Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran nuclear deal

Has Obama Read the Khamenei Palestine Book?

It turns out President Obama isn’t the only world leader who writes books. His counterpart in Iran – Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — has also just published a new book. But while it may not be as introspective as Obama’s Dreams From My Father, it does tell us at least as much about the vision of the person in charge in Tehran (as opposed to Hassan Rouhani, the faux moderate who serves as its president) as the president’s best-selling memoir. As Amir Taheri reports in the New York Post, Palestine is a 416-page diatribe against the existence of the state of Israel and a call to arms for it to be destroyed. Supporters of the nuclear deal the president has struck with Khamenei’s regime may dismiss this book as merely one more example of the Supreme Leader’s unfortunate ideology that must be overlooked. But as the New York Times noted last week, the administration’s real goal here isn’t so much in delaying Iran’s march to a nuclear weapon (which is the most that can be claimed for the agreement) as it is fostering détente with it. Seen in that light, the latest evidence of the malevolence of the Islamist regime should be regarded as yet another inarguable reason for Congress to vote the deal down.

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It turns out President Obama isn’t the only world leader who writes books. His counterpart in Iran – Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — has also just published a new book. But while it may not be as introspective as Obama’s Dreams From My Father, it does tell us at least as much about the vision of the person in charge in Tehran (as opposed to Hassan Rouhani, the faux moderate who serves as its president) as the president’s best-selling memoir. As Amir Taheri reports in the New York Post, Palestine is a 416-page diatribe against the existence of the state of Israel and a call to arms for it to be destroyed. Supporters of the nuclear deal the president has struck with Khamenei’s regime may dismiss this book as merely one more example of the Supreme Leader’s unfortunate ideology that must be overlooked. But as the New York Times noted last week, the administration’s real goal here isn’t so much in delaying Iran’s march to a nuclear weapon (which is the most that can be claimed for the agreement) as it is fostering détente with it. Seen in that light, the latest evidence of the malevolence of the Islamist regime should be regarded as yet another inarguable reason for Congress to vote the deal down.

In his interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg on May 21, President Obama was asked directly about the significance of Iran’s anti-Semitism and its commitment to destroying Israel. The president said the anti-Semitism of the Iranian leadership did not mean they weren’t also “interested in survival” or being “rational.” As far as he was concerned, the ideology of the regime was not something that would influence its decisions.

But everything Khamenei says and, even more importantly, everything the regime does, by funding terrorist groups at war with Israel such as Hamas and Hezbollah or by embarking on a ruinously expensive nuclear project that placed it in conflict with the West, speaks to its commitment to policies that Obama may think are irrational but which are completely in synch with what he called its “organizing principle.” Why would a nation so rich in oil need to risk international isolation or war seek nuclear power if not to help Khamenei fulfill his pledge to “liberate” what is now Israel for Muslims?

The president told Goldberg that the American military option would be a sufficient deterrent to ensure that Iran didn’t violate the nuclear pact or behave in an irrational manner. But since the president has ruled out the use of force in a categorical manner, it’s hard to see why the Iranians would fear it once the U.S. and Europe are doing business with them. Even if it was a matter of snapping back sanctions, assuming that such a concept is even possible? Once the restrictions are unraveled, it’s fair to ask why would they work then when the president repeatedly tells us additional sanctions won’t work now and require us to accept the current deal that doesn’t achieve the objectives that the administration set for the negotiations when they began.

The Khamenei Palestine book is important not in and of itself but because the regime’s obsession with Israel is a key to its foreign policy. Iran constitutes a grave threat to Neighboring Arab countries that are at least as angry about the president’s embrace of Tehran as the Israelis since their nuclear status would undermine their security. But as much as Iran is focused on regional hegemony in which Sunni states would be brought to heel, as Khamenei’s Palestine illustrates, it is the fixation on Israel and Zionism that really animates their expansionism and aid for terror groups.

As Taheri notes in his article on the book, Khamenei distinguishes his idée fixe about destroying Israel from European anti-Semitism. Rather, he insists, that his policy derives from “well established Islamic principles.” Chief among them is the idea that any land that was once ruled by Muslims cannot be conceded to non-believers no matter who lives there now. While the Muslim world seems to understand that they’re not getting Spain back, the territory that constitutes the state of Israel is something else. Its central location in the middle of the Muslim and Arab worlds and the fact that Jews, a despised minority people, now rule it makes its existence particularly objectionable to Islamists like Khamenei.

Khamenei’s book shows that not only is he serious about wanting to destroy Israel and uproot its Jewish population, he regards this project as a practical rather than a theoretical idea. The administration ignores this because it wants to believe that Iran is a nation that wants to, as the president put it, “get right with the world.” But what it wants is to do business with the world while pursuing its ideological goals. The nuclear deal is a means to an end for the regime and that end does not involve good relations with the West or cooperation with other states in the region, let alone coexisting peacefully with Israel.

What is curious is that this is the same administration that regarded the announcement of a housing project in Jerusalem by low-level Israeli officials as an “insult” to Vice President Biden. But it chooses to regard the “death to America” chants led by regime functionaries in Iran as well as a book by the country’s leader indicating that Obama’s ideas about its character are fallacious as non-events. The only explanation for this remarkable lack of interest in Iranian behavior is an ideological fixation on détente with Tehran that is every bit as hardcore as any utterances that emanate from the mouth or the pen of the Supreme Leader.

Taken out of the context of a vision of friendship with the Iranian regime, the nuclear deal makes no sense. Yet squaring that vision with Khamenei’s literary effort is impossible. Members of the House and Senate must take note of this conundrum and vote accordingly.

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Hiroshima’s Legacy and America’s Moral Imperative

On Thursday, the American political press will surrender to breathless giddiness ahead of that evening’s Republican presidential debate. The fervor of the moment will contrast mightily with the solemnity that will typify Thursday’s observance in Japan. August 6th will mark 70 years since the first nuclear weapon was used in wartime against a civilian target. The bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki took hundreds of thousands of lives with them and forever changed how mankind views warfare. As surely as the shadows of those who died in the blasts that are now permanently seared onto city sidewalks torment the Japanese, the use of those terrible weapons will forever haunt the United States. The moral legitimacy of those who experienced the horror of these weapons firsthand and who call for a prohibition on their use is absolute, as it should be. It is, however, as noble to enforce that proscription through both soft and hard power tools. Only the West, led by the United States, has assumed that burden. It is a weight that some appear eager to shrug off.

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On Thursday, the American political press will surrender to breathless giddiness ahead of that evening’s Republican presidential debate. The fervor of the moment will contrast mightily with the solemnity that will typify Thursday’s observance in Japan. August 6th will mark 70 years since the first nuclear weapon was used in wartime against a civilian target. The bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki took hundreds of thousands of lives with them and forever changed how mankind views warfare. As surely as the shadows of those who died in the blasts that are now permanently seared onto city sidewalks torment the Japanese, the use of those terrible weapons will forever haunt the United States. The moral legitimacy of those who experienced the horror of these weapons firsthand and who call for a prohibition on their use is absolute, as it should be. It is, however, as noble to enforce that proscription through both soft and hard power tools. Only the West, led by the United States, has assumed that burden. It is a weight that some appear eager to shrug off.

Before August 6, 1945, the residents of the city of Hiroshima counted themselves among Japan’s most fortunate citizens. Their city had largely been overlooked by the waves of American bombers that had been striking the Japanese mainland for nearly a year. Since the fall of airstrip-capable islands like Tinian and Guam, U.S. airpower relentlessly pounded priority targets in Osaka, Kobe, and Tokyo. It was the fact that Hiroshima lay virtually unscathed by total war that rendered it the perfect target for nuclear bombing. The city and its residents had been enlisted in a gruesome experiment; they would be the first test subjects who would provide researchers with a trove of data about the appalling effects of nuclear weapons on people and cities.

At 8:16 a.m., an incandescent flash, incredible heat, and a crushing shockwave took the lives of 45,000 people. Over the course of the next several months, another 19,000 would succumb to their injuries or the lingering effects of radiation poisoning.

