Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran

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.

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Reciprocity, Responsibility Must Govern Iran Educational Exchanges

The independent, non-profit Institute of International Education (IIE) has announced that it sent a “historic” delegation of university representatives to meet with Iranian counterparts in the Islamic Republic last week. Its press release described its goals: Read More

The independent, non-profit Institute of International Education (IIE) has announced that it sent a “historic” delegation of university representatives to meet with Iranian counterparts in the Islamic Republic last week. Its press release described its goals:

“Educational diplomacy is at the forefront of opening up dialogue between two countries, often before full diplomatic relations have been restored,” said [IIE President and CEO] Dr. [Allan E.] Goodman. “This was the case with China and Vietnam, and IIE has been leading these efforts in recent years, first with Myanmar and Cuba and now with Iran.” The new IIE Iran Higher Education Initiative will take a multi-pronged approach aimed at expanding educational cooperation with Iran. In addition to last week’s delegation, the initiative will include a series of activities over the course of the next year, including bi-national conference calls, a white paper on opportunities for developing university partnerships and understanding the regulations that control the establishment of these relationships, workshops for university administrators, and activities aimed at increasing exchanges of students and faculty members. The goal is to share resources and knowledge that will bring higher education institutions in the U.S. and Iran closer together, ultimately to enrich the academic experiences of students, faculty, staff, and administrators from both countries.

Like many academics basking in what they believe to be new geopolitical relevance, Goodman ignores history. Educational exchanges with Iran — including multi-university ones — are nothing new; I participated in two during the 1990s while I was studying Persian and conducting research for my Ph.D. in Iranian history. Many Iranian students study in American universities; in the 1990s, I studied with them. Multiple controversies over visa status and availability for Iranian students could not have occurred if exchanges did not happen. Indeed, educational exchanges have long been staples of people-to-people efforts. George W. Bush-era Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, for example, actively sought to bring more Iranians into the country for study. “We’ve all seen the huge, long-term impact of having someone study in our country and get to know the American people and what that means in 30, 40 years,” he explained.

What Goodman and the IIE ignore, however, as they kowtow to the Islamic Republic in order to keep access is educational discrimination. The Islamic Republic of Iran severely restrains if not forbids Iranian Baha’is to pursue higher education in Iranian universities (or to qualify for state scholarships to pursue education abroad, such as they may be). Likewise, Iranian Jewish students in Iran complained to me about severe discrimination in Iranian universities to the point where they were unsafe living in Iranian student dormitories. Missing from the IIE press release is any conception that such discrimination occurs, or that the IIE and the universities participating in this delegation—Ball State University, Pitzer College, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, the University of Southern California (USC), and Wayne State University—will make free access regardless of religion to be a defining principle of any exchange. Ideological fealty cannot be allowed to trump academic qualification for Iranians seeking university admission and scholarships in the United States. Unless the Iranian government allows Americans to administer exams for admission and scholarships, only the regime’s most trusted supporters will benefit.

The IIE ignores how the Iranian government has tried to hijack past academic exchanges. In 2000, during the height of the Dialogue of Civilizations, the United States granted Iranian passport holders approximately 22,000 visas; the Iranians reciprocated by granting U.S. passport holders less than 1,000. The discrepancy has only grown with time. Those who criticize Iranian policy receive no visa, while those who wish to ensure access parrot the Iranian line. According to the Iranian news website Asr-i Iran, George Washington University Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr went so far as to encourage Tehran to use its leverage to purge Iranian studies of Jews and Bahai’s.

So what should the IIE do? They are absolutely correct that academic exchanges and cooperation can be valuable. But, to benefit all, they must be based on reciprocity. Iranian students, for example, should not receive multiple entry visas to the United States unless American students receive the same status of visas to Iran. Likewise, there cannot be a discrepancy in visa numbers as during the much heralded but ultimately substance-less “Dialogue of Civilizations.” There should be no more opportunities for Iranian students visiting the United States than for American students visiting Iran.

University administrators of both nationalities should also sign statements ensuring that there will be no discrimination toward any student based on his religion, sexual preference, or any other factor. Iran hangs gays for the crime of being homosexual. How will the IIE mitigate the threat to American students who might happen to be gay? Likewise, what fate will await an Iranian student who does not conform to the Islamic Republic’s declared mores during his or her time in the United States?

There are very real reasons why U.S.-Iranian relations have been strained for 36 years. The reason for geopolitical tension is not simply because American officials from both parties haven’t had the foresight to realize that dialogue can solve everything; rather, it is because until now they have not been willing to ignore Iranian behavior. If the IIE’s desired exchange is really to achieve the goals it sets out, then it is imperative that it not ignore Iranian regime or university behavior either.

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For the Iran Nuclear Deal, ‘the Game Is Pretty Much Up’

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 administration has rolled out three arguments for why the Saudis won’t go nuclear.

(1) ‘They’re too poor to go nuclear’ – this argument has appeared a couple of times in print in recent weeks. The assertion is difficult to square with the North Korean experience, where the DPRK has built industrial-scale nuclear infrastructure despite having functionally no economy.

(2) ‘They’re afraid of an international backlash, including an oil embargo’ – there are a couple of NSC staffers who are fond of this argument. I think it’s fair to say that the administration has had trouble getting people to accept that the West will forgo Saudi energy.

(3) ‘American security assurances will be sufficient to reassure the Gulf, so they won’t chart their own course’ – this was the point of the Camp David summit between the President and the Gulf states. There have been claims that it worked. According to what former Defense Secretary William Cohen told Bloomberg View this morning, it very much didn’t:

The administration’s intent was to have a counter-proliferation program. And the irony is, it may be just the opposite… Once you say they are allowed to enrich, the game is pretty much up in terms of how do you sustain an inspection regime in a country that has carried on secret programs for 17 years and is still determined to maintain as much of that secrecy as possible… [the Syria CW red line] was mishandled and everybody in the region saw how it was handled. And I think it shook their confidence in the administration… The Saudis, the UAE and the Israelis were all concerned about that… They are looking at what we say, what we do, and what we fail to do, and they make their judgments. In the Middle East now, they are making different calculations.

Remember how Saudi nuclearization plays out. It’s not just that the Sunnis will acquire nuclear weapons, and within a few years there will be a polynuclear unstable Middle East – although that’s a disaster all on its own. It’s also that Saudi nuclearization will rebound and destroy the JCPOA deal with Iran that started the cascade in the first place. There is no chance that the IRGC will sit on the sidelines while the Saudis go nuclear. Nobody pretends otherwise. They’ll back off the deal and match the Saudis.

