Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran nuclear deal

The Iran Investment Floodgates Open

Yesterday, the Washington Free Beacon’s Alana Goodman described how Ned Lamont, a Connecticut businessman who once defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary before losing in the general election, had become a strong advocate for investing in Iran. Lamont’s quotes in Goodman’s article, alas, reflect a man cocooned in a bubble well crafted by his Iranian handlers.

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Yesterday, the Washington Free Beacon’s Alana Goodman described how Ned Lamont, a Connecticut businessman who once defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary before losing in the general election, had become a strong advocate for investing in Iran. Lamont’s quotes in Goodman’s article, alas, reflect a man cocooned in a bubble well crafted by his Iranian handlers.

According to the Iranian press, however, the situation is about to get worse. From the Mehr News Agency:

A delegation of oil dealers and investors from the US are scheduled to have a business tour of Iranian oil industry and meet with Iranian authorities in this week. Authorities, commissioners, and executives of oil companies are in the meeting agenda of the Americans. Deputy petroleum minister of Iran, Abbas Sheri-Moghaddam confirmed the news and predicted more cooperation with US big companies and refineries on Iran’s oil and gas projects after the removal of sanctions.

He also announced that some European-American companies have stepped forward for participation in new petrochemical projects in Iran and added that Iran is now bargaining with companies from Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands who are willing to invest in petrochemical projects of Iran. In response to a question about legal restrictions for American companies in Iran Sheri-Moghaddam explained that to invest in Iran, companies are required to register an Iranian company and as a result there is no boundary for foreigners to invest in Iran.

The State Department issued a weak denial:

“It’s hard to verify whether these reports are accurate at all,” he said, “but also we’ve been quite clear that we don’t consider Iran to be open for business yet, and that if there is any sanctionable activity happening, then we will take action.”

In other words, the State Department is basing its denial on the notion that businesses are going to tell the State Department what they are doing and that they also are not going to try to bypass a sanctions regime which is actively unraveling. Heck, the Iranian government openly brags about how sanctions have collapsed, and Jonathan Tobin here shows how unrealistic the notion of snap-back sanctions are. In addition, when President Obama talks about his ability to unilaterally wave sanctions, he is absolutely right. The most biting sanctions against Iran were imposed by executive order during the Clinton administration and targeted the oil industry—first American companies doing business in Iran and then European subsidiaries and partners.

Some analysts argue that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) benefits from sanctions because they control the black market. That may be true to some extent, but it does not hold that the opposite—lifting sanctions undercuts the IRGC—is true, as that organization’s civilian wing monopolizes import-export and most large industries, including the energy sector. This is one of the reasons why Iran is a country of mom-and-pop stores because anyone who might seek to grow beyond that ends up victim to the IRGC mafia. In some ways, it’s analogous to the mob in 1930s Chicago. This raises a second problem, of course, one that Obama willfully ignores: Any money invested in Iran is going to privilege the hard line elements at the expense of more moderate factions. Even if Obama and the true believers in his nuclear drive believe they are witnessing some Deng Xiaoping moment, the reality is that the policy they have embraced is guaranteed to sink it.

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Snap Back Iran Sanctions? Don’t Bet on It.

Last week as part of the administration’s latest feeble attempt at a Jewish charm offensive, Vice President Biden gave a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where he told the audience not to worry about the nuclear deal President Obama had struck with Iran. Biden’s bombastic reassurances lacked credibility. But just as important was a private talk given by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in which he sought to allay fears about the way the president planned on lifting economic sanctions on Iran once the deal is finalized. Lew promised that if Iran was found to be cheating on its nuclear promises, those sanctions could easily be snapped back into place. But as Josh Rogin reports at BloombergView today, it appears Lew’s promises are not much more reliable than those made by Tehran. As it turns out the process by which sanctions could be reimposed will be anything but a snap. Nor is the administration prepared to treat the vast industries controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as tied to that group’s record of terrorism.

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Last week as part of the administration’s latest feeble attempt at a Jewish charm offensive, Vice President Biden gave a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where he told the audience not to worry about the nuclear deal President Obama had struck with Iran. Biden’s bombastic reassurances lacked credibility. But just as important was a private talk given by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in which he sought to allay fears about the way the president planned on lifting economic sanctions on Iran once the deal is finalized. Lew promised that if Iran was found to be cheating on its nuclear promises, those sanctions could easily be snapped back into place. But as Josh Rogin reports at BloombergView today, it appears Lew’s promises are not much more reliable than those made by Tehran. As it turns out the process by which sanctions could be reimposed will be anything but a snap. Nor is the administration prepared to treat the vast industries controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as tied to that group’s record of terrorism.

As Rogin reports, Lew left out a lot of details when he claimed last week that sanctions could be snapped back.

The first problem is that despite the administration’s claims, the Iranians have vowed not to sign anything that would not lift all sanctions immediately and permanently. President Obama’s track record on negotiations with Iran has been a steady series of concessions while Tehran stands its ground. That makes it difficult to imagine that Washington’s version of what the final draft will look like will be closer to reality than that of Tehran. But even if we assume that the final deal will conform to Lew’s promises about sanctions, there are clear problems with the way any such deal will be implemented.

The first is that although Lew says the president won’t ask Congress to lift the sanctions until Iran has proved its compliance that places the entire responsibility for that decision in the hands of an administration. Given that the president’s foreign policy legacy is involved, there is little doubt that its investment in preserving the agreement at all costs makes unlikely that the president will ever give up on Iran or declare it in violation of its promises.

More to the point, the process by which such a decision will be made will be the subject of a lengthy debate and subject to dissent from nations that will be even less inclined than the president to declare Iran in violation of the accord.

Just as important, the administration is drawing a broad distinction between branches of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the regime’s terror sponsor as well as an economic powerhouse. Lew promised that the U.S. would rightly hold the IRGC’s Quds Force responsible for its terrorist actions and keep sanctions in place on them. But the rest of the IRGC’s vast infrastructure will be exempt from sanctions after the deal is implemented. Such a distinction will enable Tehran to go on funding terrorism through the IRGC’s vast holdings that amount to a third of the Iranian economy. Money, like terrorism is fungible but if you’re determined to turn a blind eye to how the Iranian regime operates, anything is possible.

Rogin also points out that Biden and Lew’s assertions that Iran hasn’t cheated on the interim agreement are, at best, debatable. And until Iran agrees to intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities with no advance notice, confidence that the administration can actually detect cheating at any point, let alone in time to stop them in time, is highly unlikely.

The Iran deal is bad enough in that it can be easily violated and gives the Islamist retime two ways to get a bomb: one by cheating and the other by patiently waiting for it to expire while it legally continues to develop its nuclear options.

But the point here is not just that the deal the U.S. has accepted is weak, it’s that there is no mechanism in place that would actually provide any real accountability. Once sanctions are lifted, Western businesses will flock to Iran to take advantage of the opening. The economic and political incentives for returning to sanctions will be few for Western governments and Iran will take advantage. Once they are unraveled by a diplomatic stroke that Washington will never wish to disavow, they are not coming back short of an Iranian declaration that it has a bomb. Even then there will be those who will argue that a return to sanctions will be pointless.

Other than the president’s word — and that of his subordinates — there’s little reason to believe the sanctions will not vanish forever once the deal is signed. All of which means the West’s leverage over Iran hangs by a thread that is about to snap.

