Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran

America’s New Role: As Iran’s Air Force

Perhaps it’s time to rename the USAF (U.S. Air Force) as the IAF (Iranian Air Force).

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Perhaps it’s time to rename the USAF (U.S. Air Force) as the IAF (Iranian Air Force).

That, at least, is the only conclusion I can draw from news reports that the U.S. is now conducting bombing as well as surveillance flights in support of the Iranian-directed forces that are besieging Tikrit. The operation, launched almost entirely by Shiite militias under the supervision of Gen. Qassem Suleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, began on March 2. The Iraqis were quite proud of the assistance they received from Iran, which included Iranian tanks and rockets arriving in Iraq.

The attacking forces soon advanced into town and all but declared victory. Prematurely, as it turns out. Nearly a month later, hundreds of ISIS fighters are still dug in behind thick belts of IEDs and they are reportedly taking a terrible toll on the attackers.

All of this is hardly a surprise, given the difficulties experience by far more capable U.S. forces in two offensives in Fallujah in 2004. Urban combat is hard against fanatical, dug-in defenders. It’s especially hard when sectarian Shiite forces are attacking a Sunni town. The town’s residents are hardly going to welcome Shiite ethnic-cleansing squads with open arms—not when they know what the Shiite militias have done in other Sunni towns they have taken. Human Rights Watch, for example, recently released a report on the aftermath of the conquest of the town of Amerli last September, when “militias looted property of Sunni civilians who had fled fighting, burned their homes and businesses, and destroyed at least two entire villages.”

The U.S. had stood aloof from the Tikrit offensive until recently—not denouncing the attack but not actively assisting it either. But now that the offensive has stalled, the Iraqis have screamed for American assistance and the Obama administration has delivered.

I can sympathize with the impulse to battle the evil that is ISIS. But we gain nothing if we replace the murderous theocratic control of ISIS with the murderous theocratic control of Iran. That’s a basic truth that this administration is willfully blind to.

All the way back in January 2014, Michael Doran and I warned that Obama was acting as if Iran were our ally rather than our enemy. Recent developments in Tikrit, alas, simply confirm the validity of that analysis. While Obama appears intent on treating Benjamin Netanyahu as our enemy, he gives every indication of treating Ayatollah Khamenei as our friend—even going as so far as to ignore or explain away the supreme leader’s ritual chants of “Death to America.” And now—in a day that I thought would never come—the U.S. is sending our pilots in our aircraft to drop our bombs in support of Shiite militias who not long ago were killing our own troops in Iraq.

The White House may think that this will demonstrate to the Iraqis that they need U.S. help and that the Iranians can’t deliver; but Iranian proxies such as the Badr Organization and Asaib ahl al-Haq are hardly going to turn on their patrons no matter how much support the U.S. provides. They will simply think the Americans are useful idiots, and they will be right.

Perhaps this is meant as a sweetener to get the Iranians to sign on the dotted line in Geneva, where nuclear talks face a March 31 deadline? A signal of how much we will do to assist the Iranian power-grab in the region in return for some modest controls on the Iranian nuclear program? As if any of that would actually lead the Iranians to give up their long-cherished dreams of becoming a nuclear power.

Whatever the thinking behind this move, this is a tragically misguided, indeed perverse policy that will enhance both the power of Iran and of the Sunni jihadists in ISIS who will be seen, more and more, as the only defenders left of Sunnis against Shiite aggression.

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Obama’s Speech Revealed Ignorance of Iran

I’ve been traveling and away from email and, indeed, the internet for much of the past two weeks and so just now read President Barack Obama’s March 19 Nowruz speech to the Iranian people. It is a depressing read, not because Obama delivered it; indeed, reaching out to the Iranian people is a good thing. But rather because it reflects a huge ignorance of Iran in the White House and, presumably, at the State Department and National Security Council, both of which likely had inputs into the draft.

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I’ve been traveling and away from email and, indeed, the internet for much of the past two weeks and so just now read President Barack Obama’s March 19 Nowruz speech to the Iranian people. It is a depressing read, not because Obama delivered it; indeed, reaching out to the Iranian people is a good thing. But rather because it reflects a huge ignorance of Iran in the White House and, presumably, at the State Department and National Security Council, both of which likely had inputs into the draft.

First, the fact that Iran is not a democracy should be Iranian Studies 101. Yes, there are elections for the president in Iran, but they are so tightly controlled that usually less than one percent of the candidates who register are allowed to run; the other 99 percent are disqualified for being too liberal or insufficiently committed to the Islamic Revolution. In effect, to call Iran a democracy would be akin to calling the Soviet Union a democracy if it held elections in which only central committee members of the Politburo could run.

The 2013 election in which Hassan Rouhani was elected are no exception. Nor is it clear that such elections are free and fair. Iran doesn’t allow independent monitoring and those organizations that accept Iranian government-provided statistics at face value—alas, the White House and major newspapers like The New York Times and Washington Post among them—are doing themselves and the Iranian people a disservice. Iranian elections are less about expressions of popular will than they are about recalibrating the system to bring those too powerful down to size and replace them with the weaker. It is by being the master marionette that the supreme leader prevents any one power center or faction from consolidating so much power that they pose a challenge to him. It was no coincidence that former military man Mahmoud Ahmadinejad replaced reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami and proceeded then to push out many of the reformist clerics who staffed government under him and replace them with veterans of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The rise of Rouhani was as deliberate: he is a regime operator, not a reformer. That is why he replaced IRGC veterans in the cabinet with intelligence ministry veterans. In effect, he presides over a KGB cabinet.

And, yet, Obama continues to believe that, under the dictatorship that is the Islamic Republic, somehow the attitude of the Iranian people matters to their rulers. Hence, he frames his speech as a direct appeal “to the people and leaders of Iran,” as if the Iranian people have a choice. If he did believe they had a choice, perhaps he would have spoken up on their behalf in 2009 when they came to the streets to protest against the dictatorship.

Obama then declares, “Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has said that Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon.” This is simply ignorant. It’s time for Obama to publish the fatwa if any such fatwa exists. The simple fact, however, is that while various Iranian propagandists and officials have referred to such a fatwa it is suspiciously absent from the Supreme Leader’s collections of fatwas. And when Iranian officials pretend to quote it, the comparison of their quotes suggest they are making it up as they go along. What about the idea that Rouhani has sworn that Iran would never build a nuclear weapon? There are many instances (some of which are listed here) in which Iranian officials have talked about producing nuclear weapons. And then, of course, there was former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s threat not only to produce but also to use nuclear weapons in a first strike back in 2001. This is significant, of course, because Hassan Rouhani was at the time the chairman of the Supreme National Security Council and chose not to correct his colleague. Perhaps he should read Rouhani’s February 9, 2005 speech in which he outlined a doctrine of surprise in which he suggested the Islamic Republic would always be victorious so long as it lulled the United States into complacency before delivering a knockout blow.

As for the idea of a fork in the road for Iran, Obama needs to start measuring time as B.O. and A.O, Before Obama and After Obama, for history did not begin the moment he entered the Oval Office. When he declares:

Iran’s leaders have a choice between two paths.  If they cannot agree to a reasonable deal, they will keep Iran on the path it’s on today—a path that has isolated Iran, and the Iranian people, from so much of the world, caused so much hardship for Iranian families, and deprived so many young Iranians of the jobs and opportunities they deserve. On the other hand, if Iran’s leaders can agree to a reasonable deal, it can lead to a better path—the path of greater opportunities for the Iranian people.

He forgets that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a very similar speech nine years ago, in which she declared:

Today, the Iranian regime can decide on one of two paths, one of two fundamentally different futures for its people and for its relationship with the international community. The Iranian government’s choices are clear. The negative choice is for the regime to maintain its current course, pursuing nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community and its international obligations. If the regime does so, it will incur only great costs.

We and our European partners agree that path will lead to international isolation and progressively stronger political and economic sanctions. The positive and constructive choice is for the Iranian regime to alter its present course and cooperate in resolving the nuclear issue, beginning by immediately resuming suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, as well as full cooperation with the IAEA and returning to implementation of the Additional Protocol providing greater access for the IAEA. This path would lead to the real benefit and longer-term security of the Iranian people, the region and the world as a whole.

In hindsight it was clear that Rice’s words were empty. Iran suffered no real consequence for its nuclear defiance; quite the contrary, it has collected great rewards. Obama has even less gravitas when talking about coercion than Rice. The president has never met a red line he has not rationalized and voided. There is simply no reason that a regime paid almost $12 billion for defying its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Safeguards Agreement would believe that Obama’s threats of coercion are serious.

Obama was not the first president to send Nowruz greetings to the Iranian people, but he was the first, back in 2009, to acknowledge the Islamic Republic as their legitimate representative. The president might believe he is extending an olive branch to the Iranian people, but he is patronizing them, using the most important holiday in Iranian culture to validate their oppression and broadcast his ignorance of their plight. It is both embarrassing and a sign of just how under Obama, the United States has shifted from being a beacon of freedom for the oppressed to an apologist for their oppression.

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Heed Petraeus’s Critique of Obama

For various reasons, David Petraeus has been relatively quiet in public since leaving his CIA post. But now he is starting to speak out more—and boy does he have trenchant comments to make. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said, among other things:

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For various reasons, David Petraeus has been relatively quiet in public since leaving his CIA post. But now he is starting to speak out more—and boy does he have trenchant comments to make. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said, among other things:

“The foremost threat to Iraq’s long-term stability and the broader regional equilibrium is not the Islamic State; rather, it is Shiite militias, many backed by — and some guided by — Iran.”

