Commentary Magazine


Topic: Robert Menendez

Clinton Cash and Circumstantial Evidence

A few days into the Clinton Cash scandal and apologists for Hillary and Bill are starting to retreat. After days of focusing on smearing author Peter Schweizer, the investigative reports of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and now Fox News have made it harder to dismiss the discussion about the connection between the massive donations to the Clintons’ foundation and speaking fees for the former president and influence peddling at the State Department. Instead, they are relying on more legalistic defenses and saying that Schweizer and other journalists who have followed up on his reporting can’t prove that Hillary Clinton performed favors for donors to her family charity or those who paid her husband half-million-dollar honorariums. So far, that’s true as there is no “smoking gun” memo in which the Clintons make clear promises of corrupt action in payment for the largesse that had been bestowed upon them. But what Democrats and all Americans should be asking about this argument is why some people get prosecuted for corruption on such circumstantial evidence while others are considered likely to be elected president. If circumstantial evidence less compelling than that contained in Clinton Cash can lead to an indictment of Senator Robert Menendez, why should we dismiss this story as just a political attack?

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A few days into the Clinton Cash scandal and apologists for Hillary and Bill are starting to retreat. After days of focusing on smearing author Peter Schweizer, the investigative reports of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and now Fox News have made it harder to dismiss the discussion about the connection between the massive donations to the Clintons’ foundation and speaking fees for the former president and influence peddling at the State Department. Instead, they are relying on more legalistic defenses and saying that Schweizer and other journalists who have followed up on his reporting can’t prove that Hillary Clinton performed favors for donors to her family charity or those who paid her husband half-million-dollar honorariums. So far, that’s true as there is no “smoking gun” memo in which the Clintons make clear promises of corrupt action in payment for the largesse that had been bestowed upon them. But what Democrats and all Americans should be asking about this argument is why some people get prosecuted for corruption on such circumstantial evidence while others are considered likely to be elected president. If circumstantial evidence less compelling than that contained in Clinton Cash can lead to an indictment of Senator Robert Menendez, why should we dismiss this story as just a political attack?

The Menendez analogy is inexact but nevertheless worth thinking about. The New Jersey senator faces jail for having done favors that benefited the business of his longtime political donor and friend. The donor was a doctor who made a fortune via Medicare and there’s little doubt that Menendez helped smooth his path to riches. But what’s lacking in the case is any hard evidence that showed that this was a corrupt transaction between the two rather than just constituent service or a favor to a friend. Unless the doctor informs on the senator (something the federal prosecutors are hoping to achieve by over-indicting the senator’s alleged partner in crime with enough charges to keep him in prison for hundreds of years), it’s hard to see how they will obtain a conviction. Even if everybody in New Jersey and Washington probably thinks this is a classic example of pay for play, there is a huge gap between what looks fishy and the sort of thing that can put a senator in prison.

The same can be said of all the allegations about the Clintons since it is unlikely either they or their donors will tell on each other absent the possibility of legal coercion.

The latest shoe to drop is the report about the way the Clintons became the “gatekeepers” for any company that wanted to do business in Haiti during the reconstruction effort after a devastating earthquake in 2010. By the same set of curious coincidences that led those who profited from the sale of 20 percent of America’s uranium reserves to Russia to become donors to the Clinton Global Initiative and sponsors of highly paid speeches by Bill Clinton, a different set of “philanthropists” wound up getting contracts to aid reconstruction and infrastructure work in Haiti also after donating fortunes to the ubiquitous Clinton Foundation. The former president, who was co-chair of a recovery commission, and the State Department facilitated such access. One of the most egregious and embarrassing examples came when a company with little mining experience was granted a gold mining permit. By another astonishing coincidence, Tony Rodham, the secretary of state’s brother, was soon named to its board.

In reply to this and the shocking revelations about a Russian state agency acquiring an American uranium mine from Clinton donors, friends of the putative 2016 Democratic presidential candidate can only shrug their shoulders and demand that critics “prove” to a legal certainty that the favors done their benefactors was part of corrupt deal. They’re right. There probably isn’t a piece of paper lying around in which Bill or Hillary say what it will cost in terms of charitable gifts or honorariums to help potential donors. And if it was ever written in an email, we know that email and the server on which it was recorded have since been erased.

