Commentary Magazine


Topic: nuclear diplomacy

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

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

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

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

Read More

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

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

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

Read Less

Bibi’s Speech Already Bearing Fruit

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Giving Iran a Piece of Iraq

Even his critics had to concede that Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a first-rate address to Congress—a masterpiece of persuasive oratory. While much of the attention rightly focused on what the prime minister had to say about the proposed nuclear accorded with Iran (“a very bad deal”), he also had an important message to deliver about Iran’s non-nuclear aggression.

Read More

Even his critics had to concede that Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a first-rate address to Congress—a masterpiece of persuasive oratory. While much of the attention rightly focused on what the prime minister had to say about the proposed nuclear accorded with Iran (“a very bad deal”), he also had an important message to deliver about Iran’s non-nuclear aggression.

“Iran’s goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its revolutionary guard on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror,” he alliterated. “Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Backed by Iran. Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Backed by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea.”

As if to illustrate his point, the Wall Street Journal has an important report about how Shiite militias and the Iraqi army are combining to attack the Sunni town of Tikrit. “In addition to supplying drones,” the Journal reports, “Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard force has fighters on the ground with Iraqi units, mostly operating artillery and rocket batteries.” Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force, is apparently overseeing this operation in person.

At first blush this might sound no different from the kind of military aid that the U.S. provides to allied militaries but in fact, despite the superficial similarities, there is a major difference. U.S. advisers have always stressed to Iraqi and Afghan forces the importance of acting in an ethical and restrained manner, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because abuse of the civilian population risks driving them into the arms of the insurgents.

The Iranian-backed militias, whether in Syria or Iraq, have exhibited no such restraint. They became notorious in past years for kidnapping Sunnis and torturing them to death with power tools. More recently, under Iranian guidance, Bashar Assad has been dropping barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods. Such a blood-thirsty assault, even if tactically successful in Tikrit, will sow the seeds of strategic defeat by encouraging Sunnis to fight even harder against Shiite encroachments. That may well be what Iran wants: the more polarized Iraq and Syria become, the more that Shiites (or, in the case of Syria, the Alawites) will feel compelled to look to Iran for guidance and protection.

That is why the Obama administration is supremely ill-advised, not just for granting Iran concession after concession to win a nuclear deal, but also for looking the other way as Iran assumes an increasingly prominent role in the anti-ISIS fight. The Journal notes that in Iraq “a de facto division” is “developing between areas where Iran has the lead in assisting the fight against the Islamic State, and areas where the U.S. has the lead,” with both sides taking “steps not to interfere with one another’s operations.”

The Journal quotes an anonymous “U.S. official” cheerleading for Iran, saying, “To the degree that they can carry out an offensive without inflaming sectarian tension and can dislocate ISIL, it can be helpful.” The anonymous official might very well be Brett McGurk, the State Department point man on the anti-ISIS fight, who has been tweeting merrily in support of the Iranian-directed offensive against Tikrit (without acknowledging that it is Iranian-directed).

Netanyahu warned against this dangerous tendency when he said: “Don’t be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America… When it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”

Too bad the administration isn’t listening to him on this subject, any more than it is on the nuclear negotiations. Instead Obama appears to be pursuing a broader rapprochement with Tehran that would have the U.S. grant de facto acquiescence to the actions of Iranian proxies in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

In other words, the state of U.S.-Iranian relations at the moment is even more worrisome than Netanyahu (anxious not to burn every single bridge to the White House) was able to explain.

Read Less

Netanyahu Is Everything Obama Is Not

A month ago, I referred to Barack Obama as “quite simply, anti-Israel.” Events in the last month have only confirmed that judgment.

Read More

A month ago, I referred to Barack Obama as “quite simply, anti-Israel.” Events in the last month have only confirmed that judgment.

There are many arguments one could marshall to support that assertion, but it strikes me that among the most compelling is this: Mr. Obama has more anger toward Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, than he has toward any other regime in the world–including the most oppressive ones. He has treated the prime minister of the Jewish state with more disrespect and pettiness than any other world leader–including the most brutal ones. The time and energy that President Obama and his administration have spent on attacking Mr. Netanyahu–on the record, on background, and off the record–is astonishing. Only Obama’s golf game seems to command more of his time and passion than does Israel, though with the former it’s all positive energy and with the latter it’s all negative energy.

There is undoubtedly a troubling combination of reasons that explains Mr. Obama’s relentless hostility to Israel and Netanyahu; I suspect one of them is that the Israeli prime minister refuses to be intimidated by the president and is willing to publicly challenge his arguments–and worse, from Mr. Obama’s perspective, to embarrass the president by exposing (in this case) his policy of appeasement toward Iran. (For more on the disastrous deal the president has embraced, read this and this.)

