Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran

Netanyahu Is Everything Obama Is Not

A month ago, I referred to Barack Obama as “quite simply, anti-Israel.” Events in the last month have only confirmed that judgment.

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A month ago, I referred to Barack Obama as “quite simply, anti-Israel.” Events in the last month have only confirmed that judgment.

There are many arguments one could marshall to support that assertion, but it strikes me that among the most compelling is this: Mr. Obama has more anger toward Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, than he has toward any other regime in the world–including the most oppressive ones. He has treated the prime minister of the Jewish state with more disrespect and pettiness than any other world leader–including the most brutal ones. The time and energy that President Obama and his administration have spent on attacking Mr. Netanyahu–on the record, on background, and off the record–is astonishing. Only Obama’s golf game seems to command more of his time and passion than does Israel, though with the former it’s all positive energy and with the latter it’s all negative energy.

There is undoubtedly a troubling combination of reasons that explains Mr. Obama’s relentless hostility to Israel and Netanyahu; I suspect one of them is that the Israeli prime minister refuses to be intimidated by the president and is willing to publicly challenge his arguments–and worse, from Mr. Obama’s perspective, to embarrass the president by exposing (in this case) his policy of appeasement toward Iran. (For more on the disastrous deal the president has embraced, read this and this.)

I have spoken to members of Congress who have dealt with Mr. Obama and remarked to me that he gets most petulant and prickly when he’s challenged and bested in debate. It infuriates him, which is what you would expect from a president who is notorious for his facile arguments and intellectual dishonesty. No chief executive in my lifetime more closely fits the description by Kenneth Minogue: “a pyrotechnic in a field of straw men.” (h/t George Will.)

Narcissists hate to be embarrassed, which is precisely what Mr. Netanyahu will do to Mr. Obama tomorrow from the well of Congress. Unlike the president, the Israeli prime minister won’t be nasty or personal about it. Rather, he will do it, I suspect, with surgical precision, demolishing one Obama argument after another. Which will only infuriate Mr. Obama even more. (So will the fact that Mr. Netanyahu’s popularity in America is increasing despite, and perhaps because of, the administration’s childish attacks on him.)

Mr. Netanyahu is everything Barack Obama is not: Strong, tough, shrewd, unwilling to bend and bow to tyrants and willing to stand up for his nation and defend it abroad. On some level, Mr. Obama must surely know this. He hates Mr. Netanyahu for it, even as others of us admire him all the more for it.

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The Incoherence of Netanyahu’s Most Strident Critics

Near the end of his new autobiography, David Axelrod sheds some light on President Obama’s distaste for democracy. “Obama has limited patience or understanding for officeholders whose concerns are more parochial–which would include most of Congress and many world leaders,” Axelrod writes, in noting Obama’s preference for supercilious vanity projects. Yet while Axelrod paints with a broad brush, he gives two examples, and they are telling. He writes: “Whether it’s John Boehner or Bibi Netanyahu, few practiced politicians appreciate being lectured on where their political self-interest lies.” This passage is an important preamble to the current dustup between the two administrations.

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Near the end of his new autobiography, David Axelrod sheds some light on President Obama’s distaste for democracy. “Obama has limited patience or understanding for officeholders whose concerns are more parochial–which would include most of Congress and many world leaders,” Axelrod writes, in noting Obama’s preference for supercilious vanity projects. Yet while Axelrod paints with a broad brush, he gives two examples, and they are telling. He writes: “Whether it’s John Boehner or Bibi Netanyahu, few practiced politicians appreciate being lectured on where their political self-interest lies.” This passage is an important preamble to the current dustup between the two administrations.

One of the regular critiques from the administration and its spokesmen in the media of tomorrow’s speech by Netanyahu is that Bibi just wants to use the speech as a prop in his own reelection campaign. As Axelrod’s book demonstrates, catering to voters and representing their interests in the government is borderline incomprehensible to Obama. His disdain for other world leaders who follow the wishes of their employers–the taxpayers–instead of doing what Obama wants is especially strange, considering its undisguised imperialist overtones.

And Netanyahu, of late, has found himself the world leader who values democratic elections far too much for Obama’s taste. When Netanyahu pressed ahead with giving the speech to a joint session of Congress, the Obama administration said they’d hit back, and suggested one way of doing so would be for them to bash Bibi through the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, as they often do when they want to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Israel. They did so; here is how Goldberg delivers the talking point:

It would be reassuring—sort of—to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu decided to set the U.S.-Israel relationship on fire mainly because he fears that President Obama is selling out Israel. But Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on March 3—a speech arranged without Obama’s knowledge by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and by Obama’s chief Republican rival, House Speaker John Boehner—is motivated by another powerful fear: the fear of unemployment. The message Bibi is preparing to deliver on Tuesday (a “statesmanlike message,” according to an official close to him) has as its actual target not Congress but, instead, Israeli voters who need reminding, in Netanyahu’s view, that he is the only leader strong enough to face down both the genocidal regime in Tehran and the Israel-loathing regime in Washington.

You can set aside the obviously false characterization of Netanyahu’s culpability. According to Goldberg–and the administration–Netanyahu’s “main” concern is not Israel’s perceived existential threats or a bad Iran deal or President Obama’s repeated insistence on selling out Israel (sometimes during wartime).

Now, obviously Netanyahu cares about reelection. He’s a politician in a democracy, and is acting as one, not as a tyrant or a religious cult figure. His decision to accept the speech without the president’s support was also clearly a mistake. He compounded that mistake by not backing out or rescheduling when he had ample opportunity to do so. And his mistake has already had tangible effects: the speech has almost certainly destroyed the possibility of the very veto-proof sanctions he hoped to inspire, at least for now.

But sufferers of Bibi Derangement Syndrome don’t see “mistakes”; they see arson. They violate the cardinal rule of democratic politics in a free society: Don’t attribute to malice what can be more easily explained by incompetence.

And the Obama-Axelrod-Goldberg line is strange for another reason: the belief that Bibi doesn’t take the long view but instead focuses on near-term electoral fortunes is pretty much the opposite of what the administration’s critique of him had previously been. In May 2011, the consensus was that Netanyahu was practically obsessed with incorporating the grand sweep of history into his dialogue with Obama. “Like many of you, I watched the Prime Minister of Israel publicly lecture the President of the United States on Jewish history with a mixture of shock, amusement and bewilderment,” Goldberg wrote in a post titled “Netanyahu Continues to Needlessly Alienate.”

(It was a common framing. ABC News: “In Oval Office, Bibi Offers History Lessons to Obama.” Chicago Sun-Times: “Obama gets Netanyahu Israeli history lecture.”)

Netanyahu has also come in for criticism for saying “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs… preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state.” And the press has taken a couple swings at him for referencing Ben-Gurion’s declaration of the establishment of Israel against the wishes of the State Department and other governmental agencies in his speeches, as he did this morning at AIPAC.

Also in his speech this morning, the prime minister returned to the long view of Jewish history:

For 2,000 years, my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, defenseless, voiceless. We were utterly powerless against our enemies who swore to destroy us. We suffered relentless persecution and horrific attacks. We could never speak in our own behalf, and we could not defend ourselves. Well, no more. No more. The days when the Jewish people are passive in the face of threats to annihilate us–those days are over.

It’s no surprise the recitation of history makes Obama uncomfortable. As we’ve seen, the president’s ignorance of history is comprehensive, but he is especially unknowledgeable on Israeli and Jewish history. It doesn’t seem to interest him, and it shows.

So it’s always been a bit rich for the president who thinks history started with his own presidential election to accuse others of not thinking about the big picture. What Obama means by this is actually that these other politicians and world leaders aren’t thinking enough about Obama’s legacy, which he’d like them to prioritize over the needs and wants of their citizens, Israel being no exception.

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AIPAC Focuses on Iran, Not Israel

The 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference–the largest conference in AIPAC’s history–opened yesterday at the Washington Convention Center, in a hall extending the length of three football fields, the space necessary to accommodate more than 16,000 delegates (including 3,000 college students from 586 campuses, of whom 277 are the student government presidents). During the conference, AIPAC expects that more than half the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives will attend.

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The 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference–the largest conference in AIPAC’s history–opened yesterday at the Washington Convention Center, in a hall extending the length of three football fields, the space necessary to accommodate more than 16,000 delegates (including 3,000 college students from 586 campuses, of whom 277 are the student government presidents). During the conference, AIPAC expects that more than half the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives will attend.

This morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the conference, a day before he addresses a joint meeting of Congress, and it is beginning to dawn on those who spent the last month lambasting him for his alleged breach of protocol that a very bad deal is in the works–now the focus of attention primarily because the Israeli prime minister decided that calling it out was more important than his (non-existent) personal relationship with the U.S. president.

Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote last month that Netanyahu’s decision to speak to Congress made “absolutely no sense” and was a “tone deaf ploy” that left Goldberg “unable to understand his thinking,” yesterday wrote that he expects a strong speech to Congress, because:

Netanyahu has a credible case to make. Any nuclear agreement that allows Iran to maintain a native uranium-enrichment capability is a dicey proposition; in fact, any agreement at all with an empire-building, Assad-sponsoring, Yemen-conquering, Israel-loathing, theocratic terror regime is a dicey proposition. [Emphasis added.]

Goldberg is not only worried about the “sunset” clause that would permit Iran to become a nuclear power once the agreement expires, but worried even more “that the Iranians will find a way to cheat their way out of the agreement even before the sun is scheduled to set.”

In a panel yesterday at the AIPAC conference, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who has supported Netanyahu’s speech from the time it was announced, told a large audience “why the speech has to be given now, despite the consequences that will go down for the next 22 months”:

Number one, a deal is about to be signed and so this is the last opportunity just before an election the timing of which Bibi did not set [and] an election that Bibi didn’t want … and this isn’t timed for politics–although God forbid a politician should be guilty of committing politics. It was timed in connection to the negotiating timetable which was, in fact, established by John Kerry and his partners.

Secondly, representatives and senators ought to hear directly from the prime minister why this deal, which is terrible for the United States, is potentially fatal for Israel. And all these members of the House who pat themselves on the back as they vote for Iron Dome funding–as if that is the sole credential for being pro-Israel–ought to be put on record that this is the moment that counts … a final opportunity for Israel to make a case to the United States to act before Israel, I fear, will have to act irrespective of what the United States wants …

And, by the way, what is Bibi doing? He is giving a speech. He’s not hurling thunderbolts from Congress. He’s giving a speech! I would hope that in the spirit of democracy, civility, and–by the way–congressional self-respect for a co-equal branch of government, that every Democratic member, whether they agree with Bibi or not, will do him the courtesy of hearing him out.

Stephens noted that the administration is not only “not checking Iranian moves throughout the region–we are facilitating the rise of Iranian power”:

And I say this–I’m almost shocked to hear myself say this–but the deal we are going to strike isn’t that we’ve moved from a policy of prevention to containment: we are actively facilitating Iran’s bid to become a regular nuclear state … By the way, South Korea: we deny them the right to enrich. So, the South Koreans can’t enrich, according to this administration–we’re pressuring them not to enrich–but Iran, because it’s such a marvelous, wonderful regime, in 10 or 15 years, they’re going to get the bomb. We are facilitating this. We have facilitated their ability to maintain client regimes around the Middle East.