All we have left is the circumstantial evidence that shows that some of the nice people who gave to the Clintons’ charity the cash needed to do some good, but also make the former first couple immensely wealthy, wound up having some of their business affairs advanced by government action. Others clearly hoped that this would be so. After all, the Clinton Global Initiative is just one of many worthy causes and others have longer pedigrees and more impressive records of achievement. People gave to the Clintons because of the good they could have done for themselves rather than to merely do good.

But just because a prosecutor isn’t likely to haul the Clintons into court over all these astonishing coincidences (or at least not so long as the Democrats control the Department of Justice), that doesn’t mean their behavior doesn’t smell to high heaven. Nor should it allow their court of apologists to obscure the real issues here with personal attacks and diversionary tactics. The court in which the Clintons deserve to be condemned is that of public opinion. It is there that Hillary’s friends must be, like Bob Menendez will soon be doing in a federal courtroom, reduced to saying that the journalists who have dug up their secrets can’t prove they’re guilty of corruption even if the circumstantial evidence points in that direction. That may be enough to avoid jail, but what we’ll find out in the coming year is whether it is enough to get elected president.

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As Dem Leader, Schumer Can’t Protect Both Israel and Obama

Throughout his 16 years in the Senate, Chuck Schumer has comfortably built a reputation as a fierce Democratic partisan while also being an ardent support of Israel. But in his new status as the leader-in-waiting of Senate Democrats after Harry Reid exits the stage in January 2017, Schumer is about to find out that, as the old Yiddish proverb tells us, you can’t dance at two weddings with one behind. Though, as a Politico article reports, he may think he can strike a balance between his pro-Israel stands and his job as the putative leader of his party’s caucus, so long as Barack Obama is in the White House that isn’t going to be possible. As the administration prepares to sell a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran while also exerting pressure on Israel’s government and threatening to isolate the Jewish state, Schumer isn’t going to be able to push back against the president’s policies at a time when he will be at the same time expected to keep the Democratic caucus united behind them.

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Throughout his 16 years in the Senate, Chuck Schumer has comfortably built a reputation as a fierce Democratic partisan while also being an ardent support of Israel. But in his new status as the leader-in-waiting of Senate Democrats after Harry Reid exits the stage in January 2017, Schumer is about to find out that, as the old Yiddish proverb tells us, you can’t dance at two weddings with one behind. Though, as a Politico article reports, he may think he can strike a balance between his pro-Israel stands and his job as the putative leader of his party’s caucus, so long as Barack Obama is in the White House that isn’t going to be possible. As the administration prepares to sell a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran while also exerting pressure on Israel’s government and threatening to isolate the Jewish state, Schumer isn’t going to be able to push back against the president’s policies at a time when he will be at the same time expected to keep the Democratic caucus united behind them.

Schumer likes to tell Jewish audiences that his name derives from the Hebrew word shomer, or guardian, and that he will always act to protect Israel. Though in recent years that promise has been tested, the senator’s impressive political skills have enabled him to hold onto that image while also being one of President Obama’s Senate foot soldiers. The same can be said of his close relationship with Wall Street figures whose fundraising help has been the foundation of his long and now apparently successful campaign to become the Democrats’ Senate leader.

As far as Israel or Iran was concerned, Schumer never took on the role of administration antagonist, as did his Democratic colleague Robert Menendez. Menendez repeatedly and publicly called out President Obama for his opposition to sanctions on Iran and for his unwillingness to support more pressure on a regime with which he was bent on fostering détente. Not so Schumer, who, despite his pledge to be Israel’s guardian, chose not to confront the president in public. Instead, we have heard tales, often recounted in friendly media coverage of the senator, about private conversations in which Schumer scolded administration figures or offered them advice in which he sought to persuade them to stop picking needless and counterproductive fights with Israel on Iran and the conflict with the Palestinians.

Schumer may well continue to play that role in private even as he assumes the status of the Prince of Wales of Senate Democrats. But in the last 22 months of the Obama presidency, as the White House steers the country away from the alliance with Israel and into a more neutral position on the Middle East conflict as well as one in which Iran is viewed as a partner, the senator’s balancing act is no longer viable.

Even if we set aside fears about Obama’s threats to abandon Israel at the United Nations or to engage in pressure tactics in future Middle East negotiations, the looming struggle in the Senate over Iran makes it impossible for Schumer to be in both camps.

Schumer has said that he supports the Corker-Menendez bill that will require that any Iran deal be put to a vote in the Senate. That’s a crucial blow to an administration that is desperate to persuade pro-Israel Democrats to abandon the bipartisan consensus on the issue and ensure that the bill doesn’t have a veto-proof majority. But the only way to do so is for Senate leaders like Schumer to ensure that enough of them fall into line. And there is every indication that, behind the scenes, he will do just that.

