Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran

Obama: Just Because Iran Is Anti-Semitic Doesn’t Make It Irrational

At the bedrock of American nuclear doctrine is the concept of mutual deterrence. It is a principle that rests on the assumption that the actor you are attempting to deter has a rational interest in self-preservation. A subject that is suicidal or has a romantic attachment to the poetically redemptive aspects of self-immolation cannot be deterred. Quite the opposite, in fact; those irrational actors might be tempted to provoke their adversaries to engage in violence. There is no debate as to whether or not Iran should be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon for the very reason that the Islamic Republic is universally understood to be an irrational international actor. Both proponents and opponents of the framework nuclear accord with Iran share this fundamental assumption. This fact renders President Barack Obama’s most recent comments about the regime in Tehran not only uniquely insulting but also utterly perplexing.

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At the bedrock of American nuclear doctrine is the concept of mutual deterrence. It is a principle that rests on the assumption that the actor you are attempting to deter has a rational interest in self-preservation. A subject that is suicidal or has a romantic attachment to the poetically redemptive aspects of self-immolation cannot be deterred. Quite the opposite, in fact; those irrational actors might be tempted to provoke their adversaries to engage in violence. There is no debate as to whether or not Iran should be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon for the very reason that the Islamic Republic is universally understood to be an irrational international actor. Both proponents and opponents of the framework nuclear accord with Iran share this fundamental assumption. This fact renders President Barack Obama’s most recent comments about the regime in Tehran not only uniquely insulting but also utterly perplexing.

In a recent interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, an interlocutor so highly regarded by this administration that he manages to coax incendiary quotes out of White House officials with near metronomic regularity, Obama appeared to let his guard down a bit. On the subject of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, Goldberg noted that the president has in the past argued, “quite eloquently in fact,” that the Islamic Republic officially subscribes to a particularly virulent strain of anti-Semitism. The destruction of the state of Israel is official Iranian policy. That is an end that Tehran works arduously toward as a state sponsor of terrorism, and it is a goal that it might achieve should it develop one or more fissionable devices.

“You have argued,” Goldberg queried, “that people who subscribe to an anti-Semitic worldview, who explain the world through the prism of anti-Semitic ideology, are not rational, are not built for success, are not grounded in a reality that you and I might understand. And yet, you’ve also argued that the regime in Tehran—a regime you’ve described as anti-Semitic, among other problems that they have—is practical, and is responsive to incentive, and shows signs of rationality.”

The president’s amiable interrogator noted politely that he could not square these two entirely antithetical concepts. Goldberg then asked, with all due deference, if the president might help him to reconcile this contradiction. Obama’s unconvincing response demonstrated clearly that, if any party in this conversation suffered from some cognitive shortcomings, it was not Goldberg.

Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations. You know, if you look at the history of anti-Semitism, Jeff, there were a whole lot of European leaders—and there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country—

They may make irrational decisions with respect to discrimination, with respect to trying to use anti-Semitic rhetoric as an organizing tool. At the margins, where the costs are low, they may pursue policies based on hatred as opposed to self-interest. But the costs here are not low, and what we’ve been very clear [about] to the Iranian regime over the past six years is that we will continue to ratchet up the costs, not simply for their anti-Semitism, but also for whatever expansionist ambitions they may have. That’s what the sanctions represent. That’s what the military option I’ve made clear I preserve represents. And so I think it is not at all contradictory to say that there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in the core regime, but that they also are interested in maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their own country, which requires that they get themselves out of what is a deep economic rut that we’ve put them in, and on that basis they are then willing and prepared potentially to strike an agreement on their nuclear program.

How callous.

First, and it’s not out of bounds to make note of this, but strict adherence to a prejudicial belief system like anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry is, at root, irrational. It is a weltanschauung that is unprincipled, unthinking, brutish, and serves as the basis for the contention that Iran’s messianic approach to geopolitics renders them an irresponsible international actor. The White House has in the past dismissed Iran’s anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism as propaganda products packaged for purely domestic consumption. This is classic projection bias; the president imagines that the anti-Semitic agitation of Iran’s ruling class is mere political positioning because he so often makes assertions he doesn’t truly believe.

Secondly, irrationality is not synonymous with insanity. Because the Islamic Republic’s leaders are effective governors of a state with a return address and they can engage in effete diplomatic courtesies with their Western counterparts in Lausanne does not mean that Tehran is incapable of making calculations that outside observers would find reckless. Irrationality is subjective. What Tehran might see the reasonable pressing of a perceived advantage the West might consider dangerous brinkmanship.

There is nothing illogical, for example, for the Islamic Republic’s leaders to believe that a preemptive terrorist attack on Israeli targets with weapons of mass destruction would consolidate their grip on power. Moreover, Tehran might see some upside in the inevitable defusing of the tensions between the region’s Sunni and Shiite powers in the wake of an Israeli retaliatory response. It would be irrational, it would spark a regional war characterized by weapons of horrible destructive power, but it is a misunderstanding of rationality to suggest this strategic approach is totally unhinged.

Barack Obama is most likely to get himself into trouble when he indulges his inner professor and waxes longwinded on subjects better suited to the classroom than the Oval Office. This self-indulgent intellectual exercise might have a place in an introductory international relations theory course, but it is terrifying to hear uttered from the commander of America’s armed forces. If the president’s strategic approach to Iran is founded on the fallacious assumption that they are just like him insofar as they don’t really mean what they say in public, the last 18 months of this administration are going to be particularly perilous.

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Don’t Give In To Iranian Threats on Iraq

House Republicans have inserted language into the defense authorization act designating Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis as a separate “country” so that they would be eligible to receive at least a fourth of the $715 million that is earmarked for military assistance to Iraq. This has caused an uproar in Iraq, with condemnation coming not only from relative moderates such as Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi and Ayatollah Sistani but also from firebrands such as Muqtada Al Sadr who has issued a direct threat to the U.S.: “If the time comes and the proposed bill is passed, we will have no choice but to unfreeze the military wing that deals with the American entity so that it may start targeting American interests in Iraq and outside of Iraq when possible,” Sadr said.

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House Republicans have inserted language into the defense authorization act designating Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis as a separate “country” so that they would be eligible to receive at least a fourth of the $715 million that is earmarked for military assistance to Iraq. This has caused an uproar in Iraq, with condemnation coming not only from relative moderates such as Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi and Ayatollah Sistani but also from firebrands such as Muqtada Al Sadr who has issued a direct threat to the U.S.: “If the time comes and the proposed bill is passed, we will have no choice but to unfreeze the military wing that deals with the American entity so that it may start targeting American interests in Iraq and outside of Iraq when possible,” Sadr said.

Naturally, faced with such threats, the administration is lobbying hard to take the offending language out of the bill. The White House is firmly committed to the fiction of Iraq as a unified country and it will not budge from it—especially not when Iranian-backed militias are threatening the U.S. if it starts arming Sunnis who are deadly enemies of the Shiite extremists. The threat is not an idle one—Sadr and his ilk spent years attacking U.S. forces with Iranian help during the Iraq War. But the threat should be not be debilitating either: the U.S. and its Iraqi allies beat the extremists once before and could do it again, if necessary.

It is disheartening if not surprising to see the administration so abjectly caving in to such threats. What the White House is doing is giving Baghdad a veto over U.S. policy in Iraq—and since Iranian agents are the most powerful actors in Baghdad, that means giving Tehran a veto over U.S. policy.

Now, the designation of Sunnis and Kurds as a “country” may be needlessly provocative—they are not independent countries and U.S. policy should not necessarily be to break up Iraq into separate countries. But, while the U.S. should not be trying to create multiple countries in the land area of Iraq, nor should it be hewing so closely to the ideal of Iraqi unity that we refuse to directly arm the Sunni tribes which offer the best, indeed the only way, to beat ISIS without allowing Iraq to fall entirely into Iranian hands. Instead of trumpeting the Sunnis as a separate “country,” the U.S. government would be better advised to quietly start providing them arms and training notwithstanding the disapproval of the Iranian-dominated Iraqi government. But Obama refuses to do this, which is why House Republicans have understandably tried to force his hand.

The larger issue is that at the moment the U.S. manifestly fears Iran and Iran does not fear the U.S. The Obama administration is deathly afraid of doing anything to offend Tehran, whether imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, which would ground the air force of Tehran’s puppet Bashar Assad, or directly arming the Sunnis of Iraq, which would break the Iranian stranglehold over the Iraqi security forces. The Obama administration is afraid not only that Iran might walk out of the nuclear talks but also that it might start once again using its terrorist proxies to target American interests—a strategy it has pursued for decades.

Those are not unreasonable fears, but let’s keep some perspective: the U.S. is the world’s only true superpower, a country with the mightiest military on the planet. Iran is a middle-tier power, a rogue state that is punching above its weight because we are not effectively opposing Iranian designs. The more we show fear in the face of Iranian intimidation, the more emboldened the mullahs become, and the less likely it becomes we will get a nuclear accord on any reasonable terms.

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Obama Ignores Massive Labor Strike in Iran

One of the biggest missed opportunities of the George W. Bush-era was turning its back on Iran’s Lech Walesa moment. While proponents of soft-power and those seeking to empower civil society often talk about the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the simple truth across the Arab Middle East, Turkey, and Iran is that there are few if any true NGOs; most are instead GONGOs, government-operated NGOs. In most countries, not only does the state dominate enterprise, but the ministry of labor also controls unions so that they cannot strike against the government’s interests. That has traditionally been the case in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Today, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, revolutionary foundations, and the state itself run perhaps 40 percent of Iran’s economy. The state traditionally has trampled upon the rights of ordinary workers who are sometimes owed more than eight months in back wages.

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One of the biggest missed opportunities of the George W. Bush-era was turning its back on Iran’s Lech Walesa moment. While proponents of soft-power and those seeking to empower civil society often talk about the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the simple truth across the Arab Middle East, Turkey, and Iran is that there are few if any true NGOs; most are instead GONGOs, government-operated NGOs. In most countries, not only does the state dominate enterprise, but the ministry of labor also controls unions so that they cannot strike against the government’s interests. That has traditionally been the case in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Today, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, revolutionary foundations, and the state itself run perhaps 40 percent of Iran’s economy. The state traditionally has trampled upon the rights of ordinary workers who are sometimes owed more than eight months in back wages.

