following two consecutive Democratic wave elections in 2006 and 2008, the electorate soured on Democratic governance and delivered the House of Representatives (as well as a slew of statehouses and legislative chambers) to the GOP in 2010. It was a victory that indicated the Republican revolution of 1994 and their ensuing 12 years of governance in Congress after generations of Democratic supremacy was no fluke. And what did voters gain from this no confidence vote? The Affordable Care Act signed into law, the Budget Control Act (sequester) indiscriminate cuts to defense spending, and a series of executive orders that invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, the gutting of the 1996 welfare reform laws, and the watering down of American immigration law. Whether or not one views these as positive accomplishments, they are indisputably associated with liberal policy priorities.

The 2012 election can most charitably be described as a status quo election; Americans were dissatisfied with the state of affairs, both foreign and domestic, but were not sufficiently horrified by them to transfer any branch or chamber of government to the opposition party. The president and his party, however, chose to interpret his reelection as a mandate to redouble his efforts to set the nation down a liberal course. The Democratic Party rammed through tax increases on top marginal rates as well as payroll, which is not to mention the tax hikes associated with the implementation of the ACA. Democrats engaged in a failed gun control push that the president has pledged to pursue indefinitely regardless of how often it is rejected. Obama again rewrote immigration law via executive authority, pursued liberal priorities like carbon taxation and net neutrality through America’s regulatory agencies, and applauded as his party curtailed the minority party’s rights in Congress so as to see all of his nominees confirmed.

In 2014, the voters revolted again. A wave election arguably larger than 2010 swept a generation of liberal lawmakers out of office at the local level and delivered the U.S. Senate to the GOP. Again, the voters were ignored. The president’s party has obstructed the construction of the Keystone pipeline to death, preserved Obama’s determination not to enforce existing immigration law, and celebrated as the Supreme Court dubiously affirmed the ACA once more and dubbed same-sex marriage a constitutional right. Again, whether or not one agrees with these policy prescriptions is immaterial; they undeniably advance liberal objectives.

If history is any guide, change is coming. Dispirited conservatives will balk at the notion that Republicans can serve as change agents, but the out-party is the most frequent beneficiary of this voter sentiment. For progressives, the irrefutable moral justification of their cause renders any setback to its agenda a deviation from the norm, but this is self-flattery. American political history and the inherent dynamics of republican politics suggests that voters will soon correct for the excesses of the progressive left that it once empowered. When it happens, it will probably come as a shock to all those progressives who are forever citing the long march of history to justify their peculiar policy preferences.

 

Read Less

Iran’s Coming Betrayal and Our Jilted Allies

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of Iran nuclear talks: Read More

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of Iran nuclear talks:

A couple of quick updates before everyone goes out to dinner here.

US diplomats are now telling journalists that talks will go beyond the original June 30 deadline. No surprise but consider it confirmed. The talks are still expected to conclude with a deal in the very early days of July. The current over/under is July 4th, which would give the Obama administration a full 5 days to meet the July 9 Corker deadline for filing the text of the agreement with Congress. If they file the deal before July 9, it sits in front of Congress for 30 days. If they miss the deadline, it sits in front of Congress for 60 days. The administration doesn’t want lawmakers to have an extra 30 days to discover the deal’s flaws, and so the State Department is under heavy pressure to conclude negotiations with enough time to get the text to Congress before the deadline.

Meanwhile the newest Associated Press article filed from Vienna – pasted below – is getting a lot of attention. It’s a broad overview of how US negotiations with Iran have created a “new normal” in which the Obama administration is far more comfortable talking to Iran than to America’s traditional Israeli and Arab allies. Lawmakers will ask how the administration can be trusted to enforce a deal: not only will evidence of Iranian cheating detonate the President’s legacy, but the President and his team have simply become – on a basic personal level – cozy with the Iranians:

Whether or not the U.S. and its negotiating powers can clinch a pact in Austria’s capital over the next several days, it’s hard to imagine the tentative U.S.-Iranian rapprochement ending anytime soon. It’s become the new normal… Although neither will use the word trust, for the first time in decades, U.S.-Iranian ties have in some ways “normalized.”… the interactions between Kerry and Zarif, and the two countries’ other negotiators, have expanded dramatically. They regularly chat in hotel breakfast halls before their daily discussions, hold regular calls and coordinate schedules…

In March, Kerry began a meeting by offering condolences to Rouhani after his mother died and wished the Iranians a happy Persian New Year with the traditional declaration of “Nowruz Mubarak.” Later, he approached Rouhani’s brother, a member of the Iranian negotiating team in Lausanne, Switzerland, and hugged him… And the good will has spread to others in the negotiating team.