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On Iran, Biden’s Charm Offensive Falls Flat

The Obama administration has its work cut out for it justifying a weak nuclear deal with Iran to Congress. After months of bashing critics of his appeasement of Tehran, and in particular Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the president has realized that selling the country on a new Iran-centric policy in the Middle East is going to require something a bit more nuanced. Thus, he has turned back to the same tactic he used while seeking reelection, a Jewish charm offensive designed to at one and the same time disarm his critics and to position his defenders as part of the pro-Israel consensus rather than among those trying to destroy it. The person tasked with this tough brief is Vice President Joe Biden who spoke last night to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His message was to both reassure friends of Israel that Obama has their back and to defend the Iran deal as a good idea. It remains to be seen how much credibility Biden has left as someone who claims “to love Israel.” But Biden’s main argument in favor of the Iran deal makes the administration look even weaker and more negligent than even some of its harshest critics have alleged. And it’s one that makes the bipartisan compromise about congressional ratification of the deal seem even less of a genuine check on the administration. Read More

The Obama administration has its work cut out for it justifying a weak nuclear deal with Iran to Congress. After months of bashing critics of his appeasement of Tehran, and in particular Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the president has realized that selling the country on a new Iran-centric policy in the Middle East is going to require something a bit more nuanced. Thus, he has turned back to the same tactic he used while seeking reelection, a Jewish charm offensive designed to at one and the same time disarm his critics and to position his defenders as part of the pro-Israel consensus rather than among those trying to destroy it. The person tasked with this tough brief is Vice President Joe Biden who spoke last night to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His message was to both reassure friends of Israel that Obama has their back and to defend the Iran deal as a good idea. It remains to be seen how much credibility Biden has left as someone who claims “to love Israel.” But Biden’s main argument in favor of the Iran deal makes the administration look even weaker and more negligent than even some of its harshest critics have alleged. And it’s one that makes the bipartisan compromise about congressional ratification of the deal seem even less of a genuine check on the administration.The last time the administration tried a charm offensive with the pro-Israel community, it worked. In 2012 all President Obama needed to do was to cease picking fights (at least for a while) with Netanyahu, ramp up security cooperation with Israel, and toughen his rhetoric against Iran. But playing the same trick while senior officials continue to threaten to isolate Israel at the United Nations and defending a deal that, at the very least, makes Iran a threshold nuclear power isn’t going to be quite so easy.

But Biden isn’t afraid to try, so in his remarks last night he claimed that there was nothing wrong with Israel being worried about the threat from Iran. Indeed, he even hinted that the administration was prepared to contemplate war with Iran should it try to “race to a bomb.”

While those words may have comforted some Jewish Democrats desperate for reassurance, they are utterly disingenuous. The Obama foreign-policy team has spent the last two years telling the Israelis and those Americans who are worried about the drift toward appeasement of Iran to shut up. Biden’s anodyne statements about Israel’s right to wring its hands as the United States cozies up to a vicious and aggressive terrorist-supporting Islamist state are meaningless. So, too, is any talk about the U.S. ever contemplating the use of force against Iran. The administration has already discarded all of its economic and political leverage over Tehran in its reckless pursuit of a nuclear deal at virtually any price. The notion that Washington would be willing to discard the fruits of its diplomatic surrenders just because Iran was cheating on the nuclear deal or getting closer to a bomb is absurd and flies in the face of everything we’ve learned about Obama’s attitude toward the issue.

But that worthless pep talk aside, the real news coming out of Biden’s speech was the justification he gave for the nuclear deal. Aside from the requisite denunciation of its critics as “not getting it” (and by that he meant Netanyahu as well as those in Congress who are equally concerned about what the pact portends), Biden went further in delineating the danger from Iran should the agreement fall through.

Instead of claiming, as the president and other defenders have done, that Iran is nowhere close to a weapon and that the deal will ensure that the U.S. will have time to stop them if they attempt to “break out” to a bomb, Biden took a different tack. In the course of knocking down the detailed criticisms of the deal, he said this:

Some have said that because some of the constraints in this deal expire over time, this deal “paves” Iran’s path to a bomb. Let’s get something straight so we don’t kid each other. They already have paved a path to a bomb’s worth of material. Iran could get there now if they walked away in two to three months without a deal.

Biden says the deal increases that breakout time to a year. But let’s remember that Obama and Biden have been in power for over six years. It has primarily been on their watch that Iran has made so much progress on their nuclear project.

Nor do Biden’s claims that Iran has abided by the 2013 interim deal have much credibility. As our Seth Mandel noted yesterday, contrary to Biden’s assertions about holding Tehran accountable, it’s already clear that Iran is continuing its illicit nuclear work in contravention to their promises. The argument used by both Obama and Biden that Israeli predictions about the interim agreement were wrong is misleading. Given the bad intelligence the U.S. has on Iran and the lack of rigorous inspections (something that will continue even after the deal is signed according to Iran’s supreme leader), the administration has no idea how much cheating is going on. Moreover, if the Israelis would prefer the interim deal to stay in place rather than the proposed final pact, that is only a measure of how weak the new deal Obama has struck with Iran truly is.

Biden’s talk of war should also be understood as a not-so-subtle reminder of the straw man argument the administration has been using to defend its disastrous policy. The alternative to appeasement remains strengthened sanctions and tough diplomacy. War is only an option if, thanks to Obama’s drive for détente with Iran, it has gotten so close to a bomb that nothing short of air strikes will slow them down.

These not-so-reassuring reassurances should figure into the thinking of Congress as it prepares to pass a bill requiring a vote on a final Iran deal under terms that provide little accountability and allow it to pass with only 34 votes rather than the two-thirds that would normally be required for a treaty. The administration has put the West in a weak position and now claims that accepting that weakness is the alternative to war. That is not a recipe for Western security or that of an Israel that remains in the cross hairs of an Iranian regime that Obama and Biden think wants to “get right with the world.”

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Iran Bill Amendments About More than 2016 Grandstanding

Senator Bob Corker wouldn’t play ball. On Tuesday, the Tennessee Republican derailed a compromise on a bipartisan budget bill that would allow the Congress to actually spend more rather than less, as it is supposedly intended to do. He’s largely right about that but Senate leaders weren’t happy about the way a budget hawk was willing to stand on his principles rather than go along with something that allows Congress the pretense of a move toward a balanced budget instead of its reality. Yet if Corker understands the difference between reality and congressional fakery when it comes to budgets, the same principle seems to be lost on him in his capacity as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. The bill requiring a congressional vote on any nuclear deal reached with Iran that he has co-sponsored is unfortunately eerily similar to the budget accord he spurned this week. Corker says that bill is as good as it gets and that the Senate must accept it. Even worse, many in the press are labeling those Republicans who have tried to strengthen it as merely grandstanding for 2016. Whatever the motivations of those involved, Corker’s Iran bill will be even more likely to facilitate a bad Iran deal than the budget deal will encourage spending.

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Senator Bob Corker wouldn’t play ball. On Tuesday, the Tennessee Republican derailed a compromise on a bipartisan budget bill that would allow the Congress to actually spend more rather than less, as it is supposedly intended to do. He’s largely right about that but Senate leaders weren’t happy about the way a budget hawk was willing to stand on his principles rather than go along with something that allows Congress the pretense of a move toward a balanced budget instead of its reality. Yet if Corker understands the difference between reality and congressional fakery when it comes to budgets, the same principle seems to be lost on him in his capacity as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. The bill requiring a congressional vote on any nuclear deal reached with Iran that he has co-sponsored is unfortunately eerily similar to the budget accord he spurned this week. Corker says that bill is as good as it gets and that the Senate must accept it. Even worse, many in the press are labeling those Republicans who have tried to strengthen it as merely grandstanding for 2016. Whatever the motivations of those involved, Corker’s Iran bill will be even more likely to facilitate a bad Iran deal than the budget deal will encourage spending.

The willingness of several Republican senators to offer amendments to the Iran bill has infuriated Corker, Ben Cardin, his Democratic ranking member of the Foreign Affaris Committee, as well as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whose decision to end Harry Reid’s Senate tyranny and allow members the freedom to propose amendments is being tested.

They say that all the amendments put forward by the bill’s Republican critics, including Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are poison pills designed to destroy the compromise Corker struck with Democrats in order to get enough of them to back the proposal. In its current form, President Obama says he can sign rather than veto the bill. That will, at a minimum, give both houses of Congress the ability to vote on any deal that the president signs with Iran. Given that the administration had hoped to push through the most important pact with a foreign government in a generation without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress, this is considered an achievement by Corker and other senators who say it is better than nothing.

