Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran sanctions

Snap Back Sanctions on Iran? Nyet!

In the weeks since the announcement of the framework nuclear deal with Iran last month, President Obama and other senior U.S. officials have said that the economic sanctions on the Islamist regime would be lifted only gradually and then snapped back into place if it was shown to be violating its terms. But Russia, whose participation in the sanctions was claimed by the administration to be one the keys to the success of its diplomatic strategy has a clear answer for those expecting the president to keep his word about snap back sanctions: Nyet!

Read More

In the weeks since the announcement of the framework nuclear deal with Iran last month, President Obama and other senior U.S. officials have said that the economic sanctions on the Islamist regime would be lifted only gradually and then snapped back into place if it was shown to be violating its terms. But Russia, whose participation in the sanctions was claimed by the administration to be one the keys to the success of its diplomatic strategy has a clear answer for those expecting the president to keep his word about snap back sanctions: Nyet!

As Blomberg News reports, yesterday, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin made it clear that any plans for a snap back response was a figment of the president’s imagination:

The Obama administration is trying to sell a nuclear deal with Iran to skeptical Arabs, Israelis and U.S. lawmakers by saying that United Nations sanctions will be restored automatically if the Iranians are caught cheating.

Not so, say the Russians, who have one of five vetoes in the 15-member UN Security Council.

“There can be no automaticity, none whatsoever” in reimposing UN sanctions if Iran violates the terms of an agreement to curb its nuclear program, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told Bloomberg News on Wednesday. He didn’t  elaborate.

Russia’s role in finalizing the terms of the Iran deal will be crucial. The endless string of concessions to Iran in the talks was in no small measure the function of a P5+1 formula that gave Russia an implicit veto on every stand made by the West. When critics of President Obama’s strategy point out that tougher sanctions could still retrieve the situation and get a better deal, we were told that Russia and China will never go along with such a plan so the only thing to do is to make the best of it and take the bad deal that is on the table. Since Russia and China could effectively neuter the impact of sanctions by resuming full business ties with Iran, the administration felt it had no choice but to go along with whatever they wanted.

If that was true before, it’s even more to the point now since the existing sanctions are already crumbling even before a deal has been signed. If Russia says it wont go along with snap back, it is impossible to see how President Obama thinks such a provision can either be inserted into the final terms or implemented if it is not.

Let’s also remember that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also vowed that his country will not sign any agreement that does not lift the sanctions immediately and permanently. So if Iran won’t agree to it and Russia says snap back is off the table, how then is it going to happen?

With the June 30 deadline for finalizing the deal looming, the administration is clearly floundering. It entered into the negotiations determined to cut a deal with Iran at virtually any price and on any terms because the president believes that Iran can be brought back into the community of nations and become the lynchpin of a new U.S. strategy in the Middle East. That’s fine with Russian President Vladimir Putin who wants no part of a confrontation with Iran. He views the Obama approach as part of a U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East that enables Russia to recapture some of the influence that the old Soviet empire used to have in the region.

But selling a weak Iran deal to Congress and the American people is already hard enough on the terms that President Obama has promised. It will be the United Nations, and not Congress, that will initially lift the international sanctions once the pact is signed. If there are no snap back sanctions put into the deal’s text and a Russian veto forecloses any possibility of them being implemented anyway, then an essential element of the president’s vision for ensuring that Iran will abide by it has just vanished.

No one who has seen this administration negotiate with Iran ever really believed that President Obama would stand his ground on any of the remaining sticking points, whether it involved the sanctions, forcing Tehran to open up its military research facilities to UN inspectors or the future of their stockpile of enriched uranium. He’s backed down at every previous point and with U.S. leverage over Iran reduced to zero the only card left in Obama’s hand is to walk away from the deal. That won’t happen.

It remains to be seen how Congress will react to this development. But chances are President Obama is counting on retaining the votes of at least 34 Senate Democrats who could sustain his veto of a vote rejecting the deal. If, despite his recent brave talk about forcing Iran to accept his demands, he is sure that he has those votes, it won’t matter that his promises about snap back sanctions will be thrown down the memory hole along with his 2012 re-election campaign promise that any deal would require Iran to give up its nuclear program. That’s a sobering thought for those members of Congress celebrating their “victory” in gaining the right to vote on a deal.

Read Less

If Sanctions Have Already Collapsed, We Know the Outcome of the Iran Talks

The deadline is fast approaching for the completion of the draft of the Iran nuclear agreement. When the framework was announced last month, the assumption was that the deal would soon be put on paper. But it soon became clear that there were serious differences on key issues between Iran and the West about the final terms of the pact that had to be hammered out in negotiations. President Obama has insisted that he will not budge on his insistence that Iran agree to sanctions being lifted on a delayed basis and be able to be “snapped back” in the event of Tehran violating the deal, the imposition of intrusive nuclear inspections and that it will be forced to give up its stockpile of enriched uranium. But confidence that he will stand his ground in the talks is being undermined daily by evidence that the economic sanctions that brought Iran to the table are already breaking down. As Eli Lake reports at BloombergView, the delivery of nine used commercial airliners in Iran for use by Mahan Air illustrates that the ground on which Obama is standing is falling apart. If sanctions can’t be kept now, why would Iran give in on any of these issues, let alone fear they would be re-imposed later?

Read More

The deadline is fast approaching for the completion of the draft of the Iran nuclear agreement. When the framework was announced last month, the assumption was that the deal would soon be put on paper. But it soon became clear that there were serious differences on key issues between Iran and the West about the final terms of the pact that had to be hammered out in negotiations. President Obama has insisted that he will not budge on his insistence that Iran agree to sanctions being lifted on a delayed basis and be able to be “snapped back” in the event of Tehran violating the deal, the imposition of intrusive nuclear inspections and that it will be forced to give up its stockpile of enriched uranium. But confidence that he will stand his ground in the talks is being undermined daily by evidence that the economic sanctions that brought Iran to the table are already breaking down. As Eli Lake reports at BloombergView, the delivery of nine used commercial airliners in Iran for use by Mahan Air illustrates that the ground on which Obama is standing is falling apart. If sanctions can’t be kept now, why would Iran give in on any of these issues, let alone fear they would be re-imposed later?

The airliner deal that Lake discusses is important because, as he notes, the U.S. Treasury Department has targeted Mahan Air in the past because of its ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. But now apparently, all is forgiven and the company’s efforts to bolster its fleet are not being interfered with by the U.S. or its allies.

The efforts of Russia, which has already announced the sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, and China to undermine the sanctions to which they have only reluctantly endorsed, are well known. So, too, if the fact that Western Europe has been chomping at the bit to buy Iranian oil as well as do business in the country. As I wrote last month, even American companies are now eagerly preparing to dive back into the Iranian market.

The impact of these efforts will be felt once a deal is signed and create a huge and powerful constituency against any effort to hold Iran accountable for its compliance with the weak nuclear deal or to re-impose sanctions should Tehran chose to cheat on the easily evaded restrictions in the pact. But even if we forget for a moment how the rush to conduct business with Iran after the deal is finally concluded, the key question now is how the efforts of some to jump the gun on Iran trade will impact the last stage of the talks.

The president has insisted he won’t give in to Iran’s demands that the sanctions be lifted permanently on the day the deal is signed. We are also told he won’t give up on inspections or the transfer of the nuclear stockpile of Iran. What’s more Iran has been told that it must allow United Nations inspectors to discover the extent of its progress in military research that it has heretofore kept secret. But, as Lake’s report illustrates, what little is left of America’s economic leverage over the Islamist regime is evaporating with each passing day.

Unfortunately, the president has a poor track record with regards to being tough with Iran. He threw away the enormous advantages that the international economic restrictions has given the West over Iran in 2013 when he agreed to an interim nuclear deal that began the process of dismantling sanctions. The same pattern reappeared in the 16 months of negotiations that led to the framework. At every point America abandoned its previous positions that had called for an end to Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, Obama eventually presented the country with a deal that let the Iranians keep most of the nuclear infrastructure and which will eventually expire. That already gives Iran two paths to a bomb. One is by violating the easily evaded restrictions on their nuclear activity. The other is by patiently waiting for the deal to expire while legally continuing their research.

All of which leads observers to the inevitable conclusion that unless President Obama has a radical change of heart, he will again bend to Iran’s demands on even these final crucial sticking points. But even if he wanted, for the first time, to insist on getting his way, it’s hard to see how that will happen with the sanctions already disappearing. It’s equally difficult to imagine him walking away from his signature foreign policy “achievement” on which an entire new Iran-centric policy is based. The airliner delivery may turn out to be just one more indication that Iran is right to think that it can keep saying “no” to Obama and get away with it.

Read Less

The Snapback Sanctions Fallacy: Germany Edition

I had written here about how the Russian government ridiculed President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s insistence that snapback sanctions would restore pressure on Iran should the Islamic Republic be caught cheating. And here about why China likewise won’t support snapback sanctions on Iran. It would be hard to consider either Russia or China a U.S. ally (unless, of course, one is Hillary Clinton or has been influenced to do so by money laundered through the Clinton Foundation), but Germany is a different case entirely. Or at least it should be.

Read More

I had written here about how the Russian government ridiculed President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s insistence that snapback sanctions would restore pressure on Iran should the Islamic Republic be caught cheating. And here about why China likewise won’t support snapback sanctions on Iran. It would be hard to consider either Russia or China a U.S. ally (unless, of course, one is Hillary Clinton or has been influenced to do so by money laundered through the Clinton Foundation), but Germany is a different case entirely. Or at least it should be.

