Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran

Iran and the Murder in Vienna

Twenty-six years ago today, three Iranian officials met in Vienna apartment with three Kurdish officials to negotiate an end to a long-simmering conflict. It was a time of hope. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had died the year before. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, long regarded by many Iran watchers as moderate and a pragmatist, was on the verge of locking up Iran’s presidency (he would win 96 percent of the vote two weeks later). The Iran-Iraq War, meanwhile, had been over for nearly one year, and most Western diplomats assessed that the Islamic Republic would focus on rebuilding itself. Read More

Twenty-six years ago today, three Iranian officials met in Vienna apartment with three Kurdish officials to negotiate an end to a long-simmering conflict. It was a time of hope. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had died the year before. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, long regarded by many Iran watchers as moderate and a pragmatist, was on the verge of locking up Iran’s presidency (he would win 96 percent of the vote two weeks later). The Iran-Iraq War, meanwhile, had been over for nearly one year, and most Western diplomats assessed that the Islamic Republic would focus on rebuilding itself.

They were wrong. On July 13, 1989, the Iranian negotiators pulled out guns and assassinated Abdol-Rahman Ghassemlou, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), along with a KDPI representative in Europe and an Iraqi Kurdish mediator. It’s hard to hide gunshots in the middle of a Vienna apartment building. Austrian police came to the scene, but the Iranian delegation denied any responsibility. After taking statements, the Austrian police released the Iranians — Mohammad Ja’fari Sahraroudi, Iranian Kordestan governor Mostafa Ajoudi, and Amir Bozorgian — so long as they promised to make themselves available for further questioning, as necessary. They immediately returned to Tehran.

Only in subsequent days did questions about the Iranians’ statements arise: There had been no forced entry into the apartment, two of the victims were shot as they sat, and each victim had received a coup de grâce to confirm death. Subsequent forensic evidence confirmed the Austrian anti-terrorism unit’s conclusions that the murders were a hit. The shots were fired from the position of the Iranian delegation and not from the door. Shell casing positions also suggested the Iranian delegation’s complicity. The Austrian police issued warrants for the three Iranians, but Tehran refused to extradite any of the wanted men; rather, they promoted the team lead. Sahraroudi won his star and became head of the Qods Force intelligence unit. The promotion — as well as the senior level of the Iranian delegation — showed that the assassination was no rogue operation. It was not locally conceived, but rather likely was directed from the top.

The head of the Supreme National Security Council at the time, coordinating such activities? One Hassan Rouhani, the man whom President Barack Obama considers his partner. That a deal predicated on the trust of Iran will be struck in Vienna, on the 26th anniversary of one of Iran’s — and, specifically, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s and Hassan Rouhani’s — most brazen hit jobs illustrates just how much Iran has triumphed by doubling down on intransigence and terrorism and, in contrast, just how unhinged America’s foreign policy has become.

Read Less

Open-Ended Talks and the Erosion of Diplomatic Credibility

The talks to finalize an Iranian nuclear deal have continued in Vienna for more than two weeks now, conducted at the highest level by Secretary of State John Kerry. The State Department and Kerry himself might argue that they will leave no stone unturned in an effort to reach an agreement, and that Team Kerry is making a heroic effort despite the inconvenience of being apart from spouses, home, and other responsibilities. Read More

The talks to finalize an Iranian nuclear deal have continued in Vienna for more than two weeks now, conducted at the highest level by Secretary of State John Kerry. The State Department and Kerry himself might argue that they will leave no stone unturned in an effort to reach an agreement, and that Team Kerry is making a heroic effort despite the inconvenience of being apart from spouses, home, and other responsibilities.

(As an aside, someone should tell the State Department’s background briefers that this complaint merits little sympathy given how American soldiers and sailors deployed overseas spend months and sometimes years away from their families; Navy deployments have increased in length, for example, in inverse proportion to its budget, and troops in the field, when sequestered from their families, do not have the benefit of staying in five-star luxury hotels).

Alas, by continuing the talk so long, Kerry is not showing patience, but rather hemorrhaging his own effectiveness. The president or secretary of state can lend great prestige to talks, but to dispatch too much erodes the value of their involvement. As veteran peace-processor Dennis Ross wrote in The Missing Peace, “From the beginning, [Secretary of State James] Baker had one proviso for Middle East policy: he didn’t want to be ‘flying around the region the way [Reagan-era Secretary of State George] Schultz did.” Ross added, “He would not go to the Middle East unless there was a chance of real progress — a point he made to every Middle Eastern leader who came to Washington in the spring of 1989.”

Alas, this was advice that Baker, now a senior advisor to Governor Jeb Bush, did not take to heart. He traveled to Syria 12 times, twice the number of Schultz. That was nothing compared to Warren Christopher, Bill Clinton’s first secretary of state, who made the trip 29 times, leading to the erosion in his prestige. Today, few veteran officials or diplomatic historians would rank Christopher more effective than either Schultz or Baker.

Prior to his appointment as secretary, Kerry spent almost two decades in the U.S. Senate. Alas, he may have absorbed too much of the senate’s culture. Senators enjoy travel — President Obama chose the questionably competent Chuck Hagel to be his secretary of defense simply because they bonded on a Senate trip. But, too often, senators fail to recognize the price inherent in frequent travel. In 2006, the late Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter bragged that he had made almost 30 trips to the Middle East, including 15 trips to Syria. “We can’t expect someone to hit a home run every time they go to bat,” he said in order to answer those who questioned the absence of returns to his frequent trips. But, when batters strike out every time, they win no respect. Not only did Specter fail to achieve any meaningful diplomatic breakthroughs, but his visits instead often led Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and subsequently Bashar al-Assad, to retrench.

Kerry clearly went to Vienna prematurely. He might have wanted the limelight, but every day he stayed, his prestige — and the seriousness with which his Iranian counterparts saw him — diminished. He may still win an agreement — serial collapse tends to make deals possible, though not good deals — but he might have achieved much more if he had simply been prepared to pick up and fly home, both taking a strategic pause and allowing fulfillment of the daily grind to underlings.

Read Less

The Deal Is Done

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran: Read More

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran:

And here we go

VIENNA (AP) — Diplomats say negotiators at the Iran nuclear talks are expected to reach a provisional agreement Sunday on a historic deal that would curb the country’s atomic program in return for sanctions relief. Two diplomats at the talks tell The Associated Press the envisioned accord will be sent to capitals for review and, barring last-minute objections, be announced on Monday. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly. The agreement would cap nearly a decade of diplomacy, including the current round in Vienna that has run more than two weeks and blown through three deadlines.

Presumably, more details will leak as reporters start to hunt down details, but it looks like a done deal.

Congress will now have 60 days to review the agreement, and lawmakers will be specifically looking for how the Obama administration managed to overcome the final issues that held up a deal over the last two weeks: anytime/anywhere inspections including access to military sites, the IAEA’s concerns over the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, and the Iranian/Russian demand that the United Nations arms embargo against Tehran be lifted.

Based on how negotiations have progressed since mid-March – Iranian intransigence followed by repeated American collapses on nearly every core issue – it’s unlikely that Congress will like what it finds. Mitch McConnell predicted this morning on Fox News Sunday that the deal will be “a very hard sell in Congress.”

The Corker legislation allows lawmakers to introduce a resolution of disapproval, introduce a resolution of approval, or do nothing.

A resolution of approval would be loaded with symbolism. It would most likely be introduced and then voted down: a rebuke by a co-equal branch of the U.S. federal government of inarguably the most important diplomatic gamble in decades. But it wouldn’t have any legal force.

Read Less

Why is NIAC Lobbying to Lift Ban on Iranian Arms Trade?

Earlier this month, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) announced the formal creation of a lobby organization called “NIAC Action,” in effect formalizing legally the advocacy work in which NIAC had long been engaged. Jamal Abdi, NIAC’s executive director, announced the creation of the new pro-Iran lobby in an interview with Politico. “We’ve got all this money on the table, all this political influence that’s not being utilized… Now we can actually start playing the full political game,” he said. Politico continued to explain that the new lobby “make[s] no secret of their desire to shift the political landscape in Washington away from groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee… and toward movements more inclined to pursue diplomacy with the longtime U.S. nemesis.” Read More

Earlier this month, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) announced the formal creation of a lobby organization called “NIAC Action,” in effect formalizing legally the advocacy work in which NIAC had long been engaged. Jamal Abdi, NIAC’s executive director, announced the creation of the new pro-Iran lobby in an interview with Politico. “We’ve got all this money on the table, all this political influence that’s not being utilized… Now we can actually start playing the full political game,” he said. Politico continued to explain that the new lobby “make[s] no secret of their desire to shift the political landscape in Washington away from groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee… and toward movements more inclined to pursue diplomacy with the longtime U.S. nemesis.”

Actions speak louder than words. Today, Tyler Cullis, legal fellow at NIAC (and not NIAC Action) sent the following email to Congressional staffers:

From: Tyler Cullis
Sent: Friday, July 10, 2015 12:56 PM
Subject: Iran Nuclear Talks & the UNSC Resolutions

Dear [  ],

While negotiators continue to work to narrow gaps toward a final nuclear deal with Iran, outstanding disputes remain over the disposition of the UN arms embargo imposed on Iran in 2010. Before reviewing a final nuclear agreement, here are three things U.S. policymakers need to know about the issue:

Is the UN arms embargo on Iran “nuclear-related”? The UN embargo imposed on Iran’s trade in certain conventional arms was specifically imposed by the Security Council to deal with the nuclear dispute. Indeed, UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1929 expressly states that restrictions related to Iran’s trade in conventional weapons would be lifted once Iran met its nuclear-related obligations under the Council’s resolutions. As the then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, stated at the time of the vote on UNSCR 1929, “[T]he sanctions aim squarely at the nuclear ambitions of [the] Government [of Iran].” Having been imposed in relation to the nuclear issue, the Iranian arms embargo will need to be disposed of as part of a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

What does the UN arms embargo do?  Starting with UNSCR 1747 in 2007, the Security Council imposed a ban on Iranian arms exports. The Council followed up this export ban with more comprehensive restrictions on the sale to or from Iran of certain heavy-weapons, including battle tanks, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and the like in 2010 via UNSCR 1929. However, this ban did not include items like Russia’s S-300 anti-aircraft system — the sale of which Russia voluntarily cancelled.

