Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran

Anti-Israel Feeling in Britain Reaching Dangerous Levels

Beyond Europe, the only country the British now dislike more than Israel is North Korea. That is the finding of a new survey by the foreign policy institute Chatham House. Even Iran is viewed more favorably than Israel. These findings come amidst a fraught debate over whether or not Britain is becoming more anti-Semitic. But because much of the British establishment and even significant sections of Britain’s Jewish community refuse to view anti-Israel feeling as synonymous with anti-Semitism, people are not taking this phenomenon nearly as seriously as they might one day wish they had.

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Beyond Europe, the only country the British now dislike more than Israel is North Korea. That is the finding of a new survey by the foreign policy institute Chatham House. Even Iran is viewed more favorably than Israel. These findings come amidst a fraught debate over whether or not Britain is becoming more anti-Semitic. But because much of the British establishment and even significant sections of Britain’s Jewish community refuse to view anti-Israel feeling as synonymous with anti-Semitism, people are not taking this phenomenon nearly as seriously as they might one day wish they had.

In all, 35 percent said they viewed Israel unfavorably, as opposed to 33 percent who felt negatively toward Iran (down from 45 percent in the previous survey), 21 percent for Saudi Arabia, 9 percent for Egypt, and 2 percent for Indonesia. These other figures are an indication of just how warped attitudes toward the Jewish state have become.

What relation, if any, this has with rising anti-Semitism is now a fiercely debated subject. Indeed, there are plenty who dispute the premise that anti-Semitism even is rising in Britain. Something of the confusion was recently expressed by Michael Portillo—formerly a senior Conservative party figure—who told the BBC that while he thought anti-Semitism had diminished in Britain, Jews were still being identified with the policies of Israel. And Israel, Portillo noted, is becoming increasingly unpopular, something which he also stressed he didn’t believe to be justified. But there we have the contradiction. People hating Jews because of an unjustified loathing of Israel is the new anti-Semitism.

Besides, mounting evidence shows direct anti-Semitism is indeed on the rise. By the middle of 2014, British Jews had witnessed a 400 percent increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents compared to the previous year. And then there are the opinion surveys. One carried out at the beginning of this year by the European Jewish Congress found that 15 percent of young Brits approved of the idea that Jews should be forced to carry special identification and that Jewish businesses should be marked. A similar number said they needed more evidence to be convinced the Holocaust had happened. Another survey, this one commissioned by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, found that half of British people agreed with at least one of several anti-Semitic statements put before them.

There has been some recognition of this problem by the government—which has stepped up policing in Jewish areas—as well as by the media, even while no shortage of Jewish voices loudly insist that what is plainly happening in fact isn’t. But there are also other voices who would blame the Jewish state for causing this growing hostility toward British Jews. On Holocaust Memorial Day (no less) Britain’s chief rabbi was asked three times by Sky News reporter Adam Boulton whether Israeli policy was contributing to anti-Semitism in the UK. It is lost on people like Boulton that in a previous era they would have been asking the rabbi if it was not Jewish dishonesty in business, or their disloyalty to the host nation, that was in fact contributing to anti-Semitism.

Today Britain seems to be full of people who in one breath insist they oppose anti-Semitism wholeheartedly, only to then demonize Israel mercilessly in the next. One wonders if in 1930s Germany it was possible to find people who maintained they didn’t wish to see Jews mistreated, but endorsed the Nuremburg Race Laws nonetheless. During this week’s House of Lords debate on Palestinian statehood the now infamous Baroness Jenny Tonge complained that “critics” of Israel such as herself are often labelled anti-Semitic. However, the baroness swiftly proceeded to make a number of anti-Semitic assertions in the very same speech. Not only did she claim that injustices against Palestinians “sowed the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism” so putting all of us at risk, but she also urged Jewish leaders to condemn Israel so as to spare their community from suffering the same hatred Israel now receives. And what if they don’t? What if they continue to support Israel? Is the implication then that they deserve everything they get?

The more of this discourse one listens to the more apparent it becomes that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have not only become inseparably tangled, but worse still the two are perpetuating one another. As a result, 45 percent of British Jews say they fear Jews don’t have a future in Britain. Among those who say they are considering leaving is the actress Maureen Lipmann, yet some in her own community have labelled her an alarmist. Indeed, Jewish talk show host Esther Rantzen and the Guardian writer David Conn have even suggested that British Jews are being ungrateful with all their talk of anti-Semitism and thoughts of leaving.

To be sure, Britain is not France. Not yet, at least. But to avoid that, those who care must start saying unequivocally that demonization of Israel is the most dangerous form of anti-Semitism in the world today. Furthermore, it is time to recognize that Israel advocacy in Britain and Europe has failed. The only thing left to be done is to stop apologizing for Israel defending herself and to instead put those doing the attacking under the spotlight. If exposed to the full horror of Israel’s Islamist enemies, there are still many fair-minded people in Britain who could be persuaded to see things differently.

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Is Iran Preparing for a Two-Front War Against Israel?

The outbreak of violence along Israel’s northern border appeared to have died down by the end of the week. Hezbollah claimed a victory with a cross border shelling that left two Israeli soldiers dead. For the moment that appears to be enough for them and their Iranian paymasters as they contemplate their next move in a struggle that is as much about defending the Islamist regime’s gains in Syria and its nuclear program as anything else. But for residents of northern Israel, the attack was a reminder that at any moment, their lives could be turned upside down by a decision taken in Tehran to either turn up the heat on the Jewish state or perhaps even launch a war. The same is true of those living within range of Gaza, where terrorists also rule. Though those who claim to be Israel’s friends speak of its security concerns as if they were fictions created by Prime Minister Netanyahu to justify his policies, this week’s events once more made it clear that a two-front war in which both missiles and terror tunnels will play a major role are threats that cannot be dismissed.

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The outbreak of violence along Israel’s northern border appeared to have died down by the end of the week. Hezbollah claimed a victory with a cross border shelling that left two Israeli soldiers dead. For the moment that appears to be enough for them and their Iranian paymasters as they contemplate their next move in a struggle that is as much about defending the Islamist regime’s gains in Syria and its nuclear program as anything else. But for residents of northern Israel, the attack was a reminder that at any moment, their lives could be turned upside down by a decision taken in Tehran to either turn up the heat on the Jewish state or perhaps even launch a war. The same is true of those living within range of Gaza, where terrorists also rule. Though those who claim to be Israel’s friends speak of its security concerns as if they were fictions created by Prime Minister Netanyahu to justify his policies, this week’s events once more made it clear that a two-front war in which both missiles and terror tunnels will play a major role are threats that cannot be dismissed.

The aftermath of the dustup along the Lebanese border has been characterized mostly by renewed Israeli efforts to search for evidence of tunnels being dug across the border to facilitate more terror attacks. The construction equipment that has been reported in the vicinity of this week’s assault was widely assumed to be a sign that Hezbollah is preparing for more attacks perhaps this time aimed at killing and kidnapping civilians as well as soldiers.

The context was not just the usual tensions with the terror group but signs that Iran was upping the ante with Israel as it continued to refuse to budge in nuclear talks with the United States and its Western allies. Far from being separate issues, the ability of Iran to deploy its Hezbollah auxiliaries to pressure Israel must be understood as integral to its overall goal of seeking regional hegemony via the chaos in Iraq and the survival of its ally Bashar Assad in Syria.

Tensions with Hamas along Israel’s southern border should be seen in the same light.

Hamas has recently begun moving to renew its alliance with Iran after their split because they backed rival sides in the Syrian civil war. Assad’s victory was achieved with Iranian and Hezbollah help and Hamas has now conceded it made a mistake when it threw in with Saudi Arabia and Turkey to back the rebels.

But it too, has been using the respite since last summer’s war to rebuild. But the rebuilding has not been of the homes of Palestinians who were used as human shields by Hamas. Rather it has been rebuilding its military infrastructure of tunnels and shelters designed to protect its leaders, fighters and arsenal. Talk about international donors being slow to pay their pledges for the costs of rebuilding Gaza should be understood in the context of Hamas using as much of the aid as it can for its own purposes rather than to help those who languish under their despotic rule.

As for the residents of Gaza, Hamas isn’t completely neglecting them. As the Times of Israel reports, the ruling Islamist group has been operating camps for children in recent months. But the kids aren’t learning sports, fitness or arts and crafts. Some 15,000 teenagers have been undergoing terrorist training by the Izaddin al-Qassam, Hamas’s “military wing.” Many of them graduated the course yesterday.

Drills included weapons training and exercises simulating kidnapping IDF soldiers and infiltration into Israel through tunnels. Portraits of Israeli leaders were used in target practice for sniper training.

In case, the International Criminal Court is interested in investigating a real war crime as opposed to compiling charges against Israel for having the temerity to defend itself against terrorist assault, using children in this manner is an atrocity.

But the point of these two stories is that Israel must brace itself for a two-front war if Iran thinks it is in its interest to start one. That should cause President Obama to rethink his reckless pursuit of détente with Iran in which he has already sacrificed his former goal of dismantling their nuclear program. Further appeasement of Tehran will not bring peace to the region. To the contrary, Iran seems bent on expanding its reach and terrorism is the way to do it. With more daylight opening up between Washington and Jerusalem these days, the temptation for Iran to use the leverage it has acquired on Israel’s northern and southern borders may prove irresistible. If the U.S. wants to prevent such an outcome, it needs to be more realistic about the nature of its negotiating partner and more supportive of an ally that remains under siege from Islamist terrorists on two fronts.