I have spoken to members of Congress who have dealt with Mr. Obama and remarked to me that he gets most petulant and prickly when he’s challenged and bested in debate. It infuriates him, which is what you would expect from a president who is notorious for his facile arguments and intellectual dishonesty. No chief executive in my lifetime more closely fits the description by Kenneth Minogue: “a pyrotechnic in a field of straw men.” (h/t George Will.)

Narcissists hate to be embarrassed, which is precisely what Mr. Netanyahu will do to Mr. Obama tomorrow from the well of Congress. Unlike the president, the Israeli prime minister won’t be nasty or personal about it. Rather, he will do it, I suspect, with surgical precision, demolishing one Obama argument after another. Which will only infuriate Mr. Obama even more. (So will the fact that Mr. Netanyahu’s popularity in America is increasing despite, and perhaps because of, the administration’s childish attacks on him.)

Mr. Netanyahu is everything Barack Obama is not: Strong, tough, shrewd, unwilling to bend and bow to tyrants and willing to stand up for his nation and defend it abroad. On some level, Mr. Obama must surely know this. He hates Mr. Netanyahu for it, even as others of us admire him all the more for it.

Read Less

The Incoherence of Netanyahu’s Most Strident Critics

Near the end of his new autobiography, David Axelrod sheds some light on President Obama’s distaste for democracy. “Obama has limited patience or understanding for officeholders whose concerns are more parochial–which would include most of Congress and many world leaders,” Axelrod writes, in noting Obama’s preference for supercilious vanity projects. Yet while Axelrod paints with a broad brush, he gives two examples, and they are telling. He writes: “Whether it’s John Boehner or Bibi Netanyahu, few practiced politicians appreciate being lectured on where their political self-interest lies.” This passage is an important preamble to the current dustup between the two administrations.

Read More

Near the end of his new autobiography, David Axelrod sheds some light on President Obama’s distaste for democracy. “Obama has limited patience or understanding for officeholders whose concerns are more parochial–which would include most of Congress and many world leaders,” Axelrod writes, in noting Obama’s preference for supercilious vanity projects. Yet while Axelrod paints with a broad brush, he gives two examples, and they are telling. He writes: “Whether it’s John Boehner or Bibi Netanyahu, few practiced politicians appreciate being lectured on where their political self-interest lies.” This passage is an important preamble to the current dustup between the two administrations.

One of the regular critiques from the administration and its spokesmen in the media of tomorrow’s speech by Netanyahu is that Bibi just wants to use the speech as a prop in his own reelection campaign. As Axelrod’s book demonstrates, catering to voters and representing their interests in the government is borderline incomprehensible to Obama. His disdain for other world leaders who follow the wishes of their employers–the taxpayers–instead of doing what Obama wants is especially strange, considering its undisguised imperialist overtones.

And Netanyahu, of late, has found himself the world leader who values democratic elections far too much for Obama’s taste. When Netanyahu pressed ahead with giving the speech to a joint session of Congress, the Obama administration said they’d hit back, and suggested one way of doing so would be for them to bash Bibi through the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, as they often do when they want to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Israel. They did so; here is how Goldberg delivers the talking point:

It would be reassuring—sort of—to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu decided to set the U.S.-Israel relationship on fire mainly because he fears that President Obama is selling out Israel. But Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on March 3—a speech arranged without Obama’s knowledge by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and by Obama’s chief Republican rival, House Speaker John Boehner—is motivated by another powerful fear: the fear of unemployment. The message Bibi is preparing to deliver on Tuesday (a “statesmanlike message,” according to an official close to him) has as its actual target not Congress but, instead, Israeli voters who need reminding, in Netanyahu’s view, that he is the only leader strong enough to face down both the genocidal regime in Tehran and the Israel-loathing regime in Washington.

You can set aside the obviously false characterization of Netanyahu’s culpability. According to Goldberg–and the administration–Netanyahu’s “main” concern is not Israel’s perceived existential threats or a bad Iran deal or President Obama’s repeated insistence on selling out Israel (sometimes during wartime).

Now, obviously Netanyahu cares about reelection. He’s a politician in a democracy, and is acting as one, not as a tyrant or a religious cult figure. His decision to accept the speech without the president’s support was also clearly a mistake. He compounded that mistake by not backing out or rescheduling when he had ample opportunity to do so. And his mistake has already had tangible effects: the speech has almost certainly destroyed the possibility of the very veto-proof sanctions he hoped to inspire, at least for now.

But sufferers of Bibi Derangement Syndrome don’t see “mistakes”; they see arson. They violate the cardinal rule of democratic politics in a free society: Don’t attribute to malice what can be more easily explained by incompetence.