It was into this milieu that Mansour Osanlou stepped forward to say enough. He was the head of the Vahed bus drivers’ union and, in 2005, he led an ‘illegal’ strike. He was arrested, but ultimately triumphed and the Islamic Republic’s first truly independent union was born. There has been subsequent union formation among sugarcane works in the Iran’s Khuzistan province. President Hassan Rouhani’s administration has fought back, however, and union agitators (or their family members) have been arrested and, in some cases, killed. So much for the Rouhani-is-a-reformer narrative.

That has not stopped Iranians from agitating for their rights. According to the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA), thousands of teachers today staged a protest not only in Tehran, but across Iran in cities such as Sanandaj, Hamadan, Bandar Abbas, Ilam, Zanjan, Kermanshah, Borujerd, Sabzevar, Damghan, Tabriz, Shiraz, Isfahan, Qazvin, Rasht, Arak, Shahr-i Kord, Ardabil, Bandar Abbas, Zahedan, Bushehr, Derdasht, and Kuhdasht. That’s pretty much every major Iranian city with the exceptions of Mashhad and Ahvaz. Most significantly, the protests happened after Iranian authorities summoned teachers the previous day and detained them until they signed a pledge not to take part in the planned protests.

The teachers’ demands range from better pay, to the release of teachers who are political prisoners, to the right to consult in the selection of principals, to the resignation of the education minister for alleged incompetence. Placards, according to ILNA, suggest that the poverty line is three million tomans monthly (approximately $1,000), but that teachers only get paid one-third that amount. This is the third mass protest in as many months.

A few thoughts:

  • It is ironic that so many on the European left and among Democrats in the U.S. Congress justify the current diplomatic outreach on the assumption that dialogue will better the lot of the Iranian people. Clearly, thousands of Iranian teachers across Iran disagree.
  • Iran has already received $11.9 billion in sanctions relief/unfrozen assets. Those who suggest that such money will benefit the Iranian people rather than simply fund Iran’s military enterprise may want to consider ample evidence that it does not.
  • Even when ignored, it is clear that the Iranian labor movement is a mass movement capable of significant organization. What happened today, and on April 16, and on March 1 was not simply some show for propaganda as so many pro-Iranian marches.
  • There’s something unfortunate—in the Walter Duranty sense—going on at the New York Times. In March, I highlighted how the Times had whitewashed religious oppression not only by ignoring it but also by advancing a demonstrably erroneous narrative that relied on false or fabricated statistics. Now, rather than cover a mass protest that spanned 23 cities, the New York Times instead chose to publish a story about the Tehran mayor’s patronage of art.

It will remain a shame of the George W. Bush administration that in 2005 it ignored an opportunity to support those fighting for individual rights and liberty in Iran. Obama has, though, in a serial fashion the Iranian people when they have taken to the streets, not only in 2009 but also today. How ironic it is that Obama, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and former Sen. Hillary Clinton are so anxious to claim the mantle of protector of the workers and advocate for unions, but so willingly turn their back to workers in repressive societies like Iran’s who today put their necks on the line. Likewise, when push comes to shove, the European Greens seem more interested in engaging in dictator chic than in standing up for their professed principles.

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Why Does the Press Rally Around Rezaian?

Make no mistake, the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian is a hostage and the Washington Post is absolutely correct to advocate for his freedom. Iran’s intention is to humiliate the United States, and President Obama is responding like an abused spouse, ignoring aggression and provocation and making excuses for the aggressor.

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Make no mistake, the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian is a hostage and the Washington Post is absolutely correct to advocate for his freedom. Iran’s intention is to humiliate the United States, and President Obama is responding like an abused spouse, ignoring aggression and provocation and making excuses for the aggressor.

But, it seems strange that the media would reserve its opprobrium for Rezaian. After all, he isn’t the longest-held hostage in Iran. That dubious honor goes to Robert Levinson who disappeared more than eight years ago on Kish Island, a so-called visa-free, free trade zone.

Nor is he the longest-held Iranian American. That honor goes to Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine who was arrested in August 2011 while visiting his grandmother in Iran. He has faced the same charges that Rezaian does now, and is now on hunger strike. And then there is the case of Saeed Abedini, an Iranian American pastor whom Iranian authorities detained almost three years ago. His case is about religious freedom, plain and simple. That religious tolerance which Rezaian’s New York Times’ counterpart described? Perhaps the spirit of Walter Duranty lives on.

The United States should not ransom its hostages. The Bowe Bergdahl case was shameful from start to finish. To pay ransom only incentivizes rogue behavior.

Back to Rezaian. Should he be released? Absolutely. But there is something untoward to the suggestion—even if not voiced directly and only apparent based on print space—that Rezaian’s imprisonment is more unjust than that of the former FBI agent, former soldier, or pastor. Journalists are not a privileged class, even if many media companies’ desire to transform journalists into celebrities suggests that they believe they stand apart. Indeed, within Washington, the camaraderie combined with the celebrity-worship that the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner has come to symbolize had become increasingly distasteful to some purists. During the Iraq war, some journalists would insert themselves in a firefight, and their colleagues would react with outrage if they were wounded or killed. No one took gratuitous potshots at a journalist, but in the fog of battle, a shoulder-launched missile and a camera can look the same to a soldier who must make a split-second life-or-death decision. Bullets don’t stop when a journalist crosses the street.

Simply put, the continued holding by Iran of any American is shameful regardless of his profession. Alas, this shame is compounded only by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s apparent willingness to leave innocent Americans behind.

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Iran Predicts 2015 to be Year of Collapse for U.S. Allies

A common theme of Iran’s influence operation campaign is that states in the region may like the United States better, but that the United States does not have staying power and Iran will always be their neighbor. No U.S. president has done more to affirm the Iranian narrative than Barack Obama who has undercut U.S. allies across the region.

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A common theme of Iran’s influence operation campaign is that states in the region may like the United States better, but that the United States does not have staying power and Iran will always be their neighbor. No U.S. president has done more to affirm the Iranian narrative than Barack Obama who has undercut U.S. allies across the region.

Siyasat-e Rooz (Politics Today), a hard line Iranian newspaper, provides perhaps the best recent example of this in a column entitled “Sal-e Saqut” or “Year of Collapse.” (I have excerpted a fuller Open Source Center translation). It reads:

Who are the leaders and countries that are currently meddling in the region and threatening the security of West Asia? Has Iran taken any such action? The interference of Al-Saud forces in Bahrain and the mobilization of that regime’s military forces to that country in order to repress its people, military attack on Yemen’s soil, violation of the sanctity of a country and the slaughter of thousands of the innocent people of Yemen, financial and military support of terrorist-takfiri forces in regional countries such as Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even Middle Asia and the Caucuses that are all being carried out through the support of America and the Zionist regime, have forced the Persian Gulf and West Asia regions to face widespread insecurity… The anger and hate of the Muslim people of the region, especially the countries that have experienced instability and war as a result of the meddling of Al-Saud, America, and the Zionist regime, is increasing significantly and even the people of reactionary Arab countries have become aware and have awakened from the heavy sleep imposed on them by their respective countries’ absolute dictatorial systems and this awareness is in the process of speeding up the process of the collapse of the leaders of reactionary countries. Al-Saud is at the head of these developments and even the meeting between the heads of Persian Gulf littoral countries with US President Obama in Camp David cannot save them from collapse or lead to Islamic Iran being controlled. 2015 is the year of the collapse; collapse for many of the dependent and reactionary Arab leaders of the region, including Al-Saud.

So, in short, the Iranian government is predicting not only will Yemenis, Syrians, and Iraqis ‘turn to’ Iran, but so too will Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Afghanistan and, by allusion, perhaps Azerbaijan as well.

Iranian predictions about geopolitics are sort of like an arsonist’s prediction about where the next forest fire will break out; it pays to take heed. What is clear is that Iran is, quite literally, on the warpath. The notion that Iran hasn’t invades any country in 200 years so often voiced by apologists for the Islamic Republic’s behavior not only discounts facts (for example, Iran’s 1856 invasion of Afghanistan) but, more importantly, its asymmetric way of war. Not every act of aggressions against another states requires columns of tanks, airplanes bombing, or ships shelling enemy targets. Sponsoring insurgency and war by proxy can be just as devastating and just as aggressive. Regional countries should be on alert. Far from moderating, Iran senses itself on the cusp of revolutionary victory throughout the region.

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The Problem with New U.S. Defense Pacts: Talk Is Cheap

The Obama administration appears to have woken up, somewhat belatedly, to the damage that it has been doing to America’s traditional alliances in the Middle East by its flirtation with Iran. No, the White House hasn’t decided to bury the hatchet with Benjamin Netanyahu; he remains on their enemies list. But the administration appears to be cogitating about how it can allay concerns among the Gulf Arab states now that the U.S. is preparing to lift sanctions on Iran and legitimate its nuclear program. At a recent dinner Defense Secretary Ash Carter wanted to know: “How do you make clear to the G.C.C. [Gulf Cooperation Council] that America isn’t going to hand the house keys of the Persian Gulf over to Iran and then pivot to Asia?”

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The Obama administration appears to have woken up, somewhat belatedly, to the damage that it has been doing to America’s traditional alliances in the Middle East by its flirtation with Iran. No, the White House hasn’t decided to bury the hatchet with Benjamin Netanyahu; he remains on their enemies list. But the administration appears to be cogitating about how it can allay concerns among the Gulf Arab states now that the U.S. is preparing to lift sanctions on Iran and legitimate its nuclear program. At a recent dinner Defense Secretary Ash Carter wanted to know: “How do you make clear to the G.C.C. [Gulf Cooperation Council] that America isn’t going to hand the house keys of the Persian Gulf over to Iran and then pivot to Asia?”