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U.S. Must Connect the Dots Between Iran Talks and Hezbollah Violence

The instinct in Washington is to dismiss the latest flare-up in violence along Israel’s northern border as just another incident in a long-running cycle of violence involving Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces. The State Department will condemn the attack on Israel but it will call for restraint and calm. Their expectation, echoed in much of the media, is that once the smoke clears, the combatants will return to an armed and hostile truce enabling diplomats to concentrate on more important things like the administration’s pursuit of détente with Iran. But whether or not the shooting continues in the coming days, this incident, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed by terrorists firing over an international border, must be understood as intrinsically connected to the broader issue of U.S. relations with Iran and its nuclear program. The fighting is a wake-up call to the West alerting it to the fact that Tehran’s real purpose is not, as President Obama hopes, “to get right with the world,” but to dominate the region and threaten Israel and moderate Arab nations.

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The instinct in Washington is to dismiss the latest flare-up in violence along Israel’s northern border as just another incident in a long-running cycle of violence involving Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces. The State Department will condemn the attack on Israel but it will call for restraint and calm. Their expectation, echoed in much of the media, is that once the smoke clears, the combatants will return to an armed and hostile truce enabling diplomats to concentrate on more important things like the administration’s pursuit of détente with Iran. But whether or not the shooting continues in the coming days, this incident, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed by terrorists firing over an international border, must be understood as intrinsically connected to the broader issue of U.S. relations with Iran and its nuclear program. The fighting is a wake-up call to the West alerting it to the fact that Tehran’s real purpose is not, as President Obama hopes, “to get right with the world,” but to dominate the region and threaten Israel and moderate Arab nations.

The border violence is generally being reported as part of a tit-for-tat exchange between Hezbollah and Israel. Today’s incident, in which anti-tank shells were fired at Israeli vehicles travelling on a civilian road from three miles away inside Lebanon, is seen by many as retaliation for Israel’s strike at a Hezbollah missile base inside Syria last week in which, among others, an Iranian general was killed. Iran has warned Israel that it would retaliate and it is thought that today is proof that they meant what they said.

But there is more to this than the need for Hezbollah to do the bidding of its Iranian paymasters or even for it to gain revenge for the death of the terrorists slain with Tehran’s ballistic missile expert, one of whom was the son of a slain commander of the group. The point of setting up that base in Syria, near the Golan Heights, was to create a launching pad to hit the Jewish state without bringing down the wrath of the Israel Defense Forces on Lebanon, as was the case during the 2006 war that was set off by similar cross-border raids. But the reason why Hezbollah and Iran were so interested in strengthening their ability to rain down destruction on Israeli civilian targets is that Tehran sees itself as being locked in a permanent war with Israel as well as with Arab states in the region.

This is more than obvious to anyone who pays the slightest attention to Iranian policy as well as its use of terrorists to advance its policy goals. Hezbollah is an arm of Iranian foreign policy as proved by its use as shock troops in the effort to preserve the rule of Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad in Syria.

This exposes the fallacy that lies at the heart of the current U.S. approach to Iran. President Obama is convinced that sooner or later he will be able to persuade the Islamist regime to accept a weak nuclear deal that will enable him to withdraw sanctions on the regime and start working toward an amicable relationship. The idea of such an entente is ludicrous since the ideology of the Iranian regime is implacably hostile to the United States. Moreover, their goal is not integration into the region but rather domination of it, something that will be facilitated once it becomes clear it is a threshold nuclear state (even if no bomb is actually constructed) as well as by its use of its Hezbollah auxiliaries and a renewed alliance with Hamas.

Seen from that perspective, the administration’s zeal for a deal with Iran is not merely misguided because Iran has no intention of abiding by any agreement and that it will use the nuclear infrastructure that the West seems poised to allow it to keep to continue a pursuit of a weapon. Rather, what makes it truly disastrous is that an embrace of Iran will encourage its adventurism in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, as well as along Israel’s northern and southern borders. An Iran that is permitted to become a nuclear threshold state will not only be vastly more powerful than it is today but in a position to directly threaten Israeli security and that of Jordan and perhaps even Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The fighting along Israel’s northern border is just a tease of what may come once Hezbollah is protected by an Iran that believes the U.S. has granted it impunity to pursue its aggressive agenda.

Instead of dismissing the border fighting, the White House should be realizing that it is headed down a perilous path in its pursuit of friendship with Iran. If it doesn’t turn back soon, today’s violence may be just a foreshadowing of the atrocities that will follow.

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Marco Rubio Finds His Voice

While the Iowa Freedom Summit got most of the attention over the weekend, three potential Republican presidential candidates—Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz—engaged in a preview of the 2016 GOP foreign-policy debate at a forum in California. Both Cruz and Rubio are the sons of Cuban immigrants, and when the debate turned to the recent Obama administration decision to normalize relations with the island prison, Paul learned the hard way that ideological principles, if paired only with theoretical knowledge, struggle when challenged by personal experience.

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While the Iowa Freedom Summit got most of the attention over the weekend, three potential Republican presidential candidates—Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz—engaged in a preview of the 2016 GOP foreign-policy debate at a forum in California. Both Cruz and Rubio are the sons of Cuban immigrants, and when the debate turned to the recent Obama administration decision to normalize relations with the island prison, Paul learned the hard way that ideological principles, if paired only with theoretical knowledge, struggle when challenged by personal experience.

Foreign policy rarely plays too much of a role in general elections, though since 9/11 it has probably had a more sustained impact on voters, since the country was at war. But whatever its effect on the 2016 general election, it will likely be an important part of the conversation in the battle for the GOP nomination, due in large part to the presence of Rand Paul. The senator advocates a “conservative realism” (though I’ve pointed out in the past why it’s really more of a utopian realism) and thus gives voice to conservative critics of the party’s interventionist status quo. And if Rubio runs—and indications are that he’s leaning toward a run—the GOP will have its most eloquent spokesman for a robust American presence in the world in decades. Add in Cruz’s legendary debating skills, and the three-man forum over the weekend provides a glimpse of the battles yet to come.

According to The Hill, Rubio pressed his advantage on foreign affairs:

In making his case, Rubio argued the next Republican nominee needs to be a foreign policy expert with a “global strategic vision” who understands the “seriousness, breadth, and scope of the challenges we face” internationally.

Taking an apparent swipe at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who electrified conservatives over the weekend at the Iowa Freedom Summit, Rubio also said the GOP nominee shouldn’t necessarily come from the party’s stable of conservative governors.

“Taking a trip to some foreign city for two days does not make you Henry Kissinger,” Rubio said. Walker is planning a trip to Israel soon in a move meant to bolster his foreign policy credentials.

Governors tend to have a certain advantage over senators, in that they usually have a clear record. This is especially true during times of divided government, and for much of his time as Senate majority leader Harry Reid made it a Democratic priority to grind the Congress to a halt, not even passing basic legislation like budgets. But the other side of that coin is foreign policy: governors don’t usually have much experience there, while senators—if they’re on the right committees—do. And Rubio does.

But the Cuba debate reveals the other advantage Rubio and Cruz have. Namely, the kind of granular and personal understanding of an issue that even a few years on a foreign affairs committee won’t get you. That benefit, of course, has its limits. Personal experience can help a candidate craft a more compelling message, but there is no such thing as a true trump card in such debates. On Cuba, Paul also has one advantage: the polling is on his side. Americans appear ready for a policy shift there. Rubio and Cruz will be arguing passionately and intelligently, but they’ll begin by spotting Paul a few points here.

That, however, could change. One interesting aspect of the polling on Cuba is that President Obama’s policy has received higher marks than his handling of the issue, which suggests that there is still plenty of room to argue about how poorly Obama negotiated this deal. Today’s report from the Associated Press also demonstrates why even the approval numbers of the policy itself could slide back in the other direction if it continues to be mishandled:

Following the highest-level open talks in three decades between the two nations, Cuban officials remained firm in rejecting significant reforms pushed by the United States as part of President Barack Obama’s surprise move to re-establish ties and rebuild economic relations with the Communist-led country.

“One can’t think that in order to improve and normalize relations with the U.S., Cuba has to give up the principles it believes in,” Cuba’s top diplomat for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, told The Associated Press after the end of the talks. “Changes in Cuba aren’t negotiable.”

Paul will be watching this carefully. His one major disadvantage on the Cuba issue is that he is reliant on the Obama administration’s handling of negotiations. The president’s bumbling foreign policy could easily lead to Paul being saddled by a flailing Cuba policy that Paul might have handled better. (It’s inconceivable that, for all his faults, Paul could possibly be a worse negotiator than Obama.)

And Cuba’s not the only such issue. On Iran, unsurprisingly, both Rubio and Cruz took a harder line, saying all options should be on the table while Paul was reduced to straw-man arguments about negotiations. Here, too, his fate for now is in the president’s hands. Fair or not, Obama’s thus-far disastrous Iran policy, which hasn’t stopped its march toward nuclear capability while also enabled it to expand its influence across the Middle East, is what voters will associate with talk of engagement that isn’t backed up by a credible threat of force or additional sanctions.

Obama’s name might not be on the ballot, but thanks to his handling of foreign affairs, his policies will be—not just in the general election, but in both parties’ nominating contests as well.

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U.S.-Saudi Relations After Abdullah

The death of King Abdullah provides a good opportunity to reflect on the long and troubled relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

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The death of King Abdullah provides a good opportunity to reflect on the long and troubled relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

It is not, by any stretch, an obvious or easy or natural alliance. The U.S. is the land of the free; Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive societies on the planet, a country where not only do the people have no say in the selection of their leaders but where bloggers are flogged and women are prevented from driving. The U.S. is animated by Enlightenment ideals, Saudi Arabia by the fundamentalist Wahhabi strain of Islam.

Yet since the 1940s the fortunes of these two countries have been closely linked. For many years the relationship could be described simply as: The Saudis give us oil, we give the Saudis security. This is still, for the most part, true. Even if our reliance on Saudi oil is down and we have become more energy self-sufficient, Saudi Arabia is still the second-largest source of imported oil in the U.S. after Canada. And Saudi Arabia still very much depends on American weapons, American military advisers, and ultimately an implicit American security guarantee, manifested when President George H.W. Bush sent troops to the Kingdom in 1990 to defend it against Iraqi aggression.