After all, it was Schumer who played a key role in organizing a letter from pro-Israel Senate Democrats making it clear that they would not support Corker-Menendez or the equally vital Kirk-Menendez bill that would increase sanctions in the admittedly unlikely event that the administration admitted failure in the Iran talks until after the administration received more time to negotiate.

So while a public break with Israel on Iran is probably as unthinkable for Schumer as a public breach with the administration, it’s likely that he will be behind efforts in the near future to further delay Senate action on Iran. In doing so, he will claim that he remains a stalwart opponent of appeasement but in practice he will be doing the president’s dirty work.

Nor would it be reasonable to think that he could avoid acting in this manner if he wants to hold onto the support of his party’s caucus. If Schumer were to place himself in opposition to the president on an issue where the White House is committed to doing everything to avoid a Senate vote, then the notion of his inevitability as Harry Reid’s successor may vanish. Since the Senate Democratic caucus has become more liberal, not less, in recent years, Schumer’s public apostasy, even on Israel issues, might cause the natives in the minority cloakroom to become restless. And after working tirelessly to win the leader position, it’s not likely he will do anything to scuttle his hopes.

Schumer will do all he can to still be perceived, in Politico’s words, as “a hawk” on Israel. But you don’t get to be majority leader by being an outlier within your party on a key issue when the president needs help. All the news stories about Schumer having “very, very heated” conversations with White House officials on Iran and Israel won’t mean a thing if, when the president requires him to produce the votes he needs on these issues, Schumer complies, as he almost certainly will do. Any Senate leader must watch the back of his president. Though he will claim he can go on dancing at two weddings, the odds of him choosing support for Israel over the political necessity to back Obama are slim.

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Appearances and the Menendez Case

On Friday the Justice Department decided to leak to the press that an indictment of Senator Robert Menendez on corruption charges was imminent. While the ongoing investigation of the New Jersey Democrat, the most important critic of President Obama’s foreign policy, was no secret, the timing of the announcement raised more than a few eyebrows. Coming as it did the same week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Congress about Iran, an issue on which there has been heated disagreement between Menendez and the president, the willingness of the government to go public with its plans to seek to put the senator on trial gives the prosecution the air of a political vendetta. But would such an accusation, which would make the president appear more like a banana-republic dictator than the leader of the free world, be fair? Not entirely. The case involves the sort of cozy cronyism that makes both liberals and conservatives queasy. It also reflects the somewhat loose political morals of the Garden State. But in addition to that, the decision to try to nail Menendez may tell us more about the way out-of-control federal prosecutors act than it does about an Obama administration that likes to punish its enemies as much as any of its predecessors.

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On Friday the Justice Department decided to leak to the press that an indictment of Senator Robert Menendez on corruption charges was imminent. While the ongoing investigation of the New Jersey Democrat, the most important critic of President Obama’s foreign policy, was no secret, the timing of the announcement raised more than a few eyebrows. Coming as it did the same week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Congress about Iran, an issue on which there has been heated disagreement between Menendez and the president, the willingness of the government to go public with its plans to seek to put the senator on trial gives the prosecution the air of a political vendetta. But would such an accusation, which would make the president appear more like a banana-republic dictator than the leader of the free world, be fair? Not entirely. The case involves the sort of cozy cronyism that makes both liberals and conservatives queasy. It also reflects the somewhat loose political morals of the Garden State. But in addition to that, the decision to try to nail Menendez may tell us more about the way out-of-control federal prosecutors act than it does about an Obama administration that likes to punish its enemies as much as any of its predecessors.

Over the weekend the New York Sun discussed the rather suspicious nature of the timing of the plans to indict Menendez. The juxtaposition of the announcement about hauling the senator into court not long after Menendez publicly stood up and challenged the president at a Democratic retreat gives the affair the stench of payback.

But it should be noted that the investigation of Menendez’s dealings with Dr. Salomon Melgen, a wealthy contributor and longtime friend of the senator, preceded the current argument. Indeed, it started even the first clashes between the administration and Menendez over sanctions on Iran that Obama opposed (but now brags about having implemented). Even if the president is quite pleased with the senator’s current predicament, he probably didn’t initiate the investigation or direct it. Indeed, the decision on the part of prosecutors to seek an indictment now, just as Menendez’s disagreements with the president on Iran and Cuba have made headlines, may be a function of the expiration of the statute of limitations on his alleged crimes rather than a presidential order to take down a political enemy. Given that he is from New Jersey rather than some farm state, many will simply assume that as the senator from Tony Soprano’s home, he has to be guilty of corruption.