Washington clearly remains light years closer to Middle East allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, but their coolness or outright hostility to the Iran talks has taken a toll. For the Obama administration, it has created the strange dynamic of sometimes finding it easier to discuss nuclear matters with Tehran… Only last week, many Iranian parliamentarians chanted “Death to America” as they passed legislation that would bar nuclear inspectors from visiting military sites – a key U.S. and international demand.

This article isn’t some random neocon opinion piece. It’s the Associated Press’s top diplomatic journalists filing a news report on the state of the talks.

When Iranian expansionism finally forces a future U.S. President to take action against Tehran – and it will, given that the Iranians are engaged in a region-wide hot war with the Arab world and are constantly looking to start another hot war with Israel – the Iranians will accuse that President of violating the nuclear deal and back out. Washington will then face an Iran that will be economically and militarily resurgent, opposite an array of abandoned allies.

Read Less

Former Obama Advisers Join Chorus of Iran Deal Critics

With the Iran nuclear negotiations coming down to the final days before a self-imposed deadline expires, the Obama administration is desperately seeking support for its effort to forge a deal at almost any price. But the prospect of even more concessions to Tehran in order to avoid the failure of the talks has led even some of the president’s former closest advisers to join the chorus of critics urging him to stand his ground for once. A bipartisan group of former diplomats, policy experts, and legislators has issued a signed statement organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy declaring that the agreement in its current form falls short of “meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement.” It comes as no surprise that some former Bush administration staffers signed the document. The shock comes from the fact that it was also endorsed by five former members of President Obama’s own inner circle of advisers on Iran. The signatures of former Obama advisers indicate not only the depth of the unease among knowledgeable observers about the administration’s willingness to appease Iran. It also is a stark warning that ratification of this weak pact by Congress is very much in doubt unless it is significantly strengthened by tough diplomacy in the coming days and weeks.

Read More

With the Iran nuclear negotiations coming down to the final days before a self-imposed deadline expires, the Obama administration is desperately seeking support for its effort to forge a deal at almost any price. But the prospect of even more concessions to Tehran in order to avoid the failure of the talks has led even some of the president’s former closest advisers to join the chorus of critics urging him to stand his ground for once. A bipartisan group of former diplomats, policy experts, and legislators has issued a signed statement organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy declaring that the agreement in its current form falls short of “meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement.” It comes as no surprise that some former Bush administration staffers signed the document. The shock comes from the fact that it was also endorsed by five former members of President Obama’s own inner circle of advisers on Iran. The signatures of former Obama advisers indicate not only the depth of the unease among knowledgeable observers about the administration’s willingness to appease Iran. It also is a stark warning that ratification of this weak pact by Congress is very much in doubt unless it is significantly strengthened by tough diplomacy in the coming days and weeks.

The former Obama advisers that signed the statement are: Dennis Ross, the longtime diplomat and Middle East peace processor who oversaw Iran policy during the president’s first term; David Petraeus, the former general appointed by Obama to lead the CIA; Robert Einhorn, the veteran State Department official responsible for the enactment and enforcement of sanctions on Iran on Obama’s watch; Gary Samore, who served as the president’s chief adviser on nuclear policy; and General James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff responsible for implementing the president’s decisions on building up forces in the region.

As the New York Times notes in its article on the statement, all of these men:

Joined in hours of Situation Room meetings during the president’s first term, and some into the second, to devise both the strategy to bring Iran to the negotiating table — a mix of sanctions, sabotage of the nuclear program and the prospect of a broader relationship with the West — and the negotiating objectives.

The statement also makes clear that, contrary to the efforts of the administration to smear all critics of their deal as advocates for war, the signatories support a negotiated settlement of the issue. Nor do they completely dismiss, as many critics rightly do, the current framework as a negligible achievement. But they say that unless the president insists on the deal meeting the same criteria that he has repeatedly enunciated are necessary for it to meet the goals he set forth when the negotiations began, then it will fail to accomplish his stated mission of preventing Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions.

The statement outlines five key areas where Western negotiators must stand their ground:

1. Monitoring and Verification: The inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (the “IAEA”) charged with monitoring compliance with the agreement must have timely and effective access to any sites in Iran they need to visit in order to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement. This must include military (including IRGC) and other sensitive facilities. Iran must not be able to deny or delay timely access to any site anywhere in the country that the inspectors need to visit in order to carry out their responsibilities.