A few events, in more recent years, have greatly complicated the relationship. First, of course, was 9/11: 15 out of 19 hijackers were Saudis as was the leader of al-Qaeda–Osama bin Laden. This revealed the malignant consequences of the Saudis’ fundamentalist ideology, which gave rise to the world’s most dangerous terrorist group. But when al-Qaeda began to target Saudi Arabia, the Saudis fought back, mobilizing their highly effective bureaucracy of repression to stamp out terrorist attacks. This more or less restored the Saudis to American good graces.

Then a decade after 9/11 came the Arab Spring. With change sweeping the Middle East, the Saudis emerged as the primary champions of repressive stability, playing a role similar to that of the Holy Alliance (Russia, Austria, Prussia) which put down liberal uprisings in Europe in the 19th century. The Saudis even sent their troops into neighboring Bahrain to stamp out Shiite protests, much like the tsar sending his army into Hungary to maintain Austrian rule during the revolutions of 1848. This offended American sensibilities but did not seriously disturb the alliance because the U.S. was also ambivalent about the Arab Spring uprisings, as evidence by our confused policy toward Egypt.

Now, however, a very different and potentially more serious rift is growing between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia over relations with Iran. President Obama is intent on an entente with Tehran. He is desperate for a deal over Iran’s nuclear program that will prepare the way for a broader realignment in the Middle East where Iran could become a partner, rather than an adversary, of the U.S. This is evident in the fact that the U.S. is doing so little to oppose Iranian imperial expansion in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, among other places, where the Obama administration naively sees Iran and its proxies as allies against ISIS and al-Qaeda.

The Saudis have a very different view. They hate Iran not only because it is a Shiite state and therefore composed of infidels in the eyes of pious Wahhabis but also because Iran is a revolutionary, expansionist state that is challenging Sunni power throughout the region. And Saudi Arabia, as the richest and largest of the Gulf oil kingdoms, has long seen itself as the primary Sunni champion. Thus the Saudis sponsor proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen to wage war on Iran and its proxies. Unfortunately suspicion is rife that some of those who have received Saudi support include jihadists such as ISIS and the al-Nusra Front.

The Saudis are apoplectic that President Obama is flirting with the Iranian mullahs. They want the U.S. to bomb Iran, not to make a deal with it. And they want the U.S. to take tougher action against Iranian proxies such as Bashar Assad, not to reach deals and understandings with them as Obama has done.

Much as it pains me to say it, my country is wrong and Saudi Arabia is right. Obama’s outreach to Iran will not succeed; Iranian revolutionaries who still chant “Death to America” will not make common cause with us. And the price of flirting with them is to drive Sunnis, especially in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, further into the camp of the jihadists.

From a moral standpoint, admittedly, there is little to choose from between Saudi Arabia and Iran: both are despotic theocracies that are anathema to American values. But from a strategic standpoint, Iran is much more of a threat to the U.S. and our allies.

A useful analogy here is World War II where we had to choose an alliance with the lesser evil (Stalin) to defeat the greater evil (Hitler). It would have made no sense to go the other way, as some on the far-right were advocating in the 1930s; in other words, to team up with Hitler against Stalin. Yet that is akin to what Obama is trying to do today. He would be better advised to hold his nose and restore closer ties with the Saudis, who, however odious, are still a better bet than the Iranians.

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The “Yemen Model” Goes Down in Flames

Yemen has been cited a couple of times in recent years by the Obama administration as a model for what it wants to accomplish in the Middle East. In 2011, after an Arab Spring uprising in Yemen, the administration helped to engineer the peaceful transfer of power from longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh to vice president (and staunch American ally) Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. This was hailed as a model of democracy ascendant. More recently in September 2014 Obama hailed Yemen, along with Somalia, as a model of the kind of “small footprint” approach he favored for fighting terrorism–sending American advisers and drones but not combat troops.

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Yemen has been cited a couple of times in recent years by the Obama administration as a model for what it wants to accomplish in the Middle East. In 2011, after an Arab Spring uprising in Yemen, the administration helped to engineer the peaceful transfer of power from longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh to vice president (and staunch American ally) Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. This was hailed as a model of democracy ascendant. More recently in September 2014 Obama hailed Yemen, along with Somalia, as a model of the kind of “small footprint” approach he favored for fighting terrorism–sending American advisers and drones but not combat troops.

The last few days have brutally exposed the falsity of these claims, which is no doubt why Yemen went entirely unmentioned in the State of the Union. The Houthi militia, a Shiite group armed and supported by Iran, has overrun Sana, the capital, and seized the presidential palace. It only agreed to release President Hadi after he agreed to share power with them. This does not sit well with Sunni tribes who are threatening war on the Houthis, which will undoubtedly draw them into league with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group which has taken responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia, the main sponsor of the Hadi government and major adversary of Iran and its proxies, is vowing to cut off all aid to Yemen as long as the Houthis are in control. Yemen, in short, is on the verge of plunging into a Libya-like or Syria-like abyss, which would certainly make it representative of Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East but not in the way the president intended.

The administration in recent weeks has softened its anti-Houthi rhetoric. Many inside and outside the administration are tempted to see the Houthis as allies because they are fighting AQAP. This is a big mistake. The Houthis are, like Hezbollah, an Iranian-sponsored militia whose slogan is “God is great; death to America; death to Israel.” They are hardly potential allies for Washington. Any attempt to align American policy with them will only drive Sunnis further into the camp of al-Qaeda–exactly the same phenomenon we have recently witnessed in Syria and Iraq where a perceived American tilt toward Iran and its murderous proxies has driven many Sunnis to side for protection with ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria.

There is no easy or obvious solution in Yemen beyond the continuing need to support relative moderates such as Hadi and to press for political solutions that can work rather than to simply be content with killing a few terrorists with air strikes–which seems to be the Obama administration’s preferred approach to the entire Middle East. The administration’s policy can be characterized as general lethargy and disengagement punctuated by periodic outbursts of carefully targeted violence. This is a policy that cannot possibly work, and it hasn’t. The administration hasn’t created the chaos that is gripping the Middle East–chaos that is a Petri dish for extremism–but it certainly hasn’t done much to stop it.

Even France’s president, Francois Hollande, is lambasting Obama for creating a power vacuum in the Middle East. When a French socialist, of all people, is attacking him for not being interventionist enough, that should tell Obama something. But if the State of the Union is any indication, he is feeling too cocky at the moment, because of better economic news, to seriously take on board and address the catastrophic failure of his foreign policy in Yemen and beyond.

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Iran Looking for Missile Base Against Israel, Not Nuclear Peace

What was an Iranian general doing hanging around on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights border with Israel? The answer is that, along with several high-ranking figures in the Hezbollah terrorist group, General Mohammed Ali Allahdadi, a reputed ballistic missiles expert, was there helping to set up a missile base from which the terror group would, with Iranian aid and instructions, strike at the State of Israel. But before he completed his mission Allahdadi was killed along with some of the Hezbollah personnel in an Israel strike on their base near the town of Quenetra. The mission nipped the Iranian scheme in the bud but it’s doubtful that anyone in the Israeli government is under the impression that the strike ended the threat of attack from Iranian forces and their auxiliaries. But the revelation of the Iranian effort near the Golan is significant because it illustrates how deeply involved Iran is in fomenting a new terror war against Israel as well as the peril presented by Western policies that would, at best, make Iran a threshold nuclear power in the years to come.

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What was an Iranian general doing hanging around on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights border with Israel? The answer is that, along with several high-ranking figures in the Hezbollah terrorist group, General Mohammed Ali Allahdadi, a reputed ballistic missiles expert, was there helping to set up a missile base from which the terror group would, with Iranian aid and instructions, strike at the State of Israel. But before he completed his mission Allahdadi was killed along with some of the Hezbollah personnel in an Israel strike on their base near the town of Quenetra. The mission nipped the Iranian scheme in the bud but it’s doubtful that anyone in the Israeli government is under the impression that the strike ended the threat of attack from Iranian forces and their auxiliaries. But the revelation of the Iranian effort near the Golan is significant because it illustrates how deeply involved Iran is in fomenting a new terror war against Israel as well as the peril presented by Western policies that would, at best, make Iran a threshold nuclear power in the years to come.

The purpose of the Iranian effort wasn’t just to make mischief for the Israelis under the cover of the chaos engendered by the Syrian civil war. The point of the plot was to allow Hezbollah to create a missile base from which it could rain death and destruction down on Israelis without involving the country of Lebanon. Hezbollah is still smarting from the negative feedback created by the 2006 war it started with Israel and which left much of that country in ruins. So what the group and its Iranian masters wanted is a secure base from which it could pepper Israel with rockets from the north in much the same manner that Hamas has done from the south. But, fortunately, as it has with various other terror plots involving Hezbollah in Syria, Israeli action has made the execution of this plot more difficult if not impossible in the short run.

But the significance of this goes beyond the threat to Israel’s missile defense efforts or its desire to keep the north peaceful even as Hamas stirs the pot in the south.

It’s no surprise to learn that senior Iranian military personnel are wandering around loose in Syria. Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard personnel have been deployed to Syria to aid efforts to preserve the rule of dictator and Iranian ally Bashar Assad. But what is also now becoming clear is that the Iranians are looking to use their entry into Syria as part of an effort to, at the least, revive a northern front military option against Israel.

That this effort involved a ballistic missile export should, however, interest observers. While it is possible that the initial hopes for Allahdadi’s efforts were limited to attempts to launch the kind of middle-range rockets Hamas lobbed at Israel last summer, it is impossible to ignore the implications of Iran expanding its ballistic missile program to Syria.

