Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran sanctions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Can Congress Wait to Act on Iran?

The wisdom of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to fast track legislation requiring the administration to submit any nuclear deal with Iran to Congress for approval may depend on how seriously you take the noise coming out of the nuclear talks that an agreement may soon be reached. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told NBC News yesterday that the countries were “very close” to a deal. At the same time, a “senior State Department official” said an “understanding” with Iran about the outlines of a deal by the end of the month was the goal of the talks. Both statements make it clear that the administration is expecting that it will have something it can tout as a success. If true, that puts both McConnell and Senate Democrats in an interesting position until the March 24 date for the negotiations to conclude. If, as they have promised, Democrats will filibuster votes on the bills requiring Congressional approval and the imposition of harsher sanctions on Iran, until then, they may be facilitating the outcome they oppose. But if McConnell pushes too hard on the issue now, he may be ruining the chances of a bipartisan veto-proof majority for these measures after the deadline.

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The wisdom of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to fast track legislation requiring the administration to submit any nuclear deal with Iran to Congress for approval may depend on how seriously you take the noise coming out of the nuclear talks that an agreement may soon be reached. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told NBC News yesterday that the countries were “very close” to a deal. At the same time, a “senior State Department official” said an “understanding” with Iran about the outlines of a deal by the end of the month was the goal of the talks. Both statements make it clear that the administration is expecting that it will have something it can tout as a success. If true, that puts both McConnell and Senate Democrats in an interesting position until the March 24 date for the negotiations to conclude. If, as they have promised, Democrats will filibuster votes on the bills requiring Congressional approval and the imposition of harsher sanctions on Iran, until then, they may be facilitating the outcome they oppose. But if McConnell pushes too hard on the issue now, he may be ruining the chances of a bipartisan veto-proof majority for these measures after the deadline.

McConnell is taking plenty of flak for deciding to use Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress about the threat from Iran to push forward the legislation proposed by Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Bob Menendez for a quick vote. That’s because weeks ago Menendez and other Democrats publicly told the White House they would hold off on their plans to push for any legislation on Iran until after the March 24 deadline for the end of the current round of talks expired. That concession came in the wake of the furor over the announcement of Netanyahu’s speech that was treated by Democrats as an insult to President Obama hatched by Republicans and the Israeli government.

However, this willingness to wait a few weeks was not a sign that Menendez was any less interested in opposing the president’s appeasement of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Menendez has been among the fiercest advocates of a tougher stance on Iran in the Congress. But McConnell’s move embarrassed him and other Democrats who were trying not to burn their bridges to the White House in spite of the disagreement. Indeed, even some Republican supporters of the anti-Iran bills worried that the majority leader was endangering the chances of maintaining the bipartisan coalition that backs these measures. As Senator Lindsey Graham noted, anything that lessened the chances that large numbers of Democrats will eventually vote for the two bills may be a mistake.

That’s the same reason so many in the pro-Israel community have worried about the way the administration has shamelessly manipulated a controversy over the Netanyahu speech that the White House did so much to promote and exacerbate. Until the announcement of the speech, The Corker-Menendez and the Kirk-Menendez bills seemed to have at least a fighting chance of veto-proof majorities. But the ability of the White House to manipulate the false issues of a breach of protocol and the supposed “insult” to President Obama from the speech, that enabled the administration to pick off wavering Democrats from the ranks of sanctions supporters.

The smart play would seem to be for McConnell to wait until March 24 and then bring both bills to the floor in the hope that a large number of Democrats will buck the president and give Congress the right to a say about an Iran deal.

But the urgency about stopping the rush to détente with Tehran isn’t just a function of McConnell’s desire to wrong-foot the president as the clock winds down until March 24. It is entirely possible that by then a deal or at least an “understanding” with Iran will be in place making it even easier for the president to persuade Democrats not to support measures intended to limit the impact of an agreement with Iran.

As Netanyahu rightly pointed out in his speech, the stakes here couldn’t be greater and have little or nothing to do with the feud between the prime minister and the president. A nuclear deal that leaves Iran in possession of all of its nuclear infrastructure including thousands of centrifuges and which hinges on a Western belief that a relatively short “breakout” period to a bomb is enough of a deterrent to prevent the Islamist regime from building a weapon is a disaster for the security of the West, moderate Arab states and Israel. If, as even President Obama hinted, the deal will include a sunset clause that will end sanctions and any restrictions at some point, then what is happening is not so much a Western seal of approval on Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state but a deferred acquiescence to it getting a bomb.

That makes it imperative that the terms of the deal be debated by Congress and subjected to an up or down vote. Passing such a bill after Iran signs will be harder so its easy to understand why McConnell wants one now. But that may be a terrible mistake.