As usual in Washington, the administration’s internal brainstorming is playing out in a top-secret forum called the New York Times, which reported Carter’s question. The Paper of Record further reports: “Officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department have been meeting to discuss everything from joint training missions for American and Arab militaries (more likely) to additional weapons sales to a loose defense pact that could signal that the United States would back those allies if they come under attack from Iran.”

There is talk of signing bilateral defense agreements with the likes of UAE and Saudi Arabia and even of selling them top-of-the-line F-35s. Neither option appears feasible because of congressional opposition, although I would think that lawmakers would be more likely to oppose the sale of the F-35 (which Israel needs to keep its qualitative edge) than they would a defense pact along the lines of the U.S.-Japan alliance. In any case F-35s are not much use against the kind of subversion by proxy that the Iranians practice in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s advanced aircraft have not, for example, dislodged the Houthis from power in Yemen and American aircraft are not dislodging ISIS from its domains in Iraq and Syria.

The larger problem is that neither weapons sales nor formal alliances are an adequate substitute for American credibility and deterrence, both of which are in short supply at the moment. Why should the Gulf states believe America’s assurances of support when the U.S. has allowed Bashar Assad to stay in power and to use chemical weapons in violation of President Obama’s red lines? Or when the U.S. has allowed Russia to dismember Ukraine in violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which the U.S., Britain, and Russia guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity in return for giving up its nuclear arsenal? Or when Obama pulls U.S. troops out of Iraq and now threatens to do the same in Afghanistan? Or when the U.S. allows Iran to seize a cargo ship flagged to the Marshall Islands, whose security the U.S. is already pledged to defend, with nary a protest? It will also not have escaped attention in the region how Obama dropped Hosni Mubarak, a longtime American ally, after the start of the Arab Spring (a decision that is more defensible than the other ones).

Talk is cheap, especially in this White House, with a president who talked his way into a Nobel Peace Prize. But our allies can see that this administration does not back up its rhetoric. If the White House really wanted to reassure them, it would rethink its misbegotten enthusiasm for lifting sanctions on Iran (and thus delivering hundreds of billions of dollars in lucre to a state that they view as a mortal threat) in return for promises to hold off a few years in weaponizing its nuclear program. But that’s not going to happen because Obama views a treaty with Iran as his signature achievement and he will not let the qualms of allies, or for that matter Congress, get in his way.

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Neither Iran Nor the West Intends to Abide by the Nuclear Deal

Very few Iran watchers have tried to argue that the Islamic Republic can be trusted to fully comply with its obligations regarding its nuclear program. But that’s not the most concerning aspect of the emerging nuclear deal. That would be the worry that the West can’t be trusted either–that in its desperate pursuit of a deal at any cost it would overlook Iran’s cheating and even help keep it under wraps, all to protect President Obama’s foreign-policy “ObamaCare” legacy. And now we have confirmation that this will not only happen in the future, but that it’s already taking place.

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Very few Iran watchers have tried to argue that the Islamic Republic can be trusted to fully comply with its obligations regarding its nuclear program. But that’s not the most concerning aspect of the emerging nuclear deal. That would be the worry that the West can’t be trusted either–that in its desperate pursuit of a deal at any cost it would overlook Iran’s cheating and even help keep it under wraps, all to protect President Obama’s foreign-policy “ObamaCare” legacy. And now we have confirmation that this will not only happen in the future, but that it’s already taking place.

Reuters reports that the Iranians have kept up illicit work on their nuclear program. The information was leaked from a secret UN panel report, which stated that the Iranian actions had been noticed by the British. In fact, the Iranian actions were caught by the British soon after the preliminary agreement between the P5+1 and Iran in April. The Iranians, it seems, never even took a break:

“The UK government informed the Panel on 20 April 2015 that it ‘is aware of an active Iranian nuclear procurement network which has been associated with Iran’s Centrifuge Technology Company (TESA) and Kalay Electric Company (KEC)’,” the Panel of Experts said in its annual report. The panel monitors Iran’s compliance with the U.N. sanctions regime.

KEC is under U.N. Security Council sanctions while TESA is under U.S. and European Union sanctions due to their suspected links to banned Iranian nuclear activities.

Iran, which is has been under sanctions for years, has a long history of illicit nuclear procurement using front companies and other methods of skirting sanctions.

Indeed it does have such a history. And if the West has anything to say about it, that will be Iran’s future too.

The subject of the West’s untrustworthiness has been a sore subject for the Obama administration, which is trying to ignore violations in order to legitimize Iran as a nuclear power. Although the Obama administration is tetchy and whiney about virtually any criticism, the already cranky president tends to get even moodier when confronted with the fact that congressional oversight is necessary in part because the administration hasn’t been honest about its Iran policy.

Last month, John McCain told Hugh Hewitt: “I think you’re going to find out that they had never agreed to the things that John Kerry claimed that they had. So in a way, I can’t blame the ayatollah, because I don’t think they ever agreed to it, and I think John Kerry tried to come back and sell a bill of goods, hoping maybe that the Iranians wouldn’t say much about it.”

McCain’s point was a very simple one: since the nuclear deal is primarily a plan governing the actions of Iran, how Iran interprets the agreement is the most important indicator of how they will act in the future.

Although the deal on the whole favors Iran and its terrorist proxies over America’s traditional allies in the region, there are aspects of the deal that could make it even worse than it looks. For example, the inspections regime, the verification of the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s past work, and the timetable for lifting sanctions all will have an impact on how easily Iran can obtain nukes under the treaty.

The Obama administration offers vague assurances of thorough inspections, and the Iranians laugh themselves silly. Same with verification and especially sanctions. As Max wrote yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave a speech in New York in which he reiterated his government’s understanding that Obama and Secretary Kerry are full of hot air on the treaty, and that Iran has no intention of pretending to play along with their charade.

In other words, McCain was right. Which is why Obama snapped at him that “It needs to stop.” We wouldn’t want the American people getting the right idea, would we?

Now we have more Iranian misbehavior and a nuclear-inspections regime in which even if violations are found, the Western countries involved don’t want to tattle on the nuclear advancement of the world’s premier terrorist state. Back to Reuters:

“The current situation with reporting could reflect a general reduction of procurement activities by the Iranian side or a political decision by some member states to refrain from reporting to avoid any possible negative impact on ongoing negotiations between … Iran and (major powers),” it said.

Despite the lack of newly confirmed violations the panel said that “some member states informed the panel that according to their assessment, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s procurement trends and (sanctions) circumvention techniques remain basically unchanged.”

It cited an example of an unnamed member state saying that an Iranian entity had recently attempted to acquire compressors, a key component in the uranium enrichment process, using false end-user certificates in an attempt to evade controls.

The truth would be bad for the Kerry-led negotiations, so the truth must be hidden. The West, led by the Obama administration, is not only tacitly conceding Iran’s nuclear quest. They are also enabling that quest by facilitating Iranian cheating.

What this means is that the nuclear deal with Iran is itself a lie. In important ways, there really is no deal, and never will be. That’s because no matter what’s written on a piece of paper, Iran will basically be allowed to act in contravention of the deal, and the Western world will help them cover it up.

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Zarif’s Bluster

Item #1: On Tuesday, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps gunboats seized the Maersk Tigris, a Danish-owned, Marshall Islands registered container ship that was peaceably transiting an international maritime route through the Straits of Hormuz. The ship is now being held by Iran along with its crew members.

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Item #1: On Tuesday, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps gunboats seized the Maersk Tigris, a Danish-owned, Marshall Islands registered container ship that was peaceably transiting an international maritime route through the Straits of Hormuz. The ship is now being held by Iran along with its crew members.

Item #2: On Wednesday in New York Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif gave a “blustery and self-righteous” series of remarks which made it seem as if a nuclear agreement is a done deal—on Iran’s terms. Obama “will have to stop implementing all the sanctions, economic and financial sanctions that have been executive order and congressional. However he does it, that’s his problem,” Zarif said, adding that a UN resolution endorsing the agreement would have to be endorsed by the U.S., “whether Senator Cotton likes it or not.”

Oh and Zarif made clear that the lifting of sanctions would occur within weeks of the agreement being signed (contrary to White House claims that sanctions relief would be phased), while also mocking Obama’s claims that sanctions could “snap back” in the event of Iranian violations: “If people are worrying about snapback, they should be worrying about the U.S. violating its obligations and us snapping back,” he said. “That is a point that the United States should be seriously concerned about. This is not a game.”

What’s the connection between these two seemingly unrelated events? Both, I submit, are evidence of Iranian arrogance. The kind of arrogance that Iran exhibits by hijacking a ship registered to an American protectorate and then by lecturing American leaders that they will have to abide by Iran’s terms for a nuclear deal—or else.

This is not the way Iran would talk or act if it feared the United States. But plainly it doesn’t. And why should it? Obama has made clear, repeatedly and emphatically, that he is desperate for a nuclear agreement because the alternative to such an agreement is war—and there is no worse option than that in the president’s mind. So desperate for an agreement, in fact, that the president is willing to overlook Iranian aggression in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen—and even to overlook Iran’s jailing of three American citizens and its seizure of a ship belonging to allies that we are pledged to defend.

It is indicative of where we stand that there has been nary a peep of protest about the hijacking of the Maersk Tigris. The Pentagon even leaked word that the U.S. is not legally obligated to protect the Maersk Tigris, as if the U.S. cannot act to protect its moral and strategic interests even if not compelled to do so under the terms of some piece of paper. From the White House: “The White House said on Wednesday it was concerned about the impact on navigation caused by Iranian authorities’ seizure of the Maersk Tigris container ship in the Strait of Hormuz and said it was monitoring the situation.” Translation: “Ship, what ship? Who cares? The only thing that matters is the nuclear accord.” (Compare this anodyne language, incidentally, with the harsh invective directed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for infelicitous campaign rhetoric.)