That makes the deal all cost and no gain: the administration will have seeded a polynuclear Middle East, detonated Washington’s alliances with its traditional allies, and shredded the sanctions regime – and it won’t even have a denuclearized Iran to show for it. Instead of the status quo of no deal and no nukes, it’ll be a world of no deal but yes lots of nukes.

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The World Forced to Invest in Iran’s Nuclear Breakout Capacity

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 Associated Press got ahold of one of the five secret annexes being worked on ahead of a final deal between the P5+1 global powers and Iran. This one – titled “Civil Nuclear Cooperation” – details a range of nuclear technology that various members of the P5+1 will be obligated to provide Iran, including “high-tech reactors and other state-of-the-art equipment.” The draft that the AP saw wasn’t finalized, and so some of the concessions are subject to change.

As the annex is written right now, however, this is no longer a deal to stop the Iranian nuclear program. It’s a deal to let the Iranians perfect their nuclear program with international assistance and under international protection.

The uranium concession: As well, it firms up earlier tentative agreement on what to do with the underground site of Fordo, saying it will be used for isotope production instead of uranium enrichment. Washington and its allies had long insisted that the facility be repurposed away from enrichment because Fordo is dug deep into a mountain and thought resistant to air strikes — an option neither the U.S. nor Israel has ruled out should talks fail. But because isotope production uses the same technology as enrichment and can be quickly re-engineered to enriching uranium, the compromise has been criticized by congressional opponents of the deal.

Some country in the P5+1 will be helping the Iranians develop next-generation centrifuges in a facility impenetrable to American and Israeli bombs. Conversely, any country that wants to sabotage that development will be unable to do so, because the program will be protected and maintained by a major power.

As the centrifuges are being developed they’ll be spinning non-nuclear elements, but once they’re perfected the Iranians will be able to use them to enrich uranium. The international community will literally be investing in helping Iran achieve a zero breakout.

A couple of obvious points: First, it means the P5+1 will be actively providing the Iranians with the tools to break out while a deal is in place. The Iranians will already have 300kg of 3.67% uranium on hand, and they’ll be able to scale up production as they need because the JCPOA lets them keep 5,000 centrifuges enriching uranium at Natanz and lets them keep another 10,000 centrifuges in storage available to be installed. They can bring low-enriched material to Fordow and quickly enrich it to weapons-grade levels in the next-generation centrifuges they’ll have developed with P5+1 assistance. Second – again – it means that the P5+1 will be actively ensuring that Iran will have the technology to go nuclear at will the instant the deal expires. The technology the Iranians learn to develop at Fordow will be applied on a mass scale.

The plutonium concession: To that end, the draft, entitled “Civil Nuclear Cooperation,” promises to supply Iran with light-water nuclear reactors instead of its nearly completed heavy-water facility at Arak, which would produce enough plutonium for several bombs a year if completed as planned… Outlining plans to modify that heavy-water reactor, the draft, dated June 19, offers to “establish an international partnership” to rebuild it into a less proliferation-prone facility while leaving Iran in “the leadership role as the project owner and manager.”

Lightwater reactors are significantly more proliferation-resistant than heavy-water reactors (in fact there’s no reason to build a heavy water reactor – of the type that the Iranians have been working on – unless you want to produce plutonium for a nuclear weapon). But even LWRs are not proliferation proof, and a plutonium bomb isn’t the only concern.

Imagine that 15 years from now the Iranians have built a dozen LWRs with help from a P5+1 nation. One concern is indeed that they’ll kick out inspectors, keep the spent fuel, and start reprocessing on the way to creating a plutonium bomb. But a more subtle concern is that they will use the existence of the LWRs as a pretext for industrial-scale uranium enrichment – because they’ll say they need the uranium fuel for their plutonium plants – which can serve as a cover for breaking out with a uranium bomb. The P5+1 would be actively providing the Iranians with diplomatic leverage to use against the P5+1 in the future. The answer to this latter concern is that the JCPOA sunset clause already allows the Iranians to have an industrial-scale uranium enrichment program that can serve as a cover for breaking out with a uranium bomb. I’m not sure the administration wants to overemphasize that point.

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Obama Cedes Iraq to Iran

U.S. forces in Anbar province sharing a base with Iranian-directed militias? A few years ago, I would have been incredulous; after all, these are the same militias that killed hundreds of American troops, and they are just as dangerous and extremist as ever. But now, there is nothing particularly shocking or surprising about this scoop from Josh Rogin and Eli LakeRead More

U.S. forces in Anbar province sharing a base with Iranian-directed militias? A few years ago, I would have been incredulous; after all, these are the same militias that killed hundreds of American troops, and they are just as dangerous and extremist as ever. But now, there is nothing particularly shocking or surprising about this scoop from Josh Rogin and Eli Lake

It is all part and parcel of the Obama policy of tilting toward Tehran that has been evident for several years now — a trend that Michael Doran and I noted in January 2014 in this New York Times op-ed and that Doran had identified even earlier. This strategy has been evident at least since the president’s decision in the fall of 2013 not to bomb Iran’s client, Bashar Assad, for violating a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons. Instead, Obama reached a deal with Assad for the peaceful removal of his chemical weapons — a deal that has made the U.S. complicit in Assad’s continuance in power even as Assad has continued to drop chlorine gas and barrel bombs on civilians.

Since then, the administration has bombed in Tikrit in support of an offensive mounted, for the most part, by Iranian-backed militias rather than Iraqi troops. It has cut funding to anti-Hezbollah Shiites in Lebanon. And, of course, it has continued to make crippling concessions to Iran in order to get a nuclear deal — even if the terms of the deal only increase Iran’s breakout time from two months to three months.

The administration is not vocal about what it is up to, but it is consistent: It is trying to realign the strategic chessboard of the Middle East so that Iran becomes a de facto partner of the U.S. rather than its adversary. Amazingly enough, the president does not seem to be deterred by the meager returns on his strategy so far: a region in flames.

There is every indication to believe that, as Doran and I predicted, the administration outreach to Iran is only exacerbating the sectarian divide and emboldening extremists of both Sunni and Shiite persuasion. The problem will become much more severe once a nuclear deal is concluded with Iran, because that could well spur Saudi Arabia to seek its own nuclear weapons and it will provide billions of dollars more that the mullahs can use to subvert their neighbors.

It is still not too late for the administration to reverse course — to demand more of Iran at the negotiating table and to take actions against Iran’s proxies in Syria and Iraq. A good beginning would be to ground Assad’s air force and declare safe zones along the borders where the moderate opposition can organize. But the intertwining of U.S. forces and Shiite militias in Iraq makes such a decision more dangerous because it will be all too easy for Iranian militias to attack U.S. forces again as they have in the past. Not that it matters: Obama has shown no desire to check Iranian designs. As long as that’s the case, the Iranian militias will happily coexist with U.S. troops because they will perceive, correctly, that the American presence is actually aiding their power grab.

