Commentary Magazine


Topic: nuclear diplomacy

North Korea Evades More Sanctions While U.S. Pursues Yet More Talks

As the endgame for America’s nuclear negotiations with Iran looms, I hope that Washington is paying attention to the critical flaws in both its failed agreements with North Korea and the ineffective sanctions imposed on the country in response. I wrote in last month’s issue how Pyongyang has constantly outwitted the United States over the past two decades because the sole goal of the regime is to stay in power, and it therefore will do everything possible to buy time, hug the Americans close, undercut its commitments, and the like.

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As the endgame for America’s nuclear negotiations with Iran looms, I hope that Washington is paying attention to the critical flaws in both its failed agreements with North Korea and the ineffective sanctions imposed on the country in response. I wrote in last month’s issue how Pyongyang has constantly outwitted the United States over the past two decades because the sole goal of the regime is to stay in power, and it therefore will do everything possible to buy time, hug the Americans close, undercut its commitments, and the like.

Now comes news of yet another way that North Korea has evaded U.N.-imposed sanctions, by renaming and transferring the ownership of vessels of a shipping company targeted for illicit arms shipments. None of this should be a surprise, but it is further proof that sanctions are an imperfect tool, at best. Washington has repeatedly turned to sanctions as a way to express its displeasure with Pyongyang and in the hopes of putting enough pressure on the regime that it will eventually return to the negotiating table. With clear acquiescence, if not actual help, from China and Russia, among others, North Korea has been able to avoid serious repercussions for its actions and flout the international community.

The ingenuity of the Kim regime in finding ways around sanctions should be the primary case study for any future sanctions policy. Yet even as more information is made public about its continuing illicit activities, the Obama administration appears to be flirting with going down the primrose path of considering yet more negotiations. In this case, envoys of the White House have been holding talks with representatives from the North about having “talks about talks,” according to the Washington Post. “We want to test if they have an interest in resuming negotiations,” the Post reported an American official saying just this month. The North Koreans undoubtedly would welcome more talks, as that simply gives them more time to perfect their nuclear and ballistic-missile technology. With Washington caught in a dialogue dependency trap, unable to think outside the box and hoping against all experience for an outcome different from last time, expect more evasion and bad faith agreements in the future.

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Selling the ObamaCare of Foreign Policy

Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with significant skepticism at yesterday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, not only from Republicans, but Democrats as well. Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told Kerry “we’re hearing troubling reports on the scale and duration of the program that Iran may be allowed as part of a deal.” He noted “very disturbing” reports that the administration “would ease limits on Iran’s production during the later years of an accord … [as] an attempt to bridge the difference between the two sides over how long an agreement should last.”

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Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with significant skepticism at yesterday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, not only from Republicans, but Democrats as well. Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told Kerry “we’re hearing troubling reports on the scale and duration of the program that Iran may be allowed as part of a deal.” He noted “very disturbing” reports that the administration “would ease limits on Iran’s production during the later years of an accord … [as] an attempt to bridge the difference between the two sides over how long an agreement should last.”

Kerry did not deny those reports.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) asked Kerry whether he was “willing to accept an agreement in which the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] does not have the right to go anywhere on short notice to look at undeclared or potentially undeclared” nuclear sites. Kerry responded only that “we are negotiating for the appropriate standards.” Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) noted that the IAEA has “published 12 sets of questions about Iran’s past work and Iran has only partially tackled one of those issues.” He asked if Kerry could confirm that “any deal can only be agreed upon if it provides for anytime, anywhere inspections.”

Kerry managed to dodge that question too.

At the beginning of the hearing, Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) offered a devastating critique of the administration’s talks with Iran, as well as the administration’s entire foreign policy:

[T]he committee, as you know, has real concerns about the direction of these talks. I’m hearing less about dismantlement and more about the performance of Iran’s nuclear program. That’s particularly disturbing when you consider that international inspectors report that Iran has still not revealed its past bomb work.

This should be treated as a fundamental test of the ayatollah’s intention to uphold any agreement. Iran is failing that test. Also, it is still illicitly procuring nuclear technology. Recently, Iran was caught testing a new generation of supersonic centrifuges. To be frank, as this committee reads about us being on the brink of a historic agreement, you have a challenge in terms of congressional buy-in.

Meanwhile, Iran and its proxies are wreaking havoc throughout the region. … And in the Middle East, ISIS is on the march. The administration was tragically slow to react to ISIS’s rise, missing the chance to devastate them with airstrikes during the first eight months of ISIS moving from Syria into Iraq, town by town, taking these cities. Air power was not used to devastate these columns out on the open road as it should have been applied.

Today the Kurds are still severely outgunned, our training of the Syrian opposition isn’t off the ground, and Arab allies complain they don’t have the weapons needed. And while the administration is focused on the fight against ISIS in Iraq today, it’s still unclear what its plans are for Syrian tomorrow. … In the past half year, the [State] Department has had to evacuate staff from two U.S. embassies: Libya and Yemen …

It is beginning to dawn on Democrats–at least those on the House Foreign Affairs Committee–that the Obama administration is cooking up the ObamaCare of foreign policy: a deal that will be presented at the twelfth hour as a fait accompli, without debate or congressional oversight beforehand, nor even public disclosure of the basic concessions in the offers already made in the current negotiations, much less a vote by Congress before proceeding with an agreement more important than any treaty in decades. The administration’s repeated assurances that it won’t sign a “bad deal” sound as reliable as the assertions that people could keep their insurance if they liked it–or the “red line” for Syria, or the “reset” with Russia, or the “success” of the withdrawal from Iraq, or the “success” in Yemen, et al.

The administration appears virtually in meltdown mode because the democratically-elected leader of a frontline ally will address a co-equal branch of government at the invitation of the speaker of the House. At yesterday’s hearing, Kerry resorted to a gratuitous ad hominem attack on Prime Minister Netanyahu–the surest sign that it is neither protocol nor politics that concern the administration, but rather the substance of what Netanyahu will say about the pending deal with Iran. Some Democrats may boycott the address–like Iranian delegates who exit the UN rather than be present to hear Israel’s prime minister–but yesterday’s House hearing, combined with (a) the warnings last month from former secretaries of state Kissinger and Shultz, and (b) Michael Doran’s comprehensive Mosaic article, “Obama’s Secret Iran Strategy” (which has thus far attracted 220,000 unique visitors), suggest that the importance of the issue is belatedly drawing the necessary notice on Capitol Hill, after all the distractions regarding how Netanyahu’s speech was arranged.

At the eleventh hour, the prospect of Netanyahu’s address is focusing the attention of Congress on the on the distinct possibility that a very “bad deal” with Iran is in the works. The administration’s unseemly attacks on Netanyahu may, in the end, serve only to increase the attention that will–and should–be paid to his address by the Congress, the country, and the world.

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Obama Wants Neither the American nor Iranian Public Getting in His Way

The Obama administration is showing signs of growing confidence that they will actually get a nuclear deal with Iran. As Eli Lake and Josh Rogin report, officials are starting to temper expectations for what such a deal could accomplish, suggesting they’re moving beyond the stage of overselling the deal and beginning to plan for the political fallout at home. And it leaves two distinct impressions about President Obama’s plans for a deal.

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The Obama administration is showing signs of growing confidence that they will actually get a nuclear deal with Iran. As Eli Lake and Josh Rogin report, officials are starting to temper expectations for what such a deal could accomplish, suggesting they’re moving beyond the stage of overselling the deal and beginning to plan for the political fallout at home. And it leaves two distinct impressions about President Obama’s plans for a deal.

The first is that Obama expects to go it alone and bypass Congress. This isn’t too surprising, considering both the president’s record on pesky rule-of-law restrictions and also the fact that there is no deal that Iran would agree to that would also pass the U.S. Senate. If Obama thinks he might be close to a deal, it’s a deal that would be far more favorable to Iran. And the recent reports on the outlines of that deal confirm as much.

He can’t get the Senate to ratify that treaty. So he won’t. He’ll just call it something else and sign it. This is what Obama considers his second-term legacy accomplishment. There is just no way he’d subject it to the people’s representatives, especially after coming this far with it. If he can get Iran to sign, so will he. If Obama wanted Congress more involved in crafting a deal, they would be. I don’t think anybody expects Obama to abide by the will of the Senate on this.

The second impression is that Obama is buying into the same fallacy that has snared other world leaders when dealing with terrorist-sponsoring regimes, most famously by Yitzhak Rabin’s belief that Yasser Arafat could crack down on terrorism and deliver calm because he could act “bli Bagatz uvli B’tselem,”–basically, that he had no high-minded independent courts and no NGOs to monitor his preservation of human rights.