Germany has always put mercantile considerations above human rights and a quest for peace. It has long played a double game on Iran and sanctions, but there was only so far Berlin would go to seek short-term profit when the international community still upheld sanctions on Iran.

But with Obama signaling an end to sanctions—even if he says their suspension is conditional—Germany is moving in to rake in the big bucks from Iran’s ayatollahs. From the indispensable Michael Spaney of Germany’s “Stop the Bomb” organization:

  • In Berlin, German Vice Chancellor and Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel will meet Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh today. The oil minister will also speak at the “Energy Security Summit”, which takes place today in Berlin and is organized by the Munich Security Conference under the auspices of Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier. Zanganeh will also meet representatives from the companies Siemens, Linde and Lurgi in Munich, according to Iranian media reports…
  • Another conference dealing with the reentry into the Iranian market has the support of the Federal Ministry of Economics. The conference is organized by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry and will take place on May 19 in Berlin. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel will open the conference with a welcoming speech.
  • The Near and Middle East Association “Numov” has issued invitations to a conference on the same day, entitled “Doing Business in Iran” which will feature the director of the Iranian Bank of Industry and Mines, which is on EU and US sanctions lists.
  • In Iran, the German Engineering Association VDMA is represented with a booth at the ongoing Iran Oil trade show. The technology fair INOTEX will take place in early June with the support of the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce.

Spaney has always been meticulous in his research, and his press release includes the sourcing to support his allegations and revelations. What he omits is that most of Germany’s investment dollars will not aid ordinary Iranians or even the chimera of reform; rather, German firms are pumping money directly into the coffers of those companies controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Regardless, the point is, however, once investors go in, they will not depart. Germany may not sit on the Security Council like Russia and China, but Berlin will resist as hard acknowledgment of any Iranian cheating if it means the loss of billions in investments. If Obama were to design a strategy that empowers Iran, enables it to better afford a nuclear program and advanced military, and leaves the way clear for it to develop nuclear weapons should it so choose, it would not look much different from the strategy upon which he has now embarked. Germany’s actions are simply the latest confirmation that Obama’s insistence that he can close the floodgates is nothing but manna for the stupid or political fantasy.

Read Less

A Bad Iran Deal Must Be Stopped Now

Skeptics about the looming nuclear accord with Iran may be taking comfort from the promises of Republican presidential candidates to tear up the treaty as soon as they reach the Oval Office. They shouldn’t be. Even assuming a Republican wins the White House next year (hardly a certainty), pulling out of the agreement won’t necessarily fix its defects. In fact it could make the situation even worse.

Read More

Skeptics about the looming nuclear accord with Iran may be taking comfort from the promises of Republican presidential candidates to tear up the treaty as soon as they reach the Oval Office. They shouldn’t be. Even assuming a Republican wins the White House next year (hardly a certainty), pulling out of the agreement won’t necessarily fix its defects. In fact it could make the situation even worse.

Iran, as its leaders have made clear, is expecting an immediate payoff from signing the accords—a payoff that President Obama has vowed to deliver. If leaks are accurate, Obama is offering Iran a $50 billion “signing bonus” by offering to unfreeze a large portion of the Iranian oil funds held overseas. And that’s just for starters. The Iranians clearly expect that within weeks—or at most months—they will reap even more substantial sanctions relief from the U.S., the UN, the EU, and other relevant actors. And they’re probably right. While Obama cannot formally repeal all U.S. sanctions without legislative action, he can suspend most of them, and our allies will eagerly follow suit.

Obama assures us that if Iran is caught cheating the sanctions will “snap back” but it’s impossible to imagine this president ever admitting that his signature achievement—a nuclear accord with Iran—has unraveled. So in practice there is no chance of any sanctions being reapplied before January 20, 2017.

.At that point, assuming a Republican wins the Oval Office, could decide to put all the U.S. sanctions back into place. But if so Iran then could sprint ahead with a nuclear breakout and lay the blame on the US in the court of international public opinion.  In any case the president would not be able to reapply the multilateral sanctions that have been the most important element in applying pressure to Iran; that would require actions that Russia and China could block at the UN, and even our European allies would be unlikely to back up the U.S. because they would be doing so much business with Tehran by that point.

The U.S. would then get the worst of both worlds: Iran already would have been enriched by hundreds of billions of dollars of sanctions relief—and it would be well on its way to fielding nuclear weapons with de facto permission from the international community. To avoid this nightmare scenario, the best play from America’s standpoint could well be to keep the accord in place to at least delay Iran’s decision to weaponize.

In short, don’t expect salvation in 2017. If the accord is signed its consequences will be irrevocable. Whatever a future president does or does not do, Iran’s hard-line regime will be immeasurably strengthened by the agreement. That makes it all the more imperative to stop a bad agreement now—not two years from now.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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?

Read More

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.

Read Less

Overtime Iran Talks Make Congressional Action Necessary

A day after the deadline for the conclusion of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program expired, the talks continued. Secretary of State John Kerry appears determined to keep talking with his Iranian counterparts in Switzerland as long as it takes to get something signed, no matter how weak or insubstantial in terms of its chances of actually stopping Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions. If Kerry does succeed in producing a piece of paper that he can call an agreement, the administration will use it as proof that any interference from Congress will be unhelpful to the diplomatic process. But whether he succeeds or not, this week’s spectacle of U.S. officials being played for chumps by the Islamist regime should serve as motivation for the Senate to act when it returns the week after next. Nothing that happens in Lausanne, whether it is endless talks aimed at dragging the West into more concessions or another flimsy interim accord, should be construed as a reason to prevent Congress from voting on measures that require any agreement with Iran to be subjected to an up-or-down vote by the Senate or to pass more sanctions that would go into effect in the event of a breakdown in the talks.

Read More

A day after the deadline for the conclusion of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program expired, the talks continued. Secretary of State John Kerry appears determined to keep talking with his Iranian counterparts in Switzerland as long as it takes to get something signed, no matter how weak or insubstantial in terms of its chances of actually stopping Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions. If Kerry does succeed in producing a piece of paper that he can call an agreement, the administration will use it as proof that any interference from Congress will be unhelpful to the diplomatic process. But whether he succeeds or not, this week’s spectacle of U.S. officials being played for chumps by the Islamist regime should serve as motivation for the Senate to act when it returns the week after next. Nothing that happens in Lausanne, whether it is endless talks aimed at dragging the West into more concessions or another flimsy interim accord, should be construed as a reason to prevent Congress from voting on measures that require any agreement with Iran to be subjected to an up-or-down vote by the Senate or to pass more sanctions that would go into effect in the event of a breakdown in the talks.

It should be recalled that after the West signed an interim accord with Iran in November 2013, President Obama promised that subsequent negotiations for a final accord would be finite in nature and not allow the Islamist regime to spin them out indefinitely. But now as the talks were extended yet again, the pattern of Iranian intransigence followed by American concessions appears ready to repeat itself. Having invested so heavily in the notion that the talks must succeed, the U.S. is unwilling to walk away from them leading the Iranian negotiators to understandably come to the conclusion that all they need to do is to keep saying no in order to compel Kerry to agree to their demands.

From the start of the negotiations earlier in 2013, any “progress” toward an agreement has always been a function of President Obama’s willingness to discard the principles about the Iranian nuclear threat that he articulated during his 2012 campaign for reelection. Instead of sticking to his demand that Iran dismantle its nuclear program if it wanted sanctions lifted, the U.S. has, piece by piece, dismantled its initial position that would have permanently blocked any possibility that the Islamist regime could build a bomb.

In order to get the interim accord in 2013, the administration tacitly conceded Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium. In the last year, it has gone further, consenting to the regime retaining thousands of centrifuges and allowing it to stonewall United Nations inspectors seeking to discover the extent of their military research. Then the Americans agreed to include a “sunset” clause that would end restrictions on Iran after a period of as little as ten years, meaning Tehran could pursue a bomb unhindered by Western interference after the agreement expired. At every point, wherever Iran said “no,” Kerry and Obama gave in and defended the concession as inevitable and preferable to breaking off the talks.

In the last weeks as negotiations become more urgent, this pattern also intensified. Kerry and the rest of the P5+1 team agreed to let Iran keep hundreds of centrifuges in its fortified mountainside redoubt at Fordow where it would be immune to attack. And then the Iranians had the bad manners to let slip that, contrary to the impression given by the West, they have never agreed to have their stockpile of enriched uranium shipped out of the country. Instead, they are insisting they must hold onto it, meaning that even if it is reduced to a diluted form, it could be quickly converted back into nuclear fuel anytime the regime chose to do so.

This isn’t the only sticking point left to be resolved before Kerry can emerge waving a piece of paper and proclaiming that he has averted a potential conflict. But it is one that, along with the centrifuges, the lack of transparency about their military efforts, the sunset clause, and the ability to reimpose sanctions quickly, makes a mockery of any hope that the deal will fulfill Obama’s pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a weapon.

We already know that in their lust for détente with an Iranian regime whose sole goal is regional hegemony that is being advanced by their auxiliaries in Iraq, Syria, and now Yemen, the administration has refused to try and make the deal encompass even empty promises about an end to Tehran’s sponsorship of terrorism or its ballistic-missile program that threatens the West as well as moderate Arab regimes and Israel.

But if Kerry agrees to a deal without getting Iran to agree to give up its nuclear fuel, its centrifuges, or reveal the truth about its military research, the deal will be worthless. And if he continues the negotiations indefinitely as Iran continues to sensibly hold out until the West gives in, the situation will be just as bad.

