Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Kerry

Don’t Fall into Ratcheted Negotiation Trap on Iran

My recent book, Dancing with the Devil, examines both the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and the strategies U.S. adversaries use when sitting across the negotiation table from American diplomats. While the State Department has never conducted a lessons-learned review from past episodes of diplomacy with rogue regimes in general or Iran in particular, Iranian diplomats are negotiating straight from a well-established and successful playbook, one used successfully by Tehran in past rounds and also used to maximum advantage by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

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My recent book, Dancing with the Devil, examines both the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and the strategies U.S. adversaries use when sitting across the negotiation table from American diplomats. While the State Department has never conducted a lessons-learned review from past episodes of diplomacy with rogue regimes in general or Iran in particular, Iranian diplomats are negotiating straight from a well-established and successful playbook, one used successfully by Tehran in past rounds and also used to maximum advantage by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

Here’s how it goes: When the United States (or any other democracy) is making a big push for a final agreement, negotiate, extract compromises, and collect those final last-minute concessions while up against the wire. Then go home, and treat those concessions as a baseline for the start of new negotiations: What had been the last-minute deal suddenly becomes the opening position in a pattern that provides a distinct disadvantage to the party which wants the deal more.

Cases in point: On May 31, 2006, Condoleezza Rice announced the resumption of direct U.S. talks with Iran and the enhancement of the incentive package. It was supposed to be the final, leave-it-or-take-it moment to get Iran to negotiate seriously. Alas, that never happened. But because that had already been put on the table, the next time diplomats wanted to achieve the same aim, there simply was an inflation among incentives. Then, On September 15, 2006, the European Union dropped its demand that Iran comply with IAEA and Security Council demands for enrichment suspension. Some proponents of the current talks, the National Iranian American Council for example, say that diplomacy is the best option because Iran had continued to enrich uranium during periods of coercion. What they omit, however, is that it was actually periods of diplomacy which blessed that Iranian practice. It was during this period of diplomacy that Iran increased its centrifuge capacity from 164 to 3,000.

So what will the next round bring? For Secretary of State John Kerry, getting the Iranians to the table might be a sign of progress. But if he had any sense of Iranian negotiating behavior, he would recognize a pattern. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sees him not as a friend, but rather a fiddle to play. Alas, Zarif has proven himself the maestro.

How to counter the problem? Iran must know that every deal on the table is the most generous deal they can ever expect. Every time talks break off, coercion (for example, banking sanctions must snap back to their full application) and the future incentives must lower considerably. With oil half of what it was last year–and, therefore, Iran’s income taking a significant hit–it’s time to let Tehran truly ponder what the road not taken would mean.

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Overtime Iran Talks Make Congressional Action Necessary

A day after the deadline for the conclusion of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program expired, the talks continued. Secretary of State John Kerry appears determined to keep talking with his Iranian counterparts in Switzerland as long as it takes to get something signed, no matter how weak or insubstantial in terms of its chances of actually stopping Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions. If Kerry does succeed in producing a piece of paper that he can call an agreement, the administration will use it as proof that any interference from Congress will be unhelpful to the diplomatic process. But whether he succeeds or not, this week’s spectacle of U.S. officials being played for chumps by the Islamist regime should serve as motivation for the Senate to act when it returns the week after next. Nothing that happens in Lausanne, whether it is endless talks aimed at dragging the West into more concessions or another flimsy interim accord, should be construed as a reason to prevent Congress from voting on measures that require any agreement with Iran to be subjected to an up-or-down vote by the Senate or to pass more sanctions that would go into effect in the event of a breakdown in the talks.

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A day after the deadline for the conclusion of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program expired, the talks continued. Secretary of State John Kerry appears determined to keep talking with his Iranian counterparts in Switzerland as long as it takes to get something signed, no matter how weak or insubstantial in terms of its chances of actually stopping Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions. If Kerry does succeed in producing a piece of paper that he can call an agreement, the administration will use it as proof that any interference from Congress will be unhelpful to the diplomatic process. But whether he succeeds or not, this week’s spectacle of U.S. officials being played for chumps by the Islamist regime should serve as motivation for the Senate to act when it returns the week after next. Nothing that happens in Lausanne, whether it is endless talks aimed at dragging the West into more concessions or another flimsy interim accord, should be construed as a reason to prevent Congress from voting on measures that require any agreement with Iran to be subjected to an up-or-down vote by the Senate or to pass more sanctions that would go into effect in the event of a breakdown in the talks.

It should be recalled that after the West signed an interim accord with Iran in November 2013, President Obama promised that subsequent negotiations for a final accord would be finite in nature and not allow the Islamist regime to spin them out indefinitely. But now as the talks were extended yet again, the pattern of Iranian intransigence followed by American concessions appears ready to repeat itself. Having invested so heavily in the notion that the talks must succeed, the U.S. is unwilling to walk away from them leading the Iranian negotiators to understandably come to the conclusion that all they need to do is to keep saying no in order to compel Kerry to agree to their demands.

From the start of the negotiations earlier in 2013, any “progress” toward an agreement has always been a function of President Obama’s willingness to discard the principles about the Iranian nuclear threat that he articulated during his 2012 campaign for reelection. Instead of sticking to his demand that Iran dismantle its nuclear program if it wanted sanctions lifted, the U.S. has, piece by piece, dismantled its initial position that would have permanently blocked any possibility that the Islamist regime could build a bomb.

In order to get the interim accord in 2013, the administration tacitly conceded Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium. In the last year, it has gone further, consenting to the regime retaining thousands of centrifuges and allowing it to stonewall United Nations inspectors seeking to discover the extent of their military research. Then the Americans agreed to include a “sunset” clause that would end restrictions on Iran after a period of as little as ten years, meaning Tehran could pursue a bomb unhindered by Western interference after the agreement expired. At every point, wherever Iran said “no,” Kerry and Obama gave in and defended the concession as inevitable and preferable to breaking off the talks.

In the last weeks as negotiations become more urgent, this pattern also intensified. Kerry and the rest of the P5+1 team agreed to let Iran keep hundreds of centrifuges in its fortified mountainside redoubt at Fordow where it would be immune to attack. And then the Iranians had the bad manners to let slip that, contrary to the impression given by the West, they have never agreed to have their stockpile of enriched uranium shipped out of the country. Instead, they are insisting they must hold onto it, meaning that even if it is reduced to a diluted form, it could be quickly converted back into nuclear fuel anytime the regime chose to do so.

This isn’t the only sticking point left to be resolved before Kerry can emerge waving a piece of paper and proclaiming that he has averted a potential conflict. But it is one that, along with the centrifuges, the lack of transparency about their military efforts, the sunset clause, and the ability to reimpose sanctions quickly, makes a mockery of any hope that the deal will fulfill Obama’s pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a weapon.

We already know that in their lust for détente with an Iranian regime whose sole goal is regional hegemony that is being advanced by their auxiliaries in Iraq, Syria, and now Yemen, the administration has refused to try and make the deal encompass even empty promises about an end to Tehran’s sponsorship of terrorism or its ballistic-missile program that threatens the West as well as moderate Arab regimes and Israel.

But if Kerry agrees to a deal without getting Iran to agree to give up its nuclear fuel, its centrifuges, or reveal the truth about its military research, the deal will be worthless. And if he continues the negotiations indefinitely as Iran continues to sensibly hold out until the West gives in, the situation will be just as bad.

That’s why there are no longer any rational arguments for further delay on the Corker-Menendez bill requiring congressional approval of a deal or of the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill. The Republican leadership should make their passage a priority once the Senate returns after its holiday recess. And Democrats who claim to be skeptical about Iran as well as friends of Israel must prepare to choose between the security of the West and its allies and defending an administration seeking to divide the country on party lines on these crucial questions. If Kerry can’t stand his ground on these issues or walk away from the talks, the Senate must vote.

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Iran and the John Kerry School of Negotiation

Last year, I traded in my old 2003 Nissan for a new car. I wish I hadn’t and instead had the opportunity to sell it either to Secretary of State John Kerry or the American negotiating team with Iran. It’s blue book value was probably around $1,500. I’m sure if I made $1,250 my opening bid, Kerry would come back with $5,000. Maybe I could reach an agreement on that figure, but back away at the last minute and perhaps get $20,000. Now, three of the four door handles had broken on the car and it had a big rust stain on its side panel thanks to a careless parker at Dulles Airport, but perhaps I could feign grievance and demand an extra $35,000 just so Kerry could demonstrate he wasn’t guilty after all.

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Last year, I traded in my old 2003 Nissan for a new car. I wish I hadn’t and instead had the opportunity to sell it either to Secretary of State John Kerry or the American negotiating team with Iran. It’s blue book value was probably around $1,500. I’m sure if I made $1,250 my opening bid, Kerry would come back with $5,000. Maybe I could reach an agreement on that figure, but back away at the last minute and perhaps get $20,000. Now, three of the four door handles had broken on the car and it had a big rust stain on its side panel thanks to a careless parker at Dulles Airport, but perhaps I could feign grievance and demand an extra $35,000 just so Kerry could demonstrate he wasn’t guilty after all.