And yet the very reason why Iran is able to drive such an advantageous bargain—the reason why it has hijacked the negotiations to legitimate its illegal nuclear program—is precisely because the U.S. has spent years turning the other cheek at Iranian aggression. This is not exclusively a problem of the Obama administration—the Reagan administration, after all, traded arms for hostages and did not retaliate for the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks and embassy in Beirut, while the George W. Bush administration did nothing to punish Iran for killing hundreds of American troops in Iraq with its advanced munitions.

But the problem has become much more pronounced under the Obama administration, which sees détente with Iran as its lasting legacy. That’s why Iran’s foreign minister feels free to come to New York and act like a haughty master of the universe, knowing there will not be even a peep of protest from this thoroughly intimidated administration.

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It’s Still Too Late to Save Syria

It’s pretty clear at this point that Bashar al-Assad’s forces are in a state of alarm. A string of setbacks at the hands of rebel armies as well as from its own internal chaos has put the murderous Assad regime on the defensive. This is raising not just hope that Assad is in trouble but that the West might sense Assad’s weakness and be tempted to intervene to push him out. It is indeed a shame that we ended up here. But further intervention in the Syrian civil war would be a mistake. It’s still too late to save Syria.

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It’s pretty clear at this point that Bashar al-Assad’s forces are in a state of alarm. A string of setbacks at the hands of rebel armies as well as from its own internal chaos has put the murderous Assad regime on the defensive. This is raising not just hope that Assad is in trouble but that the West might sense Assad’s weakness and be tempted to intervene to push him out. It is indeed a shame that we ended up here. But further intervention in the Syrian civil war would be a mistake. It’s still too late to save Syria.

The deterioration of the Syrian government’s command was fully apparent earlier this week, when General Rustom Ghazali, a powerful intelligence official, died of wounds reportedly sustained at the hands of the guards of a rival general. Both men, according to the New York Times, were then fired. (It wouldn’t matter for Ghazali, who eventually succumbed to his injuries.) The Syrian command appeared to be splintering.

Then rebels took a strategic town and a military base in Idlib province, near Turkey. “The rebel gains in Idlib have put the opposition on a path to advance into the neighboring provinces of Hama and Latakia, bastions of support for Mr. Assad and key to his grip on power,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “Most of Idlib province is now under opposition control, giving rebels a firm foothold to advance on regime forces elsewhere in the country.” And as Max noted yesterday, some observers are starting to talk again about a Syria after Assad.

In light of all this, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Jeffrey White and Oula Abdulhamid Alrifai offer some reason to temper the rebels’ confidence: “Yet if the regime is able to hold on, prevent further serious losses, and retake more lost positions, the final outcome would represent something of a setback for the rebels. It would be an opportunity lost, and it would make the regime’s position in Idlib secure for the time being, albeit reduced — at least until the rebels could mount another major effort.”

But, they add, the Idlib campaign could turn out to change the entire trajectory of the war. And they suggest helping nudge that outcome along:

As of this writing, the Idlib campaign looks to be one of the more important developments of the war, possibly even the elusive turning point that signals a clear shift in momentum against the regime after four years of inconclusive fighting. For those seeking a positive outcome in Syria, now is a good time to apply maximum pressure on the regime, either forcing it to genuinely negotiate a transition or causing its military failure.

It must be tempting to see the possibility that Assad could fall as an opportunity for the West. But in fact some of the appearance of weakness on the part of Assad’s government is actually evidence of its strength–or at least durability and resilience–in the military realm.

To understand why, it’s instructive to go back to a quote from a Washington Post report on Ghazali that Max quoted in his post: “Western diplomats monitoring events in Syria from Beirut say the two men appear to have clashed with the Assad family over the growing battlefield role played by Iran.”

That, in a nutshell, is why Assad is not just a nudge away from falling. It’s no wonder Assad’s high command are bickering: they’re increasingly irrelevant, and have been for some time. Not entirely irrelevant, to be sure. But the fact of the matter is that the Syrian civil war has completed Assad’s turn to becoming a traditional Iranian proxy. And Iran is not going to let its proxy fall in Syria, Lebanon, or elsewhere.

Assad created a monster, not only in unleashing his family’s characteristic oppression and bloodlust on the opposition but also in deliberately allowing ISIS and other extreme Islamist groups to thrive at the expense of more moderate rebel groups. This not only ensured that the more moderate rebels, which had the West’s backing as an alternative government to Assad, would never get strong enough on their own to take power. It also meant that the only groups who could possibly finish Assad off were the ones the West was invested in defeating.

Those groups, like ISIS, were destabilizing Iraq next door. This drew the U.S. into a de facto alliance with Assad because it brought them into an alliance with Iran. The rise of ISIS–which, again, Assad facilitated–also ensured Iran would do whatever it took to keep Assad in power.

The internal turf wars in the Syrian command are not evidence that Assad is on his way out. They’re evidence that what remains of the Assad power base has become almost a wholly owned subsidiary of Iran.

Not only is the West fooling itself if it thinks it can push Assad out at this point with minimal military involvement, but it’s still in partnership with Assad through the Iranians.

From a military perspective, there is no “Syria.” There are three “Syrias,” which amount essentially to competing factions fighting for territory. We are currently aligned with the strongest of these, Iran, against the second-most powerful group. What we are not going to do is somehow throw in our lot now with the weakest of the factions, especially since we’ve constructed our management of Iraq by allowing Iran a significant role.

Syria can’t be saved. It’s a terrible tragedy, and there’s an argument to be made that it didn’t have to be this way. And certainly, the world should not ignore it. But those who dream of a Western military effort against Assad will keep dreaming.

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Can Iran Do Whatever It Wants?

Every day, everywhere around the world, a silent referendum is going on about the state of American power. President Obama has consistently failed that test. By demanding that Bashar Assad leave power and then letting him stay; by letting Assad cross a “red line” on chemical weapons with impunity; by talking big about ISIS (“degrade and destroy”) and doing little; by standing by as Iran expanded its power into Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, as Russia seized chunks of Ukrainian territory, and as China intimidated its neighbors to claim sovereignty over disputed island, the president has dissipated the most precious commodity in the world—American credibility.

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Every day, everywhere around the world, a silent referendum is going on about the state of American power. President Obama has consistently failed that test. By demanding that Bashar Assad leave power and then letting him stay; by letting Assad cross a “red line” on chemical weapons with impunity; by talking big about ISIS (“degrade and destroy”) and doing little; by standing by as Iran expanded its power into Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, as Russia seized chunks of Ukrainian territory, and as China intimidated its neighbors to claim sovereignty over disputed island, the president has dissipated the most precious commodity in the world—American credibility.

Today comes yet another test of American resolve. Details remain in dispute, but it appears that Iranian Revolutionary Guard gunboats seized the Maersk Tigris, a container ship traversing the Persian Gulf either through international waters or through a small section of Iranian waters that it would be allowed to traverse under the international legal doctrine of “innocent passage.” Instead of allowing the ship to go on its way, the IRGC fired a shot across its bow and detained the ship along with its crew. This is a vessel flagged in the Marshall Islands, a U.S. protectorate, owned by the Maersk line (a company with substantial American operations that is headquartered in Denmark, a NATO ally), and chartered by Rickers Ship Management, the Singapore-based subsidiary of a German company (two more U.S. allies).

The Iranian action may well be an indirect response to the U.S. decision to deploy an aircraft carrier strike group in order to intimidate Iran into turning back a cargo of supply ships reportedly bringing weapons to Iranian-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen. But whatever caused the Iranian action, it is a direct threat to freedom of navigation, which the U.S. Navy has defended around the world for centuries.

In the Persian Gulf, the U.S. commitment to that doctrine led President Reagan to order U.S. Navy ships to escort tankers and protect them from Iranian attacks, precipitating a short and sharp conflict (the Tanker War of 1987-88) between the U.S. and Iran. This was the last time, incidentally, that the U.S. used force to respond to Iranian attacks and it was an unqualified success—the Iranians lost some oil platforms and boats that they had been using to harass shipping. Finally the accidental shootdown of an Iranian airliner in 1988 by the USS Vincennes (an unintended and unfortunate consequence of these operations) helped convince the Iranian leadership to end their war with Iraq.

Today the U.S. still remains committed, at least on paper, to protecting freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf. In 2011, a 5th Fleet spokesman put it well: “The free flow of goods and services through the Strait of Hormuz is vital to regional and global prosperity. Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated.”

Thus if the Obama administration were, in fact, to “tolerate” this disruption of the free flow of shipping it would send a dangerous signal, or to be more accurate, to reinforce a signal already sent: The U.S. lacks the will to stand up to predators in the international system, and in particular to Iran. Put another way, it would signal to the entire region that the president is so invested in reaching a deal with Iran that no Iranian misconduct—not the dropping of barrel bombs on Syrian civilians, not the takeover of Yemen, not the ethnic cleansing of Sunni communities in Iraq, and now not the seizure of a Western cargo ship—will be allowed to interfere with his objective.

The fate of the Maersk Tigris does not matter much in and of itself, but it will say much about this administration’s commitment to maintaining America’s traditional security responsibilities.

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Is Clinton Corruption Narrative the End of the “War on Women?”

Most of the candidates for president in 2016 have turned the announcement of when they’re going to announce into an announcement in itself, to drum up both attention and attendance for the big day. And so Carly Fiorina joined the meta-announcement crew two days ago by revealing she will announce her candidacy for president on May 4. This did not get a ton of attention, in part because the astounding revelations of Clintonian corruption have devoured the news cycle. But this also might not be temporary for Fiorina; she may have to get used to the strange way Hillary’s corruption could affect her own candidacy.

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Most of the candidates for president in 2016 have turned the announcement of when they’re going to announce into an announcement in itself, to drum up both attention and attendance for the big day. And so Carly Fiorina joined the meta-announcement crew two days ago by revealing she will announce her candidacy for president on May 4. This did not get a ton of attention, in part because the astounding revelations of Clintonian corruption have devoured the news cycle. But this also might not be temporary for Fiorina; she may have to get used to the strange way Hillary’s corruption could affect her own candidacy.