Although time is a factor here, the only chance to do something to check the president or at least to hold him accountable is to get 67 votes in place in favor of the two Iran bills. That will require considerable Democratic support. Though some of the Democrats who made the promise to Obama may be wavering, Menendez deserves some deference from McConnell. Without his help, the bipartisan majority on Iran will collapse. After all, even if a deal is made with Iran, that won’t be the end of the debate. President Obama doesn’t need any help from Republicans that will make it easier for him to avoid being called to account.

Worries about diplomacy outstripping the ability of Congress to pass laws designed to impede the president’s reckless disregard for the truth about Iran are real. But rushing these bills won’t solve the problem. Counting on Iran doing what Obama wants it to do may not be a safe bet meaning that the need for action on March 24 may be just as if not greater than it is today. The American public is also likely to be supportive of any effort to restrain Obama on Iran. The bogus claims about the Netanyahu speech notwithstanding, Congressional leaders need to avoid taking actions that will make it harder for Democrats to back legislation seeking to slow the rush to appeasement.

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Questioning Obama on Nuclear Iran Is Not Partisanship

After weeks of the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat being discussed almost exclusively from the frame of reference of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s alleged partisan plotting with House Speaker John Boehner, the speech he gave today may have provided something of a shock to many of those observing it. Netanyahu went out of his way to pay tribute to President Obama’s record of support for Israel (while pointedly ignoring the equally numerous instances in which he has sought to undermine its government and tilt the diplomatic playing field against it) and to celebrate the tradition of bipartisan backing for the Jewish state. More to the point, he eloquently laid out the flaws in the nuclear deal being negotiated by the administration with Iran. But in response, all the administration and its apologists in Congress (many of whom petulantly boycotted the speech) were able to muster as a response was to repeat the same talking points they’ve been using about the speech being partisan. But while they’re right that Netanyahu was criticizing an administration policy, there’s a different between dissent and partisanship.

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After weeks of the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat being discussed almost exclusively from the frame of reference of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s alleged partisan plotting with House Speaker John Boehner, the speech he gave today may have provided something of a shock to many of those observing it. Netanyahu went out of his way to pay tribute to President Obama’s record of support for Israel (while pointedly ignoring the equally numerous instances in which he has sought to undermine its government and tilt the diplomatic playing field against it) and to celebrate the tradition of bipartisan backing for the Jewish state. More to the point, he eloquently laid out the flaws in the nuclear deal being negotiated by the administration with Iran. But in response, all the administration and its apologists in Congress (many of whom petulantly boycotted the speech) were able to muster as a response was to repeat the same talking points they’ve been using about the speech being partisan. But while they’re right that Netanyahu was criticizing an administration policy, there’s a different between dissent and partisanship.

As I wrote earlier, Netanyahu did a masterful job of laying out the basic flaws in a policy based on trusting in the ability of a tyrannical, terror-supporting anti-Semitic regime that seeks regional hegemony to reform itself and, in the president’s naïve phrase, “get right with the world.” President Obama campaigned in 2012 promising that any deal with Iran would ensure the end of its nuclear program. Once reelected, he embarked on secret talks that ensured that it would be able to keep its nuclear infrastructure and eventually be able to build a bomb after a relatively brief “breakout” period. The latest twist in the talks, revealed not by an Israeli “betrayal” but administration leaks, is that the administration is begging Iran to sign an agreement that will let it keep thousands of centrifuges and be given a sunset clause on sanctions that will eventually allow it to build a bomb even if it observes the terms of the deal, something that history tells us is more a fantasy than a policy.

Nor did Netanyahu fail to offer an alternative as critics claimed since he pointed out that a return to the pre-2013 policy of inflicting tough sanctions and isolation that Obama precipitately abandoned offers the only chance of ending the nuclear peril short of war.

These are deeply serious arguments that require answers and ought to persuade thinking Republicans and Democrats to back the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill that would strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks while also requiring it to submit any deal to Congress for approval.

But instead of answering these cogent arguments, all we heard from Democrats that boycotted the speech or administration sources was more of what they’ve been telling us since January about Netanyahu plotting with the Republicans or insulting the president. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi even went so far as to claim it was “an insult to the intelligence of the United States,” a charge that might better be hurled at a president intent on building détente with Iran while pretending to be working against nuclear proliferation.

But let’s give them the respect they weren’t prepared to accord Netanyahu and try to unpack the charge of partisanship.

Let’s start by conceding that the invitation from House Speaker John Boehner was an end run around the administration and was bound to ruffle feathers. But the much-publicized umbrage about the alleged breach in protocol was entirely disingenuous. The White House’s anger had nothing to do with partisanship and everything to do with discomfort with the prospect of the Israeli leader weighing in on behalf of a sanctions bill that already looked to have a chance at a veto-proof majority in both the House and the Senate.

Support for that bill was a bipartisan affair with the most vocal advocate being Democratic Senator Robert Menendez who publicly challenged Obama to his face on the issue for claiming that the only reason members were backing it was to please donors (a dog whistle for Jews). But the president used the opening that Boehner and Netanyahu provided him to falsely claim the entire issue was a partisan plot against his presidency. Some in the Congressional Black Caucus even went so far as to assert that it was a racist insult against the first African-American president.