I wish this was a silly example, but increasingly it seems accurate. And I wish we were talking about negotiating poorly over a used car rather than allowing Iran a capability which could endanger millions of lives.

It’s worth remembering where this started: President Barack Obama entered office promising a new era for multilateralism and diplomacy. Heck, he won a Nobel Peace Prize on his rhetoric alone. He has transformed himself into the most unilateral president the United States has experienced. It’s all well and good to bash George W. Bush, but under Bush there had been a succession of unanimous or near-unanimous UN Security Council resolutions all demanding Iran cease enriching uranium. Obama and Kerry came in, however, affirming Iran’s right to enrich uranium, undercutting the will of the international community with a wave of their hand. But was it realistic to demand zero enrichment? The Kuwaitis should be thankful that Iraq did not invade them under the watch of Team Obama. After all, Obama might simply have acquiesced to Iraqi tyranny by saying it was no longer realistic to expect Kuwaiti sovereignty.

It’s not just blessing Iran’s enrichment that is problematic. The “Possible Military Dimensions” is not something which should be shunted aside. After all, if Iran’s goal was simply to power air conditioners or plasma flatscreens in Tehran’s swank northern neighborhoods, it’s doubtful they would have experimented with nuclear bomb triggering devices. But they did. Oh, Mr. Kerry, I didn’t mention that my 2003 Nissan only has three wheels? Oops, my bad. Now, it may be true that the Iranian leadership changed their mind about the direction of their nuclear program back around 2003 (against the backdrop of the invasion of Iraq, it might be impolite to add). But what’s to stop them just as easily from changing their minds again in the future? It’s a question which Kerry should answer. And if he cannot provide that guarantee, then maybe I should demand another 100 grand for my Nissan. After all, Kerry’s a man who at this point will accept anything.

The silliest part of this whole process is that the United States and, more broadly, the P5+1 had amazing leverage. Iran’s economy had shrunk 5.4 percent before negotiations ever began, and that was before the price of oil halved, with Iran’s income along with it. Most Cold War historians now acknowledge that the United States won the Cold War by bankrupting the Soviet Union, though they disagree on largely partisan lines about the degree to which Ronald Reagan deserves the credit. That’s an argument for another day. The proper analogy for Kerry and perhaps Obama would be if they threw all Western allies under the bus in order to gather up the funds to subsidize the failing Soviet Empire in its hour of need. Actually, an even better analogy would be if they donated billions of dollars to the Soviet cause, all the while acquiescing to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and its consolidation of power in Southeast Asia and Africa. It’s time to step back, see the forest through the trees, and recognize the Iran deal for what it is. And, while we’re at it, Mr. Kerry, my Nissan is yours for only $2,350,000; please excuse the cracks in the windshield and the missing trunk.

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Deal or a Delay? Either Is a Triumph for Iran

With only hours to go before a self-imposed deadline on the Iran nuclear talks expires, the outcome of the current round of negotiations is still up in the air. The New York Times claimed that the negotiators were on the verge of a preliminary accord. But the purpose of such an announcement would be more to boost support for President Obama’s foreign policy than anything else since even the optimists are conceding that several key issues remain unresolved. Either way, the talks will continue until the supposedly hard deadline in June. But no matter what happens today, the willingness of the Obama administration to stick to their strategy of appeasement has made the Iranians the big winners of the talks. By sticking to their refusal to give ground, with or without another interim deal, they have talked the Americans into making a series of devastating concessions that ensure that Iran will be recognized as a threshold nuclear power with the likelihood that, whether by cheating or complying with an agreement, they will get their bomb.

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With only hours to go before a self-imposed deadline on the Iran nuclear talks expires, the outcome of the current round of negotiations is still up in the air. The New York Times claimed that the negotiators were on the verge of a preliminary accord. But the purpose of such an announcement would be more to boost support for President Obama’s foreign policy than anything else since even the optimists are conceding that several key issues remain unresolved. Either way, the talks will continue until the supposedly hard deadline in June. But no matter what happens today, the willingness of the Obama administration to stick to their strategy of appeasement has made the Iranians the big winners of the talks. By sticking to their refusal to give ground, with or without another interim deal, they have talked the Americans into making a series of devastating concessions that ensure that Iran will be recognized as a threshold nuclear power with the likelihood that, whether by cheating or complying with an agreement, they will get their bomb.

Though much was made of today’s deadline, the tension about the outcome is entirely artificial. There was never any doubt that the United States would walk away from the talks no matter what Iran did. By reneging on previous indications that they would allow their stockpile of enriched uranium to be shipped out of the country, the Iranians gambled that even something like this—which effectively dispels any hope they can be stopped from building a bomb if they wanted to—would not force the president to recognize that he was being taken to the cleaners. The same applies to their refusal to allow United Nations inspectors access to information about their military research, their successful efforts to force the West to allow the Islamist regime to keep hundreds of centrifuges operating inside their impregnable mountainside bunker at Fordow, and a sunset clause that will end all restrictions on their program in as soon as ten years. Any further delays in the negotiations will merely give more time for Iran to push the U.S. for even more concessions.

Yet as it has done since it began negotiating away its economic and political leverage over Iran in 2013, the United States simply backed down whenever it was challenged. Throughout this long process, the Iranians have never given in on any serious point that could actually put an end to their nuclear ambitions. Instead, the administration rationalized each concession it made as inevitable and necessary until we are now at the point where the president’s 2012 campaign promises about dismantling Iran’s nuclear program have been shoved down the memory hole. President Obama’s pursuit of Iran detente has reversed the dynamic in which sanctions had forced Iran’s economy to its knees and isolated a regime that is the leading state sponsor of terrorism on the planet. As the clock ticked down on the talks in Lausanne, it was the representatives of the ayatollahs who held the whip hand and they have not been shy about exercising that advantage.

An interim accord will be represented as a triumph for an administration that is desperate for good news from abroad. We will be told that cutbacks in the number of centrifuges and the supposed freeze on Iran’s nuclear program will make the U.S. and its allies safer than we are today. But any celebration of this as a victory for American diplomacy will be entirely misplaced. The deal on the table will not stop Iran from building a bomb if it wants to do so since it will retain its nuclear infrastructure. Nor is there any assurance that the so-called “breakout” period by which it could build a weapon is as long as one year and even less certainty that such activity could be detected or that action could be taken in time.

A deal or even a delay that will send the talks into yet another overtime period will be a function of Iran’s stubborn tactics and the Americans’ zeal for a deal at any price. Secure in the knowledge that nothing they demand will force an end to the negotiations and that there is no topic, no matter how crucial to monitoring their nuclear program, that Obama won’t concede, Tehran has emerged from this process with its nuclear dreams intact and the prospect of an end to sanctions that will inject new life into their economy.

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry repeatedly said that no deal with Iran would be better than a bad deal. But their eagerness for an agreement at any price has made it obvious that their real goal in these negotiations was to initiate a new détente with the Iranian regime more than it was to limit its nuclear ambitions. The president may believe that cooperating with Iran is better for America than isolating it, but in practice that will mean that a stronger, more prosperous Islamist government is going to be an even greater danger to its Arab neighbors and Israel and the West will have no leverage at all to deter those threats.

That’s a colossal defeat for U.S. security. If, as some say, these talks are an attempt by President Obama to build his legacy, what he is doing is ensuring that along with his place in history as our first African-American president, he will also be remembered as the man who enabled an aggressive, anti-Semitic, terror-supporting Islamist state to become a regional superpower with an American seal of approval.

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Iran Tests Obama’s Desperation Again

As the last weekend before the deadline for its nuclear talks with Iran wound down, administration sources were talking as if a deal was a foregone conclusion. But as they have throughout this process, Tehran’s agents decided to test President Obama’s desperation one more time. On Sunday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi let slip that, contrary to the West’s expectations, the Islamist regime had no intention of agreeing to anything that would commit them to shipping their growing stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country. Reneging at the last minute on something they have previously committed to doing is a standard Iranian negotiating tactic. Though American officials are insisting that negotiations about this crucial point are continuing, the last-second switch was yet another telling moment in a dispiriting display of weak American diplomacy. Along with Iran’s ongoing refusal to reveal its military research program and reports about nuclear work in Syria and North Korea that may be conducted on behalf of the regime once sanctions are lifted, this news raises the question of just how much more will the U.S. have to concede to get Iran to sign on to anything?