While the world has focused its attention on Iran’s nuclear program and the effort to force the Islamist regime to abandon its ambitions for a bomb, relatively little notice has been paid to Iran’s ballistic missile program. Indeed, the Iranians have been as reluctant to discuss their rockets as they have been to reveal the details about their military research on nuclear material. But if Tehran is already sending generals to the border with the Golan to build up a missile threat against the Jewish state, it doesn’t take much imagination to think what will happen once the U.S. drops sanctions on the regime as part of a new and weak nuclear deal that let the Iranians keep their program and its infrastructure.

That puts the effort by the Obama administration to appease Iran and to work for a new détente with the regime rather than pressing it to give up its nuclear capability in a very different light. Previously, when one spoke of Iran’s state-sponsored terrorism, it brought to mind their using Hezbollah operatives to launch atrocities such as the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires or the attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. But now when we link Iran and terror, it must be acknowledged that it is possible that one day the primary Iranian threat to Israel will be nuclear and that missiles based in Syria will be the method by which Tehran will cause trouble and perhaps even launch a nuke at Israel.

If Israelis are more nervous about Iranian intentions in nuclear talks that Tehran has been, it is not just because they may think President Obama has proved himself a terrible negotiator in the peace talks. Rather, it is due to a sensible fear about Syria becoming nothing more than a launching pad for rockets in the same way Gaza has been transformed into a bastion of terror. Throw in the potential for nuclear weapons and you have a formula that ensures chaos and future bloodshed. Unless the U.S. wakes up to this threat and the folly of its stance toward Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, the consequences could be catastrophic.

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Obama’s Yalta Syndrome

President Obama may have been hoping to get some momentum back last night with a stridently partisan campaign-style speech. But it appears the media are losing patience with this game, finally. Both NBC News and MSNBC’s commentators were incredulous over Obama’s interpretation of world affairs. And the New York Times’s chief White House correspondent Peter Baker dropped a dreaded phrase into his analysis of Obama’s conception of his foreign policy: “What he did not mention was that….”

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President Obama may have been hoping to get some momentum back last night with a stridently partisan campaign-style speech. But it appears the media are losing patience with this game, finally. Both NBC News and MSNBC’s commentators were incredulous over Obama’s interpretation of world affairs. And the New York Times’s chief White House correspondent Peter Baker dropped a dreaded phrase into his analysis of Obama’s conception of his foreign policy: “What he did not mention was that….”

You know Obama’s having a tough run when the New York Times hits him with a yes, but. In this case, what Obama did not mention was that “Russia maintains control of Crimea, the peninsula it annexed from Ukraine, and continues to support pro-Russian separatists who are at war with Ukraine’s government despite a cease-fire that has failed to stop violence.”

Obama had been bragging about simply waiting Vladimir Putin out until the Russian economy started (or continued) to crumble. But Baker’s next sentence shows what is so unsound about Obama’s approach to foreign affairs: “Russia’s economy has indeed taken a huge hit, in large part because of the fall in oil prices, but so far Mr. Putin shows few signs of backing down.”

That, in fact, is what the divide is all about, because Obama considers that a victory while most of the reality-based community disagrees. To Obama, what happens to insignificant states–as he sees them, at least–isn’t important. This is a kind of great-power politics stripped of all nuance. It’s what someone who wants to practice great-power politics but doesn’t really understand international affairs would think constitutes such a policy.

To Obama, it’s the large states–or as he sees them, important states–that matter. Because Obama is a follower, not a leader, he gravitates toward the strong horse. He does not want to be in conflict with Russia, whatever that means for Russia’s ability to crush nearby states that the U.S. has promised to protect. Obama’s foreign policy suffers from Yalta syndrome.

And it’s the reason for what was really the centerpiece of Baker’s Times article on Obama’s unrealistic foreign policy: ISIS and the war on terror. Here’s how the article begins:

Under the original plan, this was to be the State of the Union address in which President Obama would be able to go before the nation and declare that he had fulfilled his vow to end two overseas wars. Only the wars did not exactly cooperate.

Mr. Obama pulled American troops out of Iraq in 2011 and ordered all “combat forces” out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But before he could seize the mantle of peacemaker in Tuesday night’s speech, the rise of a terrorist group called the Islamic State prompted Mr. Obama to send forces back to Iraq, and security challenges in Afghanistan led him to leave a slightly larger residual force.

The total American military commitment overseas has shrunk significantly since Mr. Obama took office, with just 15,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, down from 180,000 six years ago. The situation in both countries, however, is not as clean or as settled as the president had hoped. Instead of ending American wars abroad, he now faces the prospect of finishing his presidency in two years with at least one of them still unresolved.

Even that understates it just a bit, but it’s mostly on-target. If the president ended or almost ended the two long wars the U.S. military has been engaged in, why isn’t he a peacemaker? The standard answer, which is correct but not quite complete, is that ending a war isn’t the same thing as winning a war; if you leave the job unfinished, it will be almost impossible to credibly pretend otherwise.

But it’s also because of the particular age in which Obama was elected to be that very peacemaker. Terrorism has long been with us, but 9/11 did change our recognition of the threat and thus our posture toward it. Land wars feel like a relic–even though Russia is proving they still occur, and will continue to occur. Asymmetric warfare, however, is much more difficult to avoid, as events both in the U.S. and especially in Europe of late have shown.

The spread of ISIS has nudged Obama even more into the arms of the country he sees as the Muslim world’s strong horse: Iran. We are now aligned with Iran’s client in Syria, Bashar al-Assad, a man the president previously insisted must be deposed from power. And we are in pursuit of the same near-term goal in Iraq: the defeat of ISIS.

And Obama has made it quite clear he intends to kick the nuclear can down the road far enough for it to be his successor’s problem (just as he, to be fair, inherited it from his predecessor). What he doesn’t want is conflict with Iran. If that means chaos in Yemen and slaughter in Syria while Iran gets away with exporting revolutionary terror–well, it is what it is. And if that means Iran displacing some of the hard-earned American influence in Iraq–well, what can you do. And if that means continuing to consign Lebanon to Hezbollah’s control, or trying not to pay much attention to another of Iran’s enemies dropping dead in a foreign country–you get the point.

The Georgians watching South Ossetia apprehensively are paying attention. Surely so are the states in China’s near abroad. For that matter, Poland too is getting nervous. They know a Yalta when they see one.

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Obama’s White Flag On Assad a Gift for Iran

As anyone who has heard President Obama discuss his opposition to more sanctions being placed on Iran knows, the White House is deeply disturbed at the notion of the United States doing anything to disturb those who run the Islamist regime. Thus, the news that the United States is signaling what may be the formal end of its opposition to Bashar Assad’s rule over Syria must be seen in the context of a general American push for détente with that dictator’s allies in Tehran. This is bad news for the people of Syria who are seeking an alternative to Assad’s murderous rule–other, that is, than the ISIS terrorists. But it is very good news for the Iranians who are pleased about the way the rise of ISIS has led to a de facto alliance on the ground between the U.S. and Iran’s allies Assad and Hezbollah in the effort to fight ISIS. This has led not only to a tacit green light for Assad to go on killing Syrians but also for negotiations that seemed fated to grant a Western seal of approval for Iran’s aspiration to become a threshold nuclear power.

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As anyone who has heard President Obama discuss his opposition to more sanctions being placed on Iran knows, the White House is deeply disturbed at the notion of the United States doing anything to disturb those who run the Islamist regime. Thus, the news that the United States is signaling what may be the formal end of its opposition to Bashar Assad’s rule over Syria must be seen in the context of a general American push for détente with that dictator’s allies in Tehran. This is bad news for the people of Syria who are seeking an alternative to Assad’s murderous rule–other, that is, than the ISIS terrorists. But it is very good news for the Iranians who are pleased about the way the rise of ISIS has led to a de facto alliance on the ground between the U.S. and Iran’s allies Assad and Hezbollah in the effort to fight ISIS. This has led not only to a tacit green light for Assad to go on killing Syrians but also for negotiations that seemed fated to grant a Western seal of approval for Iran’s aspiration to become a threshold nuclear power.

It must be acknowledged that at this point the United States has no good options open to it on Syria. If the U.S. had acted swiftly to aid moderate opponents to the Assad regime after the Arab Spring protests began, it might have been possible to topple Assad, something that would have been a telling blow to Iran’s ambitions for regional hegemony. But President Obama was characteristically unable to make a decision about what to do about it for years despite continually running his mouth about how Assad had to go. By the time he was ready to strike—after Assad crossed a “red line” enunciated by the president about his use of chemical weapons against his own people—the moderate option looked less attractive. The president quickly backed down and punted the task of cleaning up the chemical weapons to Assad’s Russian ally.

Even worse, after Obama’s precipitate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and inaction on Syria led to the rise of ISIS terrorists, Washington seemed more interested in using this crisis as an excuse to make common cause with Iran than in actually fighting the Islamist group. Thus, while U.S. air attacks on ISIS have barely made a dent in the terrorists’ grip on control of much of Syria and Iraq, the administration is signaling enthusiasm for Russian and United Nations-sponsored diplomatic events that will effectively doom a framework agreed to by the West last year in Geneva by which Assad would be forced to yield power.

The administration will defend this switch as something that will aid the effort to end a war that has killed hundreds of thousands. They also justify the tacit alliance with Iran, Assad, and Hezbollah on the Syrian battlefield as the only possible option available to those who wish to combat ISIS. At this point with non-Islamist Syrian rebels effectively marginalized and the battlefield dominated by the Iran/Hezbollah/Assad alliance and their ISIS foes, forcing Assad out may no longer be an option.

But the chain of events that led to this American move to allow Assad to survive despite his crimes must now be viewed from a different perspective than merely one of Obama’s Hamlet routine on difficult issues.