We heard more of the same today from Democrats eager to avoid discussing the facts about the Iran negotiations and the nuclear threat.

But let’s be clear here. There is a difference between questioning a president’s policies and taking sides in an ongoing partisan war between Republicans and Democrats. The scores of Democrats like Menendez that believe the president is leading us in the wrong direction on Iran aren’t doing the bidding of Boehner or the Republican National Committee. They are simply demanding that the president do the right while sticking to the promises he made when they were working to reelect him.

We can’t blame the president for not liking Netanyahu’s speech. Being confronted with the truth isn’t pleasant when what you want is to avoid a debate about the issue altogether. But while Obama deserves the respect due to anyone in that high office, dissent from our Dear Leader’s point of view is not the same thing as partisanship. Opposition to Iran’s nuclear dreams wasn’t any more of a partisan issue than support for Israel has been–until, that is, Barack Obama and his obedient cheering section made it one. If anyone deserves blame for injecting that virus into this discussion it is the president.

Those who want to stick to this line of argument aren’t making a point about defending the bipartisan coalition for Israel. They are seeking to help Obama avoid discussing the reality of an Iran appeasement policy.

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Bibi’s Triumph Puts Obama on the Defensive

If President Obama was hoping that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would lay an egg with his much-anticipated and controversial speech to a joint session of Congress, he was gravely disappointed. Netanyahu’s address was a triumph that put the administration on the defensive over its reckless pursuit of détente with Iran. But though the administration’s apologists are willing to admit that Netanyahu won on style points, they are wrong when they claim he offered no alternative to a deal with Iran that abandons the president’s previously stated principles about forcing the Islamist regime to abandon their nuclear ambitions. To the contrary, Netanyahu’s speech was more than stirring rhetoric. It laid out clear benchmarks for what must be achieved in any deal and pointed the way toward a return to tough sanctions and equally tough negotiating tactics. In doing so, he put the administration on the defensive and, no matter what happens in the talks, forces it to explain an indefensible deal and reminded Congress that it has a responsibility to weigh in on the issue to ensure the nation’s security.

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If President Obama was hoping that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would lay an egg with his much-anticipated and controversial speech to a joint session of Congress, he was gravely disappointed. Netanyahu’s address was a triumph that put the administration on the defensive over its reckless pursuit of détente with Iran. But though the administration’s apologists are willing to admit that Netanyahu won on style points, they are wrong when they claim he offered no alternative to a deal with Iran that abandons the president’s previously stated principles about forcing the Islamist regime to abandon their nuclear ambitions. To the contrary, Netanyahu’s speech was more than stirring rhetoric. It laid out clear benchmarks for what must be achieved in any deal and pointed the way toward a return to tough sanctions and equally tough negotiating tactics. In doing so, he put the administration on the defensive and, no matter what happens in the talks, forces it to explain an indefensible deal and reminded Congress that it has a responsibility to weigh in on the issue to ensure the nation’s security.

What had to most frustrate the White House was Netanyahu’s ability to debunk their main talking point about the speech. After weeks of hyping the address as an injection of partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship, the prime minister’s willingness to give the president his due for past support of Israel and his refusal to mention the many instances in which Obama had undercut the Jewish state’s position and deliberately attempted to create more distance between the two allies made the White House’s angry reaction look petty. The prime minister’s initial decision to accept House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation gave the president the opening he needed to distract the country from his Iran policy. With the help of the president’s always helpful press cheering section, White House political operatives made Netanyahu’s supposed breach of protocol the issue rather than the appeasement of Iran. But they eventually succumbed to overkill in denouncing Netanyahu and by the time the prime minister took the podium at the Capitol, the administration’s efforts had the unintended effect of giving him a bigger audience than he might otherwise have had.

Thus, by the time the address was over, the issue was no longer whether he should have given the speech. Though the White House is doggedly trying to portray the speech as partisan, it was not. Now it is the substance of Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran’s behavior and the failure of the Western powers to negotiate a deal that would stop Iran from getting a weapon that is the subject of discussion. Which is to say that after winning news cycles at Netanyahu’s expense throughout February, the White House has set itself up to have to explain years of concessions to a dangerous regime with almost nothing to show for it in terms of making the world any safer.

At the core of the disagreement between Netanyahu and Obama on Iran is the president’s faith that Iran can or will change. Even Obama apologists no longer regard the notion that Hassan Rouhani’s election as president signaled a move toward moderation as a serious argument. Though the administration has been careful not to defend Iran’s past and present behavior, by eloquently laying out the Islamist regime’s record of terrorism and aggression, it put the onus on the president to explain why he thinks that over the course of the next decade, Iran is going to, “get right with the world,” as he has said.