By that they are conceding, as perhaps they must, that any bill that requires real accountability on the part of the administration with respect to Iran will never get a veto-proof majority. If the bill requires such a deal to be considered a treaty (and thus require a two-thirds vote) or force Iran to foreswear support for international terrorism or its vow to destroy Israel, the president will veto it and he’s sure of getting enough Democrats to vote against an override.

Thus, as far as Corker and critics of the GOP rebels on this issue are concerned, all Cruz, Rubio, and Co. are doing is destroying the one chance Congress has to have any say about the Iran deal.

But even if we were willing to accept that these amendments were poison pills, what their sponsors are pointing out is that without these measures, the Corker bill is nothing but a charade. If it’s passed, it will allow Congress a vote. But its lack of accountability and the fact that it reverses the approval process guarantees that Obama will be able to get any Iran deal, no matter how much it compromises the security of the United States or Israel, passed with 34 Democratic votes rather than the 67 needed for a treaty.

It’s easy to understand the frustration of the Republican leadership and Senate Democrats at the idea of having to vote on Rubio’s measure, which would force them to vote against a measure requiring Iran to recognize Israel. The same applies to Cruz’s proposal that would mandate that ratification of an Iran deal would require a majority rather than having it rest on merely a vote to lift sanctions.

They may be right that Rubio, Cruz, and other GOP senators such as Tom Cotton and Ron Johnson, who have joined them in the exercise, are grandstanding. But Corker and the Democrats are being just as disingenuous.

All the Corker bill provides is a thin veneer of accountability for Obama’s negotiations with Iran that is unlikely to have an impact on the outcome of the negotiations or the approval process. If it passes, Congress will be able to claim it will vote on the Iran deal but since the bar for ultimate approval of the deal is set so low with Obama having the ability to veto a negative vote (which he would not have with an actual treaty), that it may actually be far worse than nothing. A bad Iran deal that slips through Congress with support from only a third of Democratic loyalists will nonetheless have the imprimatur of the legislative branch. It would be far better and much easier to reverse if such appeasement were to be merely the act of a president seeking to ignore the Constitution.

Somehow Corker understands the difference between fake legislation and a bill that would actually accomplish its stated purpose with it comes to spending. Yet somehow that notion doesn’t seem to impress him when it comes to the life-or-death issue of an Iranian nuclear program. Under the circumstances it’s hard to blame Rubio or Cruz from trying to teach him that lesson.

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Like Obama’s Iran Deal, Corker Bill May Be Worse Than Nothing

As the Corker-Menendez bill requiring a congressional vote on the nuclear deal with Iran heads to the floor of the Senate this week, many in the Republican leadership are urging their caucus to pass the bill just as it is without amendments. Having forged a compromise with some Democrats to get it through the foreign affairs committee by a unanimous vote, Chairman Bob Corker believes his bill is still “pretty strong” because it allows Congress a voice on the Iran deal. He and other GOP leaders believe changes that would force the administration to hold Iran accountable for its support for terrorism or even to change it so as to make it a treaty would scuttle the entire effort. They may be right about that since the administration and many Democrats would like nothing better than to let the president cut a deal with Iran without Congress having any say in the matter. But without such changes, it’s fair to ask whether Corker’s assessment of his bill is any different than Obama’s deal. Is a weak Iran bill better than no bill at all? Maybe not.

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As the Corker-Menendez bill requiring a congressional vote on the nuclear deal with Iran heads to the floor of the Senate this week, many in the Republican leadership are urging their caucus to pass the bill just as it is without amendments. Having forged a compromise with some Democrats to get it through the foreign affairs committee by a unanimous vote, Chairman Bob Corker believes his bill is still “pretty strong” because it allows Congress a voice on the Iran deal. He and other GOP leaders believe changes that would force the administration to hold Iran accountable for its support for terrorism or even to change it so as to make it a treaty would scuttle the entire effort. They may be right about that since the administration and many Democrats would like nothing better than to let the president cut a deal with Iran without Congress having any say in the matter. But without such changes, it’s fair to ask whether Corker’s assessment of his bill is any different than Obama’s deal. Is a weak Iran bill better than no bill at all? Maybe not.

The purpose of the Corker-Menendez bill is a noble one. Faced with an administration that was determined not only to press ahead with the most important diplomatic pact signed by the United States in a generation but to do so without allowing Congress to play its constitutionally mandated role to ratify such a deal, the Senate needed to act. What Corker and Robert Menendez, a stern critic of the administration’s Iran policy and the former ranking Democrat on the committee, intended to do was to create a mechanism by which the Senate could act as a possible brake on the president’s appeasement of the Islamist regime.

But over the course of the debate about the bill a couple of things soon became clear.

One was that the bipartisan consensus within Congress about the need to stop Iran’s nuclear program quickly broke down once the president made it clear to Democrats that he considered support for his Iran policy as a litmus test of party loyalty. That was first illustrated by the White House’s attempt to orchestrate a boycott of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress on the issue. But even after that effort flopped, the administration worked hard to twist the arms of wavering Democrats in order to persuade them to oppose a tough Iran sanctions bill that would have put more heat on Tehran to make concessions as well as the Corker-Menendez proposal. While a veto-proof majority on both ideas seemed likely a few months ago, once the president laid down the law to liberals on Iran, it was obvious that Corker would have to start making compromises if his bill was going to succeed.

The second was that once the negotiations over passing Corker-Menendez started, it was also clear that it was the president and the not the Republican majority that held all the cards in the bargaining. The president pushed ahead to get a weak framework deal with Iran agreed to by the end of March, a development that made critics wonder if they were going to be able to weigh in on the issue before it was too late.

More than that, the administration realized that the way the Corker bill was structured gave them an enormous advantage. The Constitution requires a two-thirds affirmative vote to pass a treaty. But by calling this far-reaching pact a mere agreement between the Iranians and the West, President Obama sought to evade that rule altogether. He wanted to have no vote at all on the deal but once he realized that even Democrats didn’t feel comfortable going along with a complete abnegation of their constitutional duties, the president’s path was clear. So long as it didn’t declare the Iran deal a treaty, passing Corker-Menendez actually served the administration’s purpose.

Provided the bill was stripped of measures that would provide some real accountability on the content of a deal that offers Iran two paths to a bomb—one by easily evading its weak restrictions and another by abiding by it and patiently waiting for it to expire—a congressional vote along these lines would give a legitimacy to the process that the administration needed. Moreover, the Corker bill created a reverse confirmation process by which the president needed only 34 votes—enough to sustain a veto of a vote that rejected the deal—rather than 67 in order for it to become law. Thus, after loyal Democrats on the committee got Corker to take out provisions that would make it more onerous for the administration to defend a weak deal, the president signaled that he would sign the bill.

The bill is now being praised as a rare example of bipartisanship. But though Corker’s intentions may have been good, the result is not. No matter how bad the Iran deal is, it’s obvious that the president will be able to pressure enough Democrats to back him to sustain a veto. If his bill doesn’t provide real accountability and actually gives the president a path to passage of a deal with only 34 Democratic votes, then all their effort will have been for nothing. Indeed, it will be worse than nothing since Obama will be able to say that he has given Congress a say even if he has vetoed their rejection of the deal. That’s why rather than being another suicide charge in the manner of the 2013 government shutdown, efforts to amend the Corker bill are actually the right thing to do.

In particular, Senator Ron Johnson’s amendment that would force the Senate to treat the Iran deal as a treaty that would require the normal two-thirds majority for passage deserves the support of the chamber. So, too, do measures proposed to require the administration to certify that Iran is no longer supporting terrorism (a point that was strengthened this past weekend as Israel attempted to interdict arms shipments from Iran to Hezbollah).