That’s because Fiorina is a perfect test case for how the full GOP field will tailor their attacks on Clinton according to the news cycle. This may sound obvious, but in fact it’s not: the media tends to be so far in the tank for major Democratic candidates that it’s a struggle to get the mainstream press to put Democrats on the defensive the way they prefer Republicans to be throughout the election.

But that’s simply not the case this time. Of course, Hillary’s corruption scandals do, to some degree, represent a media failure. After all, the latest revelations are that the Clintons were personally enriched by donors who they then helped access American uranium deposits only to sell them to the Russians, who were also supplying the Iranians while shoveling large sums of money at Bill Clinton, who facilitated the deal and whose wife, Hillary, signed off on it while she was secretary of state.

Which is to say, this is a monumental scandal involving the corruption of American foreign policy for profit while boosting America’s enemies at the expense of our own national security. Had the story come out when it happened, it could have ended Hillary’s political career by forcing her resignation from the State Department, and might have torpedoed President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and derailed whatever remained of the concessions Obama wanted to give Vladimir Putin as part of the failed “reset.”

That’s a worst-case scenario for this round of alternate history, but it’s hard to argue it wasn’t at least a possibility.

Additionally, some of this was prompted by conservative researcher and think-tanker Peter Schweizer, who endeavored to connect the dots that were hiding in plain sight. The New York Times, for example, should be commended for putting its resources behind expanding on Schweizer’s investigations. As Politico noted yesterday, “The fact that Schweizer’s revelations have now been vetted and reported out by the likes of the Times, POLITICO, etc., means the Clinton campaign can no longer be so dismissive.” That is true–and also quite an indictment of the reporting atmosphere in which Democrats can get away with far too much.

So the attempts to ghettoize conservative reporting this time around aren’t having much success. The stories themselves are far too explosive, and they’re not all coming from Schweizer either. Reuters, for example, revealed that the Clintons have been filing years of false tax returns in order to hide foreign donations. It turns out the Clintons are following neither the spirit nor the letter of the law, and that isn’t easy to hide in 2015.

And it changes the focus of Republican criticism as well. Now that the Clintons have failed to characterize the facts about their family foundation as right-wing conspiracy theories, the leftist game plan on the election has to be at least somewhat revised. Initial attacks on Hillary centered on her complete lack of accomplishments and sense of entitlement. To this, the left would respond by shouting “sexism!” In general, Hillary would like to steer the conversation toward all manner of “war on women” subjects.

But blatant corruption of the kind we’re seeing here makes it impossible for the Clintons to control the narrative right now. And the corruption storyline gives Republicans a way to criticize Hillary while avoiding the culture wars.

This is great news for the GOP field in general, but less so for Fiorina. As I wrote after her CPAC speech this year, Fiorina was able to talk about social issues and Hillary’s failings in a way that Republican men just weren’t. That’s not all there is to her candidacy; Fiorina speaks with fluency on a range of subjects, and her career in the private sector has given her both executive experience and an outsider’s perspective on government.

It’s possible the Clinton corruption stories will fade, or at least go through a lull at some point. Maybe Fiorina will still be in the race if that happens, maybe not. But if she was hoping for much of a poll bounce after her official campaign launch, she might find Clinton raining on her parade by, paradoxically, giving everybody something to criticize Hillary over.

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North Korea’s Nuclear Arsenal Is Bigger Than We Thought

A few weeks ago, I wrote about North Korea’s nuclear breakout, and that the U.S. government was finally beginning to acknowledge the degree to which North Korea’s nuclear capabilities could no longer be ignored. Yet even as the Obama administration continues to talk about the North Korean nuclear “program,” along come the Chinese, of all people, to tell us that North Korea is in reality a nuclear power, with a growing arsenal beyond what American experts suspected.

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about North Korea’s nuclear breakout, and that the U.S. government was finally beginning to acknowledge the degree to which North Korea’s nuclear capabilities could no longer be ignored. Yet even as the Obama administration continues to talk about the North Korean nuclear “program,” along come the Chinese, of all people, to tell us that North Korea is in reality a nuclear power, with a growing arsenal beyond what American experts suspected.

Today, the Wall Street Journal reports on what many of us in Washington have been hearing for a while, namely that North Korea may possess as many as 20 nuclear weapons already, and that it could build 20 more by 2016, possibly having 75 nuclear bombs by 2020. The source of this latest intelligence (which, it must be acknowledged, is guesswork)? Chinese nuclear experts, who meet regularly with their American counterparts.

The American experts quoted in the piece take a lower-end estimate of Pyongyang’s nuclear inventory, but still believe that Kim Jong-un currently controls around a dozen bombs, with as many as 20 by next year. Combine either the Chinese or the American total with the North’s ability to launch a long-range ballistic missile that can travel up to 5,600 miles, covering most of America’s West coast, and the picture of strategic stability in Asia begins to look a little different.

By now, it must be clear to all but the most naive of observers that North Korea will never denuclearize. Any idea of returning to the moribund Six Party Talks to achieve that goal is a dangerous notion, as more negotiation over an unachievable outcome will only give Pyongyang more time to further build up its inventory and perfect its ICBM capability. Instead, it is time to put some intellectual firepower behind meaningful sanctions that harm the pocketbooks of North Korea’s leaders, and enhance anti-proliferation activities, to prevent the transfer of sensitive technology.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration may be guilty of hiding information of precisely such proliferation activities, so as to keep nuclear negotiations with Iran alive. Given the failed Bush-Obama attempts to keep North Korea from developing nuclear weapons during years of intense negotiations, the folly of pursuing a similar script with Iran becomes ever clearer. Now, North Korea is stockpiling an arsenal of nuclear weapons controlled by a paranoid, erratic, aggressive regime. Counting on Kim Jong-un’s rationality is a risky bet, but America’s diplomatic failures up to now give few other options for dealing with his threat. Thinking about the unthinkable may become fashionable again.

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Hillary, Obama, and the Corruption of American Foreign Policy

There has never been a better time to be a lame-duck president. Barack Obama may not instinctively agree–after all, he’s still negotiating the “ObamaCare” of foreign policy, the disastrous deal with Iran that legitimizes the Islamic Republic as a nuclear power. And he’s still trying to find ways to get attention by airdropping money over America like an angry version of the H&R Block ad spokesman. But the latest Clinton scandal–easily the worst yet–should make him happy his party has already moved on to Hillary. Because the corruption at the center of it is the corruption of Obama’s own foreign-policy apparatus.

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There has never been a better time to be a lame-duck president. Barack Obama may not instinctively agree–after all, he’s still negotiating the “ObamaCare” of foreign policy, the disastrous deal with Iran that legitimizes the Islamic Republic as a nuclear power. And he’s still trying to find ways to get attention by airdropping money over America like an angry version of the H&R Block ad spokesman. But the latest Clinton scandal–easily the worst yet–should make him happy his party has already moved on to Hillary. Because the corruption at the center of it is the corruption of Obama’s own foreign-policy apparatus.

We already knew the Russian “reset” was a humiliating failure, and that the Iran deal was well on its way to being one as well. But the latest Clinton scandal shows that the reset itself was also tainted by corruption and the product of Obama getting outmaneuvered even more than we previously thought. If you don’t think foreign policy is important in a presidential election, just take a look at how easily Obama was played by Putin and how detrimental to American interests Obama’s attempts to sit at the adult table have been.

Now we know, for example, that a Russian state energy company took control of one-fifth of American uranium production in a series of moves facilitated by Bill Clinton and approved by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as donations from the major players in this saga flowed into the Clinton family foundation and cash payments went directly to Bill Clinton from the Russians.

But there’s more. For obvious reasons, the official line was that the uranium mined here in the States by the foreign entities could not be exported without additional licensing. That was a lie–as the owner of a Wyoming ranch discovered when he noticed the uranium from his property leaving the country anyway:

Mr. Christensen, 65, noted that despite assurances by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that uranium could not leave the country without Uranium One or ARMZ obtaining an export license — which they do not have — yellowcake from his property was routinely packed into drums and trucked off to a processing plant in Canada.

Asked about that, the commission confirmed that Uranium One has, in fact, shipped yellowcake to Canada even though it does not have an export license. Instead, the transport company doing the shipping, RSB Logistic Services, has the license. A commission spokesman said that “to the best of our knowledge” most of the uranium sent to Canada for processing was returned for use in the United States. A Uranium One spokeswoman, Donna Wichers, said 25 percent had gone to Western Europe and Japan. At the moment, with the uranium market in a downturn, nothing is being shipped from the Wyoming mines.

Amazing. Even the truth is never the truth with the Clintons. They said don’t worry about exporting because Uranium One doesn’t have an export license. They just conveniently forgot to add that the license was given to the transport company instead. And the Clintons broke their agreement with the Obama administration to provide transparency on such deals and prevent direct foreign influence peddling, and they even filed false tax returns to hide their shenanigans from the IRS.

So it wasn’t only that Putin had run circles around Obama, using the “reset” to reach into Obama’s back pocket with one hand while shaking Obama’s hand with the other. He did so with the enabling of Obama’s own sitting secretary of state, who was running institutions of a parallel government allowing foreign dictators to circumvent U.S. rules to increase their control of American energy assets, all the while getting both the Russians and the Clintons rich.

Additionally, the Russian energy agency involved here, Rosatom, is a chief partner in Iran’s nuclear program with regard to reactors and uranium supplies. Sean Davis explains why this is such an important detail:

The former secretary of state has remained relatively silent on the proposed Iranian nuclear deal thus far, apparently for good reason. Her opposition could sink Rosatom’s 2014 deal to provide enriched uranium to eight Iranian nuclear reactors for their entire life cycles, potentially enraging the wealthy investors who funneled millions to her family’s foundation. And if she clearly endorses the deal and Iran ends up using the enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon, opponents could blame Hillary for approving the deal that enabled Russia to provide all that uranium to the Iranians.

She is, it should be pointed out once again, running for president of the United States. In the meantime, the country is still dealing with the fallout of the institutional corruption Hillary brought to the State Department and to American foreign policy. That foreign policy is Obama’s too.