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As the last weekend before the deadline for its nuclear talks with Iran wound down, administration sources were talking as if a deal was a foregone conclusion. But as they have throughout this process, Tehran’s agents decided to test President Obama’s desperation one more time. On Sunday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi let slip that, contrary to the West’s expectations, the Islamist regime had no intention of agreeing to anything that would commit them to shipping their growing stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country. Reneging at the last minute on something they have previously committed to doing is a standard Iranian negotiating tactic. Though American officials are insisting that negotiations about this crucial point are continuing, the last-second switch was yet another telling moment in a dispiriting display of weak American diplomacy. Along with Iran’s ongoing refusal to reveal its military research program and reports about nuclear work in Syria and North Korea that may be conducted on behalf of the regime once sanctions are lifted, this news raises the question of just how much more will the U.S. have to concede to get Iran to sign on to anything?

The official U.S. response to the New York Times report about Iran reneging on exporting its nuclear fuel was hardly encouraging. Virtually all observers were under the impression that the West had secured Iran’s agreement on this point. Though there would still be plenty of room to cheat on a deal with such a provision in place, without it, the entire shaky edifice of the negotiations would collapse. Thus, when a “senior State Department official” said that, “Contrary to the report in The New York Times, the issue of how Iran’s stockpile would be disposed of had not yet been decided in the negotiating room, even tentatively,” that is hardly a sign that the situation is in hand. If Iran is still holding onto that crucial card with only hours before a deadline is supposed to expire, that’s a sign of enormous confidence on the part of Tehran’s negotiators that they have President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry just where they want them.

If Iran is planning on insisting on retaining their enriched uranium, all the confident talk coming out of the administration in recent months about a deal being the best way to ensure that the regime doesn’t get a bomb is exposed as patent falsehood. The Times hints, no doubt at the prompting of its helpful State Department sources, that a possible solution would be for the fuel remaining in Iran being kept in a diluted form. But we know that so long as it remains on Iranian soil and under its control, that stockpile could be easily converted back into material that can be used for a bomb.

As we noted last week, Iran’s refusal to fess up to its progress on possible military dimensions of its nuclear program is, in and of itself, a glaring weakness in any agreement since it means negotiators are operating in the blind about how close it may already be to a bomb. If that point is now apparently off the table as the West scrambles to try and persuade the Iranians not to gut what is left of an agreement that also doesn’t touch on their support for terror and missile program, there seems little hope that this agreement can be verified even in its weakened state. The West’s acquiescence to Iran continuing to operate centrifuges in its mountainside bunker at Fordow reduces even further the already slim chances that the deal can stand up to scrutiny.

It’s in that context that yesterday’s Washington Post article by Ali Alfoneh and Marc Ruel Gerecht about Iran hiding some of its nuclear work in North Korea and Syria must be viewed. Israel’s 2007 destruction of a Syrian nuclear reactor that was designed in North Korea and almost certainly an Iranian project eliminated one threat, but it did not foreclose the possibility that Tehran would continue to use this tripartite alliance of rogue regimes to further its nuclear ambitions. With the Assad regime now totally dependent on Iranian aid to survive in the current civil war, the prospect that Iran will use its Syrian ally to hide or store some of its nuclear work can’t be ignored. That’s especially true since U.S. intelligence—a vital aspect of compliance with any nuclear agreement—in both countries appears to be so poor.

But these obvious holes in the arguments buttressing support for the proposed deal are even more important when set beside Iran’s confidence that it can force Obama and Kerry to make even more concessions in the last hours of the talks rather than be forced to walk away with nothing. Indeed, the Islamist regime seems to be certain that there is almost nothing it could do or threaten that would be enough to scare off a U.S. negotiating team that cannot go home empty-handed.

If the Americans are not going to be tough about verification measures or the location of Iran’s nuclear stockpile now while the sanctions are still in place and there is yet a chance that the West might realize the current deal won’t actually stop Iran from getting a bomb, how much less likely will it be that the U.S. or its European allies will reimpose those economic restrictions once a nuclear pact is signed?

Iran knows this is the moment to pressure Obama to give up even more than the staggering concessions he has already made in the last two years. Having already failed to stand up to call Iran’s bluffs when all the leverage was on his side, what possible hope is there that he will do so when it is the ayatollahs that have him at a disadvantage?

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Iran and the Problem of Off-Site Research

The current U.S. approach to the P5+1 nuclear negotiation seems so bizarre as to be lifted from the Twilight Zone: The deal as it is taking shape fails to address the key concerns which sparked the crisis. Both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry treat Iranian redlines as sacrosanct, but readily dispense with those of the United States or its allies. Obama effectively acts like a battered spouse: he insists the abuser truly loves him, and he lashes out at any friend who speaks honestly about how self-destructive his attitudes are.

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The current U.S. approach to the P5+1 nuclear negotiation seems so bizarre as to be lifted from the Twilight Zone: The deal as it is taking shape fails to address the key concerns which sparked the crisis. Both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry treat Iranian redlines as sacrosanct, but readily dispense with those of the United States or its allies. Obama effectively acts like a battered spouse: he insists the abuser truly loves him, and he lashes out at any friend who speaks honestly about how self-destructive his attitudes are.

As a result, John Kerry’s triumph not only fails to constrain Iranian enrichment or to answer questions about possible military dimensions and past military nuclear research, but also doesn’t address basic fallacies of logic such as why Iran says its motivation is an indigenous energy supply when its gas and oil resources provide far greater security at a fraction of the price, as well as why an above-board program would seek to construct covert, undeclared nuclear sites in the first place.

When it comes to potential weaponization work, there is one other major problem Kerry leaves unaddressed: the problem of off-site research. The Iranians have always been out-of-the-box thinkers. Putting aside that even inside Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) does not have the right by its own bylaws to inspect any covert site—it will only access declared nuclear facilities and sites—nothing in the agreement prevents Iran from setting up collaborative laboratories in countries like North Korea. North Korean and Iranian engineers already are present at each other’s ballistic-missile tests. Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian has already called North Korea a model for the Islamic Republic to emulate.

And while North Korea is the most secure and likely venue for Iranian scientists to establish satellite laboratories, theHermit Kingdom is not alone as a possible venue for offsite Iranian nuclear work. Russian President Vladimir Putin has quietly encouraged Iran’s nuclear work from the get-go, and may see provision of laboratory space as a way to keep tabs on Iranian work he recognizes is going to continue anyway. Saudi Arabia is trying to flip Sudan, but may not be successful; Khartoum provides another possibility, even if less secure. And should Bashar al-Assad reassert control—as Obama and Kerry now seem to hope—then Syria too might provide some facilities.

Alas, the adage where there’s a will, there’s a way increasingly applies not only to the ability to achieve a preliminary agreement, but also to Iran’s ability to bypass inspections to achieve the weaponry so many Iranian figures have claimed they seek.

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Iran’s Existential Threat to Israel Not Exaggerated

As President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry rush to a nuclear deal that addresses few of the original issues that have sparked international concern with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, it may be useful to consider just why Israel has come to view a nuclear capable Islamic Republic of Iran as an existential threat. While there is much to criticize in the technicalities of the agreement, the consistency and frequency of Iranian threats against the Jewish state, as well as the prestige within Iran of those who have made such threats, are too often ignored.

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As President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry rush to a nuclear deal that addresses few of the original issues that have sparked international concern with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, it may be useful to consider just why Israel has come to view a nuclear capable Islamic Republic of Iran as an existential threat. While there is much to criticize in the technicalities of the agreement, the consistency and frequency of Iranian threats against the Jewish state, as well as the prestige within Iran of those who have made such threats, are too often ignored.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was an unabashed racist and anti-Semite. He began his seminal essay on Islamic government—the exegesis that underlays the Islamic Revolution and Islamic Republic—by cursing the Jews. “From the very beginning, the historical movement of Islam has had to contend with the Jews, for it was they who first established anti-Islamic propaganda and engaged in various stratagems, and as you can see, this activity continues down to the present,” he declared.

Then, of course, there have been the repeated declarations about Israel’s destruction. Iranian authorities have declared the last Friday in Ramadan to be “Qods [Jerusalem] Day” and have reserved it for the most vitriolic sermons and threats. It was on Qods Day in 2001 that Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and one of the most influential regime figures, declared, “If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” Hassan Rouhani was, of course, Supreme National Security Council chairman at the time. He applauded. Has he changed? No. One of his first actions as president was to underscore the importance of the annual Qods Day rally.

Other Iranian figures appointed by the supreme leader have also threatened to eradicate Israel by means of nuclear weapons. Why Western diplomats believe the assurances they receive in English when the supreme leader’s inner circle says quite the opposite in Persian is something someone might want to ask America’s nuclear negotiators. Likewise, while Obama seems to embrace the pre-World War I notion of secret treaties, there is no reason why the supreme leader’s fatwa against nuclear weapons should remain secret unless, of course, the assurance which Obama so often cites simply does not exist. Certainly, if the backbone of newfound trust in Iran is such a fatwa, the White House could provide its text. That it chooses not to do so again amplifies concerns that Obama has become Khamenei’s useful idiot.