That’s why there are no longer any rational arguments for further delay on the Corker-Menendez bill requiring congressional approval of a deal or of the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill. The Republican leadership should make their passage a priority once the Senate returns after its holiday recess. And Democrats who claim to be skeptical about Iran as well as friends of Israel must prepare to choose between the security of the West and its allies and defending an administration seeking to divide the country on party lines on these crucial questions. If Kerry can’t stand his ground on these issues or walk away from the talks, the Senate must vote.

Read Less

As Dem Leader, Schumer Can’t Protect Both Israel and Obama

Throughout his 16 years in the Senate, Chuck Schumer has comfortably built a reputation as a fierce Democratic partisan while also being an ardent support of Israel. But in his new status as the leader-in-waiting of Senate Democrats after Harry Reid exits the stage in January 2017, Schumer is about to find out that, as the old Yiddish proverb tells us, you can’t dance at two weddings with one behind. Though, as a Politico article reports, he may think he can strike a balance between his pro-Israel stands and his job as the putative leader of his party’s caucus, so long as Barack Obama is in the White House that isn’t going to be possible. As the administration prepares to sell a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran while also exerting pressure on Israel’s government and threatening to isolate the Jewish state, Schumer isn’t going to be able to push back against the president’s policies at a time when he will be at the same time expected to keep the Democratic caucus united behind them.

Read More

Throughout his 16 years in the Senate, Chuck Schumer has comfortably built a reputation as a fierce Democratic partisan while also being an ardent support of Israel. But in his new status as the leader-in-waiting of Senate Democrats after Harry Reid exits the stage in January 2017, Schumer is about to find out that, as the old Yiddish proverb tells us, you can’t dance at two weddings with one behind. Though, as a Politico article reports, he may think he can strike a balance between his pro-Israel stands and his job as the putative leader of his party’s caucus, so long as Barack Obama is in the White House that isn’t going to be possible. As the administration prepares to sell a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran while also exerting pressure on Israel’s government and threatening to isolate the Jewish state, Schumer isn’t going to be able to push back against the president’s policies at a time when he will be at the same time expected to keep the Democratic caucus united behind them.

Schumer likes to tell Jewish audiences that his name derives from the Hebrew word shomer, or guardian, and that he will always act to protect Israel. Though in recent years that promise has been tested, the senator’s impressive political skills have enabled him to hold onto that image while also being one of President Obama’s Senate foot soldiers. The same can be said of his close relationship with Wall Street figures whose fundraising help has been the foundation of his long and now apparently successful campaign to become the Democrats’ Senate leader.

As far as Israel or Iran was concerned, Schumer never took on the role of administration antagonist, as did his Democratic colleague Robert Menendez. Menendez repeatedly and publicly called out President Obama for his opposition to sanctions on Iran and for his unwillingness to support more pressure on a regime with which he was bent on fostering détente. Not so Schumer, who, despite his pledge to be Israel’s guardian, chose not to confront the president in public. Instead, we have heard tales, often recounted in friendly media coverage of the senator, about private conversations in which Schumer scolded administration figures or offered them advice in which he sought to persuade them to stop picking needless and counterproductive fights with Israel on Iran and the conflict with the Palestinians.

Schumer may well continue to play that role in private even as he assumes the status of the Prince of Wales of Senate Democrats. But in the last 22 months of the Obama presidency, as the White House steers the country away from the alliance with Israel and into a more neutral position on the Middle East conflict as well as one in which Iran is viewed as a partner, the senator’s balancing act is no longer viable.

Even if we set aside fears about Obama’s threats to abandon Israel at the United Nations or to engage in pressure tactics in future Middle East negotiations, the looming struggle in the Senate over Iran makes it impossible for Schumer to be in both camps.

Schumer has said that he supports the Corker-Menendez bill that will require that any Iran deal be put to a vote in the Senate. That’s a crucial blow to an administration that is desperate to persuade pro-Israel Democrats to abandon the bipartisan consensus on the issue and ensure that the bill doesn’t have a veto-proof majority. But the only way to do so is for Senate leaders like Schumer to ensure that enough of them fall into line. And there is every indication that, behind the scenes, he will do just that.

After all, it was Schumer who played a key role in organizing a letter from pro-Israel Senate Democrats making it clear that they would not support Corker-Menendez or the equally vital Kirk-Menendez bill that would increase sanctions in the admittedly unlikely event that the administration admitted failure in the Iran talks until after the administration received more time to negotiate.

So while a public break with Israel on Iran is probably as unthinkable for Schumer as a public breach with the administration, it’s likely that he will be behind efforts in the near future to further delay Senate action on Iran. In doing so, he will claim that he remains a stalwart opponent of appeasement but in practice he will be doing the president’s dirty work.

Nor would it be reasonable to think that he could avoid acting in this manner if he wants to hold onto the support of his party’s caucus. If Schumer were to place himself in opposition to the president on an issue where the White House is committed to doing everything to avoid a Senate vote, then the notion of his inevitability as Harry Reid’s successor may vanish. Since the Senate Democratic caucus has become more liberal, not less, in recent years, Schumer’s public apostasy, even on Israel issues, might cause the natives in the minority cloakroom to become restless. And after working tirelessly to win the leader position, it’s not likely he will do anything to scuttle his hopes.

Schumer will do all he can to still be perceived, in Politico’s words, as “a hawk” on Israel. But you don’t get to be majority leader by being an outlier within your party on a key issue when the president needs help. All the news stories about Schumer having “very, very heated” conversations with White House officials on Iran and Israel won’t mean a thing if, when the president requires him to produce the votes he needs on these issues, Schumer complies, as he almost certainly will do. Any Senate leader must watch the back of his president. Though he will claim he can go on dancing at two weddings, the odds of him choosing support for Israel over the political necessity to back Obama are slim.

Read Less

Who Turned Israel Into a Political Football?

In the last week, the Obama administration has talked about “reconsidering” its policy in the Middle East, a statement widely and accurately interpreted as a threat to abandon Israel at the United Nations and/or to cut military aid to the Jewish state. After six years of sniping at and blaming Israel for the lack of progress in the peace process while absolving the Palestinians for refusing to negotiate in good faith, President Obama’s pique at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reelection is such that the alliance between the two democracies is in crisis. At the same time, the administration has not hesitated as it recklessly pursued détente with Iran in nuclear talks that appear on track to allow the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power and perhaps to get a bomb either by cheating or even by abiding by a perilously weak deal. But according to Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, the problem between the two countries is solely the work of mischievous Republicans seeking to turn Israel into a political football for their advantage. Can anyone with sense believe such a deceptive argument?

Read More

In the last week, the Obama administration has talked about “reconsidering” its policy in the Middle East, a statement widely and accurately interpreted as a threat to abandon Israel at the United Nations and/or to cut military aid to the Jewish state. After six years of sniping at and blaming Israel for the lack of progress in the peace process while absolving the Palestinians for refusing to negotiate in good faith, President Obama’s pique at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reelection is such that the alliance between the two democracies is in crisis. At the same time, the administration has not hesitated as it recklessly pursued détente with Iran in nuclear talks that appear on track to allow the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power and perhaps to get a bomb either by cheating or even by abiding by a perilously weak deal. But according to Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, the problem between the two countries is solely the work of mischievous Republicans seeking to turn Israel into a political football for their advantage. Can anyone with sense believe such a deceptive argument?

Rep. Israel is a member of the Democrats’ House leadership team and a fervent partisan so it is to be expected that his instincts always seek to put the president and his party in the best possible light. But what he is doing here is more than just following White House talking points. This is a diversionary effort intended to distract otherwise pro-Israel Democrats from the fact that their party has been hijacked by an administration that has, from its first moments in office, sought to distance the U.S. from its Israeli ally.

In our COMMENTARY editorial on the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations that President Obama has precipitated we discuss at length the history of the administration’s behavior toward the Jewish state. Suffice it to say the quarrel between the two governments didn’t begin when Netanyahu decided to accept an invitation to address Congress on the nuclear threat form Iran. The prime minister’s choice to give an address criticizing the administration’s pursuit of détente with Iran gave the White House a chance to divert attention from their indefensible policy. For weeks, the issue because Netanyahu’s alleged breach of protocol and not a decision by the president to offer Iran a deal that will enable it to keep its nuclear program, breaking his 2012 reelection campaign promise.

The purpose of this tactic was not so much to encourage Democrats to boycott Netanyahu’s speech (something only a few dozen of them wound up doing) but to persuade some of them to abandon their support for increased sanctions on Iran. Up until this January, backing for more Iran sanctions that are intended to strengthen Obama’s hand in the nuclear talks was overwhelming and bipartisan in nature. But the president sought to use party loyalty as leverage to get Democrats to break up that bipartisan consensus and oppose a strong stand on Iran.

If that was not bad enough, Netanyahu’s win last week set off an administration temper tantrum that seemed aimed at downgrading the alliance with America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East.

Yet the response from congressional Democrats was, with few exceptions, silence.

In his Politico article, Rep. Israel rightly cites instances in the past when Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush took stands that were opposed by the pro-Israel community. But what happened in response to those lamentable events puts the current position of most Democrats in a very unflattering light. At those times, pro-Israel Republicans did not hesitate to publicly criticize the head of their party. In the case of the elder Bush, his clash with AIPAC over loan guarantees to the state of Israel prompted a crisis among Jewish Republicans, causing them to abandon him in the 1992 presidential election as he received the lowest vote total for a GOP candidate since Barry Goldwater.