In the intervening decades, a cottage industry analyzing the cultural forces unleashed by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings sprang up and grew profitable. Did the bombings save more lives than they took by preventing the need for an American invasion of the Japanese mainland? Would history have been kinder to Harry Truman had the United States jointly attack and occupied Japan with the Soviet Union, rendering it bifurcated along an arbitrary parallel? Did the use of those two atomic bombs provide the world with a grisly example of what their effects are, making their future use that much more unlikely? Or is this merely a tenuous post hoc effort to find some moral justification for mass murder? The answer to all of these questions is invariably speculative and steeped in subjectivity and passion.

One of the legacies of the Hiroshima bombing has been that the descendants of its survivors are seen in some influential circles as morally unimpeachable. That reverence is not unjustified. Even a nation as hostile, brutal, and deserving of defeat and subjugation as Imperial Japan can be rehabilitated if the punishment for their behavior is seen in hindsight as disproportionate and undeserved. But Japan was no victim. It was a nation enduring retaliatory strikes, all of which were justified by the moral codes of the period. But Western tastemakers have acquired a habit of judging our predecessors by current standards of conduct. In service to our own desperate desire for absolution, perhaps, we elevate the Japanese and their gut-level antipathy toward nuclear weapons to a saintly status. But America, the first and only power to use nuclear weapons in combat and the guarantor of peace through nuclear superiority, is perhaps more deserving of some of that veneration.

For decades, the United States has extended its nuclear umbrella across the globe. It has embraced diplomatic initiatives like the Budapest Memorandum and Nunn–Lugar, both of which were aimed at reducing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. America has also spent incredible sums maintaining a powerful, state-of-the-art arsenal of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons designed to communicate to any adversary that the temptation to again use one of these devices in anger will inevitably result in their devastation. This two-pronged approach to preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons was, for a time, remarkably successful. Since the atom was first split over the sands of the Trinity test site, only a handful of nations pursued a successful nuclear weapons program. A few, recognizing the costs associated with maintaining a nuclear arsenal were not justified by their regional threat environments, even went so far as to voluntarily surrender those weapons or associated development programs.

But the dynamic that prevented the spread of nuclear weapons for two generations has begun to break down. The West has fetishized the cult of non-proliferation supposedly maintained by international institutions like the feckless IAEA. Many in the comfortable and victorious West now seem to regard nuclear weaponry as a relic of the Cold War, despite the fact that India, Pakistan, and North Korea acquired their nuclear arsenals well after the Warsaw Pact disappeared. America has allowed its nuclear deterrent to deteriorate while other powers that do not have America’s experience with the use of atomic weaponry develop and modernize their arsenals and prioritize their use in their defense planning.  Today, the international community debates the merits of a nuclear accord with Iran that will likely leave it on the threshold of acquiring a bomb and could spark a race for nuclear parity in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and possibly even Turkey. The prospect of introducing nuclear weaponry into a multipolar environment characterized by shifting, opaque alliances and a variety of both hot and cold conflicts is a terrifying one.

Perhaps more so than any other nation on Earth, Americans are heirs to a legacy obligation to ensure that their people will forever be the only people to have ever used a nuclear weapon. It is an obligation that has been observed and respected. Until now. In the desperate pursuit of its legacy, this White House is prepared to gamble with the one bequeathed to them by the generations who honored that solemn duty to posterity and humanity to prevent another Hiroshima. It is an imprudent bet with extremely high stakes.

Maybe the risk takers who would ante up with the country’s legacy of enforcing nonproliferation would be better served if they were to take some stock of our supreme moral obligation to prevent, insofar as it is possible, that blinding flash from ever again being seen by human eyes. The vision of a world in which our predecessor’s legacy is squandered is unthinkable.

 

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Iran Making its Move on Bahrain

For anyone who gets out of Bahrain’s airport or the U.S Naval facility on the island, it’s hard not to fall in love with the country. While many of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries have difficulty defining themselves as more than “tribes with flags,” Bahrain was actually host to an ancient civilization. Geoffrey Bibey’s Looking for Dilmun, about the Danish archaeological mission’s efforts to identify the original of the grave mounds which at one point occupied ten percent of Bahrain’s territory, is a fascinating read for anyone interested in archaeology, ancient civilizations, and the Middle East. It’s a common assumption that everyone in the Persian Gulf is rich in oil and gas; this also is not true for Bahrain. The small island might have been host to the first oil well in the Arab world, but its oil fields are long since depleted and it extracts only about 50,000 barrels per day, putting it below Bolivia, Italy, and Germany in terms of oil production. While Bahrain receives an allotment of oil from Saudi Arabia to refine and sell, the poverty of its own fields have meant that Bahrain years ago diversified its economy, transforming itself into a regional banking hub and manufacturer. The more diverse economy has meant that Bahrainis — even wealthy ones — tend to be more down to earth and have more of a work ethic than many of their peers in other Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Bahrain has its share of expatriate labor, but it is no Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or the United Arab Emirates. Read More

For anyone who gets out of Bahrain’s airport or the U.S Naval facility on the island, it’s hard not to fall in love with the country. While many of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries have difficulty defining themselves as more than “tribes with flags,” Bahrain was actually host to an ancient civilization. Geoffrey Bibey’s Looking for Dilmun, about the Danish archaeological mission’s efforts to identify the original of the grave mounds which at one point occupied ten percent of Bahrain’s territory, is a fascinating read for anyone interested in archaeology, ancient civilizations, and the Middle East. It’s a common assumption that everyone in the Persian Gulf is rich in oil and gas; this also is not true for Bahrain. The small island might have been host to the first oil well in the Arab world, but its oil fields are long since depleted and it extracts only about 50,000 barrels per day, putting it below Bolivia, Italy, and Germany in terms of oil production. While Bahrain receives an allotment of oil from Saudi Arabia to refine and sell, the poverty of its own fields have meant that Bahrain years ago diversified its economy, transforming itself into a regional banking hub and manufacturer. The more diverse economy has meant that Bahrainis — even wealthy ones — tend to be more down to earth and have more of a work ethic than many of their peers in other Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Bahrain has its share of expatriate labor, but it is no Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or the United Arab Emirates.

That said Bahrain has long been troubled by sectarian unrest and a lack of political reform. Some Sunni sectarians and some (not all) elements of the Bahraini leadership dismiss much of the Shi‘ite unrest in Bahrain as the work of Iranian Fifth-Columnists. That’s often inaccurate and, regardless, the reality is far more nuanced. In short, Iran was behind the 1981 coup attempt, but Bahraini Shi‘ites rose up in the mid-1990s and 2011 because of legitimate political grievances. In recent years, however, the Islamic Republic of Iran has sought to co-opt Bahraini unrest to its own purposes. The younger generation of Bahraini activists may not realize how Iran is using them, but the result is the same. Nor has the Bahraini protest movement been as peaceful as some activists claim. During a 2012 protest march I witnessed, Shi‘ite protesters used Molotov cocktails against security forces using rubber bullets and tear gas. Molotov cocktails may be no match for the Bahraini security forces’ superior firepower, That is not to absolve hardliners in the Bahraini system of counterproductive policies or the king himself of failing to fulfill promises he made as crown prince, but rather to recognize that Iran’s ideological expansionism — its conceptual ‘export of revolutionis real. Over the past few years, Bahraini authorities have intercepted weapons shipments that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has sought to infiltrate into Bahrain (and the largely Shi’ite Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia).

Since President Obama has begun his outreach to the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iranian attempts to destabilize Bahrain have accelerated. There have now been four weapons caches seized in country, and two interceptions of smuggling attempts by boat, and two by bus. Forensic analysis pointed directly to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy operating in Iraq. Tehran no longer tries to hide or deny its role. On July 18, for example, just days after President Obama triumphantly announced the deal, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said, “[Regardless of] the Iran deal text, approved or not, we won’t stop supporting the oppressed nation in Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, and Lebanon.” Ten days later, the Bahraini opposition apparently used C4 for the first time, killing two policemen.

The Iranian escalation does no one any good. If the United States and other states are forced to decide between reform and security in the face of Iranian provocation, reform is going to be cast by the wayside. Ordinary Bahrainis regardless of religion or religious sect will be caught in the crossfire if Iran transforms Bahrain into a proxy battleground.