“The current Iranian regime is not our ally in the Middle East. It is ultimately part of the problem, not the solution. The more the Iranians are seen to be dominating the region, the more it is going to inflame Sunni radicalism and fuel the rise of groups like the Islamic State.”

“As for the U.S. role, could all of this have been averted if we had kept 10,000 troops here? I honestly don’t know. I certainly wish we could have tested the proposition and kept a substantial force on the ground. For that matter, should we have pushed harder for an alternative to PM Maliki during government formation in 2010? “

“Whether fair or not, those in the region will also offer that our withdrawal from Iraq in late 2011 contributed to a perception that the U.S. was pulling back from the Middle East. This perception has complicated our ability to shape developments in the region and thus to further our interests. These perceptions have also shaken many of our allies and, for a period at least, made it harder to persuade them to support our approaches. “

“Any acceptable outcome (in Syria) requires the build-up of capable, anti-Daesh opposition forces whom we support on the battlefield. Although it is encouraging to see the administration’s support for this initiative, I think there are legitimate questions that can be raised about the sufficiency of the present scale, scope, speed, and resourcing of this effort.”

The word “Obama” is never once mentioned by the ever-diplomatic General Petraeus, but reading between the lines this is a devastating criticism of the president’s policy from the man who was once his CIA director, Central Command commander, and Afghanistan commander.

When Petraeus feels compelled to point out that Iran “is not our ally,” he is speaking directly to a White House that imagines otherwise. When he says that the U.S. pullout from Iraq in 2011 “complicated our ability to shape developments in the region,” he is indirectly criticizing Obama, in part, for failing to win a Status of Forces Agreement. And when he criticizes the “scale, scope, speed, and resourcing” of US efforts to support the moderate Syrian opposition, he is indicting the president for not backing the Free Syrian Army, as CIA Director Petraeus and much of the Obama security cabinet had proposed to do in 2012.

Obama wasn’t listening to Petraeus then. Let’s hope he—and the whole world–is listening now. Petraeus’s comments are entirely on the mark.

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Obama Evolves on the Concept of Credibility

As Congress has attempted to assert its role in the ongoing Iran negotiations, one of the interesting objections from the Obama White House has been on the grounds that it will erode Obama’s credibility. It’s interesting because defenders of the White House’s various zigs and zags on foreign policy have argued against elevating intangibles like credibility where foreign affairs are concerned. To be clear, Obama’s defenders have not been entirely wrong; as I’ve argued before, there are always risks in trying to pin down evasive concepts like credibility. But it does mean that the White House’s new foreign-policy mantra, Don’t undermine me bro, rings a bit hollow.

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As Congress has attempted to assert its role in the ongoing Iran negotiations, one of the interesting objections from the Obama White House has been on the grounds that it will erode Obama’s credibility. It’s interesting because defenders of the White House’s various zigs and zags on foreign policy have argued against elevating intangibles like credibility where foreign affairs are concerned. To be clear, Obama’s defenders have not been entirely wrong; as I’ve argued before, there are always risks in trying to pin down evasive concepts like credibility. But it does mean that the White House’s new foreign-policy mantra, Don’t undermine me bro, rings a bit hollow.

The president’s most famous brush with the issue of credibility is, of course, Syria. In August 2012, Obama very clearly and very plainly said, regarding Syria: “We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.”

Any attempt to deny he set such a red line would be absurd, which is why he did exactly that. “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line,” Obama said once the red line was crossed. If a credibility gap were to open up, that would seem to be the time. In addition, Obama had gone from asserting that Bashar al-Assad would have to end his rule in Syria to making Assad a partner in the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons, which would turn out to be a failure as well once Syria continued using chemical weapons.

But no, said the president: “My credibility is not on the line. The international community’s credibility is on the line. And America’s and Congress’s credibility is on the line.” His credibility is not at risk, and if it were, so is yours. So there. The food’s no good and the portions are too small.

Next was Ukraine. The president’s dithering on Ukraine sent a dangerous message to Russia, didn’t it? And in fact, it sent a message about the president’s credibility more broadly, since the administration was trying to reassure countries in the Middle East about protecting them from an Iranian nuke and yet here was Ukraine, a country we (in the Budapest Memorandum) got to give up its own nukes on the promises its sovereignty would be respected. It turned out everybody lied–that’s got to deplete our credibility, right?

The Economist said yes, Peter Beinart said no, and Tom Rogan sided with The Economist:

For a start, take Dexter Filkins’s study of Qassem Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force and an archetypal hardliner of the regime. In his meticulous analysis, Filkins shows how the sharp edge of Iranian strategy is shaped significantly by perceptions of American global resolve. Where America is seen to be resolute and determined, Iran is deterred. Where America is seen to be timid and uncertain, Iran is emboldened.

And perceptions of U.S. credibility among players who are not part of a foreign regime are also important. Take America’s adversaries in the Middle Eastern media. Opinion makers there now present Obama as the master of a rudderless agenda. These populist narratives are important — they mobilize political agendas in ways that are either favorable or problematic for the United States.

Point to Rogan, I would think. Do our past actions really not indicate a future course, especially under the same president? That might be why the administration has evolved, as the president might say, on the issue of credibility.

When Tom Cotton and 46 other senators wrote their open letter to the Iranian government asserting congressional authority over arms treaties, the White House responded with a statement from Vice President Biden: “This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments — a message that is as false as it is dangerous.” Credibility was back in vogue.

And it continued to be. Republican Senator Bob Corker, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, told the White House Congress was considering new legislation that would give Congress a say on the agreement the president is negotiating with Iran. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough wrote back to Corker that the president would prefer to sign the deal first, present a fait accompli to the Congress, and grant Congress permission to rubber-stamp the deal. For credibility’s sake:

We believe that the legislation would likely have a profoundly negative impact on the ongoing negotiations–emboldening Iranian hard-liners, inviting a counter-productive response from the Iranian majiles; differentiating the U.S. position from our allies in the negotiations; and once again call into question our ability to negotiate this deal.

Put simply, the Obama administration wants it both ways on credibility. And for their own legacy, they should probably hope they’re wrong this time. After all, if credibility truly matters, the Obama administration’s legacy is going to consist of a Europe at war for the near future, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and general instability as states react to the president’s continuing incoherence on foreign affairs.

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Kerry’s Accidental Admission on Assad

All the way back in August 2011 President Obama said, “The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”

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All the way back in August 2011 President Obama said, “The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”

That was then, this is now. Having done virtually nothing to compel Assad to step down, the Obama administration appears to have accommodated itself to his indefinite continuation in office, even as he continues to drop barrel bombs on civilians, pushing the death toll of the civil war well north of 200,000. Naturally the administration won’t admit what it’s doing, which appears to be part of a wider outreach to Iran, Assad’s No. 1 sponsor. But occasionally an administration official “misspeaks” and reveals a bit of the truth.

Thus on Face the Nation on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said, in the words of a news article, “that he still believed it was important to achieve a diplomatic solution for the conflict in Syria and that the negotiations should involve President Bashar al-Assad.” True, Kerry said that he would talk to Assad only if he committed to the goal of the Geneva process that Kerry set up with Russia, designed to eventually ease Assad out of power through some kind of constitutional process. But his words will be read in the Middle East as a sign that the administration is reaching out to Assad and seeking to accommodate him–a perception that was already strong when in September 2013 the administration, rather than bomb Assad for his crossing of a “red line,” instead reached an accord with him to remove his chemical weapons from the country.

Naturally State Department officials rushed in to deny that Kerry said what he plainly said. As the New York Times noted: “State Department officials later said that the United States was not open to direct talks with Mr. Assad, despite what Mr. Kerry appeared to suggest in his television appearance.”

For my part, I’m skeptical of the denials. This sounds to me like Michael Kinsley’s classic definition of a Washington gaffe, which occurs when a politician speaks the truth.

In this case the truth appears to be that the administration has decided that Assad is the lesser evil, next to ISIS, and that it is willing to throw him a life preserver to get in good with the mullahs in Iran. Too bad the administration isn’t willing to come clean about what it’s up to in pursuing this amoral (and, I would argue, futile) policy that is likely to strengthen the hand of both ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, which will posture as the defenders of Syria’s Sunni majority against the Alawites and Shiites, Hezbollah and the Quds Force.

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The Cotton Letter and Obama’s Iran Deal

Having spent last week in Japan, I missed the brouhaha over the open letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, organized by Sen. Tom Cotton and signed by 46 Senate colleagues, declaring: “We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

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Having spent last week in Japan, I missed the brouhaha over the open letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, organized by Sen. Tom Cotton and signed by 46 Senate colleagues, declaring: “We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Herewith a few thoughts on the controversy.

Thought No. 1: Tom Cotton is a rising star in Republican foreign policy. A 37-year-old, Harvard-educated combat-veteran, he has deep knowledge and interest in foreign policy and considerable credibility in speaking out. All of the controversy over the letter will do nothing to dim his allure—being criticized by one’s political foes is welcome for most GOP leaders; being criticized by America’s enemies in Iran is a bonus. It is welcome to see Cotton joining Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk as leaders of the younger generation of foreign-policy hawks in the Senate, joining the likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Thought No. 2: The criticisms of Cotton et al. as #47Traitors and the like are beyond parody. Wasn’t it only 2004 when John Kerry was running for president claiming that differences of opinion should not lead anyone to “question his patriotism”? The rule against questioning a political adversary’s patriotism remains a good one, and should apply equally to Republicans and Democrats. It is particularly ludicrous to question the patriotism of someone like Cotton, who, as noted above, volunteered for combat as an army officer.