The decision to gradually back away from the president’s campaign pledge to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program and to engage in negotiations aimed at granting Tehran absolution for its ambitions will, if it results in an agreement, at best make Iran a threshold nuclear power. A weak nuclear deal will further buttress Iran’s hopes for regional hegemony by which it will further threaten moderate regimes and strengthen its Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist allies.

It’s not clear yet whether the Iranians will ever sign a nuclear agreement with the U.S. or if, instead, it will continue to run out the clock on the talks. That’s something that the president’s zeal for a deal may permit because he refuses to admit failure or pressure the Iranians as Congress would like him to do by toughening sanctions in the event the talks collapse.

But what we do know now is that this administration’s Syria policy must now be viewed through the prism of its infatuation with the idea of, as the president put it last month, letting “Iran get right with the world.”

Options for getting rid of the butcher Assad may be few these days. But the American white flag acknowledging his continued reign of terror is more than merely an admission that he can’t be pushed out of Damascus. It must now be understood as part of a comprehensive policy that is aimed at appeasing Iran. That presents a danger not only to the oppressed people of Syria but to every other nation in the region, including both moderate Arabs and Israel, who are targets of Iran’s predatory ambition.

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“I Am Nisman”

On Sunday night, Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor charged with investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, was found dead in his apartment. A gun was found by his side. The initial report of the Ministry of Security suggests that it was a suicide but Argentines are not buying it. Thousands took to the streets of Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta, Córdoba, and Santa Fe yesterday, bearing signs that read “Yo soy Nisman”–“I am Nisman”. “Basta de mentiras,” some of the protestors demanded, “Enough with the lies.”

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On Sunday night, Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor charged with investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, was found dead in his apartment. A gun was found by his side. The initial report of the Ministry of Security suggests that it was a suicide but Argentines are not buying it. Thousands took to the streets of Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta, Córdoba, and Santa Fe yesterday, bearing signs that read “Yo soy Nisman”–“I am Nisman”. “Basta de mentiras,” some of the protestors demanded, “Enough with the lies.”

Nisman’s death came only hours before he was scheduled to testify before a commission of the Argentine Congress on an alleged secret agreement between Iran and the Kirchner administration trading impunity for oil. Nisman was prepared to testify that the deal, struck between the two governments in 2013, centered on the July 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA). The attack killed 85 and injured 300 more. It was the most lethal incident in a month of attacks that included the still-unsolved downing of a Panamanian plane carrying 12 Jews among others, the bombing of the Israeli embassy in London, and the bombing of the London offices of the United Jewish Israel Appeal.

Nisman had been building the case against Iran and Hezbollah for their involvement in the AMIA bombing since 2005. In May 2013, he issued a lengthy indictment charging one Lebanese Hezbollah operative and seven Iranians, including former President Akbar Rafsanjani, with involvement in the attack. One of the Iranians indicted, Mohsen Rezaei, is currently a high official in the Iranian government, while others have served it in diplomatic and military capacities. The indictment came only months after the Kirchner government entered a controversial agreement with the Iranian government agreeing to establish a “Truth Commission” to examine the AMIA bombing.

At the time, President Cristina Kirchner hailed the agreement as a historic one that “guarantees the right to due process of law, a fundamental principle of international criminal law.” It would have allowed five judges (none Argentine or Iranian) to question those allegedly involved in the bombing, offering effective immunity for the perpetrators. Last year, an Argentine federal court barred the implementation of the agreement and ordered the courts to reinstate all extradition orders against the suspects in the bombing.

This is why Argentines are taking to the streets demanding, “Enough with the lies.” It is not simply because the Argentine government dragged its feet in investigating the bombing two decades ago, and it is not because justice has been so woefully delayed in this case. It is because Alberto Nisman, the principal champion of the truth in this sordid affair, stood ready to present evidence that the Kirchner government attempted to trade impunity for oil, and he paid for it with his life.

Initial reports detected no gunpowder residue on Nisman’s hand. The only note found in his apartment seems to have been one he left for his housekeeper: a shopping list for the coming week. Friends, colleagues, and journalists alike report that Nisman did not appear to be suicidal. Yet he did appear to be aware that his days were numbered. “I might come out of this dead,” he told reporters on several occasions. One can only hope that in the weeks and months to come, the people of Argentina continue to pressure their government for the truth, uncompromised and uncorrupted by deals with criminals.

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Iran to Host Holocaust Cartoon Contest

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shocked the world with his virulent Holocaust denial, a position he later characterized as his major achievement. In reality, of course, Ahmadinejad did not introduce Holocaust revisionism into the Iranian political sphere. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei argued that the Jews “exaggerated” the Holocaust, and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, labelled a “pragmatist” and moderate by many in the United States, dismissed the Holocaust as “Zionist propaganda.” Ahmadinejad’s predecessor Mohammad Khatami, lionized as a reformist in the West for his calls for “dialogue of civilizations,” also promoted Holocaust denial, just more quietly. As George Michael, at the time an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, chronicled:

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shocked the world with his virulent Holocaust denial, a position he later characterized as his major achievement. In reality, of course, Ahmadinejad did not introduce Holocaust revisionism into the Iranian political sphere. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei argued that the Jews “exaggerated” the Holocaust, and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, labelled a “pragmatist” and moderate by many in the United States, dismissed the Holocaust as “Zionist propaganda.” Ahmadinejad’s predecessor Mohammad Khatami, lionized as a reformist in the West for his calls for “dialogue of civilizations,” also promoted Holocaust denial, just more quietly. As George Michael, at the time an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, chronicled:

…It was during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, whose rhetorical calls for a dialogue of civilizations won European and U.N. plaudits, that the Islamic Republic became a sanctuary for revisionists. Tehran granted asylum not only to Graf but also to Wolfgang Fröhlick, an Austrian engineer who argued in court under oath that Zyklon-B could not be used to kill humans. Indeed, it was under Khatami that Iranian policy shifted from anti-Zionism to unabashed anti-Semitism. In August 2003, the Iranian government invited Frederick Töben, a retired German school teacher living in Australia, to speak before the International Conference on the Palestinian Intifada held in Tehran in which he impugned the Holocaust by contending that Auschwitz concentration camp was physically too small for the mass killing of Jews.

When Hassan Rouhani became Iran’s president, President Obama and many other Western officials treated him like a breath of fresh air. Perhaps this reflects the superficiality that infuses the personalities of Western politicians. After all, they drew their conclusions based on Rouhani’s carefully staged pronouncements and press conferences, rather than on the reality of his record. If Holocaust denial is the canary in the coalmine, then it’s apparent that Obama’s assessment of Rouhani’s commitment to change is wrong. From the Mehr News Agency comes this announcement of a new contest to draw Holocaust caricatures. The logic expressed by the Iranian government is that if Charlie Hebdo is allowed to insult the Prophet Muhammad, then the Iranians and anti-Semites worldwide should gave the right to ridicule Jews and victims of genocide.

Make no mistake: The Iranian government—let’s not disparage the Iranian people by linking them to the regime that oppresses them—does have that right. Free speech should be sacrosanct, and no one is going to shoot up Iranian newspapers or attack Iranian groceries because of it. At the same time, however, let’s make no mistake that the Iranian regime’s reaction—praising terrorism and ridiculing Jews—reflects its character far more truthfully than the nonsense espoused by President Obama and his proxies.

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What Does it Mean to Be a Political Prisoner in Iran?

Much has been written over the years about the Islamic Republic of Iran’s atrocious human-rights situation. The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (from which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to cut off funds) has a number of very well-researched reports. While some journalists, diplomats, academics, and, of course, Iran’s lobbyists in the United States depict current President Hassan Rouhani as some sort of reformer, the fact of the matter is that he is and always has been a loyalist to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s vision of theocratic dictatorship. While diplomats applauded his purging of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps veterans who populated predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s cabinet, they apparently failed to notice or do not care that he simply replaced these men with veterans of Iran’s equally lethal and repressive intelligence services.

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Much has been written over the years about the Islamic Republic of Iran’s atrocious human-rights situation. The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (from which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to cut off funds) has a number of very well-researched reports. While some journalists, diplomats, academics, and, of course, Iran’s lobbyists in the United States depict current President Hassan Rouhani as some sort of reformer, the fact of the matter is that he is and always has been a loyalist to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s vision of theocratic dictatorship. While diplomats applauded his purging of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps veterans who populated predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s cabinet, they apparently failed to notice or do not care that he simply replaced these men with veterans of Iran’s equally lethal and repressive intelligence services.

Iran’s strategy of repression is as sophisticated as it is evil. In 1999, the student uprising began when vigilantes attacked a student dormitory after a peaceful student demonstration earlier that day to protest the closure of a newspaper. The Iranian hardliners invaded the residence, bashed heads, and defenestrated students, sparking the largest anti-government protests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ahmad Batebi had the misfortune of becoming the symbol of these protests when The Economist pictured him on its cover and he suffered tremendously in prison.

In the wake of 1999, the Iranian regime understood it couldn’t simply bash heads because that only sparked greater protests. So, with the help of their good friends in the Chinese government, they imported and implemented a system that relied on facial recognition software. When protests occurred, Iranian authorities would simply snap a few photos, identify those involved, and then roll them up in the middle of the night when they were relatively isolated and when the risk of blowback was reduced.

But, it didn’t end there: Rather than simply lock people up and throw away the key, the Iranian judiciary issued draconian sentences and then, as in Batebi’s case, allowed furloughs. Their motive was not humanitarian. Sure, convicts had a weekend at home and could enjoy their grandmother’s fesenjoon and ghormeh sabzi rather than the maggot-infested swill offered in Iranian prisons. No one goes into Evin prison and comes out the same way. There are rapes of both men and women, and beatings are frequent. It’s amazing how many 30-somethings have heart attacks and strokes within its walls. During furloughs, all their friends and family could come visit them … and see exactly what happens when you cross the line. The same logic holds true with the Iranian regime’s penchant for public executions, a trend that has only increased since Rouhani took office.