At the same time, the increasing Iranian aggression toward Bahrain simply foreshadows the immediate future with Iran’s hardliners empowered by a deal which does little to constrain Iran’s nuclear program but much to empower the Iranian hardliners bent on regional transformation. Increasingly it seems that Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” speech really was little more than Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s “East of Suez” speech all over again.

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The Real Goal of the Nuclear Deal: Iran Détente

To listen to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry defend their nuclear deal in recent weeks, you’d think the issue at stake is a narrow one that solely concerned whether or not the agreement retards Tehran’s quest for a bomb. The assumption from the administration and its apologists that the deal does this even minimally is a dubious one. But one of the subtexts of the misleading way they have been conducting their end of this debate is their effort to distract both Congress and the public from the broader goals of the pact. While critics of the deal have highlighted Obama’s refusal to make the sanctions relief dependent on an end to support for terrorism, ballistic missile production or the nature of Iranian government, the answers from the administration have been consistent. They want to restrict the discussion to purely technical nuclear issues that can be obfuscated by deceptive claims or to the false choice between the agreement and war. But, to its credit, one of the president’s chief media cheerleaders did highlight the real goals of the administration in an article published on Friday. The New York Times feature titled “Deeper Aspirations Seen in Nuclear Deal With Iran” ought to be required reading for all members of the House and Senate. The choice here isn’t one between a flawed nuclear deal and war, but between Iran détente with a tyrannical, anti-Semitic, aggressive Islamist regime and a reboot of the diplomatic process that has been hijacked by appeasers.

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To listen to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry defend their nuclear deal in recent weeks, you’d think the issue at stake is a narrow one that solely concerned whether or not the agreement retards Tehran’s quest for a bomb. The assumption from the administration and its apologists that the deal does this even minimally is a dubious one. But one of the subtexts of the misleading way they have been conducting their end of this debate is their effort to distract both Congress and the public from the broader goals of the pact. While critics of the deal have highlighted Obama’s refusal to make the sanctions relief dependent on an end to support for terrorism, ballistic missile production or the nature of Iranian government, the answers from the administration have been consistent. They want to restrict the discussion to purely technical nuclear issues that can be obfuscated by deceptive claims or to the false choice between the agreement and war. But, to its credit, one of the president’s chief media cheerleaders did highlight the real goals of the administration in an article published on Friday. The New York Times feature titled “Deeper Aspirations Seen in Nuclear Deal With Iran” ought to be required reading for all members of the House and Senate. The choice here isn’t one between a flawed nuclear deal and war, but between Iran détente with a tyrannical, anti-Semitic, aggressive Islamist regime and a reboot of the diplomatic process that has been hijacked by appeasers.

As the Times points out, prior to the announcement of the final, lenient terms of the deal that expires in ten years the administration wasn’t so coy about its real objective:

Before his fight for the deal in Congress, Mr. Obama was far more open about his ultimate goals. In an interview in The Atlantic in March 2014, he said that a nuclear agreement with Iran was a good idea, even if the regime remained unchanged. But an agreement could do far more than that, he said:

“If, on the other hand, they are capable of changing; if, in fact, as a consequence of a deal on their nuclear program those voices and trends inside of Iran are strengthened, and their economy becomes more integrated into the international community, and there’s more travel and greater openness, even if that takes a decade or 15 years or 20 years, then that’s very much an outcome we should desire,” he said. …

And in an interview in December, Mr. Obama even seemed to welcome the rise of a powerful Iran. “They have a path to break through that isolation and they should seize it,” he said. “Because if they do, there’s incredible talent and resources and sophistication inside of — inside of Iran, and it would be a very successful regional power.”

The importance of this context for the discussion of the deal cannot be overemphasized.

The deal ought to be defeated on its own merits because it fails to achieve the administration’s stated objectives about stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions. All it accomplishes, if it can even be said to do that much, is to delay Iran’s march to a bomb for the period of the agreement while permitting to continue research with a large nuclear infrastructure under a loose inspections regime that makes a mockery of its past promises on all these issues.

But the point on which the administration has been most reluctant to comment is the more than $100 billion in frozen assets that will be released to Tehran. Critics rightly believe this money will, one way or another, help subsidize Iran’s terrorist allies and push for regional hegemony that worries neighboring Arab states as well as Israel, whose existence is threatened by Iran becoming a threshold nuclear state with Western approval.

No rational argument can be mustered against this assertion since the money will be Iran’s to use as it likes and any prohibitions on Iranian adventurism are likely to be even less effective in a post-deal environment than they were prior to it. But if, like President Obama, you believe that Iran is in the process of transforming from a revolutionary threat whose goals are mandated by the extreme religious beliefs and Islamist ideology of its rulers into one eager to be friends with the world, the prospect of a stronger Iran doesn’t trouble you.

That’s why President Obama did not predicate these negotiations on any pledges, even ones that were transparently false, of good behavior from Iran. He claims that insisting on an end to Iranian state sponsorship of terror or forcing it to renounce its goal of eliminating Israel would have prevented him from getting a deal on the nuclear question. But that formulation has it backward. The point of the negotiations was never about the nuclear details, something that was made clear by the astonishing series of concessions that the administration made throughout the talks. In October 2012, during his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney, Obama pledged that any deal would eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. Now he is advocating for one that leaves it in place under Western sponsorship while rewarding Tehran with the lifting of sanctions.

What Obama always wanted was a deal at any price because he thought it was the pathway to a new entente with Iran that would end the conflict with its Islamist leaders. But while a future in which Iran would no longer be a terror sponsor bent on destroying Israel and dominating the Middle East would be a good thing there is no rational reason to imagine this will happen. Indeed, by strengthening its government the president is ensuring that they will never have to choose between their aggressive goals and economic prosperity.

That’s why rather than being sidetracked into debates about the nuclear details, opponents need to focus on the real goal of the deal: détente with a regime that threatens the U.S. and its allies. The deal fails as a nuclear pact. But it is perhaps an even greater disaster when one realizes that its premise is a naive belief that Islamist tyrants are so enraptured with Obama that they are about to abandon their deeply held beliefs and evil intentions.

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A French Dissent From Obama’s Iran Deal Party Line

The Obama administration party line on the Iran deal couldn’t be any clearer. Everyone from President Obama to Secretary of State John Kerry to the actors reading from a simplistic script in an agitprop advertisement extolling the agreement’s virtues have all been consistent on one thing: The only alternative to the deal is war. Any hope of getting a better agreement that would provide genuine scrutiny of their nuclear program or eliminate its infrastructure and ability to do research that will make a bomb a simple thing once this pact expires is, as Kerry keeps telling us, a “unicorn.” According to the president, 99 percent of the world (with the one percent being limited to Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress) agrees with this, especially America’s European allies who were crucial to the implementation of sanctions on Iran. But, as Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin reports, the French government may actually believe that a better deal is still possible even in the event that Congress votes the agreement down.

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The Obama administration party line on the Iran deal couldn’t be any clearer. Everyone from President Obama to Secretary of State John Kerry to the actors reading from a simplistic script in an agitprop advertisement extolling the agreement’s virtues have all been consistent on one thing: The only alternative to the deal is war. Any hope of getting a better agreement that would provide genuine scrutiny of their nuclear program or eliminate its infrastructure and ability to do research that will make a bomb a simple thing once this pact expires is, as Kerry keeps telling us, a “unicorn.” According to the president, 99 percent of the world (with the one percent being limited to Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress) agrees with this, especially America’s European allies who were crucial to the implementation of sanctions on Iran. But, as Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin reports, the French government may actually believe that a better deal is still possible even in the event that Congress votes the agreement down.

This crack in the supposedly solid wall of support for the notion that there is no alternative to the deal comes at an unfortunate moment for the administration. The polls are showing that voters aren’t happy with the deal and Congressional Republicans seem certain to vote it down, leaving the outcome in the hands of a few Democrats whose support will be necessary for an override of an expected Obama veto. The best argument for the deal isn’t on its merits since even most Democrats know it falls far short of what the administration had set as its goals when this process began. But the notion that there is no alternative and that all of our allies will immediately abandon the U.S. position if Congress votes the deal down is persuasive to many. But what if that isn’t so?