But, with a few notable exceptions, Democrats have reacted to Obama’s verbal assaults and whitewashing of Palestinian intransigence (the true obstacle to peace in the Middle East) by either keeping quiet or actually taking sides with the administration against the pro-Israel community. When faced with the demands of partisanship or their principles, most Democrats have done as Rep. Israel did and stood with Obama even as he fecklessly pursued a weak and dangerous nuclear deal with Iran and engaged in a personal vendetta against the democratically elected government of the Jewish state.

Rep. Israel’s response to this discouraging spectacle is not some much needed introspection about the failure of his party to stand up to the president but an attempt to blame it all on Republicans. To his way of thinking, the problem isn’t that a Democratic president is abandoning Israel and embracing Iran, but that some Republicans have noticed that many rank and file Democrats don’t seem to have a problem with any of this.

The congressman is right that no one ought to question his personal love for the Jewish state with which he shares a name. Nor should anyone on the right jump to the conclusion that all Democrats no longer care about Israel. Though polls have shown far greater levels of support for Israel among Republicans than Democrats for the last two decades (a trend that long predated the Obama-Netanyahu feud), a clear majority of those who identify with the party of Jefferson and Jackson still back the Jewish state.

The problem here is partisanship, but not one caused by the Republicans. The unwillingness of most Democrats to tell the president that they won’t tolerate his attacks and threats being aimed at Israel may mark a turning point in the history of their party. Faced with a choice between an Obama administration that has gone off the tracks on Israel and Iran, Democrats are not speaking up, as they should. When partisans like Rep. Israel demand that loyal Democrats back the president on Iran and the peace process, he is the one that is turning the Jewish state into a political football, not his Republican opponents who haven’t hesitated to oppose the administration. If he wants to prove his pro-Israel bona fides, Rep. Israel needs to start criticizing the president, not the GOP.

Read Less

The Conversation About Iran Obama Wants

Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton makes a strong case today on the New York Times op-ed page for the need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to ensure that the regime doesn’t get a bomb. He’s right that those who dismiss the use of force are underestimating the damage air strikes can inflict and overestimating Tehran’s ability to recoup its losses in quick order after it has taken them decades to get this close. But before you give too much credit to the editors of the Times for, in what is an increasingly rare gesture for them, giving space to opposing views, take a moment and think about whether this is the debate about Iran we should be having. For the past year and a half President Obama has attempted to portray opponents of his appeasement of Iran as warmongers when, in fact, most have rightly advocated sticking to the tough sanctions he has discarded in hope of forcing the regime to accept an agreement that, unlike the one currently being negotiated, would actually stop them from building a bomb. Whatever its virtues, the Bolton article merely serves to bolster Obama’s disingenuous arguments.

Read More

Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton makes a strong case today on the New York Times op-ed page for the need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to ensure that the regime doesn’t get a bomb. He’s right that those who dismiss the use of force are underestimating the damage air strikes can inflict and overestimating Tehran’s ability to recoup its losses in quick order after it has taken them decades to get this close. But before you give too much credit to the editors of the Times for, in what is an increasingly rare gesture for them, giving space to opposing views, take a moment and think about whether this is the debate about Iran we should be having. For the past year and a half President Obama has attempted to portray opponents of his appeasement of Iran as warmongers when, in fact, most have rightly advocated sticking to the tough sanctions he has discarded in hope of forcing the regime to accept an agreement that, unlike the one currently being negotiated, would actually stop them from building a bomb. Whatever its virtues, the Bolton article merely serves to bolster Obama’s disingenuous arguments.

One of the hallmarks of the Times opinion pages in recent years is the way its editors have discarded any notion of providing space to contrary views except in rare instances. With respect to the drumbeat of criticism aimed at Israel, the avalanche of columns attacking the government of the Jewish state or bolstering the propaganda assault of the Palestinians and their allies has further tarnished the paper’s reputation as the prime example of media bias. The same is true of virtually any position taken by the Times editorial page including support for the president’s policy toward Iran. In that context, Bolton’s column is a breath of fresh air because it outlines the danger of Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon and the certainty that Obama’s offer to Tehran will set off a dangerous arms race in the region.

But by publishing Bolton’s article, the Times is attempting to couch the debate about Iran according to the president’s preferred talking point in which the choice is between his policy and war. That is a prime example of the president setting up straw men to knock down rather than actually engaging the arguments of his critics in a serious way.

The president’s steady retreat from his past promises about ending Iran’s nuclear program has been part of a strategy in which the regime is embraced as a tacit ally against ISIS. He is acquiescing to Iran’s quest for hegemony in the Middle East so as to enable the president to essentially withdraw from the region. To facilitate this rapprochement, Obama discarded the enormous economic and military leverage over Iran and given in whenever the Iranians stood their ground in the talks. The result is a flimsy agreement that could allow Iran to cheat their way to a bomb during the course of a deal that will eventually expire and let them get one anyway. Worse than that, because of that weakness and Washington’s unwillingness to support International Atomic Energy Agency demands for information about their military research, the administration could let them get one even while abiding by the deal.

But the real alternative to the president’s feckless pursuit of détente with Iran is not war. What is needed is a return to the sanctions that the president opposed when Congress first passed them and measures toughening them that, when combined with the collapse in oil prices, bring Iran’s economy to its knees. All it would have taken in 2013 for this to work would have been patience, courage, and leadership on Obama’s part. Instead, he abandoned the isolation of Iran at the first opportunity he got. Were the president to concede that appeasement is failing to stop Iran, he could go back to the path of strength and, with strict enforcement of U.S. sanctions that would make it difficult for other nations to do business with Iran, force America’s allies to follow suit.

Even at the 11th hour, as we may be days away from the signing of a bad deal with Iran, it is not too late for the U.S. to step back from the brink of folly. A demonstration of strength and principle on Obama’s part, however unlikely it may seem today, would be a devastating blow to Iran and perhaps actually compel them to start making concessions that might enable the president to keep his campaign promises about the nuclear threat.

That is the choice that America still has on Iran. That is the debate we should be having, not one of appeasement versus war.

Once the Iran deal is signed, it may well be that the West will no longer have either a diplomatic or a military option for stopping Iran. But until then, opponents of Obama’s retreat must continue to advocate for sanctions and tough diplomacy rather than for the use of force that Obama would never choose under virtually any circumstances. However correct Bolton’s points might be, his article merely strengthens the president’s disingenuous arguments about false choices that are leading us down the primrose path to Iran appeasement.

Read Less

Iran Knows Obama Won’t Walk Away

The latest round of talks between the West and Iran in Lausanne, Switzerland broke up today with both sides saying differences still remain between the parties. Though the basic principles of the agreement allowing Iran to hold onto a vast nuclear infrastructure are already set, reportedly there are gaps between the sides on the amount of centrifuges it will keep as well as on the timing of the suspension of sanctions that have been imposed on the Islamist regime. The White House is claiming that President Obama is standing firm on his insistence that sanctions remain in place after the deal is signed. But if Iran is confident that he will eventually give in, it’s hard to blame them. The president has already made so many important concessions to Tehran and been willing to expend so much political capital in battles with both Congress and Israel that it’s hard to believe him when he says he will walk away from the negotiations if Iran doesn’t give in to his demands.

Read More

The latest round of talks between the West and Iran in Lausanne, Switzerland broke up today with both sides saying differences still remain between the parties. Though the basic principles of the agreement allowing Iran to hold onto a vast nuclear infrastructure are already set, reportedly there are gaps between the sides on the amount of centrifuges it will keep as well as on the timing of the suspension of sanctions that have been imposed on the Islamist regime. The White House is claiming that President Obama is standing firm on his insistence that sanctions remain in place after the deal is signed. But if Iran is confident that he will eventually give in, it’s hard to blame them. The president has already made so many important concessions to Tehran and been willing to expend so much political capital in battles with both Congress and Israel that it’s hard to believe him when he says he will walk away from the negotiations if Iran doesn’t give in to his demands.

Talks will resume in Switzerland next week with what appears to be a still long list of differences to work out. But in spite of the president’s tough talk about not backing down, Iran knows that the administration has gone too far to give up. That’s been their strategy since the president opened up a secret talks with the regime in 2013. On point after point, the U.S. has abandoned the principles upon which the international coalition against Iran was formed and upon which President Obama campaigned for re-election in 2012.

In the interim deal signed in November 2013, the administration gave their tacit approval to an Iranian “right” to enrich uranium and started the process of loosening sanctions. That was supposed to be followed by a finite period of six months during which a subsequent agreement was to be negotiated. But that deadline has been extended three times since then as the Western powers became hostages to the process they had initiated. Having already discarded the impressive economic and military leverage it possessed over Iran, the P5+1 group felt it had no choice but to continue along the same path. Just as Secretary of State John Kerry defended the interim deal on the grounds that the minimal restrictions imposed and the concessions granted to Iran was better than no deal at all, so, too, have the current talks continued because the West was committed to a deal at all costs, no matter the terms.

In this way, the Iranians have wrung permission to keep thousands of centrifuges and a “sunset” clause that will eventually end restrictions on their nuclear program out of President Obama. Any such agreement will, at the very least, make Iran a threshold nuclear power, a development that rightly frightens moderate Arab nations as well as posing a potential existential threat to Israel.

The administration defends these concessions as being insignificant because the deal would make it impossible for Iran to “break out” to build a weapon in less than a year. Given the lack of inspections and the paucity of Western intelligence about Iran and the near certainty that there are nuclear facilities that aren’t currently under scrutiny such promises ring hollow. But even in the unlikely event that Iran keeps its promises the sunset clause ensures that they can eventually build a bomb even by following its terms.