Thought No. 3: The Cotton letter was immediately pounced upon by the White House and leading Democrats because it offered a welcome distraction from debating the merits of a nuclear accord that would reputedly allow Iran to keep thousands of centrifuges and that would expire within a decade. In that respect, the letter was similar to the controversy over Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. In both cases, by ramping up the criticism, the White House sought to make this a partisan issue, thereby, it hopes, forcing Democrats in Congress to rally to its cause. If that strategy works (and it’s too soon to tell), the letter may have backfired because Democratic votes will be needed to block an agreement with Iran if it is a bad one—although, admittedly, even before the Cotton letter and the Netanyahu speech, it is doubtful whether there were enough Democratic votes to override a presidential veto.

Thought No. 4: The letter also allows Obama to try to spread some of the blame to Republicans if he is not successful in concluding an agreement. In reality, however, it is doubtful that this letter tells the Iranian leaders—many of them educated in the United States—anything they don’t already know. If an agreement is not concluded, it will not be because of Iranian fears that a future president may renege on Obama’s commitments; it will be because the Supreme Leader is afraid that concluding an agreement with the Great Satan will undermine the Iranian Revolution’s ideological legitimacy and set back the regime’s goal of achieving economic self-sufficiency.

Thought No. 5: Although the Cotton letter is technically accurate, it is also somewhat misleading. Executive agreements, of the kind that Obama hopes to reach with Iran, are hardly rare. A comprehensive study from the Congressional Research Service finds “that over 18,500 executive agreements have been concluded by the United States since 1789 (more than 17,300 of which were concluded since 1939), compared to roughly 1,100 treaties that have been ratified by the United States.” Agreements ranging from the 1945 Yalta accords to the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq have been concluded unilaterally by presidents, and just because they lack Senate ratification doesn’t mean that they lack the force of law. A president of the United States has the right to commit the United States to various international obligations without congressional say-so. Likewise a successor has the right to extract the U.S. from those obligations without congressional say-so—the point made by the Cotton letter—but in practice it is not so easy for one president to renege on a previous president’s commitments. In this case, it would take an exceptionally strong and bold chief executive to rip up an accord with Iran unless there is clear-cut evidence of cheating by the mullahs—which is unlikely. (Iran will probably cheat in ways that are hard to detect.)

So for better or worse, an agreement, if one is concluded by Obama, is likely to be long-lasting. And even if a future president were to decide to exit from the nuclear accord, by the time he or she takes office Iran would have reaped untold billions in sanctions relief between now and 2017—money that will fuel the Iranian economy along with its nuclear program and its support for terrorism abroad. That makes it all the more imperative that any agreement that is concluded be a good one from the standpoint of American interests, rather than counting on a future president to rescue us from the consequences of a bad accord.

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History Rhyming

President Obama has made it more than plain that he wants no interference from Congress regarding the agreement he is pursuing with Iran. When 47 senators sent the leadership in Iran a letter stating that no agreement between the United States and another country is binding without a two-thirds vote of the Senate, the reaction of the White House and its minions in the media was a very angry one. Yesterday the White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, sent Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a letter telling him in no uncertain terms to butt out. It said, in essence, that once the administration has reached agreement with Iran and the UN Security Council has signed off on it, there will be plenty of time for Congress to acquiesce in a fait accompli.

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President Obama has made it more than plain that he wants no interference from Congress regarding the agreement he is pursuing with Iran. When 47 senators sent the leadership in Iran a letter stating that no agreement between the United States and another country is binding without a two-thirds vote of the Senate, the reaction of the White House and its minions in the media was a very angry one. Yesterday the White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, sent Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a letter telling him in no uncertain terms to butt out. It said, in essence, that once the administration has reached agreement with Iran and the UN Security Council has signed off on it, there will be plenty of time for Congress to acquiesce in a fait accompli.

Presidents quite rightly defend their power to set foreign policy. But wise ones know that Congress has a legitimate role and they work with Congress to further the interests of the country, assuring broad public support. The technical term for this is “politics.” Those presidents who don’t play the political game often end up a failure.

Woodrow Wilson is a classic example. When he went to Paris to negotiate the Versailles Treaty at the end of World War I, he refused to take any senators along, even though the Senate had turned Republican in the November 1918 election and Republican votes would be needed to ratify whatever came out of the conference. Wilson was determined to establish the League of Nations exactly as he conceived it and he knew that Henry Cabot Lodge, the Republican leader in the Senate, opposed parts of his plan. So he just ignored Lodge’s concerns.

Wilson gave up much to get the other powers to agree to establishing a league. Britain and France were indifferent about the league, but used it as leverage to get Wilson to agree with much of what they wanted. In other words, the cynical David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau played the idealistic Wilson like a fiddle. An intellectual to his finger tips, Wilson was just no good at the art of negotiation. As John Maynard Keynes wrote about Wilson at the conference, “There can seldom have been a statesman of the first rank more incompetent than the President in the agilities of the council chamber.”

Lodge opposed the League because, among other concerns, he thought the League impinged upon American sovereignty and might commit American forces abroad without a vote by Congress to declare war. Wilson, rather than seek a compromise with Lodge, went on a speaking tour to convince the nation of the rightness of his cause. His health already declining, he suffered a severe stroke and returned to Washington an invalid. When others cobbled together a compromise that would probably have passed the Senate, Wilson asked Democrats to vote against it and it failed.

So Wilson, instead of getting the best he could get, got nothing. And his beloved League of Nations was effectively stillborn without American participation.

Obama and Wilson have much in common. Both are intellectuals (although Wilson, who had a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, had considerable scholarship in his field, seven books; Obama has written two books about himself). Both are gifted public speakers. Both are lousy negotiators. Both are arrogant and aloof, with chilly personalities. Both have won Nobel Peace Prizes (Wilson for his hopes for the League of Nations, Obama for … well, what, exactly?). And both have been foreign-policy disasters.

As Mark Twain famously said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

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The Administration’s Latest Plan to Get Around Congress on Iran

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to President Obama yesterday, citing reports that the administration plans to take its nuclear agreement with Iran to the UN Security Council for a vote, and would veto any legislation allowing Congress to vote on it first. Corker asked the president to “advise us as to whether you are considering going to the [UN] Security Council without coming to Congress.” As it happens, Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, answered Sen. Corker’s question in his response to the “open letter” to Iran by 47 senators.
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Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to President Obama yesterday, citing reports that the administration plans to take its nuclear agreement with Iran to the UN Security Council for a vote, and would veto any legislation allowing Congress to vote on it first. Corker asked the president to “advise us as to whether you are considering going to the [UN] Security Council without coming to Congress.” As it happens, Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, answered Sen. Corker’s question in his response to the “open letter” to Iran by 47 senators.

Zarif informed the senators that “if the current negotiation with the P5+1 results in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with … all permanent members of the Security Council [the P5], and will be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.” [Emphasis added.]

So the plan is to transform existing UN resolutions, which ban Iran’s enrichment and related nuclear activities, into a brand-new resolution that allows them. The foreign minister added that he hoped his comments would “enrich” the senators’ knowledge of international law: he took it upon himself to instruct the senators that the U.S. will be bound by the new UN resolution.

The administration’s plan is apparently, as Jonathan Tobin wrote earlier, to assert that the Iranian deal is not legally binding–and thus is not a “treaty” requiring a vote by the Senate–and then present it to the UN for incorporation into a “binding” UN resolution. At yesterday’s State Department press conference, spokesperson Jen Psaki was, understandably, having trouble explaining the administration’s strategy:

QUESTION: … can you clear up this whole nonbinding agreement thing? Seems to be a lot of confusion everywhere about why it is the Administration would even bother, commit the time and energy and expense to negotiate something that neither it nor the Iranians nor any other member of the negotiating team are going to be bound to.

MS. PSAKI: … the overriding reason to prefer a nonbinding international arrangement to a treaty is the need to preserve the greatest possible flexibility to re-impose sanctions if we believe Iran is not meeting its commitments under a joint comprehensive plan of action. …

QUESTION: Well, but – wait a – you want a nonbinding agreement because that will give you more flexibility to re-impose – I mean, Congress wants to put sanctions on now that would take effect if …

MS. PSAKI: — which would likely lead to the international sanctions regime falling apart and the deal falling apart.

QUESTION: — which would go – only go into effect if … the framework isn’t reached or if Iran is found to be in violation of it.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And you’re saying you want a nonbinding agreement to do precisely the same thing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m saying what this – the nonbinding international arrangement or international arrangement that consists of political commitments provides us with that flexibility to snap back sanctions in a faster manner.

QUESTION: Why can’t you do that in a binding agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Because it’s an international – you’d have to have approval of all countries involved.

QUESTION: Well, couldn’t you devise a binding agreement that would provide you with the flexibility to impose sanctions quickly or immediately if you conclude that one of the other parties to the agreement has violated it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Arshad, what I’m trying to explain here is why we’re pursuing this particular path, and why our policy team has determined this is the right approach. So I’m not going to play the game of what other options could have been discussed. This is the path that we’re pursuing and those are the reasons why.

QUESTION: But your argument is that it would not – your argument is that you have more flexibility with a nonbinding agreement. And what I don’t understand is why you couldn’t have the same flexibility in a binding agreement.

MS. PSAKI: Because that’s not how these have typically worked. This is the path we’ve determined is the best path forward.

It is an explanation worthy of the administration’s former secretary of state: just as it’s so much “more convenient” to have only one email account on one phone, it’s so much easier to have a non-binding agreement rather than a binding one with identical provisions. As Ms. Psaki attempted to explain to incredulous reporters, this is the way these things “have typically worked,” and it’s been “determined” to be “the best path forward.”