Democrats may not be willing to support strengthening the bill, but contrary to the assertions of its supporters, the “clean” bill as it currently stands may be worse than nothing at all. Efforts to compel senators take a stand on treaty status and terrorism may be the last chance to put them on record as being willing to support a measure that would actually prevent the president from sacrificing U.S. security and the stability of the Middle East on the altar of his vain pursuit of détente with Iran. These amendments may be poison pills, but the real poison is a bill that will give a seal of approval on a tragic foreign policy blunder.

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How the Iran Deal Helps Hezbollah

On Saturday the Israeli Air Force reportedly struck surface-to-surface missile depots in Syria near the Lebanese border. The attack is widely believed to be a yet another Israeli attempt to interdict Iran’s efforts to maintain a steady flow arms and advanced weapons to its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries in Lebanon. In particular, Tehran has used the chaos of the Syrian civil war as an opportunity to establish Hezbollah bases in Syrian territory to threaten Israel. But neither these strikes nor Hezbollah’s failed attempt yesterday at a terrorist incursion along Israel’s northern border should be viewed in isolation from the aspect of Iranian foreign policy that has drawn far more interest in the West: the negotiations for a nuclear pact. Far from being tangential to the debate about the Iran nuclear framework deal that President Obama has staked his legacy on, the flow of arms from the Islamist regime to a terrorist group illustrates the danger of appeasing Tehran far better than any speech by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or other opponents of the pact.

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On Saturday the Israeli Air Force reportedly struck surface-to-surface missile depots in Syria near the Lebanese border. The attack is widely believed to be a yet another Israeli attempt to interdict Iran’s efforts to maintain a steady flow arms and advanced weapons to its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries in Lebanon. In particular, Tehran has used the chaos of the Syrian civil war as an opportunity to establish Hezbollah bases in Syrian territory to threaten Israel. But neither these strikes nor Hezbollah’s failed attempt yesterday at a terrorist incursion along Israel’s northern border should be viewed in isolation from the aspect of Iranian foreign policy that has drawn far more interest in the West: the negotiations for a nuclear pact. Far from being tangential to the debate about the Iran nuclear framework deal that President Obama has staked his legacy on, the flow of arms from the Islamist regime to a terrorist group illustrates the danger of appeasing Tehran far better than any speech by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or other opponents of the pact.

The Syrian adventure serves a dual purpose for Iran. On the one hand, it has committed Hezbollah and Iranian forces to help bolster its ally Bashar Assad in the war against Syrian rebels (both moderate and extremist) as well as ISIS terrorists. At the same time, it offers Iran a chance to extend its sphere of influence in such a way as to create a second front against Israel for Hezbollah. Hence the Israeli insistence, made clear in the strikes on similar targets in January and the attack this weekend, that it will not allow Iran or its Lebanese proxy terrorists to be able to strike at the Jewish state with impunity.

The Western media tends to view any violence between Israel and Hezbollah, whether along the border with Lebanon or in Syria, as part of an endless “cycle of violence.” From the point of view of the Obama administration and the liberal mainstream media this is a struggle to which there is no end and no beginning and thus no real policy implications other than the fear that a small conflagration could somehow be blown up into a regional war.

The problem with that way of looking at the issue is not so much that such fears are unreasonable as they are a function of Iran’s bid for regional hegemony, not a mere brush fire unrelated to the Islamist regime’s broader goals.

Hezbollah’s stance against Israel is, after all, not a function of an attempt to defend Lebanon or recover that nation’s territory occupied by the Jewish state. Rather it is a military front operated by Tehran’s terrorist proxy that is living proof of Iran’s commitment to Israel’s destruction. The conceit of efforts to set up Hezbollah bases in Syria is to offer the group a way to shoot at Israel without incurring retaliation on Lebanon that would lead the citizens of the country to try and curb the terrorist group’s power.

The reason this is germane to the nuclear talks is that the question of allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear power is one that directly affects Hezbollah. Iran’s ability to project power across the Middle East via Hezbollah, the Assad regime, as well as Hamas in Gaza (which recently came back into the fold with Iran after a few years’ break because of a disagreement over the Syrian civil war) makes its nuclear pretensions that much more dangerous. If the nuclear deal gives, at the very least, Iran a potential for a bomb, that strengthens its terrorist allies. Critics rightly allege that the loose terms of the deal offer Iran two paths to an actual bomb, one by easily evading the pact’s restrictions because of a lack of tough inspections and one by abiding by it and waiting patiently for it to expire before building a weapon. If that is so, then the Iran deal will not only lead to proliferation and give Tehran the means to threaten Israel’s existence.

But even if Iran never takes advantage of that opportunity or never uses the bomb if it gets one, this deal places Hezbollah and Hamas under a potential nuclear umbrella. That gives the terrorists more freedom to operate and to foment and commit violence against both Israel and the United States. That’s why it’s a mistake for the United States to separate the issue of Iran’s support of terrorism and its desire to eliminate Israel from the nuclear issue.

President Obama’s illusions about Iran reforming itself and “getting right with the world” are foolish enough with respect to the nature of the Islamist regime. But when one considers that this same policy is empowering terrorist groups allied to Iran they become a dangerous error that will be paid for in Israeli, Palestinian, and Lebanese blood.

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Why the Iran Nuclear Deal Can’t Be Saved

Throughout the last year former Middle East peace processor and Obama foreign policy staffer Dennis Ross has been sounding a note of caution about the nuclear talks with Iran. But after sober reflection, the veteran diplomat is endorsing the weak nuclear deal that has yet to be put to paper. But despite Ross’s optimism about the agreement’s ability to forestall Iran from getting a bomb for as much as 25 years, even he admits that the statements coming out of Tehran about the final written terms of the pact are troubling. Ross concedes Iran’s attitude can, in fact, render the framework a colossal failure if Western negotiators don’t stick to positions demanding transparency about their nuclear program. That’s true enough though why anyone would think President Obama would stand firm with the Iranians now it meant risking a deal he considers integral to his legacy is a mystery. That’s especially true after making concession after concession in order to get the deal. But scholar Michael Mandelbaum has an even better reason why this mess can’t be salvaged. As he explains in an article published in The American Interest, the problem here isn’t just bad negotiating tactics but a fundamental reordering of American foreign policy by Obama that undermines its credibility in enforcing agreements and restraining rogue regimes.

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Throughout the last year former Middle East peace processor and Obama foreign policy staffer Dennis Ross has been sounding a note of caution about the nuclear talks with Iran. But after sober reflection, the veteran diplomat is endorsing the weak nuclear deal that has yet to be put to paper. But despite Ross’s optimism about the agreement’s ability to forestall Iran from getting a bomb for as much as 25 years, even he admits that the statements coming out of Tehran about the final written terms of the pact are troubling. Ross concedes Iran’s attitude can, in fact, render the framework a colossal failure if Western negotiators don’t stick to positions demanding transparency about their nuclear program. That’s true enough though why anyone would think President Obama would stand firm with the Iranians now it meant risking a deal he considers integral to his legacy is a mystery. That’s especially true after making concession after concession in order to get the deal. But scholar Michael Mandelbaum has an even better reason why this mess can’t be salvaged. As he explains in an article published in The American Interest, the problem here isn’t just bad negotiating tactics but a fundamental reordering of American foreign policy by Obama that undermines its credibility in enforcing agreements and restraining rogue regimes.

Let’s give some credit to Ross for trying to learn from his own mistakes. Writing this week in Politico, Ross notes that it would be a blunder to take the recent statements about the nuclear agreement by Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as meaningless rhetoric intended for domestic consumption. Ross says it’s entirely possible that Khamenei’s comments are an indication that the Islamist regime has no intention of allowing rigorous inspections of its facilities or to own up to their progress toward military application of their nuclear research. Just as Yasir Arafat’s statements about his unwillingness to live up to the Oslo Accords should have been taken seriously, so, too, must Khamenei’s lest the nuclear deal wind up being trashed by the Iranians the same way the Palestinians made a mockery of the peace deal with Israel (though it is disgraceful that Ross attributes such complacence to “many of my colleagues” instead of admitting that he was just as guilty of covering up and ignoring Palestinian misdeeds as anyone else).