It is one of the reasons why we have not fulfilled the president’s other unmet promise of going after the Assad regime, and we now have a de facto pro-Assad policy in Syria. It’s one of the reasons why we have no strategy to speak of to prevent the Houti militia, who are not some tribal militia–they’re the Hezbollah of Yemen–from seizing [Yemen’s capital] Sana’a and then throwing out our client government. …

So, now the Iranians makes the boast–I’m sure all of you are familiar with this–that they have four Arab capitals in their hands: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sana’a, and you might add Gaza City, if you consider that one. And that’s correct, and we have done nothing to stop it. We have no strategy to speak of, except accepting a new status quo on the hope that one day, the Iranians will change the nature of their regime and they’ll be nice to us. Good luck.

A “bad deal” does not begin to describe the strategic disaster the administration is attempting to conclude in secret, without informing Congress of the details and allowing a free and open democratic debate. The administration opposes even the new Corker-Menendez bill, introduced on Friday, which would prevent any deal from taking effect for 60 days, after Congress finds out what it is.

After AIPAC members listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, its thousands of delegates will lobby their representatives to urge them to support Corker-Menendez–bolstered by the speech of a prime minister who decided an existential threat to his country (the principal U.S. ally in the region) deserves to be fully considered by the representatives of the American people, before it is too late, not only for Israel but the United States.

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No, Mr. Kerry, There Can Be No Benefit of the Doubt on Iran

Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Secretary of State John Kerry argued that the United States deserves benefit of the doubt when it comes to U.S. diplomacy with Iran. About the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Kerry said, “It is better to do this by diplomacy than to have to do a strategy militarily which you would have to repeat over and over again and which everybody believes ought to be after you have exhausted all the diplomatic remedies.”

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Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Secretary of State John Kerry argued that the United States deserves benefit of the doubt when it comes to U.S. diplomacy with Iran. About the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Kerry said, “It is better to do this by diplomacy than to have to do a strategy militarily which you would have to repeat over and over again and which everybody believes ought to be after you have exhausted all the diplomatic remedies.”

Mr. Kerry is right to highlight the problem with military action. At best, it would delay Iran’s program by two or three years. Those who believe a one-time strike would end Iran’s program are unrealistic. There is no parallel to Israel’s 1981 strike on the Osirak reactor in Iraq, an airstrike that crippled Iraq’s bomb program until Saddam Hussein’s regime ultimately fell. After all, Saddam was unable to rebuild Osirak because Iraq was embroiled first in an eight-year, World War I-style fight against Iran of Saddam’s own making. No sooner did that end that Saddam ordered Iraqi forces into Kuwait, unleashing a cascade of events that crippled Iraq further. It is doubtful that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei would make the same mistakes in the wake of any potential strike.

To have American aircraft bomb Iran’s nuclear program, however, would effectively be using American servicemen to kick the can down the road because the White House, State Department, and Congress can’t come to a policy consensus about what it would take realistically to blunt the threat of any Iranian nuclear arsenal. The problem isn’t simply the nuclear weapons, but rather the ideology of the regime which would wield them.

This is where Kerry shows himself a narrow, shallow thinker. He artificially boils Iran options down to two: Either cut a deal, no matter how bad and no matter how likely Iran is to cheat, or engage in military action that will be expensive and won’t end with a single strike. He refuses to recognize that either way, it is the Iranian regime which is the problem.

This doesn’t mean the United States should engage in Iraq- or Libya-style regime change. But what Kerry and crew have essentially done is take a regime foundering under decades of economic mismanagement and sanctions, and effectively subsidized its survival to the tune of $7 billion per year (and $11 billion total) since negotiations began. They did this against the backdrop of a dramatic decline in the price of oil and so forfeited the best opportunity in decades not to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees but rather to allow it to stumble and trip on its own. Ultimately, if the Iran problem is going to be resolved, it will mean an end to the clerical regime, not Kerry’s false choice. Trusting Iran is a non-starter. And that is exactly what Kerry seeks when he asks for benefit of the doubt on an agreement whose parameters he is too embarrassed to show to America’s Arab allies and Israel because he knows they will point out the obvious loopholes. No, Mr. Kerry, neither the White House nor Iran deserve benefit of the doubt on nuclear negotiations. The world cannot afford the consequences.

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Why Are American Hostages Still Held in Iran?

Since President Obama initiated high-profile, high-stakes talks with Iran, the United States has released more than $11 billion in frozen funds to the Islamic Republic, and that comes on top of billions of dollars in new investment. To put just the $11 billion in perspective, that represents more than twice the Congressional Research Service-estimated official budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the group responsible for killing hundreds of American servicemen in Iraq. Now, consider that Iran’s economy had shrunk between 5.3 and 5.8 percent (depending upon which Iranian figure is speaking) in the year before Obama began his outreach while, despite the crash in oil prices, Iran’s current growth is positive, and it’s hard not to conclude that for the Iranian leadership, Team Obama has been a dream come true.

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Since President Obama initiated high-profile, high-stakes talks with Iran, the United States has released more than $11 billion in frozen funds to the Islamic Republic, and that comes on top of billions of dollars in new investment. To put just the $11 billion in perspective, that represents more than twice the Congressional Research Service-estimated official budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the group responsible for killing hundreds of American servicemen in Iraq. Now, consider that Iran’s economy had shrunk between 5.3 and 5.8 percent (depending upon which Iranian figure is speaking) in the year before Obama began his outreach while, despite the crash in oil prices, Iran’s current growth is positive, and it’s hard not to conclude that for the Iranian leadership, Team Obama has been a dream come true.

Given all that Iran has gained outside of the nuclear arena, what is most perplexing is how little the United States has received. Take for example the four American hostages which Iran now holds:

  • Saeed Abedini. Iran has long been hostile to Christianity. While the Iranian city of Isfahan hosts a large Armenian community which thrives today, the Armenian Christians settled in Isfahan only because they were forcibly relocated there from northwestern Iran as the shah at the time doubted their loyalty. Non-Orthodox Christians have special difficulty in Iran. Past State Department human-rights reports, for example, depict the disappearance and murder of priests and, especially, evangelical Christians whose community is small but growing in Iran. Abedini, a 34-year-old from Idaho, was arrested during a 2012 trip to Tehran to visit family and sentenced to eight years in prison. He is a married father of two small children.
  • Robert Levinson. A former FBI agent whom Iran alleges to have worked for a CIA contractor visited Kish Island, an Iranian free-trade zone which is visa-free, in an effort to research a cigarette smuggling case when he was seized by Iranian intelligence in 2007. While the Iranians have sought at times to deny responsibility or knowledge of Levinson’s case, the state-run Iranian press acknowledged Iranian involvement. He remains the longest-held Iranian hostage. Perhaps reflecting its role as the ­de facto lobby of the Islamic Republic, the National Iranian American Council has distinguished itself by omitting Levinson in its calls for the release of hostages.
  • Amir Hekmati. A former American Marine, Hekmati was arrested in August 2011 while visiting family in Tehran. Charged with espionage, he was initially sentenced to death, a sentence later commuted. While some Iranians might look askance at his military service, it should be remembered that because Iran has conscription, many male Iranian graduate students seeking to come to the United States to continue their education or to visit family have served in the Iranian military. The charges were more ridiculous considering Hekmati sought and received permission from Iranian authorities in the United States before traveling. Hekmati had briefly launched a hunger strike which he subsequently suspended.
  • Jason Rezaian. The Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief, Rezaian was arrested on undisclosed security-related offenses on July 22, 2014, and initially held incommunicado. On January 15, 2015, an Iranian prosecutor announced that Rezaian would stand trial in a revolutionary court. His case is slated to be heard by one of Iran’s most notorious hanging judges.

That three of the four men are Iranian American should be irrelevant. Immigrants and their children do not check their citizenship at the door when they visit Iran, even if Iranian authorities insist they enter only on their Iranian documents. Ronald Reagan famously obsessed over American hostages held by Iranian proxies in Lebanon. The “Tower Commission” found that Reagan obsessively peppered his staff with questions about their condition and the possibilities for their release. Never has the contrast between two presidents been so great. Obama seems more concerned with springing terrorists from Guantanamo Bay than in freeing Americans held captive by one of the world’s most repressive regimes. And, while Secretary of State John Kerry has reportedly condemned the Iranian detention of American citizens and called for their release, Obama and Kerry’s willingness to continue business as usual in negotiations and in payments to Iran suggests to the Iranians a lack of seriousness on the Obama administration’s part.

There should not be a single press conference dealing with Iran where the first, second, and third questions don’t force administration officials to address those Americans in prison in Iran. The hostages should be household names. When the State Department counsels quiet diplomacy, what diplomats are seeking is enough distraction to sweep the problem under the rug. They should not be able to. Indeed, there should not be another meeting held, let alone incentive given or payment made, until they are happily at home and reunited with their families. Quite the contrary, there should be no end to sanctions and punishment until the Americans—all four—come home.

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Obama Must Explain Why the Iran Deal Isn’t North Korea Redux

As the Obama administration rushes into a nuclear deal with Iran, it pays to remember the last time the United States struck a deal with a rogue regime in order to constrain that state’s nuclear program and the aftermath of that supposed success.

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As the Obama administration rushes into a nuclear deal with Iran, it pays to remember the last time the United States struck a deal with a rogue regime in order to constrain that state’s nuclear program and the aftermath of that supposed success.

Bill Clinton had been president barely a month when North Korea announced that it would no longer allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections, followed shortly thereafter by an announcement that it would withdraw from the NPT altogether within a matter of months. If Kim Il-sung expected Washington to flinch, he was right. The State Department aimed to keep North Korea within the NPT at almost any price. Chief U.S. negotiator Robert Gallucci and his aides explained in their book Going Critical, “If North Korea could walk away from the treaty’s obligations with impunity at the very moment its nuclear program appeared poised for weapons production, it would have dealt a devastating blow from which the treaty might never recover.” Unwilling to take any path that could lead to military action, Clinton’s team sought to talk Pyongyang away from nuclear defiance, no matter that talking and the inevitable concessions that followed legitimized Pyongyang’s brinkmanship.

As with President Obama relieving Iran of the burden of six United Nations Security Council resolutions which demanded a complete cessation of enrichment, Clinton’s willingness to negotiate North Korea’s nuclear compliance was itself a concession. After all, the 1953 Armistice required Pyongyang to reveal all military facilities and, in case of dispute, enable the Military Armistice Commission to determine the purpose of suspect facilities. By making weaker frameworks the new baseline, Clinton let North Korea off the hook before talks even began.

Just as Israeli (and Saudi and Emirati and Egyptian and Kuwaiti and Bahraini) leaders express frustration with the Obama administration regarding its naiveté and unwillingness to consult, so too did South Korea at the time chafe at Clinton’s arrogance. South Korean President Kim Young Sam complained to journalists that North Korea was leading America on and manipulating negotiators “to buy time.” And in a pattern that repeats today with regard to Iran, the IAEA held firmer to the demand that North Korea submit to real inspections than did Washington. The issue came to a head in September 1993 after the State Department pressured the IAEA to compromise on limited inspections.