How is a nuclear agreement likely going to deal with the arms embargo? According to the Lausanne framework announced on April 2nd, the P5+1 and Iran agreed that a nuclear deal would replace existing UN Security Council resolutions with a new resolution that would endorse a final agreement and “incorporate certain restrictive measures for a mutually-agreed period of time.” Provided that the arms embargo is indeed one of these “restrictive measures,” then the negotiating parties have agreed to “phase-out” the arms embargo over a period of time — perhaps timed to a finding that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. However, the schedule for the phase-out remains the subject of intense and ongoing debate in the talks.

Let’s put aside the fact that Cullis’ reading of the law is far from accurate. The arms embargo is not entirely tied up with the nuclear embargo, but rather exists because of growing international concern with the Iranian government’s attempts to export weaponry to proxy groups around the region. And it’s not accurate to say that UNSCR 1929 promised to lift all sanctions — only suspend them — and only when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified that it had ceased enrichment. Discussion of the S-300 is beside the point; the embargo is not on Iranian weapons purchases, but rather its exports. What Cullis and NIAC are seeking is to lift the embargo that prevents Iran from arming groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and other U.S.-designated terrorist groups.

What the vast majority of Iranian-Americans know, and what Congress should ask NIAC, is how lifting the arms embargo meant to repress Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism is in anyway an interest of the United States, the Iranian-American community, or regional stability and security. That NIAC would advocate the lifting of the arms embargo is both curious and revealing. Rather than promote Iranian-American political activism or public diplomacy, NIAC increasingly appears to align itself squarely with the publicly declared interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Read Less

Feigned Grievance and Iranian Hypocrisy

Back in January 2002, when President George W. Bush labeled Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil,” the response from the doyens and self-declared guardians of American foreign policy was immediate. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the phrase “a big mistake,” as did diplomats like James Dobbins who, despite Iran’s covert nuclear program and provision of 50 tons of weaponry to Palestinian terrorists, argued that Iran could be trusted. PBS Frontline called the “Axis of Evil” speech a “slap in the face” to Iran. To Obama and his aides, Iran’s inclusion in “The Axis of Evil” was original sin, never mind that Americans seemed to object to the phrase more than Iranian, for whom “Death to Americachants were the staple of Friday morning prayers. Read More

Back in January 2002, when President George W. Bush labeled Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil,” the response from the doyens and self-declared guardians of American foreign policy was immediate. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the phrase “a big mistake,” as did diplomats like James Dobbins who, despite Iran’s covert nuclear program and provision of 50 tons of weaponry to Palestinian terrorists, argued that Iran could be trusted. PBS Frontline called the “Axis of Evil” speech a “slap in the face” to Iran. To Obama and his aides, Iran’s inclusion in “The Axis of Evil” was original sin, never mind that Americans seemed to object to the phrase more than Iranian, for whom “Death to Americachants were the staple of Friday morning prayers.

Indeed, the Iranians have become masters of feigning grievance to play naïve diplomats and put adversaries on the defensive. No American diplomat likes being called culturally insensitive, let alone racist. Shortly after Obama took office, for example, former diplomats William Luers, Thomas Pickering, and Jim Walsh, who together have for years pushed Iran diplomacy and engaged in behind-the-scenes Track II talks with Iranian leaders, penned an essay in 2009 entitled “How to Deal with Iran,” in which they warned that Iranians “bristle at the use of the phrase ‘carrots and sticks,’” because it depicted them as donkeys and because it implied a threat to beat Iran into submission if they could not be bought. The Iranian grievance was completely manufactured, and Luers’, Pickering’s and Walsh’s Iranian interlocutors played them like a fiddle. After all, Iranians themselves had long used the phrase carrots and sticks.

While diplomats condemn bullhorn diplomacy when conducted by Americans, they do not hesitate to excuse far more crude Iranian examples. State Department spokesman Marie Harf, for example, suggested that those “Death to America” chants might not be a major thing, but those prone to blaming America first might want to consider the latest from Maj.-Gen. Yahya Safavi, who led the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) between 1997 and 2007 and has since been an advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. According to Sepah News, an IRGC news portal, Safavi gave a speech in which he drew the red lines about what would precipitate Iranian military involvement in Syria and Iraq that went beyond proxies and advisors and instead relied on much more overt intervention. (Short answer: an Islamic State attack on the holy Shi’ite shrines). What is curious, however, was his characterization of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen as an “Axis of Resistance,” and the United States, Europe, “Zionist Regime,” and moderate Arab states as a “Satanic Triangle.” So, at a crucial point in negotiations, indeed, one day before the initial final deadline, Khamenei’s aide called the United States one point in a Satanic Triangle. No Iranian official, not President Hassan Rouhani, not Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, not any of the Iranian commentariat, condemned Safavi for his turn-of-phrase. Nor did those who publicly criticized Bush bother to raise their concerns. Madeleine Albright? Silent. Pickering? Silent. Dobbins? If it doesn’t involve bashing Bush, then silent.

Frankly, it’s not a bad thing for diplomats to have a thick skin. After all, in the scheme of things, the Iranian-sponsored murder of hundreds of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan should trump concern over being called Satanic by a man responsible for some of the murders. And certainly Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism and its holding of American hostages should be of far greater priority to the likes of Albright and others concerned with American security than whether or not Bush used the phrase ‘Axis of Evil.’ But, alas, hypocrisy runs supreme. And while Iranian officials would end their careers in Evin Prison if they second-guessed the Supreme Leader or undercut what he saw as Iran’s interests, American commentators and journalists continue to both show a lack of perspective mixed with a huge degree of hypocrisy. If the ‘Axis of Evil’ was such a threat to diplomacy, it’s time to call out each and every instance of Iranian bluster, incitement, and hyperbole. At least then, the American public would understand the reality of what the Iranian regime is rather than the scrubbed, sanitized version that the often fawning Western press would like to depict.

Read Less

Will Obama Endanger Navy for Sake of Deal?

Secretary of State John Kerry announced that international negotiators would likely miss their political deadline to conclude a nuclear agreement by midnight in Washington, DC. With Kerry and his team having collapsed on almost every red line they previously laid out — allowing Iran more centrifuges than Pakistan had when it developed its nuclear arsenal; allowing Iran to keep its fortified, underground plant at Fordo; compromising on anytime, anywhere inspections; allowing Iran a plutonium path; and forcing Iran to come clean on its previous work on the military dimensions of a nuclear program—what is now holding up the agreement is reportedly Iran’s demand that sanctions on its ballistic missile program and arms exports be lifted.

Read More

Secretary of State John Kerry announced that international negotiators would likely miss their political deadline to conclude a nuclear agreement by midnight in Washington, DC. With Kerry and his team having collapsed on almost every red line they previously laid out — allowing Iran more centrifuges than Pakistan had when it developed its nuclear arsenal; allowing Iran to keep its fortified, underground plant at Fordo; compromising on anytime, anywhere inspections; allowing Iran a plutonium path; and forcing Iran to come clean on its previous work on the military dimensions of a nuclear program—what is now holding up the agreement is reportedly Iran’s demand that sanctions on its ballistic missile program and arms exports be lifted.

In order to defend itself against charges that it was not doing enough to address other Iranian bad behavior — its holding of four American hostages, its support for terrorism, its support for Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime, its gross violations of human rights — numerous Obama administration officials have repeatedly explained that they were limiting the talks with Iran to just the nuclear portfolio. That Iran is now holding the deal hostage in order to advance its ballistic missile program and ensure its ability to export weapons shows that Tehran is not approaching the deal from the same baseline. For Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, national interest is paramount; for President Obama, philosophy is.

Given both President Obama’s quest for a legacy and Kerry’s previous poor negotiating prowess, it is hard to believe that they will hold firm if the only thing preventing their deal with Iran was the extent to which Iran could develop ballistic missile technology (or satellite launchers, as the Iranian press often calls them) or export weaponry to their groups and proxies in what they increasingly refer to in Persian as the “Axis of Resistance,” which comprises Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

Let us hope that Kerry and his team do hold firm, though. Over recent weeks, Bahraini authorities have intercepted an Iranian weapons shipment meant to take the low-grade protest campaigns by the Bahraini Shi‘ite opposition and Saudi Shi‘ites to a new level. During the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, Hezbollah crippled an Israeli ship with an Iranian-made C-802 missile. Hezbollah has since bragged both about restocking and upgrading its missile arsenal and about developing an underwater sabotage capability. The Houthis in Yemen, meanwhile, have not only allowed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to transform them into an Iranian proxy, but they have also seized territory along the southeastern Yemeni coast, thereby endangering shipping through the Bab al-Mandab. In addition, the windfall the Obama administration is prepared to allow Tehran to go on a veritable shopping spree with not only Russia and China, but also perhaps even North Korea, France, and Germany.

Who will be most vulnerable to this Iranian military build-up? Well, certainly ordinary Syrian citizens who are already suffering between the twin evils of the Assad regime and the Islamic State. But also the U.S. Navy. Khamenei has repeatedly demanded that U.S. forces leave the Persian Gulf, international waters be damned. And contrary to left-wing political activist turned Washington Post correspondent Ishaan Tharoor, the Iranian regime does subscribe to a notion of “Iranzamin” or “Greater Iran” based on the Persian Empire’s historical legacy. This will put Iran and the U.S. Navy on a collision course. That might be inevitable, but allowing Iran to equip itself with sophisticated missiles and weaponry that might have a higher chance to penetrate American defenses, that is unconscionable. Let Obama be a neighborhood organizer for the world after his term ends; while he is in the White House his chief job is to protect Americans lives, livelihood, and security.