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Assessing Shi’ite Militias in Iraq

The rise of the Shi‘ite militias has complicated if not undercut American policy from the 2003 occupation of Iraq to the present. Shortly before U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq, then-National Security Council official Zalmay Khalilzad and State Department official Ryan Crocker (both future ambassadors to Iraq) met with Iran’s UN Ambassador Mohammad Javad Zarif (now foreign minister) in Geneva. Zarif promised non-interference: there would be no direct Iranian intervention, nor would Iran allow the militias which its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) trained to interfere. Read More

The rise of the Shi‘ite militias has complicated if not undercut American policy from the 2003 occupation of Iraq to the present. Shortly before U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq, then-National Security Council official Zalmay Khalilzad and State Department official Ryan Crocker (both future ambassadors to Iraq) met with Iran’s UN Ambassador Mohammad Javad Zarif (now foreign minister) in Geneva. Zarif promised non-interference: there would be no direct Iranian intervention, nor would Iran allow the militias which its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) trained to interfere.

Zarif, of course, either lied or was powerless to prevent the IRGC from acting autonomously (it is ironic, therefore, that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are so willing to trust Zarif despite his previous refusal to uphold diplomatic agreements). Even Iranian journalists remarked about how quickly the IRGC inserted itself and militias like the Badr Corps into Iraq. Meanwhile, for all the chatter about why Washington policymakers erred by working with Iraqi politicians who had spent some time in exile, the most powerful insider, firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, sought power by leveraging a militia equally anti-American, violent toward other Iraqis, and engaged in criminal enterprise.

During the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. forces just as often found themselves in conflict with Shi‘ite militias as with Sunni insurgents. Hassan Kazemi Qomi, a Qods Force operative who worked as Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, oversaw the smuggling into Iraq of explosively-formed projectiles used to kill hundreds of Americans. Then, in 2007, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, an Iranian-sponsored militia, kidnaped five American soldiers, and then tortured and executed them. They and Kata’ib Hezbollah still undermine rule-of-law and government authority in Iraq.

In the wake of the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh)and the collapse of several units of the Iraqi army, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called for volunteers to help defend Iraqi Shi‘ites (and non-Shi’ite Iraqis) and protect both the shrine cities and the capital from ISIS’ advance. The resulting Popular Mobilization Forces (alHashd al-Shaabi) are often treated almost cartoonishly among many Western commentators. They describe them as uniformly Shi‘ite (they are not, even if Shi’ites make up the vast majority) and Iranian proxies (certainly, Iranian officials would like to co-opt them and perhaps do some but most are at heart Iraqi nationalists). Contrary to some reports, there was no widespread abuse, looting, or burning of homes in Tikrit when the volunteers defeated ISIS.

At any rate, if the goal is to fight and defeat ISIS and if Iraqis cannot rely on outside powers to help with any consistency, then they would be foolish to sit around and wait to conduct full military training, nor do many ordinary Iraqis have any wish to make a three-year commitment to the Iraqi army. The training program announced by President Obama for Syrians to fight ISIS has gone nowhere, but perhaps that was the point, and so the Hashd has become an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem. Does that mean the United States, Iraqis, or others should be sanguine about the Hashd? No. They are a short-term solution which will pose a long-term threat to Iraq, as many will expect a reward or patronage position for their service.

Norman Cigar, perhaps the most skilled and precise linguist and military analyst of the Middle East (whose work I have previously cited here) is out with a new publication through the United States Army War College Press entitled “Iraqi Shi’a Warlords and Their Militias,” which is a free .pdf here. It’s probably the most complete, nuanced, and realistic take to date on both the various militias and the issues raised by their existence, especially in the post-ISIS order. He addresses key questions such as how the militias are mobilized, and the breakdown between those used to fight versus those deemed unfit and perhaps instead relegated to guard duty. He breaks down the numbers in each militia and, for all the talk about leveraging tribes, he discusses how various tribes delivered volunteers for the militias. He also addresses training, equipping, maintaining, and feeding the militias, the logistical elements seldom discussed.

Looking to the future, Cigar is realistic. Iraqis will continue to embrace the militias unless there is a significant foreign military force that can supplant them to counter the Islamic State challenge. Americans like to condemn the militias, but at the same time there is no appetite in the White House or Congress for a significant military deployment back into Iraq. That means the militias are here to stay. The Kurds provide no substitute. Not only is Cigar realistic about the capabilities of the Peshmerga, but he also recognizes the political limitations given Kurdish disunity and disinterest in combatting ISIS in territories in which the Kurds have no interest. Then the question turns into how the militia reality might impact future organization. Will, he ponders, the militias be folded into an organization much like Iran’s Basij? Indeed, for better or worse, this might be the model that most Iraqis are familiar. And if, alternately, there is demobilization, how will that occur?

A decade ago, no one foresaw the rise of the Islamic State or, conversely, of the Hashd. And while the Islamic State needn’t be a fact-of-life if the United States and regional powers were serious about defeating it, the Hashd are now here to stay. Simply condemning them all as Iranian agents is neither accurate nor productive. Rather, it’s time to confront the new reality and craft policies to accommodate or perhaps alter it. Either way, Cigar’s monograph is unique, essential, and a great place to start.

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Bahrain May be Problematic, But Iran Threat is Real

The Kingdom of Bahr­­ain is a lot of things: the smallest Arab country in the Middle East and the only Arab island nation, a vital strategic ally of the United States which plays host to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, religiously diverse with small but native Jewish and Christian populations, the frontline of a sectarian struggle that now overshadows the Middle East, and increasingly the subject of fierce but often fair criticism with regard to its human rights failings. Here, for example, is the Washington Post’s editorial board weighing in with criticism about how Bahrain’s abuses and its growing disregard for the United States.

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The Kingdom of Bahr­­ain is a lot of things: the smallest Arab country in the Middle East and the only Arab island nation, a vital strategic ally of the United States which plays host to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, religiously diverse with small but native Jewish and Christian populations, the frontline of a sectarian struggle that now overshadows the Middle East, and increasingly the subject of fierce but often fair criticism with regard to its human rights failings. Here, for example, is the Washington Post’s editorial board weighing in with criticism about how Bahrain’s abuses and its growing disregard for the United States.

There is legitimacy to the grievances of the majority Shi’ites. While approximately 70 percent of Bahraini citizens are Shi‘ite, 95 percent of the unemployed are Shi’ite. There is also an element of Apartheid in Bahrain, as certain real estate remains effectively off-limits to Shi‘ites regardless of socio-economic status. The Bahraini government has also sought to shift the demographic balance of the island by granting Sunni immigrants citizenship, often in exchange for joining the security forces to which Shi’ites cannot join.