In the face of Pyongyang’s defiance, Clinton was also wary that coercion could be a slippery slope to war. Just as President Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel instructed U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf not to stand firm but rather to retreat if probed or pushed by Iran, Clinton sought to mollify Pyongyang, for example cancelling the joint U.S.–South Korea military exercise in 1994. Adding insult to injury, the Clinton administration criticized the South Korean government for being unwilling to compromise. Indeed, everything the Obama administration has done with regard to Israel over the past year—with the exception, perhaps, of the classless chickensh-t comment—was ripped right from the Clinton playbook two decades before when the White House sought to silence Seoul.

There followed months of baseless optimism in Washington, followed by disappointment quickly supplanted by denial. At one point, when it looked like Kim Il-sung’s intransigence might actually lead to war, former President Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang and, whether cleared to or not, made concessions which diffused the situation. It was the diplomatic equivalent of Obama’s voided redlines. Nightline host Ted Koppel observed on May 18, 1994, “this administration is becoming notorious … for making threats and then backing down.”

On July 8, 1994, a heart attack felled Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-il, his eldest son, took over. Negotiations progressed quickly. Gallucci and his team promised an escalating series of incentives—reactors, fuel oil, and other economic assistance. They kicked inspections of North Korea’s suspect plutonium sites years down the line.

What had begun as North Korean intransigence had netted Pyongyang billions of dollars in aid; it would go down in history as the largest reward for cheating and reneging on agreements until Obama granted Iran $11 billion in sanctions relief just for coming to the table. Columnist William Safire traced the steps of concessions on North Korea. “Mr. Clinton’s opening position was that untrustworthy North Korea must not be allowed to become a nuclear power,” he observed, but Clinton “soon trimmed that to say it must not possess nuclear bombs, and stoutly threatened sanctions if North Korea did not permit inspections of nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, where the CIA and KGB agree nuclear devices have been developed. But as a result of Clinton’s Very Good Deal Indeed, IAEA inspectors are denied entry to those plants for five years.” And Sen. John McCain, for his part, lamented that Clinton “has extended carrot after carrot, concession after concession, and pursued a policy of appeasement based … on the ill-founded belief that North Koreans really just wanted to be part of the community of nations.” Again, the parallels between Clinton’s and Obama’s assumptions about the desire of enemies to reform were consistent.

Clinton wasn’t going to broker any criticism of what he believed was a legacy-defining diplomatic triumph, all the more so when the criticism came from abroad. On October 7, 1994, South Korean President Kim Young Sam blasted Clinton’s deal with the North, saying, “If the United States wants to settle with a half-baked compromise and the media wants to describe it as a good agreement, they can. But I think it would bring more danger and peril.” There was nothing wrong with trying to resolve the problem through dialogue, he acknowledged, but the South Koreans knew very well how the North operated. “We have spoken with North Korea more than 400 times. It didn’t get us anywhere. They are not sincere,” Kim said. His outburst drew Clinton’s ire. He became the Netanyahu of his day. Meanwhile, the U.S. and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework. Gallucci and his team were “exhilarated.” They later bragged they “had overcome numerous obstacles in the negotiations with the North; survived the intense, sometimes strained collaboration with Seoul and the International Atomic Energy Agency; and marshaled and sustained an often unwieldy international coalition in opposition to the nuclear challenge, all under close and often critical scrutiny at home.”

Today, by some estimates, North Korea is well on its way to having 100 nuclear weapons and is steadily developing the ballistic capability to deliver them. Iran’s nuclear negotiators have cited North Korea’s negotiating strategy as a model to emulate rather than an example to condemn. Meanwhile, Obama has relied on many of the same negotiators to advance his deal with Iran.

The State Department has never conducted a lessons learned exercise about what went wrong with the North Korea deal. Perhaps it’s time. Diplomatic responsibility and national security demand it.

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Iran Needs to Come Clean on both Nukes and Terrorism

Journalists and many diplomats who give President Barack Obama credit for his willingness to engage with Iran often forget that two decades before Obama asked Iranian leaders to unclench their fist, George H.W. Bush was as enthusiastic for a breakthrough. Just six months into Bush’s presidency, Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died. Journalists and diplomats saw Khomeini’s successor, former President Ali Khamenei as a moderate. As Khamenei took the leadership, he was replaced as president by the clerical businessman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who, the day after taking office, suggested that “reasonable, prudent solutions” could free the hostages that Iranian proxies in Lebanon still held.

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Journalists and many diplomats who give President Barack Obama credit for his willingness to engage with Iran often forget that two decades before Obama asked Iranian leaders to unclench their fist, George H.W. Bush was as enthusiastic for a breakthrough. Just six months into Bush’s presidency, Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died. Journalists and diplomats saw Khomeini’s successor, former President Ali Khamenei as a moderate. As Khamenei took the leadership, he was replaced as president by the clerical businessman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who, the day after taking office, suggested that “reasonable, prudent solutions” could free the hostages that Iranian proxies in Lebanon still held.

In an episode I detail in my book about the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups, Rafsanjani privately told intermediaries that U.S. gestures might catalyze their release. American diplomats smelled a process—an allure that few diplomats can resist. State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler voiced her belief that “Iran is genuinely engaged.” Bush issued a national security directive saying that the United States should prepare for “a normal relationship with Iran on the basis of strict reciprocity,” and he asked UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar to serve as an intermediary between the national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, and Iran’s new president. Pérez de Cuéllar sent Giandomenico Picco, a career UN bureaucrat, to Tehran and met Rafsanjani, where he got a surprise: Rafsanjani dismissed the idea of negotiating the release of hostages out of hand: to talk would be to admit culpability in taking hostages in the first place. Within the Iranian context, there’s a huge difference between projecting the image of moderations and actually being will to act moderately. Coming clean is not something the Iranian government is willing to do.

Hence, it has been the case with regard to Iran’s nuclear program. The irony of those who seize upon the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to argue that Iran doesn’t have any military nuclear program is that the 2007 NIE acknowledged that Iran had earlier had just that: after all, experimenting within nuclear weapons triggers is not part and parcel of the energy cycle. And yet, rather than hold Iran to account and, at a minimum demand that Iran comes clean, the Obama administration seems willing to allow Iran simply to sweep its earlier cheating under the rug. If a nuclear agreement is meant to be a fresh start, however, there is no reason why Iran should not come clean fully. At the very least, intelligence can gauge their sincerity by comparing Iranian admissions with what the Central Intelligence Agency believes it knows through its own sources and methods.

The same failure to demand accountability occurs with regard to continued Iranian involvement in terrorism. That the Islamic Republic facilitated the 9/11 attacks was revealed by none other than the 9/11 Commission. The latest revelations that the documents seized from the Bin Laden compound show continued Iranian complacency with Al Qaeda come as little surprise to Iran watchers, but do raise questions about the Obama administration’s efforts to cover up that fact behind a barrier of classification and a simple refusal to release those documents found in the Abbottabad compound.

While those Al Qaeda documents might now be in the headlines thanks to the dogged work of terrorism expert Thomas Jocelyn, there are other aspects of Iran’s terror sponsorship that requires as much exposure and explanation. Take the latest reported in the pan-Arab daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat:

Iran has been coordinating with Al-Qaeda and its affiliates since 2007 with the aim of carrying out terror attacks against US targets in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, informed sources have told Asharq Al-Awsat. Speaking under condition of anonymity, the sources said coordination between Iran and the global terrorist organization was mainly taking place through Saudi citizen Saleh Al-Qarawi, a senior member of the organization who is on the Kingdom’s most-wanted lists and is the founder of Al-Qaeda affiliate the Abdullah Al-Azzam Brigades. The sources contend Qarawi is the main Al-Qaeda figure coordinating operations from inside Iran, where they say he has been moving freely for a number of years and from where he has been recruiting other Saudi citizens for the organization and coordinating their movement into Iran from the Kingdom. Along with Abdul Mohsen Al-Sharikh, another senior Saudi member of the organization—and also on the Kingdom’s most-wanted lists—the sources accuse Qarawi of planning a terror attack in Saudi Arabia aiming to abduct US citizens residing in the country. The plan eventually failed but the sources say Qarawi and Iran have been coordinating on several other operations, including a planned attack in 2007 against a US army base in Jordan which was foiled by the Jordanian authorities. Qarawi and Iran have also coordinated on another failed operation, the sources said, which planned to attack the US embassy [sic- should be consulate] in Dubai using either a drone aircraft loaded with missiles and bombs or by having a pilot fly a small aircraft used for flight instruction into the embassy building.

It’s admirable to want to bring an end to the enmity which exists between Iran and the United States. But to do it when Tehran seems so unwilling to come clean and stop its efforts to kill Americans does not advance peace; it only emboldens an already overconfident adversary. If Iran wants peace, let them come clean, change their behavior, and make amends. But under no circumstances should the Obama administration or its senior diplomats and officials give Tehran a free pass.

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North Korea Evades More Sanctions While U.S. Pursues Yet More Talks

As the endgame for America’s nuclear negotiations with Iran looms, I hope that Washington is paying attention to the critical flaws in both its failed agreements with North Korea and the ineffective sanctions imposed on the country in response. I wrote in last month’s issue how Pyongyang has constantly outwitted the United States over the past two decades because the sole goal of the regime is to stay in power, and it therefore will do everything possible to buy time, hug the Americans close, undercut its commitments, and the like.

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As the endgame for America’s nuclear negotiations with Iran looms, I hope that Washington is paying attention to the critical flaws in both its failed agreements with North Korea and the ineffective sanctions imposed on the country in response. I wrote in last month’s issue how Pyongyang has constantly outwitted the United States over the past two decades because the sole goal of the regime is to stay in power, and it therefore will do everything possible to buy time, hug the Americans close, undercut its commitments, and the like.

Now comes news of yet another way that North Korea has evaded U.N.-imposed sanctions, by renaming and transferring the ownership of vessels of a shipping company targeted for illicit arms shipments. None of this should be a surprise, but it is further proof that sanctions are an imperfect tool, at best. Washington has repeatedly turned to sanctions as a way to express its displeasure with Pyongyang and in the hopes of putting enough pressure on the regime that it will eventually return to the negotiating table. With clear acquiescence, if not actual help, from China and Russia, among others, North Korea has been able to avoid serious repercussions for its actions and flout the international community.

The ingenuity of the Kim regime in finding ways around sanctions should be the primary case study for any future sanctions policy. Yet even as more information is made public about its continuing illicit activities, the Obama administration appears to be flirting with going down the primrose path of considering yet more negotiations. In this case, envoys of the White House have been holding talks with representatives from the North about having “talks about talks,” according to the Washington Post. “We want to test if they have an interest in resuming negotiations,” the Post reported an American official saying just this month. The North Koreans undoubtedly would welcome more talks, as that simply gives them more time to perfect their nuclear and ballistic-missile technology. With Washington caught in a dialogue dependency trap, unable to think outside the box and hoping against all experience for an outcome different from last time, expect more evasion and bad faith agreements in the future.