But, the problem goes deeper than merely having the sense to take your negotiating partner’s threats seriously. Nor is it enough to insist on agreements achieving their stated objectives as opposed to negotiation for its own sake, as appears to be the case with the president’s push for détente with Iran rather than merely stopping its nuclear program.

As Mandelbaum points out, the mistake in the administration’s strategy on Iran is that it is based on an abandonment of American military, political and economic leverage. By stating that the only alternative to a policy of appeasement of Iran is war and that war is unacceptable under virtually any circumstances, the president has ensured that Iran will get its way on every key point in the negotiations:

If the Obama administration is in fact resolutely opposed to the use of force to keep Iran from making nuclear weapons, then American foreign policy has changed in a fundamental way. For more than seven decades, since its entry into World War II, the United States has carried out a foreign policy of global scope that has included the willingness to go to war on behalf of vital American interests. There is no higher or more urgent current American interest beyond the country’s borders than keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of an aggressive, theocratic, anti-American regime located in a region that harbors much of the oil on which the global economy depends. If fighting to vindicate that interest has become unthinkable, then American foreign policy has entered a new era.

Mandelbaum’s trenchant observation illustrates the key flaw in Ross’s facile call for the president to finally stand up to Khamenei in the talks. Having discarded not only his leverage but signaled that he will not defend U.S. interests and will abandon allies in order to pursue an entente with Iran, President Obama has made any outcome but a weak and unenforceable deal impossible. Unless there is a fundamental change in the administration’s approach, there is no saving this deal. That is something senators should remember when they are eventually asked to vote on this fiasco.

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Another Jewish Charm Offensive Won’t Fix What Obama Has Broken

After several months of insults (chickensh*!t) and threats about re-evaluating U.S. policy, the Obama administration appears to have awakened to the fact that its feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone too far. As the New York Times reports today, the White House is making a conscious effort to play down its anger at the Israeli government, primarily by making nice with American Jewish groups. But what is sounding very much like another edition of the Jewish charm offensive that characterized administration statements about Israel during the year preceding President Obama’s reelection is not going to fix what has been broken by President Obama and his foreign-policy team. The problem is an American government that is intent on creating distance between itself and Israel, not misunderstandings rooted in a personality clash between Obama and Netanyahu. Its only purpose is to disarm Jewish groups and to persuade them to stay quiet during the impending debate about the Iran nuclear deal while still threatening Israel with diplomatic isolation over the Middle East peace process.

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After several months of insults (chickensh*!t) and threats about re-evaluating U.S. policy, the Obama administration appears to have awakened to the fact that its feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone too far. As the New York Times reports today, the White House is making a conscious effort to play down its anger at the Israeli government, primarily by making nice with American Jewish groups. But what is sounding very much like another edition of the Jewish charm offensive that characterized administration statements about Israel during the year preceding President Obama’s reelection is not going to fix what has been broken by President Obama and his foreign-policy team. The problem is an American government that is intent on creating distance between itself and Israel, not misunderstandings rooted in a personality clash between Obama and Netanyahu. Its only purpose is to disarm Jewish groups and to persuade them to stay quiet during the impending debate about the Iran nuclear deal while still threatening Israel with diplomatic isolation over the Middle East peace process.

As with the reelection year charm offensive, the administration is doing little to mend fences with an Israeli government that it has slandered and undermined. Rather, it is focused on holding the hands of Jewish groups that face the difficult choice between standing up to the president or keeping quiet in order to maintain their access to the White House.

The administration is rightly fearful that it’s public venting of anger about Netanyahu’s opposition to its push for détente with Iran and their insistence on blaming him and not the Palestinian Authority leadership for the latest collapse of the peace process is exposing the rift between much of the Democratic Party and the pro-Israel community. That doesn’t necessarily threaten the Democrats’ hold on the Jewish vote in 2016, but Obama isn’t really worried about Hillary Clinton’s fate right now. What bothers him is the prospect that a critical mass of American Jews will be sufficiently fed up with the president’s threats toward Israel and insufficiently sold on the virtues of the Iran deal that they will exert pressure on wavering Democrats to vote against the agreement if it is actually signed and then comes up for a vote sometime this summer.

That’s what’s behind the meetings with Jewish groups (though most of those invited to the tête-à-têtes at the White House have been either loyal administration cheerleaders like J Street and other left-wing groups or mainstream organizations that can usually be counted on not to make trouble for the powers that be) and, just as important, leaks from administration sources that lead to articles like today’s New York Times feature intended to calm the nerves of the paper’s liberal Jewish readership.

Despite the talk of recognition that, in the words of former U.S. ambassador to Israel and veteran peace processor Daniel Kurtzer, “anger was replacing policy,” the division between the two countries had little to do with pique on either side of the alliance. The White House temper tantrums about Netanyahu’s prickly personality, his acceptance of an invitation to address Congress without bespeaking Obama’s permission first, or even some of the things he said in the days before his election victory certainly added to the tensions that have been building for six years. But the real source of the problem lies in policy prescriptions not inadequate personal relations.

The president entered office convinced that the U.S. must distance itself from Israel and engage Iran and after years of effort, he finally seems to have accomplished both objectives. To that end, the president has consistently sought to pressure Israel to make concessions and blamed the Jewish state when these efforts failed, as they always have, to entice the Palestinians to make peace. Consistent Palestinian rejections of peace offers have convinced most Israelis that peace is impossible in the foreseeable future and to reelect Netanyahu, but the administration has reacted to the same facts by seeking more distance between Washington and Jerusalem and overtly threatening to abandon Israel at the United Nations.

Even more ominously, the White House has embraced a new bizarrely Iran-centric policy in the Middle East that has alienated both Israel and moderate Arab nations while negotiating an agreement that, at the very least, establishes Tehran as a threshold nuclear power and gives it two paths to a bomb, one by cheating and the other by waiting until the deal expires.

Neither of these problems can be papered over by mere meetings or statements. President Obama’s disingenuous efforts to convince the country that, despite everything that has happened during his time in office that would convince any objective observer to the contrary, he is true friend of Israel ring false even for many Democrats.

But Obama doesn’t need, as he did in 2012, to convince most supporters of Israel that he is one of them. After all that has happened in the last year, let alone the five that preceded it, that isn’t going to work despite his avowals of friendship. All he needs is to neutralize the mainstream groups that could make a lot of trouble for him if they decided to go all out to try and defeat an Iran deal that poses a potential mortal threat to the security of the West, regional security, as well as Israel’s existence. Such an effort on their part might be enough to tip many ostensibly pro-Israel Democrats to oppose the deal even though the president has tried to make support for the deal a test of partisan loyalty.

That’s why Obama says he won’t meet Netanyahu until after the Iran deal is finalized and approved even if he has to get that approval by stopping Congress from overriding his veto.

Supporters of Israel in both the Democratic and Republican parties need to recognize that what is needed are not feel-good meetings but a presidential promise that the final Iran deal will insist on the inspections and other points the Iranians currently refuse to countenance. They should also get guarantees that the president won’t stop backing the Jewish state in the United Nations when the Palestinians and their supporters seek recognition for their state without first being required to make peace.

Anything less than that is a diversionary tactic, not an effort to heal a breach the president has worked so hard to create.

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Help Yemen? For Obama, Iran Détente Always Wins

When Americans heard on Monday that the United States had diverted two capital ships from their stations in the Persian Gulf to new positions off of Yemen, it sounded as if the Obama administration was finally displaying signs of getting tough with Iran. The movement of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and the Normandy, a missile cruiser, was, the Pentagon said, an effort to enforce a blockade of the coast of that war-torn country so as to prevent Iran from delivering weapons to the Houthi rebels. The move seemed to indicate that American policy was torn between two goals: engagement with Iran via concessions on their nuclear program versus the need to stop the Islamist regime’s terrorist auxiliaries from toppling governments as part of Tehran’s effort to achieve regional hegemony. But yesterday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf poured a bucket of cold water on any hopes that the administration was wising up when she said the U.S. ships were only in the area, “to ensure the shipping lanes remain safe” and not to intercept an Iranian arms convoy heading to the Houthis. So much for getting tough with Iran.