And, while it is trendy in Washington nowadays to dismiss fear of Iranian subterfuge, the Bahraini kingdom does have some reason to be suspicious. In 2011, Hasan Tariq Alhasan, (full disclosure: a former student of mine), had an illuminating article in the Middle East Journal about the 1981 coup attempt on the island. Using publications of the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain gathering dust in the Library of Congress, Alhasan chronicled how the group that had plotted the putsch had declared its fealty to Ayatollah Khomeini and his Iranian Revolution and had accepted training from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The coup plotters planned to attack the palace and parliament on the tenth anniversary of independence, and perhaps reunite with Iran. (Bahrain was for a time prior to the sixteenth century a province of Iran, but Bahrainis—Sunnis and Shi‘ites both expressed their desire for independence rather than reunification in a 1970 UN-supervised referendum).

Just because Tehran was behind the 1981 coup plot doesn’t mean, of course, that all Bahrain unrest can be attributed to Iranian plots. I was in Bahrain for the beginning of the second round of unrest in the mid-1990s. Bahrainis were legitimately fed up with unemployment, and the suspension of parliament and the constitution. It was ultimately the death of the king and the succession of the crown prince (who remains king to the present day) that enabled a new political beginning. Bahrainis overwhelmingly regardless of sect endorsed a National Action Charter encompassing a reform package in February 2001.

It was frustration about the failure of King Hamad to fully implement that package that would lead to the spark that became the Pearl Monument uprising a decade later, an incident which most diplomats and analysts mark as the start of the current unrest as Shi‘ites sometimes violently protest their situation. (And while many Shi‘ites say their protests are peaceful, Molotov cocktails are not exactly non-violent).

Many Western diplomats, NGOs, and journalists dismissed Bahraini government suggestions that Iran was behind the initial 2011 unrest. Indeed, the protests appeared indigenous and the Bahraini government was unable or unwilling to provide proof of Iranian complicity, although some Bahraini officials privately suggested that Iran funded some opposition activities from the interest of bank accounts deposited in Bahraini banks.

Just because a spark might be indigenous, however, does not mean that the Iranian drive to export revolution wouldn’t lead its officials to try to co-opt the Bahraini revolution. On December 30, 2013, for example, Bahraini officials seized a weapons shipment that Iranian authorities had apparently tried to smuggle into Bahrain. And while U.S. diplomats might protest the arrest of Ali Salman, the leader of Wifaq, Bahrain’s largest Shi‘ite opposition party, it is worrying that Hezbollah’s Al Manar media company distributes CDs of his speeches set to religious music.

Against the backdrop of the Obama administration’s outreach if not surrender to Iran, it seems Iranian authorities are ramping up their aggression toward their neighbor across the Persian Gulf. On June 18, 2015, Bahrain’s chief of police announced the seizure of “significant quantities” of explosives and bomb-making materials destined for use against Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. From the Bahraini Embassy’s press release:

The raid on a house in Dar Kulaib on 6th June, in the south west of the island, came as a result of forensic intelligence gathered by Bahrain’s security forces following the seizure in May of a vehicle attempting to cross the bridge and contained similar explosives to carry out attacks in Saudi Arabia. Authorities said that the seized weapons, which included large quantities of powerful explosive, C4, in addition to commercial detonators, advanced circuitry, chemicals and mobile phones, represent a significant escalation in attempts to smuggle explosives material into Bahrain. Chief of Police Major-General Tariq Al Hasan said: “These recent developments point to an emerging trend. The professionalism with which these seized materials are assembled and concealed is a clear indication of international support and sponsorship…

He continued to accuse the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of providing training in the use of explosives as well as underwater sabotage. Below is a catalogue of the contraband seized on June 6:

  • 92 Kg Urea Nitrate, a fertilizer-based high-explosive commonly used in manufacturing improvised explosive devices (IEDs)
  • 10 Kg C-4, a plastic explosive composed mainly of RDX (approximately 90%)
  • 4 Kg TATP, also known as Acetone Peroxide, it is a white crystalline powder that is unstable and is used in manufacturing IEDs
  • 89 Kg Ammonium Nitrate, a chemical compound used in agriculture and in manufacturing IEDs
  • 8 anti-personnel explosives, 6 of which contain metal balls
  • 2 PETN Detonators; 4.1 meters long and 10.08 meters long, these are detonator cords that have PETN explosives as their explosive core
  • 23 pairs and 1 single commercial detonators
  • 66 electronic circuits controlled by infrared
  • 67 electronic mobile phone circuits
  • 21 Nokia mobile phones
  • 3 bags of large metal ball bearings
  • Metal molds for containers and lids of EFPs

Herein lies the tragedy of the second order effects of Obama’s outreach to Iran: While Bahraini Shi’ites have legitimate grievances, and the Bahraini government—and, more specifically—its prime minister exhibited questionable judgment in the initial crackdown, now that the empowered Revolutionary Guards are on the march, they might de-legitimize the popular struggle in Bahrain for more equitable political and economic rights. At the same time, diplomats and editorial boards can lecture on human rights, but it should no longer be possible to ignore the security implications and international dimensions of Bahrain’s continued unrest.

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Iran’s Abuse of Minorities About to Get Much Worse

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic Revolution ushered in what Khomeini and his supporters promised would be an Islamic democracy, but what in reality would quickly reveal itself to be a repressive dictatorship. The outline for Khomeini’s philosophy of government was no secret. In 1970, he published a book, Hokumat-i Eslami (“Islamic Government) which fleshed out the parameters and workings of a government based on the idea of guardianship of the jurist. He infused his reading of Islamic history and philosophy with religious hatred. Hence, he declares in just the second paragraph of the book, “From the very beginning, the historic movement of Islam has had to contend with the Jews, for it was they who first established anti-Islamic propaganda and engaged in various stratagems, and as you can see, this activity continues down to the present.” Later in the text, he declared, “If the rulers of the Muslim countries truly represented the believers and enacted God’s ordinances… then a handful of wretched Jews (the agents of America, Britain, and other foreign powers) would never have been able to accomplish what they have.”

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Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic Revolution ushered in what Khomeini and his supporters promised would be an Islamic democracy, but what in reality would quickly reveal itself to be a repressive dictatorship. The outline for Khomeini’s philosophy of government was no secret. In 1970, he published a book, Hokumat-i Eslami (“Islamic Government) which fleshed out the parameters and workings of a government based on the idea of guardianship of the jurist. He infused his reading of Islamic history and philosophy with religious hatred. Hence, he declares in just the second paragraph of the book, “From the very beginning, the historic movement of Islam has had to contend with the Jews, for it was they who first established anti-Islamic propaganda and engaged in various stratagems, and as you can see, this activity continues down to the present.” Later in the text, he declared, “If the rulers of the Muslim countries truly represented the believers and enacted God’s ordinances… then a handful of wretched Jews (the agents of America, Britain, and other foreign powers) would never have been able to accomplish what they have.”