That’s the upshot of Rogin’s piece, which reports that Jacques Audibert, the senior diplomatic advisor to French President Francois Hollande told two members of Congress that Kerry’s predictions were false. As Rogin writes:

According to both lawmakers, Audibert expressed support for the deal overall, but also directly disputed Kerry’s claim that a Congressional rejection of the Iran deal would result in the worst of all worlds, the collapse of sanctions and Iran racing to the bomb without restrictions.

“He basically said, if Congress votes this down, there will be some saber-rattling and some chaos for a year or two, but in the end nothing will change and Iran will come back to the table to negotiate again and that would be to our advantage,” [Democratic Rep. Loretta] Sanchez told me in an interview. “He thought if the Congress voted it down, that we could get a better deal.”

The French embassy denied the report, but Sanchez and Rogin are obviously telling the truth about a moment of refreshing candor from Audibert.

Kerry told Congress there’s no way he could go back to Iran for a better deal and that Europe, which is eager to start doing business with the Islamist regime, would not support any effort to strengthen its terms. But the French, who reportedly took a tougher stand at some points during the negotiations than the Americans, know that this isn’t true.

This is an important admission that proves a better deal is no unicorn. In fact, it goes to the heart of everything that was wrong about the administration’s approach to the negotiations. Every time the Iranians said “no” during the last two and a half years — whether it concerned their right to enrich uranium, the extent of their nuclear infrastructure, inspections, an agreement that expired rather than was permanent, past military research and a host of other issues — Obama and Kerry simply backed down. They did so because they told themselves that there was no alternative short of war. But what was really animating their decision was, contrary to their promises, a belief that any deal at any price was better than none at all.

This means that, if they are capable of resisting partisan pressures, Congressional Democrats should be able to vote “no” on the deal with an easy conscience. The talk about war being the only other option has always been a big lie. It was Obama who fecklessly threw away the West’s enormous economic and political leverage over Iran when he signed the interim agreement that began the process of dismantling sanctions and giving approval to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But a return to the negotiating table would provide the Islamist regime with a wake-up call because it would force them to realize that a pushover president isn’t calling all the shots and able to ram through an agreement based on appeasement, rather than a defense of U.S. interests.

There were already a lot of good reasons for Congress to vote down the deal. But with this embarrassing French dissent from Obama’s talking points, it just received one more that ought, if Democrats are being honest about making their decisions on the basis of what is good for U.S. security, persuade fair-minded members to tell the president that this weak deal isn’t good enough.

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Terrorism and the Latest Iran Deal Distraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jonathan Pollard’s Release Shouldn’t Placate Iran Deal Critics

Unlike many Israelis and American Jews, I have never found myself in the Jonathan Pollard rooting section. He was a traitor and a spy and he got what was coming to him, even if he did receive an unusually long sentence for passing along secret information to an ally of the United States rather than an enemy. But he has served 30 years now, and there is no good reason not to grant him parole. It now appears that he will, in fact, be released at the end of November. Read More

Unlike many Israelis and American Jews, I have never found myself in the Jonathan Pollard rooting section. He was a traitor and a spy and he got what was coming to him, even if he did receive an unusually long sentence for passing along secret information to an ally of the United States rather than an enemy. But he has served 30 years now, and there is no good reason not to grant him parole. It now appears that he will, in fact, be released at the end of November.

The Obama administration says this is the normal process of the legal system in action. The Wall Street Journal, by contrast, claimed that this was a politically motivated decision by the administration in the “hope the move will smooth relations with Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.” I don’t know whom to believe here; I certainly hope that his release was not akin to the pork-barrel projects that are dangled in front of lawmakers to win their assent to important pieces of legislation.

In any case, whatever the motivation behind Pollard’s release, it has no bearing on the merits of the Iranian nuclear deal, which is a terrible deal not only for the United States and our Arab allies but especially for Israel. While Iran poses a threat to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and other states — to say nothing of the people of Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen who are suffering under the oppression of Iranian-backed militias — it does not seek to destroy any of those states. By contrast, ever since the Iranian revolution, Tehran has dedicated itself to the eradication of the “Zionist entity,” a genocidal goal that it has pursued by funneling arms and money to terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The mullahs’ capacity for such attacks will increase exponentially once sanctions are lifted and more than $100 billion in extra funding floods their coffers.

Hezbollah is now said to have some 70,000-80,000 missiles aimed at Israel. How many more will Hezbollah have in a few years, once Iran is even richer, and free of the embargoes on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles? Hezbollah can already, no doubt, target every part of Israel; before long, it will be able to assign multiple rockets to each target. It’s true that Israel has missile defenses such as Iron Dome and the PAC-3, but missile defenses can and probably will be overwhelmed by such a barrage, especially if it is supplemented by rockets emanating from the Gaza Strip.

Mike Huckabee may be guilty of overblown and distasteful rhetoric when he claims that the deal will march Israelis “to the door of the oven,” a formulation that is offensive in no small part because it presumes that Israelis are helpless victims who would allow themselves to be subject to another Holocaust without resisting. But the reality is that the Iranian nuclear deal will greatly increase the danger to Israel — and it will be an existential danger once Iran acquires nuclear weapons, which it is practically guaranteed to do by the end of this deal, in roughly ten years’ time. By that time, Israel probably will not even have the option of bombing the Iranian nuclear facilities because they will be well-defended by advanced air-defense systems legally provided by Russia and possibly other states as well.

So while Israelis will no doubt celebrate Pollard’s release, I very much doubt it will lead many of them to moderate their opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal. Nor should it. Pollard is a feel-good story from the Israeli perspective; Iran is a matter of life or death. Israelis are right to speak out in opposition to the Iranian accord even if doing so greatly displeases President Obama and Secretary Kerry. The views of our closest allies deserve a close hearing when the U.S. government is contemplating actions that will greatly affect their well being.

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The Iran Deal is Not Verifiable Now or Later

With 51 days left in the period for Congressional consideration of the Iran deal, the respected Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has released a report on “Verification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” which concludes there are weaknesses that “must be remediated or compensated for if the agreement is to be verifiable,” and that “without stringent long-term limits on Iran’s sensitive nuclear programs … these verification conditions … are unlikely to be sufficient.” ISIS concludes that – if the remediation or compensation occurs – the verification provisions will likely be adequate during the first 10-15 years of the agreement, “but will be inadequate afterwards if Iran implements its plan to expand its centrifuge program and possibly start a reprocessing program.” In other words, the agreement as it stands is unverifiable without additional steps; and after it sunsets, the verification provisions will be inadequate. Read More

With 51 days left in the period for Congressional consideration of the Iran deal, the respected Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has released a report on “Verification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” which concludes there are weaknesses that “must be remediated or compensated for if the agreement is to be verifiable,” and that “without stringent long-term limits on Iran’s sensitive nuclear programs … these verification conditions … are unlikely to be sufficient.” ISIS concludes that – if the remediation or compensation occurs – the verification provisions will likely be adequate during the first 10-15 years of the agreement, “but will be inadequate afterwards if Iran implements its plan to expand its centrifuge program and possibly start a reprocessing program.” In other words, the agreement as it stands is unverifiable without additional steps; and after it sunsets, the verification provisions will be inadequate.

Here is what the ISIS reports concludes regarding the 24-day period for inspection of suspicious Iranian sites:

What could Iran potentially hide or disguise in a 24-day time period? At ISIS, over the years, we have conducted several assessments on countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Iraq which have all cheated on their safeguards obligations. We have assessed the types and quantities of uranium releases from gas centrifuge plants as part of official safeguards studies and evaluated many cases where environmental sampling was used to uncover undeclared activities or failed to do so. Based on this work, we assess that Iran could likely move and disguise many small scale nuclear and nuclear-weapon-related activities. [Emphasis added].

Secretary of State Kerry said recently that “anytime, anywhere” inspections were “not on the table” in the negotiations with Iran, and that he had “never heard the term in the four years that we were negotiating.” According to Kerry, “There’s no such thing in arms control as anytime, anywhere. There isn’t any nation in the world, none that has an anytime, anywhere.” But that position is flatly contradicted by the ISIS report:

[S]mall-scale activities matter and this is one of the key reasons why inspectors want prompt, or anytime, anywhere access. Inspectors had this type of access in Iraq in the 1990s and early 2000s. South Africa provided the IAEA anywhere, anytime access “within reason,” which was explained to one of the authors of this report as a request only to not ask to go to a site in the middle of the night. In practice, the IAEA could get access to any South African facility soon after the request. [Emphasis added].