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When Americans heard on Monday that the United States had diverted two capital ships from their stations in the Persian Gulf to new positions off of Yemen, it sounded as if the Obama administration was finally displaying signs of getting tough with Iran. The movement of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and the Normandy, a missile cruiser, was, the Pentagon said, an effort to enforce a blockade of the coast of that war-torn country so as to prevent Iran from delivering weapons to the Houthi rebels. The move seemed to indicate that American policy was torn between two goals: engagement with Iran via concessions on their nuclear program versus the need to stop the Islamist regime’s terrorist auxiliaries from toppling governments as part of Tehran’s effort to achieve regional hegemony. But yesterday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf poured a bucket of cold water on any hopes that the administration was wising up when she said the U.S. ships were only in the area, “to ensure the shipping lanes remain safe” and not to intercept an Iranian arms convoy heading to the Houthis. So much for getting tough with Iran.

What’s going on here? Not for the first time during the Obama presidency, the State Department and the Pentagon seem to be sending conflicting messages.

The Pentagon told reporters that the ships sent to the waters off Yemen were conducting “manned reconnaissance” of the Iranian arms convoy, which would seem to indicate that the Navy was prepared to halt the effort to resupply the Houthis in their effort to fend off the Saudi and Egyptian-backed effort to stop their takeover of Yemen. But the State Department was sending the opposite message with their talk of defending freedom of the seas.

Any mystery about which of the two departments was correct was resolved by White House spokesman Josh Earnest who backed State’s interpretation of events by using the same language about protecting commerce.

Let’s be clear here. U.S. ships have been in the region for decades to protect the freedom of the seas primarily from Iranian threats to interfere with shipping in the Persian Gulf. But the presence of Iranian vessels off Yemen is about something else. The only point to sending American warships there is to put a halt to Iran’s efforts to replace Yemen’s government with one beholden to Tehran. If the Roosevelt and the Normandy aren’t going to stop the Iranian arms convoy then the move was nothing more than a transparent bluff and one that is unlikely to impress the ayatollahs as they push the envelope seeking to test American resolve.

While Earnest said that the U.S. was interested in tracking arms shipments to the Houthis, the problem for the coalition fighting these Iranian allies isn’t so much intelligence about Tehran’s efforts as it is the need to actually stop them. Perhaps the administration hoped the mere presence of a powerful U.S. flotilla in the area would cause the Iranians to turn back. But by making it clear that U.S. forces won’t directly interfere with them, why should we expect that to happen?

Yemen is where two U.S. strategies came into direct conflict with each other. Washington doesn’t want Iran’s friends to take over Yemen. But it also is desperate to do nothing that would upset the Iranians and cause them to walk away from a weak nuclear deal that President Obama believes will be a legacy-making achievement. With the apparent order to U.S. ships off Yemen to stand down from any effort to halt the Iranian convoy, the president is indicating that the nuclear deal takes precedence over any other American goal.

This is just one more indication that the primary goal of the nuclear negotiations is not so much to stop Iran from getting a bomb as it is to create a new era of détente with the Islamist regime. By making concession after concession to Iran on its right to enrich uranium and to keep its nuclear infrastructure without intrusive inspections, the president has jettisoned the West’s economic and political leverage over Tehran in favor of a belief that good relations with it is the primary objective of U.S. policy in the region. He is not about to waste years of ardent pursuit of the Iranians at the price of every position he pledged to defend on the nuclear issue merely in order to stabilize Yemen. Nor is he inclined to order military action in the waters off of Yemen merely to placate the Saudis and Egyptians who view the Iranian-backed Houthis as a threat to regional security.

This episode also ought to inform our expectations about the final phase of negotiations with Iran as the nuclear deal is finalized in the next two months. Though the U.S. opposes Iran’s intervention in Yemen, the victory of the State Department over the Pentagon on the use of the Navy illustrates that nothing will be allowed to derail the new entente with Iran that Obama so values. This will give the Iranians all the confidence they need to stand firm on every outstanding issue, including inspections, transparency about their military research, and the disposition of their stockpile of nuclear fuel.

This is good news for the Islamist regime and very bad news for America’s allies in the region that hoped that President Obama wouldn’t abandon them even as he sought a nuclear deal.

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Americans Eager to Sell Iran the Rope to Hang Them

Back in the 1970s, columnist George Will memorably characterized the eagerness of American businesses to do business in the Soviet Union as proof that they loved commerce more than they loathed Communism. Propping up a tottering evil empire that threatened Western freedom was nothing compared to the chance to make a buck. A generation later, we’re seeing the same phenomenon on display as other groups flock to Iran now that President Obama has made it possible, if not likely that it will be legal for Americans to do business in the Islamic Republic. As the New York Times reports today, though they were chaperoned by minders who kept them out of the presence of dissidents or other victims of the regime, one such group still found it impossible to escape being confronted with evidence of the theocracy’s hate-filled ideology. But, as with other hopeful, profit-minded pilgrims to other totalitarian regimes, participants preferred to see the country as one big market rather than one big prison whose rulers are intent to do harm to the West.

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Back in the 1970s, columnist George Will memorably characterized the eagerness of American businesses to do business in the Soviet Union as proof that they loved commerce more than they loathed Communism. Propping up a tottering evil empire that threatened Western freedom was nothing compared to the chance to make a buck. A generation later, we’re seeing the same phenomenon on display as other groups flock to Iran now that President Obama has made it possible, if not likely that it will be legal for Americans to do business in the Islamic Republic. As the New York Times reports today, though they were chaperoned by minders who kept them out of the presence of dissidents or other victims of the regime, one such group still found it impossible to escape being confronted with evidence of the theocracy’s hate-filled ideology. But, as with other hopeful, profit-minded pilgrims to other totalitarian regimes, participants preferred to see the country as one big market rather than one big prison whose rulers are intent to do harm to the West.

Like the Times’s own disgraceful journalistic tourists to Iran, such as Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof, the group featured in today’s article gushed over the welcome they received and the wonders of Iran’s ancient culture, friendly people, and market potential. The delegation of venture capitalists and business executives organized by a group called the Young President’s Organization got a red carpet tour as well as constant assurances that they and their money will be safe in Iran. When they had the temerity to ask about billboards across the country that proclaimed the regime’s trademark “Death to America” slogan, they were told that this was the product of a bygone era and that a “new Iran” was emerging. That seemed to comfort them, as did the likely inference that the presence of American cash would speed along the transformation of Iran.

But it’s likely that along with tourist sites and meetings with Iranians that said the right thing about wanting to re-engage with the West, these young entrepreneurs and executives didn’t find out much about the way the theocracy oppresses dissidents and religious minorities. Nor is likely that they learned much about the way the regime and its various military arms operate businesses that finance international terrorism as well as an arms buildup that threatens the region. It’s likely they also heard the same tripe about Iran’s right to civilian nuclear energy (in a nation overflowing with massive oil reserves).

What businesspeople who want to invest in Iran should understand is that their efforts to open up this market for American commerce serves to strengthen a brutal and anti-Semitic Islamist government that is a driving force behind regional violence. Dollars that go to Iran will help finance Iran’s terrorism as well as a nuclear program that will eventually, even if Tehran abides by a pact with the West, lead to a weapon that could destabilize the Middle East and threaten Israel with destruction. Just as important, it will make it harder, not easier for those who want change in the country to make their voices heard, let alone have an impact on events. Though Americans always tell themselves fairy tales about increased trade being a force for freedom, all they will be doing is putting cash in the coffers of an otherwise tottering government that will make it even more resistant to reform, let alone willing to expand freedom.