But as the Sun points out, the Justice Department has a less-than-stellar record when it comes to investigations of sitting politicians. That’s not just because of the example of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens who was hounded out of office by prosecutors who secured his conviction by misconduct that eventually led to the entire case being thrown out. But the senator had already been defeated for reelection and died in a plane crash before he was vindicated.

Even worse, the efforts by the government to obtain Menendez’s emails, a potential violation of Congress’s impunity on matters of speech and debate, are deeply troubling. So far the federal courts have opposed that fishing expedition as a breach of the Constitution’s protection of Congress against the executive.

Some will see that as a hazy point of law. But it is no hazier than the question of what divides normal constituency service on the part of a representative or senator from actual corruption. So long as we give Congress such enormous powers to intervene in economic matters, any action by anyone in the House or Senate is open to suspicion. Even if you don’t like the smell of Menendez’s relationship with Melgen, it is puzzling why this has earned the senator so much attention from the Justice Department while other dealings by his colleagues are no more or less suspicious.

As with so many other federal cases brought against prominent persons, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the only reason this affair may go to trial is the lust of U.S. attorneys for the scalps of celebrities. Once these legal monarchs have the bit between their teeth, they rarely let go and continue probing the lives of the objects of their fascination until they find something, anything, on which they can procure an indictment, no matter how fuzzy the law or unclear the facts about the alleged crime may be. And prosecutors use their ability to manipulate the press to aid their campaigns. All sorts of allegations have been leaked about Menendez in recent years though much of it, including some scurrilous charges about sexual misconduct, has shown to be false or least unproven. The fact that he has been an exemplary senator and an eloquent voice on foreign policy doesn’t place Menendez above the law. But neither should his prominence subject him to unreasonable prosecutions.

It’s hard to know what to think about the case against Menendez because our assumptions about New Jersey politics seem to override the presumption of innocence due any person in this situation. But when you throw in the obvious desire of the administration to discredit its most courageous foe on foreign policy, it’s difficult to view this dispassionately. Misconduct should be punished but so should prosecutorial overreach and the use of the Justice Department for political ends. Just as legislators should avoid the appearance of corruption, so, too, should prosecutors and their political bosses.

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Questioning Obama on Nuclear Iran Is Not Partisanship

After weeks of the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat being discussed almost exclusively from the frame of reference of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s alleged partisan plotting with House Speaker John Boehner, the speech he gave today may have provided something of a shock to many of those observing it. Netanyahu went out of his way to pay tribute to President Obama’s record of support for Israel (while pointedly ignoring the equally numerous instances in which he has sought to undermine its government and tilt the diplomatic playing field against it) and to celebrate the tradition of bipartisan backing for the Jewish state. More to the point, he eloquently laid out the flaws in the nuclear deal being negotiated by the administration with Iran. But in response, all the administration and its apologists in Congress (many of whom petulantly boycotted the speech) were able to muster as a response was to repeat the same talking points they’ve been using about the speech being partisan. But while they’re right that Netanyahu was criticizing an administration policy, there’s a different between dissent and partisanship.

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After weeks of the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat being discussed almost exclusively from the frame of reference of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s alleged partisan plotting with House Speaker John Boehner, the speech he gave today may have provided something of a shock to many of those observing it. Netanyahu went out of his way to pay tribute to President Obama’s record of support for Israel (while pointedly ignoring the equally numerous instances in which he has sought to undermine its government and tilt the diplomatic playing field against it) and to celebrate the tradition of bipartisan backing for the Jewish state. More to the point, he eloquently laid out the flaws in the nuclear deal being negotiated by the administration with Iran. But in response, all the administration and its apologists in Congress (many of whom petulantly boycotted the speech) were able to muster as a response was to repeat the same talking points they’ve been using about the speech being partisan. But while they’re right that Netanyahu was criticizing an administration policy, there’s a different between dissent and partisanship.