Read Less

Are Ego and Careerism Forcing Unwise Iran Decisions?

Why do American diplomats seek to engage the world’s most egregious, insincere rogue regimes and terrorist groups? That was one of the questions I tried to answer in Dancing with the Devil, a history of more than a half-century of U.S. diplomacy with so-called rogues. The term ‘rogue regime’ isn’t the product of the past decade’s politicization of national security; rather, it has its roots in the 1970s but really came into vogue during the Clinton administration when such officials as Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright and Secretaries of Defense Les Aspin, William Perry, and William Cohen all embraced the term, as did Clinton himself. In short, the Clinton team defined rogue regimes as states that eschew the norms of diplomacy, engage in proliferation and sponsor terrorism, and cannot be readily deterred. In short, rogue regimes are not ordinary adversaries. North Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran are rogues; the Soviet Union and communist Cuba were and are adversaries.

Read More

Why do American diplomats seek to engage the world’s most egregious, insincere rogue regimes and terrorist groups? That was one of the questions I tried to answer in Dancing with the Devil, a history of more than a half-century of U.S. diplomacy with so-called rogues. The term ‘rogue regime’ isn’t the product of the past decade’s politicization of national security; rather, it has its roots in the 1970s but really came into vogue during the Clinton administration when such officials as Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright and Secretaries of Defense Les Aspin, William Perry, and William Cohen all embraced the term, as did Clinton himself. In short, the Clinton team defined rogue regimes as states that eschew the norms of diplomacy, engage in proliferation and sponsor terrorism, and cannot be readily deterred. In short, rogue regimes are not ordinary adversaries. North Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran are rogues; the Soviet Union and communist Cuba were and are adversaries.

When looking at the history of diplomacy with these rogues, one of the unfortunate patterns which emerged, but which was based more on circumstantial evidence than hard proof, was the role of ego and careerism. Almost every U.S. diplomat is smart, articulate, and ambitious to the point that it can be hard to set him or herself apart from colleagues who would like just as much to advance to ambassador, an assistant secretary portfolio, or more. One of the key ways to get noticed is to ensconce oneself in high-profile diplomacy to bring in a rogue from the cold. Once upon a time, good sense and strategic outlook trumped this sort of ambition, but over the last quarter century, that changed.

It was engagement with terrorist groups and their state sponsors that brought fame and fortune to diplomats like Dennis Ross, Chris Hill, William Burns, and Robert Malley. Ross was Robert Oakley’s deputy on the National Security Council when, on February 16, 1988, dialogue began with proxies for the PLO. Even as PLO chairman Yasser Arafat violated most subsequent agreements and continued his embrace of terrorism until his dying day, Ross and his staff were unwilling to walk away. Malley, who joined Ross’ team toward the end of the Clinton administration, went even further and advocated engagement with Hamas.

As the press has grown more partisan, hostile to American exceptionalism, and prone to confuse neutrality with moral clarity, ambitious diplomats know they will have it in their pocket to cheerlead any diplomatic process with any rogue. The New York Times editorial board encapsulated this most famously in a 2007 editorial entitled, “What Would a Diplomat Do?” The conceit of the essay was that President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would do well to ask what a diplomat like Christopher Hill, who built his career negotiating with North Korea, would advise. The reality, however, was that Hill eviscerated American credibility, refused to abide by the checks-and-balances incumbent in good diplomacy, and more than any other diplomat besides perhaps current Iran negotiator Wendy Sherman, is responsible for North Korea advancing as far as it has with its nuclear program.

Then, of course, there was the press cheerleading for Bill Richardson, a cabinet-level U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration. On April 17, 1998, Richardson traveled to Kabul to meet with Taliban leaders. CNN was hagiographic in its assessment, titling its report, “Taliban, masters of a suffering people, took Bill Richardson’s visit seriously.” Alas, despite Richardson’s self-assessment, his visit neither ended the Afghan civil war nor did it result in terror training camps being closed. The only thing it accomplished was to provide Richardson—at the time he had presidential ambitions—the limelight and enhanced speaker fees post-administration.

Fast forward to the current negotiations with Iran: In what’s meant to be a color piece, the Boston Globe’s Matt Viser shows the ego and inflated sense of importance that infuses American diplomats on Secretary of State John Kerry and Undersecretary Wendy Sherman’s negotiating team:

During idle hours, they have debated who among them would be played by what stars, if any producer for some reason decided to make a movie about how the United States and Iran tried to overcome decades of distrust to craft an agreement limiting Iran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb. Kerry, US delegation members decided, would be played by Ted Danson, while Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz would be portrayed by Javier Bardem (from “No Country for Old Men”). The silver-haired Sherman would be played by Meryl Streep (as captured in “The Devil Wears Prada”). And Marie Harf, a senior communications adviser, would be portrayed by Kirsten Dunst.

The frequent quip that politics is Hollywood for ugly people is meant to be a joke; unfortunately, Kerry’s team has taken this to heart. Mature, more seasoned leaders would recognize that when their people start seeing themselves as movie-worthy, they have lost focus and perspective and it’s time to send people home and replace them with those more grounded and less likely to allow ego to trump judgment.

If the experiences of the last quarter-century are any indicator, when ego and ambition triumph, national security suffers. The Obama team is playing this truism to a ‘T’.

Read Less

Kirchner’s Jew Hatred Casts Cloud on Argentina

In recent years, a rising tide of anti-Semitism has made much of Europe a hostile place for Jews. But the resurgence of Jew-hatred has not been limited to that continent. As Ben Cohen noted in the April issue of COMMENTARY, the specter of anti-Semitism has loomed over the investigation of the suspicious death of Alberto Nisman, an Argentinean prosecutor who had been probing Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that took the lives of 85 people. Integral to the controversy over the attempt by officials to label what appears to be foul play as suicide is the fact that Nisman had been about to issue an arrest warrant for Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other top members of her government. Nisman believed he had proof that Kirchner had negotiated a deal with Tehran that would swap Iranian oil for Argentine grain and the exoneration of those Iranian agents involved in the bombing. But as Cohen wrote, that atrocity and the subsequent cover-up did not take place in a vacuum. An anti-Semitic atmosphere in the country contributed mightily. Now Kirchner who reaction to criticism of her faltering government over the Nisman case by blaming her troubles on Jews in a series of Twitter rants, has added to the problem by again going dark on social media by telling students to read the anti-Semitic play Merchant of Venice to understand her country’s debt crisis.

Read More

In recent years, a rising tide of anti-Semitism has made much of Europe a hostile place for Jews. But the resurgence of Jew-hatred has not been limited to that continent. As Ben Cohen noted in the April issue of COMMENTARY, the specter of anti-Semitism has loomed over the investigation of the suspicious death of Alberto Nisman, an Argentinean prosecutor who had been probing Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that took the lives of 85 people. Integral to the controversy over the attempt by officials to label what appears to be foul play as suicide is the fact that Nisman had been about to issue an arrest warrant for Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other top members of her government. Nisman believed he had proof that Kirchner had negotiated a deal with Tehran that would swap Iranian oil for Argentine grain and the exoneration of those Iranian agents involved in the bombing. But as Cohen wrote, that atrocity and the subsequent cover-up did not take place in a vacuum. An anti-Semitic atmosphere in the country contributed mightily. Now Kirchner who reaction to criticism of her faltering government over the Nisman case by blaming her troubles on Jews in a series of Twitter rants, has added to the problem by again going dark on social media by telling students to read the anti-Semitic play Merchant of Venice to understand her country’s debt crisis.

According to the Times of Israel, the incident revolves around a presidential visit to a Buenos Aires school:

In one tweet, Kirchner recounted how she had asked students she met which Shakespeare play they were studying. When they told the president they were studying Romeo and Juliet, Kirchner said she responded, “I said, ‘Have you read The Merchant of Venice to understand the vulture funds?’ They all laughed.

“No, don’t laugh. Usury and the bloodsuckers were immortalized by the best literature for centuries,” she then tweeted to her two million twitter followers.

Argentine Jews have responded with outrage at the obvious inference that the country’s economic woes are the fault of the Jews. In response, Kirchner pointed to the fact that Habima; Israel’s national theater has produced Merchant in the past.

Does that get her off the hook from the charge of anti-Semitism? Not at all.

Let’s concede that many actors and critics have defended the play from the charge of anti-Semitism by pointing to the multi-dimensional nature of Shylock, the play’s bloodthirsty Jewish villain. As he did with all of his characters, Shakespeare paints Shylock as a real human being with understandable motivations rather than a stock figure of villainy. The play is a brilliant creation filled with great writing and drama. But is also standing proof that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s claim that great art could not be anti-Semitic is false. Shylock may be a human being but he is also an archetype of the Jewish moneylender who exploits and victimizes innocent Christians. Shylock is not merely bested and humiliated by his Christian opponents who outwit him in his quest to gain a pound of Christian flesh in payment for a defaulted debt. He is also forced to endure the desertion of his beloved daughter who marries a Christian and is ultimately condemned and forced to accept conversion to Christianity. For all of Shakespeare’s great artistry, the play is drenched with Jew hatred and libels that have been used against Jews for many centuries. The Merchant of Venice is rightly seen as a symbol of the West’s lamentable heritage of anti-Semitism.

It is one thing for a theater company to attempt, as many have, to stage the play in such a manner as to challenge the anti-Semitic assumptions at its core though many observers contend any such effort is bound to fail in that purpose. But it is quite another for a national leader to point to Merchant as the model for understanding economics. In that content there is no escaping the conclusion that Kirchner’s only possible motive was to spread Jew hatred in the crudest possible manner.

We don’t have to learn more about Kirchner’s literary tastes to understand the depth of her prejudices against Jews. Her dealings with Iran and previous comments on social media are enough to damn her as a vicious anti-Semite. But this latest incident solidifies her stance in a way that no objective observer could possibly misinterpret.