But what’s that compared to the chance of making money by doing business with the ayatollahs? To those who participate in such junkets, the answer is obviously not much. Rather than Americans exporting their values, all the effort to promote trade with Iran will do is to compromise their own principles and to legitimize a regime that those who cherish freedom should never seek to support. This story illustrates that the cost of President Obama’s appeasement of Iran cannot be measured solely by the terms of a nuclear deal that will abandon sanctions and grant the regime a path to a bomb. “Death to America” doesn’t mean just death to Americans critical of Iran but all Americans as well as Western freedom. Just as Lenin once boasted that capitalists would sell Communists the rope by which they would be hanged, a new generation of fools appears intent on gifting Iran with the money that will pay for the terrorists that will kill us.

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The Problem With ‘Creative Negotiations’

On Friday, President Obama acknowledged a painfully obvious fact that the White House and State Department have struggled mightily to ignore in the last two weeks. After generally dismissing the stark divide between the spin the United States has put on the framework nuclear agreement and statements that directly contradict that interpretation, the president decided to address that contrast head on. The president said U.S. diplomats would have to conduct “creative negotiations” in order to bridge the differences between the two sides on Iran’s nuclear program. In doing so, the president made it clear that any agreement would have to give the West the ability to reimpose sanctions on the Islamist regime if it cheats on the deal. That sounds good, but the problem is that over the course of the past two years of talks with Iran, we have been given a very good idea of what is meant by “creative negotiations” in the Obama administration. In Obama-speak, creative means Iran gets its way.

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On Friday, President Obama acknowledged a painfully obvious fact that the White House and State Department have struggled mightily to ignore in the last two weeks. After generally dismissing the stark divide between the spin the United States has put on the framework nuclear agreement and statements that directly contradict that interpretation, the president decided to address that contrast head on. The president said U.S. diplomats would have to conduct “creative negotiations” in order to bridge the differences between the two sides on Iran’s nuclear program. In doing so, the president made it clear that any agreement would have to give the West the ability to reimpose sanctions on the Islamist regime if it cheats on the deal. That sounds good, but the problem is that over the course of the past two years of talks with Iran, we have been given a very good idea of what is meant by “creative negotiations” in the Obama administration. In Obama-speak, creative means Iran gets its way.

Let’s give the president some credit for addressing the fact that both Iran’s supreme leader and its negotiators have not been shy about contradicting the administration’s promises about severe restrictions on Iran’s nuclear efforts, its possession of its stockpile of enriched uranium, and intrusive inspections. In fact, despite the president’s effort to sell the agreement as fait accompli that has put to bed the Iranian nuclear threat, it is in fact still nothing more than a hope for such an accomplishment. Iran expects sanctions to be lifted immediately and not on a gradual basis as the administration has long promised. Crucially, even the New York Times noted that the president was not repeating his past statements about phased lifting of sanctions on Friday. If sanctions are lifted almost immediately and so long as the location of that stockpile, the nature of the inspections, or the willingness of Iran to agree to open its military facilities to the West so that the extent of their progress toward a bomb is discovered are set according to Iranian rhetoric and preferences, the entire framework is essentially meaningless.

That is both a challenge and an opportunity for the Obama foreign-policy team. In theory, over the next two months, during which the text of the accord will be drafted and finalized, the president will have a chance to make good on his boasts about imposing severe restrictions that would actually stop their nuclear program in its tracks. However, as they have repeatedly stated, the Iranians have very different ideas about what has already been agreed upon and what they will consent to in the future. They seem to be under the impression that what they have agreed to is a very different sort of deal than the one the president keeps telling us about.

That sets up what could be an interesting confrontation in which the West could stick to its demands and threaten to walk away from the table rather than to consent to the abandonment of its goals. But in his call for creativity, the president gave us a hint of what lies ahead.

Rather than reflect an understanding of just how tough the Iranians have proved to be in the talks, the president seemed to indicate that the wide gaps between the two parties could be papered over with measures that would allow the Iranians to save face while still achieving his objectives. He believes that some sort of symbolic concessions to Iran would be enough to allow Iran the space it needs to give ground.

But the parties are not entering into the final stages of this negotiation without already showing us how they operate. We have already seen what happens when the West wants Iran to give in on vital points of contention. Iran says no and then an administration that is so besotted with the notion of a legacy-making entente with the Islamist regime gives up. With Obama having discarded the enormous economic and political leverage he held over the Iranians in 2013 when sanctions where put into place, it is now Tehran that holds the whip hand in the talks. Rather than the West being the side that will budge a little to let Iran save face, it has been Iran that wins its points every time while occasionally letting the president pretend that he has won victory on some insignificant issue.

As it stands now, the framework offers Iran two paths to a bomb. One is by cheating on easily evaded restrictions via meaningless inspections and continued nuclear and military research while it holds onto its infrastructure. The other is by abiding by the deal and waiting patiently for it to expire because of the sunset clause that the Iranians fought for and won.

But rather than pressing hard for Iran to agree to the points he knows make the difference between a parody of an agreement and one that would actually make Iran’s nuclear dreams an impossibility, the president is pretending that more charm will win the day. To that end, he even downplayed the significance of Russia’s sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Iran that further diminishes the already dismal chances of the use of force against its nuclear facilities if it blows up the talks.

In doing so, the president is betraying his transparent eagerness to get a deal at any price. Having already conceded so much to the Iranians, why does he think they will suddenly start giving in to him when throughout the process it has always been he who has been the one to give up? Far from looking to save face, Iran’s objective is to win the last stage of the talks the way they have every phase of the negotiations. To them, Western creativity is an invitation to intransigence that will always be rewarded with an Obama concession. The president can still change the ending to this story but in order to be willing to believe that he can suddenly show some spine to the Iranians, you have to ignore the fact that his desire for an agreement is far greater than Tehran’s willingness to trade tangible measures that will impact their chances for a bomb for mere symbolism.

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The Reverse Iran Deal Ratification Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can We Speak of Iran and the Holocaust?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Did Obama Win By Losing on Corker’s Bill?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the gist of Friedman’s argument:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Only Iran Contradictions Are Obama’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iran’s Terrorist Allies the First to Benefit From Nuclear Deal

President Obama did everything he could to convince Israelis not to reelect Benjamin Netanyahu. But a position paper just issued by Israel’s chief opposition party makes it clear that on the issue that most separates the U.S. from Israel—the Iran nuclear deal—there isn’t all that much daylight between the Likud and the Zionist Union parties. In it, the Labor-led group states that the deal struck by the West and Iran needs to be changed and that when it comes to this issue, “there is no coalition or opposition,” just a solid Israeli position. There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but one was made obvious today with a report from Israel’s Channel 2 that said in recent weeks Iran had stepped up arms shipments to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon as well as to Hamas in Gaza. With the U.S. prepared to end sanctions on Tehran as part of its nuclear agreement, this illustrates that among the chief beneficiaries of a revitalized Iranian economy will be the Islamist regime’s terrorist allies.

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President Obama did everything he could to convince Israelis not to reelect Benjamin Netanyahu. But a position paper just issued by Israel’s chief opposition party makes it clear that on the issue that most separates the U.S. from Israel—the Iran nuclear deal—there isn’t all that much daylight between the Likud and the Zionist Union parties. In it, the Labor-led group states that the deal struck by the West and Iran needs to be changed and that when it comes to this issue, “there is no coalition or opposition,” just a solid Israeli position. There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but one was made obvious today with a report from Israel’s Channel 2 that said in recent weeks Iran had stepped up arms shipments to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon as well as to Hamas in Gaza. With the U.S. prepared to end sanctions on Tehran as part of its nuclear agreement, this illustrates that among the chief beneficiaries of a revitalized Iranian economy will be the Islamist regime’s terrorist allies.