It’s going to take a lot of time and effort to clean up this mess. But that effort will only be stymied by the fact that this mess is still the operating principle of American foreign policy, especially with regard to Iran.

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Is Iran the Next North Korea?

Yesterday Foreign Affairs posted an article I had written with Sue Mi Terry, once the CIA’s foremost North Korea analyst, arguing that the experience of the Agreed Framework was an inauspicious precedent for the proposed nuclear deal with Iran. We wrote: “The case of North Korea clearly exposes the dangers of the United States seeking a nuclear agreement with a state that has no intention of abiding by one. The 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework, which called on North Korea to freeze the operation and construction of nuclear reactors, collapsed within a decade of its signing. In 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, and today it is a full-fledged nuclear power. The United States’ experience with North Korea should make it wary of similar nuclear negotiations, especially with Iran.”

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Yesterday Foreign Affairs posted an article I had written with Sue Mi Terry, once the CIA’s foremost North Korea analyst, arguing that the experience of the Agreed Framework was an inauspicious precedent for the proposed nuclear deal with Iran. We wrote: “The case of North Korea clearly exposes the dangers of the United States seeking a nuclear agreement with a state that has no intention of abiding by one. The 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework, which called on North Korea to freeze the operation and construction of nuclear reactors, collapsed within a decade of its signing. In 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, and today it is a full-fledged nuclear power. The United States’ experience with North Korea should make it wary of similar nuclear negotiations, especially with Iran.”

Today the Wall Street Journal runs an article exposing just how grave the danger is. According to the Journal, Chinese experts have concluded that the North Korean nuclear program is even more advanced than the U.S. intelligence community has believed: “The latest Chinese estimates, relayed in a closed-door meeting with U.S. nuclear specialists, showed that North Korea may already have 20 warheads, as well as the capability of producing enough weapons-grade uranium to double its arsenal by next year.”

To add to the danger, the Journal notes, “Adm. William Gortney, head of U.S. Northern Command, said this month that defense officials believe North Korea can now mount a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile called the KN-08. U.S. officials don’t believe the missile has been tested, but experts estimate it has a range of about 5,600 miles—within reach of the western edge of the continental U.S., including California.”

It’s not too hard to imagine, a decade from now, reading similar reports about how Iran has dozens of nuclear weapons and missiles capable of hitting the United States, to say nothing of nearby targets such as Israel, which Iran can already strike with an arsenal of 50,000 rockets positioned in Lebanon. And there is no reason to believe that Iran is any more sincere than North Korea about giving up its nuclear program. Those who advocate the agreement with Iran imagine that we will be able to somehow monitor Iranian nuclear developments, but the North Koreans caught us by surprise by developing a secret plutonium enrichment program—and if the Journal report is accurate, North Korea continues to surprise us still.

The rapid pace of the North Korean nuclear and missile programs is alarming in part because of its implications for regional stability–will South Korea and Japan feel compelled to go nuclear too in their own defense? If so that could set off a nuclear arms race. South Korea and Japan have so far refrained from such actions, even though both have extensive civilian nuclear programs that could be weaponized in a heartbeat, because both countries shelter under the American nuclear umbrella.

Some suggest that our nuclear umbrella could be extended to states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to prevent them from going nuclear to counter the Iranians, but the major reason our security guarantees to South Korea and Japan have credibility is because we have tens of thousands of troops stationed in those countries. We don’t have any troops in Saudi Arabia, nor are we likely to put any back in, because we would regard that as a provocation for more terrorism. Absent Americans in harms’ way, however, any American security guarantees would be about as credible as the “red line” that Obama drew in Syria. Thus the U.S. would have little influence to stop an incredibly dangerous nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Another reason why the advanced state of the North Korean program should be of such concern is because North Korea is a notorious nuclear and missile proliferator. As the Journal notes, North Korea “previously exported nuclear technology to Syria and missile components to Iran, Yemen and Egypt.” North Korea could easily offer Iran a shortcut toward putting nuclear weapons on missile warheads, bypassing entirely all of the procedures put in place to monitor Iranian compliance with a nuclear accord—procedures which appear to be if anything less rigorous than those under the Agreed Framework.

And if Iran breaks out as a nuclear power after a bogus agreement with the West, as North Korea did, the consequences will be much more severe for the world. North Korea, after all, is a declining, bankrupt state whose leadership is primarily intent on staying in power. Its juche philosophy appeals to no one outside its borders, and few within. Iran is an expansionist state, by contrast, with a jihadist ideology that appeals to many Shiites and ambitions of dominating the entire Middle East.  The nuclear accord with Iran is, therefore, potentially far more dangerous than the Agreed Framework with North Korea—and we know how that worked out.

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Innocent Abroad: Obama’s Iran Disaster

I’m guessing that President Obama, despite his roots in Kenya and Indonesia, has never negotiated for a carpet or anything else in a Middle Eastern bazaar. If his negotiations with Iran are any indication, he is the kind of innocent abroad who pays $100,000 for a carpet that’s worth $100.

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I’m guessing that President Obama, despite his roots in Kenya and Indonesia, has never negotiated for a carpet or anything else in a Middle Eastern bazaar. If his negotiations with Iran are any indication, he is the kind of innocent abroad who pays $100,000 for a carpet that’s worth $100.

Already his talks with Iran have been characterized by American concession after American concession. Talks that started with the express goal of dismantling the Iranian nuclear program and exporting their stockpile of enriched uranium are ending up with the program wholly intact and the enriched uranium still in Iran, albeit in a diluted form. All that Iran has to do is to promise not to enrich too much uranium or weaponize for the next decade or so and in return the world will, in essence, apply its seal of approval to the Iranian nuclear program.

But that still isn’t enough for the rapacious mullahs. Among other conditions, they are demanding that sanctions be lifted the minute the agreement gets signed. Obama has been insisting that the U.S. would lift sanctions only in stages, as Iranian compliance is verified. But on Friday Obama signaled that he is willing to make preemptive concessions on this issue so as to ensure that a deal gets done by his artificial deadline of the end of June.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Iran could receive from $30 billion to $50 billion in frozen oil money as soon as it signs a deal, out of a total of $100 billion to $140 billion currently held in frozen offshore accounts. That’s a massive bribe to sign on the dotted line.

And that’s just what Obama is saying in mid-April. Imagine what will happen after the Iranian negotiators inform Secretary of State Kerry that $50 billion isn’t enough–oh and, they will add (as they have already done), they shouldn’t have to make a full accounting of their previous nuclear-weapons work, they shouldn’t have to allow inspectors unfettered access, and they shouldn’t have to export any enriched uranium. Think Obama will hold the line? Hardly. This is only the beginning of the complete cave-in that the White House is prepared to make in order to get a deal, any deal, the details be damned.

To justify his premature concessions, Obama claims that the amount of money that the Iranians will receive upon signing the deal won’t matter–even if $50 billion is more than enough to turbo-charge the Iranian power-grab across the region. “Our main concern here is making sure that if Iran doesn’t abide by its agreement that we don’t have to jump through a whole bunch of hoops in order to reinstate sanctions,” the president said at a news conference.

This is a reference to Obama’s vaunted “snap back” ideas for reimposing sanctions if the Iranians don’t meet their obligations. But only a credulous sixth-grader could imagine that in the event that there is some evidence of Iranian cheating (and the evidence inevitably will be murky, incomplete, and subject to debate) that countries such as France and Germany, which are eager to do business with Tehran, much less countries such as China and Russia, which are not only cozy with Tehran but hostile to Western interests in general, will agree to reimpose sanctions.

Obama’s comments on Friday, and the Journal leak that accompanied them, are further evidence of how the Iranians are taking the president to the cleaners–or more accurately to the bazaar. At this rate he will be lucky to leave the negotiations with the clothes on his back.

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Will Money Moderate Iran?

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem intent on reaching a deal with Iran at any price. Not only did Obama authorize the release of $11.9 billion just to have Iranian representatives sit at the same table as Kerry and his team, but the Wall Street Journal now reports that the Islamic Republic of Iran could receive perhaps $50 billion as a “signing bonus.” That’s right: faced with pushback from the leading state sponsor of terrorism on Obama’s previous insistence that sanctions relief would be calibrated to Iranian compliance with its commitments, Obama has surrendered once again: the pay-out will be immediate.

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President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem intent on reaching a deal with Iran at any price. Not only did Obama authorize the release of $11.9 billion just to have Iranian representatives sit at the same table as Kerry and his team, but the Wall Street Journal now reports that the Islamic Republic of Iran could receive perhaps $50 billion as a “signing bonus.” That’s right: faced with pushback from the leading state sponsor of terrorism on Obama’s previous insistence that sanctions relief would be calibrated to Iranian compliance with its commitments, Obama has surrendered once again: the pay-out will be immediate.

Acting State Department Spokesman Marie Harf insists that Iran will use that money, and perhaps the total $100 billion in sanction relief it expects, to rebuild its economy. While risible, Harf’s claim seems to reflect thinking by everyone from Jake Sullivan, Hillary Clinton’s presumptive national security advisor who initiated the Iran talks in the first place, to John Kerry, to Barack Obama himself. Unfortunately, it also reflects true ignorance of recent Iranian history.

Between 2000 and 2005, the European Union more than doubled its trade with Iran on the philosophy that the “China model” might work. That is, trade and economic liberalization might lead to political liberalization. At the same time, the price of oil—and therefore Iran’s income—nearly quintupled.

That cash infusion, alas, coincided with the collapse of the reform movement under President Mohammad Khatami—reformism more or less ran out of steam by 2000—and it also coincided with a massive infusion of cash into Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs and the construction of the then-covert enrichment plant at Natanz. Indeed, this is the whole reason why those claiming to be reformists (Hassan Rouhani, for example, who as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council supervised the build-up of the nuclear program) claim credit for advancing the nuclear program.

It is true that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) does profit to some extent off of sanctions; after all, they control most of the black market. But the logic that an end to sanctions would disadvantage the IRGC and regime hardliners is disingenuous. After all, Khatam al-Anbia, the economic wing of the IRGC, alongside the revolutionary foundations control perhaps 40 percent of the Iranian economy. Any oil deal or serious import-export contracts would disproportionately empower the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian regime over ordinary Iranian people or so-called “moderates” or “pragmatists.”