That said, it is not too late for the United States to walk away from the negotiations if Iran refuses to agree that sanctions must be only gradually removed or abide by restrictions on their nuclear and military research (a point on which the lack of inspections has made it difficult to know just how much progress they’ve made in the past). But having stood their ground on every important facet of this negotiation up until now, why should the Iranians think the president will hold his ground on these points?

The president has already committed himself to signing a deal that will not be submitted to Congress but has already started talks at the United Nations to rescind international sanctions. He has publicly feuded with the prime minister of Israel and demanded that Democrats stay loyal to him rather than support bipartisan legislation calling for any agreement to be voted upon by Congress or for toughened sanctions to strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks. To give up now when he has gambled so heavily on what his staff has termed the ObamaCare of his second term, the notion that he would throw it all away now isn’t credible.

It should also be remembered that there is more here at stake for the president than the question of an Iranian bomb. The president has already committed himself to détente with Iran as his overall strategy for the Middle East. To back away from the talks and increase sanctions or even threaten force, as he has always claimed he would if a good deal couldn’t be obtained, would require him to rethink his approach to the conflict with ISIS where he has embraced Iran as a partner or to the civil war in Syria where the U.S. has acquiesced to the survival of Iran’s ally Bashar Assad. The nuclear deal is merely the excuse that he has used to justify an entente with Tehran that has been his goal all along.

So, as they have for the last two years, the Iranians are banking on the president’s zeal for a deal to allow them to get their way on these final points of disagreement. Since watering down the already desperately weak U.S. offer to Iran on the table isn’t going to be any less disgraceful than what he has already conceded, there’s really no reason for the administration to take a stand now. No matter how the White House and its media cheering section spin the outcome of the talks, no one should expect anything other than another Western surrender at Lausanne.

Read Less

On Iran, Senate Democrats Must Choose Between Obama and Constitution

With a week to go before the deadline for the end of the current round of nuclear talks with Iran, the Obama administration is hopeful but by no means certain it can get a deal. The president has offered the Islamist regime generous terms that will allow it to keep its nuclear infrastructure and reportedly will include a sunset clause that will end restrictions on its nuclear activity at some point in the not-too-distant future. But the administration’s main concern right now is ensuring that Congress doesn’t pass legislation that would allow it a a say on any agreement. As Politico reports, the White House is orchestrating a lobbying blitz on Senate Democrats in an effort to convince enough of them to prevent the bipartisan coalition supporting a bill that will require a Congressional vote on any agreement from prevailing. That leaves those wavering Democrats with an interesting choice: obey the president’s demand for party line loyalty or defend the legislative branch’s constitutional rights on an issue where most of them are unhappy with the direction of administration policy.

Read More

With a week to go before the deadline for the end of the current round of nuclear talks with Iran, the Obama administration is hopeful but by no means certain it can get a deal. The president has offered the Islamist regime generous terms that will allow it to keep its nuclear infrastructure and reportedly will include a sunset clause that will end restrictions on its nuclear activity at some point in the not-too-distant future. But the administration’s main concern right now is ensuring that Congress doesn’t pass legislation that would allow it a a say on any agreement. As Politico reports, the White House is orchestrating a lobbying blitz on Senate Democrats in an effort to convince enough of them to prevent the bipartisan coalition supporting a bill that will require a Congressional vote on any agreement from prevailing. That leaves those wavering Democrats with an interesting choice: obey the president’s demand for party line loyalty or defend the legislative branch’s constitutional rights on an issue where most of them are unhappy with the direction of administration policy.

At stake in this battle is the fate of the bill co-sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker and ranking member Robert Menendez that would require a Congressional vote on any Iran deal. This is separate from the bill put forward by Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk that would impose new and tougher sanctions on Iran. Both have large majorities already on record as supporting them but last month 11 Senate Democrats, including Menendez, signed a letter to the White House saying that despite eagerness on the part of the GOP to press ahead with passing the two bills, they would withhold their support until March 24.

However, that courtesy extended to the president by members of his party has not weakened the president’s determination to allow nothing to stand in the way of a deal with Iran, no matter the terms given Tehran or how long it will take. Not satisfied with being given until March 24, the White House is now using all the muscle it can muster to force the Democratic caucus to extend the delay on Corker-Menendez until the end of June when the third extension granted of the negotiations with Iran (that President Obama had promised Congress would not go past the summer of 2014) will end.

The outcome of this effort is by no means certain. At the moment, every one of the 54 Republicans in the Senate has said they will vote for the bill. If the 11 Democrats who said they would hold off until March 24 stick to their promise to support the measure that will leave them two short of a veto-proof majority. That leaves the White House scrambling to pick off some members of the group of 11 as well as hoping that no other Democrat joins the GOP in support of the bill.

There are two important elements of the administration lobbying effort.

One is that although they accused House Speaker John Boehner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of injecting partisanship into the debate about Iran, it is actually only the White House that is brandishing party loyalty as a weapon in this effort. Coming into 2015, there appeared to be broad bipartisan majorities in both Houses of Congress behind more sanctions on Iran. Nor was there much opposition to the notion of requiring a vote on an Iran deal as would seem to be required by the Constitution as well as the fact that the sanctions that would have to be lifted in order for a nuclear accord to go forward were passed by Congress and would need to be rescinded by the same bodies that enacted them.

The White House turned the Netanyahu invitation into a partisan spat by ginning up arguments claiming that the speech was an insult to the president. Though the effort to promote a Democratic boycott of the speech failed as badly as the president’s maneuvers intended to help Netanyahu’s opponents defeat him in this week’s election, the administration did succeed in persuading some Democrats to view the issue as a partisan matter rather than a consensus issue. The White House is now doubling down on this approach as March 24 approaches with an all-out lobbying effort aimed exclusively at Democrats led by senior cabinet officials.

Yet what is most interesting about this campaign is that the White House is not only refusing to defend its Iran stand on its merits. It is also expecting members of Congress to undermine the Constitution’s separation of powers in order to allow the president to negotiate and implement an Iran deal without being held to account by any scrutiny.

Reportedly, White House Chief of Staff James McDonough wrote to the Senate on Sunday night telling them in no uncertain terms that the president expected them to stay mum on the issue until the end of June. That means it not only wants no debate on the issue prior to the conclusion of negotiations but also no vote after a potential deal is signed. As I wrote last week, though the administration is already preparing to go the United Nations Security Council to lift economic sanctions on Iran, it is preparing to simply order non-enforcement of U.S. measures rather than ask Congress to vote to rescind laws that it has passed.

Just as important, the administration is doing its best to shut down discussion on the terms it has offered Iran. Their plan is to wait until Iran agrees to measures that amount to nothing short of appeasement of the Islamist regime’s nuclear ambitions — and a clear violation of the president’s 2012 re-election campaign pledges about any deal requiring the end of Iran’s nuclear program — and then hope that the stage managed celebration of what it will spin as a foreign policy triumph will obscure any debate about the issue.

It’s a smart strategy because the terms being offered Iran aren’t so much a “bad deal” as Netanyahu has rightly called it, as they are utterly indefensible. The proposed agreement that Iran has bludgeoned Obama into handing them is the product of a series of retreats from U.S. stands that will grant Western approval for Iran being left in possession of its nuclear infrastructure. The deal hinges on the notion that inspections will be stringent even though Iran has always evaded such measures previously. Just as ominous is the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency and Western intelligence agencies all think the Iranians have other secret nuclear facilities that won’t be seen. With such flimsy intelligence about Iran it’s hard to accept the president’s assurances that the U.S. will have at least year to head off an Iranian nuclear breakout. Even worse, the sunset provisions in the deal may allow Iran to eventually gain a weapon even if it does abide by the agreement.

Added together with the Constitutional arguments, the terms offered Iran make it imperative for Congress to at least defend its right to vote on such a treaty even if the president is pretending it is just an executive agreement. But it will be up to Senate Democrats to show us whether they value their partisan loyalty to the president more than their devotion to their Constitutional responsibilities or the need to stop Iran.

Read Less

Did the Iran Speech Sink Netanyahu?

The final opinion polls prior to the Israeli elections are in and the news is pretty bad for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His Likud Party trails the Labor-led Zionist Union by four seats in most of the polls. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Labor leader Isaac Herzog will lead the next government, as the electoral math may still make it easier for Netanyahu to put together a coalition that can command a majority of the Knesset. But if these numbers hold, it represents a body blow to Netanyahu and his party. That will likely lead his legion of American critics to claim that, far from helping him as most assumed it would, his speech to a joint session of Congress last week actually helped sink him. Are they right?

Read More

The final opinion polls prior to the Israeli elections are in and the news is pretty bad for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His Likud Party trails the Labor-led Zionist Union by four seats in most of the polls. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Labor leader Isaac Herzog will lead the next government, as the electoral math may still make it easier for Netanyahu to put together a coalition that can command a majority of the Knesset. But if these numbers hold, it represents a body blow to Netanyahu and his party. That will likely lead his legion of American critics to claim that, far from helping him as most assumed it would, his speech to a joint session of Congress last week actually helped sink him. Are they right?

As I noted yesterday, Netanyahu’s biggest mistake was in calling new elections when he didn’t have to. It was a colossal blunder since Israelis felt they had given him a mandate only two years previously and his belief that he could get an even stronger majority now is seen as a cynical move that is wasting the country’s time and resources.

It’s also true that his emphasis on security issues—the dead-in-the-water Middle East peace process and the Iranian nuclear threat—didn’t strike the right note with voters who think it’s time the government concentrated more of its energy on solving domestic crises like the shortage and price of housing and the cost of living. But while American liberals and Obama administration supporters who don’t forgive Netanyahu for directly challenging the president on Iran would like to think the speech backfired, they are probably jumping to an incorrect conclusion when they make such a claim.