The Channel 2 report detailed that Iran has increased its already considerable flow of weapons and cash to its Hezbollah auxiliaries as well as to Hamas. Most troubling is the news that it is not satisfied with helping Hamas rebuild its terror tunnels and replenish its rocket arsenal in Gaza but is also seeking to arm cells of the Islamist group operating in the West Bank. Like Russia’s sale of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran, these moves are part of the inevitable exploitation of Western weakness by an Iranian regime that understands that it has scored a huge victory in the nuclear negotiations. This is a trend that will get only more dangerous as their economy begins to recover after the sanctions disappear.

Administration apologists may claim that Iran’s actions can be seen as a warning to Israel not to act on its own against its nuclear infrastructure. But Tehran knows as well as anyone that the chances of Israel launching a strike against them while the U.S. is engaged in negotiations over their nuclear ambitions is virtually nil. A more realistic analysis of these actions would see them for what they are, more evidence of Iran’s desire to extend its control over the entire region via the actions of its terrorist friends. In particular, it is hoping to use its growing influence to support the most radical Palestinian factions in order to make war with Israel more likely. That is the context in which most Israelis see U.S. efforts to create a new détente between Iran and the West.

The Zionist Union document also illustrates that for all of the demonization of Netanyahu that has been pursued by the administration and its liberal media cheering section, even his most bitter rivals largely accept his positions.

Though Labor and its right-wing antagonists have sniped at each other on Iran as they do on all issues, the Zionist Union paper shares the Netanyahu government’s belief that the current agreement is flawed and must be revised. Though the Obama administration claims that there is no alternative to a negotiation in which they have made concession after concession, mainstream Israeli parties all seem to understand that the choice here is not between diplomacy and war but between weakness and strength that might persuade the Iranians that they can’t count on the U.S. folding on every point as it has in the past. As veteran U.S. peace processer Aaron David Miller—who is no fan of Netanyahu—wrote today in the Wall Street Journal, both Israelis and Arabs understand that what the U.S. is pursuing is an Iran-centric policy that prizes good relations with Tehran over those with its traditional allies.

By choosing not to demand that Iran change its behavior toward other nations, give up terrorism, or drop its calls for Israel’s destruction—a reasonable point considering that nuclear capability theoretically could give it the power to effectuate that scenario—the United States has flashed a green light to Iran for further adventurism in pursuit of its goal of regional hegemony. The president may pretend that the nuclear issue can be separated from other concerns about Iran, but those who must fear its behavior are not so foolish.

Liberal Democrats in Congress who have proved susceptible to administration talking points about Netanyahu and the Likud allying themselves with the Republicans need to take note of the fact that the same party that the White House was trying to help by means both fair and foul (indirect State Department contributions to anti-Netanyahu groups in Israel) takes more or less the same position on the Iran deal as the prime minister. Those who think hostility to Netanyahu should help them choose to override their instincts to back Israel’s position on the Iran deal should think again.

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Obama’s the Partisan on Iran, Not the GOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Senate Dems Talking Out of Both Sides of Their Mouths on Iran

Liberals have spent much of the last few years lamenting the death of bipartisanship and placing all of the blame for this problem on House Republicans. But with Congress preparing to take up the issue of President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal when it returns from its spring recess next week, it is Senate Democrats who are giving us an example of partisan politics at its absolute worst. As Politico reports, the overwhelming bipartisan majority that has existed on behalf of both Iran sanctions and the right of Congress to perform its constitutional duty to advise and consent on treaties is being splintered by Democrats who are determined to do the president’s bidding. Some Democrats who are sponsors of the Corker-Menendez bill mandating a congressional vote on the Iran deal want to water it down with amendments that will turn the effort to hold the administration accountable into a farce.

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Liberals have spent much of the last few years lamenting the death of bipartisanship and placing all of the blame for this problem on House Republicans. But with Congress preparing to take up the issue of President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal when it returns from its spring recess next week, it is Senate Democrats who are giving us an example of partisan politics at its absolute worst. As Politico reports, the overwhelming bipartisan majority that has existed on behalf of both Iran sanctions and the right of Congress to perform its constitutional duty to advise and consent on treaties is being splintered by Democrats who are determined to do the president’s bidding. Some Democrats who are sponsors of the Corker-Menendez bill mandating a congressional vote on the Iran deal want to water it down with amendments that will turn the effort to hold the administration accountable into a farce.

Heading into the expected battle over the bill next week, supporters of Corker-Menendez believe they have 66 votes in their pockets with all 54 Republicans and 12 Democrats on record as supporting the legislation. That’s just one vote short of a veto-proof majority that would ensure that Congress would be able to vote on the Iran deal rather than let the president adopt it unilaterally. Unlike the Kirk-Menendez bill proposing increased sanctions on Iran in the event of the failure of the diplomatic process, which has lost momentum as a series of American concessions led to an agreement, Corker-Menendez has always had near across-the-board backing. Not many congressional Democrats were inclined to speak up against a measure that merely asserts the legislative branch’s right to exercise its constitutional responsibilities on foreign treaties. Nor are many of the 12 Democratic co-sponsors backing down on that point. But they also appear to be wiling to gut the bill in order to stay on good terms with the White House.

As I noted earlier this week, Democratic Senate leader-in-waiting Chuck Schumer is walking a fine line between his obligation to do the president’s dirty work and his reputation as a supporter of Israel. He appears to have resolved that conflict for the moment by choosing to stick to his principles rather than the president and reaffirmed his support for Corker-Menendez. But given the delicate maneuvering going on in the Democratic caucus right now, it’s reasonable to think that he might be encouraging others to refuse to back the measure or, even worse, those among his co-sponsors who want to water it down to the point where it would be an exercise in futility.

The White House has indicated that it could live with a purely symbolic vote on the deal. Of course it would. But accepting only a non-binding vote on the most significant foreign agreement struck by the United States in more than a generation is a bit much even for many Democrats. Nor is Republican Bob Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair who is clearly less than enthusiastic about confronting the president, prepared to see his handiwork reduced to a joke. So instead some Democrats are preparing amendments that would do the same thing.

Delaware Senator Chris Coons has filed an amendment that would strip the bill of its provision requiring the administration to certify that Iran isn’t directly involved in terror attacks against the United States. Connecticut’s Chris Murphy has also filed an amendment to allow the president to lift existing sanctions on Iran without an enabling vote by Congress in order to get Iran to agree to a final written version of the deal.

These two Democrats are claiming that they are still supporting the bill and the principle of legislative review of the deal, but the substance of their proposals would help strip it of any meaning. Do Americans really want their government to stop caring if the world’s leading state sponsor of terror is plotting against Americans? Do they want to give the president the power to act on his own to give an economic bonanza to a tyrannical and aggressive Islamist regime? These measures not only give Obama dictatorial powers on Iran but also would enable the administration to downgrade efforts to hold the entire process accountable. They may be helped immeasurably in this scheme by the replacement of embattled Senator Bob Menendez—a fierce opponent of Obama’s push for détente with Iran—by Ben Cardin—a dependable administration loyalist—as the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

They’re being aided in this effort by the fact that the new GOP majority in the Senate is determined to play fair in a way that their Democratic counterparts did not during their time in control of the upper body. Corker has vowed to have an open amendment process in committee and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has similarly promised to follow his Democratic predecessor Harry Reid’s practice of preventing the minority from proposing amendments on the floor once the bill gets out of committee. That will mean that Corker-Menendez could be crippled by amendments from both open opponents and those, like Coons and Murphy, who purport to be its supporters.

The bottom line here is that with each passing day, the odds of a clean bill emerging with the 67 votes needed to ensure that it will become law may be decreasing. If that is the case the fault lies entirely with senators who are talking out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to the Iran nuclear threat and the Constitution. The only hope of providing some accountability to a diplomatic process that has achieved success only by a procession of humiliating retreats by the president is the passage of a bill that will force a real debate and vote on the deal. Though liberals have been telling us that the country is sick of crooked congressional maneuvers, it is the Senate Democrats who giving us a lesson in how low they can sink in order to please the head of their party.

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