Underlying concerns about Iran’s intentions have been frequent statements by Iranian officials attesting to Iran’s genocidal intent. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that “Israel must be wiped off the face of the map,” academic apologists for Iran ran interference. Here, for example, University of Michigan professor Juan Cole suggested that the New York Times had mistranslated Ahmadinejad’s quote of Khomeini, and suggested the phrase he used was perhaps drawn from medieval poetry and had nothing to do with tanks. Of course, this is belied by the Iranian regime itself, which in bilingual posters made clear its intent and which tended to repeat its declaration not in poetry slams but rather in military parades.

And while Obama and Kerry put their head in the sand with regard to Iran’s nuclear intentions, those within range of Iran’s missiles remember the last will and testament of Maj.-Gen. Hassan Tehrani-Moghadam, the overseer of Iran’s missile program, who died in an explosion in 2011. While not published in English, the Iranian press highlighted how Moghadam had asked that his epitaph read, “Write on my tombstone: This is the grave of someone who wanted to annihilate Israel.”

Perhaps Obama and Kerry wish to ignore the frequency of Iranian statements seeking an end to Israel’s existence. They may see it as rhetorical excess only, but never bother to ask why a regime would embrace such rhetoric in the first place. Make no mistake: Anti-Zionism may be the cool new trend in Western Europe and in American universities, but wishing Israel out of existence is akin to seeking the eradication of the people who populate the country. And the Iranian regime, which has been a charter member of the “eradicate Israel” camp will, thanks to Obama and Kerry, soon have the means to fulfill their dream. The deal Obama now strikes is analogous to trusting Hutus in early 1990s Rwanda to manufacture and use machetes for agricultural purposes only despite their rhetoric to cut Tutsis to pieces.

Yes, Israel must take Iran at its word and recognize that the nightmare of an Iranian regime able to back its rhetoric with substance will soon be its new reality. Under such circumstances, the Israelis would be foolish to respond to the threat with inaction.

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Obama’s Pointless Israel Spats Illustrate Spite, Not Strategy

A week has now passed since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected in a decisive win that deeply disappointed the Obama administration that made no secret of its desire that he be defeated. But rather than cut its losses, the White House continues to dig itself in deeper in a conflict with the Israelis with an interview in which President Obama expressed concern for the future of Israeli democracy all the while making it clear that he would like to invalidate the verdict of Israeli voters. But that was not all. The president also sent his chief of staff to speak at the conference of the left-wing J Street lobby. There, James McDonough brought an audience of critics of Israel to its feet by vowing that the U.S. would not cease its efforts to force the Netanyahu government to “end 50 years of occupation.” All of this stoking the fires of conflict forces us to ask why the president is so invested in this effort. The answer isn’t reassuring, especially for those who wanted to believe the president’s 2012 re-election pitch that claimed he was a true friend of Israel.

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A week has now passed since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected in a decisive win that deeply disappointed the Obama administration that made no secret of its desire that he be defeated. But rather than cut its losses, the White House continues to dig itself in deeper in a conflict with the Israelis with an interview in which President Obama expressed concern for the future of Israeli democracy all the while making it clear that he would like to invalidate the verdict of Israeli voters. But that was not all. The president also sent his chief of staff to speak at the conference of the left-wing J Street lobby. There, James McDonough brought an audience of critics of Israel to its feet by vowing that the U.S. would not cease its efforts to force the Netanyahu government to “end 50 years of occupation.” All of this stoking the fires of conflict forces us to ask why the president is so invested in this effort. The answer isn’t reassuring, especially for those who wanted to believe the president’s 2012 re-election pitch that claimed he was a true friend of Israel.

As I noted yesterday, one motive for the conflict with Israel is the disagreement over the Iran nuclear negotiations. The president clearly is not willing to get past his anger about Netanyahu speaking to Congress in opposition to the deal that the U.S. is offering the Iranian regime. With the talks moving into their final stages, it seems likely that Iran will sign an accord, especially since, that country’s so-called “hard-liners” appear to be thrilled with the concessions that their nation has forced out of an Obama administration so fixated on its goal of détente with the Islamist regime that it is willing to retreat from every principle it went into the talks to defend.

Suppressing criticism of the deal has become the top foreign policy priority for the White House and that means keeping the extravagant concessions made to Iran secret for as long as possible. As our Max Boot noted earlier, the administration bizarrely claimed today that Israel was spying on U.S. negotiators with Iran and sharing the information with an entity that the president considers a hostile power — Congress — while admitting that it knows this is true because of U.S. spying on Israel.

But while the nuclear issue and Obama’s acquiescence to Iran’s quest for regional hegemony is a huge part of the current tangle with Israel, that does not completely account for the administration’s bold talk about reviving the dead-in-the-water peace process.

This has, after all, been a constant theme since the president took office in January 2009 determined to make a correction from what he felt was the Bush administration’s coziness with Israel. Throughout the last six years, with only a one-year break for a re-election campaign Jewish charm offensive, President Obama has picked numerous fights with Netanyahu government over settlement building and borders as well as the status of Jerusalem. The goal throughout has been to persuade Israel to take “risks for peace” involving retreating from the West Bank and dividing Jerusalem.

This struggle has been undertaken in the name of saving Israel from itself because as the president noted in his Huffington Post interview, he wanted to preserve Israel’s democracy. But, like his admirers among the crowd at J Street, at no point has the president chosen to hold the Palestinians accountable for their consistent rejection of Israeli peace offers or efforts to torpedo talks, such as the end run around negotiations and unity pact with Hamas that blew up the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry last year.

Nor is there any answer to the widespread concern voiced by Israeli voters about what would happen if their country heeded Obama’s advice and withdrew from the West Bank, whether to the 1967 lines or not. After the example of Gaza, from which Israeli pulled out every last soldier and settler and which was then transformed into a vast terror base from which rockets are rained down on Israeli cities, why should Israelis believe a pullout from the West Bank end any differently.

Moreover, when McDonough speaks of “ending occupation,” Palestinians hear something very different from Americans. When Fatah and Hamas talk about occupation they are referring not just to parts of the West Bank that even most Israelis would happily exit in exchange for true peace, but all of the country, including those parts that were not taken in the 1967 war. When such a high official uses language that is routinely employed by Hamas, albeit for different purposes, why should anyone be surprised if those terrorists regard the White House temper tantrum as a green light for a repeat of last summer’s bloody and pointless war? If Obama was prepared to cut off arms resupply for the Israeli army during that conflict, what might he do next time?

One may disagree with Netanyahu on many things and even fervently advocate for a two-state solution and still understand that White House pressure on Israel about the Palestinians in the absence of any sign that the PA will ever make peace on any terms is utterly irresponsible. Until PA leader Mahmoud Abbas or his Hamas rivals have change their minds about refusing to agree to any deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, a return to the table isn’t merely pointless, it’s an invitation to more mayhem as the Palestinians raise the ante in hopes that the U.S. will abandon its Israeli ally.

From January 2009 to the present, the conflict between Israel and the United States has never been connected to any real chance of peace or ending the conflict in a manner that is consistent with American pledges about ensuring the Jewish state’s security. At this point, it is time for even those that have rationalized and apologized for Obama’s penchant for attacking Israel to face up to the fact that his behavior requires a better explanation than an alleged desire to save it from itself. Nor is the argument about Iran enough to justify what we are witnessing. Nothing about the current argument can be traced to U.S. security needs. Rather, its motive seems more about personal anger and vague ideological assumptions about Israel and the Palestinians that have no connection to reality.

That is a sobering thought that should motivate even those Democrats who are no fans of Netanyahu to begin speaking up against an administration policy that seems rooted in spite, not strategy.

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If Iran’s ‘Hard-Liners’ Are Happy, Americans Should Be Worried

According to the New York Times’ man in Tehran, Iran’s “hard-liners” are being unusually quiet these days. Bureau chief Thomas Erdbrink reports that what one of his sources among the regime’s Revolutionary Guards calls their “remarkably quiet” behavior is significant. Rather than orchestrating demonstrations or otherwise showing their displeasure with the nuclear talks with the West, as they have at times in the past, this faction is doing nothing. This reflects, he writes, “a general satisfaction with the direction of the talks and the successes Iran is enjoying, extending and deepening its influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.” One can’t blame them for thinking so but the apt question here isn’t about what the Times considers the surprising support for the negotiations from the country’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his followers but why those tasked with protecting America’s security shouldn’t be worried about Iran’s contentment?

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According to the New York Times’ man in Tehran, Iran’s “hard-liners” are being unusually quiet these days. Bureau chief Thomas Erdbrink reports that what one of his sources among the regime’s Revolutionary Guards calls their “remarkably quiet” behavior is significant. Rather than orchestrating demonstrations or otherwise showing their displeasure with the nuclear talks with the West, as they have at times in the past, this faction is doing nothing. This reflects, he writes, “a general satisfaction with the direction of the talks and the successes Iran is enjoying, extending and deepening its influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.” One can’t blame them for thinking so but the apt question here isn’t about what the Times considers the surprising support for the negotiations from the country’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his followers but why those tasked with protecting America’s security shouldn’t be worried about Iran’s contentment?