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Selling the ObamaCare of Foreign Policy

Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with significant skepticism at yesterday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, not only from Republicans, but Democrats as well. Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told Kerry “we’re hearing troubling reports on the scale and duration of the program that Iran may be allowed as part of a deal.” He noted “very disturbing” reports that the administration “would ease limits on Iran’s production during the later years of an accord … [as] an attempt to bridge the difference between the two sides over how long an agreement should last.”

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Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with significant skepticism at yesterday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, not only from Republicans, but Democrats as well. Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told Kerry “we’re hearing troubling reports on the scale and duration of the program that Iran may be allowed as part of a deal.” He noted “very disturbing” reports that the administration “would ease limits on Iran’s production during the later years of an accord … [as] an attempt to bridge the difference between the two sides over how long an agreement should last.”

Kerry did not deny those reports.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) asked Kerry whether he was “willing to accept an agreement in which the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] does not have the right to go anywhere on short notice to look at undeclared or potentially undeclared” nuclear sites. Kerry responded only that “we are negotiating for the appropriate standards.” Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) noted that the IAEA has “published 12 sets of questions about Iran’s past work and Iran has only partially tackled one of those issues.” He asked if Kerry could confirm that “any deal can only be agreed upon if it provides for anytime, anywhere inspections.”

Kerry managed to dodge that question too.

At the beginning of the hearing, Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) offered a devastating critique of the administration’s talks with Iran, as well as the administration’s entire foreign policy:

[T]he committee, as you know, has real concerns about the direction of these talks. I’m hearing less about dismantlement and more about the performance of Iran’s nuclear program. That’s particularly disturbing when you consider that international inspectors report that Iran has still not revealed its past bomb work.

This should be treated as a fundamental test of the ayatollah’s intention to uphold any agreement. Iran is failing that test. Also, it is still illicitly procuring nuclear technology. Recently, Iran was caught testing a new generation of supersonic centrifuges. To be frank, as this committee reads about us being on the brink of a historic agreement, you have a challenge in terms of congressional buy-in.

Meanwhile, Iran and its proxies are wreaking havoc throughout the region. … And in the Middle East, ISIS is on the march. The administration was tragically slow to react to ISIS’s rise, missing the chance to devastate them with airstrikes during the first eight months of ISIS moving from Syria into Iraq, town by town, taking these cities. Air power was not used to devastate these columns out on the open road as it should have been applied.

Today the Kurds are still severely outgunned, our training of the Syrian opposition isn’t off the ground, and Arab allies complain they don’t have the weapons needed. And while the administration is focused on the fight against ISIS in Iraq today, it’s still unclear what its plans are for Syrian tomorrow. … In the past half year, the [State] Department has had to evacuate staff from two U.S. embassies: Libya and Yemen …

It is beginning to dawn on Democrats–at least those on the House Foreign Affairs Committee–that the Obama administration is cooking up the ObamaCare of foreign policy: a deal that will be presented at the twelfth hour as a fait accompli, without debate or congressional oversight beforehand, nor even public disclosure of the basic concessions in the offers already made in the current negotiations, much less a vote by Congress before proceeding with an agreement more important than any treaty in decades. The administration’s repeated assurances that it won’t sign a “bad deal” sound as reliable as the assertions that people could keep their insurance if they liked it–or the “red line” for Syria, or the “reset” with Russia, or the “success” of the withdrawal from Iraq, or the “success” in Yemen, et al.

The administration appears virtually in meltdown mode because the democratically-elected leader of a frontline ally will address a co-equal branch of government at the invitation of the speaker of the House. At yesterday’s hearing, Kerry resorted to a gratuitous ad hominem attack on Prime Minister Netanyahu–the surest sign that it is neither protocol nor politics that concern the administration, but rather the substance of what Netanyahu will say about the pending deal with Iran. Some Democrats may boycott the address–like Iranian delegates who exit the UN rather than be present to hear Israel’s prime minister–but yesterday’s House hearing, combined with (a) the warnings last month from former secretaries of state Kissinger and Shultz, and (b) Michael Doran’s comprehensive Mosaic article, “Obama’s Secret Iran Strategy” (which has thus far attracted 220,000 unique visitors), suggest that the importance of the issue is belatedly drawing the necessary notice on Capitol Hill, after all the distractions regarding how Netanyahu’s speech was arranged.

At the eleventh hour, the prospect of Netanyahu’s address is focusing the attention of Congress on the on the distinct possibility that a very “bad deal” with Iran is in the works. The administration’s unseemly attacks on Netanyahu may, in the end, serve only to increase the attention that will–and should–be paid to his address by the Congress, the country, and the world.

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Obama Wants Neither the American nor Iranian Public Getting in His Way

The Obama administration is showing signs of growing confidence that they will actually get a nuclear deal with Iran. As Eli Lake and Josh Rogin report, officials are starting to temper expectations for what such a deal could accomplish, suggesting they’re moving beyond the stage of overselling the deal and beginning to plan for the political fallout at home. And it leaves two distinct impressions about President Obama’s plans for a deal.

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The Obama administration is showing signs of growing confidence that they will actually get a nuclear deal with Iran. As Eli Lake and Josh Rogin report, officials are starting to temper expectations for what such a deal could accomplish, suggesting they’re moving beyond the stage of overselling the deal and beginning to plan for the political fallout at home. And it leaves two distinct impressions about President Obama’s plans for a deal.

The first is that Obama expects to go it alone and bypass Congress. This isn’t too surprising, considering both the president’s record on pesky rule-of-law restrictions and also the fact that there is no deal that Iran would agree to that would also pass the U.S. Senate. If Obama thinks he might be close to a deal, it’s a deal that would be far more favorable to Iran. And the recent reports on the outlines of that deal confirm as much.

He can’t get the Senate to ratify that treaty. So he won’t. He’ll just call it something else and sign it. This is what Obama considers his second-term legacy accomplishment. There is just no way he’d subject it to the people’s representatives, especially after coming this far with it. If he can get Iran to sign, so will he. If Obama wanted Congress more involved in crafting a deal, they would be. I don’t think anybody expects Obama to abide by the will of the Senate on this.

The second impression is that Obama is buying into the same fallacy that has snared other world leaders when dealing with terrorist-sponsoring regimes, most famously by Yitzhak Rabin’s belief that Yasser Arafat could crack down on terrorism and deliver calm because he could act “bli Bagatz uvli B’tselem,”–basically, that he had no high-minded independent courts and no NGOs to monitor his preservation of human rights.

It is easier–or, at least, it appears to be easier–to deal with autocratic regimes because they can presumably do whatever they want. (Though as Obama learned the hard way with Vladimir Putin, the tendency to believe they can act with impunity should be a warning sign.) Thus, when Lake and Rogin write that Obama is backing off claims that a nuke deal will result in domestic reform, it’s because his legacy on this issue is dependent on there being no domestic reform.

Lake and Rogin write:

As details of a proposed pact leaked out of the Geneva talks Monday, administration officials told us they will ask the world to judge any final nuclear agreement on the technical aspects only, not on whether the deal will spur Iranian reform.

“The only consideration driving what is part of any comprehensive agreement with Iran is how we can get to a one-year breakout time and cut off the four pathways for Iran to get enough material for a nuclear weapon, period,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. “And if we reach an agreement, that will be the basis upon which people should judge it — on the technical merits of it, not on anything else.”

When asked if the State Department would argue the benefits of any deal in part by saying it would help Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, against his country’s hard-liners and therefore promote reforms, Harf said: “This is absolutely ridiculous.”

Well, sure it’s “absolutely ridiculous,” and it always has been. The idea that Rouhani is a reform-minded moderate trying to steer his country to the center and away from the hardliners is an idea the Obama administration bought into but it was never remotely believable. That the president is basically giving up this line of argument shows he wants to sign a deal that will do nothing in this regard and doesn’t want it thrown back in his face.

And more than that, the president actually needs the status quo in Iran to hold. He and the deal are essentially dependent on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. If anything shakes Khamenei’s hold on the country’s politics and government, all bets are off.

And this deal gives that away, at least as its details have been reported. If the Iranians are allowed to simply slow down their quest for a nuke so that it occurs on someone else’s watch in return for alleviating sanctions, the Iranian leadership will have won a victory at home and strengthened its ability to control its proxies abroad.

As Times of Israel editor David Horovitz wrote yesterday, “This deal, indeed, will help cement the ayatollahs in power, with dire consequences for Israel, relatively moderate Arab states, and the free world.”

It’s unclear why anybody would have expected otherwise. The president saw the ayatollahs’ power challenged by pro-democracy activists in Obama’s first term. He could not possibly have been less interested in helping or encouraging them. He does not like the messy unpredictability of democratic politics, as his spectacular failure in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks demonstrated. Nor does he like complexity.

It behooves the president’s cause for Rouhani and Khamenei to be “bli Bagatz uvli B’tselem.” And his strategy for nuclear diplomacy is designed accordingly.

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Mosul and Obama’s Phony War on ISIS

During the two days of the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism there was little evidence to prove that the administration is serious about defeating the ISIS terrorists. Not only is President Obama unwilling to call Islamist terrorists what they are and admit the religious roots of this conflict (hence the euphemism about generic violent extremism), his speeches seemed to give the impression that he thinks jobs programs and better community relations can defeat the group. And while the press briefing conducted at the end of the event by the person described by the press as “an official from the United States Central Command” finally did address what is primarily a military problem, the announcement that there would be an offensive aimed at retaking the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS didn’t lend much credibility to the counter-terrorism theme of the conference. The telegraphing of what might otherwise be considered a military secret only confirmed the impression that the U.S. is fighting a phony war against ISIS.

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During the two days of the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism there was little evidence to prove that the administration is serious about defeating the ISIS terrorists. Not only is President Obama unwilling to call Islamist terrorists what they are and admit the religious roots of this conflict (hence the euphemism about generic violent extremism), his speeches seemed to give the impression that he thinks jobs programs and better community relations can defeat the group. And while the press briefing conducted at the end of the event by the person described by the press as “an official from the United States Central Command” finally did address what is primarily a military problem, the announcement that there would be an offensive aimed at retaking the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS didn’t lend much credibility to the counter-terrorism theme of the conference. The telegraphing of what might otherwise be considered a military secret only confirmed the impression that the U.S. is fighting a phony war against ISIS.

Let’s concede that the fact that the coalition of Iraqi, Kurdish, and pro-Iranian forces fighting ISIS were going to try to retake Mosul sometime this year is about as much of a secret as the Allied plans to invade France were in 1944. But there is a difference between what is inevitable and a press conference bragging about an event that hasn’t happened yet and whose success is by no means assured.

The official said that the offensive against ISIS in Mosul would begin in April and May and would require somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 troops from the various forces aligned against the Islamist terrorists. As the New York Times reported:

It is unusual for American officials to discuss the details and timing of a military operation before it occurs. But the official said his intent was to describe the Iraqis’ “level of commitment” in regaining control of Mosul, which he said was held by as many as 2,000 fighters from the Islamic State.

“There are a lot of pieces that have to come together, and we want to make sure the conditions are right,” the official said. “But this is their plan. They are bought into it. They are moving forward.”