Somewhere in the administration, the Jonathan Gruber of foreign policy is smiling.

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The Cost of Obama’s Syria Disgrace

Four years ago, civil unrest began in Syria against the despotic rule of Bashar Assad. After more than 40 years of rule by the Assad clan and in the wake of Arab Spring protests happening elsewhere in the Middle East, Syria’s people began to make their voices heard. The brutal and corrupt regime responded with violence and what followed was a civil war that has, to date, cost the lives of more than 200,000 persons and made millions homeless. The toll of this catastrophe was aptly illustrated in a New York Times graphic feature, “Syria After Four Years of Mayhem.” But what isn’t noted there is that much of this heartbreak might have been averted had the West done something to stop Assad from making war on his own people before the war escalated to the current level of chaos. Though President Obama condemned the violence in Syria, called on Assad to go, and even warned that his use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” that would force the United States to act, the administration did nothing. As much as this anniversary should cause us to mourn the dead, it should also be noted as a disgrace that stands as an apt symbol of the failure of Obama’s foreign policy.

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Four years ago, civil unrest began in Syria against the despotic rule of Bashar Assad. After more than 40 years of rule by the Assad clan and in the wake of Arab Spring protests happening elsewhere in the Middle East, Syria’s people began to make their voices heard. The brutal and corrupt regime responded with violence and what followed was a civil war that has, to date, cost the lives of more than 200,000 persons and made millions homeless. The toll of this catastrophe was aptly illustrated in a New York Times graphic feature, “Syria After Four Years of Mayhem.” But what isn’t noted there is that much of this heartbreak might have been averted had the West done something to stop Assad from making war on his own people before the war escalated to the current level of chaos. Though President Obama condemned the violence in Syria, called on Assad to go, and even warned that his use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” that would force the United States to act, the administration did nothing. As much as this anniversary should cause us to mourn the dead, it should also be noted as a disgrace that stands as an apt symbol of the failure of Obama’s foreign policy.

The graphic illustrates the toll the war has taken on that tortured country. Most dramatic is its depiction of satellite photos that illustrate the collapse of Syria’s population centers. The photos show that Syria is 83 percent darker at night than it was before the start of the war. Sir Edward Gray’s famous comment at the start of World War One that, “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime,” seems apt for Syria as well. The war has caused an exodus of epic proportions. Approximately 7.6 million people have been displaced inside of Syria as a result of the fight. But 3.9 million, approximately half of them children, have been forced out of the country and are living as refugees elsewhere in great squalor and suffering.

Also depicted is the current division of the country between armed forces loyal to the government, ISIS, and moderate rebels. But those maps don’t tell the full story either of how the current situation came to be or what is really going on today.

The weakest of the three sides in this civil war are the non-ISIS rebels. Some are genuine moderates. Others are connected to al-Qaeda. Meanwhile the pro-government areas are as likely to contain Lebanese Hezbollah terrorists with a sprinkling of Iranian volunteers as they are Assad’s Alawite base of support within the pre-war Syrian army.

But that current division couldn’t have come about had President Obama not played Hamlet on Syria for two years as the original more moderate rebel forces came to be either dominated or pushed aside by more radical elements tied to al-Qaeda. Even more to the point, it was the vacuum created by the West’s indecision as well as the administration’s fateful decision to pull completely out of Iraq that allowed ISIS to arise while Obama was trying to decide what to do.

Four years later, it’s probably too late to expect Syrian moderates now getting some minimal Western aid to do much about an Assad regime that was backed to the hilt by its Iranian ally and their Lebanese auxiliaries. Even worse, the real explanation for American hesitancy to do something about Syria might have been the president’s desire for a rapprochement with Iran.

It is true that any decision to act on Syria would have been fraught with danger. Intervention in Iraq created a host of unintended consequences—such as the strengthening of Iran—which Americans now regret. There was no guarantee that action would not have created other problems and exposed American forces to terror attacks. But we do know what happened because President Obama either couldn’t make up his mind or was too intent on making nice with Iran to act decisively. Could the fallout from a decision to oust Assad before Iran could rescue him or ISIS arose have resulted in more casualties or refugees? Could the strategic situation have been any worse than the one in which ISIS now controls much of the country while the U.S. has been forced into a tacit alliance with the Islamist despots of Tehran and the butcher of Damascus in order to hold them back?

The debate about the answers to these questions will interest historians in future generations. But for now, all we need to know is that the greatest human-rights catastrophe since Barack Obama became president might well have been averted or at least lessened by decisive American leadership. Along with his many other failures and mistakes, this horror should never be forgotten or be allowed to be obscured as the president’s fans seek to celebrate him. Such a disgrace isn’t merely a bad political choice; it’s a permanent commitment to infamy.

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Obama Gives Sisi the Netanyahu Treatment

In a Middle East where Islamist terror groups and the Iranian regime and its allies have been on the offensive in recent years, the one bright spot for the West in the region (other, that is, than Israel) is the way Egypt has returned to its old role as a bulwark of moderation and opposition to extremism. The current government led by former general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has clamped down on Hamas terrorists and has been willing to deploy its armed forces to fight ISIS in Libya while also clamping down on a Muslim Brotherhood movement that seeks to transform Egypt into another Islamist state. Yet despite this, the Obama administration is unhappy with Egypt. Much to Cairo’s consternation, the United States is squeezing its government on the military aid it needs to fight ISIS in Libya and Sinai terrorists. As the Israeli government has already learned to its sorrow, the Egyptians now understand that being an ally of the United States is a lot less comfortable position than to be a foe like Iran.

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In a Middle East where Islamist terror groups and the Iranian regime and its allies have been on the offensive in recent years, the one bright spot for the West in the region (other, that is, than Israel) is the way Egypt has returned to its old role as a bulwark of moderation and opposition to extremism. The current government led by former general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has clamped down on Hamas terrorists and has been willing to deploy its armed forces to fight ISIS in Libya while also clamping down on a Muslim Brotherhood movement that seeks to transform Egypt into another Islamist state. Yet despite this, the Obama administration is unhappy with Egypt. Much to Cairo’s consternation, the United States is squeezing its government on the military aid it needs to fight ISIS in Libya and Sinai terrorists. As the Israeli government has already learned to its sorrow, the Egyptians now understand that being an ally of the United States is a lot less comfortable position than to be a foe like Iran.

The ostensible reason for the holdup in aid is that the Egyptian government is a human-rights violator. Those concerns are accurate. Sisi’s government has been ruthless in cracking down on the same Muslim Brotherhood faction that was running the country until a popular coup brought it down in the summer of 2013. But contrary to the illusions of an Obama administration that hastened the fall of Hosni Mubarak and then foolishly embraced his Muslim Brotherhood successors, democracy was never one of the available options in Egypt.

The choice in Egypt remains stark. It’s either going to be run by Islamists bent on taking the most populous Arab country down the dark road of extremism or by a military regime that will keep that from happening. The obvious Western choice must be the latter, and Sisi has turned out to be an even better ally than Washington could have dreamed of, as he ensured that the Brotherhood would not return to power, took on Hamas in Gaza, and even made public calls for Muslims to turn against religious extremists.

But rather than that endearing him to the administration, this outstanding record has earned Sisi the Netanyahu treatment. Indeed, like other moderate Arab leaders in the Middle East, Sisi understands that President Obama has no great love for his country’s allies. Besotted as he is by the idea of bringing Iran in from the cold, the American government has allied itself with Tehran in the conflicts in both Iraq and Syria. He also understands that both of those ongoing wars were made far worse by the president’s dithering for years, a stance that may well have been motivated by a desire to avoid antagonizing Iran by seeking to topple their Syrian ally.

But those issues notwithstanding, one of the major changes that took place on President Obama’s watch was a conscious decision to downgrade relations with Cairo, a nation that his predecessors of both parties had recognized as a lynchpin of U.S. interests in the region. The current weapons supply squeeze is not only a blow to the efforts of a nation that is actually willing to fight ISIS and other Islamist terrorists; it’s a statement about what it means to be an American ally in the age of Obama.

As the Times of Israel reported:

On Monday Sisi was asked what he and the other Arab allies thought of U.S. leadership in the region. It is hard to put his response in words, mainly due to his prolonged silence.

“Difficult question,” he said after some moments, while his body language expressed contempt and disgust. “The suspending of US equipment and arms was an indicator for the public that the United States is not standing by the Egyptians.”

It turns out that although the American administration recently agreed to provide the Egyptian Air Force with Apache attack helicopters; it has been making it increasingly difficult for Cairo to make additional military purchases.

For example, the U.S. is delaying the shipment of tanks, spare parts and other weapons that the army desperately needs in its war against Islamic State.

This development raises serious questions not only about U.S.-Egyptian relations but the administration’s vision for the region.

This is, after all, a time when the administration is going all out to make common cause with Iran, an open enemy that is currently the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world. President Obama is pursuing a diplomatic arrangement that will strengthen the Iranian regime and guarantee the survival of a nuclear program that moderate Arabs see as being as much of a threat to them as it is to Israel or the West.

The Egyptians understand that Washington isn’t interested in their friendship. Nor is the administration particularly supportive of Cairo’s efforts to rein in Hamas or to fight ISIS. Indeed, the Egyptians are now experiencing the same sort of treatment that has heretofore been reserved for the Israelis. That’s especially true in light of the arms resupply cutoff against Israel Obama ordered during last summer’s war in Gaza.