There’s little evidence that the speech hurt Netanyahu’s chances but also no proof that it helped much. In the aftermath of the speech, Netanyahu’s poll numbers actually went up a couple of seats. But the post-speech bump didn’t last. While few in Israel are happy about the decline in relations with the United States, most of the blame for that is put on President Obama. He remains the least favorite U.S. president among Israelis who rightly consider his tilt toward the Palestinians and pursuit of détente with Iran an indication of his lack of trustworthiness as an ally. Most, including many who will vote against him, agree with Netanyahu about both Iran and Obama’s bad faith. Yet in an election where voters are telling us they are sick and tired of a man seeking a fourth term as prime minister, agreement on Iran or even the Palestinians may not be enough.

After all, though the Obama administration and left-wingers may talk about Herzog as offering a real alternative to Netanyahu on security issues, the difference between the two on the peace process and Iran is mostly a matter or rhetoric and tone. Herzog won’t offer the Palestinians much if anything more than Netanyahu would, although he will phrase it in a way the Americans may like better. And there’s virtually no difference at all on their Iran positions, though the diffident Herzog isn’t likely to stand up to a U.S. president who is openly cheering for his election in the same way as Netanyahu.

Though everyone in the U.S. seemed to assume the speech was about Israeli domestic politics, perhaps we should have taken Netanyahu at his word that he was entirely sincere about wanting to warn the U.S. of impending danger and that it was too important to wait until after the election. His acceptance of the invitation from House Speaker John Boehner may have been a mistake since it allowed the Obama administration to divert the public’s attention from their indefensible appeasement of Iran to a discussion of the prime minister’s alleged breach of protocol. But Netanyahu was right about the issue and there’s no evidence that voters at home thought less of him for speaking out.

But those burying Netanyahu four days before the Israeli public votes may have to eat their words. If, as I speculated yesterday, voters realize that Netanyahu may lose, many choosing to vote for smaller center-right and right wing parties may return to Likud. At this point a tie between Labor and Likud or a small margin between the two parties is as good as a win for Netanyahu given the difficulty Herzog will have in assembling a coalition. If, as is still far from unlikely, Netanyahu does lead the next government, the talk about the speech sinking him will look silly. Even if he doesn’t it is wrong to claim that a loss for Likud is repudiation for his Iran stand. Israelis seem to have had no problem with the speech. But, with good reason, they may think the impossibility of peace with the Palestinians means their government should worry less about Washington and more about the cost of apartments in Tel Aviv.

Read Less

Obama’s UN Gambit on Iran Deal Trashes the Constitution

Earlier this week, 47 Senate Republicans sent a letter to Iran’s leaders warning them that a nuclear deal struck with their country by President Obama that was not submitted to Congress for ratification would not have the force of law. For this act of lèse-majesté toward the president, Democrats and the mainstream media labeled them as traitors, law-breakers, and obstructionists. There wasn’t much doubt that, as the secretary of state has now admitted, they were right about the deal not being legally binding if went unratified by the Senate. But it now appears their attempt to sound the alarm about the president making an end run around the Constitution’s requirement that treaties be ratified by Congress downplayed the problem. Rather than merely ignoring Congress, the administration will be taking the issue to the United Nations where Security Council votes could not only dismantle the international sanctions imposed on Iran but also impose legal obligations on the United States that might well be binding. In doing so the president is not only displaying contempt for Congress, he’s realizing the worst fears of those who worry about the UN impinging on American sovereignty and the Constitution.

Read More

Earlier this week, 47 Senate Republicans sent a letter to Iran’s leaders warning them that a nuclear deal struck with their country by President Obama that was not submitted to Congress for ratification would not have the force of law. For this act of lèse-majesté toward the president, Democrats and the mainstream media labeled them as traitors, law-breakers, and obstructionists. There wasn’t much doubt that, as the secretary of state has now admitted, they were right about the deal not being legally binding if went unratified by the Senate. But it now appears their attempt to sound the alarm about the president making an end run around the Constitution’s requirement that treaties be ratified by Congress downplayed the problem. Rather than merely ignoring Congress, the administration will be taking the issue to the United Nations where Security Council votes could not only dismantle the international sanctions imposed on Iran but also impose legal obligations on the United States that might well be binding. In doing so the president is not only displaying contempt for Congress, he’s realizing the worst fears of those who worry about the UN impinging on American sovereignty and the Constitution.

It’s important to clarify what is at stake in this argument about whether Congress should vote on an Iran deal. The administration claims that Congress’s only role in the process would be to eventually vote to eliminate sanctions on Iran if it is deemed in compliance with any arrangement agreed to by the president. Some go even further. Think tank scholar Jeffrey Lewis, who has argued that a bad nuclear deal with Iran that allowed it to become a threshold nuclear power and perhaps eventually a possessor of a weapon is better than no deal at all, told the Daily Beast that “Congress is inventing a role for itself that it doesn’t have” and that the fuss about the UN’s role is just the province of those with “extremist views” about sovereignty.

Lewis is proof that ignorance of the Constitution is no bar to attaining eminence as an “expert” about this issue. Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the founding document of our republic is actually quite clear about the “invented” role of the Congress in this business:

[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur…

The administration may claim the Iran deal is not a treaty but something else–but that is sheer sophistry, especially given the importance of the issue. Lest there be any doubt about the authority of the executive to act on its own without the advice and consent of the Senate, The Federalist Papers, written by the authors of the document, explain the issue. In Federalist No. 75 written by Alexander Hamilton, the issue is made clear. The Founders believed that it was not wise to let treaties be solely the business of the legislative branch but neither should the president be left on his own to make deals with foreign powers without being held accountable:

However proper or safe it may be in governments where the executive magistrate is an hereditary monarch, to commit to him the entire power of making treaties, it would be utterly unsafe and improper to intrust that power to an elective magistrate of four years’ duration.

This is very much to the point for a president who believes he can override the will of Congress by using executive orders to legislate or to order that laws may not be enforced on immigration. President Obama is not a monarch but an “elective magistrate” whose powers derive from and are constrained by the Constitution that he is sworn to uphold in his oath of office.

But how much more egregious is an action that not only seeks to marginalize or ignore Congress but which empowers international bodies with no accountability to the American people or their Constitution and laws to override the will of the legislature? You don’t have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist that fears that the United Nations will soon rule in place of the U.S. government to see the problem here. As Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith explains at the Lawfare blog, the decision to use the UN Security Council as the engine for the dismantling of sanctions prior to any vote in Congress on an Iran deal “transforms a non-binding agreement with Iran into a binding obligation under international law.”

Seeking approval of the United Nations rather than that of Congress for an agreement with Iran isn’t merely the act of a partisan who fears that a Republican-controlled Senate will disagree with him. It is a rank act of disrespect for the Constitution and is of a piece with Obama’s theory of government in which the president (so long as his name is Obama) may govern on his own without the restraints the law and our political traditions have imposed on all of his predecessors.

Under these circumstances, all the arguments, pro and con, about the merits or the political utility of the letter by the 47 Senate Republicans are rendered irrelevant. The president has done everything possible to make Iran a partisan issue in which Democrats will feel obligated to support him regardless of their personal convictions about his push for détente with the Islamist regime or the way this endangers Israel and America’s moderate Arab allies. But his decision to go to the UN rather than Congress transforms this from a partisan football to a matter on which all Senators, regardless of party, need to step up and make it clear that they will not let the president trash the Constitution in order to get his way on Iran. Congress must be allowed an up-or-down vote on the Iran deal before it is put into effect. Not the UN.

Read Less

Calling a Bad Iran Deal By Its Right Name

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and condemned the letter signed by 47 Republican senators warning that any agreement with Iran that was not ratified by Congress would not be legally binding. But despite all of the secretary’s huffing and puffing that was cheered and echoed in the mainstream liberal press, his statement in which he conceded that the deal would not be legally binding confirmed the truth of what the letter asserted. Yet the arguments about the Senate letter and even the brazen plans of the administration to refuse to submit any nuclear agreement with Iran to Congress for ratification have sidelined the necessary debate that we are not currently having about the merits of Kerry’s efforts. Fortunately, Foreign Policy has now published a piece that is a good deal more honest about the administration’s efforts than Kerry or President Obama has been. Jeffrey Lewis writes to say that contrary to the assertions of the secretary and the president, a “bad deal with Iran is better than no deal at all.” Though he’s dead wrong, this is exactly the discussion we should be having about Iran right now.

Read More

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and condemned the letter signed by 47 Republican senators warning that any agreement with Iran that was not ratified by Congress would not be legally binding. But despite all of the secretary’s huffing and puffing that was cheered and echoed in the mainstream liberal press, his statement in which he conceded that the deal would not be legally binding confirmed the truth of what the letter asserted. Yet the arguments about the Senate letter and even the brazen plans of the administration to refuse to submit any nuclear agreement with Iran to Congress for ratification have sidelined the necessary debate that we are not currently having about the merits of Kerry’s efforts. Fortunately, Foreign Policy has now published a piece that is a good deal more honest about the administration’s efforts than Kerry or President Obama has been. Jeffrey Lewis writes to say that contrary to the assertions of the secretary and the president, a “bad deal with Iran is better than no deal at all.” Though he’s dead wrong, this is exactly the discussion we should be having about Iran right now.