The Times is right about this being unusual. In war, broadcasting even the most obvious moves is generally considered dumb, if not a breach of security, especially in an administration that has conducted more prosecutions of leaks of secret information than any of its predecessors. But the official from the Central Command need not fear that he will suffer the fate of others who have fed information to the press. He was there at the direction of the White House specifically to provide some proof that, despite all the pointless politically correct rhetoric spouted by the president, the war against ISIS was not merely a theoretical exercise.

The administration’s credibility gap on ISIS is enormous. Months after the president announced that he was authorizing strikes on the Islamist group, there has been little progress toward the announced goal of degrading and then destroying the terrorists. To the contrary, ISIS has not only not lost any of the enormous territories it overran in 2014, it has also shown itself capable of conducting operations on different fronts simultaneously, while also demonstrating its ferocious resolve to kill Westerners and non-Muslims via the media of its horrific murder videos showing captives being beheaded or burned alive. The recent atrocity in Libya, in which Egyptian Christians were beheaded, also illustrated the fact that it is expanding its reach throughout the region.

The administration has not had much good news to offer on its efforts to fight ISIS. The low volume of air strikes, especially when compared to other recent U.S. conflicts, provided more evidence of the president’s signature lead-from-behind style in which allies were expected to do the heavy lifting. But though this minimal commitment is in President Obama’s comfort zone, it’s also sending a message to ISIS that they needn’t fear the U.S. Thus, the temptation to broadcast plans for an offensive against ISIS this spring proved too much to resist for a White House desperate to win the news cycle even if that doesn’t do much to hurt ISIS.

But though no one doubts that the coalition of Iraqi, Kurdish, and pro-Iranian forces fighting ISIS will try to take Mosul, the administration is gambling with the lives of its allies when it makes such announcements. It’s true that there’s not much point worrying about the element of surprise in a battle where no surprise is possible. But given the trouble these elements have had in coordinating their efforts, the Iraqi army’s poor performance, the Kurds’ lack of up-to-date weaponry, and the troublesome role of Iran in the fighting, there are no sure things in this war even if we are told that ISIS only has a couple thousand fighters in Mosul at the moment.

The point is governments that are successful in prosecuting wars don’t consider press conferences about battles that haven’t yet been fought a substitute for a war-winning strategy. To date, the U.S. has been fighting a phony war against ISIS that has been more talk than action. This week’s White House extravaganza only reinforced that image.

When President Obama authorizes briefings by Pentagon officials about battles that have already been fought and won, we’ll know he knows what he’s doing. Until then, neither ISIS nor the American public should be too impressed by what we’re hearing from the White House.

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Elie Wiesel and the Defense of Jewish Life

Like a lot of Jews, Peter Beinart says Elie Wiesel’s writings helped influence his development as a thinker and a writer. The same could be said of me. At this point, the Nobel Laureate Wiesel has made his mark on more than one generation of Jews who were raised on his novels and memoirs exploring both his experience in the Holocaust as well as Jewish traditions and the dilemma of modern Jewish life. But, as he writes in his latest Haaretz column, Beinart has no patience for Wiesel these days. Why? Because Wiesel has written a public letter, published as an ad in the New York Times and the Washington Post, supporting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about the nuclear threat from Iran.

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Like a lot of Jews, Peter Beinart says Elie Wiesel’s writings helped influence his development as a thinker and a writer. The same could be said of me. At this point, the Nobel Laureate Wiesel has made his mark on more than one generation of Jews who were raised on his novels and memoirs exploring both his experience in the Holocaust as well as Jewish traditions and the dilemma of modern Jewish life. But, as he writes in his latest Haaretz column, Beinart has no patience for Wiesel these days. Why? Because Wiesel has written a public letter, published as an ad in the New York Times and the Washington Post, supporting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about the nuclear threat from Iran.

According to Beinart, this is just one more example of Wiesel being “blind to the harm that Jews cause.” Whatever your opinion about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s decision to give the speech (and I’ve repeatedly questioned it), the notion that an Israeli leader speaking up to urge the world to stop Iran obtaining the ability to threaten or to carry out another Holocaust is causing “harm” is not only outrageous. It speaks volumes about the mindset of Beinart and others like him who view Jewish self-defense with more alarm than the continued efforts of those who seek to slaughter Jews.

I think Netanyahu made a terrible tactical mistake by choosing to inject himself into a debate over Iran sanctions that the side he supported was already winning. President Obama’s efforts to spike those sanctions was given a major boost when, fairly or not, Netanyahu’s alleged breach of protocol became the issue, diverting the nation from the administration’s indefensible efforts to promote détente with Iran. But since Netanyahu is determined to go ahead with the speech, his critics are not so much focused on his blunder as on their desire to silence all discussion about the Iranian nuclear threat so as to give more room for Obama’s push for appeasement.

Beinart claims Wiesel made two unsupported statements in his letter. The first is that the U.S. and Iran are on the verge of a “terrible” deal. The second is that an Iranian nuclear weapon could mean the “annihilation and destruction” of Israel. Yet there’s not much to Beinart’s objections here.

There’s not much dispute about the terms the U.S. is currently offering Iran. Discarding his 2012 campaign promise to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program, President Obama has already put on the table an offer that would allow the Islamist regime to retain thousands of centrifuges for enriching uranium as well as letting them keep control of their stockpile of nuclear fuel. Administration apologists claim that this is the best that the West can do in any bargain with Iran, but Beinart doesn’t even bother to make that weak argument but simply writes as if the much discussed terms of the negotiations are a mystery that will only be revealed at the signing ceremony. Such terms would not be much of a deterrent to stop Iran from building a bomb; the only question being whether a nuclear “breakout” would take a year or, as many intelligence sources insist, far less time. Nor does he deign to dispute that even if Iran initially abided by those terms, it would make Tehran a nuclear threshold state that would make this terrorist sponsoring government more powerful, aiding its drive for regional hegemony.

Even less convincing is Beinart’s claim that an Iranian nuke wouldn’t be an existential threat to Israel. Though he can quote some retired Israeli security officials downplaying the threat, he knows very well that the dispute in those circles is not so much about the danger but about the best way to counter it with many deprecating the possibility of an Israeli military strike.

Though Iran might not use such a weapon to destroy Israel, their possession of one does raise such a possibility for two reasons. One is that they are building ballistic missiles that could deliver such a bomb. The other is that leading figures of this unabashedly anti-Semitic regime have repeatedly stated their desire to annihilate Israel.

Put in that context, Wiesel’s assertions are unexceptionable. Indeed, if one goes back and reads many of President Obama’s statements about an Iranian weapon in his first term during which he pledged never to allow such a development to take place, Wiesel’s position actually seems in concert with that of the administration.

But Beinart’s real agenda here isn’t to make weak arguments in defense of the administration’s efforts to build a new entente with Tehran. Rather, it is to denounce Wiesel’s instinct to defend Israel’s government against efforts to delegitimize its attempts to defend the Jewish state. Because he thinks, or at least at one point thought, about the writer as a symbol of concern for human rights, Beinart is appalled that Wiesel thinks Israel shouldn’t be forced to make unilateral concessions or that Jerusalem should be divided. He thinks he should be in the forefront of those flaying Israel for its policies on the West Bank rather than defending its current government as he has its predecessors led by both Likud and Labor prime ministers.

But again, this tells us more about Wiesel’s grasp of the essence of the conflict than any alleged insensitivity to the sufferings of the Palestinians. To the contrary, Wiesel has always been outspoken about the need to respect the humanity and the rights of Palestinians. But at the same time he has celebrated Israel’s control over a united Jerusalem because that means for the first time in its history, all faiths have access to their holy places.

Moreover, Wiesel’s defense of Israeli efforts to defend its people against a continuing campaign of Palestinian terrorism isn’t insensitive to non-Jews. He grasps that it is the Palestinian national organizations that have perpetuated this conflict despite repeated Israeli offers of peace and independence that have been turned down flat by both Fatah and Hamas.

Beinart rightly senses that so long as an icon of humanity like Wiesel is willing to stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself and to not be forced into unilateral and suicidal concessions, non-Jews will understand that the Jewish state’s rights should be respected. Whatever one may think of the current government of Israel, the notion that its efforts to preserve the existence of the state and the security of its people “defile” Wiesel’s ideals is a monstrous distortion of the truth. For those who have wrongly come to view Israel as the villain in the Middle East conflict and who reflexively deny the Palestinians’ rejection of peace and coexistence, any defense of Israel is too much, even when it comes from someone whose bona fides as an authority on human rights dwarf those of a Peter Beinart.

In the context of the politics of either Israel or the United States, Wiesel is a not right-winger or an opponent of compromise, assuming that peace with the Palestinians were ever possible. He is, rather, a centrist who simply sticks to consensus issues like Iran and a united Jerusalem. But to the likes of Beinart, even those positions are anathema.

Beinart’s current niche in the secular media is as a Jewish writer who can be relied upon to denounce Israel’s government so it is little surprise that he would defend appeasement of Iran. But when he matches his puny stature as a critic of the Jewish state against Wiesel’s standing as an advocate of Jewish life, he is out of his depth. By bashing the famous survivor in this manner, he is doing more to damage his own tattered reputation than undermining that of Wiesel.

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Why Governments “Invest” in the Clintons

“The Clinton Foundation has dropped its self-imposed ban on collecting funds from foreign governments and is winning contributions at an accelerating rate,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “raising ethical questions as Hillary Clinton ramps up her expected bid for the presidency.” After Clinton left the State Department, it appears the foundation quietly resumed passing the hat around to foreign governments, who are no doubt well aware they’re dealing with the possible next president. It sounds icky–as almost any story about Clintonian influence peddling does. But it’s worth taking a stroll down memory lane to point out that the ethical questions it raises are not simply theoretical.

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“The Clinton Foundation has dropped its self-imposed ban on collecting funds from foreign governments and is winning contributions at an accelerating rate,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “raising ethical questions as Hillary Clinton ramps up her expected bid for the presidency.” After Clinton left the State Department, it appears the foundation quietly resumed passing the hat around to foreign governments, who are no doubt well aware they’re dealing with the possible next president. It sounds icky–as almost any story about Clintonian influence peddling does. But it’s worth taking a stroll down memory lane to point out that the ethical questions it raises are not simply theoretical.

In 1995, 20-year-old Alisa Flatow, a North Jersey native, was killed in a terrorist attack in Gaza. The investigation that followed eventually showed Iran’s hand in the attack, and in Palestinian terror in general. The family sued the Iranian government, and won $247.5 million in damages. It was enabled by legislation: the Antiterrorism Act of 1996 allowed Americans to bring suit against foreign governments which are also sponsors of terrorism, and then-New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg added an amendment to put teeth in the bill.

Iran, obviously, refused to pay up. So a judge ordered Iranian assets in America to be seized and sold to pay the judgment. That’s when the Iranians got some help–from President Bill Clinton. As Seth Lipsky wrote last year:

When it came time for Flatow to collect, an incredible thing happened. The Clinton administration went into court and took the side of Iran against Alisa.

It had panicked when Flatow, aiming to enforce the judgment he’d won, sought to claim a building that the Iran ambassador had used as a residence in Washington. Enforcing the judgment, the Clinton administration claimed, would wreak diplomatic havoc. Eventually, the U.S. government paid Flatow and a number of other terror victims a small settlement out of taxpayer funds. In exchange, the U.S. government, at least in theory, will eventually get to settle up with Iran.