Back in April, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the international community would have “anywhere, anytime, 24/7 access.” Now, it turns out the secretary of state never heard of it, never raised it, doesn’t even know it exists.

Heckuva job.

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Do Democrats Want to Link Their Future to Iran’s Good Behavior?

Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew trooped to the House Foreign Relations Committee today to again make their case for the Iran nuclear deal as they had before the Senate last week. As was the case with the upper body, Republicans appear united in opposition to the deal. But though most Democrats appear willing to support what has become President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, there are clear signs of a split within the Democratic caucus with a number of prominent members, such as Senator Robert Menendez and ranking House Foreign Relation Committee member Eliot Engel, openly opposing the administration. But, as Politico reports, efforts to whip Democrats into line behind the deal are being vigorously pursued and seem likely to be met with success. But as wavering Democrats feel the pressure be exerted on them by both the White House and the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, they should also consider that going on record favoring appeasement of Iran will have long-term consequences. While President Obama is confident about having his name on the nuclear deal, representatives and senators who hope to still be in office long after the current resident of the White House leaves in January 2017 need to ponder whether they want their party to shoulder the responsibility for a policy that hinges on Iranian good behavior.

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Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew trooped to the House Foreign Relations Committee today to again make their case for the Iran nuclear deal as they had before the Senate last week. As was the case with the upper body, Republicans appear united in opposition to the deal. But though most Democrats appear willing to support what has become President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, there are clear signs of a split within the Democratic caucus with a number of prominent members, such as Senator Robert Menendez and ranking House Foreign Relation Committee member Eliot Engel, openly opposing the administration. But, as Politico reports, efforts to whip Democrats into line behind the deal are being vigorously pursued and seem likely to be met with success. But as wavering Democrats feel the pressure be exerted on them by both the White House and the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, they should also consider that going on record favoring appeasement of Iran will have long-term consequences. While President Obama is confident about having his name on the nuclear deal, representatives and senators who hope to still be in office long after the current resident of the White House leaves in January 2017 need to ponder whether they want their party to shoulder the responsibility for a policy that hinges on Iranian good behavior.

Though Kerry has been arrogantly declaring that the deal will permanently prevent Iran from every getting a weapon, those who read the document see that what he has signed is more like an official declaration of Western acquiescence to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran’s nuclear research will continue with its advanced infrastructure intact. Even if it observes the limitations imposed on them, they will be free once it expires to do as they like. As even a stalwart ideological liberal like Leon Wieseltier observed in The Atlantic yesterday, the defense of the deal seems to hinge on what he rightly calls the demagogic argument that there is no alternative.

This agreement was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If it does not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — and it seems uncontroversial to suggest that it does not guarantee such an outcome — then it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve. And if it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve, then it is itself not an alternative, is it? The status is still quo. Or should we prefer the sweetness of illusion to the nastiness of reality? For as long as Iran does not agree to retire its infrastructure so that the manufacture of a nuclear weapon becomes not improbable but impossible, the United States will not have transformed the reality that worries it. We will only have mitigated it and prettified it. We will have found relief from the crisis, but not a resolution of it.

Iran’s will to pursue nuclear weapons is undiminished and its means to do so will be protected by the pact. Nor will its efforts to sponsor terrorism or build the ballistic missiles with which it could deliver a nuclear device to a Western and not just an Israeli target be stopped by this deal. The only thing that makes the agreement even remotely defensible is the notion that Iran has changed or will changed. And there is not the slightest evidence that this is in the cards.

And it is that point that brings us back to those House and Senate Democrats being whipped into line to back the most far-reaching foreign treaty signed by the U.S. in a generation.

For some, it is a matter of loyalty to the president. That seems to be a particularly strong emotion among the most left-wing members of Congress as well as for members of the Congressional Black Caucus that were encouraged to think any opposition to the Iran negotiations was an insult to President Obama. But Obama, who reportedly warned freshman members of the House last week that none of them would get a pass for opposing him on this matter believes he still has the clout to enforce his will on all Democrats.

But this is a moment for Democrats to start thinking long term rather than on the daily battle to win the news cycle for the White House against their despised Republican foes. Backing up the president on this question isn’t just another tactical dustup with the GOP it is a long-term commitment that literally ties their political future to the whims and behavior of a despotic theocratic Islamist regime bent on regional hegemony and the destruction of Israel.

Though President Obama will not be giving his followers a pass on this issue, neither will the American people. If, as is more than likely, the Iranians continue on their current path of pursuing terror and conflict with the West as well as an eventual bomb, this deal will constitute a millstone around the necks of those who let it be put into effect.

Thinking in those terms is difficult for politicians who always live in the moment or the next election cycle. But what must be understood is that their decisions on the Iran deal will be long remembered after other votes they cast are forgotten. That may be okay for hard-core left-wing ideologues in the Democratic caucus. But for much of the rest of the party that looks to mainstream independent voters as well as the pro-Israel community for support that is a sobering thought. Democrats Iran deal votes aren’t so much a matter of partisan loyalty for Obama but linking your future to the ayatollahs. That is something that Democrats should think long and hard about before they acquiesce to pressure from the White House and their party whips.

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What the Iran Nuclear Deal Polls are Saying

In the weeks that have elapsed since international negotiators revealed the terms of a nuclear accord with Iran, public opinion surveys have offered commentators and pundits the opportunity to choose their own adventure. Depending on the survey, the American public is either cautiously optimistic about the prospective deal or fatalistic about the West’s limited ability to deter Iran from developing a fissionable device. The polls are also unclear on how Americans want Congress to react to the proposed accord; some suggest that voters believe Congress should ratify the arrangement while others indicate majorities want the federal legislature to reject it. A review of the polls suggests that it’s the pollsters and not the public who are confused. Those surveys that do not try to sell the public on the deal as characterized, often inaccurately, by President Barack Obama’s administration provide a clearer picture of how the citizenry views this “deal.”  Read More

In the weeks that have elapsed since international negotiators revealed the terms of a nuclear accord with Iran, public opinion surveys have offered commentators and pundits the opportunity to choose their own adventure. Depending on the survey, the American public is either cautiously optimistic about the prospective deal or fatalistic about the West’s limited ability to deter Iran from developing a fissionable device. The polls are also unclear on how Americans want Congress to react to the proposed accord; some suggest that voters believe Congress should ratify the arrangement while others indicate majorities want the federal legislature to reject it. A review of the polls suggests that it’s the pollsters and not the public who are confused. Those surveys that do not try to sell the public on the deal as characterized, often inaccurately, by President Barack Obama’s administration provide a clearer picture of how the citizenry views this “deal.” 

“[T]he more information the pollster provided, the more likely respondents supported the deal,” wrote Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz on Tuesday in a tweet. He directed his followers to the left-leaning explainer site Vox.com, which has a nasty habit of oversimplifying events in the effort to guide readers toward a preferred liberal conclusion. The insulting implication in Schultz’s contention is that, when voters are not spoon-fed the alleged details of the Iran deal by pollsters, they are not sufficiently informed about its terms. What nauseating condescension. The truth is that the polls that do seek to “inform” the respondent on the terms of the Iran deal have woefully failed in that charge.

The Washington Post and ABC News released the survey that the administration finds most supportive of their case last week. That poll found that a whopping 56 percent of adults favor pursuing a nuclear accord with Iran even though only 35 percent said they were confident that such an arrangement would succeed in its central mission – preventing the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear bomb. How to explain the disparity? Simple. Read the question to which those polled were asked to respond.

“As you may know, the U.S. and other countries have announced a deal to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons,” the question read. “International inspectors would monitor Iran’s facilities, and if Iran is caught breaking the agreement economic sanctions would be imposed again. Do you support or oppose this agreement?”