It is easier–or, at least, it appears to be easier–to deal with autocratic regimes because they can presumably do whatever they want. (Though as Obama learned the hard way with Vladimir Putin, the tendency to believe they can act with impunity should be a warning sign.) Thus, when Lake and Rogin write that Obama is backing off claims that a nuke deal will result in domestic reform, it’s because his legacy on this issue is dependent on there being no domestic reform.

Lake and Rogin write:

As details of a proposed pact leaked out of the Geneva talks Monday, administration officials told us they will ask the world to judge any final nuclear agreement on the technical aspects only, not on whether the deal will spur Iranian reform.

“The only consideration driving what is part of any comprehensive agreement with Iran is how we can get to a one-year breakout time and cut off the four pathways for Iran to get enough material for a nuclear weapon, period,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. “And if we reach an agreement, that will be the basis upon which people should judge it — on the technical merits of it, not on anything else.”

When asked if the State Department would argue the benefits of any deal in part by saying it would help Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, against his country’s hard-liners and therefore promote reforms, Harf said: “This is absolutely ridiculous.”

Well, sure it’s “absolutely ridiculous,” and it always has been. The idea that Rouhani is a reform-minded moderate trying to steer his country to the center and away from the hardliners is an idea the Obama administration bought into but it was never remotely believable. That the president is basically giving up this line of argument shows he wants to sign a deal that will do nothing in this regard and doesn’t want it thrown back in his face.

And more than that, the president actually needs the status quo in Iran to hold. He and the deal are essentially dependent on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. If anything shakes Khamenei’s hold on the country’s politics and government, all bets are off.

And this deal gives that away, at least as its details have been reported. If the Iranians are allowed to simply slow down their quest for a nuke so that it occurs on someone else’s watch in return for alleviating sanctions, the Iranian leadership will have won a victory at home and strengthened its ability to control its proxies abroad.

As Times of Israel editor David Horovitz wrote yesterday, “This deal, indeed, will help cement the ayatollahs in power, with dire consequences for Israel, relatively moderate Arab states, and the free world.”

It’s unclear why anybody would have expected otherwise. The president saw the ayatollahs’ power challenged by pro-democracy activists in Obama’s first term. He could not possibly have been less interested in helping or encouraging them. He does not like the messy unpredictability of democratic politics, as his spectacular failure in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks demonstrated. Nor does he like complexity.

It behooves the president’s cause for Rouhani and Khamenei to be “bli Bagatz uvli B’tselem.” And his strategy for nuclear diplomacy is designed accordingly.

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Netanyahu Must Give That Speech

The importance of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s March 4 address to Congress extends far beyond its effect on his own country. That is apparent from the testimony of two former secretaries of state–Henry Kissinger and George Shultz–before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 29. Kissinger told the committee that shifting the goal from (a) preventing Iran’s capability to build a nuclear weapon, to (b) simply limiting Iran’s use of that capability, will create not only “huge inspection problems,” but a far more critical problem:

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The importance of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s March 4 address to Congress extends far beyond its effect on his own country. That is apparent from the testimony of two former secretaries of state–Henry Kissinger and George Shultz–before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 29. Kissinger told the committee that shifting the goal from (a) preventing Iran’s capability to build a nuclear weapon, to (b) simply limiting Iran’s use of that capability, will create not only “huge inspection problems,” but a far more critical problem:

I’ll reserve my comment on [the inspection problems] until I see the agreement. But I would also emphasize the issue of proliferation. Assuming … the stockpile of nuclear material that already exists, the question then is, what do the other countries in the region do? And if the other countries in the region conclude that America has approved the development of an enrichment capability within one year of a nuclear weapon, and if they then insist on building the same capability, we will live in a proliferated world

Because it’s a different problem from not having a capability at all to having a capability that is within one year of building a weapon. Especially if it then spreads to all the other countries in the region, and they – and they have to live with that fear of each other. That will produce a substantially different world from the one that we know

I’m troubled by some of the implications of what is now publicly available … and the impact of all of this on an international system where everybody is within a very short period of getting a nuclear weapon. Nobody can really fully trust the inspection system or at least some may not. That is something I would hope gets carefully examined before a final solution is attained. (Emphasis added.)

In other words, even if the agreement purports to keep Iran a year away from a nuclear weapon, and even if there is an inspection regime that purports to enforce the agreement, the inevitable result will be nuclear proliferation throughout the region that will endanger every state in it, and affect those beyond as well. Iran will have turned “binding” UN resolutions against its nuclear program into an American agreement approving it, and the United States will be in no position to prevent other states from acquiring the same capability (or more), or to urge them to rely on American promises that will have been proved ineffective. Secretary Shultz joined Secretary Kissinger in portraying a stark picture of what it would mean to leave Iran with its enrichment process intact:

I see nuclear weapon proliferation. That is devastating … my physicist friends say the Hiroshima weapon was just a little play thing. Well, look at the damage it did. A thermonuclear weapon would incinerate the Washington area totally. … And we were making progress, but that’s been derailed and we’re going the wrong way right now. … It should be pointed out that a bomb made from enriched uranium is much easier to make than [the] Hiroshima bomb. [The] Hiroshima bomb was a uranium enrichment bomb. It wasn’t even tested … [Y]ou can make an unsophisticated bomb from enriched uranium fairly easily. That’s not a big trick. So the enrichment process is key. (Emphasis added.)

An agreement that leaves Iran’s enrichment process in place, guaranteeing a rapid proliferation throughout the region, is a strategic disaster, not only for the region but for the United States. Given the Kissinger and Shultz testimony, it is clear that the critical issue is not the prospects for legislation imposing contingent sanctions if Iran does not reach an agreement. The problem is the agreement the Obama administration is seeking, against the advice of two distinguished secretaries of state, both of whom served in World War II and remember what caused it.

Neither the congressional invitation to the Israeli prime minister nor his acceptance of it was a mistake. The speech will be his attempt to say what Churchill would have said if he had seen America heading down the road Kissinger and Shultz described to the Armed Services Committee. A head of state must come to Washington to say it, and to say it not simply in private discussions, nor simply before pro-Israel advocates at AIPAC, but directly to the representatives of the American people, and before it is too late.

It is not going to be David Cameron, Angela Merkel, or Francois Hollande, the leaders of a Europe that is no longer strategically serious. If it is going to be anyone, it will have to be Benjamin Netanyahu. For the reasons he set forth in his powerful statement on February 10, the issue goes far beyond politics and protocol.

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A Strategic Retreat for Netanyahu?

Reuters is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering making changes to his planned speech to Congress to placate his critics and lower the temperature on his split with the White House over Iran sanctions. If true, it’s the right call on Netanyahu’s part. And both possibilities floated in the article are reasonable alternatives to the initial plan.

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Reuters is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering making changes to his planned speech to Congress to placate his critics and lower the temperature on his split with the White House over Iran sanctions. If true, it’s the right call on Netanyahu’s part. And both possibilities floated in the article are reasonable alternatives to the initial plan.

The fact that the story leaked at all is a good indication that Bibi’s office has been searching for a way out of this impasse and wants to quiet the furor over the speech. If he’s not going to give the address to a joint session of Congress, he certainly wants the press to stop acting like he is. As Jonathan pointed out last night, Netanyahu walked into a trap–but that doesn’t mean that, out of pique or pride or stubbornness, he has to stay there. Sometimes you just get beat, and the Obama White House, which created the drama by not objecting to the invitation until after Bibi accepted it and then throwing a public fit, won this round.

No matter how well Netanyahu and Ambassador Ron Dermer know American politics, partisan gamesmanship is pretty much all Obama’s team thinks about, and this is their home turf anyway. Being right isn’t always enough in politics–a lesson Netanyahu is re-learning now. As Reuters reports:

As a result, Israeli officials are considering whether Netanyahu should speak to a closed-door session of Congress, rather than in a prime-time TV address, so as to drain some of the intensity from the event, a source said.

Another option is for the prime minister to make his speech at the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington the same week, rather than in Congress.

“The issue has been under discussion for a week,” said a source close to the prime minister’s office. “(Netanyahu) is discussing it with Likud people. Some say he should give up on the speech, others that he should go through with it.”

A story like this getting to the media usually means one of two things: either Netanyahu is the force behind the u-turn and he wants to create some momentum and political space for it, or some of those close to him want to force his hand. The answer to that question is often irrelevant; the idea that Netanyahu plans to change the speech will take on a life of its own now.

The story can also serve another purpose: to help Netanyahu save face in retreat. The Reuters story warns it may be too late for Bibi to change course, because it’ll look like he’s being pushed around:

If he withdraws now it may make him look weak with core voters. Furthermore, he needs an opportunity to play up his tough-on-Iran credentials before election, with national security an overriding issue for voters.