One of the Iranian assets was a building at 650 Fifth Avenue in New York, which was partially owned by the Alavi Foundation. The U.S. government tried to argue that Alavi was not an Iranian-government asset and so should be left alone. But the investigation, spearheaded by former District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office, eventually found otherwise and also found that two major world banks, Credit Suisse and Lloyds, were helping the Iranians illegally access the American financial system. The case soon also found similar action by French bank BNP Paribas, which last year pled guilty.

But the Alavi Foundation was grateful for Clinton’s intervention on the Iranian government’s behalf and against the victims of terrorism. In 2006 and again in 2008, the foundation donated more than $50,000 total to the Clinton Foundation.

Again: as president, Clinton protected Iranian front groups from being held accountable for terror. They thanked him by cutting fat checks to Clinton after he left office.

This is why stories such as the Journal’s make people uncomfortable. It’s because the Clintons’ behavior is too often just as slimy as it appears. It doesn’t just sound bad–it is. It’s also a reminder that what the Iranians are doing now to Barack Obama they did to Clinton too: demand (and receive) protection and a degree of immunity in return for negotiations that go nowhere.

According to the Journal, first-time donors include the United Arab Emirates and Germany. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have ramped up donations as well. And it’s important to note that ever since 2008 (or even before), governments understand that when they’re dealing with Hillary Clinton they’re dealing with someone who might soon be the most powerful person in the world. Back in 2012, I called attention to this passage from Susan Glasser’s story on Hillary’s negotiations with the Chinese government to free dissident Chen Guangcheng:

What would it take for her to run again for president in 2016? “Nothing,” she replied quickly. Then she laughed. Even the Chinese, she said, had asked her about it at Wednesday night’s dinner, suggesting she should run. They were “saying things like, ‘Well, you know, I mean 2016 is not so far away.… You may retire, but you’re very young,’” Clinton recalled.

Maybe, I ventured, that’s why they had in the end been willing to accommodate her on Chen; they were investing in a future with a possible President Clinton.

Not “maybe.” The Clintons are an investment, and they always have been. And as president, Hillary wouldn’t be able to pick and choose which issues to deal with. As American University’s James Thurber told the Journal, “she can’t recuse herself.” That the Clintons have chosen to renew foreign donations on the eve of Hillary’s presidential campaign shows that the more things change, the more the Clintons stay the same.

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Nothing ‘Random’ About Copenhagen Attacks

Many media accounts are referring to last night’s shootings in Copenhagen as a “copycat” episode in which the perpetrator sought to emulate the atrocities committed by Islamists last month in Paris. But whether or not the Copenhagen shooter was specifically motivated by the ones who committed the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Hyper Cacher market, this crime must be understood as being one more example of the twin trends of Islamist violence and anti-Semitism that have spread across Europe. Even more importantly, it demonstrates the folly of the mindset of the Obama administration that continues to be resolute in its unwillingness to confront the sources of terrorism and the reality of its role in violent Jew-hatred.

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Many media accounts are referring to last night’s shootings in Copenhagen as a “copycat” episode in which the perpetrator sought to emulate the atrocities committed by Islamists last month in Paris. But whether or not the Copenhagen shooter was specifically motivated by the ones who committed the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Hyper Cacher market, this crime must be understood as being one more example of the twin trends of Islamist violence and anti-Semitism that have spread across Europe. Even more importantly, it demonstrates the folly of the mindset of the Obama administration that continues to be resolute in its unwillingness to confront the sources of terrorism and the reality of its role in violent Jew-hatred.

The Copenhagen shootings provide important context for the interview of President Obama published last week in Vox. In it, he acknowledged that it was legitimate for people to be concerned about terrorism, but he spoke of it as a secondary concern that gained headlines merely because of the lurid nature of the crimes committed by those involved. Likening his job to that of a “big city mayor” who needs to keep crime rates low, he spoke of terrorism as merely one more problem on his plate and not the most serious one. Obama not only refuses to acknowledge that the spread of ISIS in the Middle East is fueled by a form of religious fundamentalism that has strong support in the Muslim world; he also quite deliberately refused to label what happened in Paris last month an act of anti-Semitism, a stand that was echoed by the press spokespersons for both the White House and the State Department last week.

I wrote last week that, contrary to Obama, there was nothing “random” about an attack on a kosher market in Paris: the assailants were clearly seeking out a place where they could kill Jews and succeeded in that respect. The same is true of the Copenhagen shooter’s decision to attack a synagogue after spraying bullets at a café where a cartoonist who had drawn images of the Prophet Muhammad was speaking. One person was killed at the café and a Jewish voluntary security guard at the synagogue (who was there protecting the celebrants at a bat mitzvah being held at the time).

The Copenhagen attacks are one more reminder that the debate about whether there is such a thing as Islamist terrorism or if attacks on Jews are “random” isn’t about semantics. The refusal to address the religious sources of terrorism—a point on which some Arab leaders have begun to be heard—inevitably renders American efforts to do something about the problem ineffective. Just as importantly, denying the connection between this form of Islam and anti-Semitism seems to be causing the administration to also refuse to acknowledge that Jews in Europe are being targeted because of their identity and not simply due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If the U.S. were to begin to tell the truth about the Islamist roots of terror and the connection with anti-Semitism, that might be the start of a re-examination of mistaken policies that have, albeit unwittingly, led to the rise of ISIS as well as a determination to retreat from the Middle East. The administration’s obsession with creating a new détente with Iran is not merely about pulling back from a confrontation with Tehran about their nuclear-weapons program. It is part of a mindset that mistakenly views the Islamist regime’s bid for regional hegemony as no threat to the West. At the same time it also seems to regard worries about the defense of Jews, whether in an Israel threatened with extinction by Iranian nuclear weapons and Palestinian terror groups, or in Europe, as complications that need to be either argued down or ignored.

The West needs the sort of moral leadership from the White House that would galvanize world opinion against Islamists, whether in the form of ISIS barbarians in Syria and Iraq, Islamist tyrants in Tehran, or murderers bent on suppressing free speech and killing Jews in European cities. Instead, it has a man who provides misleading and inaccurate analogies between Islamist crimes and the history of the West while seeing himself as beset by demands to address issues of terror and anti-Semitism that don’t hold his interest. When the leader of the free world isn’t terribly interested in the need to defeat freedom’s enemies, the world must tremble.

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How Different Would Herzog Be From Bibi?

With a little more than a month to go before Israel’s Knesset election, there isn’t much doubt that the White House is hoping and praying that Israeli voters reject Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bid for a third consecutive term in office. With Obama using Netanyahu’s plan to speak to Congress on Iran sanctions only weeks before the vote and the prime minister speaking of his “duty” to inform the world about the mistaken policy being pursued by the administration, tensions between the two governments are at fever pitch. While the impact of Netanyahu’s speech on Israeli voters is a matter of speculation, he remains favored to win. But what will really change if Obama gets his wish and, instead, the Labor Party’s Isaac Herzog emerges from what is likely to be a protracted period of negotiations as Israel’s next prime minister? The answer is that while the atmospherics between Washington and Jerusalem will undoubtedly be a lot better, the substance of the arguments between the two governments won’t change much. Nor will, despite the assumptions on the part of Netanyahu’s many critics, Israel be any closer to peace under Herzog than it is under the incumbent.

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With a little more than a month to go before Israel’s Knesset election, there isn’t much doubt that the White House is hoping and praying that Israeli voters reject Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bid for a third consecutive term in office. With Obama using Netanyahu’s plan to speak to Congress on Iran sanctions only weeks before the vote and the prime minister speaking of his “duty” to inform the world about the mistaken policy being pursued by the administration, tensions between the two governments are at fever pitch. While the impact of Netanyahu’s speech on Israeli voters is a matter of speculation, he remains favored to win. But what will really change if Obama gets his wish and, instead, the Labor Party’s Isaac Herzog emerges from what is likely to be a protracted period of negotiations as Israel’s next prime minister? The answer is that while the atmospherics between Washington and Jerusalem will undoubtedly be a lot better, the substance of the arguments between the two governments won’t change much. Nor will, despite the assumptions on the part of Netanyahu’s many critics, Israel be any closer to peace under Herzog than it is under the incumbent.

To listen to Herzog and his new partner Tzipi Livni, who merged her defunct Hatnua Party with Labor to form what they call the Zionist Camp, the differences will be significant. Herzog has spoken of his commitment to the peace process. It’s likely that he would encourage a renewal of the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry that collapsed last year after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas signed a unity pact with Hamas.

But would the terms he is willing to offer Abbas differ from those that the Palestinians have already rejected?

Herzog has danced around the question of a divided Jerusalem. Though he is saying now that he wants to keep the city united, in the past he has endorsed the Geneva Initiative’s plans for a division. That waffling is in stark contrast to Netanyahu’s adamant refusal to partition Israel’s capital. But in practice, Herzog might still find himself locked in disputes with the Obama administration on Jerusalem. That’s because Obama considers the 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods built in parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 to be little different than the most hilltop encampments in the West Bank where Jews are living. To the administration, both are “settlements” and obstacles to peace. Any Herzog-Livni government would be a coalition with centrist parties, including relative hardliners like Avigdor Lieberman, and not Labor’s allies to the left or the Arab parties. It is inconceivable that any such government would agree, as the president almost certainly will demand, for a building freeze in Jerusalem.

Herzog is also deeply committed to a two-state solution, something that is music to Obama’s ears and will be the selling point used by Kerry when he tries to entice Abbas back to the negotiating table should Labor win. But here again, harsh reality will intrude on Obama’s fantasy about a change in the prime minister’s office being a guarantee of peace.

Abbas has already rejected a two-state deal that included a Palestinian state in Gaza, almost all the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem when Ehud Olmert offered him such an accord in 2008. He refused to even negotiate seriously with Netanyahu even though the prime minister accepted the two-state concept in 2009. Livni knows this because she was Netanyahu’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians for the past two years and has publicly complained that Abbas showed no interest in making a deal.

Will that change simply because Netanyahu isn’t in office? It’s theoretically possible, but given that the dynamic of Palestinian politics remains unchanged, it’s hard to see how things will be different. With Gaza still in the hands of Hamas and Abbas fearful of elections in the West Bank that he might lose (he is currently serving in the tenth year of a four-year term), it is highly unlikely. After years of avoiding being put in a position where he would have to commit political suicide by making peace, Abbas has no incentive to change now. So long as he and his people are unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it doesn’t matter if the Likud, Labor, or any other Zionist party leads Israel, the outcome will be the same.

One would also expect a change in tone in discussions about Iran if Netanyahu doesn’t win. Yet Obama would be mistaken to think that Herzog would be any happier with a deal that allows the Islamist regime to become a nuclear threshold state than Netanyahu has been. Despite the carping at Netanyahu from many in the security establishment, there has always been a consensus among Israeli mainstream figures about the serious nature of the nuclear threat from Iran. The mild-mannered Herzog may express his disagreement with Obama in more measured tones, but the divide between the two countries over the desirability of détente with Iran is not one that will disappear with a Labor-led government. The same holds true about Iranian adventurism in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and even Gaza.