Throughout the last two years of negotiations with Iran, both Obama and Kerry have specified that they will walk away from the talks rather than sign a bad deal that won’t accomplish America’s goal of stopping the Islamist regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Considering that they have extended the current talks with Iran three times after deadlines expired as Iran refused to make concessions shows this promise to be nothing more than rhetoric. But their hypocrisy nevertheless pays tribute to what they understand to be the imperatives of U.S. security policy. Even though the president is clearly intent on not only signing a deal at any cost but also using it as a springboard for a new era of détente with Iran, he understands that open advocacy of appeasement is not something the American public will tolerate. So they are obligated to treat the endless series of concessions and retreats from U.S. security principles as actually great victories for the cause of non-proliferation even if these are transparent deceptions.

This is, after all, the same President Barack Obama who promised in his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney that any deal struck with Iran would obligate the regime to close down its nuclear program. But in the subsequent two years, he has not only recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium but also demonstrated a willingness to let it keep thousands of centrifuges and even offered to sunset any restrictions on their efforts after a decade. Given the lack of transparency about Iran’s current efforts and the dynamic of any such deal in which the U.S. and its allies will be doing everything to pretend that the agreement is a success, not only will Iran be able to cheat its way to a bomb; it may also be able to get one even by complying with the deal.

That is, by virtually any diplomatic definition, a bad deal in that it will mean that Iran must immediately be considered a threshold nuclear power and that its possession of what even the president called a “game changing” weapon is inevitable. That will immeasurably aid Tehran’s quest for regional hegemony and give its terrorist auxiliaries (Hezbollah) and allies (Hamas) even more confidence to continue attacks on Israel. It will also destabilize moderate Arab countries that must, as Saudi Arabia has demonstrated, look to get their own nuclear program to defend themselves.

But Lewis is not constrained by the same political boundaries that require Obama, Kerry, and their apologists to pretend that what is happening will be a good deal.

Lewis admits that the deal is bad by the criteria the administration has established. The deal will not end the danger Iran poses to its neighbors. At best, it will slow down Iran’s progress toward a bomb, not eliminate or foreclose such a possibility as we’ve been told. But he says that such a bad deal will be preferable to walking away from the talks because the West has neither the will nor the ability to stop Iran by means short of war. He wrongly mocks the Senate Republicans for their criticism by saying that they have no definition of what a good deal would be. Even worse, he blames North Korea’s march to a bomb as being somehow the fault of the Bush administration for its belated efforts to get tough with Pyongyang.

He’s right that the Bush administration failed miserably with respect to North Korea as it first depended on diplomacy and concessions to end the threat and then watched different tactics also fail. But the problem didn’t start with Bush. Instead, it began earlier when Obama’s current chief negotiator with Iran, Wendy Sherman, was crafting another bad deal with North Korea while working in the Clinton administration. The moment the West started making concessions to the West and bribing the North Koreans to stop working toward a bomb, the mad Communist dictatorship knew it had won.

The same test applies to the current negotiations.

In classic Obama administration style, Lewis offers us false choices about Iran saying the choice is between a bad deal that might retard their progress and walking away which will mean an Iranian race to a bomb. To the contrary, what the Obama administration could have done—and could still do if it had the wisdom and the guts—was to pursue the policy that led Iran to return to the talks in 2013. Tough sanctions (that the Obama administration opposed when Congress debated them) should have been kept in place and then strengthened. With oil prices declining, Iran’s economy might be brought to its knees. U.S. leadership might have imposed a true economic blockade of Iran that could have weakened the Islamist leadership to the point where it might have given up its nuclear toys. That could still happen even though every passing year that Obama has wasted in his vain pursuit of an entente with a regime that despises the West and seeks only regional hegemony makes such a result harder to achieve.

Appeasement of Iran will not slow its path to a nuclear weapon; it will merely guarantee what the president repeatedly vowed would never happen becomes a reality.

But at least Lewis is telling us what we are getting as a result of Kerry’s diplomacy: a bad deal. Congress should oppose it and insist that it be given a chance to vote on this disaster in the making.

Read Less

The Iran Letter and the Distraction Game

If the umbrage being expressed by the Obama administration and its press cheering section this week seems familiar, it should. Their response to the letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leaders is straight out of the same playbook they used when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited to address Congress. Instead of trying to defend a negotiating strategy based on appeasement of the Islamist regime, they are choosing to attack on the spurious grounds that the letter, like the speech, is a breach of protocol and an attempt to undermine President Obama’s diplomatic efforts. While not everyone on the left is going as far as the New York Daily News’s headline that branded the signers as “traitors,” the senators are being blamed, as was Netanyahu, for injecting partisanship into U.S. foreign policy and for attempting to undermine the president’s efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the problem about Iranian nukes. As I wrote yesterday, this is nonsense. But it is worth asking whether the letter will make it harder to gain bipartisan support for congressional efforts to hold the president accountable.

Read More

If the umbrage being expressed by the Obama administration and its press cheering section this week seems familiar, it should. Their response to the letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leaders is straight out of the same playbook they used when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited to address Congress. Instead of trying to defend a negotiating strategy based on appeasement of the Islamist regime, they are choosing to attack on the spurious grounds that the letter, like the speech, is a breach of protocol and an attempt to undermine President Obama’s diplomatic efforts. While not everyone on the left is going as far as the New York Daily News’s headline that branded the signers as “traitors,” the senators are being blamed, as was Netanyahu, for injecting partisanship into U.S. foreign policy and for attempting to undermine the president’s efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the problem about Iranian nukes. As I wrote yesterday, this is nonsense. But it is worth asking whether the letter will make it harder to gain bipartisan support for congressional efforts to hold the president accountable.

That’s the criticism being expressed by the Wall Street Journal editorial page today. The Journal argues that the letter is a distraction from the effort to persuade the American people that Obama’s Iran policy is a mistake. It also raises the very real possibility that this gesture will make it harder to get enough Democratic votes to pass a the Corker-Menendez bill requiring the president to submit any deal with Iran to Congress for approval. Given the huffing and puffing about the letter from Senate Democrats who purport to be critics of the president’s policy, there’s room to argue that it may have done more harm than good. The Journal is right when it asserts that amassing a veto-proof majority for both that bill and the Kirk-Menendez bill promising more sanctions against Iran in the event that diplomacy fails is the goal; not merely scoring rhetorical points at the president’s expense.

But at this point, with the clock ticking down toward the March 24 deadline for the end of the talks with Iran, it’s time for Democrats who are aware of the danger of the president’s policies to stop being spooked by specious arguments and stick to the real issue. That’s especially true when one considers the very real possibility that, as Politico reports, the same Democrats who said they would not support a vote on either Corker-Menendez or Kirk-Menendez until March 24 are now contemplating giving the president more time to negotiate with Iran if he chooses to let the talks drag on after that date.

Iran has been suckering the West for over a decade with talks that drag on indefinitely, enabling them to get closer to their nuclear goal. But if the president grants the talks a third overtime period after March despite his original promise that negotiations would not continue after July 2014, then Democrats who are serious about holding him to account for pushing for détente with the Islamist regime will have a clear choice before them. If Iran does not agree to the president’s weak proposal that will make it a threshold nuclear power now and possibly give them the chance to get to a weapon even if they comply with Obama’s terms, then the Senate must then vote on both sanctions and the demand that the president submit any potential deal to Congress for approval.

Just as Netanyahu’s speech did not constitute a logical excuse for support or at least acquiescence to a policy of appeasement of Iran, neither does the Senate letter. There is also some irony here that those who are complaining about partisanship are indifferent to the White House statement that compared approximately half the U.S. Senate to Islamist terrorists. The talk about treason or the farcical notion that the letter constituted a violation of the Logan Act which forbids U.S. citizens form negotiating with a foreign government is also just more evidence that it is the Democrats who are the partisans here. Dissent from Obama is not treason. It’s called democracy.

From the start of the debate about Iran, it is the White House that has done its best to play the party card to force even those Democrats who know that the president’s push for détente with Tehran is wrong to get into line behind him. Moreover, the point of the letter is a principle that even those supporting the president’s policies ought to support: the right of Congress to an up or down vote on any agreement the administration concludes with Iran.

The letter, which was spearheaded by freshman Senator Tom Cotton, rightly points out to the Iranians that if a deal is not ratified by Congress, President Obama’s successor will be within his or her rights to revoke it. Though no one disputes that this is true, some of the president’s supporters are treating this possibility as unprecedented when it comes to foreign affairs. But this, too, is nonsense since Obama behaved in exactly the same fashion when it came to some of President Bush’s policies.

One in particular that bears remembering was the Bush administration’s understanding with Israel regarding the West Bank settlement blocs near the 1967 borders. Israel agreed to withdraw from all of Gaza and part of the West Bank in 2005. In exchange, President George W. Bush sent Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a letter stating that it “was unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.” That was a clear U.S. approval for Israel’s right to hold onto some territory that came into its possession in June 1967. Yet President Obama had no compunction about throwing this understanding into the waste bin of history once he took office.

If, as he has stated that he will, the president chooses to bypass Congress, his Iran agreement won’t have the force of law behind it any more than that letter from Bush to Sharon. As such, he and his supporters are in no position to cry foul about his appeasement of Iran being treated in the same manner.

The letter may be a distraction, but perhaps it was a necessary one since it serves to remind Americans as well as Iran that the issue here is as much the rule of law as it is nuclear appeasement. It’s time for Democrats who say they care about stopping Iran to stop responding to the White House’s tricks and start acting as if they mean what they say about holding him accountable on this momentous issue.