Given the willingness of the Argentine government to make crooked deals with Iran and to cover up involvement in terrorism and perhaps even murder of Nisman, there may not be any way to hold Kirchner accountable for her actions. But foreign governments should draw the right conclusions from Kirchner’s Jew hatred and act accordingly. She may be untouchable at home but no decent foreign government should ever receive her as a leader. Until a person not tainted by the virus of anti-Semitism leads Argentina, it should get a cold shoulder from the United States as well as other nations on all issues.

Read Less

End of the Pax Americana?

I was struck by a quotation from a retired Vietnamese general in this New York Times article about the rapid warming of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam. “Among all the choices, Vietnam chooses Pax Americana,” said Le Van Cuong, who had once fought American troops.

That’s a heartening and highly rational choice on the part of a country that fears its giant neighbor and onetime ally, China, and sees its former foe as a good-faith guarantor of its security. It is, in fact, a choice that countries and individuals have made in great numbers since World War II: South Korea, Japan, Germany, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, and many, many others have voluntarily chosen to embrace the Pax Americana. But for how much longer? Read More

I was struck by a quotation from a retired Vietnamese general in this New York Times article about the rapid warming of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam. “Among all the choices, Vietnam chooses Pax Americana,” said Le Van Cuong, who had once fought American troops.

That’s a heartening and highly rational choice on the part of a country that fears its giant neighbor and onetime ally, China, and sees its former foe as a good-faith guarantor of its security. It is, in fact, a choice that countries and individuals have made in great numbers since World War II: South Korea, Japan, Germany, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, and many, many others have voluntarily chosen to embrace the Pax Americana. But for how much longer?

Nobody wants to join the losing side — everyone prefers, in Osama bin Laden’s phrase, “the strong horse.” For many decades, there was little doubt of America’s strength. And even today, the U.S. remains the sole superpower by virtue of its unrivaled economic and military might. The U.S. economy remains strong, at least stronger than those of our competitors among other industrialized nations, even if growth is hampered by an ever-expanding tax and regulatory burden.

But America is busy cutting its defense budget, with the army alone due to fire 40,000 soldiers over the next two years. While the U.S. retains formidable military and diplomatic muscle, it is not exerting itself as it once did. From Ukraine to the South China Sea, we can see the perilous consequences of American disengagement.

The situation is particularly worrisome in the Middle East. The Obama administration is making one concession after another to Iran in the hopes of achieving a deal that will allow the mullahs to keep a nuclear program while reaping untold billions in sanctions relief. At the same time, the U.S. is ignoring evidence that Bashar Assad, Iran’s ally, continues to use chemical weapons in spite of his promise to remove all of them. Assad is also dropping barrel-bombs with impunity on the civilian populace, with hardly a peep of protest from Washington. Seen from the vantage point of Tehran, America looks like a pushover; not a formidable adversary.

The same view no doubt holds in Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate. As Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has just revealed in Congressional testimony, the Department of Defense has trained only 60 Syrian rebels to take on ISIS’s 20,000+ fighters. Presumably the CIA has trained some more, but the forces they have produced are inconsequential, too. Meanwhile, the Washington Post notes, summing up Carter’s testimony, “the 3,500 U.S. personnel deployed in Iraq since last year had trained just 8,800 Iraqi army and Kurdish militia soldiers. Just 1,300 Sunni tribesmen have been recruited.” It is scant wonder, then, that ISIS has actually expanded its territory since the U.S. began bombing it last August.

Why aren’t more Syrians and Iraqis flocking to join the anti-ISIS cause? Because they are not going to risk their necks in a losing cause, and America at the moment does not look like the strong horse in the Middle East. Iran and ISIS both look stronger. That’s not because they are inherently more powerful than America; on any rational comparison of strength, both the Islamic State and Iran are inconsequential next to the American hyperpower. But they are punching above their weight, while we punch below ours.

If this situation continues unabated, we will find ever fewer countries making the choice that Vietnam is making. We will, in fact, find that that the Pax Americana, which generations of Americans stretching back to 1898 have been laboring to create, is no more. Not because we are unable to project power anymore but because we are choosing not to.

 

Read Less

On Iranian Symbolism and American Nuclear Naivete

President Obama made outreach to Iran a major goal for his administration. He used his inaugural address and then his first television interview to reach out to Iran. “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” he declared in his first inaugural address. Aides and presidents themselves obsess over such momentous speeches, and so Obama must have been so pleased with such symbolism that he repeated it eight days later. When it comes to symbolism, however, Obama is an amateur in comparison to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Read More

President Obama made outreach to Iran a major goal for his administration. He used his inaugural address and then his first television interview to reach out to Iran. “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” he declared in his first inaugural address. Aides and presidents themselves obsess over such momentous speeches, and so Obama must have been so pleased with such symbolism that he repeated it eight days later. When it comes to symbolism, however, Obama is an amateur in comparison to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Take, for example, nuclear negotiations pre-Joint Plan of Action. In May 2012, the Iranian government finally agreed to sit down and talk about the nuclear dispute with American diplomats and their international partners. The State Department could barely contain its excitement. In conference calls and background briefs, senior U.S. diplomats and White House officials spoke about how historic the direct dialogue was. When Iranian negotiators proposed to hold discussions on May 23, no one in the White House, State Department or, apparently, the Central Intelligence Agency, questioned why Khamenei picked that date or suggested Baghdad as a venue. Iranian history informs, however: May 23, 2012, marked the 30th anniversary of Iran’s liberation of Khorramshahr, its key victory during the Iran–Iraq War. “The pioneering Iranian nation will continue its movement towards greater progress and justice,” Khamenei promised at a victory speech, adding, “The front of tyranny, arrogance, and bullying,” that is, in typical Iranian government hyperbole, the United States, and its allies, “is moving towards weakness and destruction.” Khamenei was seeking to embarrass the United States and use American diplomats in a scheme to show Iran as superior and America as weak, but American diplomats were too oblivious to Iranian culture and history to notice.

Misreading or dismissing Khamenei’s carefully considered symbolism has become the only constant in Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s engagement with the Islamic Republic. Take the Supreme Leader’s call for “Heroic Flexibility,” a speech which American officials and too often fawning journalists interpreted as an endorsement by Khamenei for the nuclear talks. The actual Persian suggested otherwise. “Heroic flexibility means an artful maneuver and utilizing various methods to achieve the various goals and ideals of the Islamic system,” he declared. In otherwise, it was about a change in tactics rather than policy. Of course, the phrase itself was deeply symbolic. Native Persian speaker Amin Tarzi, a professor at the U.S. Marine Corps University, points out that when Khamenei spoke of “heroic flexibility,” he was “invoking a truce initiated by Hasan bin Ali, Shi’a Islam’s second imam, in 661 to avoid bloodshed within Muslim community. Likening his country’s ‘flexibility’ to a wrestling match, Khamenei cautioned Iran’s negotiators that ‘a good wrestler at times shows flexibility due to technical reasons but does not forget his opponent or his main goal.’” Again, what Obama interpreted as a sign of compromise, Iranians understood to be a reference to a centuries-old episode in the development of Shi‘ite Islam, which has much to do with strategic patience but little to do with true compromise.

Fast forward to the current talks, now more than a week past their deadline. Many journalists and observers believe either that a deal will be achieved over the next few days or, in order to save face, diplomats will announce a partial deal. Few have considered why Iran might want to delay any announcement for a few days, U.S. congressional deadline be damned. Ever since the victory of the Islamic Revolution, the Iranian government has commemorated the fourth Friday in Ramadan — this year on July 10 — as Qods Day, a commemoration that is usually marked with the most vile anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric. It was on Qods Day back in 2001, for example, that former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani suggested Iran should use a nuclear weapon against Israel because it would wipe Israel out while Iran’s large size would allow it to absorb any retaliation. To announce a deal on Qods Day that effectively blesses a full-scale Iranian nuclear program and will allow Iran to break out and build not a bomb but an arsenal after as little as a decade will be the ultimate humiliation to the United States, and will be spun by the Iranian regime as the start of the countdown to the fulfillment of its promise to enable Israel’s ultimate destruction.

That Iran always manages to maximize such symbolism is no coincidence. It not only shows that reconciliation isn’t a goal for Tehran, but it also indicates the extent to which Iranian officials have been running circles around their American counterparts.

 

Read Less

Can Iranian Nuclear Deal Compliance Ever be Verified?

The following is a dispatch from Omri Ceren of the Israel Project regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran: Read More

The following is a dispatch from Omri Ceren of the Israel Project regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran:

The parties missed another deadline this morning, and talks are now expected to go through the end of the week. Mogherini told reporters this morning: “I am not talking about extension. I am talking about taking the hours we need to try to complete our work.”  The overwhelming consensus from press and analysts here in Vienna nonetheless hasn’t changed: The parties will indeed announce some kind of agreement before they leave, though it will almost certainly have details that will need to be sorted out in future negotiations. How that aligns with the administration’s legal obligation to provide Congress with all final details the deal is anyone’s guess at this point.

Meanwhile the Obama administration and its allies are laying the groundwork for another U.S. collapse, this time on inspections. Couple of indicators:

(1) They’re giving up on promising the most robust inspection/verification regime in history: Here’s President Obama during his April 2 speech about the Lausanne announcement: “Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.” Here’s White House spokesman Josh Earnest at the beginning of May echoing the boast: “what President Obama has indicated must be part of any nuclear agreement… is the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program.”

But now here’s White House validator Daryl Kimball talking to Politico a couple days ago: “this particular agreement will establish the most extensive, multilayered system of nuclear monitoring and verification for any country not defeated in a war.”

Catch the caveat about wartime defeat? The talking point had already been floated at the beginning of the Vienna talks by RAND’s Alireza Nader talking the JTA: “If the goal is ‘anytime, anywhere’ access and unlimited inspections, it’s not realistic asking a sovereign country not defeated in war.”

Yesterday Jofi Joseph, a former nonproliferation official in the Obama White House, told the Los Angeles Times that the Iranians can’t be expected to submit to anytime/anywhere inspections for the same reason: “What is forgotten is that Iraq was militarily defeated in a humiliating rout and had little choice but to accept [anytime/anywhere inspections].”