His castigation of Jews was little compared to his hatred of Baha’is. “In our own city of Tehran now there are centers of evil propaganda run by the churches, the Zionists, and the Baha’is in order to lead our people astray and make them abandon the ordinances and teachings of Islam. Do we not have a duty to destroy these centers that are damaging to Islam?” American pastor Saeed Abedini continues to be held hostage in Iran; he was imprisoned because of his unapologetic embrace of Christianity.

While apologists for Iran like to praise the Islamic Republic’s protection of minorities—here’s The New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink and here’s Roger Cohen, also in The New York Times. To cite 20,000 Jews living in Iran is one thing; to fail to acknowledge that population has declined more than 80 percent since the revolution suggests quite another. Many Jews fled to Israel or the United States, but the Baha’is had nowhere to go. Upon seizing the reins of power, he and the revolutionary clerics following him were merciless to the Baha’is. Many were imprisoned, and some were executed. All were fired from government jobs, and their private employers were pressured to fire them. Baha’i students were forced from universities. Today, Baha’is are subject to arbitrary arrest, and even Baha’i children find themselves imprisoned.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry justify their outreach to the Islamic Republic in the belief that they can moderate the Islamic Republic and nudge it into the community of nations. But will the vision of the regime leadership really change? If the latest from Saham News, the newspaper of the reformist National Trust Party (led by former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi) is any indication, then the answer is no. This article entitled “A Secret Order from the Supreme
Council of Cultural Revolution: Progress and Advancement of the Baha’is Must Be Blocked” details the priority the regime continues to place on suppressing if not murdering Baha’is to the current day. Thirty-six years of the Islamic Republic has not moderated the revolutionary fervor of those who craft the regime’s policies. Religious persecution in Iran is on the rise.

As the United States abandons moral clarity and its traditional support for the Iranian people in favor of an unpopular regime that represses them, then the White House must recognize that it will be standing witness to the suppression of human rights and religious freedom in Iran to a degree not seen since the chaotic months following Khomeini’s 1979 return.

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Iraq Myths Lead to Bad Policy

Against the backdrop of recent Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) gains in Ramadi and Palmyra, a number of American diplomats, pundits, and military analysts have argued that U.S. interests would be better served bypassing Baghdad and supplying arms directly to Sunni tribes and/or Kurdish Peshmerga. Other pundits have even gone so far as to revive then-Senator Joseph Biden’s proposal to divide up along ethnic and sectarian lines. Both such proposals are wrong-headed, and not only detrimental to Iraqis, but they would also be disastrous for U.S. national security. Some of these proposals are based on myths, and others simply misunderstand Iraqi politics and society. Sometimes, it’s necessary simply to debunk falsehoods:

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Against the backdrop of recent Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) gains in Ramadi and Palmyra, a number of American diplomats, pundits, and military analysts have argued that U.S. interests would be better served bypassing Baghdad and supplying arms directly to Sunni tribes and/or Kurdish Peshmerga. Other pundits have even gone so far as to revive then-Senator Joseph Biden’s proposal to divide up along ethnic and sectarian lines. Both such proposals are wrong-headed, and not only detrimental to Iraqis, but they would also be disastrous for U.S. national security. Some of these proposals are based on myths, and others simply misunderstand Iraqi politics and society. Sometimes, it’s necessary simply to debunk falsehoods:

First, is Iraq an artificial country? Those who suggest dividing Iraq often suggest it was an artificial country, merely the result of British diplomats and adventurers drawing lines on map after World War I. The actual situation is more complicated. Even if its borders were haphazardly drawn, the concept of Iraq, much as the concept of Syria, Egypt, or Yemen, dates back centuries if not millennia. Nineteenth century Persian diplomatic correspondence references Iraq, but the name Iraq dates back to before the coming of Islam, and often appears in medieval Arabic literature. Regardless, even if a Western diplomat or historian wanted to label Iraq a completely artificial country, the fact of the matter is that it has existed within the same set of borders for nearly a century; 95 years of a common history within common boundaries builds identity.

Second, why not divide Iraq anyway? Recently, some pundits have revived the idea of dividing Iraq. Let’s pretend that ethnic and sectarian divisions are clear cut (they’re not) and that division wouldn’t Certainly, the Kurds want independence, but Iran—fearful of how that precedent might impact Iran’s own restive Kurds—have made clear that they will spare no means to sabotage that ambition. As for the Sunnis, how would division and independence resolve the problem of the Islamic State? Simply put, it wouldn’t: Rather, a Sunni entity would simply normalize the Islamic State. And if the fear is Iranian dominance of Iraq, then stripping away the Sunnis and the Kurds simply makes Iranian dominance over a Shi‘ite rump state easier.

Third, isn’t the Islamic State the result of political failures in Baghdad ? No. There have been failures in Baghdad, but the Islamic State neither formed in a day in reaction to former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s raid on a protest camp in Al-Anbar, nor would a broad-based government that incorporates everyone to their maximum demands resolve the problem. Sure, some Sunni political activists feel disenfranchised by the largely Shi’ite political order? Certainly, but there are many outlets for political discord. Enslaving women, burning children, defenestrating gays, and filling mass graves are the symptoms of psychopathy, not legitimate political protest. Nor do proponents of the idea that Baghdad causes the Islamic State consider that group’s presence in countries like Libya where sectarianism is not a concern. Simply put, political grievance isn’t the common denominator; rather, an extreme reading of Sunni Islam is.

Fourth, why support Iraq when its army doesn’t fight? Ashton Carter is probably the secretary of defense with the best command of defense issues in a generation, but his remark that the Iraqi Army had “no will to fight” at Ramadi was not only factually incorrect but also insulting and tone deaf. After all, the Iraqi Army (and the hashd, the popular mobilization forces) had fought in Ramadi for months before their collapse amidst an Islamic State assault involving multiple truck bombs. While the Kurdish Peshmerga had anti-tank missiles, the United States had not provided them to the Iraqi army. It had nothing in its arsenal to take out the armored trucks before they put Ramadi’s defenders in the kill zone. And as for American airpower? At the critical moment it was nowhere to be found. So much for all the assurances from the Obama administration that, post-withdrawal, the United States could (and would) provide security or gather adequate intelligence.