The louder the opposition to Netanyahu’s speech became, the more it looked like giving in would be conceding to the mob. But leaking this now changes the story. Obama’s attack dogs in the mainstream press might simmer down a bit, and they may even want to run with this to box Netanyahu in by furthering the storyline that he’s a reasonable guy and is willing to back off and defer to Obama.

In other words, the Netanyahu administration could take advantage of American reporters’ desire to please their king in the White House. It’s part of what has worked against Netanyahu from the start here. Initially, the administration spun the New York Times into writing that Obama hadn’t been consulted before Netanyahu accepted Speaker Boehner’s invitation. That was false, but the White House knew the Times would print it even if it weren’t true if it painted Israel in a negative light. Which they did.

The Times has since corrected their story, in essence conceding the fact that this whole drama was cooked up by Obama. But the key for the White House was just to give the false story a head start so it became conventional wisdom. Which is what happened. So Politico’s recent story on the controversy contains this line: “The fact that neither Boehner nor Dermer cleared the speech first with the White House…” followed by another reference to claims that “Boehner politicized the speech by inviting Netanyahu behind the White House’s back.” Politico recently hired two veteran foreign-policy hands as editors, but you can tell even publications like Politico still look over the New York Times’s shoulder to copy the Grey Lady’s notes instead of digging for the truth.

Were Bibi to back down here, he would also highlight another fact the media is missing: Obama’s latest stunt, pressuring Democrats (and his vice president) to publicly spurn the Israeli prime minister, is one more example of the wrecking ball Obama has been taking to the pro-Israel left. This is another case of Netanyahu being right not being enough; he’s got to find a way to preserve bipartisan support for Israel despite Obama’s efforts to split Congress and align Democrats against Jerusalem.

If that means retreating, so be it. Sometimes that’s what it takes. And the ball is in Bibi’s court; Obama refuses to be the bigger man here, so someone has to step up.

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“Compromise” Deal Shows How Iran Wins By Waiting

A question hanging in the air during President Obama’s time in office has been: does he want to prevent Iran from ever getting nuclear weapons, or does he simply want to forestall their nuclear capability until he’s out of office? Obama’s supporters insisted it was the former. Their faith in him is getting yet another test, with the latest report on the two sides mulling a deal that would be quite favorable to Iran.

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A question hanging in the air during President Obama’s time in office has been: does he want to prevent Iran from ever getting nuclear weapons, or does he simply want to forestall their nuclear capability until he’s out of office? Obama’s supporters insisted it was the former. Their faith in him is getting yet another test, with the latest report on the two sides mulling a deal that would be quite favorable to Iran.

The Associated Press reports that with time winding down in this overtime period, American and Iranian negotiators are considering how to allow the American side to fold while saving face:

With time for negotiations running short, the U.S and Iran are discussing a compromise that would let Iran keep much of its uranium-enriching technology but reduce its potential to make nuclear weapons, two diplomats tell The Associated Press.

Such a compromise could break the decade-long deadlock on attempts to limit Iranian activities that could be used to make such arms: Tehran refuses to meet U.S.-led demands for deep cuts in the number of centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium, a process that can create material for anything from chemotherapy to the core of an atomic bomb.

Experts warn that any reduction in centrifuge efficiency is reversible more quickly than a straight decrease in the number of machines, an argument that could be seized upon by powerful critics of the talks in the U.S. Congress.

This is the reason opponents of a nuclear Iran have been increasingly frustrated with the White House. Their timeline is configured to estimate when Iran would attain nuclear capability; the president’s timeline, however, has a fixed end date: the day after his last day in office.

It’s worth recalling at this point the last time the president’s negotiating team floated a cloaked surrender. In September, the two sides were stuck on the same dealbreaker: Iran wants to keep its centrifuges. So how do you enable Iran to keep its centrifuges while still offering substantial resistance to Iranian nuclear development, especially after legitimizing their right to enrich? The answer is: you don’t. Which raised the next question: What if you’re an American president who wants to be able to claim you set back Iran’s nuclear quest without actually having done so, and without removing the centrifuges? Call in the plumber, as the New York Times had revealed:

The idea is to convince the Iranians to take away many of the pipes that connect their nuclear centrifuges, the giant machines that are connected together in a maze that allows uranium fuel to move from one machine to another, getting enriched along the way. That way, the Iranians could claim they have not given in to Western demands that they eliminate all but a token number of their 19,000 machines, in which Iran has invested billions of dollars and tremendous national pride.

As our Jonathan Tobin wrote at the time, the pipe proposal showed that “the U.S. has been on a path of constant retreat” throughout the negotiations. It was not a serious idea, and it was not treated as such except by the Obama administration.

Now we have a new proposal–if the AP story is right:

According to the diplomats, the proposal could leave running most of the nearly 10,000 centrifuges Iran is operating but reconfigure them to reduce the amount of enriched uranium they produce.

One of the diplomats said the deal could include other limitations to ensure that Tehran’s program is kept in check.

For one, Iran would be allowed to store only a specific amount of uranium gas, which is fed into centrifuges for enrichment. The amount of gas would depend on the number of centrifuges it keeps.

Second, Iran would commit to shipping out most of the enriched uranium it produces, leaving it without enough to make a bomb. Iran denies any interest in nuclear weapons and says its program is for peaceful uses such as nuclear power and medical technology.

But note that those two “limitations” are not even necessarily part of the deal. So we’re left with an easily reversible timewaster.

But even just the proposal of such an idea is a major concession to the Iranians. That’s because without having to agree to any serious deal, the Iranians have already succeeded in getting the Obama administration to recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich as well as allowing that a deal does not require Iran to give up its centrifuges. So they have a right to keep their centrifuges and a right to enrich.

The terms of the debate, in other words, have favored Iran all along. And the danger in each new proposal is not that the Iranians will accept it. Why would they, after all, when Obama is opposing new sanctions on them and the longer they wait the better the terms they’re offered? The concern, really, is that the Obama administration continues to legitimize major pieces of Iran’s nuclear quest. Pretty soon, there won’t be much left to negotiate over.

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If Iran Gets Nukes, Will Obama Be Satisfied with Imposing “Costs?”

President Obama’s interview with Fareed Zakaria, aired yesterday on CNN, had been teased out last week with excerpts on the president’s response to Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress. It was the least important part of the interview; all schoolyard drama, no substance. Which is precisely why CNN used it as viewer bait. But in the full interview, the president actually said something quite important. Though the comment was about Ukraine, it has significant implications for the effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program.

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President Obama’s interview with Fareed Zakaria, aired yesterday on CNN, had been teased out last week with excerpts on the president’s response to Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress. It was the least important part of the interview; all schoolyard drama, no substance. Which is precisely why CNN used it as viewer bait. But in the full interview, the president actually said something quite important. Though the comment was about Ukraine, it has significant implications for the effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program.

Admittedly, what the president said wasn’t exactly new. It was a new riff on an old song. But its timing offers a window into how the president approaches conflict resolution around the world. “Would it be fair to say,” Zakaria asked the president, “that with regard to Russia your policy has been pretty effective in imposing real costs on the Russian economy, but it has not deterred Vladimir Putin from creating instability in Ukraine?” The president agreed: “I think that’s entirely fair.” But then he went back to a familiar well: “And I think that is a testament to the bad decisions that Mr. Putin is making on behalf of his country.”

He went on to say this:

There’s no formula in which this ends up being good for Russia. The annexation of Crimea is a cost, not a benefit to Russia. The days, in which conquest of land somehow was a formula for great nation status is over. The power of countries today is measured by your knowledge, your skills, your ability to export goods to invent new products and new services, your influence. And none of those things are provided by his strategy. Now, but what is absolutely true is that if you have a leader who continually drives past the off ramps that we’ve provided, given the size of the Russian military, given the fact that Ukraine is not a NATO country, and so as a consequence there are clear limits in terms of what we would do militarily, Mr. Putin has not been stopped so far.

The obvious takeaway is that what Obama said isn’t true, nor is it close to being true. It is, in fact, an astoundingly silly view of the world, which explains quite a bit about why the president’s approach to foreign policy has been so disastrous. It’s also contradictory; after all, if the “power of countries today is measured” in part by “your influence,” then Russia gets more than a passing grade. Additionally, we should all hope that with an Obama-Biden-Kerry team at the helm, power isn’t “measured by your knowledge.”

But the president’s statement is completed by his next sentence:

To those who would suggest that we need to do more, what I’ve said to them is that we can exact higher and higher costs and that’s exactly what we’re doing, and we can bring diplomatic pressure to bear.