2. Possible Military Dimensions: The IAEA inspectors must be able, in a timely and effective manner, to take samples, to interview scientists and government officials, to inspect sites, and to review and copy documents as required for their investigation of Iran’s past and any ongoing nuclear weaponization activities (“Possible Military Dimensions” or “PMD”). This work needs to be accomplished before any significant sanctions relief.

3. Advanced Centrifuges: The agreement must establish strict limits on advanced centrifuge R&D, testing, and deployment in the first ten years, and preclude the rapid technical upgrade and expansion of Iran’s enrichment capacity after the initial ten-year period. The goal is to push back Iran’s deployment of advanced centrifuges as long as possible, and ensure that any such deployment occurs at a measured, incremental pace consonant with a peaceful nuclear program.

4. Sanctions Relief: Relief must be based on Iran’s performance of its obligations. Suspension or lifting of the most significant sanctions must not occur until the IAEA confirms that Iran has taken the key steps required to come into compliance with the agreement. Non-nuclear sanctions (such as for terrorism) must remain in effect and be vigorously enforced.

5. Consequences of Violations: The agreement must include a timely and effective mechanism to re-impose sanctions automatically if Iran is found to be in violation of the agreement, including by denying or delaying IAEA access. In addition, the United States must itself articulate the serious consequences Iran will face in that event

But the statement goes on to raise yet another important point concerning the nature of the framework that is set to expire after ten years, potentially leaving Iran free after that to build a bomb:

Most importantly, it is vital for the United States to affirm that it is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from producing sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon – or otherwise acquiring or building one – both during the agreement and after it expires. Precisely because Iran will be left as a nuclear threshold state (and has clearly preserved the option of becoming a nuclear weapon state), the United States must go on record now that it is committed to using all means necessary, including military force, to prevent this.

This statement comes in the wake of a series of astonishing concessions on the part of the administration in which it has abandoned positions — such as the need for Iran to come clean about its past military research — that it declared were inviolable back in April when the framework was announced. Yet with so many important issues yet to be resolved in the negotiations such as the lifting of sanctions and the nature of inspections, the signatories urge the president to refuse to give in again to Iran as he has done on virtually every issue over the past two years. Iran’s Supreme Leader said on Tuesday that he would never allow inspections and would insist on lifting all sanctions immediately and permanently. Clearly, Iran expects the U.S. to fold again. If the negotiations are to continue, then the U.S. should stop acting as if they needed a deal more than the Iranians. If Obama’s spine finally stiffens, the West still has enough leverage to force Iran to give up its demands.

But the source of their anxiety is not that the administration lacks a strategy to achieve its goal. The problem is that the president has repeatedly demonstrated that he thinks a bad deal is better than no deal at all so every time Iran says no, he buckles. Given this history, it’s difficult to fault the Iranians for believing it won’t happen.

That’s why this statement is so important. It is a warning to Congress that the Iran deal should not be treated as a partisan issue in which Democrats will rally to the president’s side no matter their misgivings. The consequences of a nuclear Iran are too serious for this to be a political football. Democrats and Republicans must warn the White House that they will not acquiesce to surrender to a nuclear Iran that an unsatisfactory deal ensures. It is difficult to imagine the president deciding to change course at this late date. But the fact that some of his former confidantes are joining the ranks of the Iran deal’s critics shows that this deal can and ought to be stopped.

Read Less

Force? Obama Already Told Us There is No Plan B on Iran

In Politico Magazine today, Michael Crowley writes about what he refers to as America’s “Plan B” for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. Plan A is, of course, the diplomatic engagement that has led the U.S. to the brink of signing an agreement with Iran that is supposed to forestall the nuclear threat. That effort is part of a broader strategy change adopted by the Obama administration for the Middle East that seems predicated on the creation of a new entente with the Islamist regime. But, as Crowley writes, if the talks fall through and the U.S. walks away in the face of the latest bout of Iranian intransigence the U.S. Air Force has an answer to the world’s fears about Tehran’s nuclear capability: the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), a 15-ton bomb with 6,000 pounds of high explosives that can reportedly penetrate through 200 feet of earth and 60 feet of concrete and then blow up whatever is underneath those layers. That means the fortified mountainside bunker at Fordow may not be impregnable. That should leave the U.S. with a formidable Iran military option that, at least in theory, ought to persuade the Islamist regime to accede to U.S. demands for a tough and verifiable nuclear agreement. But the problem with Crowley’s interesting piece is that we already know this administration has no “Plan B” with respect to Iran. The president has already signaled that there will be no use of force and no walking away from even a bad nuclear deal.