Despite flirting with Russia, Egypt may, like Israel, have no real alternative to the United States as an ally. Perhaps that’s why Obama takes it for granted. But if the U.S. is serious about fighting ISIS as opposed to just talking about it, Washington will have to start treating Egypt and its military as a priority rather than an embarrassment.

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Presidential Commitments Then and Now

The White House “outrage” at the “open letter” to Iran signed by 47 senators, led by Sen. Tom Cotton, was reinforced by Vice President Biden’s formal statement, which intoned that “America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments,” including those made by a president without a vote of Congress. Perhaps we should welcome Biden’s belated insight. As Jonathan Tobin notes, President Obama on taking office in 2009 refused to be bound by the 2004 Gaza disengagement deal in the letters exchanged between President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. His secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, announced that such commitments were “unenforceable”–that they were non-binding on the new administration. In 2009, Obama disregarded previous commitments not only to Israel but also to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Georgia; he “fundamentally transformed” America’s previous commitments, as he likes to describe the essential element of his entire presidency.

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The White House “outrage” at the “open letter” to Iran signed by 47 senators, led by Sen. Tom Cotton, was reinforced by Vice President Biden’s formal statement, which intoned that “America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments,” including those made by a president without a vote of Congress. Perhaps we should welcome Biden’s belated insight. As Jonathan Tobin notes, President Obama on taking office in 2009 refused to be bound by the 2004 Gaza disengagement deal in the letters exchanged between President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. His secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, announced that such commitments were “unenforceable”–that they were non-binding on the new administration. In 2009, Obama disregarded previous commitments not only to Israel but also to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Georgia; he “fundamentally transformed” America’s previous commitments, as he likes to describe the essential element of his entire presidency.

The Gaza disengagement deal was (1) approved by Congress; (2) included in the Gaza disengagement plan presented to the Israeli Knesset, and (3) relied on by Israel in withdrawing from Gaza later in 2005. The history of the deal (which the current secretary of state endorsed at the time as a U.S. “commitment”) is set forth here, and the reason Obama sought to undo it is discussed here. In 2009, the Obama administration refused at least 22 times to answer whether it considered itself bound by the deal; in 2011 it openly reneged on key aspects of it.

President Obama is currently negotiating an arms control agreement in secret, refusing to disclose the details of the offers his administration has made to Iran, a terrorist state according to his own State Department, and a self-described enemy of the United States since 1979. He has opposed not only a congressional debate before he concludes the deal but also a congressional vote afterwards. If he closes a deal with Iran on that basis, it will not be binding on any future president–at least not if that president chooses to follow the precedent Obama himself set in 2009.

If the administration is now seeking to restore the credibility of presidential commitments, the president might consider taking two steps: (1) acknowledge that the U.S. is bound by the disengagement deal negotiated by President Bush with Israel, endorsed by a vote of Congress; and (2) promise to put his prospective deal with Iran to a similar congressional vote once the deal is done. If not, perhaps a reporter at his next press conference will ask how he reconciles his position that (a) he could ignore President Bush’s congressionally approved deal with his view that (b) future presidents must honor the non-congressionally approved one he is negotiating now.

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A Hollow Victory in Tikrit

There are reports that Iraqi forces have retaken much of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Pictures of jubilant Iraqi soldiers are appearing on the Internet. It remains to be seen whether these celebrations are premature or not; certainly Iraqi forces have a history of claiming victories over ISIS that soon unravel.

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There are reports that Iraqi forces have retaken much of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Pictures of jubilant Iraqi soldiers are appearing on the Internet. It remains to be seen whether these celebrations are premature or not; certainly Iraqi forces have a history of claiming victories over ISIS that soon unravel.

But even if this “victory” stands up, our jubilation should be tightly controlled. Yes, it’s a good thing if ISIS is suffering defeats, but who’s winning? It’s not the United States and it’s not  the lawful Iraqi state led by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi. The real victor here, if there is a victory, is Iran. Most of the fighters who are taking Tikrit are Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen, not soldiers of Iraq. The real leader of this operation is not any general appointed by Prime Minister Abadi but rather Qassem Suleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, who has been a high-profile presence on the front lines.

And this is not an isolated occurrence. With Iran and its proxies taking the lead in fighting ISIS, there is a real danger that U.S. support for the anti-ISIS drive will wind up delivering Iraq into the hands of Iran. This is, of course, the danger that many opponents of the Iraq War warned about, but it was a danger kept in check as long as there was a substantial U.S. troop presence in Iraq. The U.S. departure at the end of 2011, however, opened the floodgates for Iranian influence.

By focusing U.S. efforts solely on rolling back ISIS, President Obama is providing another opportunity for Iran to expand its influence. This is a very bad development for two reasons: First, the obvious reason–Iran believes that the U.S. is the Great Satan and it is the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism, with a track record going back to 1979 of mounting terrorist attacks on American targets. So its success in expanding its influence into countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen is a defeat for the U.S.

Second, Iran is anathema to the region’s Sunnis. The more successful that Iran appears to be, the more that Sunnis will flock for protection to ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and other Sunnis terrorist groups.

The U.S. desperately needs a plan not to just to roll back ISIS influence but also to roll back Iranian influence. The kind of plan implemented in 2007-2008 by Gen. David Petraues in Iraq, when U.S. forces targeted Iranian operatives for exposure and arrest. There is, alas, no sign of such a plan today–if anything, the U.S. seems to be tacitly conceding Iran the right to a dominant role in Iraq, Syria, etc., as part of a broader rapprochement that, Obama hopes, will include a nuclear deal.

This is a monstrous mistake. A victory over the terrorists of ISIS in Iraq, even if it is forthcoming, will be hollow indeed if it becomes a victory for the terrorists of Iran.

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A Shameful Attack on Alberto Nisman

Predictably, elements of the left are now waking up to the political implications of the death, on January 18, of Alberto Nisman, the Argentine Special Prosecutor who spent the last decade investigating the culpability of Iran and its Hezbollah ally in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were murdered. A party line is coming together, uniting a rainbow coalition that extends from the Argentine government to the pro-Iranian conspiracy theorist Gareth Porter, which holds that Nisman, in accusing President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and other top officials of fabricating Iran’s innocence over the atrocity, was acting at the behest of foreign powers–chiefly the U.S. and Israel.

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Predictably, elements of the left are now waking up to the political implications of the death, on January 18, of Alberto Nisman, the Argentine Special Prosecutor who spent the last decade investigating the culpability of Iran and its Hezbollah ally in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were murdered. A party line is coming together, uniting a rainbow coalition that extends from the Argentine government to the pro-Iranian conspiracy theorist Gareth Porter, which holds that Nisman, in accusing President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and other top officials of fabricating Iran’s innocence over the atrocity, was acting at the behest of foreign powers–chiefly the U.S. and Israel.

A particularly heinous example of this thinking appeared today, in the pages, regrettably, of the liberal American Jewish newspaper The Forward. Written by Graciela Mochkofsky, an Argentine journalist who is the author of an “acclaimed” biography of Jacobo Timerman–the late dissident journalist whose son, Hector, is now Argentina’s foreign minister, and one of the officials named in the complaint Nisman was due to present to a congressional committee the day after his death–the piece carries the headline “Why Alberto Nisman is No Hero for Argentina – or the Jews,” and slides steadily downhill from there.

Before getting to the numerous errors, distortions, and outright lies in Mochkofsky’s piece, it’s worth ruminating for a second on that word, “hero.” There is a tendency on the left to regard heroes as the sort of people you put on a T-shirt; pure as the driven snow, motivated only by principle, and never compromising themselves in the pursuit of justice.

Such people, of course, don’t exist in the real world. Like any other judicial official, Nisman could not afford to rise above politics, which are particularly murky in Argentina. So when Mochkofsky spitefully condemns a man who cannot answer her as a “species born and bred in my country, a specimen of the politicized federal justice system — typically, someone who stretches the law, lives beyond his means and always stands close to power” and remarks darkly about “his close ties to Argentina’s intelligence services,” there is nothing here–nothing at all–to suggest that Nisman was wrong in pinning the blame for the AMIA bombing on Iran, or in asserting that Kirchner and her cohorts obligingly covered the Tehran regime’s tracks.

The issue, then, is not whether Nisman was an uncomplicated hero, but why, in the wake of his death, pundits like Mochkofsky are so keen to close down Nisman’s examination of the Buenos Aires-Tehran nexus. And the answer is revealed both by what her piece says and what it doesn’t say.

First, she attempts to smear Nisman by claiming that “his task was to make presentable the fabrication concocted by Judge Juan José Galeano”–a man who was subsequently impeached, along with former President Carlos Menem, for his role in trying to pin the blame for the bombing on low-level local operatives, thereby eliding Iran’s role. In fact, Nisman was a fairly junior official on that particular investigation, and was only able to pursue the Iranian connection with vigor once Menem’s successor, Nestor Kirchner, appointed him to run a renewed investigation at the end of 2004.

Mochkofsky then says that Nisman deliberately undermined a 2013 agreement between Argentina and Iran “to create an international commission of jurists to analyze the evidence provided by both countries on the AMIA case and to issue a nonbinding recommendation…The main point for Argentina was that Iran would allow these suspects to be interrogated by Nisman and the new judge of the case, Rodolfo Canicoba Corral.”

Not exactly. As the Buenos Aires-based political analyst Eamonn MacDonagh pointed out in The Tower magazine, “The proceedings of the commission were, naturally, to be held in Tehran. The Argentine court would be able to talk to the suspects; but only in Iran, and it could not formally question them under oath.” In other words, the restraints imposed by the Iranians on the proposed commission rendered it worthless, since no legal consequences could flow from it.