This is the key to understanding Obama’s strategy, such as it is, to these conflicts. Obama’s goal is not to prevent nor reverse the rogue states’ actions. He aims not to turn Russia back nor even really stop what’s going on in eastern Ukraine. He simply wants Putin to one day regret his actions. He wants to exact “costs”–and that’s all.

The administration is reportedly considering giving real support to Ukrainian forces, a development that would be far too late to undo most of the damage but might stop Ukraine from slowly disintegrating. Yet they are still not ready to pull the trigger, apparently, and we all know how well the administration’s plan to arm the Syrian rebels–delayed, bungled, and abandoned–worked out. More likely, the president is simply looking for a way to be able to say he did more than he did.

Which is why the “cost” theory Obama’s so fond of should worry those opposed to a nuclear Iran, among other conflicts. Obama is not generally a fan of sanctions; on both Russia and Iran, he’s been an obstacle to meaningful sanctions. But when he does begrudgingly sign sanctions legislation he’s unable to prevent, he likes to think his work is done.

That’s the point of Obama’s protestation that “we can exact higher and higher costs.” Russia will still get to do what it wants and take what it wants, but Obama hopes it will cost them some cash. What’s alarming about this (as opposed to just insulting, which it is to the Ukrainians) is that if it were applied to Iran, it would mean Obama sees sanctions and penalties as an end in themselves, not as a tactic to help obtain a specific outcome.

That would mean an Iranian nuke (or the Iranians being beyond the point of no return) and Obama would sit there smirking about it on CNN talking about all the costs Iran has accumulated in order to get that bomb. He would admonish Iran that they may have achieved nuclear capability, but great nations aren’t measured by their power and prestige, they’re measured by whether Barack Obama thinks they’ve made prudent financial investments.

If Obama wants to write a column for the Financial Times, he’d still be wrong. But he’d leave a lot less rubble in his wake.

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Marco Rubio Finds His Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Loose Nukes and Empty Promises: Ukraine’s Hard Lesson

In the spring of 2012, the GOP’s foreign-policy elder statesman, Dick Lugar, was soundly defeated in a Republican Senate primary by Richard Mourdock, bringing an end to a six-term senatorial career. And when Mourdock needed help on the campaign trail for the general election, Lugar was unavailable. He was on his farewell tour–not on Capitol Hill but, according to Politico, in “Surovatikha, about 300 miles east of Moscow,” where “the two-time Foreign Relations Committee chairman dined in a dismantling facility as Russian officials ripped apart strategic missiles.” It was oddly appropriate as a send-off not only to Lugar, but also for U.S.-Russian Cold War-era cooperation since relegated to the scrap heap along with those missiles.

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In the spring of 2012, the GOP’s foreign-policy elder statesman, Dick Lugar, was soundly defeated in a Republican Senate primary by Richard Mourdock, bringing an end to a six-term senatorial career. And when Mourdock needed help on the campaign trail for the general election, Lugar was unavailable. He was on his farewell tour–not on Capitol Hill but, according to Politico, in “Surovatikha, about 300 miles east of Moscow,” where “the two-time Foreign Relations Committee chairman dined in a dismantling facility as Russian officials ripped apart strategic missiles.” It was oddly appropriate as a send-off not only to Lugar, but also for U.S.-Russian Cold War-era cooperation since relegated to the scrap heap along with those missiles.

Lugar’s legacy rested on the joint efforts he spearheaded at the collapse of the Soviet Union to secure nuclear material across the empire. The program, whose mantelpiece featured the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction at its center, was successful but unfinished. And now it is finished.

Not completed, mind you. On the contrary, the regime of Vladimir Putin has consistently chipped away at elements of the weapons-reduction program as relations between the two countries deteriorated. There is still plenty more work to be done, but the Russians officially put the Obama administration on notice that the remaining work, if it’s done at all, will be done by Russia. Cooperation will continue outside of Russia in other former Soviet countries, however.

The Boston Globe reveals the contents of that notice, as it was delivered to American officials at a meeting in December in Moscow:

In the previously undisclosed discussions, the Russians informed the Americans that they were refusing any more US help protecting their largest stockpiles of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium from being stolen or sold on the black market. The declaration effectively ended one of the most successful areas of cooperation between the former Cold War adversaries.

“I think it greatly increases the risk of catastrophic terrorism,” said Sam Nunn, the former Democratic senator from Georgia and an architect of the “cooperative threat reduction” programs of the 1990s.

Official word came in a terse, three-page agreement signed on Dec. 16. A copy was obtained by the Globe, and a description of the Moscow meeting was provided by three people who attended the session or were briefed on it. They declined to be identified for security reasons. …

Specialists said the final meeting was a dismaying development in a joint effort that the United States has invested some $2 billion in and had been a symbol of the thaw between East and West and of global efforts to prevent the spread of doomsday weapons. An additional $100 million had been budgeted for the effort this year and many of the programs were envisioned to continue at least through 2018.

To be sure, none of this was much of a surprise. Two weeks after Politico chronicled Lugar’s trip to the Russian east Vladimir Putin thanked him for his service by announcing the cancellation of Lugar’s great achievement. Even then, a deputy foreign minister had said, “This is not news.”

Then in November 2014, the Russians signaled that the end was near for nuclear cooperation more broadly. That appears to be what was put in writing a month later, and what is being reported now by the Globe.

There is some bitter irony here. The deterioration in U.S.-Russia relations picked up even more steam with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Ukrainian territory, followed by additional invasions in Ukraine’s east. The West hit Russia with modest sanctions but nothing especially serious, and Putin played the aggrieved party by backing further away from cooperation with the West.

Yet the invasions of Ukraine seem to have been made possible by the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, which was part of the East-West collaboration to rid the Soviet sphere of unsecured or uncontrolled nuclear material. In an effort to secure dangerous weapons, Ukraine gave up the nukes it inherited from the Soviet Union in return for a pledge from the U.S., UK, and Russia that Ukraine’s sovereignty would be respected. Ukraine would give up its nukes, that is, if there was no reason for Ukraine to have nukes.

In retrospect, this was naïve. “For a brief period, Ukraine was the world’s third-largest nuclear power,” noted Bloomberg in March of last year. It is unlikely the world’s third-largest nuclear power would be invaded by the world’s largest just to prove a point. That’s the thing about security: it doesn’t come from a piece of paper. For a country like Ukraine, caught between East and West, such a deal (and its inevitable dissolution) was a teaching moment. They learned that Russia knows facts on the ground trump memoranda, and plan accordingly. And they learned that the West, at least in the post-Cold War era, can’t be relied upon when the chips are down.

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Iran to Announce New Nuclear Breakthrough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Implications of Iranian Cheating at Arak

As Jonathan Tobin notes, Colum Lynch’s Foreign Policy bombshell report about Iran’s covert efforts to buy equipment for its Arak plant, a facility which could produce plutonium for a nuclear bomb, raises questions about the logic of the Obama administration, and the recent comments by both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry with regard to the wisdom of extending nuclear talks with Iran.

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As Jonathan Tobin notes, Colum Lynch’s Foreign Policy bombshell report about Iran’s covert efforts to buy equipment for its Arak plant, a facility which could produce plutonium for a nuclear bomb, raises questions about the logic of the Obama administration, and the recent comments by both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry with regard to the wisdom of extending nuclear talks with Iran.

If Lynch’s report is true—and it appears very much to be so—then there are two possibilities as to what happened vis-à-vis American diplomacy. The first is that Iranian diplomats were always insincere in pursuit of a nuclear resolution, and lied outright to Kerry, Undersecretary Wendy Sherman, Clinton, Biden-aide Jake Sullivan, and other officials who have championed the drive for nuclear talks with the current Iranian administration. That possibility is troubling enough, but the second scenario is as troubling, and that is that Iranian diplomats were perfectly sincere, but that the regime simply couldn’t care less what its diplomats said and pursued its own goals irrespective of any commitments they made.

A key theme of my recent book exploring the history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes (of which Iran is the marquee example) is that the State Department never conducts lessons-learned exercises to determine why previous episodes of diplomacy have failed. One example they might consider is the pre-Iraq War negotiations with Iran: Immediately prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, National Security Council official Zalmay Khalilzad along with Ambassador Ryan Crocker met with Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s UN ambassador (and its current foreign minister) in secret talks in Geneva. Almost simultaneously, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw met with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Both talks solicited the same Iranian pledge: Iranian officials would not interfere with coalition forces in Iraq, and Iran would not insert its own personnel or militias into Iraq.