To suggest infusing cash into the Iranian economy will repair that economy rather than enable Iranian hardliners to further support and sponsor terrorism throughout the region is simply ignorant. It is ignorant of Iran’s ideology, ignorant of the outcome of past episodes where similar strategies were tried, and ignorant of the economic and political structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran. To infuse such money into Iran’s economy is, effectively, to sponsor a state sponsor of terrorism.

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The Holocaust and History’s Many Lessons

Debate continues over the relevance of the Holocaust to today’s Iran crisis, in the wake of Yom HaShoah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about learning the lessons of history. Jonathan Tobin covered the Iran issue on Wednesday, and Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer takes up what he imagines to be the West’s perspective today. Pfeffer’s column is thoughtful and well worth reading. And he makes some very important points about how the West has clearly learned at least some lessons of the Holocaust, as demonstrated in some of its policies toward Jews and Israel. But there’s also another aspect of this that’s worth some consideration, and it has more to do with non-Jewish victims than with the Jews.

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Debate continues over the relevance of the Holocaust to today’s Iran crisis, in the wake of Yom HaShoah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about learning the lessons of history. Jonathan Tobin covered the Iran issue on Wednesday, and Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer takes up what he imagines to be the West’s perspective today. Pfeffer’s column is thoughtful and well worth reading. And he makes some very important points about how the West has clearly learned at least some lessons of the Holocaust, as demonstrated in some of its policies toward Jews and Israel. But there’s also another aspect of this that’s worth some consideration, and it has more to do with non-Jewish victims than with the Jews.

But first, one quibble. Pfeffer writes that the West would of course have noticed Netanyahu’s comment about Arab voters being bussed to the polls, and should have expected backlash. But in this lies a crucial point: it’s understandable to have been irked by the comment, but look at the double standard. When Iranian leaders make extreme comments the Obama administration dismisses them as intended for a domestic political audience, nothing more. The press isn’t exactly blameless here either. In fact, it should be central to the discussion.

When we talk about historical analogies and the Nazis, we often stress the comparison between regimes more than the comparison between reactions to the regimes by gullible Westerners. It’s not that we ignore the latter–we don’t–it’s just that we tend to focus on the evil party asserting its genocidal intent.

But what lessons have Westerners learned from their own history? Here, it’s instructive to glance at Andrew Nagorski’s book Hitlerland. One of the stories he tells is of Chicago Daily News reporter Edgar Mowrer, who was reporting on Germany in the 1930s and even wrote an early book on the emergence of the Hitler era. Nagorski writes:

Yet even Mowrer wasn’t quiet sure what Hitler represented–and what to expect if he took power. “Did he believe all that he said?” he asked. “The question is inapplicable to this sort of personality. Subjectively Adolf Hitler was, in my opinion, entirely sincere even in his self-contradictions. For his is a humorless mind that simply excludes the need for consistency that might distress more intellectual types. To an actor the truth is anything that lies in its effect: if it makes the right impression it is true.” …

As for the true intentions of his anti-Semitic campaign, Mowrer sounded alarmed in some moments but uncertain in others. “A suspicion arises that Adolf Hitler himself accepted anti-Semitism with his characteristic mixture of emotionalism and political cunning,” he wrote. “Many doubted if he really desired pogroms.”

Well, we know how that story ends. The point is, proper historical reflection takes into account not only whether and how the current Iranian regime is animated by common principles with Nazi Germany but also whether we can really say we’ve learned the proper lessons from the past if we’re still dismissing unhinged rhetoric as play-acting for a domestic crowd. (We also should ask if play-acting for a domestic crowd is, in light of history, really as harmless as we sometimes make it out to be.)

Nonetheless, Pfeffer’s larger point about how the Jews have been welcomed in certain corners of the West–America being the shining example–is well taken. So is his point about America’s staunch pro-Israel policies.

Yet there is a difference between treating victims a certain way and preventing others from becoming victims. This is where, I think, many critics are coming from.

Pfeffer’s column has the bad luck to be timed just as the release of hundreds of pages of newly declassified documents, reported first by Colum Lynch yesterday at Foreign Policy, draws new attention to Western inaction during the Rwandan genocide. It’s a long story, and it doesn’t necessarily change the underlying dynamics all that much, though it does shift some more of the weight of the Clinton administration’s bystander role to Richard Clarke and Susan Rice.

Rice’s inclusion there should not be shocking. She is, after all, the official once quoted as cautioning Bill Clinton against recognizing the genocide for what it was because of the effect that could have on the Democratic Party’s electoral fortunes in the congressional midterms. Here’s Lynch introducing the revelation:

But the recently declassified documents — which include more than 200 pages of internal memos and handwritten notes from Rice and other key White House players — provide a far more granular account of how the White House sought to limit U.N. action. They fill a major gap in the historical record, providing the most detailed chronicle to date of policy instructions and actions taken by White House staffers, particularly Clarke and Rice, who appear to have exercised greater influence over U.S. policy on Rwanda than the White House’s Africa hands.

Just as relevant here is the sentence that comes next: “The National Security Archive and the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide obtained the documents during a two-and-a-half-year effort to amass long-secret records of internal deliberations by the United States, the U.N., and other foreign governments.”

The Holocaust Memorial Museum was a driving force in getting these documents released. That’s no coincidence. And Rwanda’s far from the only case of Western inaction. Not every mass killing amounts to genocide, but we’re seeing campaigns of ethnic violence and ethnic cleansing across the Middle East and Africa. The most recent example is the Yazidis of Iraq, which ISIS tried to exterminate. But the general treatment of Christians–Copts in Egypt, various Christian groups in Nigeria–suggests we are, unfortunately, far from seeing the end of such campaigns.

So has the West learned its lessons from the Holocaust? The honest answer is: some of them. It would be grossly unfair to claim they’ve learned nothing. But it would be wishful thinking to suggest they’ve learned everything.

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Embrace, Don’t Cut off Iraq

Yesterday, Max Boot argued in a powerful post that given the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq, the United States should not be training Iraqi F-16 pilots let alone delivering the planes to Iraq. Here’s the core of Max’s argument:

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Yesterday, Max Boot argued in a powerful post that given the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq, the United States should not be training Iraqi F-16 pilots let alone delivering the planes to Iraq. Here’s the core of Max’s argument:

Is this really a wise move? As noted above, the government of Iraq is heavily infiltrated by Iranian agents. Does it really make safe under those circumstances to deliver to Iraq three dozen high-performance fighter aircraft? I, for one, am worried that the fighters could eventually wind up in Iranian hands, buttressing an Iranian Air Force that until now has had to rely on aging F-14 fighters from the 1970s and even F-4s and F-5s from the 1960s. Granted, F-16s aren’t top of the line aircraft anymore—they are outclassed by F-22s and F-35s—but as a matter of policy and law the U.S. does not sell arms to hostile states or to states that might transfer them to hostile states.

I certainly share Max’s concern with regard to Iranian efforts to infiltrate and influence Iraq’s government, but I disagree with his conclusions, first with regard to his reading of sectarianism, and second with regard to the meaning and purpose of the bilateral U.S.-Iraq partnership.

Iraq is unfortunately sectarian, but sectarianism is neither one-way-only, nor should it be exaggerated. The roots of Sunni extremism are not any particular grievance suffered at the hands of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, though his rule was far from perfect and enlightened. Rather, it is the ethnic and sectarian chauvinism of the Baath Party and its evolution into partnership if not symbiosis with the Islamic State. The bombs which, until recently at least, terrorized Baghdad were the work of Sunni sectarian groups. That Abadi has restored a modicum of security to Baghdad, and that Sunnis, Shi’ites, Kurds, and Christians are now restoring the (admittedly, less alcohol-centric) night life for which Baghdad was once known, is a sign that there is progress.

This past fall, I visited the Shi‘ite holy city of Karbala as a guest of the Imam Hussein shrine. Driving from the Najaf International Airport north toward Karbala, the main highway was flanked by refugees from the al-Anbar Governorate which, then as now, the Islamic State threatened. They had taken refuge in the Husainiyahs (Shi’ite meeting and prayer halls) that dot the roadside between the two cities to, in normal times, cater to pilgrims. They had opened their doors instead to Sunni refuges who were fed, clothed, and their kids educated in ordinary Iraqi schools. Many displaced Anbaris seemed to feel better treated in largely Shi’ite southern Iraq than in Iraqi Kurdistan, where ethnic discrimination Arabs face trumps the sectarian discrimination Sunnis might feel elsewhere in Iraq.

At any rate, the complex I stayed in played host not only to Sunni refugees from Fallujah, but also to Shi’ite volunteers who had answered Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s call. I would see teens and men ranging in age, by my own estimate only, from 15 to 60 years old, get off the bus, ready to begin their 30-day crash training course. Few if any I met were fighting on behalf of Iran or actually cared about the geopolitical competition; most simply wanted to defeat the scourge of the Islamic State. That is not to say that the Iranian government has not tried to co-opt some of the volunteers, but if there’s one thing that has become clear over the past decade-plus of U.S. and Iranian involvement in Iraq, it is that Washington constantly overestimated the psychological impact of occupation, whereas Tehran consistently underestimates the importance of Iraqi nationalism.

Certainly, militias like Asa’ib al-Haq and Kata’ib Hezbollah represent important exceptions which cannot be tolerated. And, where Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani goes, death and destruction follow. Besieged Shi’ites will accept help from whomever offers it—and the Iranians offer it more consistently and with greater sustained attention than does the United States—but Iraqi Shi‘ites are also realistic enough to know that Iran is not an altruistic power. Max Boot is correct to fear Iranian ambition in Iraq.