Read More

In Politico Magazine today, Michael Crowley writes about what he refers to as America’s “Plan B” for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. Plan A is, of course, the diplomatic engagement that has led the U.S. to the brink of signing an agreement with Iran that is supposed to forestall the nuclear threat. That effort is part of a broader strategy change adopted by the Obama administration for the Middle East that seems predicated on the creation of a new entente with the Islamist regime. But, as Crowley writes, if the talks fall through and the U.S. walks away in the face of the latest bout of Iranian intransigence the U.S. Air Force has an answer to the world’s fears about Tehran’s nuclear capability: the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), a 15-ton bomb with 6,000 pounds of high explosives that can reportedly penetrate through 200 feet of earth and 60 feet of concrete and then blow up whatever is underneath those layers. That means the fortified mountainside bunker at Fordow may not be impregnable. That should leave the U.S. with a formidable Iran military option that, at least in theory, ought to persuade the Islamist regime to accede to U.S. demands for a tough and verifiable nuclear agreement. But the problem with Crowley’s interesting piece is that we already know this administration has no “Plan B” with respect to Iran. The president has already signaled that there will be no use of force and no walking away from even a bad nuclear deal.

The chances of the U.S. ever resorting to force against Iran were always slim, but last month the president sent a very clear signal to Tehran they needn’t fear a change of heart on that score. Speaking to Israel’s Channel Two, the president not only didn’t repeat past promises about all options being on the table but specifically dismissed the utility of the use of force against Iran:

“A military solution will not fix it. Even if the United States participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program but it will not eliminate it.”

There’s some truth to this assertion but since the entire premise of the framework with Iran that he was trying to sell to the Israelis as well as Congress is to merely delay Iran’s program and to lengthen its “break out” time towards a bomb, his reservations about force seem to lack credibility.

But the main point to be gleaned from this statement is that it was a clear signal to Iran that Crowley’s scenario about the Americans walking out of the talks this week in frustration and ordering B-2 bombers loaded with MOP to be put on alert is something that will never happen.

Over the course of the last two years of negotiations with Iran, President Obama has demonstrated repeatedly that his desire for an agreement on virtually any terms outweighs any concern about Iran eventually getting a bomb. He jettisoned his demand for an end to their nuclear program (as he promised in his 2012 foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney) as well as international demands that they cease enriching uranium. The current agreement already allows Iran to retain thousands of centrifuges and to maintain a program of nuclear research. Even worse, the deal will expire after ten years leaving Iran largely free to do, as it likes after that.

These overly generous terms were secured by tough Iranian negotiating tactic that have were answered with American surrenders on almost every crucial point. As Secretary of State John Kerry explained after the interim Iran deal was signed in November 2013, once the Iranians said “no,” the U.S. came to the conclusion that its demands were never going to be met so the administration simply accepted this situation and moved onto the next point. This was repeated only this month when the U.S. conceded that Iran won’t come clean about its past military nuclear efforts prior to the signing of the deal but, contrary to past promises, won’t consider this a reason to abandon the negotiations.

Now that the talks to finalize the nuclear deal are coming down the homestretch, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that Iran believes this pattern won’t be broken. As I wrote earlier today, the statements from Iran’s Supreme Leader yesterday in which he made clear that the sort of inspections that would make the deal verifiable won’t be allowed are a direct challenge to President Obama.

If Iran had the slightest worry that the president believed force was an option they would never dare to throw down the gauntlet in the talks in this manner. But two years of Obama’s weak negotiating tactics have forced them to conclude that they can defy the U.S. with impunity. Nor are they afraid of Israel resorting to force because they are positive that the U.S. won’t allow it, a point that is reinforced by the fact that, as Crowley notes, the administration has not shared the MOP system with Israel despite its boasts about bolstering the security relationship with the Jewish state.

At this point, it doesn’t matter that the United States has the capacity to take out the bunker at Fordow and every other Iranian nuclear facility. Crowley writes that the existence of MOP may have helped bring Iran to the table and that it could influence their behavior in the future since it will remain as a deterrent to cheating on the pact. The first assertion is arguable but the latter is not. Without a president who is prepared to negotiate from a position of strength the ability of the MOP to take it out Iran’s nukes is irrelevant both to the current talks and to what follows.