In hindsight, the Iranians there, too, lied. Soon after Saddam’s fall, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) infiltrated 2,000 fighters, militiamen, and Qods Force personnel into Iraq replete with radio transmitters, money, pamphlets, and supplies. The source for that statement? Iranian journalists. Those most enthusiastic for rapprochement, however, are now placing their hopes in the same Mr. Zarif, the man who a decade ago either lied shamelessly or bluffed about the power he did have to control the behavior of the IRGC and influence the supreme leader. Then again, there is a reason why, before he became vice president, Joe Biden was Tehran’s favorite senator.

Kerry is like a gambler who has lost everything, but figures if only he is given one more round at the craps table, he can win big. American national security, however, is nothing with which to gamble. Especially when a gambler is desperate, the house will always win. In this case, however, the house is not Washington, but rather Tehran.

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Iran’s Motive in Talks? Money, Not Peace

One of the greatest mistakes American diplomats make across administrations is projection, assuming that diplomatic adversaries share American motives in coming to the table. North Korea, for example, often seeks bilateral talks with the United States not to resolve its nuclear issue or formalize peace on the Korean Peninsula, but rather to suggest to its citizens that it alone speaks for Koreans and South Korea is an illegitimate state and a puppet of the United States. More recently, the Taliban feigned interest in talks not to end the violence in Afghanistan, but rather to suggest that they had an equal if not superior claim to be the rightful government of Afghanistan rather than Afghanistan’s democratically elected government. And if they could get master terrorists sprung from Guantanamo Bay in the process, all the better.

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One of the greatest mistakes American diplomats make across administrations is projection, assuming that diplomatic adversaries share American motives in coming to the table. North Korea, for example, often seeks bilateral talks with the United States not to resolve its nuclear issue or formalize peace on the Korean Peninsula, but rather to suggest to its citizens that it alone speaks for Koreans and South Korea is an illegitimate state and a puppet of the United States. More recently, the Taliban feigned interest in talks not to end the violence in Afghanistan, but rather to suggest that they had an equal if not superior claim to be the rightful government of Afghanistan rather than Afghanistan’s democratically elected government. And if they could get master terrorists sprung from Guantanamo Bay in the process, all the better.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize that Iran’s main motive has been money as well—specifically, eroding sanctions and jumpstarting the economy—and that it has absolutely no interest in reaching a nuclear accord. Prior to Iran entering talks, it had reported a 5.4 percent reduction in its gross domestic product over the previous year. Soon after talks began, it announced a 258 percent rise in gas exports.

Now, President Rouhani has released new figures, apparently as a way to generate support for his strategy of talks with the United States. Importantly, he acknowledges that the Iranian economy had actually been worse in the run-up to talks, with a 5.8 percent retraction in GDP rather than 5.4 percent. However, according to Iran’s Central Bank, first quarter economic growth is up 4.8 percent, not a bad turn around.

The United States won the Cold War when it effectively bankrupted the Soviet Union. With the price of oil in free fall, well below the predicted level at which Iranian officials calculated their budget, the same could be true with Iran. Tehran is increasingly desperate for cash. That could be leverage negotiators could exploit. First, in a throwback to the post-Lockerbie Libya sanctions, they could unilaterally prohibit European carriers from flying to Tehran, and prevent Iranian aircraft from using European airports. Russia might not play along, but Western consumers infatuated with dictator-chic willing to shell out thousands of dollars for high-end tours to Iran probably won’t want to transit through Moscow or trust the safety record of Iran Air. Infusing cash to a regime ratcheting up executions and sponsoring terrorism isn’t dialogue of civilizations; it is accessory to murder.

But the hard currency provided by well-meaning tourists or curious Western businessmen is nothing compared to the money released by the West simply to reward Iran for sitting at the table. In effect, Obama, Kerry, and Undersecretary Wendy Sherman are giving Rouhani his jackpot without ever calling his bluff. In negotiations, it’s imperative not to lose sight of the big picture. Alas, while Obama and Kerry seek to suggest that their talks and subsidies have made the world safer, and while former Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden aide Jake Sullivan peddles that snake oil to Republicans in Congress, the big picture is this: The U.S. strategy has become one of subsidizing Iran’s nuclear program rather than eliminating it. That is diplomatic and security malpractice in the extreme.

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Khamenei Responds to Obama Letter

Back in 2009, shortly before Iranians rose up against the backdrop of the fraudulent election which returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a second term, President Barack Obama sent a letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In hindsight, one of the reasons perhaps Obama did not stand in solidarity for the principles for which the Iranian people were marching was because he hoped to shatter a diplomatic barrier and engage the Islamic Republic directly. Khamenei was not going to be a pen pal, but he nevertheless responded to Obama making clear his disdain for both Obama and the United States.

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Back in 2009, shortly before Iranians rose up against the backdrop of the fraudulent election which returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a second term, President Barack Obama sent a letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In hindsight, one of the reasons perhaps Obama did not stand in solidarity for the principles for which the Iranian people were marching was because he hoped to shatter a diplomatic barrier and engage the Islamic Republic directly. Khamenei was not going to be a pen pal, but he nevertheless responded to Obama making clear his disdain for both Obama and the United States.

Fast forward five years, and Obama once again sought to engage Khamenei in correspondence. Khamenei apparently once again chose not to write back. While the lack of a written response might give some American diplomats hope because at least Khamenei didn’t shoot down Obama’s ideas officially, such a conclusion would be misplaced. An exchange of letters may be the staple of Western diplomacy, but Tehran doesn’t operate like Washington. Khamenei has always been more comfortable making none-too-subtle allusions in his speeches. And this he did in a speech this past week to a clerical conference in Tehran about takfirism, the tendency among Islamist radicals to declare those who don’t agree with them apostates deserving of death. He used that venue to declare America—which he affectionately refers to as the “arrogance”—and Israel rather than the Islamic State (ISIS, or Da’ash as it’s known in Arabic and Persian) to be the root of the problem. Indeed, he suggests that ISIS is simply the latest manifestation of an American plot:

The purpose of this congress is attending to the issue of takfirism which is a harmful and dangerous orientation in the world of Islam. Although this takfiri orientation is not new and although it has a historical background, it is a few years now that it has been revived and strengthened with the plots of arrogance, with the money of some regional governments and with the schemes of the intelligence services of colonialist countries such as America, England and the Zionist regime… The enemy has brought this to the world of Islam as a custom-made product and problem. Therefore, we have to attend to it. However, the main issue is the issue of the Zionist regime. The main issue is the issue of Quds. The main issue is the issue of the first qiblah for Muslims which is al-Aqsa Mosque.

Lest anyone think that Israel alone is to blame, he reiterates:

There is an undeniable point which is the fact that the takfiri orientation and the governments which support and advocate it move completely in the direction of the goals of arrogance and Zionism. Their work is in line with the goals of America, the colonialist governments in Europe and the government of the usurping Zionist regime.

Khamenei then launches through a litany of events and the current wars in the Middle East and suggests they all are proof of a deliberate American plot:

All these signs show that the takfiri orientation is at the service of arrogance, the enemies of Islam, America, England and the Zionist regime. Of course, there are other signs and proofs as well. We have been informed that an American transport plane dropped the ammunition that this group, known as Da’ash, needed. This was done in order to help them. We said to ourselves, “Perhaps, this was a mistake”. Then, we saw that they kept doing it. According to the reports that I have received, this was done five times. Do they make a mistake five times?

This is while they have formed a so-called coalition against Da’ash. This is a downright lie. This coalition follows other malevolent goals. They want to keep this fitna [civil war] alive, pit the two sides against one another and continue the domestic war between Muslims. This is their goal. Of course, you should know that they will not manage to do this.

Khamenei is pretty clear that not only will he not cooperate with the United States against ISIS, he sees in ISIS violence evidence of American guilt. American officials may see this as so delusional that it has to be cynical rhetoric, but in Khamenei’s fevered worldview, the conspiracy is true and facts are to be dismissed.

Obama and Kerry remain committed, perhaps even desperate for a deal with Iran. Obama, unlike many of his predecessors, understands at least that it is the supreme leader who calls the shots. How unfortunate it is, then, that neither Obama nor Kerry understands the point which is at the heart of Khamenei’s response: “No means no.”

Let’s hope Obama and Kerry have a Plan B and, if not, that Congress will step up to the plate. Because while most policymakers went home for vacation and Congress was in recess, Khamenei gave his response, and his views with regard to America are unequivocal. Diplomacy is not going to work.

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Don’t Pay Iran for Stonewalling

So, the unalterable deadline to conclude a nuclear agreement with Iran has come and gone, and Secretary of State John Kerry has voided yet another administration red line, hemorrhaging U.S. credibility in the process. The worse aspect of the extension, however, is the Obama administration’s agreement to pay Iran $700 million per month from frozen accounts holding oil revenue.