Equally important, the speech forces the president to defend the substance of the deal he is desperately trying to entice the Iranians to sign. Netanyahu reminded the world what has happened since Obama’s pledge during his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney that any deal with Iran would force it to give up its nuclear program. Since then, the administration has not only recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium but also agreed to let them keep several thousand centrifuges and the rest of their nuclear infrastructure.

As Netanyahu pointed out, even if they abide by the terms of the deal—something about which reasonable people are doubtful given their past record of cheating and unwillingness to open their country to United Nations inspectors—the ten-year sunset clause Obama mentioned in interviews yesterday gives the regime the ability to eventually build a nuclear weapon. Rather than stopping Iran from getting a bomb, the path that Obama has travelled ensures they will eventually get one even if the accord works. The president not only guarantees that Iran will become a threshold nuclear power but, as Netanyahu rightly argued, sets in motion a series of events that will create a new nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Did Netanyahu offer an alterative to the president’s policy? The answer is yes. The administration is right when they say Netanyahu offered nothing new, but that was the point. After belatedly adopting sanctions, the administration quickly gave up on them just at the moment in 2013 when they were starting to bite. By toughening sanctions, as the Kirk-Menendez bill currently before Congress would do, and increasing the political and economic pressure on the regime, the U.S. has a chance to reverse Obama’s concessions and bring Iran to its knees. The West must insist that Iran change its behavior before sanctions are lifted, rather than afterward. Instead of Obama and Kerry’s zeal for a deal encouraging the Iranians to make no concessions, Netanyahu was correct to remind Congress that Tehran needs a deal more than the U.S. Indeed, Netanyahu not only offered an alternative; he put forward the only one that has a chance of stopping Iran from getting a weapon without using force.

Try as they might to continue to abuse Netanyahu for a brilliant speech, the White House’s response demonstrates nothing but its intolerance for criticism and inability to defend a policy of capitulation to Iran. Rather than engage in pointless discussions about the president’s hurt feelings or Netanyahu’s chutzpah for telling the truth about the negotiations, it’s time for the press and Congress to start asking the administration tough questions about a reckless deal before it is too late.

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Have a Strategy to Stop Iran? Not Obama.

In an interview with Reuters intended as a rebuttal to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, President Obama claims that his critics are not only wrong about his negotiating strategy with Iran, but that they lack one of their own other than to declare war. The attempt to depict his critics as warmongers is a classic Obama straw man. Opponents of his policy do have an alternative: returning to the policy of pressure and sanctions that the president discarded in 2013 which offered the only way, short of the use of force, to force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. But the real fallacy here is not so much the typical administration smears of critics. It is the fact that the president has an Iran strategy at all. Having made concession after concession to Iran in the last two years, there is little reason to believe that the current negotiations will stop Iran. To the contrary, the president appears set on a path that ensures that, sooner or later, Iran will get its bomb.

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In an interview with Reuters intended as a rebuttal to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, President Obama claims that his critics are not only wrong about his negotiating strategy with Iran, but that they lack one of their own other than to declare war. The attempt to depict his critics as warmongers is a classic Obama straw man. Opponents of his policy do have an alternative: returning to the policy of pressure and sanctions that the president discarded in 2013 which offered the only way, short of the use of force, to force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. But the real fallacy here is not so much the typical administration smears of critics. It is the fact that the president has an Iran strategy at all. Having made concession after concession to Iran in the last two years, there is little reason to believe that the current negotiations will stop Iran. To the contrary, the president appears set on a path that ensures that, sooner or later, Iran will get its bomb.

Let’s examine the president’s claims.

Both the president and Secretary of State John Kerry have insisted that agreeing to let Iran keep its nuclear program—something that he specifically promised he would never do in his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney—was unavoidable. They claim that Western pressure would never have forced Iran to surrender its nukes. More than that, they assert that their concessions have enticed Iran to agree to strictures that have halted Tehran’s progress toward a bomb.

The answer to the first claim is that we don’t know if that would have worked because Obama never tried it. By abandoning sanctions just at the moment when Iran seemed to be feeling the pressure—and prior to an oil price collapse that would have made them even less capable of resisting foreign pressure—the president ensured that the Islamist regime never had to face a worst-case scenario. Instead of waiting for them to fold, he did, and the result was a nuclear deal that undid years of diplomacy aimed at building an international consensus against Iran’s right to enrich uranium.

The president and Kerry are now boasting that their interim deal hasn’t been violated by Iran and that it has stopped their progress in its tracks. But given the poor intelligence that the U.S. has about Iran and the regime’s lack of cooperation with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, this is purely a matter of conjecture and faith on the part of the president and his apologists. But even if we were to believe, in spite of Iran’s long record of cheating on nuclear issues, that somehow the interim deal was succeeding, even the president concedes that allowing them to keep their nuclear infrastructure means that Iran could always go back on its promises, re-activate the stockpile of nuclear fuel still in its possession, and “break out” to a bomb in short order.