While Iran’s political system is complex, the Times article reflects a basic misconception about the Islamist regime that is widespread in the West. There are various competing factions within Iran’s government, security forces and religious institutions, the assumption that a group “hard-liners” is fighting against supposed moderates over the future of the country is something of a misnomer. Iran is not one big happy family of Islamists but the division has a lot to do with personalities, institutional loyalties and shades of fanaticism and not much to do with Western beliefs and hopes that Iranian society will become a more liberal place. Just as many American analyses of the politics of the former Soviet Union were driven by misinformed speculation about an ongoing battle between so-called hawks and doves within the Kremlin, so, too, is much of the talk about Iran rendered useless by similar talk about hard-liners and moderates, who are allegedly led by President Hassan Rouhani.

On the issues that matter, be it the theocratic nature of the state, support for international terrorism, the regime’s ambition for regional hegemony and nuclear weapons or the destruction of Israel, there are no real moderates or hard-liners in Tehran as these goals are shared by all the factions. The only differences are about nuances or how much they think they can get away with in pushing the West. If even those identified by the New York Times are pleased with the nuclear talks as well as by their country’s success in spreading their influence around the region via terrorism and support of allied despotic regimes such as that of Bashar Assad in Syria, that is not a sign that Khamenei and his followers are softening up but that they are realizing their objectives.

They have, after all, good reason to be happy.

By merely standing their ground in the negotiations the Iranians have been able to persuade President Obama to abandon his 2012 campaign promises about forcing Iran to give up its nuclear program as well as the United Nations Security Council resolutions forbidding them to enrich uranium. Instead of increasing sanctions until the tottering Iranian economy, undermined by the crash in oil prices, forced a shaky regime to start making concessions, it was the Americans who cracked and gave up all of their considerable economic and political leverage in the talks. Now, 16 months after the interim agreement signed by the U.S. gave a Western seal of approval to the survival of Iran’s nuclear program, the Americans have gone further, agreeing that Tehran can keep thousands of centrifuges and even putting in a sunset clause in the offer put on the table that will eventually end all restrictions on their behavior. The Iranians know the one year “break out” period President Obama thinks gives him enough leeway to stop a bomb is meaningless since Western intelligence there is poor and the decision-making process to re-impose sanctions or take other action will take too long and will be unable to prevent them from cheating. But even if they abide by the deal, the sunset clause will ensure that eventually they will move from the status of threshold nuclear power to one with a bomb if they choose.

Even more important, Khamenei understands that President Obama’s belief in a détente with Iran that will enable it “to get right with the world” is also giving his nation the ability to extend its influence over the region in a way that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. With victories in Syria and Yemen and alliances with terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza, they are now able to credibly threaten every moderate Arab regime as well as Israel. Iranian hard-liners may well say, as one of Erdbrink’s sources puts it, that their movement is “at new peaks of our power.”

But what is missing from this story and much of the mainstream media’s uncritical coverage of administration policy, is any explanation as to why it would be in America’s strategic interests to be so accommodating to forces that hate the West and whose dearest wish is to inflict great harm on the “Great Satan” — America or its partner, “Little Satan” Israel.

The administration may answer that any negotiation cannot be a zero-sum game in which Iran will get nothing. But what President Obama has done is to conduct talks in which Iran gets everything it asks for and the West receives next to nothing. The glee of the “hard-liners” is proof that what Secretary of State John Kerry has negotiated isn’t so much a “bad deal” but a one-sided and shameful appeasement, the details of which the administration has worked hard to conceal from both Congress and its Israeli and Arab allies. The happier the “hard-liners” are, the more worried Americans and those who rely on U.S. strength should be.

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What Motivates Iranian Diplomacy?

A major theme of my recent book about the history of negotiating with rogue regimes (a new, paperback edition of which came out last week) is that American leaders’ habit of projecting Western motivations and sincerity onto partners often opens the door for adversaries to outplay the State Department at the bargaining table. It’s important to consider Iranian motivations and how Tehran’s decision-making and strategic goals differ from those of the United States.

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A major theme of my recent book about the history of negotiating with rogue regimes (a new, paperback edition of which came out last week) is that American leaders’ habit of projecting Western motivations and sincerity onto partners often opens the door for adversaries to outplay the State Department at the bargaining table. It’s important to consider Iranian motivations and how Tehran’s decision-making and strategic goals differ from those of the United States.

There’s a certain pattern with regard to Iranian willingness to engage in talks that is deeply troubling: Whenever Iranian leaders demonstrate behavior that, under any honest and dispassionate reading of diplomatic norms or international law would constitute an act of war, those Iranian leaders either solicit or rush to accept offers to engage in a diplomatic process.

Within days of the original Iran hostage crisis, for example, Iranian intermediaries—foreign ministers Abulhassan Bani Sadr and Sadegh Qotbzadeh—accepted offers to negotiate with the Americans, and the Carter administration kept military action off the table. There was absolutely no progress, however, nor did Tehran mean there to be. The only thing that ultimately brought the hostages home was a combination of the Iraqi invasion of Iran—an event that raised the cost to Iran of its international isolation—and the election of Ronald Reagan, who Iranian leaders seemed to fear was stronger and not as indecisive as Jimmy Carter.

In 1983, Iranian-backed terrorist blew up the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut. The Marines, of course, were in Beirut as peacekeepers against the backdrop of Lebanon’s civil war. Once again, the Iranians faced no consequence: Instead, Reagan administration officials did not want to undercut the secret diplomacy which today Americans know as the Arms-for-Hostages scandal.

In 1996, Iranian operatives helped plan and execute the truck bombing of the Khobar Towers, killing 19 American airmen. The FBI investigated the terrorist attack and its report fingered very specific individuals in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iranian regime. But as momentum grew for a response, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami offered a “dialogue of civilizations,” and Bill Clinton ordered the FBI report withdrawn, and shelved any thought of retaliation. While that dialogue never went anywhere, it did provide space for Iran both to bolster its nuclear program and support logistically the 9/11 hijackers.

The strategy continued under George W. Bush. Despite building a covert enrichment plant and, separately, experimenting with items like nuclear triggers that only had military applications, Iranians defused any serious repercussions by offering an olive branch to the European Union, and offering once again to negotiate. Hassan Rouhani, at the time Iran’s Supreme National Security Council chairman later bragged about how he had played the Europeans and even installed new centrifuges while he was receiving European plaudits for suspending enrichment.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s efforts to negotiate with Iran—an outreach with which Tehran flirted—simply gave Iran a pass from accountability as it smuggled in explosively formed projectiles and funded militias responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans.

Never before has a country repeatedly declared its goal was “death to America,” taken clear actions to achieve that aim, and suffered no serious consequences for its actions. The reason for this is Iran’s diplomatic brilliance. They have conditioned successive administrations as easily as Pavlov: They hint at diplomacy, and get a free pass for abusing and murdering Americans.

Secretary of State John Kerry may see himself on the verge of winning the Nobel Peace prize he so passionately desires, but the Iranians are playing him like a fiddle. At the same time, they realize by feigning sincerity they can achieve their nuclear aims, once again bypassing consequence for their illegal activities. How sad it is that the White House is playing into Supreme Leader Khamenei’s hands.

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What South Africa Teaches Us About Suspect Nuclear Programs

Just as two decades ago in the run-up to the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea, enthusiasm for a nuclear deal has trumped good sense and careful consideration about the implications of some of the concessions the White House was willing to make. Back in 1994, President Bill Clinton and his aides gave the South Korean president what might today be called “the Netanyahu treatment,” demonizing the leader of a democratic and pro-American country for having the temerity of raising concerns regarding how a rushed and ill-conceived diplomatic bargain cold undercut his own country’s security. At the same time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—which had just been burned when it emerged that Iraq had had a covert nuclear program despite 11 IAEA clean bills of health—began raising concerns that concessions which the Clinton administration negotiators had made with Pyongyang would make it impossible for the IAEA to do its job. Hindsight shows both the Seoul and the IAEA were right. The irony today is, of course, that Kerry has appointed to be his Iran negotiators some of the same individuals who brought us the Agreed Framework and, by extension, a North Korean nuclear arsenal.

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Just as two decades ago in the run-up to the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea, enthusiasm for a nuclear deal has trumped good sense and careful consideration about the implications of some of the concessions the White House was willing to make. Back in 1994, President Bill Clinton and his aides gave the South Korean president what might today be called “the Netanyahu treatment,” demonizing the leader of a democratic and pro-American country for having the temerity of raising concerns regarding how a rushed and ill-conceived diplomatic bargain cold undercut his own country’s security. At the same time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—which had just been burned when it emerged that Iraq had had a covert nuclear program despite 11 IAEA clean bills of health—began raising concerns that concessions which the Clinton administration negotiators had made with Pyongyang would make it impossible for the IAEA to do its job. Hindsight shows both the Seoul and the IAEA were right. The irony today is, of course, that Kerry has appointed to be his Iran negotiators some of the same individuals who brought us the Agreed Framework and, by extension, a North Korean nuclear arsenal.