For 20 months, the administration promised Congress that Iran had been sufficiently coerced by sanctions that Tehran would accept anytime/anywhere inspections. Many in Congress disagreed and urged the administration to boost American leverage by working with the Hill to pass time-triggered sanctions. The administration responded with two different media wars that included accusations – including some by the president – describing lawmakers as warmongers beholden to “donor” money. Congress was right and the administration was wrong. Why would lawmakers now accept a weaker inspection regime than what the administration said it could secure, and what administration officials smeared lawmakers for doubting?

(2) A new talking point is that the IAEA’s technology makes up for the P5+1 collapsing on inspections – This appeared in two articles yesterday (the New York Times and the Daily Beast). The two stories are fantastically geeky reads about the IAEA’s toys, but that’s not what the administration officials and validators wanted to focus on. Instead you had Energy Secretary Moniz telling the NYT that the technology “lowers the requirement for human inspectors going in” and Kimball telling the Daily Beast that the technology meant that the IAEA would be able to “detect [nuclear activities] without going directly into certain areas.”

This argument is terrible and scientists should be embarrassed they’re making it. In its story the NYT quoted Olli Heinonen – a 27-year veteran of the IAEA who sat atop the agency’s verification shop – all but rolling his eyes.

Mr. Heinonen, the onetime inspection chief, sounded a note of caution, saying it would be naïve to expect that the wave of technology could ensure Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. In the past, he said, Tehran has often promised much but delivered little. “Iran is not going to accept it easily,” he said, referring to the advanced surveillance. “We tried it for 10 years.” Even if Tehran agrees to high-tech sleuthing, Mr. Heinonen added, that step will be “important but minor” compared with the intense monitoring that Western intelligence agencies must mount to see if Iran is racing ahead in covert facilities to build an atomic bomb.

The most fundamental problem is that IAEA procedures require physical environmental samples to confirm violations. They can use futuristic lasers and satellites to *detect* that Iran is cheating. But to *confirm* the cheating they need environmental samples, and usually multiple rounds of samples. Without that level of proof – which requires access – the agency simply wouldn’t tell the international community that it was certain Iran is violation. If you need a paragraph on the procedure click on this link and ctrl-f to “Yet if Iran tries to conceal what it is doing…”  If inspectors can’t get into a facility, it’s highly unlikely they’d ever be comfortable declaring that Iran was violating its obligations.

That’s before even beginning the discussion about why technology can’t make up for access to people, facilities, and documents – without which the IAEA won’t even know where to point its lasers and satellites.

But is what the administration has left: the Iranians can’t be expected to grant anytime/anywhere access but that’s OK because the IAEA has cool toys.

 

Read Less

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Troubling Silence

The systematic collapse of the U.S. negotiating position presages a final push to reach a final nuclear deal. But while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggests he wants a deal, and pundits in the United States if not in Iran say that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is behind him (the reality is murkier), one group has been notably silent: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). There have been warnings signs all along that the IRGC was less than pleased with the nuclear negotiations. Take, for example, the imprisonment of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. To simply dismiss his incarceration as part of a hardline backlash is disingenuous, especially when those responsible for his situation also happen to have control over the potential military dimensions of any Iranian nuclear program. If Zarif and crew can’t sway the Iranian bureaucracy on relatively low-hanging fruit like Rezaian, how can they hope to do so on nuclear weapons research? Some wire services last April quoted IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari as backing the deal, but a comparison between their quotes and the broader Persian context suggests cherry-picking. Read More

The systematic collapse of the U.S. negotiating position presages a final push to reach a final nuclear deal. But while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggests he wants a deal, and pundits in the United States if not in Iran say that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is behind him (the reality is murkier), one group has been notably silent: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). There have been warnings signs all along that the IRGC was less than pleased with the nuclear negotiations. Take, for example, the imprisonment of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. To simply dismiss his incarceration as part of a hardline backlash is disingenuous, especially when those responsible for his situation also happen to have control over the potential military dimensions of any Iranian nuclear program. If Zarif and crew can’t sway the Iranian bureaucracy on relatively low-hanging fruit like Rezaian, how can they hope to do so on nuclear weapons research? Some wire services last April quoted IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari as backing the deal, but a comparison between their quotes and the broader Persian context suggests cherry-picking.

The IRGC role in the military aspect or military ambitions of Iran’s nuclear program must be taken seriously. After IRGC General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam perished in a 2011 mishap at an IRGC missile base, the Iranian press reported that his last will and testament requested that his epitaph read “The man who enabled Israel’s destruction.” Much of the concern with regard to Possible Military Dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program centers on work done on various IRGC bases (see the Annex starting on page 11 of this IAEA document). And while Zarif has promised access by some drawn out process, the Iranian officials who control the gates to the military bases are not in the foreign ministry, but in the IRGC or Defense Ministry which have made clear what they think of access to their sites.

I noted last week the disturbing parallels between the Iran and North Korea deals, especially when it came to diplomats’ willingness to dismiss evidence of cheating. The irony is greater because State Department official Wendy Sherman was involved in both processes. The Clinton-era negotiations with Yasser Arafat should also provide lessons: At the Camp David II Summit, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators reached a deal. Arafat flew in and not only refused to accept what his negotiators had agreed to, but he also refused to make any counteroffer. It seems that in their quest to get a signature on paper, the Obama team is replicating the mistake of not identifying whose signature they need to get on the paper.

If the IRGC is really going to abide by this nuclear deal, it’s essential to get Jafari’s explicit agreement. Absent that, start the stopwatch on the unraveling of what Obama and Kerry would like to see as a historic moment.

 

Read Less

Voice of America Shuns Professionalism, Embraces Deal

Well, this piece by Voice of America (VOA) entitled, “As Potential Deal Draws Near, Iran Talks Critics Out in Force,” just crossed my desk: Read More

Well, this piece by Voice of America (VOA) entitled, “As Potential Deal Draws Near, Iran Talks Critics Out in Force,” just crossed my desk:

While talks continue in Vienna critics are out on the Internet in force, accusing American and Iranian diplomats of making a deals with the enemy. “They are saying the same thing, whether you are in Tehran or in Washington,” noted Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council.  “They are all saying that ‘the negotiation team is selling their country short. They are agreeing to everything.  They are giving too many concessions.  This will be a disaster.  This is the worst thing that ever happened.” Some of the critique, he says, may come from supporters of Iran’s rivals who fear the country will grow stronger. But analysts say some hardliners are also subscribing to an out-of-date view of international relations, according to Yan Saint Pierre, who heads Berlin-based security firm MOSECON in an interview on Skype. “Their point is based on their impression of Iran and the United States out of the 1980s and the 1990s of both sides being ideologically opposed,” Saint Pierre said.   This mindset is not constructive and is not adaptive to the context of 2015.”

The whole piece is worth reading; it really is astounding. The VOA — an organ which seeks credibility through balance — reports that the “critics [are] out in force,” and yet fails to quote a single critic. Instead, it gives voice to two outspoken proponents of the deal — one of whom once declared that everything he does, he does for Iran and neither of whom are actually American citizens (Parsi is Iranian-Swedish) — and allows them to make straw man arguments that make light of the very real arguments against the nuclear deal as it appears to be shaping up. There are the inconsistencies between what Obama administration officials said the deal would achieve, for example, and what it actually may achieve. There is the fact that Secretary of State John Kerry has crafted the deal to be unenforceable by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the international body charged with monitoring any deal. Nor does Saint Pierre’s point make much sense unless he means to suggest that, in 2015, the United States is aligned with groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and other Iranian proxies. This isn’t just an issue with one journalist, but rather broader considering the editorial process through which any article goes.

Now, some might suggest that the VOA is meant to be just that—the voice of American policy. I am certainly sympathetic to that view, after more than a decade of frustration with the tendency of some at VOA to seek to build credibility through self-flagellation or promote the arguments of those loyal to the Islamic Republic over those seeking its downfall. But American policy is not the personification of President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry. The United States is not a dictatorship and they do not define acceptable discourse by fiat, no matter what State Department spokesman Marie Harf might suggest. There is seldom unanimity in Congress, but the overwhelming majority of senators and representatives have expressed unease at the concessions offered to Tehran and the normalization of Iran’s nuclear program under current terms. Perhaps VOA meant to suggest that the Congress’s “mindset is not constructive”?

Now, there’s little that can be done of course unless Congress calls VOA directors to account and use the power of the purse to create a cost for such a lack of professionalism. When VOA actually publishes a piece on the deal’s critics and then apparently fails to speak to any, it certainly raises questions about the value of the taxpayer support. After all, can’t private media like MSNBC or CNN do the same thing?

 

Read Less

When Political Correctness Blinds Iran Reporting

The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor has a short piece at the newspaper’s “WorldViews” blog about “How Not to Write about Iran.” In short, he chides Western writers for bias and argues that they err when ascribing any culturally specific or different mindset to Iran that they would to other countries or adversaries. Read More

The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor has a short piece at the newspaper’s “WorldViews” blog about “How Not to Write about Iran.” In short, he chides Western writers for bias and argues that they err when ascribing any culturally specific or different mindset to Iran that they would to other countries or adversaries.

He begins, for example:

In the Western imagination, Iran has long been a kind of bogeyman. It’s the land of hostage crises and headscarves. It was part of the Axis of Evil (whatever that was). Its leaders grouse about defeating Israel, an American ally. Its mullahs, say Iran’s critics, plot terror and continental hegemony.

Put aside the fallacy of this straw man. The reality is that more people understand Iran in senior levels of the U.S. government, thanks to the legacy of the Peace Corps and the children of American businessmen who grew up in Iran as well as the vibrant role Iranian Americans play in American society, than comparatively understand opaque countries like Saudi Arabia or Qatar, but it’s a useful straw man so long as a journalist need not produce proof.