Fifth, Did Baghdad betray “the Surge?” No. The surge was good military strategy in the short-term, but it ensured long-term political instability. When assessing the surge, it’s crucial not to allow hagiography for some of the American commanders trump the reality of what the surge meant for Iraqi politics. The problem was that the surge was based on the notion that violence could bring both financial reward and political power. Rather than demand that Sunni politicians accept the post-2003 order, it empowered them absent any permanent acceptance on their part of the post-Saddam political order. Many of the entities the surge created were just as sectarian and contrary to the constitution as the Popular Mobilization Forces are today. As for the Sunni tribes, there’s often a conceit in America that when they work with American forces, it is because of a match of mind and heart but when they work with terrorists, radicals, and insurgents, it is something else entirely. The fact of the matter is that allegiance is transient for many tribes, and that it is poor policy to assume that any amount of political concession can permanently recruit them onto the right side. At the very least, the surge as with de-Baathificaton created a political Trojan horse and, more likely, set the stage for a bidding war for loyalty that the United States could never win.

Sixth, but wasn’t Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pro-Iranian after 2010? Sure, Nouri al-Maliki began leaning evermore toward the Iranians after the White House announced its intention to withdraw from Iraq, and he grew more sectarian as he had to fend off challenges from various Shi‘ite parties that accused him of being too moderate. But, why should that surprise? Iraqi politicians are, well, politicians. Why can Secretary of State John Kerry be for something before he was against it and not expect Iraqi politicians to be equally venal and opportunistic? The same holds true for Ahmad Chalabi, Ibrahim Jaafari, Masoud Barzani, and Jalal Talabani. It really is amazing that American politicians feel they can scapegoat foreign counterparts and just expect them to take it.

Seventh, why not give arms directly to Sunni tribes or the Kurdish Peshmerga? Given the rapidly changing loyalties of the Sunni tribes, arming them directly would be akin to arming Al Qaeda. It’s the same quixotic quest as searching for moderate Syrian opposition four years after their betrayal. Iraqi forces fleeing the Islamic State abandoned weaponry, and that’s bad. But many Sunni tribesmen and former regime elements simply joined the Islamic State. And, as for the Kurdish Peshmerga: First, the Kurds have been acquiring weaponry directly for several years and, second, Kurdish leaders continue to stockpile that weaponry for their own political benefit rather than deploy it where it’s needed. To work outside of Baghdad and arm the Sunnis and Kurds directly is the single best action to take if the goal is to undercut Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and give the pro-Iranian factions the perfect talking point to bash anyone that suggests considering let alone deferring to the American position.

Eighth, why not work with Iran to defeat terrorism in Iraq? Make no mistake: Iran is just as much of a threat to Iraqi sovereignty and regional security as is the Islamic State. If the Iranian government were really so antagonistic to the Islamic State, however, then perhaps in the years before the United States became involved in an air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria, then Tehran would have had its client, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, use his air force to bomb the Islamic State’s headquarters in Raqqa rather than use his then-uncontested control of the skies to drop barrel bombs on civilians. Even if Iranian leaders have come to recognize the threat the Islamic State poses, they are not an altruistic power. It is the Qods Force—and not ordinary Iraqi volunteers joining the fight against the Islamic State—that promulgate corrosive sectarianism. It should be the goal of the United States to ensure Iraqi sovereignty and defeat all extremism, not simply swap one flavor for another.

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Iranian Influence Expands into the Afghan Vacuum

There has long been a popular trope among advocates of outreach to Iran: Iran, they claim, has the same interest in stability in its neighboring states, as the United States does. As evidence, they cite Iran’s historic hostility to the Taliban and the constructive role that Iran played in 2001 in creating a post-Taliban government in Kabul led by Hamid Karzai. Iran is a Shiite power, after all, and it couldn’t possibly be interested in backing a Sunni fundamentalist organization like the Taliban. Or so the argument goes. That talking point, however, has long been overtaken by events. Read More

There has long been a popular trope among advocates of outreach to Iran: Iran, they claim, has the same interest in stability in its neighboring states, as the United States does. As evidence, they cite Iran’s historic hostility to the Taliban and the constructive role that Iran played in 2001 in creating a post-Taliban government in Kabul led by Hamid Karzai. Iran is a Shiite power, after all, and it couldn’t possibly be interested in backing a Sunni fundamentalist organization like the Taliban. Or so the argument goes. That talking point, however, has long been overtaken by events.

Iran has been actively supporting the Taliban since at least 2007, notwithstanding their sectarian differences, and, according to this new article in the Wall Street Journal, that support has been growing of late. “Afghan and Western officials say Tehran has quietly increased its supply of weapons, ammunition and funding to the Taliban, and is now recruiting and training their fighters, posing a new threat to Afghanistan’s fragile security,” writes reporter Margherita Stancati from Kabul.

The article presents evidence, which the White House apparently has chosen to keep secret, that Iranian intelligence operatives are actively recruiting Afghan refugees in Iran and sending them back to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban. One of those fighters is quoted as saying that “smugglers hired by Iran ferry supplies across the lawless borderlands where Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan meet and deliver them to Taliban units in Afghan territory. He said his fighters receive weapons that include 82mm mortars, light machine guns, AK-47 rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and materials for making roadside bombs.” The Iranian city of Mashhad has become such a hub for the Taliban that officials now speak of “Mashhad Shura” to rival the organization’s headquarters in Quetta, Pakistan.

Why would the Taliban do this? Stancati quotes a “Western diplomat”: “Iran is betting on the re-emergence of the Taliban. They are uncertain about where Afghanistan is heading right now, so they are hedging their bets.” And why would the Iranians — and others — be uncertain about where Afghanistan is heading? Because President Obama, who has already drawn down the U.S. military presence from 100,000 personnel to just 10,000, is pledging to remove almost all of the troops before 2017.

Already the drawdown has made it easier for the Iranians, and presumably the Pakistanis as well, to smuggle weapons and fighters across the porous border. “In the past, the U.S. had significant surveillance capabilities,” Sayed Wahid Qattali, an influential politician from the western city of Herat, told the Journal. “But now that the Americans have left, Iran is a lot freer.” The Iranians’ freedom of movement in Afghanistan is sure to increase as the US drawdown continues—and so will their incentive to back the Taliban on the assumption that the democratically elected pro-Western government of Ashraf Ghani might not last.

This is an example of how two of the most dangerous trends in American foreign policy today are intersecting — President Obama’s outreach to Iran and his desire to remove US troops from the greater Middle East. Already this has been a recipe for disaster in Iraq, and now it’s obvious that a similar fiasco is brewing in Afghanistan.

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Obama Bending Over Backwards to Preserve Iran Nuclear Deal

On April 2, the State Department released a “fact sheet” on the emerging nuclear agreement with Iran that included this pledge: “U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.”