Now, Iran has always had an endemic drug problem. Opium use goes back centuries, and intravenous drug use has only increased in recent years. As a result, HIV and AIDS are major problems, all the more so in Iranian prisons given the very real war on drugs that Iranian authorities wage.

Well, it seems the Iranian government now uses its prison AIDS crisis as a weapon against prisoners. The Human Rights Activists News Agency published a story about one Fakhroddin Faraji, whom the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps arrested in June 2011 in the Iranian Kurdish city of Sanandaj. Iranian courts convicted him on charges of membership in the Komala, a decades-old Kurdish political group, and sentenced him to 30 years exile and imprisonment in South Khorasan, hundreds of miles away from his home town. After they placed Faraji in a cell with intravenous drug users infected with HIV and hepatitis, evidently an increasingly common tactic to intimidate and sometimes infect political opponents, Faraji contacted the media and so he was transferred into solitary confinement.

Welcome to the new Iran, as bad if not worse than the old Iran. How tragic it is, therefore, that the Obama administration appears not only unwilling to use its leverage to demand freedom for Robert Levinson, an American held by Iran, but also Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian.

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Why Can’t the Iraqi Army Fight?

I hadn’t seen this article when it came out, but the Center for American Progress’s Brian Katulis’s always excellent national-security twitter feed pointed me to it. Basically, the Los Angeles Times’s David Zucchino explores through a series of interviews with American officials and Iraqi military veterans just what went wrong after the United States spent some $25 billion training the new Iraqi army. Here’s a sample of his piece:

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I hadn’t seen this article when it came out, but the Center for American Progress’s Brian Katulis’s always excellent national-security twitter feed pointed me to it. Basically, the Los Angeles Times’s David Zucchino explores through a series of interviews with American officials and Iraqi military veterans just what went wrong after the United States spent some $25 billion training the new Iraqi army. Here’s a sample of his piece:

“We felt like cowards, but our commanders were afraid of Daesh. They were too afraid to lead us,” said Shehab, 43, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. Shehab and others in his battalion describe Iraq’s security forces as poorly led and sparsely equipped, with soldiers suspicious of commanders and uncertain they would get enough food, water and ammunition in the heat of battle…. This army is not prepared to fight. Nobody trusts anyone, not even from their own sect,” said a 32-year-old federal police officer who asked to be identified only by his first name, Amar, for fear of retribution from his superiors…. Security force members acknowledge that many Sunnis and other minorities see the Shiite-led army as a brutal occupying force. Under former Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shiite, Sunnis were driven out of the security forces and replaced by Shiites.

It’s an issue which I touched upon this past August, and Zucchino’s whole article is worth reading. Zucchino isn’t wrong, but there are a number of points which are not explored but still should be.

  • If the problem was simply sectarianism in the Iraqi Army, then what explains the disastrous performance of the Kurdish peshmerga against the Islamic State in the initial fighting in and around Mount Sinjar? The peshmerga weren’t affected by sectarian discord. This is especially important now as in the last few days, the Islamic State has again pushed into Gwer, an area just 15 minutes from the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil.
  • Some of the biggest names among America’s general officers were in charge of training Iraqi forces, for example, Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Martin Dempsey, who is currently chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. These men cultivated close relationships with journalists and often claimed great success. Here, for example, is Petraeus talking about his success in the training mission, and here is Dempsey singing his own praises. Perhaps Petraeus and Dempsey were accurately reflecting their own success at the time, but few generals who want promotions admit failure. It’s worth examining whether the commanders of the Multi-National Security Transition Command were realistic in their assessments at the time, or perhaps exaggerated.
  • No doubt that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki fiddled with the Iraqi army after U.S. forces left, putting not simply his own handpicked men into top positions, but those approved by the Iranian government as well. If the Iraqi military leadership that confronted the Islamic State represented the best and brightest that Iranian trainers could offer, perhaps this suggests that Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani isn’t the military genius many of his supporters claim, and perhaps the Iranians are far weaker than they let on?

What happened to the Iraqi army was a disaster and it certainly exposed either a failure of U.S. training, the wrongheadedness of a withdrawal based on an arbitrary political deadline, or both. The focus on post-withdrawal sectarianism, however, shouldn’t be reason to question other aspects of the program, some of which may (or may not) have been just as deleterious to the end result.

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New Syria Threat Requires U.S. Action

As far as the Obama administration is concerned, the only thing to worry about in Syria these days is the still potent ISIS terrorist movement that has occupied a large section of the country as well as one in Iraq. U.S. efforts to roll back ISIS’s enormous gains in the last year have fallen flat, but that failure has been accompanied by a tacit alliance with the Assad regime and its Iranian ally that has led Washington to forget that only a year and a half ago it was prepared to use force to compel Syria’s government to give up the chemical weapons it had used against civilians. But according to Germany’s Der Spiegel, Obama’s sleight-of-hand diplomacy may eventually blow up in our faces. According to the paper, the Syrians have, with help from Iran and North Korea, begun to reconstitute their WMD program. In particular, they are seeking rebuild the same nuclear program the Israelis took out with a pre-emptive strike in 2007. If so, instead of helping to rid the region of nukes, the administration may be acquiescing to a profoundly dangerous instance of proliferation.

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As far as the Obama administration is concerned, the only thing to worry about in Syria these days is the still potent ISIS terrorist movement that has occupied a large section of the country as well as one in Iraq. U.S. efforts to roll back ISIS’s enormous gains in the last year have fallen flat, but that failure has been accompanied by a tacit alliance with the Assad regime and its Iranian ally that has led Washington to forget that only a year and a half ago it was prepared to use force to compel Syria’s government to give up the chemical weapons it had used against civilians. But according to Germany’s Der Spiegel, Obama’s sleight-of-hand diplomacy may eventually blow up in our faces. According to the paper, the Syrians have, with help from Iran and North Korea, begun to reconstitute their WMD program. In particular, they are seeking rebuild the same nuclear program the Israelis took out with a pre-emptive strike in 2007. If so, instead of helping to rid the region of nukes, the administration may be acquiescing to a profoundly dangerous instance of proliferation.

The Syrians are denying the Der Spiegel report but their claim that it is all lies is no more to be trusted than anything else that emanates from that despotic and murderous regime. Far more credible are the allegations that Syria has used the cover of the civil war to begin the work of reassembling a WMD threat even as Assad claimed to be getting rid of his chemical weapons under the supervision of his Russian ally. This is shocking because Israel had thought it had put to rest the nuclear threat with a daring raid that took out the Syrians’ reactor. According to the German paper:

Analysts say that the Syrian atomic weapon program has continued in a secret, underground location. According to information they have obtained, approximately 8,000 fuel rods are stored there. Furthermore, a new reactor or an enrichment facility has very likely been built at the site — a development of incalculable geopolitical consequences.

Some of the uranium was apparently hidden for an extended period at Marj as-Sultan near Damascus, a site that the IAEA likewise views with suspicion. Satellite images from December 2012 and February 2013 show suspicious activity at Marj as-Sultan. The facility, located not far from a Syrian army base, had become the focal point of heavy fighting with rebels. Government troops had to quickly move everything of value. They did so, as intelligence officials have been able to reconstruct, with the help of Hezbollah, the radical Shiite “Party of God” based in Lebanon. The well-armed militia, which is largely financed by Iran, is fighting alongside Assad’s troops.

The report goes on to describe the effort as being largely the work of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and has been aided by North Korean advisers.

It should be conceded that no matter how much progress they’ve made in the last year, Syria is probably a long way from a bomb. But given Iranian involvement, the creation of this facility raises doubts about the efficacy of any nuclear deal with Tehran struck by an Obama administration eager for any agreement that could foster détente with the Islamist regime.

Just as dangerous is the thought that Assad, who is winning his civil war due as much to American indifference as to aid from Iran and Hezbollah, will not only survive but also emerge even more dangerous and powerful than he was before the rebellion against him began.

A Syria that is either on its way to becoming a nuclear threshold state or which will serve as a depository for an Iranian nuclear program that is forced to go partially underground by a sham deal with the West would, at best, be a destabilizing force in an already volatile region. At worst, it would be a standing invitation to a new war involving Israel, Hezbollah, and Hamas that sets the Middle East aflame.

The answer to this threat should be clear. The U.S. and its allies must either insist that this facility be shut down and destroyed or it must be taken out by air strikes either by Western forces or the Israelis, who continue to be available to do America’s dirty work in this regard.

But the most worrisome aspect of this issue is not only Assad’s determination to get back to the position of strength he occupied before the civil war. It’s that the U.S. policy in Syria is so deeply entwined with that of Iran and the Syrian government that it may not be possible to persuade Obama to act no matter what Damascus does. The administration seems intent on empowering Tehran and allowing it to keep its nuclear toys in the hope that this will cause it to abandon the pursuit of a weapon as well as allowing it to, in the president’s foolish phrase, “get right with the world.” But it appears détente with Iran may also mean a set of policies that causes the U.S. to acquiesce to a Syrian regime that is a danger to its own people and its neighbors. If there were ever a reason for the president to reevaluate a course that seems set for disaster, the news about Syria would seem to be it.

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NIAC Board Should Denounce Anti-Semitic Fundraising

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group which consistently lobbies to end sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, has a new fundraising plea out on Facebook, which asks “Should the U.S. Congress follow Israel’s lead on #Iran, or yours?” Accompanying the question is a photo suggesting that Senator Lindsey Graham is telling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Congress will take marching orders from him.