As I wrote earlier, Netanyahu did a masterful job of laying out the basic flaws in a policy based on trusting in the ability of a tyrannical, terror-supporting anti-Semitic regime that seeks regional hegemony to reform itself and, in the president’s naïve phrase, “get right with the world.” President Obama campaigned in 2012 promising that any deal with Iran would ensure the end of its nuclear program. Once reelected, he embarked on secret talks that ensured that it would be able to keep its nuclear infrastructure and eventually be able to build a bomb after a relatively brief “breakout” period. The latest twist in the talks, revealed not by an Israeli “betrayal” but administration leaks, is that the administration is begging Iran to sign an agreement that will let it keep thousands of centrifuges and be given a sunset clause on sanctions that will eventually allow it to build a bomb even if it observes the terms of the deal, something that history tells us is more a fantasy than a policy.

Nor did Netanyahu fail to offer an alternative as critics claimed since he pointed out that a return to the pre-2013 policy of inflicting tough sanctions and isolation that Obama precipitately abandoned offers the only chance of ending the nuclear peril short of war.

These are deeply serious arguments that require answers and ought to persuade thinking Republicans and Democrats to back the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill that would strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks while also requiring it to submit any deal to Congress for approval.

But instead of answering these cogent arguments, all we heard from Democrats that boycotted the speech or administration sources was more of what they’ve been telling us since January about Netanyahu plotting with the Republicans or insulting the president. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi even went so far as to claim it was “an insult to the intelligence of the United States,” a charge that might better be hurled at a president intent on building détente with Iran while pretending to be working against nuclear proliferation.

But let’s give them the respect they weren’t prepared to accord Netanyahu and try to unpack the charge of partisanship.

Let’s start by conceding that the invitation from House Speaker John Boehner was an end run around the administration and was bound to ruffle feathers. But the much-publicized umbrage about the alleged breach in protocol was entirely disingenuous. The White House’s anger had nothing to do with partisanship and everything to do with discomfort with the prospect of the Israeli leader weighing in on behalf of a sanctions bill that already looked to have a chance at a veto-proof majority in both the House and the Senate.

Support for that bill was a bipartisan affair with the most vocal advocate being Democratic Senator Robert Menendez who publicly challenged Obama to his face on the issue for claiming that the only reason members were backing it was to please donors (a dog whistle for Jews). But the president used the opening that Boehner and Netanyahu provided him to falsely claim the entire issue was a partisan plot against his presidency. Some in the Congressional Black Caucus even went so far as to assert that it was a racist insult against the first African-American president.

We heard more of the same today from Democrats eager to avoid discussing the facts about the Iran negotiations and the nuclear threat.

But let’s be clear here. There is a difference between questioning a president’s policies and taking sides in an ongoing partisan war between Republicans and Democrats. The scores of Democrats like Menendez that believe the president is leading us in the wrong direction on Iran aren’t doing the bidding of Boehner or the Republican National Committee. They are simply demanding that the president do the right while sticking to the promises he made when they were working to reelect him.

We can’t blame the president for not liking Netanyahu’s speech. Being confronted with the truth isn’t pleasant when what you want is to avoid a debate about the issue altogether. But while Obama deserves the respect due to anyone in that high office, dissent from our Dear Leader’s point of view is not the same thing as partisanship. Opposition to Iran’s nuclear dreams wasn’t any more of a partisan issue than support for Israel has been–until, that is, Barack Obama and his obedient cheering section made it one. If anyone deserves blame for injecting that virus into this discussion it is the president.

Those who want to stick to this line of argument aren’t making a point about defending the bipartisan coalition for Israel. They are seeking to help Obama avoid discussing the reality of an Iran appeasement policy.

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Obama and the Jewish Left Politicizing Iran

One of the main talking points of those criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plan to speak to Congress on the question of Iran sanctions is that by opposing President Obama’s stand on the issue, he is turning support for Israel into a partisan question. This would be a grievous fault if he were guilty of doing that, but while Netanyahu’s decision to stick with his planned address is a mistake, those who are characterizing the debate on Iran as one in which the prime minister has undermined bipartisan support for measures that are important to Israel couldn’t be more wrong. And there is no better example of why this interpretation is wrong than the battle being waged to influence Senator Cory Booker. Though support for more pressure on Iran has always had broad bipartisan support, it is the Jewish left and their allies who are doing everything possible to frame the issue as one on which Democrats must blindly follow the lead of the head of their party, principle and the security of Israel be damned.