Tharoor then complains about the tendency to see Iran “as the other” dating back to the ancient Persian Empires. “As Europe’s empires gained in power,” he continued, “the Orientalist clichés hardened and served to bolster the West’s own sense of racial and moral superiority. Even in the present day, many of the old tropes have been trotted out during the nuclear talks,” citing a number of analogies to how Iranians bargain as if in the bazaar. He concludes by citing a couple authors who complain how unfair it is overemphasize a country’s history in its culture and attitudes:

“Iran is an ancient civilization with a rich culture that definitely has roots in its old history,” Iranian-American journalist Negar Mortazavi tells WorldViews. “But to stereotype modern Iran and Iranians based on what happened thousands of years ago is wrong.” Mortazavi argues that you would never see such simplistic, overreaching appraisals of American allies: “Do we view today’s Europe through the affairs of the Vikings? No. Do we look at Saudi Arabia through the lens of its old Islamic Empire when it was taking over the world? No.” Arash Karami, the Iran editor of the Middle East news site Al-Monitor, dismisses the idea “that Iran has imperial ambitions in the Middle East simply because of its history.” He adds that “most Iranians only have a vague understanding” of the long-gone Achaemenid dynasty or the medieval Safavids.

Tharoor, alas, is allowing political correctness to trump accuracy. Multiculturalism is not simply about appreciating each other’s holidays or cuisine, but rather recognizing that different peoples can think in very different ways. Rather than acknowledge differences and history, he engages in projection: assuming that everyone shares our values. Firstly, it is no secret that Iranians take pride in their historical legacy; it is what sets Iran apart from so many other countries and peoples in the region, and the reason why so many non-Persians among Iran’s neighbors suggest that Iranians are condescending toward their neighbors.

History does matter. Most Iranians are nationalist. Iranians have a term, Iranzamin, to describe the notion of a greater Iran based on areas historically under Persian control. That doesn’t mean that Iranians physically want to reclaim lost territory (although in 2007, Ali Shariatmadari, the Supreme Leader’s appointee to edit the official daily Kayhan, suggested just that in the case of Bahrain), but Iranians do have a concept of “near abroad” not unlike that which Russian President Vladimir Putin and many Russians embrace with regard to the states of the former Soviet Union and perhaps Eastern Europe as well. In 1996, while attending a language institute in Tehran affiliated with the University of Tehran, our Iranian teacher assigned every student in our class to prepare an oral report on an Iranian province which he had taken from a second or third grade textbook. I got Daghestan; it has not been part of Iran since 1828, and yet it remains in the curriculum. Back to Vladimir Putin: Would Tharoor suggest that history does not matter in the Russian case as well? Or the Balkan warlords and their constituents apply the same rational to diplomatic engagement that other European powers might?

Tharoor peppers his essay with various references to Orientalist literature or extreme examples. There is a link to James Morier’s Hajji Baba of Ispahan, published in 1824 by a British diplomat pretending to be a Persian author. It’s a delightful, satirical book, often translated into Persian, and long embraced by Iranians. Here’s a sort article about the novel, its background and significance from Encyclopaedia Iranica, for example. That Tharoor appears more sensitive to satires about the Iranian character than Iranians themselves is unfortunate. Perhaps the original sin was that Morier pretended to be a Persian. If so, then what about Iraj Pezeshkzad’s “My Uncle Napoleon,” a hugely funny book that also made fun of Iranian culture and character and, serialized on television before the revolution, to this day remains the Iran’s most popular television comedy.

Then, of course, there’s the usual assumption that Orientalism—sometimes-exaggerated depictions of ‘the other’—is one way. That may be the way the late literary critic and polemicist Edward Said depicted it, but his book was faulty in terms of both fact and logic. Iranians often characterized ‘the other’ in their own writings. During the Safavid era, for example, there were numerous Persian geographies depicting lands and peoples near and far, seldom in complementary terms. But, for the more recent, Tharoor might want to consider Nineteenth Century ruler Nasir al-Din Shah’s diary with regard to his trip to Europe or, if he wishes a more academic treatment, he could consider the work of the late British diplomat and Iranophile, Sir Denis Wright (in whose private library I conducted a portion of my dissertation research). And while Tharoor picks out opponents of the nuclear deal for the pillory because of their supposed racism, he ignores even more famous examples from those supportive of diplomacy. Take, for example, the famous “How to Negotiate with Iranians,” transmitted from Tehran to Washington in August 1979 by Bruce Laingen, at the time the senior diplomat in Tehran.

The simple fact is this: civilizations as old as Iran develop a literature, culture, and philosophy that builds on itself over generations. Just as Western strategy and concepts of diplomacy have evolved from the days of Machiavelli and been influenced by Judeo-Christian values and history, Iranians might trace the evolution of their diplomacy from the works of Nizam al-Mulk and other examples of “princely literature” and they might also recognize the influence of Zoroastrianism and Islam on their philosophy. As for bazaar bargaining, there is a reason why Americans and Europeans going to purchase goods in the Istanbul Grand Bazaar, in Isfahan’s Naqsh-e Jahan Square, or Kabul’s Chicken Street get fleeced if they are not accustomed to haggling. Haggling is part of some cultures, but try to bargain at the cash register at a Walmart and it’s likely a quick ticket to a police report. Culture matters. Tharoor might have wanted to project sophisticated sensitivity and chide other journalists and writers for getting Iran wrong. What he succeeded in accomplishing, however, was quite the opposite: His essay illuminates the dangers of parachute journalism and superficiality even at America’s top tier papers.

 

Read Less

Cementing the Bad Deal

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran: Read More

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran:

Happy Monday from Vienna. The EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini arrived yesterday and told reporters: “As you know I have decided to reconvene the ministers. They will be arriving tonight and tomorrow. It is the third time in exactly one week. That’s the end, the last part of this long marathon.” Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif already held an impromptu meeting this morning. The overarching consensus – which is almost certainly correct – is that whatever gets announced will be announced no later than tomorrow afternoon. It might very well happen tonight.

As to what that announcement might be, there are a few options. In order of increasing probability:

0% chance: Kerry might make good on the comments that he made yesterday to reporters, and walks away from a bad deal.

Very low probability: the parties might come to a full-blown agreement ready to be implemented immediately. This scenario was never likely by June 30, and became functionally impossible after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei set out a range of new red lines a few weeks ago. Also, the Iranians gave a background briefing earlier today in Vienna where they provided their interpretation of an emerging final deal. Among other things they have some interesting views on what military-related restrictions will be lifted, which are in tension with how the Americans have been describing the deal. Those differences will have to be overcome, and they won’t be in the next few days.

Low-probability: the gaps might still be too significant to even colorfully announce a deal, and the parties would extend the interim agreement all the way through the summer. The option would be more attractive to the Obama administration than taking another 2 or 3 weeks. If the administration sends Congress a deal after July 9 then the Corker clock – how long a deal sits in front of Congress – goes from 30 days to 60 days. But if they get all the way through the summer, it goes back down to 30 days. The administration has obvious reasons to prefer that.

Most likely: there will be a non-agreement agreement. The parties will announce they’ve resolved all outstanding issues but they still have to fill in some details. Then the P5+1 and Iran would move in parallel to implement various commitments, and the Iranians would in particular have to work with the IAEA on its unresolved concerns regarding Iran’s weapons program (PMDs). In the winter the IAEA would provide a face-saving way for the parties to declare Iran is cooperating – IAEA head Amano said earlier this week that the agency could wrap up by the end of the year if Iran cooperates – and then a deal would officially begin. The option is attractive to the administration because it puts off granting Iran all of its anticipated sanctions relief until the IAEA makes some noises about the Iranians cooperating. The alternative would be poison on the Hill. This way the administration can tell Congress that of course PMDs will be resolved before any sanctions relief is granted; and after Congress votes, if the Iranians jam up the IAEA but demand relief anyway, lawmakers will have no leverage to stop the administration from caving.

The focus will then shift to Congress, where the debate on approving or disapproving of the deal will take place over the next month. Some of the questions will get technical and tangled – the breakout time debate is going to be mind-numbing – but lawmakers will also use a very simple metric: Is the deal the same one the President promised he’d bring home twenty months ago? Back then the administration was very clear about what constituted a good deal and emphatic that U.S. negotiators had sufficient leverage to secure those terms. The U.S. subsequently collapsed on almost all of those conditions, and lawmakers will want to know how the deal can still count as a good one.

In line with those questions, here is a roundup from the Foreign Policy Initiative on where the administration started and how dramatically it has moved backwards. From the overview of the analysis:

Over the past three years, the Obama administration has delineated the criteria that any final nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran must meet. In speeches, congressional testimony, press conferences, and media interviews, administration officials have also articulated their expectations from Tehran with repeated declarations: “No deal is better than a bad deal.” This FPI Analysis… compiles many of the administration’s own statements on nuclear negotiations with Iran over the past three years, and compares them with current U.S. positions. It also examines U.S. statements on a range of other issues related to U.S. policy toward Tehran, and assesses whether subsequent events have validated them.

The web version has embedded links for each of the statements, so if you need them just click through on the url at the top. You might just want to do that anyway, because the web version is more readable.

 

Read Less

Why the New “NIAC Action” Iran Lobby Will Fail

If there’s one rule-of-thumb in Washington, it’s that you know your foreign policy legacy isn’t great when even Jimmy Carter criticizes it as weak and ineffective. That’s like “Seinfeld” character George Costanza bragging that he could beat an NBA star in one-on-one hoops, with everyone in the media just nodding in agreement. Democrats may still go through the motions of defending the president’s strategy or lack thereof, but when all is said and done, even they acknowledge Barack Obama’s foreign policy will be an outlier. Whether a Democrat on Republican comes next, there will likely never again in our lifetimes be a president as cavalier toward American security or disdainful of America’s place in the world as Obama has been.