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The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group which consistently lobbies to end sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, has a new fundraising plea out on Facebook, which asks “Should the U.S. Congress follow Israel’s lead on #Iran, or yours?” Accompanying the question is a photo suggesting that Senator Lindsey Graham is telling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Congress will take marching orders from him.

The “We will follow your lead” Graham quote was taken out of context and then promoted by the Ron Paul Institute and notorious racist David Duke. That’s probably not the company that most Iranian Americans want to keep, but for NIAC it’s nothing out of the ordinary. While NIAC claims to be mainstream (and has been welcomed into the White House under the Obama administration), it consistently aligns itself with not only Ron Paul, but also fringe or hard-left organizations like Code Pink and WarIsACrime.org. As for the Graham speech from which NIAC pulls its suggestion that Netanyahu is directing American policy, here it is:

I would love nothing better than a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear ambitions. I support the Administration’s effort to try to bring this to a peaceful conclusion. But you, above all others, have said that sanctions are what got Iran to the table, and it will be the only thing that brings them to a deal that we can all live with. I’m here to tell you, Mr. Prime Minister, that the Congress will follow your lead. In January of next year, there will be a vote on the Kirk-Menendez bill, bipartisan sanction legislation that says, if Iran walks away from the table, sanctions will be re-imposed; if Iran cheats regarding any deal that we enter to the Iranians, sanctions will be re-imposed. It is important to let the Iranians know that from an American point of view, sanctions are alive and well.

Now, even if NIAC disagrees with Senator Graham and sanctions, it is clear that Graham is discussing leverage in order to win the best possible deal from Iran. He also states his support for the White House’s efforts to negotiate a solution to the Iranian nuclear dispute.

What is most noxious, however, is the notion that Congress is pursuing Israel’s interest above that of the United States. This reeks of the dual loyalty canard and appears right out of the spirit of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Now, I happen to disagree with the policy pursued by retired Ambassadors Thomas Pickering and John Limbert, both of whom serve on NIAC’s advisory board, but I sincerely hope that they are not embracing the dual loyalty calumny that the organization which they advise pursues. If they wish to win the policy debate, they should do so on the facts of Iranian behavior and the results of the diplomatic strategies which they advise, not on the basis of suggesting that anyone who holds a different point of view is un-American and in the service of a foreign state. The same holds true for retired congressman Wayne Gilchrest. Does Gilchrest really believe that the hundreds of congressmen and senators with whom he once advised take marching orders from Israel?

There is real reason for diplomatic strain between the United States and Iran. The list of American grievances includes the 1979-1981 hostage crisis, the 1983 Marine Barracks bombing, the 1996 Khobar Towers attack, and the supply of explosively-formed projectiles to militias seeking to kill U.S. forces in Iraq. To suggest that Israel directs U.S. enmity toward Iran is to forget the last 35 years of Iran’s undeclared war against the United States. Let us hope that NIAC understands that charges of dual loyalty and other anti-Semitic tropes have no place in this policy debate but, if not, that Pickering, Limbert, and Gilchrest won’t soil their reputations on an organization that finds itself in the company of David Duke, Ron Paul, and other purveyors of conspiracy and hate.

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Iran to Announce New Nuclear Breakthrough

The Obama administration remains committed to its strategy of negotiation with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Public pronouncements and administration proxies continue to argue that the administration would rather have no deal than a bad deal, and that concerns are unwarranted regarding loopholes that might allow Iran to acquire a nuclear breakout capability let alone an actual nuclear breakout.

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The Obama administration remains committed to its strategy of negotiation with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Public pronouncements and administration proxies continue to argue that the administration would rather have no deal than a bad deal, and that concerns are unwarranted regarding loopholes that might allow Iran to acquire a nuclear breakout capability let alone an actual nuclear breakout.

Alas, it seems no one gave that message to the Islamic Republic, which seems intent on demonstrating just how far it can advance its program against the backdrop of Obama administration desperation to make a deal.

Hence, Asghar Zarean deputy head of Iran’s atomic energy agency, has this announcement, according to the Fars News Agency:

“The AEOI has acquired the technology for the production of different types of lasers, and there are more successes which will be declared soon,” Zarean said, addressing a number of Iranian officials during a tour of Iran’s nuclear installations in Fordo, Natanz and Isfahan. Stressing that the sanctions couldn’t undermine the country’s determination to make progress in using the civilian nuclear technology, he announced that the Iranian nuclear experts’ new achievements will be unveiled on April 9 (the National Nuclear Technology Day in Iran).

While the Iranians claim that their nuclear laser industry is for medical purposes, the program could have other applications. From Reuters:

A new way of making nuclear fuel with lasers may help cut costs and ensure energy security but could also make it easier for rogue states to secretly build nuclear weapons if they got hold of the know-how. A debate about the benefits and dangers of using lasers instead of centrifuges to enrich uranium underlines the sensitivities surrounding nuclear activity that can have both civilian and military applications.

Iran, whose underground centrifuge plants and history of hiding nuclear work from U.N. inspectors have raised Western suspicions of a covert atom bomb programme and prompted Israeli threats to attack Iranian nuclear sites, says it already has laser technology but experts doubt Tehran has mastered it.

Uranium can provide the explosive core of a nuclear warhead if refined to a high fissile concentration, explaining why any country or other actor interested in obtaining nuclear arms might be eager to learn about technical advances in enrichment.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) last month issued a license to a partnership between General Electric Co. and Japan’s Hitachi Ltd to build and run a laser enrichment plant for manufacturing reactor fuel…. “It appears that they have allowed the license to go forward without a serious review of the proliferation implications,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based advocacy and research group.

It’s been more than two years since the Reuters article appeared that spoke about Iranian interest in laser enrichment, but which noted that most experts doubted Iranian scientists had achieved the capabilities former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed. However, if the Iranian government is being so cocky as to announce a major breakthrough on April 9, Iran’s National Nuclear Technology Day, then perhaps it’s time to question whether the United States and Iran share the same goals in their diplomacy. Perhaps Obama seeks to end 35 years of enmity and distrust, but increasingly it appears that Iranian officials are approaching the talks seeing in Obama weakness, and in his advisors naiveté.

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Iran Extracts Its Price from Iraq

Both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have implied that they see in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) an opportunity for partnership with Iran. At the very least, they do not appear to oppose growing Iranian assertiveness inside Iraq both to fight the Islamic State directly or to build up Shi‘ite militias who can act as proxies for Tehran.

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Both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have implied that they see in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) an opportunity for partnership with Iran. At the very least, they do not appear to oppose growing Iranian assertiveness inside Iraq both to fight the Islamic State directly or to build up Shi‘ite militias who can act as proxies for Tehran.

Make no mistake—with Samarra and its holy al-Askari shrine—increasingly at peril due to recent Islamic State advances and with Iranian Qods Force general Qassem Soleimani highlighting Iran’s role in shoring up Iraqi defenses, most Iraqi Shi‘ites support Iranian efforts, even if they will quietly express distrust about Tehran’s intentions.

Everyone will admit, however, that they never expected the United States to allow Iran to become so powerful and influential in the first place. The issue isn’t simply that the George W. Bush administration abandoned the “dual containment” of the Clinton years by choosing to oust Saddam. Bush administration officials understood Iranian ambitions, although within the State Department and National Security Council officials argued that diplomacy with Iran would lead Tehran to check its ambitions.

Iraqi Shi‘ites aren’t naturally political clones of their Iranian counterparts, but the precipitous U.S. withdrawal in 2011 both left a vacuum for Iran to exploit and pulled the rug out from beneath Baghdad, which traditionally had carved independent space for itself by playing Iran and the United States off each other. It is no coincidence, for example, that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was an adversary of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad until the United States drew down its forces, and then became a link in Assad’s lifeline. Haider al-Abbadi may genuinely want to reassert Iraq’s independence and probably personally resents the pressure put upon him by Iran, but with U.S. commitment to the region weak and with Obama’s redlines evaporating, Abbadi and others in the region have no choice but to defer to Iranian interests.

Well, now the price Iran seeks is starting to become clear. According to this report in the Fars News Agency, Iraqi Oil Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi will visit Tehran on Monday to “discuss joint Iran-Iraq oil fields, export of Iran’s gas to Iraq and trade of oil products.” The article continues to say that Iran and Iraq have “agreed to develop their joint oilfields through setting up joint companies under a single management.”

While many analysts recognized the danger of the vacuum which the United States withdrawal in Iraq created, the intelligence community failed to recognize the gravity of the Islamic State threat, nor predict their seizure of Mosul and Tikrit. While President Obama has ordered symbolic actions in the wake of the beheading of American journalists, the Obama administration seems once again to be content to lead from behind. Obama and Kerry should have no illusions, however: Iran’s goal isn’t simply to defeat the Islamic State; it is to intertwine itself in Iraqi affairs in a manner similar to how Syria dominated Lebanon for decades.

In effect, Obama is sacrificing Iraqis and Syrians in the same way that President Roosevelt betrayed the freedom of Poles and other eastern Europeans in the Yalta Conference.

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Cuba’s Backtracking Is the Rule, Not the Exception

The logic behind President Barack Obama’s outreach to Cuba is that it is easier to address problems between countries ranging from terrorism to human-rights violations when governments talk directly and countries maintain normal relations. That claim is already in doubt given Cuba’s apparent backsliding on its reported commitment to release 53 prisoners. If Cuban President Raúl Castro calculated that once the United States began a diplomatic process, it would be loath to end it and forfeit promised trade just because Cuba had backtracked on its commitments, he would be right.

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The logic behind President Barack Obama’s outreach to Cuba is that it is easier to address problems between countries ranging from terrorism to human-rights violations when governments talk directly and countries maintain normal relations. That claim is already in doubt given Cuba’s apparent backsliding on its reported commitment to release 53 prisoners. If Cuban President Raúl Castro calculated that once the United States began a diplomatic process, it would be loath to end it and forfeit promised trade just because Cuba had backtracked on its commitments, he would be right.