And it continues: “The first judge who received Nisman’s accusation rejected it as baseless,” says Mochkofsky. Actually, the judge in question, Ariel Lijo, recused himself from the case, which suggests that he foresaw a conflict of interest for himself–hardly the same thing as dismissing Nisman’s evidence out of hand. Judge Daniel Rafecas is said to have “demolished” Nisman’s accusations by, for example, revealing that “that Nisman wrote contradictory submissions on the same month of his death.” Only one document in that pile of paper had any legal validity–the complaint against Kirchner et al that he had initially unveiled a few days before he died. The rest was composed of the sorts of notes and hypotheses that any professional investigator would make. Meanwhile, Mochkofsky notably doesn’t disclose that Judge Rafecas currently has a malpractice complaint hanging over him on an unrelated matter, which might provide some explanation as to why he’s cozying up to the government over Nisman.

While Mochkofsky would have us believe that Nisman’s accusations are now dead and buried alongside him, they are being kept alive by his former colleague, federal prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita, who is appealing against Rafecas’s conclusion. That’s certainly something the Argentine government doesn’t want to see progress for many reasons, among them that it will force attention on the suspicious circumstances of Nisman’s death.

“Nah, it’s impossible,” harrumphed Hector Timerman, when the CBS journalist Lesley Stahl suggested to him that, with Nisman’s death, Argentina was returning to its old tradition of assassinating political opponents. Meanwhile, his boss, President Fernandez de Kirchner, has gone from saying that Nisman “probably” committed suicide to saying that he was “probably” murdered. As for Nisman’s former wife, federal judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado, she has no doubt that he was murdered, and has even carried out a parallel forensic investigation into his death that revealed all sorts of incompetencies in the official attempt.

The Argentine government should not be given a pass this lightly. Nor should the Iranians, who have a long, bloodstained record of murdering their opponents abroad. Ultimately, Alberto Nisman–who always insisted that antisemitism was a key factor throughout the entire AMIA episode–was telling us that the murder of Jews cannot go unpunished, and that all avenues of investigation had to be pursued as a consequence. That a Jewish newspaper should see fit to publish an article that belittles and defames these efforts, and which contentedly concludes that we will never know who bombed the AMIA building ­(another way of Mochkofsky saying that she’d rather not know), is little short of reprehensible.

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The Hidden Message in Netanyahu’s Speech

In “Echoes of Churchill Pervade Netanyahu’s Speech,” Belladonna Rogers notes that the address included a subtle reference to Churchill’s “Chicken Speech”–one of the British leader’s most eloquent war speeches, delivered December 30, 1941 to the Canadian Parliament. She argues persuasively that Netanyahu’s allusion conveyed a powerful message about a particular historical parallel.

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In “Echoes of Churchill Pervade Netanyahu’s Speech,” Belladonna Rogers notes that the address included a subtle reference to Churchill’s “Chicken Speech”–one of the British leader’s most eloquent war speeches, delivered December 30, 1941 to the Canadian Parliament. She argues persuasively that Netanyahu’s allusion conveyed a powerful message about a particular historical parallel.

Ms. Rogers writes that, three weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill braved the perils of wartime travel to meet with FDR and address Congress, and then spoke to the Canadian Parliament four days later. In Canada, he reminded his listeners that in 1940 the Nazis had conquered four nations–Norway, Denmark, Holland, and Belgium–and then the “great French catastrophe” took place: France fell into “utter confusion” and the French abandoned their pledge “in which [they had] solemnly bound themselves with us not to make a separate peace.” Churchill told the Canadians that if France had stood with England, instead of capitulating to Germany, the war could already have been won. Then he said:

When I warned [the French] that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister and his divided Cabinet, ‘In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.’ Some chicken! Some neck!” [Laughter and applause].

In Netanyahu’s address this week to Congress, as Ms. Rogers wrote, he noted that Iran “now dominates four Arab capitals–Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sana’a”–and that “at a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations.” Netanyahu then borrowed Churchill’s cadence from 1941:

Now, two years ago, we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran. Some change! Some moderation!

Rouhani’s government hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists and executes even more prisoners than before. … Iran’s regime is as radical as ever, its cries of “Death to America” — that same America that it calls the “Great Satan” — as loud as ever … and that’s why this regime will always be an enemy of America.

Michael Doran, Bret Stephens, Lee Smith, and others have noted that President Obama appears to be implementing a grand strategy to re-align America with Iran, establishing a de facto alliance in which America recognizes Iran as a “very successful regional power,” in the President’s words in his year-end NPR interview. It is a shift that worries not only Israel but also America’s moderate Arab allies, with the Saudi press now openly editorializing about it. Ms. Rogers writes that the situation parallels what Churchill saw as the utter confusion of the French in 1940:

Not only from the Israeli perspective, but also that of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other American allies in the Middle East, the deal under consideration appears to be a what Churchill called “a separate peace” with a terrorist state the U.S. is on the brink of recognizing as the new hegemonic power in the region. … In his subtle but unmistakable reference to Churchill’s “Chicken Speech,” the Israeli prime minister sought to persuade the United States to stand with its allies in the Middle East …

The day after the 1941 address, the New York Times editorialized that Churchill had spoken “magnificently” in a speech with “no shrillness … as it [moved] from impassioned eloquence to its contagious chuckle” that would give the speech its popular title. This week, Netanyahu spoke similarly, without shrillness, moving from eloquence to a subtle allusion to Churchill’s speech, ending with an assertion that if Israel had to stand alone, it would stand–a final echo from Churchill’s 1941 address.

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Obama’s Main Achievement: Iran in Iraq

Earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry was in Saudi Arabia trying to reassure one of America’s most important Arab allies that the administration wasn’t selling them down the river. The Saudis, like many Arab regimes in the region, are actually in agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the nature of the nuclear threat from Iran and President Obama’s reckless pursuit of détente with that regime. But Kerry’s efforts to calm the Saudis didn’t appear to succeed. Despite the secretary’s claim that the U.S. wasn’t seeking a “grand deal” with Iran and would, “not take our eye off of Iran’s other destabilizing actions,” the Saudis were well aware of the fact that Iranian-supported Shiite troops were playing a leading role in the effort to reclaim the Iraqi city of Tikrit from ISIS. As the New York Times reports today in a front-page feature, in the wake of the president’s complete withdrawal from Iraq, Iran has virtually replaced the U.S. as the dominant foreign power in that country. In other words, it’s too late for Kerry or American allies to worry about whether Iran’s efforts to gain regional hegemony will succeed. That’s because they already have.

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Earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry was in Saudi Arabia trying to reassure one of America’s most important Arab allies that the administration wasn’t selling them down the river. The Saudis, like many Arab regimes in the region, are actually in agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the nature of the nuclear threat from Iran and President Obama’s reckless pursuit of détente with that regime. But Kerry’s efforts to calm the Saudis didn’t appear to succeed. Despite the secretary’s claim that the U.S. wasn’t seeking a “grand deal” with Iran and would, “not take our eye off of Iran’s other destabilizing actions,” the Saudis were well aware of the fact that Iranian-supported Shiite troops were playing a leading role in the effort to reclaim the Iraqi city of Tikrit from ISIS. As the New York Times reports today in a front-page feature, in the wake of the president’s complete withdrawal from Iraq, Iran has virtually replaced the U.S. as the dominant foreign power in that country. In other words, it’s too late for Kerry or American allies to worry about whether Iran’s efforts to gain regional hegemony will succeed. That’s because they already have.

As the Times notes:

The road from Baghdad to Tikrit is dotted with security checkpoints, many festooned with posters of Iran’s supreme leader and other Shiite figures. They stretch as far north as the village of Awja, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, on the edge of Tikrit, within sight of the hulking palaces of the former ruler who ruthlessly crushed Shiite dissent.

More openly than ever before, Iran’s powerful influence in Iraq has been on display as the counteroffensive against Islamic State militants around Tikrit has unfolded in recent days. At every point, the Iranian-backed militias have taken the lead in the fight against the Islamic State here. Senior Iranian leaders have been openly helping direct the battle, and American officials say Iran’s Revolutionary Guards forces are taking part.

The president’s apologists may blame this on George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq in the first place as well as his kicking the can down the road on Iran’s nuclear program. There’s some truth to that but Bush left Obama a war that was already won by the 2007 U.S. surge. Bush may have laid the groundwork for the current mess. But its shape and the scale of the disaster is Obama’s responsibility.

Iranian influence among fellow Shiites in Iraq is nothing new. But the scale of the current effort and the open nature of the way Iran’s forces are now flexing their muscles — even in the Tikrit region where Sunnis dominate — demonstrates that the rise of ISIS was not the only negative consequence of President Obama’s decision to completely pull U.S. forces out of Iraq when negotiations about their staying got sticky. That enabled him to brag during the 2012 presidential campaign that he had “ended” the Iraq War (the same campaign where he pledged Iran would not be allowed to keep a nuclear program) but neither ISIS nor Iran got that memo. The war continues but the difference is that instead of an Iraq influenced by the U.S., it is now Iran that is the dominant force.

The same is true throughout the region. President Obama spent years dithering about the collapse of Syria even while demanding that Bashar Assad give up power and enunciating “red lines” about the use of chemical weapons. But while he stalled, moderate rebels withered, ISIS grew and Iran’s ally Assad stayed in Damascus, bucked up by Iranian help and troops supplied by Tehran’s Hezbollah auxiliaries.