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So, the unalterable deadline to conclude a nuclear agreement with Iran has come and gone, and Secretary of State John Kerry has voided yet another administration red line, hemorrhaging U.S. credibility in the process. The worse aspect of the extension, however, is the Obama administration’s agreement to pay Iran $700 million per month from frozen accounts holding oil revenue.

It’s hard to believe, but when it comes to negotiations with rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea, the State Department has never conducted a “lessons learned” exercise to consider after the fact why its negotiations failed with terror sponsors and aspiring nuclear powers. My book, Dancing With the Devil, examines the history of U.S. talks not only with Iran and North Korea, but also Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, the Taliban, Pakistan and, of course, Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization.

When looking at all these cases, one lesson becomes clear: offering money or goods as an incentive never works. Palestinian terror has grown proportional to Palestinian aid. In the years before 9/11, the State Department actually suggested providing aid to the Taliban to keep them at the table and to test their good will. The United States and its KEDO partners provided over a billion dollars in aid to North Korea in the wake of the 1994 Agreed Framework. North Korea diverted food and heavy fuel aid, and doubled down on its nuclear program.

The disputes with Iran are not simply some misunderstanding. Nor are they a matter of Iranian rights. After all, Iran enjoyed its rights fully until the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2005, after several sanctions-free years of trying to resolve problems relating to Iran’s behavior, finally found Iran in non-compliance with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement. Iran made an agreement, it broke it, and ever since, it has been paying the consequences of its own decisions. The disputes with Iran are rooted in Iranian decision-making.

Now, rather than coming clean, they are playing Obama and the West. Iran’s internal situation suggests that the money Obama and his partners offer is more likely to undercut any agreement rather than enable it. In the year before negotiations began, the Iranian economy shrank 5.3 percent. It was desperate for cash, and the $7 billion in sanctions relief, not a desire for conflict resolution, was President Rouhani’s chief goal in talks. Despite this influx, the drop in the price of oil below the $90/barrel at which the Iranian government set its budget keeps the Iranian economy on thin ice.

Dragging out the talks with constant subsidy not only nets Iran the $700 million per month, but an exponentially higher amount that comes with the erosion of sanctions and the scramble of German and other European companies for a foothold in the Iranian market. Simply put, Obama is eating out of Khamenei’s palm.

So if offering money and incentives don’t work, what’s the alternative? There have been times when Iran has been forced to reverse course: Ayatollah Khomeini released the 52 American diplomats he seized not because of the persistence of diplomacy, but rather because Iraq’s invasion made Iran’s isolation too great to bear. Likewise, in 1982, Khomeini promised to engage in the Iran-Iraq War until Jerusalem (not Baghdad) was liberated. There followed six more years a stalemate that came at the cost of several hundred thousand Iranian lives. Finally, Khomeini got on the radio and said he would accept a ceasefire, although he likened it to drinking from a chalice of poison. Drinking from that chalice, however, was worth it if it meant the survival of his regime.

The question for Obama is this, if he is serious about denying Iran a nuclear-weapons capability: What in his strategy raised Iran’s isolation to the level it was in 1980, and what in his strategy forces Khamenei to drink from that proverbial chalice? Whatever that might be, giving Tehran a $700 million monthly subsidy with the only caveat that its diplomats must come and enjoy a few days each month of fruitless talks at a five-star hotel surely isn’t it.

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Why Won’t Iran Take a Favorable Deal?

The mullahs are saving us from ourselves. Or more specifically Ayatollah Khamenei is saving us from President Obama’s desperation to achieve a nuclear deal.

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The mullahs are saving us from ourselves. Or more specifically Ayatollah Khamenei is saving us from President Obama’s desperation to achieve a nuclear deal.

Obama’s desperation is evident to all–he needs some foreign-policy achievement–to balance against the whole litany of failures (Iraq, Syria, ISIS, Ukraine, Yemen, Libya, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, etc.) that are dragging his foreign policy into Carteresque realms–or possibly even beyond that into hitherto unknown realms of foreign-policy failure. That is why he has been willing to grant Iran a nuclear deal on such generous terms and why, even though Iran won’t take those generous terms, he is willing to keep extending the deadline for talks time after time.

As Michael Gordon of the New York Times helpfully explicated: “The United States long ago dropped the goal of eliminating Iran’s enrichment ability, a demand that Israel has long insisted was the surest way to guarantee Iran did not maintain an option to pursue the development of nuclear arms.” The more modest goal American negotiations sought to achieve was an agreement that would “slow the Iranian nuclear program enough that it would take Iran at least a year to make enough material for a nuclear bomb if it decided to ignore the accord.”

It would surely be in Iran’s interests to sign such a deal in which the mullahs would pledge to stop operating some of their 19,000 centrifuges (10,000 of them are currently operational) and in return they would receive billions of dollars in sanctions relief that would save the Iranian economy from ruin–and save Iran’s theocratic dictators from being overthrown by their increasingly disgruntled people. And then, having signed the accord, Iran could proceed quietly and secretly to cheat, perhaps by building a plutonium-based bomb enabled by their new heavy water facility at Arak.

That is pretty much what North Korea did after signing the 1994 Agreed Framework. The Bush administration, which wasn’t as wedded to the Agreed Framework as Bill Clinton, confronted North Korea with evidence of its cheating in 2002. North Korea then pulled out all the stops and tested a nuclear weapon in 2006. By then it was too late for the U.S. to do anything about it.

Iran has had a full year to conclude such a favorable deal and yet it refuses to close the deal. Why not? And what will change in the next seven months?

My theory–and I admit it’s only a theory–is that Ayatollah Khamenei simply can’t swallow doing any deal with the Great Satan, no matter how favorable, because to do so would undercut the revolutionary legitimacy of his regime. Ever since the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979, Iran’s theocratic regime has defined itself in opposition to the United States. Thanks in no small measure to Obama’s lack of response, Tehran is closer than ever to realizing its ambitions to dominate the entire region stretching to the Mediterranean–including Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Oh, and Iran is also advancing in Yemen. Perhaps Khamenei simply can’t stomach the thought of reaching any kind of accommodation with the United States because it would hobble Iran’s offensive abroad and undermine his own claim to rule at home.

In short, Khamenei may be even more dedicated to his destructive ideology than Obama is to his. And that may be the only thing saving us from a catastrophically bad Iran deal–although not from having the negotiations dragged out endlessly.

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Obama Finds Support … Among Islamic Republic Loyalists

The Democrats took a shellacking in the most recent elections, giving Republicans their most substantial majority since just after World War II and, if the as-yet undecided cases end up with Republican victories, the Republican majority could be the largest since the 1920s. And while most elections are decided solely on domestic and economic issues, the current election was slightly different, as unease about President Obama’s foreign policy, his crisis management, and the stature of the United States on the world stage swayed some voters to vote for the Republicans.

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The Democrats took a shellacking in the most recent elections, giving Republicans their most substantial majority since just after World War II and, if the as-yet undecided cases end up with Republican victories, the Republican majority could be the largest since the 1920s. And while most elections are decided solely on domestic and economic issues, the current election was slightly different, as unease about President Obama’s foreign policy, his crisis management, and the stature of the United States on the world stage swayed some voters to vote for the Republicans.

Many Democrats take the threat of a nuclear Iran seriously. In 2011, Senate Republicans and Democrats joined together to pass tougher sanctions on Iran by a vote of 100-0, over White House objections. But ever since President Obama made his telephone call to President Rouhani and began negotiating with the Islamic Republic in earnest, the White House has succeeded in bringing congressional Democrats in line, against the better judgment of many of them. Well, as the Democratic leadership post-election doubles down on Obama’s foreign policy and their partisan proxies actually argue that a bad deal would be better than no deal and that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should therefore be followed blindly regardless of what they concede, Senator Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi can take solace in the fact that they have found new supporters … inside the Islamic Republic.

Mardom Salari, an Iranian daily supportive of Rouhani, editorialized that the Iranian government should reach at least a temporary agreement with President Obama and his team of negotiators, in order to keep Democrats in power:

If at this sensitive time that may decide our future we are not able to agree on that paradigm and structure, tomorrow may be too late and we may not be able to raise the issue [of an agreement] again, because radicalism and extremism are not the traits that have only manifested themselves in the region in the form of some extremist groups… [but] they have also affected some powerful parties in major countries.