It is useful, however, to consider successful examples in which countries have abandoned their military nuclear programs. Libya is one example, of course. The late Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi agreed to abandon his nuclear program in 2003 against the backdrop first of the invasion of Iraq, and then Saddam’s capture. But, even then, American and international experts rushed around the clock to remove nuclear equipment and records in case the famously mercurial Qaddafi changed his mind. Obama has effectively voided six United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding a complete cessation of Iranian enrichment, and he has acceded to Iranian demands that enrichment occur inside Iran, rather than abroad, with a guaranteed supply of nuclear fuel for Iran’s plants.

South Africa is another example. After years of suspicion with regard to its nuclear intentions and, indeed, a weapons program, in 1991 South Africa agreed to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The IAEA moved in to assess South Africa’s compliance. In order to verify the completeness of South Africa’s declaration of inventory of nuclear material and facilities, the IAEA required more than two decades of past records into South Africa’s nuclear program. Ultimately, the organization was able to then trace and account for all nuclear material and verify that South Africa was in compliance.

Alas, Obama and Kerry have in effect acceded to Iran’s demand that transparency and accountability start only when a framework agreement is signed, and that there will be no requirement that Iran come clean about its past. In reality, however, the IAEA will need full and complete records going back to the mid-1980s when the Islamic Republic restarted its nuclear program. The IAEA is right to complain that it is being put in an impossible position because Kerry’s team is prioritizing imagery over substance. Rather than uphold South Africa’s nuclear negotiations as a model, Kerry is effectively allowing Iran to replicate the North Korea model, a model that Iranian nuclear negotiators have embraced. Alas, North Korea has already shown the world where that leads.

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The Last Time Iran Lied

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry put a great deal of faith in their Iranian interlocutors, chief among them Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. After all, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei decreed that the negotiations should occur between foreign ministers, and if there has been one consistent pattern in the current negotiations, it is that Obama is unnervingly deferential to the Supreme Leader’s red lines.

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President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry put a great deal of faith in their Iranian interlocutors, chief among them Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. After all, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei decreed that the negotiations should occur between foreign ministers, and if there has been one consistent pattern in the current negotiations, it is that Obama is unnervingly deferential to the Supreme Leader’s red lines.

Too often, presidents enter the Oval Office convinced that the failure of diplomacy rests more with their predecessors than with their adversaries. Obama is no exception. The State Department meanwhile has not, in the last half century at least, conducted a lessons-learned exercise to determine why its high-profile engagement diplomacy with rogue regimes—North Korea, Saddam’s Iraq, the PLO, the Taliban, or Iran—never seems to work. All too often, it seems history repeats.

It’s worth considering, then, what happened the last time the United States negotiated in earnest with Zarif. In the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, both Zalmay Khalilzad (at the time a senior National Security Council official) and Ryan Crocker (then a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State), traveled to Geneva to meet secretly with Zarif. Their goal was to come to an understanding with Iran ahead of the start of hostilities commencing with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq: Basically, the U.S. side sought not interference and non-intervention with Iran. Zarif readily agreed that Iran would not interfere with any American pilots who strayed into Iraqi airspace, nor would Iran interfere in Iraq by inserting Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or Iranian-backed militias into the country.

Just days later, Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced and almost immediately, more than 2,000 Revolutionary Guardsmen and militiamen infiltrated into Iraq. The Iranian movement was reported first by an Iranian journalist close to former President Mohammad Khatami. In other words, Zarif gave his firm commitment that Iran would not conduct an action, and then Iran subsequently and blatantly violated that agreement.

There are two possible explanations: The first is that Zarif lied. The second is that the then-UN Ambassador was sincere, but he had no power to force groups like the Revolutionary Guards to abide by his negotiated commitments. Either way, the result was the same: Hundreds of Americans died because senior diplomats and the Bush administration chose to trust the Iranians.

The stakes with Iran are even higher today; perhaps it’s time for Kerry to explain in precise detail how it is that a man whose word was without meaning a decade ago has become a trusted intermediary. No one should hold their breath, however, because there is no good answer.

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Assad Crosses Obama’s ‘Red Line’ Again

The Syrian civil war has been a nonstop horror show not only for the people of Syria and their neighbors but also for the United States. After setting up an Atrocities Prevention Board and vowing to stop crimes against humanity, President Obama has done essentially nothing even as the civil war has consumed more than 200,000 lives and displaced more than half of the population. American neglect has allowed the country to be divided between Iranian-backed Shiite extremists such as Hezbollah and Sunni extremists such as the Al Nusra Front and ISIS. Amid this parade of atrocities, virtually the only thing that Obama could boast of was that he had engineered, along with Vladimir Putin, a deal to take away Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons.

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The Syrian civil war has been a nonstop horror show not only for the people of Syria and their neighbors but also for the United States. After setting up an Atrocities Prevention Board and vowing to stop crimes against humanity, President Obama has done essentially nothing even as the civil war has consumed more than 200,000 lives and displaced more than half of the population. American neglect has allowed the country to be divided between Iranian-backed Shiite extremists such as Hezbollah and Sunni extremists such as the Al Nusra Front and ISIS. Amid this parade of atrocities, virtually the only thing that Obama could boast of was that he had engineered, along with Vladimir Putin, a deal to take away Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons.

If so, then why is there credible evidence that the Assad regime has been dropping chlorine gas on civilians in recent days? As Josh Rogin of Bloomberg notes, “Unfortunately, chlorine, which has non-military uses, was not part of that deal. Assad has flaunted the loophole.” The fact that chlorine was not included was bizarre; it is the original chemical weapon, having first been used at the Battle of Ypres in 1915.

But the UN Security Council has acted to erase the loophole. On March 6, the Security Council passed a resolution condemning the regime’s use of chlorine gas after concluding “with a high degree of confidence that chlorine has been used repeatedly and systematically as a weapon in the Syrian Arab Republic.” The Security Council members stressed “that those individuals responsible for any use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical, must be held accountable.”

That would seem to present yet another “red line” that the administration can either enforce or ignore. Opposition activists believe that Assad is once again testing the international community with a series of small attacks utilizing chlorine gas to see how they react. He did the same thing with sarin gas, and when he found little resistance in the world, he unleashed an attack in August 2013 that killed 1,400 people. If left unchecked, we can expect to see chlorine gas employed on an even bigger and deadlier scale, along of course with barrel bombs and other favored instruments of mass destruction employed by the Assad regime and its Iranian patrons.

It will be fascinating to know what if anything the administration will do about this—just as it would be fascinating to know what the administration plans to do to dislodge either ISIS (which it has pledged to defeat) or Assad (whose downfall it once advocated). Secretary of State Kerry who called this week on Assad to get involved in negotiations with the U.S. probably delivered the answer. If only hot air could somehow be utilized as an effective antidote to poison gas.

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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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Calling a Bad Iran Deal By Its Right Name

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and condemned the letter signed by 47 Republican senators warning that any agreement with Iran that was not ratified by Congress would not be legally binding. But despite all of the secretary’s huffing and puffing that was cheered and echoed in the mainstream liberal press, his statement in which he conceded that the deal would not be legally binding confirmed the truth of what the letter asserted. Yet the arguments about the Senate letter and even the brazen plans of the administration to refuse to submit any nuclear agreement with Iran to Congress for ratification have sidelined the necessary debate that we are not currently having about the merits of Kerry’s efforts. Fortunately, Foreign Policy has now published a piece that is a good deal more honest about the administration’s efforts than Kerry or President Obama has been. Jeffrey Lewis writes to say that contrary to the assertions of the secretary and the president, a “bad deal with Iran is better than no deal at all.” Though he’s dead wrong, this is exactly the discussion we should be having about Iran right now.

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Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and condemned the letter signed by 47 Republican senators warning that any agreement with Iran that was not ratified by Congress would not be legally binding. But despite all of the secretary’s huffing and puffing that was cheered and echoed in the mainstream liberal press, his statement in which he conceded that the deal would not be legally binding confirmed the truth of what the letter asserted. Yet the arguments about the Senate letter and even the brazen plans of the administration to refuse to submit any nuclear agreement with Iran to Congress for ratification have sidelined the necessary debate that we are not currently having about the merits of Kerry’s efforts. Fortunately, Foreign Policy has now published a piece that is a good deal more honest about the administration’s efforts than Kerry or President Obama has been. Jeffrey Lewis writes to say that contrary to the assertions of the secretary and the president, a “bad deal with Iran is better than no deal at all.” Though he’s dead wrong, this is exactly the discussion we should be having about Iran right now.