Read More

If there’s one rule-of-thumb in Washington, it’s that you know your foreign policy legacy isn’t great when even Jimmy Carter criticizes it as weak and ineffective. That’s like “Seinfeld” character George Costanza bragging that he could beat an NBA star in one-on-one hoops, with everyone in the media just nodding in agreement. Democrats may still go through the motions of defending the president’s strategy or lack thereof, but when all is said and done, even they acknowledge Barack Obama’s foreign policy will be an outlier. Whether a Democrat on Republican comes next, there will likely never again in our lifetimes be a president as cavalier toward American security or disdainful of America’s place in the world as Obama has been.

To believe that time spent cultivating the Obama White House will translate into lasting influence, therefore, is risible. But that’s exactly what the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has done. The reality is that its access to the White House will end precipitously once the Obama administration ends, and its interaction with the State Department will peter out as diplomats increasingly recognize it for what it is: Through both rhetoric and action, NIAC has long acted as the Islamic Republic of Iran’s de facto lobby in Washington. Now, however, it plans to make it official. According to Politico:

NIAC Action aims to direct money from the Iranian-American community, which is relatively well-off compared to other immigrant groups, toward more concerted political activism. “We’ve got all this money on the table, all this political influence that’s not being utilized,” said Jamal Abdi, NIAC Action’s executive director. “Now we can actually start playing the full political game…” Abdi and others make no secret of their desire to shift the political landscape in Washington away from groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has criticized the talks with Iran, and toward movements more inclined to pursue diplomacy with the longtime U.S. nemesis.

Trita Parsi, NIAC’s leader for life, and Abdi make several crucial mistakes, though, that will undercut the success of the Iran lobby they seek to launch:

  • For what exactly is NIAC to lobby? Israel is a democracy that has exported medical devices across the globe; Iran is a theocratic dictatorship that has exported explosively formed projectiles. Israel accepts gays; the Iranian government claim they simply don’t exist in Iran (and it executes them when it finds them). The Iranian regime regularly spews the vilest rhetoric and publicly executes dozens per month. The realist argument that through size and resources the Islamic Republic can be a partner also falls flat. David Verbeteen, at the time a doctoral candidate at King’s College, University of London, penned an important analysis in 2009 about why President Eisenhower and the State Department’s plan to shift the United States away from partnership with Israel and into the Arab camp failed. In short, the White House and even the State Department quickly realized that Israel simply made a better ally than most if not all Arab states. Business may be one thing, but should the United States really align its policy with the chief state sponsor of terrorism, one that holds Americans hostage and represses religious minorities? Pride in Iranian heritage should never mean apologia for the Iranian regime. Iranian Americans understand that, and most everyone in the national security community does as well.
  • NIAC is not bipartisan; it is hyper-partisan. NIAC has aligned itself consistently with groups like CodePink, Daily Kos, the Institute for Policy Studies, and WarisaCrime.org, and political radicals like Stephen Walt and Juan Cole. Parsi has antagonized a broad range of mainstream policymakers of both parties with partisan cheap shots and polemic, anti-Semitic aspersions, and policy prescriptions far outside the mainstream. His twitter feed is a repository for snark, conspiracy, and personal aspersion. He and NIAC spin conspiracy theories about inevitable plans for war against Iran simply to fundraise. AIPAC, conversely, has always cultivated broad, bipartisan appeal and is probably the most effective lobbyist not only for a strong U.S.-Israel partnership, but also for moderate Arab states like Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and the Gulf Cooperation Council emirates. Just the fact that NIAC casts itself as the anti-AIPAC suggests what a confrontational frame-of-reference the NIAC lobby espouses. Forget AIPAC. What about the Islamic Republic does NIAC really want to promote?
  • NIAC does not represent the broader Iranian-American community. The Iranian American community is diverse. As Ayatollah Khomeini led his Islamic Revolution, he ruthlessly purged political opponents and made life unbearable for religious minorities; many fled to Europe and the United States. Among the hundreds of thousands of Americans of Iranian descent are Baha’is, Christians, and Jews. NIAC’s fealty to the theocracy which oppressed them is unattractive to many, which is why NIAC remains relatively small compared to other Iranian-American organizations like the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) which already do what NIAC claims it wants to. The mistake NIAC makes is that it conflates pride in Iran and Iranian heritage with the Islamic Republic. Most Iranian Americans, however, recognize that the Islamic Republic is an anomaly and is not representative of the Iran most Iranians seek. And just as the Islamic Republic seeks to limit political discourse, so too does NIAC which remains incredibly hostile to monarchists and constitutional republicans on one hand, and the Mujahedin al-Khalq (MKO) on the other. Personally, I’m antagonistic to the MKO as well, but an organization that represents Iranian-Americans must take a big tent approach rather than allow Tehran to define political legitimacy.
  • Iranian-Americans should be Afraid to Donate to NIAC. Many Iranian-Americans, even those that agree with Parsi’s politics, recognize how careless NIAC can be. After launching a frivolous lawsuit to silence an Iranian-American journalist far from the mainstream, Parsi allowed reams of correspondence to be exposed to the press. Rather than acknowledge error, Parsi and NIAC have doubled down raising the possibility that they will treat confidential information frivolously in the future. Poor judgment can betray anonymity and betray donors. Also, while NIAC promises its donors anonymity, they should be aware that the government and journalists both will be putting NIAC fundraising under the microscope because of the suspicion, already voiced by many in the Iranian American community, that anonymous donations could provide a mechanism for other Iranian proxies or the Iranian government themselves to support NIAC. The FBI raid on the Alavi Foundation and subsequent convictions and confiscations provide a warning to those tempted to hide behind financial opacity.

Congratulations to NIAC for finally recognizing that, with the Obama administration ending, it could no longer risk violating lobbying rules. When it comes to foreign policy, however, democracy trumps theocracy every single time. Political tolerance will always trump polemic. And community representation can’t be fudged with empty platitudes. Nor can sleight-of-hand substitute for financial transparency.

Read Less

What Will the West’s Many Concessions to Iran Produce?

It has been hard to keep up with the cascade of U.S. concessions in the negotiations with Iran, because there has been no natural stopping point. If you think virtually any deal is better than no deal, you need to keep making the concessions necessary to get it. If you have allowed Iran to get within a few months of a bomb and think extending the breakout period a few more months is a good deal, the concessions have to come. If you think a one-sided détente with Iran is strategic brilliance, you are less troubled by the concessions than by the fact that — if you don’t make them — your brilliant strategy will fail. We await the details of the coming deal, but the larger picture was made clear in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, in the following exchange between Chairman Bob Corker and Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations:

Read More

It has been hard to keep up with the cascade of U.S. concessions in the negotiations with Iran, because there has been no natural stopping point. If you think virtually any deal is better than no deal, you need to keep making the concessions necessary to get it. If you have allowed Iran to get within a few months of a bomb and think extending the breakout period a few more months is a good deal, the concessions have to come. If you think a one-sided détente with Iran is strategic brilliance, you are less troubled by the concessions than by the fact that — if you don’t make them — your brilliant strategy will fail. We await the details of the coming deal, but the larger picture was made clear in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, in the following exchange between Chairman Bob Corker and Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations:

TAKEYH: … [T]he primary priority of [Iran] today is the projection of power in the Middle East. The Islamic Ali Khamenei is the most successful imperialist in the history of modern Iran. The Shah never had control of the Iraqi state … He never was a material player in Syria … Previously Iranian regimes were never main players in Lebanon … And of course in the Persian Gulf, the battered alliances of the United States make that particular sub-region a bit more susceptible to Iranian subversion. Imperialism is financially costly. The [Iranian] economy of 2013 could not have sustained the imperial surge Iran that has embarked upon … [T]his agreement enables both consolidation of power at home, the imperial surge in the region, as well as establishes a pathway for industrialization, upon which they can decide whether they have a nuclear weapon or not.

CORKER: So if I could paraphrase you … it allows them to meet their short term goals of consolidation …

TAKEYH: It allows them to exploit remarkable opportunities that they have in the region.

CORKER: … and still reach their longer-term goals of being a nuclear threshold country within a short amount of time.

TAKEYH: Yes, sir.

In his prepared testimony, Takeyh stated that while Iran has sustained its essential red lines, the U.S. has “systematically abandoned the sensible prohibitions that have long guided its policy,” and that the “impending agreement, whose duration is time-limited and sets the stage for the industrialization of Iran’s enrichment capacity, places Tehran inches away from the bomb.”

In the same hearing, David Albright, President of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), told the committee that the deal will establish “a new norm” – one that “legitimizes uranium enrichment despite the lack of need for the enriched uranium and a history of non-compliance and non-cooperation with the IAEA.” And good luck trying to inspect Iran’s military complex at Parchin, the suspected site of previous high-explosive testing linked to nuclear weapons development — assuming the U.S. doesn’t concede that, too. Here is what Albright told the committee about Parchin:

Since the IAEA asked to visit this site in early 2012, Iran has reconstructed much of it, making IAEA verification efforts all but impossible. Tehran has undertaken at this site what looks to most observers as a blatant effort to defeat IAEA verification. Because of such extensive modifications, the IAEA, once allowed access, may not be able to resolve all its concerns. Thus, access to Parchin alone is no longer sufficient to resolve the issues underlying the IAEA’s original request to access this site.

Albright told the committee that his organization has been calculating breakout timelines for many years in collaboration with centrifuge experts at the University of Virginia, and that for the prospective agreement with Iran, the administration’s estimate is too optimistic: “Our timelines [at ISIS] are less than 12 months.”

So, after all the concessions; after trashing UN resolutions that prohibit Iran’s nuclear program and substituting a UN resolution that permits it; after giving the Iranian regime the financial resources to consolidate its rule at home and its expansion abroad; after approving an industrial-grade nuclear program with early relief from sanctions; after agreeing to a sunset provision that will eliminate the key provisions of the agreement; after leaving Iran’s ballistic missile program and terror-sponsoring activities off the table and completely unaffected; and after destroying the respect for American leadership in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other U.S. allies (not only in the region, but in those watching from other areas of the world as well), the real breakout time is not even going to be a year.