Today the Associated Press is reporting: “The Obama administration may have to backtrack on its promise that it will suspend only nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran as part of an emerging nuclear agreement.” The “may have to” could be puzzling to outsiders: Why does the administration have to do anything? The answer, of course, is because the president wants a deal concluded with Iran by June 30, no matter the details. Read More

On April 2, the State Department released a “fact sheet” on the emerging nuclear agreement with Iran that included this pledge: “U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.”

Today the Associated Press is reporting: “The Obama administration may have to backtrack on its promise that it will suspend only nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran as part of an emerging nuclear agreement.” The “may have to” could be puzzling to outsiders: Why does the administration have to do anything? The answer, of course, is because the president wants a deal concluded with Iran by June 30, no matter the details.

This requires some extremely creative reinterpretation of the April 2 fact sheet by State Department spinners who are now claiming that, on second thought, pretty much ALL sanctions are nuclear-related: “For example, they say measures designed to stop Iran from acquiring ballistic missiles are nuclear-related because they were imposed to push Iran into the negotiations. Also, they say sanctions that may appear non-nuclear are often undergirded by previous actions conceived as efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program.” Clearly the current leaders of the State Department are graduates of the Bill Clinton School of Linguistics: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

That the Obama administration is willing, nay eager, to concede points that were considered non-negotiable a mere two months ago should hardly be surprising. The entire history of the administration’s talks with Iran is the story of one American concession after another. As the Wall Street Journal noted, “Top Obama administration officials entered negotiations with Iran in September 2013 hoping to dismantle most of the country’s nuclear infrastructure,” but the Iranians wouldn’t agree to that. So “the goal of the talks shifted—away from dismantling structures and toward a more complex set of limitations designed to extend the time Iran would need to ‘break-out’ and make a dash toward a nuclear weapon.”

Even now, after all of the concessions the administration has made, some points of difference remain, at least in public; for example, on how quickly sanctions will be phased out and how much freedom Iran will need to grant to international inspectors. The Iranians are demanding an immediate lifting of sanctions while the Obama administration claims that it will be conditional based on compliance. The Iranians are also insisting on the right to deny inspectors access to their military sites while the Obama administration claims that the agreement will be enforced by the most intrusive inspections ever. Is there any doubt about how these disputes will be resolved? There is little doubt that, after the reported latest cave-in on non-nuclear sanctions, the administration will cave on those points, too, while obfuscating to deny that it has done so.

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On NIAC’s (and Christiane Amanpour’s) Selective Outrage

On May 22, Sen. Lindsay Graham apparently spoke disparagingly about Iranians and truthfulness. While Graham was criticizing the Iranian negotiating record—and the Islamic Republic’s decided lack of truthfulness—he phrased himself poorly and appeared to castigate all Iranians. Culture matters, but racism is wrong. If Graham meant to suggest that all Iranians are liars, then he should be condemned. What is ironic, however, is that the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a lobby group which tends to promote the foreign policy platform of the Islamic Republic and vehemently oppose sanctions on the Iranian regime, has demanded an apology:

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On May 22, Sen. Lindsay Graham apparently spoke disparagingly about Iranians and truthfulness. While Graham was criticizing the Iranian negotiating record—and the Islamic Republic’s decided lack of truthfulness—he phrased himself poorly and appeared to castigate all Iranians. Culture matters, but racism is wrong. If Graham meant to suggest that all Iranians are liars, then he should be condemned. What is ironic, however, is that the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a lobby group which tends to promote the foreign policy platform of the Islamic Republic and vehemently oppose sanctions on the Iranian regime, has demanded an apology:

“The Senator’s repulsive remarks are racist, period,” NIAC President Trita Parsi said. “This type of discourse should have no place in American politics.”

This is ironic, as Parsi and NIAC often engage in far worse discourse including crudely anti-Semitic generalizations and insinuations of Jewish dual loyalty. Back in January, for example, they suggested that Congress was following Israel’s orders rather than acting as the representatives of the United States. Indeed, they targeted Graham in their solicitation by taking out-of-context a statement alleging that he told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that “We will follow your lead.” That was a slander which NIAC adopted after notorious racist David Duke and the Ron Paul Institute picked it up, stripped away context, and suggested dual loyalty.

Here is the actual Lindsay Graham quote with its full context:

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

Then again, such willingness to push conspiracy and quote selectively should not surprise.

That CNN anchorwoman Christiane Amanpour tweeted the NIAC press release, however, does raise eyebrows, first because most CNN anchors would probably want to avoid endorsing partisan lobbies on issues they cover, and second because of the juxtaposition with her silence regarding NIAC’s repeated promulgation of the dual loyalty calumny. Then again, perhaps Amanpour’s hypocrisy should not surprise after all.

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Iran’s Third Path to a Bomb

The emerging agreement with Iran that President Obama sees as his legacy will give Iran three paths to a bomb: it can break out, wait out, or sneak out of the agreement. Iran will pocket its huge signing bonus; take reversible steps toward “compliance”; then either break out (perhaps after a dispute about implementation, or while the U.S. is involved in some other crisis), or wait out (after which, President Obama concedes, Iran will face no further barrier to a bomb), or sneak out (using secret sites and undetectable methods). In an important new paper entitled “Deterring an Iranian Nuclear Breakout,” Michael Eisenstadt, director of the Military and Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writes that “the most likely scenario” is “an Iranian breakout using undeclared facilities” (emphasis in original). Congress should read the paper carefully before it signs onto ObamaPeace in our time.

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The emerging agreement with Iran that President Obama sees as his legacy will give Iran three paths to a bomb: it can break out, wait out, or sneak out of the agreement. Iran will pocket its huge signing bonus; take reversible steps toward “compliance”; then either break out (perhaps after a dispute about implementation, or while the U.S. is involved in some other crisis), or wait out (after which, President Obama concedes, Iran will face no further barrier to a bomb), or sneak out (using secret sites and undetectable methods). In an important new paper entitled “Deterring an Iranian Nuclear Breakout,” Michael Eisenstadt, director of the Military and Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writes that “the most likely scenario” is “an Iranian breakout using undeclared facilities” (emphasis in original). Congress should read the paper carefully before it signs onto ObamaPeace in our time.