The length of a “break out” is a key point in the president’s defense of his strategy. He told Reuters that as long as long as this period was at least a year, the U.S. would be able to detect it in time to re-impose sanctions or use force to stop them from obtaining a bomb. But this is another argument based more on faith than facts and which, even in the unlikely event it is vindicated, still makes Iran stronger and puts U.S. allies in the region as well as the West in peril.

The prediction of a year is an optimistic conjecture embraced by the president because it sounds better than the few months some others think is a more sensible estimate. The lack of credible inspections of Iran’s military research makes any predictions about the length of a breakout a guess, and not even an educated one. U.S. intelligence in Iran is negligible. Even the IAEA concedes that Iran may have extensive nuclear facilities that the West knows nothing about.

But let’s say it is a year. Given the poor state of U.S. intelligence on Iran, why would anyone believe Obama’s promise that he’ll know what’s going on in their secret facilities? This is the same president who assured us that his intelligence told him that ISIS was merely a “jayvee” terror team not worth worrying about. And even if a U.S. president did learn the truth about their plans, would Obama or a similarly weak-willed Democratic successor be ready and willing to believe the intelligence that showed a cherished diplomatic strategy had failed and be ready to re-impose sanctions, let alone order the use of force?

Obama’s commitment to the negotiations isn’t purely one of belief that it is the only way to stop Iran’s nuclear dreams. It’s a path to his dream of a new détente with Iran that will erase decades of enmity and create a new era of cooperation with that tyrannical, anti-Semitic, and terror-sponsoring regime. Why should we believe that he is ready to give up his hopes if he has already proven himself to be unconvinced by Iran’s past deceptions and prevarications? Why should any American president, even one more sensible about Iran than Obama, think that once sanctions are dismantled, our Western allies who are eager to do business with the regime would be willing to give up their profits to redeem a promise made by Obama?

Moreover, by reportedly agreeing to a sunset clause, the president has already legitimized Iran’s nuclear dreams and rendered it almost certain that the ten-year period now being mooted for the agreement will be shortened one way or the other.

The president’s critics can’t be sure that their strategy of a return to sanctions and tough pressure on Iran aimed at bringing the regime to its knees will succeed. But, despite the president’s claims, he never tried it before he prematurely abandoned pressure for appeasement. But we can be almost certain that a strategy that aims at entente with Iran is guaranteed to fail miserably. Indeed, it is not so much a recipe for failure as it is one for a completely different approach to Iran that is ready to acquiesce to their demands.

That is a position that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu does well to protest tomorrow in his speech to Congress. So should Democrats and Republicans who take their pledges to stop Iran more seriously than the president.

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Iran Stakes Bigger Than Bibi and Barack

The Obama administration sent United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power to speak to the AIPAC Conference today to assure her audience that the U.S. would not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. But though she was greeted politely, the promises rang hollow in light of the credible reports of the latest terms being offered the Iranians by President Obama. That is why, despite the misgivings of some supporters of Israel and the vocal and often vicious attacks being directed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu prior to his controversial address to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, the need to address the dangers of the current negotiations being conducted by the administration with Iran is greater than ever. Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech today didn’t succeed in defusing the controversy despite his own assurances that the argument was merely a family quarrel. To the very end, this story is being played as one of a personal rivalry between two men. There is truth to that interpretation, but it bears repeating that the stakes here are much bigger than President Obama’s resentment of the prime minister and Netanyahu’s reelection prospects. With talks involving Secretary of State Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister resuming today in Switzerland, Netanyahu’s address ought to be the starting point for a debate about the virtues of administration policy, not an occasion for analysis about whether he has damaged or politicized the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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The Obama administration sent United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power to speak to the AIPAC Conference today to assure her audience that the U.S. would not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. But though she was greeted politely, the promises rang hollow in light of the credible reports of the latest terms being offered the Iranians by President Obama. That is why, despite the misgivings of some supporters of Israel and the vocal and often vicious attacks being directed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu prior to his controversial address to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, the need to address the dangers of the current negotiations being conducted by the administration with Iran is greater than ever. Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech today didn’t succeed in defusing the controversy despite his own assurances that the argument was merely a family quarrel. To the very end, this story is being played as one of a personal rivalry between two men. There is truth to that interpretation, but it bears repeating that the stakes here are much bigger than President Obama’s resentment of the prime minister and Netanyahu’s reelection prospects. With talks involving Secretary of State Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister resuming today in Switzerland, Netanyahu’s address ought to be the starting point for a debate about the virtues of administration policy, not an occasion for analysis about whether he has damaged or politicized the U.S.-Israel alliance.

The focus on Netanyahu is understandable. By choosing to accept an invitation to speak to Congress from House Speaker John Boehner without first gaining the approval of the administration, he injected himself into a debate over an Iran sanctions bill that looked to have massive bipartisan support and perhaps even a veto-proof majority despite the fervent opposition of the White House. That decision gave the administration the opening it needed to pick off many wavering Democrats from the ranks of sanctions advocates including some who probably will not boycott Netanyahu’s speech. But once the terms being offered the Iranians were leaked in late February the debate about the speech became a mere political sideshow.