Throughout the last two years of negotiations with Iran, both Obama and Kerry have specified that they will walk away from the talks rather than sign a bad deal that won’t accomplish America’s goal of stopping the Islamist regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Considering that they have extended the current talks with Iran three times after deadlines expired as Iran refused to make concessions shows this promise to be nothing more than rhetoric. But their hypocrisy nevertheless pays tribute to what they understand to be the imperatives of U.S. security policy. Even though the president is clearly intent on not only signing a deal at any cost but also using it as a springboard for a new era of détente with Iran, he understands that open advocacy of appeasement is not something the American public will tolerate. So they are obligated to treat the endless series of concessions and retreats from U.S. security principles as actually great victories for the cause of non-proliferation even if these are transparent deceptions.

This is, after all, the same President Barack Obama who promised in his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney that any deal struck with Iran would obligate the regime to close down its nuclear program. But in the subsequent two years, he has not only recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium but also demonstrated a willingness to let it keep thousands of centrifuges and even offered to sunset any restrictions on their efforts after a decade. Given the lack of transparency about Iran’s current efforts and the dynamic of any such deal in which the U.S. and its allies will be doing everything to pretend that the agreement is a success, not only will Iran be able to cheat its way to a bomb; it may also be able to get one even by complying with the deal.

That is, by virtually any diplomatic definition, a bad deal in that it will mean that Iran must immediately be considered a threshold nuclear power and that its possession of what even the president called a “game changing” weapon is inevitable. That will immeasurably aid Tehran’s quest for regional hegemony and give its terrorist auxiliaries (Hezbollah) and allies (Hamas) even more confidence to continue attacks on Israel. It will also destabilize moderate Arab countries that must, as Saudi Arabia has demonstrated, look to get their own nuclear program to defend themselves.

But Lewis is not constrained by the same political boundaries that require Obama, Kerry, and their apologists to pretend that what is happening will be a good deal.

Lewis admits that the deal is bad by the criteria the administration has established. The deal will not end the danger Iran poses to its neighbors. At best, it will slow down Iran’s progress toward a bomb, not eliminate or foreclose such a possibility as we’ve been told. But he says that such a bad deal will be preferable to walking away from the talks because the West has neither the will nor the ability to stop Iran by means short of war. He wrongly mocks the Senate Republicans for their criticism by saying that they have no definition of what a good deal would be. Even worse, he blames North Korea’s march to a bomb as being somehow the fault of the Bush administration for its belated efforts to get tough with Pyongyang.

He’s right that the Bush administration failed miserably with respect to North Korea as it first depended on diplomacy and concessions to end the threat and then watched different tactics also fail. But the problem didn’t start with Bush. Instead, it began earlier when Obama’s current chief negotiator with Iran, Wendy Sherman, was crafting another bad deal with North Korea while working in the Clinton administration. The moment the West started making concessions to the West and bribing the North Koreans to stop working toward a bomb, the mad Communist dictatorship knew it had won.

The same test applies to the current negotiations.

In classic Obama administration style, Lewis offers us false choices about Iran saying the choice is between a bad deal that might retard their progress and walking away which will mean an Iranian race to a bomb. To the contrary, what the Obama administration could have done—and could still do if it had the wisdom and the guts—was to pursue the policy that led Iran to return to the talks in 2013. Tough sanctions (that the Obama administration opposed when Congress debated them) should have been kept in place and then strengthened. With oil prices declining, Iran’s economy might be brought to its knees. U.S. leadership might have imposed a true economic blockade of Iran that could have weakened the Islamist leadership to the point where it might have given up its nuclear toys. That could still happen even though every passing year that Obama has wasted in his vain pursuit of an entente with a regime that despises the West and seeks only regional hegemony makes such a result harder to achieve.

Appeasement of Iran will not slow its path to a nuclear weapon; it will merely guarantee what the president repeatedly vowed would never happen becomes a reality.

But at least Lewis is telling us what we are getting as a result of Kerry’s diplomacy: a bad deal. Congress should oppose it and insist that it be given a chance to vote on this disaster in the making.

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Iran Hardliners Don’t Need GOP Help; They’re Already in Power

Three days have gone by since 47 Senate Republicans signed a letter sent to Iran’s leadership informing them that future presidents could overturn any nuclear deal they might strike with the United States that is not ratified by Congress. Yesterday’s liberal talking point about the letter was the absurd claim that by publicly opposing an administration initiative and communicating it abroad, the senators had committed treason or were in violation of the Logan Act that prohibits negotiations with foreign powers. Today’s equally fanciful theme, sounded both by Secretary of State John Kerry in testimony given to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in a Politico Magazine article is that by stating no more than the obvious, the senators were somehow aiding the cause of “hardliners” in Tehran who are opposed to a nuclear deal as well as reform of the Islamist state. There are a number of problems with this last thesis, but none is more important than the fact that the hardliners are already in power in Iran and nothing written by any member of the Senate is likely to decrease or enhance their chances of holding onto control.

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Three days have gone by since 47 Senate Republicans signed a letter sent to Iran’s leadership informing them that future presidents could overturn any nuclear deal they might strike with the United States that is not ratified by Congress. Yesterday’s liberal talking point about the letter was the absurd claim that by publicly opposing an administration initiative and communicating it abroad, the senators had committed treason or were in violation of the Logan Act that prohibits negotiations with foreign powers. Today’s equally fanciful theme, sounded both by Secretary of State John Kerry in testimony given to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in a Politico Magazine article is that by stating no more than the obvious, the senators were somehow aiding the cause of “hardliners” in Tehran who are opposed to a nuclear deal as well as reform of the Islamist state. There are a number of problems with this last thesis, but none is more important than the fact that the hardliners are already in power in Iran and nothing written by any member of the Senate is likely to decrease or enhance their chances of holding onto control.

The focus about the supposedly outrageous nature of the letter is, as I wrote yesterday, merely a calculated attempt by the administration and its allies and apologists to distract both Congress and the public from the real issues at stake in the negotiations with Iran. That is to say, the egregious nature of the concessions offered to Iran by President Obama and his decision not to submit any such accord to Congress for approval as required by the Constitution.

It is the latter point that the Senate letter, which was spearheaded by freshman Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas, took up. Contrary to Kerry’s assertion, and as John Yoo points out today in National Review, the GOP letter gets the Constitution exactly right. By choosing to bypass Congress and the Constitution, any deal signed with Iran won’t have the force of law. Like any such commitment, it can be overturned by one of Obama’s successors just as he overturned the Bush administration’s promises to Israel.

The question of helping Iranian hardliners is a bit more nuanced. That argument holds that by undermining the current negotiations with Iran, the senators are aiding the efforts of extremists in Tehran who want to end any chance of a nuclear agreement as well as to stifle efforts to reform the Islamist state. The Politico piece points out that Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is ill and may be replaced by someone implacably hostile to the West, ensuring that the conflict with Iran continues indefinitely. In this reading, the Republicans are not only wrong but also morally equivalent to Iran’s Republican Guard and other Iranian extremists.

The argument that Americans who don’t want to appease a terrorist-supporting, anti-Semitic, aggressive Islamist state are somehow comparable to the tyrants they oppose isn’t worthy of a response.

But what is worth pointing out is that the supposed dichotomy between moderate Iranians that current President Hassan Rouhani is alleged to lead and the extreme mullahs is a myth. Politics within the regime may be cutthroat but the notion of Rouhani’s moderation is more a matter of Western wishful thinking than hardheaded analysis. Just as Rouhani, a veteran Islamist operative who has been doing the bidding of the extremists his entire career, is no moderate, neither are any of the potential successors to the supreme leader. If Khamenei approves the gift of a deal that Obama is offering—which may allow the Iranians to cheat their way to a weapon or even to get one while complying with its terms—it is because he believes it will ensure the survival of the regime’s nuclear ambitions. None of the factions in Tehran really want to, in President Obama’s words, “get right with the world.”

Whatever their differences on internal issues, both moderates and hardliners in Iran want to keep their nuclear program and to achieve regional hegemony, a goal that the informal alliance it has struck with the United States in Iraq and Syria has made more possible.

Yet if Americans really are interested in aiding the efforts of genuine moderates or at least discomfiting the Islamists in control in Tehran, the only thing they can do is to oppose President Obama’s reckless push for détente with the regime. The nuclear deal he is offering Iran will let the leadership keep their nuclear infrastructure and their hopes of a bomb. More to the point, the loosening of sanctions will give the country’s tottering economy, depressed by both the restrictions on trade and the collapse of oil prices, a much needed shot in the arm. Nothing will enhance the ability of the ayatollahs to hold onto their monopoly on power like a nuclear agreement that will allow Iran back into the global economy without requiring it to change its behavior.

So rather than condemning the 47 Republicans and tut-tutting over their brash partisanship, their colleagues, and other Americans who are genuinely interested in ensuring that Iran becomes a responsible nation, they ought to be joining with them. Only by returning to a strategy of tough sanctions and international isolation, a tactic that was no sooner put in place by the Obama administration than it was abandoned in favor of secret negotiations to appease the Iranian hardliners, can there be any hope of a moderate Iran that isn’t a threat to its neighbors and the world. That, and not specious accusation of treason or aiding hardliners, should be the topic of discussion about Iran policy.