An advanced bunker buster system like MOP should have empowered President Obama to demand an agreement that would have eliminated for all time any possibility of an Iranian weapon. But it didn’t. The deal now in place offers Iran two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on its easily evaded terms and the other by patiently waiting for it to expire. And the military option isn’t stopping Iran from making sure the deal that is being finalized now is substantially weaker than President Obama claimed it was back in April when it was announced.

It remains to be seen whether President Obama’s successor will be able to walk away from this mess, assuming that Congress isn’t able to prevent it from being put into effect. In January 2017, MOP may for the first time become a factor in U.S.-Iranian relations. But by then it may be too late. Even a commander-in-chief determined to get tough on Iran may be faced with the fact that sanctions can’t be easily re-imposed and the international seal of approval on Iran’s nuclear program may make it harder to justify using force to take out the same facilities that the U.S. gave a seal of approval to only a year and a half earlier. Still, MOP or an even more advanced system will be there to be used to stop an Iranian bomb if the U.S. has the will to act. But after years of exploiting Obama’s weakness, the Iranians probably think they’ll jump off that bridge when they come to it.

Read Less

Obama Gives Terrorists Another Incentive to Kidnap Americans

It appears that Iran isn’t the only Islamist entity that is about to get an infusion of cash from the Obama administration. With the announcement yesterday that the U.S. has revised its policy that seeks to prevent the families of hostages held by terrorists from paying ransom, the president has just given those criminals another incentive to target Americans. The president’s order also will mandate that the government provide more support and information for these unfortunate families, something that should have already been done a long time ago. But while the policy shift has been generated in no small measure by the enormous sympathy felt by most Americans for the captives’ relatives, the real reason this is happening isn’t purely humanitarian. It has also been dictated by the exposure of the administration’s hypocrisy in paying a huge ransom in released terrorist prisoners for the freedom of Bowe Bergdahl, an American deserter that wound up in the hands of the Taliban. That blunder was bad enough, but by opening a way for Americans to start pouring money into the coffers of ISIS and other Islamist groups in hostage ransoms, President Obama has again made it clear that this administration isn’t prepared to do what it takes to defeat these killers.

Read More

It appears that Iran isn’t the only Islamist entity that is about to get an infusion of cash from the Obama administration. With the announcement yesterday that the U.S. has revised its policy that seeks to prevent the families of hostages held by terrorists from paying ransom, the president has just given those criminals another incentive to target Americans. The president’s order also will mandate that the government provide more support and information for these unfortunate families, something that should have already been done a long time ago. But while the policy shift has been generated in no small measure by the enormous sympathy felt by most Americans for the captives’ relatives, the real reason this is happening isn’t purely humanitarian. It has also been dictated by the exposure of the administration’s hypocrisy in paying a huge ransom in released terrorist prisoners for the freedom of Bowe Bergdahl, an American deserter that wound up in the hands of the Taliban. That blunder was bad enough, but by opening a way for Americans to start pouring money into the coffers of ISIS and other Islamist groups in hostage ransoms, President Obama has again made it clear that this administration isn’t prepared to do what it takes to defeat these killers.

There’s little question that most Americans both sympathize and identify with the situation that families like the Foleys, whose son James was beheaded by ISIS last year after rescue and ransom attempts failed. The fact that the Foleys and other families whose loved ones were held by terrorists were threatened with prosecution by the government if they attempted to pay a ransom for their release is seen as an egregious overreach by a heavy-handed administration that hadn’t the guts or smarts to rescue American hostages while refusing to let them be ransomed.

The Foleys and other hostage families were merely doing what any of us would do in their position. If my child or yours were in the hands of the enemy, any parent would move heaven and earth, and sell every principle we held about fighting terrorism down the drain, in order to ensure their safe release. But there is a difference between the impulse of a parent and the duty of a government that is supposed to be waging a war on the hostage takers.

One of the reasons behind the success of ISIS in recent years, other, that is, from the Obama administration’s precipitate withdrawal from Iraq and refusal to take action in Syria when it might have forestalled the victory of these terrorists, is their ability to generate huge amounts of revenue by taking Westerners prisoner. Most European nations have paid the ransoms demanded turning a ragtag bunch of terrorists that Obama once dismissed as the “JV” for al-Qaeda into a force that now controls much of the territory of two nations.