It bears remembering at this point that the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations has nothing to do with protocol or a speech many in this country perceive as having more to do with Netanyahu’s efforts to win reelection later this month. The crisis is the result of more than six years of administration efforts to distance itself from Israel on both the Palestinian issue as well as the Iran nuclear threat. By choosing to discard his 2012 campaign promises about eliminating Iran’s nuclear program and instead embracing a diplomatic effort aimed at creating détente with the Islamist regime, it is President Obama who precipitated the argument, not Netanyahu.

The question before Congress is, after all, not about U.S.-Israel relations. Rather, it is whether an administration that has already taken a step toward acquiescing to a nuclear Iran can, Power’s promises notwithstanding, take another even bigger one with the current negotiations. If, as reports indicate, the U.S. has not only already agreed to let Iran keep several thousand centrifuges but also agreed to a ten-year sunset clause that would give Tehran the ability to do as it likes after the deal expires, then what is under consideration is a fundamental re-ordering of U.S. security policy.

Allowing Iran to, in President Obama’s words, “get right with the world,” might involve the Islamist regime in efforts to fight ISIS. But it will also means that its efforts to achieve regional hegemony—a goal that the victories of its Syrian ally and the strength of Hezbollah and Hamas make possible—will also be strengthened and given the imprimatur of the United States.

Seen in that light, it is not possible to ignore Netanyahu’s warnings as mere political gamesmanship or a foolish game of one-upmanship being blamed by the two governments.

It no longer matters whether Netanyahu blundered when he stumbled into the trap Obama seems to have set for him when the speech was announced. Democrats who treat his speech and the underlying issues as a test of party loyalty are making a fundamental mistake. So, too, are any pro-Israel or Jewish groups that are trying to keep the prime minister at arm’s length right now.

After years of balancing his animus for Netanyahu against the political necessity of not undermining the U.S.-Israel alliance, Obama has finally and completely gone off the tracks with a potential Iran deal that could endanger the security of both countries. In a sense, it would be better for Israel if Netanyahu were not the face of opposition to this dangerous policy rather than Obama critics like Democratic Senator Robert Menendez. But with a dangerous deal that the president has no intention of submitting to Congress for approval perhaps only weeks away, there is no excuse for any supporter of Israel, no matter how devoted to their party, to stay away from the speech or to ignore its content.

Obama started this argument with Israel when he took office. But Congress has an obligation to act as a check on a policy that ought to alarm anyone who cares about peace in the Middle East or the survival of Israel. If Netanyahu’s speech can help focus attention back on that necessity, then it will be worth the grief it has caused.

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Obama Sabotaged AIPAC, Not Netanyahu

The AL Monitor website gained a lot of attention yesterday with a story that alleged that AIPAC was opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to a joint session of Congress next week on the Iranian nuclear threat. The conceit of the piece was that the controversy over the speech was undermining the lobby’s ability to maintain ties with both major political parties and that its leaders had pulled out the stops in private efforts to persuade Netanyahu to change his plans. In response to the article, today AIPAC officials spoke out and declared that they never opposed the speech and are, in fact, working hard to try and persuade wavering Democrats inclined to boycott the event in solidarity with President Obama’s position to show up for it. So did AL Monitor get the story wrong in a malicious attempt to undermine Netanyahu?

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The AL Monitor website gained a lot of attention yesterday with a story that alleged that AIPAC was opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to a joint session of Congress next week on the Iranian nuclear threat. The conceit of the piece was that the controversy over the speech was undermining the lobby’s ability to maintain ties with both major political parties and that its leaders had pulled out the stops in private efforts to persuade Netanyahu to change his plans. In response to the article, today AIPAC officials spoke out and declared that they never opposed the speech and are, in fact, working hard to try and persuade wavering Democrats inclined to boycott the event in solidarity with President Obama’s position to show up for it. So did AL Monitor get the story wrong in a malicious attempt to undermine Netanyahu?

Whatever the motivations of those who published the piece — and the website is quite hostile to Israel’s government — the answer is clearly no. The current dustup is obviously a disaster as far as AIPAC is concerned. But as much as Netanyahu deserves some of the blame for their dilemma, the second story was just as true. Whatever their feelings about the wisdom of the decision to go to Congress in this manner, AIPAC activists who will be descending on Washington next week aren’t in any doubt about who’s the one who is working to undermine the alliance and the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus: President Obama.

Those inclined to defend both AIPAC and Netanyahu should concede that the basic conceit of the AL Monitor article actually captured a basic truth about the lobby’s purpose and the way it operates. Contrary to the allegations that have been hurled against it by its critics and the left-wing J Street lobby, AIPAC isn’t a creature of the right or slanted toward Republicans. It backs all Israeli governments, whether led by figures of the right or those of the left. And its great achievement over the course of the last 40 years is to have created a truly bipartisan, across-the-board coalition in favor of Israel in Congress and the nation.