So when the Saudis look at a potential deal that will allow Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure and ultimately expire in ten years, they know that it is directly connected to America’s apparent decision to acquiesce to Iranian dominance in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

Though Netanyahu’s speech centered mostly on the nuclear threat, like their Arab neighbors, Israelis are well aware of the peril that Iranian hegemony poses to their security. The brief bout of fighting on the northern border after Hezbollah and Iran attempted to set up a base to shoot missiles into the Jewish state from Syria showed the depth of the Iranian connection to the terror war against Israel.

Should the Iranians sign the deal, the administration will claim it as a triumph. But while the president pats himself on the back for appeasing Iran on the nuclear issue, Israelis and Arabs will also focus on the way Iran has used Obama’s desire to abandon the region as a wedge by which they have advanced their interests. Détente with Iran means more than an ally against ISIS; it means a Middle East in which Iran is the strong horse. That’s a development that gives the lie to Kerry’s reassurances.

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Why Obama Thinks He Can’t Get a Better Iran Deal

If he did nothing else, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with his speech to a joint session of Congress, started a national conversation on the merits, or lack thereof, of a potential nuclear deal with Iran. Here are a few thoughts, after several days of intense, back and forth debate.

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If he did nothing else, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with his speech to a joint session of Congress, started a national conversation on the merits, or lack thereof, of a potential nuclear deal with Iran. Here are a few thoughts, after several days of intense, back and forth debate.

Thought No. 1: The defenders of the nuclear deal claim that Iranian compliance could be verified and that a one-year heads-up about Iranian non-compliance would be plenty of time for a robust American response. After all, we have considerable forces pre-positioned in the Persian Gulf region, ready to strike Iran if need be. However, I remain skeptical that either (a) the U.S. would necessarily detect a violation or (b) that if we did detect it, that we would do anything about it.

The U.S. intelligence community has a terrible track record of detecting nuclear work in other countries. We were caught off guard by the first Soviet nuclear test in 1949, the first Indian test in 1974, the first Pakistani test in 1998, the first North Korean test in 2006. Likewise, we were surprised by the extent of the Iraqi nuclear program in 1992.

Is there cause to hope that we would be better informed about the Iranian program? Only if we get truly intrusive inspection that allows international monitors to roam the country at will with no need to announce visits in advance. I am skeptical whether the mullahs will agree to that. The 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea shows how easily a state can cheat on a nuclear accord: The North agreed to shut down a plutonium reactor at Yongbyon but proceeded with the secret enrichment of uranium.

And even if we find out about Iranian nuclear cheating, what would we do about it? The Russians have been cheating on the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement since at least 2007 but the Obama administration hesitated to publicize their breach, much less to do anything about it. Is there any reason to believe we would be more willing to go to war with Iran in a few years’ time than we are today?

Thought No. 2: While a nuclear agreement may or may not retard the Iranian development of an atomic bomb, it will have one undoubted consequence: it will provide the Iranian government with a lot more money by lifting or at least relaxing sanctions. Already, just by agreeing to talk to the U.S., Iran has received an estimated $11.9 billion in sanctions relief. That’s a lot of money that Iran can use to create considerable mischief. Given that the U.S. estimates that Iran provides $100 million to $200 million a year to Hezbollah, that’s enough funding right there to fund Hezbollah until the mid-21st century. It’s also money that can be used to fund Iranian-supported terrorist groups in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and other countries.

And it’s only a drop in the (oil) barrel that will fill up with cash if Iran signs a long-term nuclear deal. Iran is already at a peak of its regional power, and its power will only grow with all this money at its disposal. That will have catastrophic consequences for regional security because the stronger Iran gets, the more that Sunnis will take matters into their own hands. Saudi Arabia has the capability to acquire nuclear weapons in short order from Pakistan. It, and other Gulf states, will also likely wind up supporting the Al-Nusra Front, ISIS, and other Sunni terrorist groups as a bulwark against Iranian influence. Thus by helping Iran, we are also indirectly helping ISIS.

Thought No. 3: Beyond all these problems, the value of any agreement is vitiated if it includes a ten-year expiration date and if it allows Iran to keep tens of thousands of centrifuges intact–as appears to be the case if press leaks are to believed. This would not end the Iranian program and not even pause it: at most it might delay the moment when Iran goes from a nuclear-capable state to a state in possession of actual nukes. And it will ensure that when Iran does decide to produce nukes, it will have a lot of them, not just one or two.

It’s hard to know why the Obama administration thinks it’s OK to grant Iran the “right” to field nuclear weapons in 2025, aside from the obvious fact that Obama will no longer be in office and thus can’t be blamed for the outcome. Perhaps the White House hopes that, Ayatollah Khamenei presumably having died by then (there are reports he has prostate cancer), the Iranian regime might have reformed itself to become one that we can more easily live with. But hope isn’t a policy (except for this White House). If the U.S. does agree to this ten-year deal, it would be imperative to do what we could during this period to bring about peaceful regime change in Iran–a democratic Iran with a bomb would be a lot less threatening than a jihadist Iran with a bomb. But there is scant sign that the Obama administration is thinking along those lines. And even if it were, the U.S. ability to push regime change, never that strong to begin with, would be further weakened by the conclusion of a nuclear deal with Tehran which would be seen by Iranian dissidents (as well as by the entire region) as conferring Washington’s seal of approval on the existing regime.

Thought No. 4: The most common rebuttal from the administration and its defenders, against those who criticize the projected accord, is that critics offer no real alternative. Netanyahu’s claim that the alternative is a better deal is dismissed on the grounds that no better deal is possible. That may be true in the current atmosphere, with the White House patently telegraphing its eagerness to achieve a deal at all costs and having lost all leverage when it allowed the “red line” in Syria to be crossed with impunity. But what if the U.S. could present Iran with a credible threat of military action? Recall that the only time in recent decades when Iran interrupted its nuclear program was in 2003, because the mullahs were afraid that after the fall of Saddam Hussein, they would be next in the American military’s cross hairs. But when the U.S. got bogged down in Iraq, the Iranian leaders realized they had nothing to fear from George W. Bush, and of course now they have even less to fear from Barack Obama, who is obviously determined to start no new wars on his watch.

If there is one thing that could nudge Iran toward a serious agreement, it would be fear of whoever is in the White House. Recall how Eisenhower helped to end the Korean War in 1953, and a year later to end the French Indochina War on relatively favorable terms to the West, by dropping broad hints that he was contemplating the use of nuclear weapons. Likewise Nixon helped to achieve a peace accord in Vietnam by bombing North Vietnam with B-52s over Christmas 1952. He later said that it helped to be perceived as a “madman” who is capable of anything. And Ronald Reagan helped to revive arms control with the Soviet Union by projecting the image of a gun-toting cowboy. Alas there is no president of the last half century, with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter, who projects a weaker image than Obama. That is why he is not going to get a deal with Iran on any terms that should be acceptable to the U.S. or our allies.

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Ukraine, Iran, and the Threat of a Nuclear Middle East

One very important word was missing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress yesterday. Not that I blame him; inserting “Ukraine” into that particular speech would have been counterproductive. Yet without considering America’s Ukraine policy, it’s impossible to grasp quite how disastrous the emerging Iran deal really is.

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One very important word was missing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress yesterday. Not that I blame him; inserting “Ukraine” into that particular speech would have been counterproductive. Yet without considering America’s Ukraine policy, it’s impossible to grasp quite how disastrous the emerging Iran deal really is.

To understand why, consider the curious threat issued by an unnamed White House official last week, in the run-up to Netanyahu’s speech: “The dispute with Netanyahu prevents all possibility for discussing security guarantees for Israel as part of the emerging Iran deal.” That particular threat was empty, because Israel has never wanted security guarantees from this or any other administration; its policy has always been that it must be able to defend itself by itself. But if Washington was considering security guarantees for Israel, it’s surely considering them for its Arab allies, since they, unlike Israel, always have relied on America’s protection. In fact, there have been recurrent rumors that it might offer Arab states a nuclear umbrella as part of the deal, so they wouldn’t feel the need to develop nuclear capabilities themselves–something they have long threatened to do if Iran’s nuclear program isn’t stopped.

And a year ago, such a promise might have worked. After all, America’s guarantees had proven trustworthy in the past; see, for instance, 1991, when U.S. troops liberated Kuwait from Iraq’s invasion.

But last year, Russia invaded Ukraine, exactly 20 years after the latter gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for a signed commitment by Washington, Moscow, and London to respect its “independence,” “sovereignty,” and “existing borders” and “refrain from the threat or use of force” against its “territorial integrity or political independence.” After swiftly annexing Crimea, Russia proceeded to foment rebellion in eastern Ukraine; the rebels now control sizable chunks of territory, thanks mainly to arms, money, and even “off-duty” troops from Russia.

And what have Ukraine’s other guarantors, America and Britain, done to uphold the commitment they signed in 1994? Absolute zilch. They refuse to even give Ukraine the arms it’s been begging for so it can try to fight back on its own.

Given the Ukrainian example, any Arab leader would be a fool to stake his country’s security on U.S. guarantees against Iran, which, like Russia, is a highly aggressive power. Iran already boasts of controlling four Arab capitals–Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad, and, most recently, Sana’a–and shows no signs of wanting to stop. So if Arab leaders think the emerging Iranian deal is a bad one, no U.S. guarantee will suffice to dissuade them from acquiring their own nukes.