But the United States has rightly refused to add to ISIS’s wealth. Saying no to families in such distress is difficult, and better leaders than President Obama have sometimes succumbed to the pressure to salve their pain. President Reagan did so when he approved a guns-for-hostages swap with Iran. Various Israeli governments, including the one led by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have traded thousands of convicted terrorists to gain the release of a handful of Israeli prisoners. The reason for those swaps was understandable, and, in Netanyahu’s case, almost a political necessity given the outcry from Israelis demanding action to save kidnaped soldier Gilad Shalit. But that didn’t make them wise decisions.

Opening the door to American ransom payments to ISIS is even worse than those admittedly egregious examples of supposedly tough government jettisoning their principles in order to avoid being seen as hardhearted in the face of the tears of parents. Unlike Iran in the 1980s or even Hamas, ISIS is a dynamic organization that has shown itself capable of spreading its control over the Middle East. Though it can be argued that ISIS and the Taliban and every other Islamist terrorist group is already bent on capturing as many Americans as possible, the president has just given them an extra incentive to seek out U.S. citizens, perhaps by expanding its area of activity to places outside of its nominal control in the region in search of prey.

What’s more the real reason why the administration has been pressured into bending on this issue has less to do with sympathy for the Foleys than outrage over Obama’s hypocrisy in letting five terrorist killers with American blood on their hands go free to obtain Bergdahl’s release. The administration’s argument has been that regardless of Bergdhal’s disgraceful behavior, the United States was still obligated to bring him home. Perhaps so, but not at the cost of undermining the war the country has been waging against the Taliban. While Bergdahl may have been suffering, the notion that the plight of prisoners of war must take precedence over measures taken to win the war they were fighting in is indefensible. Such ransoms also give the lie to the idea that the U.S. is serious about fighting and defeating its enemies.

But instead of admitting they made a mistake with Bergdahl — something this president seems incapable of doing under any circumstances — the administration has doubled down on its error by extending tolerance towards other measures that will benefit the nation’s enemies.

We all should agree that families like the Foleys and others placed in that awful situation deserve to be treated with greater care than they have previously been given by the administration. After all, no one was ever going to actually be prosecuted for trying to ransom a relative. But the proper response to their tragedy is a greater determination to rescue hostages and to kill their captors. If American counterterror policy now shifts to one that focuses more on alleviating the pain of hostage families, then the only thing we can be sure of is that there were will be even more grieving Americans in the future than in the past. Like Iran, which is happy to accept U.S. appeasement that will lead to a massive infusion of cash due to the relaxation of economic sanctions, ISIS will be cheering the president’s decision.

Read Less

Obama Cedes Iraq to Iran

U.S. forces in Anbar province sharing a base with Iranian-directed militias? A few years ago, I would have been incredulous; after all, these are the same militias that killed hundreds of American troops, and they are just as dangerous and extremist as ever. But now, there is nothing particularly shocking or surprising about this scoop from Josh Rogin and Eli LakeRead More

U.S. forces in Anbar province sharing a base with Iranian-directed militias? A few years ago, I would have been incredulous; after all, these are the same militias that killed hundreds of American troops, and they are just as dangerous and extremist as ever. But now, there is nothing particularly shocking or surprising about this scoop from Josh Rogin and Eli Lake

It is all part and parcel of the Obama policy of tilting toward Tehran that has been evident for several years now — a trend that Michael Doran and I noted in January 2014 in this New York Times op-ed and that Doran had identified even earlier. This strategy has been evident at least since the president’s decision in the fall of 2013 not to bomb Iran’s client, Bashar Assad, for violating a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons. Instead, Obama reached a deal with Assad for the peaceful removal of his chemical weapons — a deal that has made the U.S. complicit in Assad’s continuance in power even as Assad has continued to drop chlorine gas and barrel bombs on civilians.

Since then, the administration has bombed in Tikrit in support of an offensive mounted, for the most part, by Iranian-backed militias rather than Iraqi troops. It has cut funding to anti-Hezbollah Shiites in Lebanon. And, of course, it has continued to make crippling concessions to Iran in order to get a nuclear deal — even if the terms of the deal only increase Iran’s breakout time from two months to three months.

The administration is not vocal about what it is up to, but it is consistent: It is trying to realign the strategic chessboard of the Middle East so that Iran becomes a de facto partner of the U.S. rather than its adversary. Amazingly enough, the president does not seem to be deterred by the meager returns on his strategy so far: a region in flames.

There is every indication to believe that, as Doran and I predicted, the administration outreach to Iran is only exacerbating the sectarian divide and emboldening extremists of both Sunni and Shiite persuasion. The problem will become much more severe once a nuclear deal is concluded with Iran, because that could well spur Saudi Arabia to seek its own nuclear weapons and it will provide billions of dollars more that the mullahs can use to subvert their neighbors.