Read Less

Iran and the Perils of One-Man Rule

The letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leadership is provoking predictable cries of outrage from liberals and Democrats. Obama administration supporters are decrying the missive as a blatant attempt to sabotage U.S. diplomatic efforts to end the standoff over Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. By warning Tehran that any deal approved by President Obama may be revoked by his successor after January 2017, the GOP caucus is opening itself up to charges of extending partisan warfare to foreign policy. But the letter, intended as much as a shot fired over the bow of the president as it was a lesson in the U.S. Constitution for the ayatollahs, made an important point. No matter what you think about the administration’s blatant push for détente with the Islamist regime, the president’s plans to craft an agreement that will not be submitted to Congress for approval means the senators are correct about its status in law. More importantly, they are highlighting an issue that transcends the nuclear question, even though that is a matter of life and death. A president that seeks to ignore the constitutional separation of powers cannot complain when his critics point out that his fiats cannot be expected to stand the test of time.

Read More

The letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leadership is provoking predictable cries of outrage from liberals and Democrats. Obama administration supporters are decrying the missive as a blatant attempt to sabotage U.S. diplomatic efforts to end the standoff over Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. By warning Tehran that any deal approved by President Obama may be revoked by his successor after January 2017, the GOP caucus is opening itself up to charges of extending partisan warfare to foreign policy. But the letter, intended as much as a shot fired over the bow of the president as it was a lesson in the U.S. Constitution for the ayatollahs, made an important point. No matter what you think about the administration’s blatant push for détente with the Islamist regime, the president’s plans to craft an agreement that will not be submitted to Congress for approval means the senators are correct about its status in law. More importantly, they are highlighting an issue that transcends the nuclear question, even though that is a matter of life and death. A president that seeks to ignore the constitutional separation of powers cannot complain when his critics point out that his fiats cannot be expected to stand the test of time.

The impact of the letter on the Iranians is a matter of speculation. The Islamist regime needs no instructions from Republicans about how to protect their interests as they’ve been successfully stringing along Western governments for more than a decade in nuclear negotiations. In particular, they have scored a series of diplomatic triumphs at the expense of the United States as President Obama has abandoned his past insistence that Iran give up its nuclear program and instead offered concession after concession to the point where the deal that is being offered to the regime is one that will let them keep their infrastructure and will “sunset” restrictions on it. If they truly intend to take advantage of this craven retreat by the putative leader of the free world as opposed to more prevarication until the clock runs out on their march to a weapon, then nothing his Republican opponents say are likely to scare them out of it.

Moreover, the Iranians may believe that the same dynamic that has worked in their favor during the course of the negotiations may similarly ease their fears once such a bad deal is in place. Even a Republican president who has campaigned against appeasement of Iran and understands the dangers of an agreement that will make it possible for Iran to get a bomb either by cheating or, even worse, by abiding by its terms, will be hard-pressed to reverse it. America’s allies will fight tooth and nail against re-imposition of sanctions on an Iran that they want to do business with no matter what that terror-supporting regime is cooking up.

The campaign against reversal will also center on the straw-man arguments used by the president and his apologists to bolster their effort to appease Iran. We will be told that the only alternative to a deal that allows Iran to become a threshold nuclear power is war and not the return to tough sanctions and hard-headed diplomacy that President Obama jettisoned in his zeal for a deal.

But by planning to bypass Congress and treat his pact with Iran as merely an executive decision over which the legislative branch has no say, the president is steering into uncharted waters. Like his executive orders giving amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants that usurp the power of Congress to alter laws governing this issue, a nuclear deal that is not ratified by the Senate, as all treaties must be, can be treated as a presidential whim that is not binding on his successors. If it can be put into effect with only the stroke of a pen, it can just as easily be undone by a similar stroke from another president.

The difficulty of undertaking such a revision should not be underestimated. No president will lightly reverse a foreign-policy decision with such serious implications lightly. That is why an agreement that grants Western approval to Iran’s nuclear ambitions is so dangerous. That it is part of a comprehensive approach to Iran that, despite last week’s disclaimers issued by Secretary of State John Kerry, indicates that the U.S. is prepared to accept the regime’s efforts to achieve regional hegemony makes it even more perilous. Congress needs to act soon to both impose tougher sanctions on Iran and to ensure that any deal must be submitted to it for approval.

But Iran still had to be put on notice that a deal that is not approved by Congress can and should be reversed by the next president. One-man rule may make sense in Tehran, but not here. This is not a question of partisanship but a defense of both the Constitution and the security of the nation. The Iranians should know that this deal is unpopular and will have no legitimacy without congressional ratification. Rather than sabotaging diplomacy, the letter is necessary pressure on the president to remember his oath to preserve the Constitution rather than to recklessly risk the country’s safety on Iranian détente.

Read Less

Appearances and the Menendez Case

On Friday the Justice Department decided to leak to the press that an indictment of Senator Robert Menendez on corruption charges was imminent. While the ongoing investigation of the New Jersey Democrat, the most important critic of President Obama’s foreign policy, was no secret, the timing of the announcement raised more than a few eyebrows. Coming as it did the same week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Congress about Iran, an issue on which there has been heated disagreement between Menendez and the president, the willingness of the government to go public with its plans to seek to put the senator on trial gives the prosecution the air of a political vendetta. But would such an accusation, which would make the president appear more like a banana-republic dictator than the leader of the free world, be fair? Not entirely. The case involves the sort of cozy cronyism that makes both liberals and conservatives queasy. It also reflects the somewhat loose political morals of the Garden State. But in addition to that, the decision to try to nail Menendez may tell us more about the way out-of-control federal prosecutors act than it does about an Obama administration that likes to punish its enemies as much as any of its predecessors.

Read More

On Friday the Justice Department decided to leak to the press that an indictment of Senator Robert Menendez on corruption charges was imminent. While the ongoing investigation of the New Jersey Democrat, the most important critic of President Obama’s foreign policy, was no secret, the timing of the announcement raised more than a few eyebrows. Coming as it did the same week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Congress about Iran, an issue on which there has been heated disagreement between Menendez and the president, the willingness of the government to go public with its plans to seek to put the senator on trial gives the prosecution the air of a political vendetta. But would such an accusation, which would make the president appear more like a banana-republic dictator than the leader of the free world, be fair? Not entirely. The case involves the sort of cozy cronyism that makes both liberals and conservatives queasy. It also reflects the somewhat loose political morals of the Garden State. But in addition to that, the decision to try to nail Menendez may tell us more about the way out-of-control federal prosecutors act than it does about an Obama administration that likes to punish its enemies as much as any of its predecessors.

Over the weekend the New York Sun discussed the rather suspicious nature of the timing of the plans to indict Menendez. The juxtaposition of the announcement about hauling the senator into court not long after Menendez publicly stood up and challenged the president at a Democratic retreat gives the affair the stench of payback.

But it should be noted that the investigation of Menendez’s dealings with Dr. Salomon Melgen, a wealthy contributor and longtime friend of the senator, preceded the current argument. Indeed, it started even the first clashes between the administration and Menendez over sanctions on Iran that Obama opposed (but now brags about having implemented). Even if the president is quite pleased with the senator’s current predicament, he probably didn’t initiate the investigation or direct it. Indeed, the decision on the part of prosecutors to seek an indictment now, just as Menendez’s disagreements with the president on Iran and Cuba have made headlines, may be a function of the expiration of the statute of limitations on his alleged crimes rather than a presidential order to take down a political enemy. Given that he is from New Jersey rather than some farm state, many will simply assume that as the senator from Tony Soprano’s home, he has to be guilty of corruption.

But as the Sun points out, the Justice Department has a less-than-stellar record when it comes to investigations of sitting politicians. That’s not just because of the example of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens who was hounded out of office by prosecutors who secured his conviction by misconduct that eventually led to the entire case being thrown out. But the senator had already been defeated for reelection and died in a plane crash before he was vindicated.

Even worse, the efforts by the government to obtain Menendez’s emails, a potential violation of Congress’s impunity on matters of speech and debate, are deeply troubling. So far the federal courts have opposed that fishing expedition as a breach of the Constitution’s protection of Congress against the executive.

Some will see that as a hazy point of law. But it is no hazier than the question of what divides normal constituency service on the part of a representative or senator from actual corruption. So long as we give Congress such enormous powers to intervene in economic matters, any action by anyone in the House or Senate is open to suspicion. Even if you don’t like the smell of Menendez’s relationship with Melgen, it is puzzling why this has earned the senator so much attention from the Justice Department while other dealings by his colleagues are no more or less suspicious.

As with so many other federal cases brought against prominent persons, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the only reason this affair may go to trial is the lust of U.S. attorneys for the scalps of celebrities. Once these legal monarchs have the bit between their teeth, they rarely let go and continue probing the lives of the objects of their fascination until they find something, anything, on which they can procure an indictment, no matter how fuzzy the law or unclear the facts about the alleged crime may be. And prosecutors use their ability to manipulate the press to aid their campaigns. All sorts of allegations have been leaked about Menendez in recent years though much of it, including some scurrilous charges about sexual misconduct, has shown to be false or least unproven. The fact that he has been an exemplary senator and an eloquent voice on foreign policy doesn’t place Menendez above the law. But neither should his prominence subject him to unreasonable prosecutions.

It’s hard to know what to think about the case against Menendez because our assumptions about New Jersey politics seem to override the presumption of innocence due any person in this situation. But when you throw in the obvious desire of the administration to discredit its most courageous foe on foreign policy, it’s difficult to view this dispassionately. Misconduct should be punished but so should prosecutorial overreach and the use of the Justice Department for political ends. Just as legislators should avoid the appearance of corruption, so, too, should prosecutors and their political bosses.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest

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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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