Eisenstadt cites the November 2014 testimony of former CIA and NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, in which he said that “[a]bsent an invasive inspection regime, with freedom to visit all sites on short notice, American intelligence cannot provide adequate warning of Iranian nuclear developments.” Eisenstadt notes that Iran’s fact sheet on the “framework” says its implementation of the IAEA Additional Protocol will be “voluntary” and “temporary,” and he describes the U.S. “fact sheet” as “too good to be true”:

Iran has already stated that enriched uranium will not be sent out of the country, that IAEA inspectors will not have access to military facilities, and that all sanctions should be lifted immediately upon conclusion of the agreement. The stockpiling of enriched uranium – even in dilute form – would vitiate much of the purpose the accord. Denial of access to military facilities could create no-go zones in which Iran could engage in undeclared activities and build clandestine facilities. And the immediate lifting of sanctions would instantly reduce the international community’s leverage over Iran …

And not only that: an “even greater monitoring challenge” will be presented by the transfer of nuclear fissile material or a weapon from North Korea, which will “likely remain a critical weakness of any monitoring effort in Iran.”

Knowing what we know now, the total American withdrawal from Iraq, the abysmal failure to enforce the presidentially-declared “red line” in Syria, the absence of any response against any group for the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, the failure to stand by allies such as Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia, all sent a signal to Iran that is about to culminate in a negotiated disaster, precisely the separate peace that Benjamin Netanyahu warned against in his speech to Congress. All that stands against it is a Congressional vote that requires a two-thirds bipartisan majority to succeed. But members of Congress who read the Eisenstadt report are unlikely to vote for ObamaPeace — unless they want to join a legacy of shame.

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America Looked the Other Way While Iran Started a War in Yemen

When critics of President Barack Obama’s administration allege that his White House is directly responsible for the spiraling instability overtaking the Middle East, they do not merely cite the president’s policy of malignant neglect as the likely cause of this condition. Many would contend that the administration has been actively restructuring America’s regional framework of alliances in order to meet present challenges and pursue domestic policy goals like the extrication of Washington from Middle Eastern security affairs. Perhaps the most glaring example of the undue deference Washington yielded to irresponsible actors like Iran is how the United States turned a blind eye toward Tehran while it sparked a bloody regional proxy war in Yemen.

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When critics of President Barack Obama’s administration allege that his White House is directly responsible for the spiraling instability overtaking the Middle East, they do not merely cite the president’s policy of malignant neglect as the likely cause of this condition. Many would contend that the administration has been actively restructuring America’s regional framework of alliances in order to meet present challenges and pursue domestic policy goals like the extrication of Washington from Middle Eastern security affairs. Perhaps the most glaring example of the undue deference Washington yielded to irresponsible actors like Iran is how the United States turned a blind eye toward Tehran while it sparked a bloody regional proxy war in Yemen.

The Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen were suspected of having military and diplomatic links to Iran long before they captured the capital of Sana’a last year, but that alliance did not give Washington pause before it offered to help the “virulently anti-American” Houthi forces come to power. On January 29, the Wall Street Journal revealed that administration officials had approached Houthi commanders and offered to speed the group’s transition to power in Yemen following the ouster of pro-Western President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The strategic implications of this tectonic shift in Washington’s approach to regional security matters were immediately apparent. “The shift also could place it on the same side as Iran in the Yemen conflict,” the Journal reported. “U.S. officials said they also are seeking to harness the Houthis’ concurrent war on AQAP to weaken the terrorist organization’s grip on havens in Yemen’s west and south.”

For the Middle East’s Sunni powers, Washington’s overture to the Houthis reflected Obama’s belief that non-state Sunni militia groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State rather than state actors like Iran posed the gravest threat to U.S. interests in the region. In Riyadh, Manama, Cairo, and Abu Dhabi, it was obvious that Iran was behind the effort to upend the status quo in Yemen. What’s more, they knew that Washington had deliberately turned a blind eye to Iran’s efforts to destabilize their backyards.

The Financial Times reported last week that, right around the time that Washington was making overtures to the Tehran-backed Shiite militia in command of the Yemeni capital and preparing to expand its influence South toward Aden and the Red Sea’s key Bab-el-Mandeb strait, Iran was covertly supporting the militia with massive aid shipments.

“Maritime data obtained by the Financial Times show that at least four large cargo ships, with a combined capacity of more than 15,000 tonnes, made a series of highly unusual and undeclared trips between Iran and Yemeni ports controlled by the Houthis in the first few months of this year,” read the FT dispatch.

All four undertook voyages to transport cargo from the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran to Yemen’s Houthi-controlled port of Hodeida — a route none had plied before — after the Houthi capture of Sana’a in January. The ships changed their ensigns, turned off their tracking devices at key points during their voyages, registered false information in international shipping logs and met unidentified craft mid-ocean.

Details of their activity were provided to the FT by Windward, a maritime intelligence service set up by two former Israeli naval officers. The data comprise information from dozens of non-public and proprietary shipping registers as well as public information and satellite and radio tracking logs that [the maritime intelligence service] Windward has compiled. Where possible the information has been independently corroborated by the FT.

“If you look at any one piece of these ships’ activities by itself it might seem legitimate, but if you look at all of it together, there’s no way it can be,” said Ami Daniel, Windward’s chief executive. “This behavior is neither logical or economical – it indicates that there is a sovereign, not a commercial interest at stake.”

Indeed, there is no alternative explanation for these ships’ behavior. This revelation comes just one month after a standoff between U.S. and Iranian naval forces after a convoy of Iranian warships believed to be overtly delivering weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen was intercepted by American naval forces. That convoy was forced to return home, but this event has been followed by weeks of maritime tensions characterized by the harassment and commandeering of internationally flagged cargo vessels by Iranian naval forces when those ships stray too near the Islamic Republic’s territorial waters while traversing the Strait of Hormuz.

Hanlon’s Razor dictates that the White House believed that its obstinate refusal to address Iranian provocations was the only way to keep Iran at the negotiating table and mitigate the serious threat to international security posed by an Iranian nuclear weapon. But this approach also sent the unmistakable message to the Sunni Gulf Arab states that the United States would no longer defer to their concerns. These nations heard that message loud and clear. Washington’s inaction resulted in airstrikes on Libyan positions conducted by Egyptian and UAE air forces and a creation 10-member Arab military coalition that continues to execute sustained combat operations in Yemen.

The United Nations estimates that at least 1,037 civilians have been killed in Yemen since the end of March, including 130 women and 234 children. Another 2,453 civilians have been injured in the fighting. All this sacrifice has been made in service to the administration’s goal of extricating the United States from Middle Eastern affairs and rehabilitating Iran. If the Iraq War was a careless pursuit, at least George W. Bush could gauge and control America’s involvement in that conflict. The forces Barack Obama has unleashed in the Middle East are, by design, beyond his ability to restrain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How callous.

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

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

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

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

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Don’t Give In To Iranian Threats on Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama Ignores Massive Labor Strike in Iran

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

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

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

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

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

A few thoughts:

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

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

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Why Does the Press Rally Around Rezaian?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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