And unfortunately, that’s what they do think. As evidence, just consider the cascade of Saudi commentators publicly begging Obama to heed, of all people, the head of a country they don’t even recognize. Like Al Arabiya editor-in-chief Faisal Abbas, who published a column yesterday titled, “President Obama, listen to Netanyahu on Iran,” which began as follows: “It is extremely rare for any reasonable person to ever agree with anything Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says or does. However, one must admit, Bibi did get it right, at least when it came to dealing with Iran.” Or columnist Ahmad al-Faraj, who wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah on Monday: “I am very glad of Netanyahu’s firm stance and [his decision] to speak against the nuclear agreement at the American Congress despite the Obama administration’s anger and fury. I believe that Netanyahu’s conduct will serve our interests, the people of the Gulf, much more than the foolish behavior of one of the worst American presidents.”

Clearly, letting Iran go nuclear would be terrible. But letting the entire Mideast–one of the world’s most unstable regions–go nuclear would be infinitely worse. And the only way any deal with Tehran can prevent that is if it’s acceptable to Iran’s Arab neighbors. Thanks to Ukraine, no U.S. security guarantee can compensate them for a deal they deem inadequate.

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Does it Matter if Iran’s Leaders Aren’t Suicidal?

Over at the Atlantic, Peter Beinart argues that concern about the potential for a nuclear Iran is exaggerated because, he suggests, Iran’s leaders aren’t suicidal. Let’s accept for a moment they are not. Here are two problems which Beinart ignores:

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Over at the Atlantic, Peter Beinart argues that concern about the potential for a nuclear Iran is exaggerated because, he suggests, Iran’s leaders aren’t suicidal. Let’s accept for a moment they are not. Here are two problems which Beinart ignores:

  • Even if the Islamic Republic isn’t suicidal, what happens if it’s terminally ill? Popular protests have shaken the Islamic Republic in 1999, 2001, and 2009. What happens if they do so again, but this time members of the security forces join in so we have in Iran a parallel to Romania in 1989 or Libya in 2011? If the fall of the regime is inevitable, what’s to stop those with command, control, and custody of a nuclear Iran from utilizing their power for ideological imperatives knowing that the regime to which they dedicate their lives is dead within hours anyway? Neither Israel nor the United States would retaliate against a country which already had regime change. Indeed, Beinart errs by failing to address precisely who would have control over any Iranian nuclear arsenal should Tehran develop one. Clearly, any nuclear weapon(s) would be put not only in the hands of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but those units vetted to be most ideologically pure.
  • Likewise, if we look back to the Cold War, perhaps it can be argued that neither the Soviet Union nor the United States were suicidal, and so mutually-assured destruction (MAD) worked. But did MAD really bring stability, or did we simply get luck? Not only was there a close call during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but we came closer to nuclear Armageddon than many at the time realized in the wake of the Soviet downing of a Korean passenger jet in 1983. There were other near misses as well.

Simply put, the question about whether the Iranian regime is suicidal or not is beside the point given its historical instability and the questionability of the model for stability upon which Beinart seems to rely. If countries in the Middle East did what was in their best interest, economically or diplomatically, the region would be a very different place. The fact that over decades they have not simply underlines the importance of ideology in the region, a factor which Beinart downplays. The simple truth is this: the region would be far more secure if Iran did not have nuclear weapons than if it did. And it would be policy malpractice of the highest order to shrug our shoulders and say it’s too hard to prevent, simply because what we would face otherwise would be a far more difficult environment in which to live and work.

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Netanyahu’s Masterpiece

From the perspective of the craft of speechwriting, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress was a masterpiece.

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From the perspective of the craft of speechwriting, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress was a masterpiece.

The speech started out appropriately high-minded and gracious. It laid out Mr. Netanyahu’s case with logic and care, offering a crisp and indisputable indictment of the Iranian regime and, especially, the fundamental flaws in the deal President Obama wants to strike with Iran. The conclusion of the speech–where the Israeli prime minister said “I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over”–was stirring and evocative. So was Mr. Netanyahu’s obvious love and affection for America. (Unlike President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu, when he describes America, isn’t inclined to criticize her.) And the speech itself included some terrific and memorable lines:

  • At a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations.
  • So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.
  • That’s why this deal is so bad. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.
  • This deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control.
  • If Iran changes its behavior, the restrictions would be lifted. If Iran doesn’t change its behavior, the restrictions should not be lifted.
  • Now we’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That’s just not true. The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal.
  • For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves. This is why as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand. But I know that Israel does not stand alone. I know that America stands with Israel. I know that you stand with Israel.

In watching the speech, one could not help but feel that this was not only a dramatic moment–thanks in large part to President Obama’s pre-speech campaign to smear the Israeli leader–but a remarkable one, thanks to Prime Minister Netanyahu. He was fully in command.

As someone who is a lifelong lover of words and the power of words to persuade and reveal the truth of things, it was a relief to finally have a leader of a nation speak to a joint session of Congress and demonstrate intellectual integrity. Unlike President Obama, who never engages the argument of his critics in an honest manner, Prime Minister Netanyahu fairly (if briefly) stated the arguments of those with whom he disagrees. And he proceeded to deal with them in a methodical, empirical, logical way, which of course explains why Mr. Obama fought so hard to prevent Mr. Netanyahu from speaking in the first place. The president knew his position would wither when exposed to reality. There was a maturity and seriousness of purpose in the Israeli prime minister that is missing from our president.

It’s a shame we Americans have to wait for a foreign leader to speak to us in a manner characterized by intellectual excellence and moral seriousness. But such are the times in which we live.

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Bibi’s Speech Already Bearing Fruit

Part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s role today was as a representative of his region of the world. It tells you just how concerned those who deal with Iran are about the pending nuke deal that the Israeli leader was voicing–genuinely and accurately, by the way–the nervousness of not just Israel but Saudi Arabia, among other Gulf allies of the U.S. And on that front, Netanyahu may have already succeeded.

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Part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s role today was as a representative of his region of the world. It tells you just how concerned those who deal with Iran are about the pending nuke deal that the Israeli leader was voicing–genuinely and accurately, by the way–the nervousness of not just Israel but Saudi Arabia, among other Gulf allies of the U.S. And on that front, Netanyahu may have already succeeded.

Obviously the main point of the speech was Iran’s nuclear program. But Netanyahu also sought to convey the kind of regime Iran is and what it does with its military and financial might. “If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country,” Netanyahu said. He recited a litany of examples of Iranian troublemaking, and pointed out that these are all recent–that this is the regime on a path to a nuclear bomb. Netanyahu said:

Iran’s goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its revolutionary guards on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror. Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Back by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Back by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. Along with the Straits of Hormuz, that would give Iran a second choke-point on the world’s oil supply.

Just last week, near Hormuz, Iran carried out a military exercise blowing up a mock U.S. aircraft carrier. That’s just last week, while they’re having nuclear talks with the United States. But unfortunately, for the last 36 years, Iran’s attacks against the United States have been anything but mock. And the targets have been all too real.

Iran took dozens of Americans hostage in Tehran, murdered hundreds of American soldiers, Marines, in Beirut, and was responsible for killing and maiming thousands of American service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beyond the Middle East, Iran attacks America and its allies through its global terror network. It blew up the Jewish community center and the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. It helped Al Qaida bomb U.S. embassies in Africa. It even attempted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, right here in Washington, D.C.

In the Middle East, Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow.

Netanyahu wants the West’s negotiators to curb Iran’s terrorism and expansionism as part of the negotiations. And he’s not alone.

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry cannot dispute the characterization of Iran in Netanyahu’s speech, and don’t try to do so. What he said is the uncontested truth. Obama sees Iran’s regional influence as either inevitable or ultimately desirable. Yet those in the region are well aware that Obama’s view of Iran is a fantasy; Tehran is the prime agent of destabilization throughout the Middle East.

One triumph of Netanyahu’s speech today seems to have been to get Obama and especially Kerry to do something they often appear completely incapable of doing: listening to allies. AFP reports that Kerry is heading to the region to try to convince allies that the Obama administration takes the Iranian threat much more seriously than they appear to, nuke or no nuke:

The United States will “confront aggressively” Iran’s bid to expand its influence across the Middle East even if a nuclear deal is reached, a State Department official said Tuesday.

The official’s comments came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a controversial address to the US Congress, sought to highlight Iran’s expansionist hopes as one reason to halt the nuclear talks.

Top US diplomat John Kerry will travel to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to reassure US Gulf allies that an Iran deal would not mean Washington would turn a blind eye to the Islamic Republic’s regional ambitions.

“Regardless of what happens in the nuclear file, we will continue to confront aggressively Iranian expansion in the region and Iranian aggressiveness in the region,” the official said.

It’s a tough sell. The Obama administration has found itself enabling that very expansion in the stubborn belief that the U.S. and Iran not only share interests but can cooperate to the West’s benefit on various conflicts around the Middle East.

The administration wants to divorce its nuclear diplomacy from Iranian expansionism because it doesn’t want an Iranian retreat in the Middle East, not while ISIS slaughters its way across Iraq and Syria, and not while the administration is intent on leaving a vacuum of American influence into which any number of militant groups can step.

It’s also a tough sell because of the administration’s own rhetoric. AFP quotes a State Department official today as follows: “You can’t read into the nuclear negotiation any kind of determination of where the US relationship with Iran may go in the future.”

In fact, you absolutely can. The administration’s posture toward Iran, as evident in this conciliatory deal on the table, is that Tehran is a power with legitimate “rights” to enrich uranium and have a nuclear program in place, and that it’s a country that can be trusted with a sunset clause to boot. Netanyahu’s speech clearly and convincingly laid out the case against that view. And Kerry knows it.

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