And the Obama-Axelrod-Goldberg line is strange for another reason: the belief that Bibi doesn’t take the long view but instead focuses on near-term electoral fortunes is pretty much the opposite of what the administration’s critique of him had previously been. In May 2011, the consensus was that Netanyahu was practically obsessed with incorporating the grand sweep of history into his dialogue with Obama. “Like many of you, I watched the Prime Minister of Israel publicly lecture the President of the United States on Jewish history with a mixture of shock, amusement and bewilderment,” Goldberg wrote in a post titled “Netanyahu Continues to Needlessly Alienate.”

(It was a common framing. ABC News: “In Oval Office, Bibi Offers History Lessons to Obama.” Chicago Sun-Times: “Obama gets Netanyahu Israeli history lecture.”)

Netanyahu has also come in for criticism for saying “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs… preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state.” And the press has taken a couple swings at him for referencing Ben-Gurion’s declaration of the establishment of Israel against the wishes of the State Department and other governmental agencies in his speeches, as he did this morning at AIPAC.

Also in his speech this morning, the prime minister returned to the long view of Jewish history:

For 2,000 years, my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, defenseless, voiceless. We were utterly powerless against our enemies who swore to destroy us. We suffered relentless persecution and horrific attacks. We could never speak in our own behalf, and we could not defend ourselves. Well, no more. No more. The days when the Jewish people are passive in the face of threats to annihilate us–those days are over.

It’s no surprise the recitation of history makes Obama uncomfortable. As we’ve seen, the president’s ignorance of history is comprehensive, but he is especially unknowledgeable on Israeli and Jewish history. It doesn’t seem to interest him, and it shows.

So it’s always been a bit rich for the president who thinks history started with his own presidential election to accuse others of not thinking about the big picture. What Obama means by this is actually that these other politicians and world leaders aren’t thinking enough about Obama’s legacy, which he’d like them to prioritize over the needs and wants of their citizens, Israel being no exception.

Read Less

AIPAC Focuses on Iran, Not Israel

The 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference–the largest conference in AIPAC’s history–opened yesterday at the Washington Convention Center, in a hall extending the length of three football fields, the space necessary to accommodate more than 16,000 delegates (including 3,000 college students from 586 campuses, of whom 277 are the student government presidents). During the conference, AIPAC expects that more than half the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives will attend.

Read More

The 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference–the largest conference in AIPAC’s history–opened yesterday at the Washington Convention Center, in a hall extending the length of three football fields, the space necessary to accommodate more than 16,000 delegates (including 3,000 college students from 586 campuses, of whom 277 are the student government presidents). During the conference, AIPAC expects that more than half the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives will attend.

This morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the conference, a day before he addresses a joint meeting of Congress, and it is beginning to dawn on those who spent the last month lambasting him for his alleged breach of protocol that a very bad deal is in the works–now the focus of attention primarily because the Israeli prime minister decided that calling it out was more important than his (non-existent) personal relationship with the U.S. president.

Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote last month that Netanyahu’s decision to speak to Congress made “absolutely no sense” and was a “tone deaf ploy” that left Goldberg “unable to understand his thinking,” yesterday wrote that he expects a strong speech to Congress, because:

Netanyahu has a credible case to make. Any nuclear agreement that allows Iran to maintain a native uranium-enrichment capability is a dicey proposition; in fact, any agreement at all with an empire-building, Assad-sponsoring, Yemen-conquering, Israel-loathing, theocratic terror regime is a dicey proposition. [Emphasis added.]

Goldberg is not only worried about the “sunset” clause that would permit Iran to become a nuclear power once the agreement expires, but worried even more “that the Iranians will find a way to cheat their way out of the agreement even before the sun is scheduled to set.”

In a panel yesterday at the AIPAC conference, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who has supported Netanyahu’s speech from the time it was announced, told a large audience “why the speech has to be given now, despite the consequences that will go down for the next 22 months”:

Number one, a deal is about to be signed and so this is the last opportunity just before an election the timing of which Bibi did not set [and] an election that Bibi didn’t want … and this isn’t timed for politics–although God forbid a politician should be guilty of committing politics. It was timed in connection to the negotiating timetable which was, in fact, established by John Kerry and his partners.

Secondly, representatives and senators ought to hear directly from the prime minister why this deal, which is terrible for the United States, is potentially fatal for Israel. And all these members of the House who pat themselves on the back as they vote for Iron Dome funding–as if that is the sole credential for being pro-Israel–ought to be put on record that this is the moment that counts … a final opportunity for Israel to make a case to the United States to act before Israel, I fear, will have to act irrespective of what the United States wants …

And, by the way, what is Bibi doing? He is giving a speech. He’s not hurling thunderbolts from Congress. He’s giving a speech! I would hope that in the spirit of democracy, civility, and–by the way–congressional self-respect for a co-equal branch of government, that every Democratic member, whether they agree with Bibi or not, will do him the courtesy of hearing him out.