Heckuva job.

 

Read Less

Will Obama Throw Lifeline to Bankrupt Iranian Media?

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has made little secret that his primary motivation in talks with the P5+1 over Iran’s nuclear program is rescuing Iran’s anemic economy. The White House subtly acknowledges this fact, arguing that the Iranian government will use its unprecedented financial windfall — equivalent to 20 times the annual budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — to relieve the dire economic circumstances of the Iranian people. This, of course, is nonsense. Read More

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has made little secret that his primary motivation in talks with the P5+1 over Iran’s nuclear program is rescuing Iran’s anemic economy. The White House subtly acknowledges this fact, arguing that the Iranian government will use its unprecedented financial windfall — equivalent to 20 times the annual budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — to relieve the dire economic circumstances of the Iranian people. This, of course, is nonsense.

Rather, the financial windfall that Iran will receive will be pumped directly into its efforts to export its revolution, a concept which might seem foreign to effete politicians and diplomats like John Kerry, but which is nevertheless enshrined in both the Iranian Constitution and the founding statutes of the IRGC.

Some of Iran’s efforts to export its revolution occur through its various militias, such as Lebanese Hezbollah or Iraq’s Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. Other efforts occur through supposed charity work, conducted through such organizations as the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, some of whose branches the U.S. Treasury Department have designated terrorist entities. Cold, hard cash also plays a role. Iranian officials, for example, have long pursued a strategy to cultivate Africa. Tehran has sought to buy the votes of non-permanent African members of the UN Security Council and members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, for example, beyond seeking logistical bases for its military and potential uranium exporters.

Tied into its Africa efforts has been its expanding media presence. Iranian-sponsored media saturates Bahrain and Iraq and has become an increasingly ubiquitous presence in the Middle East and Central Asia. Suffice to say, Iran relies on its media not only to get its message out to a susceptible audience, but also to provide cover for Iranian agents conducting espionage, surveillance, and engaged in terrorism.

Tehran’s economic mismanagement, however, has taken a toll, as have international sanctions. In January 2015, Tabnak, a news agency affiliated with former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, reported that all its television and news-gathering bureaus save four — London, Baghdad, Damascus, and New York — would close because of financial constraints.

Now it seems that, as of June 29, Iran was knocked off the air in Africa because of non-payment to Arabsat, the main regional satellite broadcast operator.

Now, that may not seem like much, but it is emblematic of just how much potential leverage the United States has over Iran and how much President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s coterie of negotiators have bungled the negotiations that are nearing conclusion. When Iran starts to shut down operations that should be a good thing; unfortunately, rather than permanent silence a source of hate and conspiracy, Obama and Kerry will throw a lifeline to an otherwise failing regime and enable it to amplify its prestige and footprint worldwide.

 

Read Less

The Steep Costs of an Iran Nuclear Deal

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear talks with Iran: Read More

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear talks with Iran:

Good morning from Vienna, where Zarif is back and talks have resumed. He either has the Supreme Leader’s permission to sign a deal or he doesn’t, and there’s not much left in between. The Americans have publicly collapsed on most of what was left vague at Lausanne — immediate cash windfalls, a robust inspection regime including military sites, full Iranian disclosure of its nuclear program — and are willing to shred the sanctions regime by redefining non-nuclear sanctions as nuclear so they can be lifted. The rest should be just details.

That said, morning meetings just began a couple hours ago, so news won’t begin to trickle out for a while.
In the meantime, this scoop-filled WSJ story is the 2nd huge article from the last few days outlining how the Obama administration very, very quietly sought to secure rapprochement with Iran. A few days ago, the AP assessed that cozy U.S.-Iran talks have become the “new normal” despite White House assurances that it distrusts the Iranians. Now this WSJ story reveals that the administration began making concessions to Tehran — aimed at achieving exactly that result — from day one. The President’s outreach included releasing Iranian arms dealers and blacklisting organizations that the Iranians considered hostile:

Iran secretly passed to the White House beginning in late 2009 the names of prisoners it wanted released from U.S. custody, part of a wish list to test President Barack Obama’s commitment to improving ties and a move that set off years of clandestine dispatches that helped open the door to nuclear negotiations. The secret messages… included a request to blacklist opposition groups hostile to Iran and increase U.S. visas for Iranian students, according to officials familiar with the matter. The U.S. eventually acceded to some of the requests… With a deal in sight, some worry the U.S. will give up too much without getting significant concessions in return. The Obama administration initially called for an end to Tehran’s nuclear fuel production, a dismantling of many of its facilities and a rollback of its missile program—goals that have been dropped… Over the past six years, U.S. allies in the Mideast say, Iran has expanded its influence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Now, they say, Tehran is set to maintain much of its nuclear infrastructure, while scoring an economic windfall.

The story will be get added to the list of things the administration has been willing to sacrifice in pursuit of its nuclear deal with Iran. That list already included:

China expansionism: Last week the NYT reported that the Obama administration has been loath to pressure China on a range of issues because they need the Chinese on Iran.

Russia expansionism: Articles have been circulating since 2014 suggesting the same thing is going on with Russia, and that Obama has taken a soft line on Ukraine because he needs the Russians on Iran (even Roger Cohen (!) rushed last November to editorialize against what he called the Iran-Ukraine tradeoff).

Middle East alliances: Differences over the Iran deal have badly undermined Washington’s traditional alliances with Jerusalem and Riyadh.

Syria/U.S. WMD credibility: The President declined to enforce his Syria red line against the reintroduction of weapons of mass destruction to modern battlefields, shredding the U.S.’s nonproliferation credibility and leaving the French seething in the process. Administration spokespeople have been left trying to convince reporters that chlorine bombs don’t count.

IAEA credibility: The IAEA has been kneecapped as the P5+1 global powers moved to conclude a deal with Iran, a country that still owes the agency answers on a dozen unresolved questions.

UN sanctions credibility: The U.S. has looked the other way while the Iranians busted through binding U.N. sanctions and has ceased providing information to a U.N. panel charged with monitoring the integrity of the U.N.’s sanction regime.

Iranian human rights: Obama administration officials kept the Green Revolution at arm’s length so as not to inflame Tehran’s paranoia about regime change.

Congress/Democrats: The President and his allies have repeatedly clashed with Congress, including with Congressional Democrats, over Iran diplomacy. There have been two full-blown media campaigns, each lasting several weeks, in which sitting Democratic lawmakers were accused of being warmongers beholden to Jewish money. Versions of those accusations came from administration spokespeople talking to reporters from White House and State Department podiums.

All of this happened while administration officials assured Congress that they were committed to constraining Iran. As the WSJ article points out, they went so far as to flat out deny that prisoner swaps were taking place. And, as the AP article pointed out, today they’re cozier with the Iranians on nuclear issues than they are with the U.S.’s traditional Middle East allies.

Lawmakers will have the obvious concern: Given that administration officials have sacrificed so much to cobble together even a weak agreement, it seems unlikely that they would identify and respond to Iranian violations of a final deal. It’s all they have left.

 

Read Less

Iran’s Coming Betrayal and Our Jilted Allies

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of Iran nuclear talks: Read More

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of Iran nuclear talks:

A couple of quick updates before everyone goes out to dinner here.

US diplomats are now telling journalists that talks will go beyond the original June 30 deadline. No surprise but consider it confirmed. The talks are still expected to conclude with a deal in the very early days of July. The current over/under is July 4th, which would give the Obama administration a full 5 days to meet the July 9 Corker deadline for filing the text of the agreement with Congress. If they file the deal before July 9, it sits in front of Congress for 30 days. If they miss the deadline, it sits in front of Congress for 60 days. The administration doesn’t want lawmakers to have an extra 30 days to discover the deal’s flaws, and so the State Department is under heavy pressure to conclude negotiations with enough time to get the text to Congress before the deadline.

Meanwhile the newest Associated Press article filed from Vienna – pasted below – is getting a lot of attention. It’s a broad overview of how US negotiations with Iran have created a “new normal” in which the Obama administration is far more comfortable talking to Iran than to America’s traditional Israeli and Arab allies. Lawmakers will ask how the administration can be trusted to enforce a deal: not only will evidence of Iranian cheating detonate the President’s legacy, but the President and his team have simply become – on a basic personal level – cozy with the Iranians:

Whether or not the U.S. and its negotiating powers can clinch a pact in Austria’s capital over the next several days, it’s hard to imagine the tentative U.S.-Iranian rapprochement ending anytime soon. It’s become the new normal… Although neither will use the word trust, for the first time in decades, U.S.-Iranian ties have in some ways “normalized.”… the interactions between Kerry and Zarif, and the two countries’ other negotiators, have expanded dramatically. They regularly chat in hotel breakfast halls before their daily discussions, hold regular calls and coordinate schedules…

In March, Kerry began a meeting by offering condolences to Rouhani after his mother died and wished the Iranians a happy Persian New Year with the traditional declaration of “Nowruz Mubarak.” Later, he approached Rouhani’s brother, a member of the Iranian negotiating team in Lausanne, Switzerland, and hugged him… And the good will has spread to others in the negotiating team.

Washington clearly remains light years closer to Middle East allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, but their coolness or outright hostility to the Iran talks has taken a toll. For the Obama administration, it has created the strange dynamic of sometimes finding it easier to discuss nuclear matters with Tehran… Only last week, many Iranian parliamentarians chanted “Death to America” as they passed legislation that would bar nuclear inspectors from visiting military sites – a key U.S. and international demand.

This article isn’t some random neocon opinion piece. It’s the Associated Press’s top diplomatic journalists filing a news report on the state of the talks.

When Iranian expansionism finally forces a future U.S. President to take action against Tehran – and it will, given that the Iranians are engaged in a region-wide hot war with the Arab world and are constantly looking to start another hot war with Israel – the Iranians will accuse that President of violating the nuclear deal and back out. Washington will then face an Iran that will be economically and militarily resurgent, opposite an array of abandoned allies.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest

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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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