So it is hardly surprising that the perception that the Netanyahu speech was a plot cooked up with Republicans to embarrass or insult a Democratic president would create a problem for AIPAC. That’s the way the speech has been treated by most of the mainstream media and the incessant and increasingly bitter attacks on Netanyahu by senior figures in the Obama administration has made AIPAC’s task of smoothing the way for support for both the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions bill much more difficult.

It’s also true that, as AL Monitor gleefully reported, leading American Jews have tried to persuade Netanyahu to back off on his plans and that figures in Israel’s defense establishment — many of whom have always disliked and tried to undermine the prime minister’s stands on security issues like Iran for political motivations of their own — have been not so quiet about their dismay about his decision.

Much as those who are rightly up in arms about President Obama’s dangerous concessions to Iran in the nuclear talks are eager to hear Netanyahu, there’s no getting around the fact the speech gave the White House the opportunity to change the subject from the administration’s push for détente with Iran to that of an alleged breach of protocol and the injection of partisanship into the discussion of the issue. This was nothing more than transparent political spin but that doesn’t mean that Netanyahu and his advisers didn’t make a mistake. For weeks, even as news broke about astonishing concessions being offered Iran in the form of a sunset clause that would give Tehran carte blanche to gain a weapon after ten years, Washington has been debating Netanyahu’s chutzpah and the president’s hurt feelings instead of the negotiations or the need for more sanctions. As a result, the odds of a veto-proof majority in both Houses of Congress in favor of a sanctions bill that would have had a chance to hold the administration accountable on the issue is far less likely than it was before the announcement of the speech. That’s because the White House has been able to pick off Democrats who don’t feel comfortable taking sides with Netanyahu against Obama. Can anyone blame AIPAC officials for being frustrated about the Israeli government’s unwillingness to listen to their advice about the consequences of the speech?

But the focus on AIPAC is a sidebar to the real story here.

Though Netanyahu deserves to be criticized for walking into Obama’s trap, the only player in this drama who has consistently sought to inject partisanship or to sabotage the U.S.-Israel alliance has been the president.

It was Obama who discarded his 2012 campaign promises (repeated in his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney) about ensuring the end of Iran’s nuclear program and instead embarked on a path of appeasement whose goal is a misguided effort to make the Islamist regime a partner on a whole range of political and economic issues. The price for this entente cordial with the ayatollahs is acquiescence to their long-term nuclear ambitions as well as their plan for regional hegemony that is scaring the daylights out of America’s moderate Arab allies.

The decision to turn the Netanyahu speech into a cause célèbre was rooted in the White House’s belief that the only way to derail a new sanctions bill that already could count on massive bipartisan support was to turn Iran into a partisan football. And that’s just what the administration has done by piling on Netanyahu while disingenuously claiming to be defending the alliance.

At this point friends of Israel understand the argument about Netanyahu’s speech is now largely irrelevant. With an Iran nuclear deal that would sink any chance of stopping the Islamist regime from becoming a threshold nuclear power and eventually the owners of a bomb now perhaps only weeks away, the time has ended for recriminations about the way the invitation to Congress was handled. The only thing worth discussing now is what, if anything, Congress and the pro-Israel community can do to derail Obama’s betrayal of principle.

The number of those who boycott the speech will be a barometer of how much success the White House has had in undermining the pro-Israel consensus. Democrats who claim to be friends of the Jewish state and opposed to an Iranian nuclear weapon need to forget about false arguments about partisanship and join with fellow Democrats as well as Republicans in listening to Netanyahu. More importantly, they must help pass the Iran sanctions bill before it is too late to stop the president’s plans for détente with a terror-supporting, anti-Semitic Islamist regime.

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The Anti-Bibi Offensive Reaches the Point of Diminishing Returns

Taken in isolation, it’s hard to fathom exactly what was going through Secretary of State John Kerry’s mind when he attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Seeking to discredit the Israeli’s critique of the administration’s efforts to strike a bargain with Iran over its nuclear-weapons program, Kerry dipped back into history and cited Netanyahu’s support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq as proof of his questionable judgment. Netanyahu’s 2002 testimony before the same committee doesn’t qualify him for the title of prophet. But one wonders why no one among the posse of yes-men and flatterers that follow the secretary about on his travels thought to remind him that as lacking in prescience as Netanyahu’s remarks might have been, it was he, in his capacity at that time as a U.S. senator, who actually voted for the war a few weeks after the Israeli’s testimony. But his foolish eagerness to join the administration’s gang tackle of Netanyahu tells us more about the administration’s desperation and the counterproductive nature of its effort to discredit the Israeli than anything else.