Stephens noted that the administration is not only “not checking Iranian moves throughout the region–we are facilitating the rise of Iranian power”:

And I say this–I’m almost shocked to hear myself say this–but the deal we are going to strike isn’t that we’ve moved from a policy of prevention to containment: we are actively facilitating Iran’s bid to become a regular nuclear state … By the way, South Korea: we deny them the right to enrich. So, the South Koreans can’t enrich, according to this administration–we’re pressuring them not to enrich–but Iran, because it’s such a marvelous, wonderful regime, in 10 or 15 years, they’re going to get the bomb. We are facilitating this. We have facilitated their ability to maintain client regimes around the Middle East.

It is one of the reasons why we have not fulfilled the president’s other unmet promise of going after the Assad regime, and we now have a de facto pro-Assad policy in Syria. It’s one of the reasons why we have no strategy to speak of to prevent the Houti militia, who are not some tribal militia–they’re the Hezbollah of Yemen–from seizing [Yemen’s capital] Sana’a and then throwing out our client government. …

So, now the Iranians makes the boast–I’m sure all of you are familiar with this–that they have four Arab capitals in their hands: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sana’a, and you might add Gaza City, if you consider that one. And that’s correct, and we have done nothing to stop it. We have no strategy to speak of, except accepting a new status quo on the hope that one day, the Iranians will change the nature of their regime and they’ll be nice to us. Good luck.

A “bad deal” does not begin to describe the strategic disaster the administration is attempting to conclude in secret, without informing Congress of the details and allowing a free and open democratic debate. The administration opposes even the new Corker-Menendez bill, introduced on Friday, which would prevent any deal from taking effect for 60 days, after Congress finds out what it is.

After AIPAC members listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, its thousands of delegates will lobby their representatives to urge them to support Corker-Menendez–bolstered by the speech of a prime minister who decided an existential threat to his country (the principal U.S. ally in the region) deserves to be fully considered by the representatives of the American people, before it is too late, not only for Israel but the United States.

Read Less

No, Mr. Kerry, There Can Be No Benefit of the Doubt on Iran

Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Secretary of State John Kerry argued that the United States deserves benefit of the doubt when it comes to U.S. diplomacy with Iran. About the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Kerry said, “It is better to do this by diplomacy than to have to do a strategy militarily which you would have to repeat over and over again and which everybody believes ought to be after you have exhausted all the diplomatic remedies.”

Read More

Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Secretary of State John Kerry argued that the United States deserves benefit of the doubt when it comes to U.S. diplomacy with Iran. About the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Kerry said, “It is better to do this by diplomacy than to have to do a strategy militarily which you would have to repeat over and over again and which everybody believes ought to be after you have exhausted all the diplomatic remedies.”

Mr. Kerry is right to highlight the problem with military action. At best, it would delay Iran’s program by two or three years. Those who believe a one-time strike would end Iran’s program are unrealistic. There is no parallel to Israel’s 1981 strike on the Osirak reactor in Iraq, an airstrike that crippled Iraq’s bomb program until Saddam Hussein’s regime ultimately fell. After all, Saddam was unable to rebuild Osirak because Iraq was embroiled first in an eight-year, World War I-style fight against Iran of Saddam’s own making. No sooner did that end that Saddam ordered Iraqi forces into Kuwait, unleashing a cascade of events that crippled Iraq further. It is doubtful that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei would make the same mistakes in the wake of any potential strike.

To have American aircraft bomb Iran’s nuclear program, however, would effectively be using American servicemen to kick the can down the road because the White House, State Department, and Congress can’t come to a policy consensus about what it would take realistically to blunt the threat of any Iranian nuclear arsenal. The problem isn’t simply the nuclear weapons, but rather the ideology of the regime which would wield them.

This is where Kerry shows himself a narrow, shallow thinker. He artificially boils Iran options down to two: Either cut a deal, no matter how bad and no matter how likely Iran is to cheat, or engage in military action that will be expensive and won’t end with a single strike. He refuses to recognize that either way, it is the Iranian regime which is the problem.

This doesn’t mean the United States should engage in Iraq- or Libya-style regime change. But what Kerry and crew have essentially done is take a regime foundering under decades of economic mismanagement and sanctions, and effectively subsidized its survival to the tune of $7 billion per year (and $11 billion total) since negotiations began. They did this against the backdrop of a dramatic decline in the price of oil and so forfeited the best opportunity in decades not to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees but rather to allow it to stumble and trip on its own. Ultimately, if the Iran problem is going to be resolved, it will mean an end to the clerical regime, not Kerry’s false choice. Trusting Iran is a non-starter. And that is exactly what Kerry seeks when he asks for benefit of the doubt on an agreement whose parameters he is too embarrassed to show to America’s Arab allies and Israel because he knows they will point out the obvious loopholes. No, Mr. Kerry, neither the White House nor Iran deserve benefit of the doubt on nuclear negotiations. The world cannot afford the consequences.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.”

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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:

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

“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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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