Why, yes. Who wouldn’t? It’s a rosier picture of a bilateral accord than even that which emerged from preliminary negotiations that yielded the “framework” nuclear agreement in March. There’s only one problem with this question: it essentially asks the public if they like a comforting fable woven by this White House rather than the Iran deal on paper.

At no point are respondents asked if they support Western negotiator’s last-minute cave to Iranian and Russian demands to lift both the international arms and ballistic missile embargos, which, after five and eight years respectively, will leave Iran both wealthier and far better armed. The lifting of those embargos will allow Iran to accelerate its regional campaign of terror, the latest advance in which occurred just this morning when two Bahraini police officers were killed in a “terrorist attack” local authorities are blaming on Tehran. Respondents were not asked for their opinion on the feasibility of “snapback,” which suggests that the international sanctions regime that took decades to build can be reassembled in a moment’s notice despite the likely objections of those firms that reinvest in Iran. Respondents were not asked about that inspection regime, the several-week process that relies on Iranian consent to secure timely access to sensitive sites, or the formerly classified details of the arrangement that allows Iran to choose the samples from the military site at Parchin it will surrender to the IAEA for review. Respondents were not asked if they approve of the P5+1 negotiating secret side deals with Iran that even the legislators who are being asked to ratify this arrangement have not seen. Respondents were not asked about the terms of this deal expiring after 10 or 15 years, leaving Iran a nuclear threshold state that can breakout at a time of its choosing. The Washington Post/ABC News poll asks respondents to weigh in on an Iran deal that does not exist.

What about a survey of American Jews commissioned by the L.A. Jewish Journal? That poll, which has also been embraced by supporters of the Iran deal, purports to show that 49 percent of Americans of Jewish descent support the accord while only 31 percent oppose it. In this way, Iran deal backers can blunt the sentiment emerging from Israeli leaders across the political spectrum that fear for their country’s existence should Iran be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. It suffers from the same shortcomings as does the Washington Post/ABC News poll.

“As you may know, an agreement was reached in which the United States and other countries would lift major economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons,” the survey question noted. “Do you support or oppose this agreement, or don’t know enough to say?”

“The US and other countries have reached an agreement to place limits on Iran’s nuclear program in order to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” the democratic firm Public Policy Polling asked respondents. “In exchange for limiting its nuclear program, Iran would receive gradual relief from US and international economic sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency would monitor Iran’s facilities and if Iran was caught breaking the agreement, the current economic sanctions would be imposed again.” 54 percent supported this idealized entente. Only 38 percent remained unthinking and recalcitrant.

“Several world powers, including the United States, have reached an international agreement that will limit Iran’s nuclear activity in return for the lifting of major economic sanctions against Iran,” YouGov’s survey read. “Do you support or oppose this agreement?” 43 percent approved.

You see the pattern.

But not every survey is leading respondents to support the administration. Two recent polls, one from the Pew Research Center and another from CNN/ORC, declined to characterize the deal at all. They found strikingly different results. After asking respondents for their thoughts on the Iran deal as they understood it, they found 48 to 38 percent disapproving. It also found that 81 percent of those surveyed knew “a lot” or “a little” about the agreement. What’s more enlightening, however, is how Pew tackled the distinction between its methods and those of the Washington Post/ABC News.

The different findings on public views of the Iran nuclear agreement in the Washington Post/ABC News and Pew Research Center surveys highlight how question wording – and the information provided in a question – can impact public opinion, particularly on issues where public views are still being shaped and information levels are relatively low. The Pew Research question, which does not describe the agreement, finds lower levels of support than the Post/ABC News question, which details the intention to monitor Iran’s facilities and raises the possibility of re-imposition of sanctions if Iran does not comply.

CNN confirmed Pew’s findings on Tuesday. Without characterizing the terms of the deal, survey respondents were asked if Congress should support it. 44 percent said that it should, but a majority — 52 percent — disagreed.

These polls are all qualitatively different, and their methodologies vary beyond merely question wording. It is clear, however, that pollsters who are not merely seeking to sample public opinion but to shape it can mold the public’s perception of this deal. The White House appears to believe that voters who do not support this deal are simply uninformed, but the opposite condition is far more likely. It’s possible that the public has educated themselves on the terms of this deal, and they don’t like them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Cynical Pollard Release Leak

The past few weeks have confirmed something that was always true about the way the Obama administration wages political battles. There is no stunt too cheap or statement so cynical that the White House won’t employ in order to advance its agenda. That’s the only way to interpret the bizarre Friday afternoon leak to the Wall Street Journal in which ”administration officials” said convicted spy Jonathan Pollard would be released later this year in order to help smooth relations between the U.S. and Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal. Other officials, including the Attorney General, speaking on the record rather than off it, quickly denied the plan. There is a scheduled parole hearing for Pollard in November. Yet there is no assurance that the spy, who will have served 30 years in prison by then, will be released. But either way, the attempt to inject this emotion issue into the already inflamed debate about Iran was a deeply cynical ploy that was clearly aimed at defusing anger about the administration’s efforts to defend a nuclear agreement by isolating Israel and its defenders. Whatever one may think of the merits of the case for clemency for Pollard — and at this point it is a strong one — this issue has no place in the discussion about Iran and should be dismissed out of hand by those seeking to push back against the administration’s efforts to silence its critics.

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The past few weeks have confirmed something that was always true about the way the Obama administration wages political battles. There is no stunt too cheap or statement so cynical that the White House won’t employ in order to advance its agenda. That’s the only way to interpret the bizarre Friday afternoon leak to the Wall Street Journal in which ”administration officials” said convicted spy Jonathan Pollard would be released later this year in order to help smooth relations between the U.S. and Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal. Other officials, including the Attorney General, speaking on the record rather than off it, quickly denied the plan. There is a scheduled parole hearing for Pollard in November. Yet there is no assurance that the spy, who will have served 30 years in prison by then, will be released. But either way, the attempt to inject this emotion issue into the already inflamed debate about Iran was a deeply cynical ploy that was clearly aimed at defusing anger about the administration’s efforts to defend a nuclear agreement by isolating Israel and its defenders. Whatever one may think of the merits of the case for clemency for Pollard — and at this point it is a strong one — this issue has no place in the discussion about Iran and should be dismissed out of hand by those seeking to push back against the administration’s efforts to silence its critics.

The Pollard affair has been an irritant in U.S.-Israel relations since his arrest in 1985. As I explained in detail in my March 2011 COMMENTARY article on the issue when Pollard had already been in jail for 25 years, this is a tragic story in which the misconduct of the oath-breaking former U.S. Navy analyst and his Israeli handlers has done great damage both the alliance and to the position of the many loyal American Jews working in the defense establishment that have since then labored under false charges of dual loyalty.

Pollard’s crime was serious, but it is also unprecedented in that no other spy for a friendly country has ever received a punishment anything like the life sentence he received. Those who foolishly labor him a hero have hurt his cause as well as that of Israel since such talk continues to inflame the U.S. intelligence establishment to oppose his release. Indeed, Pollard might well have been released long ago had he and those close to him ever learned to stop trying to defend his indefensible conduct and stuck to the entirely reasonable case to be made about his sentence being unreasonably harsh. But even if we are hearing less about him being a martyr these days, it is far from unlikely that U.S. intelligence will again intervene in the parole process as they have before. But like those of Pollard’s supporters who make improbable claims about the nature of the information he gave illegally transferred to Israel, so, too, do his opponents continue to exaggerate the impact of his spying. What he did was bad enough but there is no reason to believe that his efforts had much impact on the disasters befalling U.S. intelligence at the time. Had it been known at the time of his sentencing that the real source of the problem was a pair of Russian spies (Aldrich Ames at the CIA and the FBI’s Robert Hanssen) it would have been far more difficult for the government or the judge in the case (who threw out a plea bargain to which Pollard had agreed in order to spare the government the problem of a trial) to justify such a draconian sentence.

But regardless of the rights and wrongs of this 30-year ordeal, involving Pollard in the question of the Iran deal would be wrong from the point of view of both U.S. and Israeli security.