The danger, however, is that walking away from a military partnership with Iraq because of fear of Iranian influence will lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which Iran gets to consolidate control over Iraq. That smaller, weaker states in the Middle East maintain their independence by playing larger, stronger rivals off each other is Arab statecraft 101. Kuwait balances its interests against Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Iran as well. Qatar famously plays the United States and Iran off each other, as does Oman and even the United Arab Emirates. Iraqi Shi’ites are not Fifth Columnists. While the war against Iran was unjust and initiated by Saddam Hussein, when called to military service, Iraqi Shi’ites fought with honor against the Iranians.

In southern Iraq, Shi’ites from both the ruling party and many opposition groups are desperate to win American investment and bolster the American presence in order to balance out Iranian inroads. Maliki changed in Baghdad and became increasingly deferential to Iranian demands once he recognized that the White House was determined to withdraw U.S. forces. As Maliki told me once in a meeting after the U.S. military withdrawal, the White House and State Department simply would not take yes for an answer. (It was the White House that insisted that immunity for U.S. forces be passed through the Iraqi parliament, a political non-starter; had they accepted an executive guarantee, it was a done deal.) The worst thing that ever happened, as far as many Iraqi Shi‘ites are concerned, was the precipitous withdrawal which pulled the carpet out from the Iraqi government’s ability to tell Tehran, “We’d love to comply with your demands, but we have to consider the Americans.”

Washington needs to recognize, as the New America Foundation’s Douglas Ollivant said at a recent panel discussion, that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abbadi is effectively offering the United States the right of first refusal on Baghdad’s future direction. But if Washington falls short on his requests, then he might just as easily seek what Iraq needs in Tehran or Moscow. American policymakers should never forget that the United States and Iraq are not the only players in the sandbox.

So now we come to the training of the F-16 pilots. It is an irony of diplomacy that sometimes the best diplomats reside in Defense Ministries rather than Foreign Ministries. Diplomats rotate in and out of countries and strike up relations that are as often characterized by fakeness as friendliness. But when military officers undergo training, they develop lifelong relationships with their colleagues of the same rank who are in the trenches with them around the clock. As they rise through the ranks, they often constitute an important backchannel when a crisis strikes. During the 1998 Kargil Crisis between Pakistan and India, the Clinton administration ended up relying disproportionately on the relationships which American officers had struck with their Indian and Pakistani counterparts, relationships which were far deeper and more mature than corollary ties between diplomats. To cut off the training relationship—or undercut the ability of Iraq to defend itself—would represent a self-inflicted wound by which the Iraqis conclude they have no choice but to cast their lot with Iran. That would be the greatest gift the United States could give to the Islamic Republic, given how the Iranians struggle to win hearts and minds inside Iraq.

So, what might be done instead?

  • It’s time to dispense with the simplistic sectarian narrative which Gulf allies whisper into the ears of American officials and which, by osmosis, has become the dominant narrative in CENTCOM and CENTCOM circles as well. It’s all well and good to talk about re-Baathification and forcing undemocratic concessions under terrorist fire, but that would simply throw the baby out with the bathwater and convince the more than 60 percent of Iraq which is Shi’ite that the United States seeks to disenfranchise them. Rather than pursue a sectarian strategy which pits Sunni vs. Shi’ite, the United States should embrace a nuanced strategy which seeks to win Shi‘ite hearts and minds by protecting their freedom of conviction against an Iranian government which seeks to subordinate it to Tehran’s will while at the same time concentrating on the real problem, which is the Qods Force and a small minority of Shi’ite militiamen among a larger corpus of volunteers.
  • Rather than walk away from the Iraqi government, it’s time to double down on the military-to-military relationship so that the United States has leverage to exert pressure to increase the space between Baghdad and Tehran. A diplomatic conference builds relations for the duration of the conference; a military training program cements ties for years. It is time to recognize the importance of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship on its own terms rather than only through the lens of Iran policy.
  • Make no mistake: I won’t downplay the threat Iran poses, but the proper way to counter the Iranian threat is to, well, counter the Iranian threat. There needs to be a strategy to undercut the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and, if possible, even grab Qassem Soleimani, a man responsible for the murder of hundreds of Americans, more than any other living terrorist.

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Why Are We Giving F-16s to an Iranian-Infiltrated Government?

The summit meeting between President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi on Tuesday went about as well as expected. That is to say, it was, like most high-level summits, full of affirmations of friendship and good will but few if any concrete achievements. Obama was predictably effusive about Abadi, whom he called a “strong partner”: “Although there is the natural back-and-forth that exists in any democracy, Prime Minister Abadi has kept true to his commitments to reach out to them and to respond to their concerns and to make sure that power is not solely concentrated within Baghdad.”

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The summit meeting between President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi on Tuesday went about as well as expected. That is to say, it was, like most high-level summits, full of affirmations of friendship and good will but few if any concrete achievements. Obama was predictably effusive about Abadi, whom he called a “strong partner”: “Although there is the natural back-and-forth that exists in any democracy, Prime Minister Abadi has kept true to his commitments to reach out to them and to respond to their concerns and to make sure that power is not solely concentrated within Baghdad.”

In reality, while Abadi seems well intentioned, he is also fairly ineffectual. He may not actively be victimizing Sunnis, as his predecessor and rival, Nouri al-Maliki, did, but he has not succeeded in creating a government-supported Sunni militia to fight ISIS. Nor has he been able to stop Shiite militias from rampaging through Sunni towns. The reality is that Abadi is far from the most powerful man in Iraq, a title that probably belongs rightfully to Gen. Qassem Suleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force, who is the puppet-master pulling the strings of the Shiite militias. Nevertheless, it is in America’s interest to buttress Abadi’s power, and having the president of the United States effusively compliment him in public makes sense, even if those compliments are not, strictly speaking, truthful.

While I wasn’t troubled by this fulsome praise of the Iraqi prime, I was troubled by something I read in the very last paragraph of the New York Times article reporting on his visit: “On Tuesday, Mr. Abadi was scheduled to meet with Iraqi pilots who are being trained in the United States to fly F-16s. Iraqi officials said that 14 pilots were scheduled to be trained by September, when the Iraqi military hopes to start flying the planes in Iraq.”

Huh? I remembered that the delivery of the F-16s had been delayed last year after ISIS fighters imperiled the Balad air base where they were supposed to be based. I didn’t realize that the F-16 delivery was on again. But apparently it is. Googling around, I quickly found a Reuters dispatch which said that Iraq is scheduled to take its first delivery of the fighter aircraft this summer. In all, 36 F-16s are eventually to be delivered.

Hold on a minute. Is this really a wise move? As noted above, the government of Iraq is heavily infiltrated by Iranian agents. Does it really make safe under those circumstances to deliver to Iraq three dozen high-performance fighter aircraft? I, for one, am worried that the fighters could eventually wind up in Iranian hands, buttressing an Iranian Air Force that until now has had to rely on aging F-14 fighters from the 1970s and even F-4s and F-5s from the 1960s. Granted, F-16s aren’t top of the line aircraft anymore—they are outclassed by F-22s and F-35s—but as a matter of policy and law the U.S. does not sell arms to hostile states or to states that might transfer them to hostile states.

Paging the House and Senate Armed Services Committees! Congress needs to get involved in this issue urgently to assess whether it makes sense to continue with the F-16 transfer to Iraq—and, if it doesn’t, to block the sale before Gen. Suleimani’s boys are using F-16s to drop bombs on the heads of American or Israeli soldiers.

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Tom Friedman’s Iran Ignorance

Jonathan Tobin highlights well some problems with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s defense of President Barack Obama’s empathy with Iran. Perhaps a greater irony, however, is how wrong Friedman gets Iranian history. Friedman describes how:

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Jonathan Tobin highlights well some problems with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s defense of President Barack Obama’s empathy with Iran. Perhaps a greater irony, however, is how wrong Friedman gets Iranian history. Friedman describes how:

We, the United States, back in the ’50s, we toppled Iran’s democratically-elected government. You know, there might be some reason these people actually want to get a weapon that will deter that from happening again.

Three problems with this conventional wisdom:

  • Firstly, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq was not much of a democrat. Or, if he was a democrat, then he was a democrat in the mold of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide: he was democratic so long as you agreed with him; Iranians who voiced opposition might easily find themselves lynched.
  • Second, while Kermit Roosevelt wrote the main English-language account of the 1953 coup in Countercoup, he exaggerated his own and the United States role in what was a much broader operation. The idea for the coup was British because Mosaddeq had nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (a predecessor of British Petroleum) and then refused to negotiate. The United States was more concerned by Mosaddeq’s pro-Soviet proclivities. So too were the Iranians themselves, especially the military and the clergy. That’s right, the folks who run the Islamic Republic today were co-conspirators with the United States and deeply opposed to Mosaddeq’s anti-clerical attitudes. So when Friedman self-flagellates, he essentially is apologizing to the Iranians who supported the coup.
  • Third, Friedman gets the shah wrong. Mohammad Reza Shah was a deeply problematic figure, and he grew far more dictatorial after the 1953 coup, but at the time of the coup, he was a popular head of state whom Mosaddeq was seeking to force out in order to assume dictatorial power himself. Then again, he was a dictator in the mold of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey: he sought dictatorial powers to modernize Iran, making Iranians equal under the law regardless of religion and enfranchising women. Still, the shah’s regime was brutal at time, and there were no angels in this story. But the idea that the 1953 coup motivates the Iranian nuclear program is bizarre. While the shah had a nuclear program himself, the resurrection of the Iranian nuclear program after the Islamic Revolution can be traced more to Iraqi chemical weapons attacks on Iran.

There’s also a broader problem underlying both Obama’s and Friedman’s assumptions about Iranian motivations, and that is the assumption that grievance motivates the Iranian nuclear drive. That’s lazy thinking and belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic Republic. At its heart, the Islamic Republic is an ideological state. The reason why Obama’s interpretation that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s statements can be discounted because he’s playing to a political constituency are so bizarre is that such an explanation suggests ignorance of the fact that the supreme leader derives legitimacy from God rather than from the Iranian public. The Islamic Republic simply isn’t a normal, status quo state; it’s a revisionist, ideological power. Iran’s nuclear behavior is rooted not in grievances real or imagined, but rather in a desire to export its revolution.

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