Those hoping for a Netanyahu defeat shouldn’t get their hopes up too high. The latest polls still show the Likud leading Labor. Moreover, even if Labor ties the Likud or earns a slight edge, it won’t be easy for Herzog to put a new government together. Though he has a path to a 61-seat majority, it is a precarious one involving discarding his Meretz ally and the Arab parties and making deals with centrist parties that are more natural partners for Likud. For that to be considered likely, Herzog’s party, which just fired its campaign strategist (always a bad sign this close to the voting) will have to beat Netanyahu’s Likud handily, something that doesn’t seem particularly likely at the moment.

But even if he does somehow win, the change will be one of personalities rather than on substance on the peace process. So long as the Arabs exercise their veto on peace, it really doesn’t matter who is prime minister of Israel. Neither Netanyahu nor Herzog will make peace with the Palestinians and there’s nothing Obama can do about it.

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Update the State Sponsor of Terrorism List

At the rate President Barack Obama is going, the State Sponsor of Terrorism list will be empty by the time he leaves office. Today, only Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria remain on the list, and Obama seems intent on having Secretary of State John Kerry remove Cuba within months. Nor is Cuba the only country which Obama seeks to remove. As Team Obama scrambles to find new incentives to keep Iran at the nuclear negotiating table, it’s likely that Obama will also seek Iran’s removal as part of any deal. Iranian officials have made clear they expect all sanctions to be lifted, and that includes those which kick in for being a designated state sponsor of terrorism. Does Iran support Hezbollah? Certainly. But all the discussion about Hezbollah being a Lebanese nationalist group which has weaned itself from its Iranian founders (never mind its involvement in Syria or its putsch in Beirut in 2008) set the stage for a sleight of hand.

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At the rate President Barack Obama is going, the State Sponsor of Terrorism list will be empty by the time he leaves office. Today, only Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria remain on the list, and Obama seems intent on having Secretary of State John Kerry remove Cuba within months. Nor is Cuba the only country which Obama seeks to remove. As Team Obama scrambles to find new incentives to keep Iran at the nuclear negotiating table, it’s likely that Obama will also seek Iran’s removal as part of any deal. Iranian officials have made clear they expect all sanctions to be lifted, and that includes those which kick in for being a designated state sponsor of terrorism. Does Iran support Hezbollah? Certainly. But all the discussion about Hezbollah being a Lebanese nationalist group which has weaned itself from its Iranian founders (never mind its involvement in Syria or its putsch in Beirut in 2008) set the stage for a sleight of hand.

And it is doubtful that Obama will seek to stigmatize Sudan, Darfur and Sudan’s increasing support for the Lord’s Resistance Army notwithstanding. Syria’s another call—but Obama seems to be pivoting to reconciling with Bashar al-Assad despite the brutality of the last four years. With both Khartoum and Damascus, Obama might also argue that whatever the brutality of the regimes, they have focused their repression inward and have not engaged in international terrorism. To reach such a conclusion would, of course, require cherry-picking Sudanese assistance with weapons transfers to Palestinian terrorists and Syrian-sponsored violence inside Lebanon.

Clearly, Obama is treating the State Sponsor of Terrorism list subjectively rather than objectively. To be fair, George W. Bush did likewise: The only reason why Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice removed North Korea from the list in 2008 was to try to jumpstart diplomacy in the hope that she could provide Bush with a foreign-policy success. North Korea was no more deserving of removal than Iran would be: While Bush administration officials insisted that Pyongyang had ceased its support for terror in the 1980s, the Congressional Research Service was reporting continued ties between North Korea on one hand, and both the Tamil Tigers and Hezbollah on the other.

In an ideal world, there would be no state sponsors of terror, but simply waving the diplomatic wand to remove states from the list does not end terror. Indeed, the whole purpose of designation is not to hamper diplomacy but to aid it: When states are listed on objective grounds, it provides diplomatic leverage to get them to reform.

Perhaps, then, it would be useful for the State Department not only to review those states on the list like Cuba and Iran which Obama wants removed, but also other states or entities whose recent behavior suggests they deserve inclusion.

Turkey is a clear example. There is ample evidence that Turkey has smuggled arms to Boko Haram, and there is also conclusive evidence that Turkey has also armed radical groups, including al-Qaeda affiliates and perhaps even ISIS in Syria.

Both Turkey and Qatar also overtly support Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. It may be diplomatically inconvenient to designate two U.S. allies but, then again, it should be even more inconvenient to have allies who are unrepentant sponsors of terrorist groups.

By any objective measure, Russia should also be considered a state sponsor of terrorism: Whether it is providing arms used to shoot down civilian jets, or simply providing arms to militias which indiscriminately shell civilian targets, it is clear that Russia does not abide by the rule of law.

And, of course, if the Palestinian Authority wishes to be treated as a state, one membership they deserve is designation as a terror sponsor. Despite the Oslo Accords and subsequent interim agreements, the Palestinian Authority simply has not kept its hand clean: offering salaries to convicted terrorists—men and women who fully acknowledge their role in attacks targeting civilians—is evidence enough.

While Cuba remains an autocratic, corrupt regime, it is debatable whether they still are an international terror sponsor. What is not debatable, however, is that Venezuela is. And, so long as Algeria continues to aid and support the Polisario Front almost 25 years after that Cold War relic agreed to a ceasefire with Morocco, then Algeria too deserves to be listed as a terror sponsor. Pakistan, too, for all its assistance to the Taliban and other radical Islamist groups. And North Korea’s brief interlude off the list should end so long as it continues its relationship with Hezbollah and Syria, for whom it apparently still digs tunnels and builds other underground facilities.

Let’s hope that one day there will be no need for a State Sponsor of Terrorism list. But let’s also acknowledge that that day has yet to come. Alas, a true State Sponsor of Terrorism list would not include just two or three countries, but perhaps a dozen. Diplomatic sleights-of-hand might be the bread and butter of the Obama administration and State Department more broadly, but pretending terrorism has no sponsors does not actually do anything to stop terrorism. Quite the contrary, it just convinces terror sponsors in Algiers, Ankara, Caracas, Doha, Islamabad, Moscow, Pyongyang, and Ramallah that they face no accountability for their actions.

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Netanyahu Must Give That Speech

The importance of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s March 4 address to Congress extends far beyond its effect on his own country. That is apparent from the testimony of two former secretaries of state–Henry Kissinger and George Shultz–before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 29. Kissinger told the committee that shifting the goal from (a) preventing Iran’s capability to build a nuclear weapon, to (b) simply limiting Iran’s use of that capability, will create not only “huge inspection problems,” but a far more critical problem:

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The importance of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s March 4 address to Congress extends far beyond its effect on his own country. That is apparent from the testimony of two former secretaries of state–Henry Kissinger and George Shultz–before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 29. Kissinger told the committee that shifting the goal from (a) preventing Iran’s capability to build a nuclear weapon, to (b) simply limiting Iran’s use of that capability, will create not only “huge inspection problems,” but a far more critical problem:

I’ll reserve my comment on [the inspection problems] until I see the agreement. But I would also emphasize the issue of proliferation. Assuming … the stockpile of nuclear material that already exists, the question then is, what do the other countries in the region do? And if the other countries in the region conclude that America has approved the development of an enrichment capability within one year of a nuclear weapon, and if they then insist on building the same capability, we will live in a proliferated world

Because it’s a different problem from not having a capability at all to having a capability that is within one year of building a weapon. Especially if it then spreads to all the other countries in the region, and they – and they have to live with that fear of each other. That will produce a substantially different world from the one that we know

I’m troubled by some of the implications of what is now publicly available … and the impact of all of this on an international system where everybody is within a very short period of getting a nuclear weapon. Nobody can really fully trust the inspection system or at least some may not. That is something I would hope gets carefully examined before a final solution is attained. (Emphasis added.)

In other words, even if the agreement purports to keep Iran a year away from a nuclear weapon, and even if there is an inspection regime that purports to enforce the agreement, the inevitable result will be nuclear proliferation throughout the region that will endanger every state in it, and affect those beyond as well. Iran will have turned “binding” UN resolutions against its nuclear program into an American agreement approving it, and the United States will be in no position to prevent other states from acquiring the same capability (or more), or to urge them to rely on American promises that will have been proved ineffective. Secretary Shultz joined Secretary Kissinger in portraying a stark picture of what it would mean to leave Iran with its enrichment process intact:

I see nuclear weapon proliferation. That is devastating … my physicist friends say the Hiroshima weapon was just a little play thing. Well, look at the damage it did. A thermonuclear weapon would incinerate the Washington area totally. … And we were making progress, but that’s been derailed and we’re going the wrong way right now. … It should be pointed out that a bomb made from enriched uranium is much easier to make than [the] Hiroshima bomb. [The] Hiroshima bomb was a uranium enrichment bomb. It wasn’t even tested … [Y]ou can make an unsophisticated bomb from enriched uranium fairly easily. That’s not a big trick. So the enrichment process is key. (Emphasis added.)

An agreement that leaves Iran’s enrichment process in place, guaranteeing a rapid proliferation throughout the region, is a strategic disaster, not only for the region but for the United States. Given the Kissinger and Shultz testimony, it is clear that the critical issue is not the prospects for legislation imposing contingent sanctions if Iran does not reach an agreement. The problem is the agreement the Obama administration is seeking, against the advice of two distinguished secretaries of state, both of whom served in World War II and remember what caused it.

Neither the congressional invitation to the Israeli prime minister nor his acceptance of it was a mistake. The speech will be his attempt to say what Churchill would have said if he had seen America heading down the road Kissinger and Shultz described to the Armed Services Committee. A head of state must come to Washington to say it, and to say it not simply in private discussions, nor simply before pro-Israel advocates at AIPAC, but directly to the representatives of the American people, and before it is too late.

It is not going to be David Cameron, Angela Merkel, or Francois Hollande, the leaders of a Europe that is no longer strategically serious. If it is going to be anyone, it will have to be Benjamin Netanyahu. For the reasons he set forth in his powerful statement on February 10, the issue goes far beyond politics and protocol.

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Iran’s Achilles’ Heel: Succession

Seldom has a state so economically weak been so triumphant on the world stage. Thanks in large part to President Obama’s strategic short-sightedness, Obama abandoned Iraq to dominant Iranian influence. Iran appears to be on the verge of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in Syria, and Yemen is now firmly in the hands of an Iranian-backed militia. Western Afghanistan is also firmly under Iranian influence. Meanwhile, despite a half dozen UN Security Council Resolutions demanding Iran cease its nuclear enrichment program, the Islamic Republic appears on the verge of a deal that will allow it to continue, without adequate safeguards.

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Seldom has a state so economically weak been so triumphant on the world stage. Thanks in large part to President Obama’s strategic short-sightedness, Obama abandoned Iraq to dominant Iranian influence. Iran appears to be on the verge of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in Syria, and Yemen is now firmly in the hands of an Iranian-backed militia. Western Afghanistan is also firmly under Iranian influence. Meanwhile, despite a half dozen UN Security Council Resolutions demanding Iran cease its nuclear enrichment program, the Islamic Republic appears on the verge of a deal that will allow it to continue, without adequate safeguards.