As with past U.S. efforts to use Pollard’s possible release as a carrot with which to entice Israel to make territorial withdrawals to the Palestinians (such as President Clinton’s stillborn initiative at the time of the 1998 Wye Plantation Agreement that was scuttled by threats of resignations from U.S. security officials), the spy’s fate is irrelevant to the question of whether appeasement of Iran is justified.

While many Israelis rightly feel that Pollard is their country’s responsibility and seek to have him freed after such a long imprisonment, doing so in no way compensates the Jewish state for the grave harm that an agreement that empowers and enriches Iran will do to its security as well as that of the United States. Raising the prospect of his release is merely one more effort to convince supporters of Israel to acquiesce to President Obama’s embrace of détente with an Islamist regime that remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism as well as still dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

While there is good reason to finally end Pollard’s imprisonment after him having already served far longer than anyone else guilty of a comparable crime, his fate has no more place in the Iran discussion than it does in negotiations with the Palestinians. The Pollard leak should be put down as just one more underhanded tactic by an administration that prefers to answer arguments about its Iran policy with smears about critics being warmongers rather than to defend it on the merits.

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What the Syrian Weapons Charade Says About the Iran Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Israel United Against Iran Deal, So Should Those Who Claim to Be Its Friends

This morning during a Senate hearing on the Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to pour cold water on the notion that friends of Israel are obligated to oppose the pact. Citing a Washington Post op-ed titled “How the Iran deal is good for Israel, according to Israelis who know what they’re talking about,” Kerry treated the piece that cites the opinions of a few retired officials that agree with him as proof that his claim that the result of his two years of negotiating with Iran would benefit the Jewish state as well as the United States. A similar piece in the Forward by J.J. Goldberg quotes some of the same figures. Taken together, they seem to make a strong case that the pro-Israel community ought to either sit out the Iran deal fight in Congress or even support the agreement. But the two articles leave out a couple of important facts about Israeli opinion about the Iran deal. One is that most of those quoted are either disgruntled former officials who hold a grudge against Prime Minister Netanyahu for not keeping them in office, or ideological opponents of the man who has won three consecutive elections. The other is that while Netanyahu’s political foes in the Knesset are as sharply critical of the prime minister as the Obama administration, they have joined him in forming a united front against the Iran deal as a deadly threat to the country’s future. That’s a point that any American that claims to be a friend of Israel needs to consider before they consider backing the administration’s push for détente with the Islamist regime.

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This morning during a Senate hearing on the Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to pour cold water on the notion that friends of Israel are obligated to oppose the pact. Citing a Washington Post op-ed titled “How the Iran deal is good for Israel, according to Israelis who know what they’re talking about,” Kerry treated the piece that cites the opinions of a few retired officials that agree with him as proof that his claim that the result of his two years of negotiating with Iran would benefit the Jewish state as well as the United States. A similar piece in the Forward by J.J. Goldberg quotes some of the same figures. Taken together, they seem to make a strong case that the pro-Israel community ought to either sit out the Iran deal fight in Congress or even support the agreement. But the two articles leave out a couple of important facts about Israeli opinion about the Iran deal. One is that most of those quoted are either disgruntled former officials who hold a grudge against Prime Minister Netanyahu for not keeping them in office, or ideological opponents of the man who has won three consecutive elections. The other is that while Netanyahu’s political foes in the Knesset are as sharply critical of the prime minister as the Obama administration, they have joined him in forming a united front against the Iran deal as a deadly threat to the country’s future. That’s a point that any American that claims to be a friend of Israel needs to consider before they consider backing the administration’s push for détente with the Islamist regime.

As Jeffrey Goldberg, who has been the administration’s unofficial mouthpiece on Israel issues and their dutiful amanuensis when it comes to smears of Netanyahu, noted in The Atlantic last week, the man that Washington desperately wanted to win the Knesset election in March has turned on Obama. Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog was the darling of the White House earlier this year as the administration moved heaven and Earth in a failed attempt to influence the Israeli electorate to reject Netanyahu’s bid for a third straight term as prime minister. As Goldberg wrote, Herzog’s line on the Iran negotiations last winter was that he trusted Obama to get a “good deal” with Tehran. But rather than continuing his effort to cozy up to the administration, Herzog now completely agrees with Netanyahu’s evaluation of the deal. As Goldberg wrote:

In a telephone call with me late last night, Herzog’s message was very different. The deal just finalized in Vienna, he said, “will unleash a lion from the cage, it will have a direct influence over the balance of power in our region, it’s going to affect our borders, and it will affect the safety of my children.”

Iran, he said, is an “empire of evil and hate that spreads terror across the region,” adding that, under the terms of the deal, Iran “will become a nuclear-threshold state in a decade or so.” Iran will take its post-sanctions windfall, he said, and use the funds to supply more rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon, more ammunition to Hamas in Gaza, and “generally increase the worst type of activities that they’ve been doing.”

The other major figure in the Israeli opposition, Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid Party has also chimed in with harsh criticism of the agreement with Iran. In fact, the administration has achieved something that is generally considered impossible: uniting the Zionist parties of the Knesset from right to left. Netanyahu, Lapid, and Herzog and the leaders of the other parties normally can’t agree on anything. But Obama and Kerry have brought them together to denounce a deal that all know makes their region more dangerous while also presenting an existential threat to Israel’s future.

As I noted earlier this week, there is nothing in the deal that will prevent Iran from using the vast windfall it gets from sanctions relief to help fund its terrorist auxiliaries and allies that face off against Israel. Both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza can expect to get a share of the flood of cash that President Obama is allowing Tehran. Kerry’s claims that such transfers won’t be allowed are absurd since even National Security Director Rice conceded, it will be their money.

Nor is anyone of stature in Israel’s political establishment on either side of the left-right divide buying the idea that the loose restrictions that will soon expire can do anything to stop an Iranian bomb. Like American critics of the Iran deal, they consider the administration’s arguments that there are no alternatives to their appeasement policy short of war to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having discarded all the enormous political and economic leverage it held over Iran in 2013, it is disingenuous, if not completely dishonest of Obama and Kerry to say that theirs is the best option. Having effectively spiked a the chances that tougher sanctions would bring Iran to its knees when they began bowing to Iranian dictates in the talks, their current claim that opponents are warmongers has no credibility.

Some Israelis, Lapid in particular, do criticize Netanyahu for his strident opposition to Obama’s Iran strategy over the last two years. Seeking to make political hay out of this catastrophe for Israel, they argue that if Netanyahu had been nicer to Obama or at least not criticized him publicly, the U.S. might not have signed such a horrible deal.

This is nonsense. Netanyahu may have made some tactical mistakes in the last few months, in particular his decision to address Congress in March. He gave a great speech but it did nothing to stop Obama and even served the administration’s interests by diverting attention away from their policies and allowing Democrats to rally ’round their “insulted” president. But President Obama has been determined to create a new détente with the Islamist regime since the day he entered office. In doing so, he has discarded every other U.S. interest in the talks including the need to stop Iranian support for terrorism, its anti-Semitism, its determination to destroy Israel, its quest for regional hegemony and its ballistic missile program, in order to get a deal at any price. Netanyahu had no chance to alter Obama’s course.

But Israel’s rare political unity on the issue should influence Americans who care about the Jewish state. If Netanyahu, Herzog and Lapid all agree that the deal is terrible, no member of the Congress or the Senate who wishes to present themselves as friends of Israel should be allowed to get away with claiming that he knows better than these leaders, no matter how many disgruntled retired Israeli spooks can be assembled to contradict them.

Efforts by the administration’s left-wing allies to undermine the unity of the pro-Israel community should be dismissed out of hand. The deal is a clear and present danger to Israel’s future and should be treated as a litmus test of backing for Israel as well as reliability on U.S. security. All members of the House and Senate — especially those, like Senator Chuck Schumer that have staked their reputations as being guardians of Israel’s security — should be put on notice that they must choose between loyalty to Obama and what is right.