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Taken in isolation, it’s hard to fathom exactly what was going through Secretary of State John Kerry’s mind when he attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Seeking to discredit the Israeli’s critique of the administration’s efforts to strike a bargain with Iran over its nuclear-weapons program, Kerry dipped back into history and cited Netanyahu’s support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq as proof of his questionable judgment. Netanyahu’s 2002 testimony before the same committee doesn’t qualify him for the title of prophet. But one wonders why no one among the posse of yes-men and flatterers that follow the secretary about on his travels thought to remind him that as lacking in prescience as Netanyahu’s remarks might have been, it was he, in his capacity at that time as a U.S. senator, who actually voted for the war a few weeks after the Israeli’s testimony. But his foolish eagerness to join the administration’s gang tackle of Netanyahu tells us more about the administration’s desperation and the counterproductive nature of its effort to discredit the Israeli than anything else.

After several weeks of feuding over Netanyahu’s alleged breach of protocol in accepting an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress from House Speaker John Boehner, the breach between the two governments has now reached the stage where it cannot be dismissed as a mere spat. The administration’s commitment to a policy shift on Iran, in which the effort to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon has been set aside in favor of a push for détente with the Islamist regime, has created more than just a little daylight between Israel and the United States. But what is curious is the way leading figures in President Obama’s foreign-policy team, whether it be Kerry or National Security Advisor Susan Rice, have chosen to treat Netanyahu as a major threat to its objective rather than just the leader of a small, albeit influential, allied country who is not in a position to do anything to stop Obama from doing as he likes.

The most remarkable thing about the piling on the Israeli this week is the disproportionate nature of the attacks. That this treatment has been ordered from the top—which is to say, the president—isn’t doubted by anyone in the know. But in doing so, the administration is now running the risk of losing the advantage it obtained when it was able to use Netanyahu’s blunder about the speech to divert the national discussion from its indefensible position on Iran. Rather than damaging Netanyahu’s credibility and increasing his isolation (an absurd charge since few took notice of Netanyahu’s testimony on Iraq at the time), this all-out offensive is making him seem a more sympathetic figure that deserves a hearing.

Netanyahu has shown remarkably poor judgment in recent weeks that belied the supposedly deft understanding of Washington and American politics that has been his trademark and that of Ron Dermer, his ambassador to the United States. Accepting Boehner’s invitation without clearing it with the White House allowed Obama to make Netanyahu the issue rather than the administration’s opposition to a sanctions bill that would have strengthened its hands in the Iran talks. The prime minister compounded that mistake by then refusing an invitation to meet privately with Senate Democrats because he feared that might constitute an admission that he was colluding with the Republicans.

The administration ought to be wary of overplaying its hand on Netanyahu. After all, no matter how much applause he gets or doesn’t get when he gives his speech to Congress next week, none of that can prevent Kerry from cutting a disastrous deal with Iran if the ayatollahs are ready to make one at all. Given the president’s plans not to present any agreement to the Senate for approval as a treaty and the poor chances of an override of a veto of an Iran sanctions bill, he might be better off ignoring Israeli objections rather than jousting with him.

Though Obama has a reputation as a cold-blooded decision maker, he seems to have let his hatred for Netanyahu get the better of him and ordered his minions to launch a general offensive against Israel in order to crush the prime minister even before he opens his mouth in Washington. Why is he bothering?

The answer is that deep underneath the president’s cool exterior and his conviction that he and only he understands what is right for the country is a fear that Netanyahu’s powerful arguments against appeasing Iran will be heard and believed. That gives the Israeli more credit than he may deserve, but it also reflects Obama’s awareness that if openly debated, his string of unprecedented concessions to Iran can’t be easily defended.

After promising in his 2012 reelection campaign that any deal with Iran would ensure that its nuclear program be eliminated, the president is now preparing to not only guarantee its continued possession of a vast nuclear infrastructure but the phased portion of the current proposal on the table would implicitly grant the Islamist regime the ability to build a bomb after a ten-year period. Just as importantly, the U.S. now seems as indifferent to Iran’s support of international terrorism, its anti-Semitism, threats to destroy Israel, and its push for regional hegemony as it is to the prospect of it being a threshold nuclear power.

In pursuit of this agenda with Iran, the president has ruthlessly played the partisan card (while accusing Netanyahu of doing the same), pushing Democrats to abandon what was formerly a true bipartisan consensus against Iran and seeking to undermine the pro-Israel coalition in Congress. But as long as pundits are discussing or bashing Netanyahu, these issues have been marginalized. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing even when it comes to sniping at the Israeli leader.

Kerry’s absurd overreach against Netanyahu while lamely seeking to defend his current concessions to Iran shows that the administration has reached the point of diminishing returns with respect to the Israeli. Whether Netanyahu was wise to plan this speech is now beside the point. The more the administration seeks to shut him up, the more credence his remarks get. Whereas the address might have been just a Washington story had the White House not gone ballistic about it, it will now be treated as a major international event raising the stakes on the Iran debate just at the moment the administration would like to calm things down. The time has come for the administration to back down and let him talk lest the country listen to Netanyahu’s arguments and realize the president is selling them a bill of goods on Iran.

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