It is still not too late for the administration to reverse course — to demand more of Iran at the negotiating table and to take actions against Iran’s proxies in Syria and Iraq. A good beginning would be to ground Assad’s air force and declare safe zones along the borders where the moderate opposition can organize. But the intertwining of U.S. forces and Shiite militias in Iraq makes such a decision more dangerous because it will be all too easy for Iranian militias to attack U.S. forces again as they have in the past. Not that it matters: Obama has shown no desire to check Iranian designs. As long as that’s the case, the Iranian militias will happily coexist with U.S. troops because they will perceive, correctly, that the American presence is actually aiding their power grab.

Read Less

Chinese Cyber Attack on OPM Goes Unpunished

So, the penetration of the Office of Personnel Management computer systems is even more pervasive than previously reported.

CNN reported yesterday: “The personal data of an estimated 18 million current, former and prospective federal employees were affected by a cyber breach at the Office of Personnel Management – more than four times the 4.2 million the agency has publicly acknowledged. The number is expected to grow, according to U.S. officials briefed on the investigation.” Read More

So, the penetration of the Office of Personnel Management computer systems is even more pervasive than previously reported.

CNN reported yesterday: “The personal data of an estimated 18 million current, former and prospective federal employees were affected by a cyber breach at the Office of Personnel Management – more than four times the 4.2 million the agency has publicly acknowledged. The number is expected to grow, according to U.S. officials briefed on the investigation.”

The hack is not only gigantic and appalling but also inexplicable. CNN also reported:

OPM’s internal auditors told a House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee last week that key databases housing sensitive national security data, including applications for background checks, had not met federal security standards.

“Not only was a large volume (11 out of 47 systems) of OPM’s IT systems operating without a valid Authorization, but several of these systems are among the most critical and sensitive applications owned by the agency,” Michael Esser, OPM’s assistant inspector general for audits, wrote in testimony prepared for committee.

Yet, faced with this terrible failure, which exposes the most intimate data of countless Americans (including pretty much all of our national security officials, past and present) to Chinese espionage, what has been the Obama administration response?

Yesterday an official identified only as “senior State Department official” was asked about the issue at a press conference — and specifically what the US is doing to redress this Chinese intrusion. Here is what he or she said:

So we have had discussions ongoing with the Chinese in multilateral fora, in bilateral fora about all of the various aspects about cyber security, the activity of IT companies in China, in the United States, et cetera. It’s a very wide-ranging, obviously, topic. It’s a fast-changing area, and it’s an ongoing topic of discussion. We’re the two biggest users of the internet. We both have huge global sort of interests in seeing the internet be secured. I understand that iPhone – more iPhones were sold in China last year than in the United States. So it’s a huge area of interest for both of our countries, and we have ongoing conversations about all aspects.

That’s weak even by State Department standards. The notion that the U.S. and China have shared interests on the Internet is farcical, since China has emerged as the No. 1 hacker of American computer systems for both commercial and national security advantage. Saying that Washington and Beijing have a shared interest in Internet security is like saying that a cop and a robber have a shared interest in law enforcement.

Little wonder that members of Congress, Democrats as well as Republicans, are frustrated with the administration attempts to minimize the size and severity of this breach. At a hearing last week in the House, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D., Mass.), told OPM chief Katherine Archuleta: “I wish that you were as strenuous and hardworking at keeping information out of the hands of hacker as are at keeping information out of the hands of Congress.”

What’s truly dismaying here is that this is hardly the first breach of cyber-security experienced by this administration. Recall that the massive breaches committed by Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and Edward Snowden occurred since President Obama took office. That’s not to suggest that the president is personally to blame for this negligence, but he is certainly as much to blame for these failures as President George W. Bush was for failures to respond to Hurricane Katrina and to a growing insurgency in Iraq. Yet, so far, the Obama administration has largely managed to avoid the kind of censure and wrath that the Bush administration earned for its handling of Katrina and the Iraq War.

Granted, these cyber breaches have not resulted in massive casualties and catastrophes that can be seen in video footage and photos. But these are catastrophes nevertheless that have done great (if hidden) damage to American security, and it’s high time that the public took this more seriously and demanded that high-level officials be held to account. At least FEMA director Michael Brown was fired over Katrina and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was ultimately ousted over Iraq. Who, if anyone, is going to be held accountable for the massive cyber-breaches the government has been suffering of late?