And while the Iranian economy had shrunk more than 5 percent in the year before nuclear negotiations began, the United States has unfrozen nearly $11 billion in Iranian assets simply to keep talks alive. To put that number in perspective, it’s about twice the official annual budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Whereas a decade ago, Iranian authorities referred to Iran as a regional power and then, beginning around 2011, a pan-regional power (to include not only the Persian Gulf but also the Northern Indian Ocean), Iranian regime officials and senior IRGC commanders talk about the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa as Iran’s “strategic boundaries.”

Not all is saffron and roses for the Islamic Republic, however. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is 75 years old, and has recently had some health scares. Even if he is fully recovered now, Septuagenarians tend to have limited lifespans. So what happens after Khamenei passes?

Iran isn’t Saudi Arabia, where a crown prince takes over, or a Syria-style Arab republic where son succeeds father. In theory, an 86-member clerical body called the Assembly of Experts chooses Khamenei’s successor, but the only time when they have theoretically selected a new leader was in 1989 when revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini passed away. At the time, Iran’s leading powerbrokers selected the relatively bland and unaccomplished Khamenei as a compromise candidate and only then submitted his name to the Assembly for its rubber stamp. The idea that the Assembly of Experts will smoothly choose a successor after Khamenei dies is probably unwarranted.

Iran is far from a democracy: Khamenei is a master marionette who plays the different factions off each other: It is no coincidence that hardliners and reformers alternate the presidency, or that Ministry of Intelligence veterans supplant IRGC officers in key ministries. Once one group gets too powerful, Khamenei simply cuts the powerful down to size and allows their competitors to rise up.

But once he’s gone, the finger will come out of the dyke. Every faction will battle for primacy. Because the supreme leader is the unquestioned dictator, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Iran could be looking at months without clear leadership, a dangerous time in which the IRGC might simply assume greater power by reason of being the best armed. Of course, it is theoretically possible that the “Guardianship of the Jurisprudent” will be occupied by a committee if informal consensus is not possible. This might seem like a short-term compromise, but it is a recipe for instability, as the leadership body simply becomes ground zero for increasingly virulent factional struggles.

Obama’s strategy focuses on the here and now, and he is ceding vast tracks of territory to Iran’s predominant influence. If he believes this can bring about security, however, he may be disastrously wrong. The problem with the idea that dictatorships breed stability is the fact that autocrats are not immortal, especially ill, frail, 75-year-old dictators.

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The Obama-Merkel Press Conference: What Were They Thinking?

There were several worthy nominees for the oddest thing about today’s joint press conference conducted by President Obama and German Chancellor Merkel. One was when Obama suggested the Israeli prime minister ought to be more like the German leader, who surely wouldn’t have even asked for an invitation to Washington before an election. Another was Merkel’s decision to use Ronald Reagan’s Brandenburg Gate speech as a source of hope for peace in Ukraine–with Obama, the un-Reagan, standing right there. But despite those and others, the oddest thing about the presser is still the fact that it happened at all.

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There were several worthy nominees for the oddest thing about today’s joint press conference conducted by President Obama and German Chancellor Merkel. One was when Obama suggested the Israeli prime minister ought to be more like the German leader, who surely wouldn’t have even asked for an invitation to Washington before an election. Another was Merkel’s decision to use Ronald Reagan’s Brandenburg Gate speech as a source of hope for peace in Ukraine–with Obama, the un-Reagan, standing right there. But despite those and others, the oddest thing about the presser is still the fact that it happened at all.

The press conference was a mess. And its lack of purpose contributed mightily to that fact. The president and the chancellor are indeed two very important Western leaders–at certain times, and on certain issues, the two most important Western leaders. Ukraine is one such issue. The problem today was not that Merkel and Obama are meeting or that they’re talking to the press about it. The problem was that they called a press conference to say absolutely nothing.

The question that seemed to put this most into stark relief was when a German reporter asked Obama the following:

You said that you have not yet made a decision as to whether weapons ought to be delivered to Ukraine. What would be your red line? What would be the red line that needs to be crossed for you to decide [to arm the Ukrainians] and what do you think this will hold by way of a promise, because the chancellor said it will make matters worse? And what can the Nobel laureate Obama do to defuse this conflict?

Obama’s response could basically be broken down into three parts. The first was to push back on the idea that the Ukrainian military is being left to fend completely for itself:

It’s important to point out that we have been providing assistance to the Ukrainian military generally. That’s been part of a longstanding relationship between NATO and Ukraine. And our goal has not been for Ukraine to be equipped to carry on offensive operations, but to simply defend itself. And President Poroshenko has been very clear. He’s not interested in escalating violence; he is interested in having his country’s boundaries respected by its neighbor.

The second part is to concede that he’s basically given up on issuing red lines since he doesn’t mean them anyway:

So there’s not going to be any specific point at which I say, “Ah, clearly lethal defensive weapons would be appropriate here.” It is our ongoing analysis of what can we do to dissuade Russia from encroaching further and further on Ukrainian territory? Our hope is that is done through diplomatic means.

And finally, his indication that despite everything that’s happened, he hasn’t really adjusted his approach to Russia:

And I just want to emphasize here once again, for the benefit not just of the American people but for the German people, we are not looking for Russia to fail. We are not looking for Russia to be surrounded and contained and weakened. Our preference is for a strong, prosperous, vibrant, confident Russia, that can be a partner with us on a whole host of global challenges. And that’s how I operated throughout my first term in office.

What viewers saw here was a complete lack of urgency on the part of the two most important Western leaders with regard to Russia. That was the theme. And Merkel joined in later in the presser, with a plea for patience and hope that quickly devolved into a rambling, longwinded version of one of Obama’s favorite quotes about the arc of history bending toward justice.

Merkel was asked: “Can you understand the impatience of the Americans when they say we ought to now deliver weapons? And what makes you feel confident that diplomacy will carry the day?” She responded by counseling even more patience:

Whenever you have political conflicts such as the one that we have now between Russia and Ukraine, but also in many other conflicts around the world, it has always proved to be right to try again and again to solve such a conflict. We’ve spoken at some length about the Iranian conflict. Here, too, we are expected to try time and again. There’s always a point where you say well all of the options are on the table, we’ve gone back and forth. But then one has to think again.

It kept going downhill from there. Merkel brought in “the Middle East conflict” (presumably the Arab-Israeli conflict), which is certainly not the comparison you’re looking for if you live in eastern Ukraine. She then jumped to the division of Germany–a nearly five-decade split finally resolved near the end of the Cold War. Again, not remotely encouraging for anyone seeking to end the bloodshed in Ukraine.

It all brings the viewer back to the original question: What on earth was the point of this? All the press conference succeeded in doing was to tell Russia there was no red line and to tell Ukraine that the West was willing to wait half a century to see how this all shakes out. To those in Ukraine watching that press conference, it was probably terrifying. To our allies elsewhere, it was probably horrifying. But for those of us watching here in the States, it was simply mystifying.

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A Strategic Retreat for Netanyahu?

Reuters is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering making changes to his planned speech to Congress to placate his critics and lower the temperature on his split with the White House over Iran sanctions. If true, it’s the right call on Netanyahu’s part. And both possibilities floated in the article are reasonable alternatives to the initial plan.

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Reuters is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering making changes to his planned speech to Congress to placate his critics and lower the temperature on his split with the White House over Iran sanctions. If true, it’s the right call on Netanyahu’s part. And both possibilities floated in the article are reasonable alternatives to the initial plan.

The fact that the story leaked at all is a good indication that Bibi’s office has been searching for a way out of this impasse and wants to quiet the furor over the speech. If he’s not going to give the address to a joint session of Congress, he certainly wants the press to stop acting like he is. As Jonathan pointed out last night, Netanyahu walked into a trap–but that doesn’t mean that, out of pique or pride or stubbornness, he has to stay there. Sometimes you just get beat, and the Obama White House, which created the drama by not objecting to the invitation until after Bibi accepted it and then throwing a public fit, won this round.

No matter how well Netanyahu and Ambassador Ron Dermer know American politics, partisan gamesmanship is pretty much all Obama’s team thinks about, and this is their home turf anyway. Being right isn’t always enough in politics–a lesson Netanyahu is re-learning now. As Reuters reports:

As a result, Israeli officials are considering whether Netanyahu should speak to a closed-door session of Congress, rather than in a prime-time TV address, so as to drain some of the intensity from the event, a source said.

Another option is for the prime minister to make his speech at the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington the same week, rather than in Congress.

“The issue has been under discussion for a week,” said a source close to the prime minister’s office. “(Netanyahu) is discussing it with Likud people. Some say he should give up on the speech, others that he should go through with it.”

A story like this getting to the media usually means one of two things: either Netanyahu is the force behind the u-turn and he wants to create some momentum and political space for it, or some of those close to him want to force his hand. The answer to that question is often irrelevant; the idea that Netanyahu plans to change the speech will take on a life of its own now.

The story can also serve another purpose: to help Netanyahu save face in retreat. The Reuters story warns it may be too late for Bibi to change course, because it’ll look like he’s being pushed around:

If he withdraws now it may make him look weak with core voters. Furthermore, he needs an opportunity to play up his tough-on-Iran credentials before election, with national security an overriding issue for voters.

The louder the opposition to Netanyahu’s speech became, the more it looked like giving in would be conceding to the mob. But leaking this now changes the story. Obama’s attack dogs in the mainstream press might simmer down a bit, and they may even want to run with this to box Netanyahu in by furthering the storyline that he’s a reasonable guy and is willing to back off and defer to Obama.

In other words, the Netanyahu administration could take advantage of American reporters’ desire to please their king in the White House. It’s part of what has worked against Netanyahu from the start here. Initially, the administration spun the New York Times into writing that Obama hadn’t been consulted before Netanyahu accepted Speaker Boehner’s invitation. That was false, but the White House knew the Times would print it even if it weren’t true if it painted Israel in a negative light. Which they did.

The Times has since corrected their story, in essence conceding the fact that this whole drama was cooked up by Obama. But the key for the White House was just to give the false story a head start so it became conventional wisdom. Which is what happened. So Politico’s recent story on the controversy contains this line: “The fact that neither Boehner nor Dermer cleared the speech first with the White House…” followed by another reference to claims that “Boehner politicized the speech by inviting Netanyahu behind the White House’s back.” Politico recently hired two veteran foreign-policy hands as editors, but you can tell even publications like Politico still look over the New York Times’s shoulder to copy the Grey Lady’s notes instead of digging for the truth.

Were Bibi to back down here, he would also highlight another fact the media is missing: Obama’s latest stunt, pressuring Democrats (and his vice president) to publicly spurn the Israeli prime minister, is one more example of the wrecking ball Obama has been taking to the pro-Israel left. This is another case of Netanyahu being right not being enough; he’s got to find a way to preserve bipartisan support for Israel despite Obama’s efforts to split Congress and align Democrats against Jerusalem.

If that means retreating, so be it. Sometimes that’s what it takes. And the ball is in Bibi’s court; Obama refuses to be the bigger man here, so someone has to step up.

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