Should the Democrats lose in 2016, the paper warned:

…We will be faced with warmongers who see democracy only through the lenses of their weapons and who regard power and fighting as the only standard of justice and democracy. Therefore, in view of this situation, now that the world and people everywhere have replaced the discourse of talks for conflict, inside the country too we should adopt the policy of idealistic realism and in this way we should safeguard national interest and seek our benefits in the forthcoming talks.

The rhetoric is cartoonish nonsense of course, but the meaning is clear: Come to an agreement or else have to face those in the United States who are not pushovers. The whole thing is reminiscent of the Iranian government’s realization after humiliating President Jimmy Carter during the hostage crisis that it would face a very different America once Ronald Reagan won the White House.

Perhaps it’s time the Congress disappoints the Iranian government even if the White House will not, and let Tehran know they dragged their feet for six years too long, and that they cannot forever count on American naivete, weakness, and impotence.

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The Truman Clown Show and Iranian Nukes

It seems like these days every time the Truman National Security Project is in the news it is because of a debate over how ashamed the think tank’s inspiration, Harry Truman, would be of its latest antics. In late 2011, the Truman Project expelled former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block because of his decision to push back publicly on leftists close to the Obama administration for their anti-Israel invective. And now it has sunk to a level that embarrassed even its founder Rachel Kleinfeld. But it answered a very important question about the Obama administration’s Iran diplomacy in the process.

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It seems like these days every time the Truman National Security Project is in the news it is because of a debate over how ashamed the think tank’s inspiration, Harry Truman, would be of its latest antics. In late 2011, the Truman Project expelled former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block because of his decision to push back publicly on leftists close to the Obama administration for their anti-Israel invective. And now it has sunk to a level that embarrassed even its founder Rachel Kleinfeld. But it answered a very important question about the Obama administration’s Iran diplomacy in the process.

Yesterday, the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo revealed that the Truman Project, which is aligned with the Obama White House and whose board of advisors includes Michele Flournoy, had initiated a rather heavyhanded call to arms to rally support for President Obama’s attempt to ink a deal on Iran’s nuclear program with Tehran. On an internal email list, the group appeared ready to support whatever deal eventually emerges, if a deal does emerge, from the negotiations. But they seemed even more interested in attacking those with reservations about the deal.

“Our community absolutely must step up and not cede the public narrative to neocon hawks that would send our country to war just to screw the president,” Graham F. West, Truman’s writing and communications associate, wrote, according to Kredo. And he claimed, as the president often does, that the choice was essentially between war and peace, with no gray area.

Then today, Kredo followed up with another scoop of internal communications from the Truman Project. While the earlier batch of emails showed the Truman Project slandering skeptics of an Iran deal as animated simply by partisanship and willing to send Americans to war just to mess with the president, the second batch showed an equally unhinged effort to get Truman scholars to question the patriotism of anyone who opposes Obama on the issue:

“If they [Congress] kill the deal, they should be blamed for the consequences,” [David Solimini, Truman’s vice president for strategic communications] wrote. “Congress gave the president the tools he needed to make sure Iran was isolated and under massive pressure. Now they need to support what they started so that we can keep up our end of the bargain.”

Solimini then suggests a “good line” that advocates can use: “Congress is the home team. They better keep rooting for an American win.”

“Handling opposition to a deal” also is addressed in the talking points.

Those who would “be against any deal, even before they know what it is” are “shameful,” according to Solimini’s document.

In what may prove to be one of the document’s more controversial passages, Solimini recommends that Truman allies push back against those who insist, “No deal is better than a bad deal.”

That last part is important, both because Obama himself has said that line and because the Obama administration’s obvious desperation in getting any deal they can has contributed mightily to the impression that he doesn’t mean it. One of the recent suggestions, for example, was that Iran disconnect some pipes, so they’d have to–gasp!–reconnect them when they felt like it.

So the president obviously believes that any deal is better than no deal, and the Truman Project is on board with this nonsense, ready to publicly question the patriotism of those with reservations about the administration’s recklessness. It shows that even in the quarters that are supposed to be providing the intellectual firepower for the nuke deal, false choices and mischaracterizations are all we get. The Obama administration’s behavior can’t be defended on its merits, even from its defenders.

And it reveals something significant. As Kleinfeld (who is no longer with the organization) tweeted when the first story broke, the U.S. should only agree to an Iran deal if it’s a good deal, “not for partisanship.” The Truman Project’s “all-hands-on-deck effort” is a classic case of projection. It warns of the pure partisanship of its opponents when the opposite is true. Skepticism toward Iran’s intentions and the wisdom of striking a weak deal is actually bipartisan.

Today Republican Senator Mark Kirk and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (the latter the outgoing chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) declared “they would push for more penalties against Tehran if they are unhappy with any nuclear deal, signaling a potential battle with the Obama administration less than two weeks before the deadline for an agreement.”

Indeed, the Obama administration strategy that emerged even before the Republicans won back control of the Senate was to find a way to go it alone. The president knows that, as usual, opposition to his plans is bipartisan, and that even with control of the Senate he would struggle getting a treaty through. Congress has vowed to push back, but the only reason they have anything to push back on is that Obama is strongly considering pretending the treaty isn’t a treaty and going around the Senate to strike a deal.

The naked partisanship, in other words, is completely on one side–Obama’s. And the Truman Project is just the latest to demonstrate this reality.

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Negotiating with Iran or Just One Faction?

In 1998, against the backdrop of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s “Dialogue of Civilizations,” there was great optimism about the potential for a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations among many of the same circles that express it now. And then, just as now, some in the U.S. business community wanted to rush into the Iranian market, figuring all that was left for some sort of grand rapprochement was to dot the i’s and cross the t’s in any sort of diplomatic agreement. It was against this backdrop that a group of American businessmen, traveling at the invitation of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, flew to Tehran in order to combine meetings with tourism.

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In 1998, against the backdrop of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s “Dialogue of Civilizations,” there was great optimism about the potential for a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations among many of the same circles that express it now. And then, just as now, some in the U.S. business community wanted to rush into the Iranian market, figuring all that was left for some sort of grand rapprochement was to dot the i’s and cross the t’s in any sort of diplomatic agreement. It was against this backdrop that a group of American businessmen, traveling at the invitation of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, flew to Tehran in order to combine meetings with tourism.

Their trip did not go as planned. Escorted around in a minibus, all seemed well until they were set upon by a group of stone and iron bar wielding vigilantes who attacked the group. They cut their trip short and went home. I discussed the now forgotten incident in my first monograph about the history of Iranian vigilantism, but suffice it to say, those who attacked the Americans had official sanction to do so while those who invited the Americans also had official sanction to do so. The problem with the Iranian system, as always, was the multiple power centers, and so there can be often contradictory official sanctions.

That Iran has overlapping and competing power centers is well understood, both in Iran and in the West. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei keeps power in large part by balancing those power centers off each other. Having multiple power centers provides other advantages for Tehran: Those who are unwise enough to actually invest in Iran quickly learn that there is no practical adherence to commercial law. If a contract is signed to provide oil at a fixed price, for example, and the price of oil rises, Iranian partners will simply discover that the contract is invalid because a previously irrelevant body had not signed off on it.

President Obama may believe his administration’s diplomacy is on firm ground. After all, he spoke directly on the telephone with President Rouhani, and he sent letters to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who spoke about “heroic flexibility.” But Rouhani represents only one faction, and Obama and Kerry misinterpreted Khamenei’s rhetoric.

Even if a deal is struck, Obama will have essentially negotiated it with only one faction. Just as after the Reagan-era “Arms for Hostages” diplomacy (which saw Mehdi Hashemi’s faction attack America despite National Security Advisor Bud McFarlane’s “agreement” with Hashemi Rafsanjani) and with the Khatami-era “Dialogue of Civilizations” approach (which saw hardliners associated with the Basij and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) attack American interests), and just as in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, in which Ambassador Ryan Crocker and National Security Council official Zalmay Khalilzad negotiated a non-interference agreement with Iranian diplomats (only to see it ignored and flouted by the IRGC), so too should the United States recognize that a deal struck with Rouhani and Iran’s Foreign Ministry will be meaningless to the IRGC and perhaps the supreme leader.

Naïve diplomats can blame the violations of agreements on rogues or spoilers and insist Tehran can be trusted. But they would be wrong. Iranian leaders encourage competing power circles to lash out or go rogue in order to achieve undiplomatic aims, while consciously cultivating plausible deniability. At the very least, other Iranian factions are going to seek their own deal, raising the price of any agreement. To strike a deal and expect peace and tranquility would be like to pay off one mafia family in 1930s Chicago (or 2014 Chicago) when two or three other mafia families operate in the same location.