 

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Obama Lobby Smear in Iran Deal Debate Cannot Go Unanswered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Menendez Defense Transcends Iran or New Jersey

For critics of President Obama’s appeasement of Iran’s nuclear program, the federal indictment of Senator Robert Menendez on corruption charges earlier this year seemed highly suspicious. In a single stroke, the Justice Department silenced the most vocal Democratic opponent of the president’s foreign policy as well as forcing him to step down as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But though the takedown of Menendez served the administration’s interests, the investigation into his dealings with Doctor Salomon Melgen, a friend and wealthy contributor, predated the debate about the Iran deal or even the senator’s public feud with the White House over its attempts to spike sanctions on the Islamist state. While Menendez’s fans stood by him, most of the country considered the case as just one more example of the sleazy political culture that has long prevailed in New Jersey. But Menendez’s response to the indictment in court on Monday raises some interesting issues that transcend his own fate. Though corruption in New Jersey politics seems unremarkable the decision of the Justice Department to treat routine constituent service that is not, in and of itself, illegal as subject to prosecution, can be seen as an attempt to subvert the separation of powers as well as to call into question the right of citizens to contribute to political campaigns.

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For critics of President Obama’s appeasement of Iran’s nuclear program, the federal indictment of Senator Robert Menendez on corruption charges earlier this year seemed highly suspicious. In a single stroke, the Justice Department silenced the most vocal Democratic opponent of the president’s foreign policy as well as forcing him to step down as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But though the takedown of Menendez served the administration’s interests, the investigation into his dealings with Doctor Salomon Melgen, a friend and wealthy contributor, predated the debate about the Iran deal or even the senator’s public feud with the White House over its attempts to spike sanctions on the Islamist state. While Menendez’s fans stood by him, most of the country considered the case as just one more example of the sleazy political culture that has long prevailed in New Jersey. But Menendez’s response to the indictment in court on Monday raises some interesting issues that transcend his own fate. Though corruption in New Jersey politics seems unremarkable the decision of the Justice Department to treat routine constituent service that is not, in and of itself, illegal as subject to prosecution, can be seen as an attempt to subvert the separation of powers as well as to call into question the right of citizens to contribute to political campaigns.

The prosecution of Menendez hinges on the senator’s intervention with the government to ease the way for Melgen to receive reimbursements from Medicare as well as his efforts to support a port security deal from which the doctor would profit. Neither of those actions is per se illegal. But the indictment considers them to be payment in exchange for Melgen’s $600,000 contribution to a pro-Menendez political action committee even though they have no smoking gun document or evidence proving that this was a quid pro quo agreement.

Is it reasonable to assume that such a large gift meant that Menendez was more inclined to assist Melgen in his dealings with the government than he might otherwise be? Sure. But it is one thing for something to look fishy. It is quite another for the government to destroy the career of a prominent senator on such an assumption. After all, if the same standard were applied to the actions of the Hillary Clinton State Department with regard to the interests of donors to the Clinton Family Foundation, the former First Lady would be in the dock with Menendez and not be the presumptive Democratic candidate for president in 2016.

Moreover, the further assumption on the part of the government that independent contributions are, by definition, necessarily corrupt is based on a view of campaign finance law that runs afoul of the Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of political speech as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court. While the prosecution of Menendez is portrayed in the press as being above politics and unrelated to the debate on Iran, it is a direct result of the administration’s anger about the court’s Citizens United decision and a backhanded attempt to undermine or overturn it.

It may be too much to ask ordinary citizens with a cynical view of politics to view this as a constitutional issue. But whatever you may think about the obviously cozy relationship between Menendez and his wealthy friend, if the Justice Department can criminalize his actions on a mere assumption then no member of either the House or the Senate is safe from similar attentions. And if that doesn’t bother liberals and Democrats who don’t like Menendez and are inclined to support any aim pursued by Attorney Generals Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, they should ponder how they would feel about the next Republican-run Justice Department scrutinizing liberals who get big contributions from donors.

Though the Menendez case seems like something out of “The Sopranos,” it is, in fact, an unprecedented intrusion by the executive into the rights of the legislative branch. Moreover, there is no principle in law that regards Menendez as having a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers to see that their money is well spent, rather than being directed to his friends. If there were, then the entire Congress would be under indictment.

This case won’t be resolved any time soon. Indeed, Iran may well have a nuclear bomb long before Menendez’s efforts to have the charges thrown out and then a possible trial and appeals are finished. But the principle at stake actually transcends the battle over Iran or even campaign finance laws. If Menendez can be singled out in this fashion, then any legislator or office holder will be easy prey for prosecutions from hostile administrations or U.S. Attorneys looking for prominent scalps to hang on their walls.

 

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Iran Deal’s Debut: Tepid Support, Technical Problems, Teheran Gloats

On the day the Iran deal was announced, Republican Senator Tom Cotton analogized it to the big spending packages Congress passes in the dead of night, where the good stuff is announced on day one followed by the people discovering the details hidden in the arcane language. He predicted Americans would not like a deal in which “a terrorist-sponsoring, anti-American outlaw regime will keep its nuclear program, and we will eliminate sanctions … [and] even the conventional arms embargo, [and] the ballistic missile embargo, will be lifted … [so] if Iran follows the agreement down to every specific detail, they will still be a nuclear-armed state with a ballistic missile program, a healthy economy whose military has been enriched with tens of billions of dollars, and that’s to say nothing of whether they will follow the agreement … and what they’ll do [when they are] flush with that cash and ascendant in the Middle East.” One week later, the Pew Research Center poll shows that of the 79 percent of Americans who have heard about the deal, only 38 percent approve, while 48 percent disapprove (14 percent have no opinion). And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not even begun its hearings yet (the first one is tomorrow). Read More

On the day the Iran deal was announced, Republican Senator Tom Cotton analogized it to the big spending packages Congress passes in the dead of night, where the good stuff is announced on day one followed by the people discovering the details hidden in the arcane language. He predicted Americans would not like a deal in which “a terrorist-sponsoring, anti-American outlaw regime will keep its nuclear program, and we will eliminate sanctions … [and] even the conventional arms embargo, [and] the ballistic missile embargo, will be lifted … [so] if Iran follows the agreement down to every specific detail, they will still be a nuclear-armed state with a ballistic missile program, a healthy economy whose military has been enriched with tens of billions of dollars, and that’s to say nothing of whether they will follow the agreement … and what they’ll do [when they are] flush with that cash and ascendant in the Middle East.” One week later, the Pew Research Center poll shows that of the 79 percent of Americans who have heard about the deal, only 38 percent approve, while 48 percent disapprove (14 percent have no opinion). And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not even begun its hearings yet (the first one is tomorrow).

The Pew survey was conducted July 14-20, so it does not reflect: (i) the rush to incorporate the deal into a binding UN resolution adopted without any debate, much less analysis; (ii) the disingenuous explanation for disregarding bipartisan calls to delay that action (“the world made us do it”); and (iii) four reports issued yesterday by the highly-regarded Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) — one of which finds ambiguities in Iran’s obligation to reduce its relatively large stock of near 20 percent enriched uranium; another that finds the exceptions to the cap on low enriched uranium have “grown since the Lausanne agreement and some of them could undermine the very value of the cap”; a third report on a lack of clarity on “possible military dimensions” (PMD) that suggests an “inability to resolve disputes over this issue,” with provisions “left to an interpretation by the parties and the IAEA that is not yet clear”; and a final report that indicates a rapid plutonium path:

In a potentially significant change from Iran’s commitment in the April 2015 U.S. fact sheet describing the Lausanne Framework of parameters, Iran has committed not to reprocess spent fuel or separate plutonium for only 15 years. The commitment was stated to be indefinite in the April framework. This means that after year 15 Iran could separate plutonium from irradiated fuel or perhaps targets, providing another way to rapidly build nuclear weapons. [Emphasis added].

Meanwhile, Teheran may be interpreting the deal in a manner that elides entirely all these technical questions. The indefatigable Omri Ceren of The Israel Project emails about remarks yesterday by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Iran’s parliament, in which Zarif boasted about his “refusal to allow inspection or refusal to accept any restrictions in the defense and missile spheres,” which Zarif told parliament “has been fully achieved through the deal.” So the problems of interpretation with this deal may be more than technical.

This is what happens when you negotiate a deal in secret, have it incorporated immediately into international law without hearings, try to circumvent Congressional review, and dismiss dissenters as warmongers. And we are only on Day Three of the 60-day period for Congressional consideration.

 

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Can Schumer Finesse His Iran Deal Vote Dilemma?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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