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Bibi Was Ready for Peace, Abbas Wasn’t

When the Middle East peace talks collapsed last spring, the Obama administration made no secret of its willingness to blame Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for the failure of Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative. According to both Kerry and President Obama, it was Netanyahu’s actions on settlements and refusal to accommodate the Palestinians that undermined the effort. Even for those not privy to inside information this made no sense and it was even contradicted by the testimony of Tzipi Livni, one of Netanyahu’s main rivals for power. But now a new document has surfaced detailing just how far Netanyahu was willing to go to make peace. But don’t expect this to change the minds of an administration that has, from its first moments in 2009, sought to distance the U.S. from the Jewish state. But it does provide even more evidence for those who are capable of being persuaded by facts that it remains the Palestinian refusal to make peace on even the most favorable terms that prevents the end of the conflict. That means the talk about a new U.S. initiative in the waning months of the Obama presidency is doomed no matter how much pressure is placed on the Israelis.

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When the Middle East peace talks collapsed last spring, the Obama administration made no secret of its willingness to blame Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for the failure of Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative. According to both Kerry and President Obama, it was Netanyahu’s actions on settlements and refusal to accommodate the Palestinians that undermined the effort. Even for those not privy to inside information this made no sense and it was even contradicted by the testimony of Tzipi Livni, one of Netanyahu’s main rivals for power. But now a new document has surfaced detailing just how far Netanyahu was willing to go to make peace. But don’t expect this to change the minds of an administration that has, from its first moments in 2009, sought to distance the U.S. from the Jewish state. But it does provide even more evidence for those who are capable of being persuaded by facts that it remains the Palestinian refusal to make peace on even the most favorable terms that prevents the end of the conflict. That means the talk about a new U.S. initiative in the waning months of the Obama presidency is doomed no matter how much pressure is placed on the Israelis.

For those who care to remember what actually happened in the spring of 2014, the facts aren’t in much dispute. After several months of Palestinian stonewalling in the peace talks, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas blew them up by signing a unity deal with Hamas. He then compounded that folly by ignoring his obligations under the Oslo Accords and heading to the United Nations in a vain attempt to gain recognition for Palestinian independence at the world body. That Obama and Kerry chose to ignore these actions and instead blame it all on Netanyahu was a clear measure of their disdain for the prime minister and his country.

But even Livni, who despises Netanyahu and is working to defeat him in the Knesset Elections this month told the New York Times last year that it was the Palestinians who derailed any chance of peace by stonewalling the talks at crucial moments. Given that the same PA turned down offers of peace and independence in almost all the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008, this is a hardly a surprise. The political culture of the Palestinians makes it impossible for Abbas to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

But in spite of these facts, Americans still speak of the intransigent Abbas as a champion of peace and Netanyahu as an obstacle to it. This document will hurt Netanyahu with his right-wing base but it undermines the narrative about his opposition to peace. This latest evidence reported today in Yediot Aharonoth shows that Netanyahu told the Palestinians he was prepared to go as far as the Obama administration had been urging him to do with respect to borders, settlements and Jerusalem. But, as they had three times before, the PA wanted no part of peace even on the terms Obama wanted. Why? Palestinian nationalism is still intrinsically tied to rejection of a Jewish state on any terms that allow for its survival. Until that changes, peace remains just a dream.

That’s why the next Obama peace push will fail as miserably as the last one. When it does, the president will blame Netanyahu or whoever is in power in Israel. But it will be just as much of a lie then as it was in 2014.

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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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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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Have a Strategy to Stop Iran? Not Obama.

In an interview with Reuters intended as a rebuttal to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, President Obama claims that his critics are not only wrong about his negotiating strategy with Iran, but that they lack one of their own other than to declare war. The attempt to depict his critics as warmongers is a classic Obama straw man. Opponents of his policy do have an alternative: returning to the policy of pressure and sanctions that the president discarded in 2013 which offered the only way, short of the use of force, to force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. But the real fallacy here is not so much the typical administration smears of critics. It is the fact that the president has an Iran strategy at all. Having made concession after concession to Iran in the last two years, there is little reason to believe that the current negotiations will stop Iran. To the contrary, the president appears set on a path that ensures that, sooner or later, Iran will get its bomb.

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In an interview with Reuters intended as a rebuttal to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, President Obama claims that his critics are not only wrong about his negotiating strategy with Iran, but that they lack one of their own other than to declare war. The attempt to depict his critics as warmongers is a classic Obama straw man. Opponents of his policy do have an alternative: returning to the policy of pressure and sanctions that the president discarded in 2013 which offered the only way, short of the use of force, to force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. But the real fallacy here is not so much the typical administration smears of critics. It is the fact that the president has an Iran strategy at all. Having made concession after concession to Iran in the last two years, there is little reason to believe that the current negotiations will stop Iran. To the contrary, the president appears set on a path that ensures that, sooner or later, Iran will get its bomb.

Let’s examine the president’s claims.

Both the president and Secretary of State John Kerry have insisted that agreeing to let Iran keep its nuclear program—something that he specifically promised he would never do in his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney—was unavoidable. They claim that Western pressure would never have forced Iran to surrender its nukes. More than that, they assert that their concessions have enticed Iran to agree to strictures that have halted Tehran’s progress toward a bomb.

The answer to the first claim is that we don’t know if that would have worked because Obama never tried it. By abandoning sanctions just at the moment when Iran seemed to be feeling the pressure—and prior to an oil price collapse that would have made them even less capable of resisting foreign pressure—the president ensured that the Islamist regime never had to face a worst-case scenario. Instead of waiting for them to fold, he did, and the result was a nuclear deal that undid years of diplomacy aimed at building an international consensus against Iran’s right to enrich uranium.

The president and Kerry are now boasting that their interim deal hasn’t been violated by Iran and that it has stopped their progress in its tracks. But given the poor intelligence that the U.S. has about Iran and the regime’s lack of cooperation with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, this is purely a matter of conjecture and faith on the part of the president and his apologists. But even if we were to believe, in spite of Iran’s long record of cheating on nuclear issues, that somehow the interim deal was succeeding, even the president concedes that allowing them to keep their nuclear infrastructure means that Iran could always go back on its promises, re-activate the stockpile of nuclear fuel still in its possession, and “break out” to a bomb in short order.

The length of a “break out” is a key point in the president’s defense of his strategy. He told Reuters that as long as long as this period was at least a year, the U.S. would be able to detect it in time to re-impose sanctions or use force to stop them from obtaining a bomb. But this is another argument based more on faith than facts and which, even in the unlikely event it is vindicated, still makes Iran stronger and puts U.S. allies in the region as well as the West in peril.

The prediction of a year is an optimistic conjecture embraced by the president because it sounds better than the few months some others think is a more sensible estimate. The lack of credible inspections of Iran’s military research makes any predictions about the length of a breakout a guess, and not even an educated one. U.S. intelligence in Iran is negligible. Even the IAEA concedes that Iran may have extensive nuclear facilities that the West knows nothing about.

But let’s say it is a year. Given the poor state of U.S. intelligence on Iran, why would anyone believe Obama’s promise that he’ll know what’s going on in their secret facilities? This is the same president who assured us that his intelligence told him that ISIS was merely a “jayvee” terror team not worth worrying about. And even if a U.S. president did learn the truth about their plans, would Obama or a similarly weak-willed Democratic successor be ready and willing to believe the intelligence that showed a cherished diplomatic strategy had failed and be ready to re-impose sanctions, let alone order the use of force?

Obama’s commitment to the negotiations isn’t purely one of belief that it is the only way to stop Iran’s nuclear dreams. It’s a path to his dream of a new détente with Iran that will erase decades of enmity and create a new era of cooperation with that tyrannical, anti-Semitic, and terror-sponsoring regime. Why should we believe that he is ready to give up his hopes if he has already proven himself to be unconvinced by Iran’s past deceptions and prevarications? Why should any American president, even one more sensible about Iran than Obama, think that once sanctions are dismantled, our Western allies who are eager to do business with the regime would be willing to give up their profits to redeem a promise made by Obama?

Moreover, by reportedly agreeing to a sunset clause, the president has already legitimized Iran’s nuclear dreams and rendered it almost certain that the ten-year period now being mooted for the agreement will be shortened one way or the other.

The president’s critics can’t be sure that their strategy of a return to sanctions and tough pressure on Iran aimed at bringing the regime to its knees will succeed. But, despite the president’s claims, he never tried it before he prematurely abandoned pressure for appeasement. But we can be almost certain that a strategy that aims at entente with Iran is guaranteed to fail miserably. Indeed, it is not so much a recipe for failure as it is one for a completely different approach to Iran that is ready to acquiesce to their demands.

That is a position that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu does well to protest tomorrow in his speech to Congress. So should Democrats and Republicans who take their pledges to stop Iran more seriously than the president.

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