Here are the facts:

  • The Obama team is essentially negotiating with the Iranian Foreign Ministry in a process blessed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has not yet signed on. His “Heroic Flexibility” comments referred to tactics, not substance. His so-called nuclear fatwa is not written down and has never been published, and President Obama and his top advisors have never seen it. They have simply put hope ahead of reality. Khamenei has already issued “red lines” that make a deal to resolve the situation impossible; unlike Obama, Khamenei treats red lines as more than rhetorical flourish.
  • The IRGC would have command, control, and custody over any military applications of Iran’s nuclear program. It has repeatedly condemned the nuclear diplomacy and has indicated that it will not abide by it.

So, in short, even if Obama and Kerry reach an agreement, they will essentially only be reaching it with one faction among many, and perhaps the weakest faction at that. It’s Diplomacy 101 not to negotiate an agreement with interlocutors who cannot deliver, but it seems increasingly that this is what Obama and Kerry insist on doing. At the very least, the price of Iranian compliance is going to be far higher than Obama and Kerry expect, and at the very worst, Iran’s willingness to talk is simply an asymmetric warfare strategy to cause the West to let its guard down while it continues with its efforts to achieve its ideological and regional goals.

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Why Deterrence Won’t Work with Iran

Underlying the Obama administration’s approach to the Iranian nuclear program has been an assumption that, if worse came to worst, the world could contain and deter a nuclear Iran. After all, many officials and analysts suggest, the Iranian regime isn’t suicidal. It knows that if it used nuclear weapons against Israel or the United States, it would be annihilated. In addition, some analysts suggest, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) worked during the Cold War; neither the United States nor the Soviet Union was willing to push the button. So, the logic goes, even if Iran cheats on the deal for which Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing so hard and builds a nuclear weapon, the risk of a nuclear first strike on Israel is minimal.

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Underlying the Obama administration’s approach to the Iranian nuclear program has been an assumption that, if worse came to worst, the world could contain and deter a nuclear Iran. After all, many officials and analysts suggest, the Iranian regime isn’t suicidal. It knows that if it used nuclear weapons against Israel or the United States, it would be annihilated. In addition, some analysts suggest, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) worked during the Cold War; neither the United States nor the Soviet Union was willing to push the button. So, the logic goes, even if Iran cheats on the deal for which Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing so hard and builds a nuclear weapon, the risk of a nuclear first strike on Israel is minimal.

The problem with such logic is it misunderstands Iran, ignores its ideology, and doesn’t take into account the command and control of any military nuclear program.

Simply put, the Islamic Republic isn’t stable. Over the past 15 years, it has weathered three major mass demonstrations:

  • In 1999, student protests morphed into a national movement after vigilantes attacked a Tehran University student dormitory, killing a student and injuring scores;
  • In 2001, protests spread across the country after Iran lost a World Cup qualifier 3-1 to Bahrain, a loss which some Iranians believed was due to the government seeking to have the team throw the game so as to prevent men and women from celebrating together; and,
  • In 2009, unrest rocked the country after the regime apparently fixed the results of an election so that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could have a second term.

The point is that the Islamic Republic remains deeply unpopular with many segments of Iranian society. That does not mean that the Iranian public is revolutionary; after having one revolution which promised Islamic democracy but delivered neither the Iranian public is decidedly apathetic and cynical. However, Iran is a tinderbox and when a spark occurs, the fire can spread rapidly.

Let’s put aside the fallacy that Mutually-Assured Destruction will always be successful (the United States and the Soviet Union got damned lucky at times, for example, during the Cuban Missile Crisis or the aftermath of Korean Air 007’s downing). Here’s the nightmare situation: While the government has been more successful at smothering sparks than protestors have been at lighting them, in each of the above three uprisings, it was touch and go for a bit. It’s likely that in the future there will be a spark which again morphs into nationwide protests.

What happens if, in any future protests, rather than putting down the people, some of the security forces join in, much as they did in Romania in 1989? At the end, it was clear that the regime of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu would not last out the month, although few expected the Christmas Day firing squad in which the hated dictator and his wife met their end.

Back to Iran: If the Islamic Republic develops nuclear weapons, the command, control, and custody of that arsenal would likely be not only in the hands of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), but also in its most ideologically pure unit, handpicked for their loyalty to Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei’s radical ideology. The IRGC isn’t homogeneous. But just because some members join more for privilege than belief doesn’t mean there aren’t many true believers among the guardians of the revolution. The regime may not be suicidal, but if it’s terminally ill so that those in control of an Iranian bomb know that there will be regime change in a matter of days if not hours, then why not launch to fulfill the ideological objectives of eliminating Israel?

To assume the Iranian regime isn’t suicidal is all well and good, but there is a huge difference between a desire for self-preservation and stability. To ignore the Revolutionary Guards and to gamble millions of lives on the assumption that the Islamic Republic will last forever is negligent in the extreme. Alas, it increasingly seems such a description fits Obama and Kerry’s assumptions and actions.

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Khamenei’s Genocidal Ideology

Tom Wilson wrote earlier today on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s core hostility, and noted last week’s huge, state-sanctioned anti-America rally in Tehran. (I was fortunate to spend about seven months in Iran while I was working on my Ph.D. back in the 1990s, and so always try to differentiate between Iran and the Islamic Republic; Iranians tend to be more cosmopolitan and tolerant than then the regime which seeks to speak in their name). He was absolutely correct.

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Tom Wilson wrote earlier today on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s core hostility, and noted last week’s huge, state-sanctioned anti-America rally in Tehran. (I was fortunate to spend about seven months in Iran while I was working on my Ph.D. back in the 1990s, and so always try to differentiate between Iran and the Islamic Republic; Iranians tend to be more cosmopolitan and tolerant than then the regime which seeks to speak in their name). He was absolutely correct.

At the beginning of President Obama’s diplomatic outreach, when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei spoke about “heroic flexibility,” he was endorsing not a change in the Islamic Republic’s position, but rather just its tactics. At the same time, he was consciously utilizing a phrase with deep religious meaning for Shi‘ites: Imam Hassan spoke of his “heroic flexibility” in striking a deal with the Umayyad caliph Mu’awiya, a man whom Shi‘ites continue to curse to the present day, and whose dynasty the Shi‘ites continued to fight. The point is that what Obama and his advisors saw as a change-of-heart was anything but: As far as Khamenei is concerned, he remains the deputy of the messiah on earth, and the revolution he oversees continues in its endless quest to remake Iran and the world. Western officials might put their hope in the Green Movement, but they should never forget that in the Iranian system, sovereignty comes from God through the supreme leader, and does not rise from the people.

This brings us to the Islamic Republic’s hostility to Israel and Jews which is by no means limited to Khamenei. Former President Mohammad Khatami, often celebrated as a reformer in Western diplomatic circles, oversaw a resurgence of Holocaust denial inside Iran long before his successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, made an international incident out of such Holocaust revisionism. The past year has seen state-sponsored anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism move into overdrive as Iranian leaders concluded that President Obama’s hostility to the Jewish state translated into its isolation and vulnerability.

As we enter the last two weeks of talks before the self-imposed deadline to conclude a deal with Iran, it now seems that Khamenei is taking his hatred to a new level. Hence, on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, he tweeted a nine-step plan for the destruction of Israel. This, against the backdrop of current President Hassan Rouhani’s past endorsement of utilizing diplomacy as a means to lull America into complacency before delivering a knock-out blow, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s reports suggesting Iran was backtracking on its promise of transparency and nuclear accountability, should raise red flags.

It is also important to analyze with consistency rather than cherry-pick: If President Rouhani’s Rosh Hashanah tweet wishing Jews a happy New Year was a sign of real change in Iran, would not Khamenei’s tweet calling for Israel’s eradication be a sign that perhaps hope of such change was premature? After all, within the Islamic Republic’s system, Khamenei trumps Rouhani just as certainly as in poker, a royal flush trumps a pair of twos. Nor is timing a coincidence: If Rouhani timed his tweet for the Jewish New Year, why assume Khamenei’s timing of his tweet to coincide with the anniversary of one of Germany’s great pogroms was simply a coincidence?

Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry and their European counterparts are desperate for a deal with Iran. Perhaps they think that with enough concessions, they can achieve a deal that will return the Islamic Republic to the community of responsibilities. They are wrong. For as long as the Islamic Republic governs Iran, there will be no compromise on its ruling regime’s ideological obligation and efforts to destroy Israel by any and all means possible. Khamenei is simply providing a reminder to see if his new American or European partners will object. They will not. But what to Obama and Kerry is a diplomatic silence meant to keep their eyes on the diplomatic prize is for Khamenei a sign that he can get away with murder. Appeasing hatred is never the path to peace.

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