Read Less

It’s Not France, But an Obama Diktat That Israel Fears

With Western nations concentrating on finalizing a nuclear deal with Iran this month, efforts to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace talks have been relegated to the diplomatic back burner. Even President Obama, who made the creation of a Palestinian state a priority from his first moment in office appears to have accepted that further efforts on that front will have to wait until after his cherished new entente with Tehran is safely signed and then ratified by Congress (or saved by a presidential veto). But Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister was in the Middle East this past weekend giving Israelis a sneak preview of what they can expect once appeasement of Iran is checked off on the West’s to-do-list. Once the dust settles on Iran, France is expected to propose a resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would seek to impose a framework on future negotiations with the Palestinians. Such a framework would likely make the 1967 lines the basis of talks and treat Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem a foregone conclusion making it unlikely that the Palestinians would budge an inch on any vital issue. Israel would not have greeted this news happily under any circumstances, but it so happened that Fabius arrived just after a series of terror attacks on Jews that illustrated just how dangerous any such unilateral concessions on Israel’s part would be.

Read More

With Western nations concentrating on finalizing a nuclear deal with Iran this month, efforts to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace talks have been relegated to the diplomatic back burner. Even President Obama, who made the creation of a Palestinian state a priority from his first moment in office appears to have accepted that further efforts on that front will have to wait until after his cherished new entente with Tehran is safely signed and then ratified by Congress (or saved by a presidential veto). But Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister was in the Middle East this past weekend giving Israelis a sneak preview of what they can expect once appeasement of Iran is checked off on the West’s to-do-list. Once the dust settles on Iran, France is expected to propose a resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would seek to impose a framework on future negotiations with the Palestinians. Such a framework would likely make the 1967 lines the basis of talks and treat Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem a foregone conclusion making it unlikely that the Palestinians would budge an inch on any vital issue. Israel would not have greeted this news happily under any circumstances, but it so happened that Fabius arrived just after a series of terror attacks on Jews that illustrated just how dangerous any such unilateral concessions on Israel’s part would be.

On Friday, one Israeli was killed and another wounded in a shooting attack in the West Bank applauded by Hamas. On Sunday, a West Bank Palestinian stabbed an Israeli policeman in Jerusalem in another of what are actually fairly routine incidents of terror. Though the Netanyahu has recently relaxed security measures intended to forestall such attacks, Palestinian assaults on Israelis are so commonplace that U.S. newspapers like the New York Times mention them only in passing and sometimes not all.

While a two-state solution would be ideal and is favored, at least in principle, by most Israelis, terror incidents highlight why large majorities regard the prospect of a complete withdrawal from the West Bank or a partition of Jerusalem are seen as madness. It’s not just that the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly shown that it has no intention of ever recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Nor that Hamas, though it might endorse a continuation of the cease-fire along the Gaza border is utterly committed to war to destroy Israel. It’s also that both the PA and its Hamas rivals routinely broadcast hate and sympathy for terrorists who slaughter Jews. It is that culture of violence and rejection of coexistence still governs Palestinian politics making a two-state solution impossible even if their leaders were prepared to try to make peace.

As President Obama’s fruitless attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ direction showed over the last six years, more initiatives aimed at pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians actually lessened the chances of peace rather than strengthening them. That’s because each such gesture that demonstrated the unfortunate daylight that Michael Oren wrote about in his memoir only convinced the Palestinians that they need only wait for the West to deliver Israel’s surrender to them on a silver platter. That’s as true today as it has ever been.

The danger here is not just of French or European meddling that will encourage the Palestinians to keep refusing to return to direct negotiations with Israel. It’s that a proposal put forward in the next few months (assuming that Iran is off the table by then) will give President Obama a chance to demonstrate whether the off-the-record comments of administration aides that predict a U.S. abandonment of Israel at the UN are accurate. Obama has been sending clear signals to Israel and its supporters — even as he seeks to disarm their justified alarm at his Iran entente — that this administration intends to take at least one more shot at bludgeoning the Netanyahu government into submission,

Under the circumstances, Netanyahu’s warning to Fabius that Israel will never accept a “diktat” on matters that concern its security was entirely justified. In response, Fabius said diktat wasn’t a word that was part of his French vocabulary. But it’s not a French initiative that worries Netanyahu but the very real possibility of an Obama diktat that lurks behind it. Though President Obama may not speak German, Netanyahu is right to fear that the lame duck in the White House understands the word all too well.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.