Jonathan Tobin is correct to observe that totalitarianism trumps capitalist engagement. The simple fact is that “critical engagement”—diplomacy geared to bring rogues in from the cold and simultaneously address tough issues they are reticent to address—has seldom if ever worked. Former German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel first conceptualized critical engagement in the context of Iran. On May 18, 1992, he became German foreign minister, trumpeting human rights as his top priority. At the same time, the German government sought to expand trade with the Islamic Republic. While the U.S. government promoted a policy of “Dual Containment,” European governments argued that Iran was simply too important to isolate.

On December 12, 1992, the European Union endorsed Berlin’s proposed “critical dialogue,” in which greater European trade with Iran would be correlated toward Iranian improvements on human rights and Tehran’s greater conformity with international norms of behavior. The European Council declared, “The European Council reaffirms its belief that a dialogue should be maintained with the Iranian Government. This should be a critical dialogue which reflects concern about Iranian behavior and calls for improvement in a number of areas, particularly human rights, the death sentence pronounced by a Fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini against the author Salman Rushdie, which is contrary to international law, and terrorism.” The Council continued, “Improvement in these areas will be important in determining the extent to which closer relations and confidence can be developed.” Weapons of mass destruction received subsequent mention. European officials assumed that increasing trade, meanwhile, would strengthen the hands of pragmatists against more hardline elements.

European officials saw the designation of “critical” as important because it emphasized that the engagement would tackle contentious issues. Iranian officials appear never to have taken the new approach to heart. Over subsequent years, Iranian authorities arrested German citizens in Iran, more often as bargaining chips to influence negotiations than on any evidence-based charges. Initially, Kinkel and his cohorts continued to pay lip service to human rights, but as Iranian diplomats signaled Tehran’s annoyance and suggested further queries could impact commercial ties, Kinkel backed off. By 1995, German exports to Iran had increased to $1.4 billion, more than twice the level of any other country.

Meanwhile, European Commissioner Hans van der Broek met Rushdie to assure him that Iranian respect for human rights, the lifting of the fatwa, and greater respect inside Iran for international law would be preconditions for the establishment of closer EU-Iran ties. They weren’t. The EU-Iran rapprochement continued, even without progress on Rushdie’s case. The following year, the EU sought again to have the fatwa lifted but failed to win written Iranian assurances and, in 1995, Iranian Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi reiterated that Tehran would not lift the call for Rushdie’s murder.

European trade meanwhile flourished. By 1996, economic and trade relations between the European Union and the Islamic Republic reached $29 billion. With trade in the balance, European leaders dropped any pretense of demanding improvement on critical issues. When, amidst low oil prices, the German government had the opportunity to utilize its economic leverage to force concessions on issues of concern, the German government and German banks declined and instead agreed to reschedule Iran’s debt. European governments followed suit, rescheduling $12 billion in credit.

While Iranian President Mohammad Khatami entered office in 1997, executions increased alongside trade. Rushdie remained under constant threat: even after Iranian diplomats promised to waive the execution order so as to enable the British government to return their ambassador, the Iranian regime simply re-imposed the death sentence the following day. Iran’s military nuclear program continued apace. Indeed, reformists brag that they deserve credit for the nuclear program which advanced against the backdrop of the European and subsequent Clinton administration initiatives.

The same held true with Clinton-era American diplomacy toward the Taliban. Once diplomats began their initiative, no matter how much the Taliban reneged on agreements and promises, there was no reversing the process–that is, until nearly 3,000 American lost their lives. And the idea that money can buy responsibility has been behind the logic of aid to the Palestinian Authority and Gaza Strip. But even with the Palestinians receiving more per capita than any other people on earth, radicalism and terrorism has only increased.

Critical engagement—and the belief it never hurts to talk to enemies—has been a diplomatic mantra for decades. But such diplomacy has never reformed an adversary’s behavior; it has simply let them off the hook. Rogues know talk of human rights is simply the West posturing to its own domestic audience. Until Washington or other Western countries show a real willingness to walk away from the table and re-impose and augment sanctions when a country backtracks from its commitments, rogues will calculate correctly they can get away with murder, and get paid for it.

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Iran Depicts American Navy as Weak, Cowardly

Iran’s Fars News Agency has released footage of an Iranian plane buzzing the USS Gridley, an American destroyer, apparently in the Persian Gulf. The video depicts de-conflicting communication between the Iranian Air Force and the U.S. ship, and concludes with the USS Gridley acceding to the Iranian aircraft’s demands.

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Iran’s Fars News Agency has released footage of an Iranian plane buzzing the USS Gridley, an American destroyer, apparently in the Persian Gulf. The video depicts de-conflicting communication between the Iranian Air Force and the U.S. ship, and concludes with the USS Gridley acceding to the Iranian aircraft’s demands.

Now, the Gridley may have acted normally given its location but, even if not, it is the policy of the Obama administration to seek to de-escalate conflict by withdrawing from confrontation (in sharp contrast to Ronald Reagan, for example, who in both the Gulf of Sitra and the Persian Gulf used the U.S. Navy to confirm the sanctity of international waters).

But it does say a lot about Iranian cockiness and how they wish to depict their strength relative to the United States Navy that the Iranian Air Force would offer Iranian journalists a ride essentially to seek out an American ship and depict it following Iranian orders and “fleeing.”

President Obama may believe concession shows sincerity and provides a path to peace but, alas, to many states in the Middle East, compromise is a sign of weakness. Regardless, as optimistic as Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry may be about bringing Iran in from the cold, the Iranian press—strictly controlled by the Iranian leadership—appears not to have gotten the message; quite the contrary, it seems prepared to ramp up its efforts to humiliate rather than seek partnership with America. If Obama is truly interested in bringing peace and security to the region, he might reflect on his instincts and do the exact opposite. Sometimes, standing one’s ground, abiding by red lines, and showing seriousness of purpose sends a message that even Tehran cannot ignore.

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Iran Should Confront Its Own Racism

In recent days, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has taken to his twitter feed to condemn American racism, even using the trending hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter. CNN.com asked me to respond to his tweets, which I did here. In short, there’s something rather hypocritical about the Iranian leader calling the United States—or any other country racist. The Islamic Republic of Iran is today among the world’s most racist and religiously intolerant countries. Culturally, many Iranians look down upon all the other peoples surrounding them (this is a theme explored in my 2005 co-authored book, Eternal Iran). After all, the Middle East is a region of artificial countries, shaped largely by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and nineteenth and twentieth European colonialism. Iran is an exception, however: it is the successor to great empires and has its own imperial legacy. Iranian racism against and abuse of Afghan refugees and workers is well known.

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In recent days, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has taken to his twitter feed to condemn American racism, even using the trending hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter. CNN.com asked me to respond to his tweets, which I did here. In short, there’s something rather hypocritical about the Iranian leader calling the United States—or any other country racist. The Islamic Republic of Iran is today among the world’s most racist and religiously intolerant countries. Culturally, many Iranians look down upon all the other peoples surrounding them (this is a theme explored in my 2005 co-authored book, Eternal Iran). After all, the Middle East is a region of artificial countries, shaped largely by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and nineteenth and twentieth European colonialism. Iran is an exception, however: it is the successor to great empires and has its own imperial legacy. Iranian racism against and abuse of Afghan refugees and workers is well known.

Whereas Iran once counted Baha’is among its cultural and economic elite, Revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini and Khamenei, his successor, have ushered in an era of state-sanctioned religious discrimination. And while Khamenei has become fond of citing Jesus Christ in his recent tweets, let us not forget all of the Christian pastors whom the Khamenei regime has murdered. Of course, Jews also suffer at the hands of Khamenei’s regime. Sure, it’s not uncommon to hear that Iran has the second largest Jewish community in the Middle East, but it’s just 20 percent of what it was before Khomeini and Khamenei seized power. Anti-Semitism is nothing new in Iran. While former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called international attention to it with his repeated Holocaust denial, it was actually his predecessor, the so-called reformist Mohammad Khatami, who welcomed prominent Holocaust deniers to Iran and gave them a forum at the foreign ministry’s think tank.

Nor has Khamenei showed particular enlightenment toward blacks, either in his own country or abroad. When President Obama won election in November 2008—like Obama or dislike him, it was surely a historic day in American history—the Iranian press (and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri) both dismissed Obama as a “house slave,” according to the Open Source Center, a U.S. government-run translation service. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ weekly Sobh-e Sadegh editorial discussing Obama’s election was entitled, “A Dark Person Rises to Remove Darkness From America,” but then continued to condemn the president for appointing a Jew as his chief-of-staff. Jomhuri-ye Eslami dismissed Obama as merely “a black immigrant.”

There is an unfortunate tendency in the United States toward moral and cultural equivalency. Is there racism in America? Certainly, although far less than decades ago (and enshrined too often in policies which promote color consciousness such as affirmative action). And is there racism in Iran? Of course. But to say the two are equivalent is to compare the heat from a camp fire to that of the core of a nuclear reactor. The difference in the two cases is that America has free press—remember the Emmett Till case 50 years ago—and Americans are introspective enough to confront problems and seek improvement. In Iran, however, speaking openly about anti-Semitism, discrimination against Christians and Baha’is, seeking justice for Afghans, or preventing discrimination against minorities like the Baluch or Kurds will lead to lengthy jail terms.

It’s time to call Khamenei out on his racism and bias. He is an embarrassment to what Iran could and should be and, for that matter, to any notion of human rights and decency. To let his preaching continue unanswered is simply to cede the moral high-ground to a bigot more comfortable promoting genocide than striving after any notion of justice.

If Obama is serious about race and teachable moments, perhaps it’s time to call Khamenei out on his racism.

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