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One of the main talking points of those criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plan to speak to Congress on the question of Iran sanctions is that by opposing President Obama’s stand on the issue, he is turning support for Israel into a partisan question. This would be a grievous fault if he were guilty of doing that, but while Netanyahu’s decision to stick with his planned address is a mistake, those who are characterizing the debate on Iran as one in which the prime minister has undermined bipartisan support for measures that are important to Israel couldn’t be more wrong. And there is no better example of why this interpretation is wrong than the battle being waged to influence Senator Cory Booker. Though support for more pressure on Iran has always had broad bipartisan support, it is the Jewish left and their allies who are doing everything possible to frame the issue as one on which Democrats must blindly follow the lead of the head of their party, principle and the security of Israel be damned.

As NJ.com reports, Booker has always been considered a stalwart supporter of Israel but he is under intense pressure from Democratic partisans to bail on the bipartisan Iran sanctions bill being co-sponsored by Robert Menendez, the senior senator from his state and a fellow Democrat.

Booker received massive Jewish and pro-Israel support in his bid for the Senate but he is nowhere to be seen on the issue of Iran right now. Though the only real chance to get Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions is to place additional pressure on the Islamist regime by warning it that more sanctions will be imposed if they continue to stall the negotiations, Booker has been mute on the issue and refused to sign on as one of the numerous co-sponsors of the bill proposed by Republican Mark Kirk and Menendez.

What could be preventing him from taking a stand on which there is a broad pro-Israel consensus? The answer is obvious. It is pressure from the White House and partisan Democrats who are seeking to prey on the blind partisan loyalties of Democrats in an effort to derail the sanctions effort. The president sees the sanctions bill as a threat to his policy because it is precisely aimed at strengthening his hand in the talks with Iran. That’s because he sees the talks as not so much a tool in order to force Tehran to dismantle their nuclear program, as he promised in his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney, but a means by which to advance a new détente with the Islamist regime. And in order to keep this dubious goal on track, he is calling in all of his political markers with fellow Democrats. Since he and Booker have been political allies, he is seeking to use his leverage with the senator in order to get him to toe the White House’s agenda rather than the one followed by Menendez, Charles Schumer, and many other pro-Israel Democrats.

That this effort is being backed by the National Jewish Democratic Council is particularly troubling since it shows just how far partisan fronts will go in terms of discarding their pro-Israel principles in order to do the bidding of their party masters. This is also the case with the left-wing J Street lobby, whose behavior has often given the lie to its claim to be both “pro-Israel” as well as “pro-peace.”

J Street is leading the charge against Netanyahu with a web campaign against the prime minister and Iran sanctions that the Anti-Defamation League has denounced as “inflammatory and repugnant.” In it, J Street has denounced the prime minister claiming, “Netanyahu does not speak for me.” To claim, as they do, that the prime minister’s stand on Iran is “hardline” and therefore out of touch with American Jews is nothing short of astonishing since it assumes that there is some kind of debate about the virtues of détente with Iran within American Jewry or even Americans in general. The ADL has called on Netanyahu to postpone his speech, but even they realize that the tone of the J Street attack on the Israeli is redolent of the sort of dual-loyalty arguments used by anti-Zionists.

It must be understood that the reason why Obama and his Jewish apologists are focusing on Netanyahu’s speech is because they wish to obscure or to downplay the merits of the debate on Iran sanctions. The president and J Street have always taken it as an article of faith that pressure on Israel is a necessary component to the Middle East peace process. This is a fallacy, but they seem to think that support for pressure on Iran is somehow a function of “hardline” Israeli ideology or Republican politics. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as Menendez and other pro-Israel Democrats have continually pointed out. It is only by treating Netanyahu’s foolish but entirely appropriate efforts to influence the sanctions debate as something that is beyond the pale can they avoid having to defend treating Iran with kid gloves. That the NJDC would choose Obama over Israel is disappointing but perhaps understandable give that it is nothing but a partisan front. But for a group that claims to be pro-Israel to be conducting a campaign that can only be described as incitement against the democratically elected leader of the State of Israel illustrates just how disingenuous their “pro-Israel” tag has become.

It is worth noting that Booker co-sponsored a similar bill sponsored by Kirk and Menendez last year that former Majority Leader Harry Reid torpedoed at the behest of Obama. So Booker can’t be opposed to the bill on principle. The only reason for him or anyone else on both sides of the aisle to oppose more sanctions on Iran is pure political partisanship. And it is the Democrats and their spear-carriers like the NJDC and J Street that have divided the pro-Israel community on these narrow grounds purely to advance the agenda of President Obama. Say what you will about Netanyahu’s tactics, but there is no doubt that the people who are trying to turn Israel into a partisan issue are left-wing Democrats, not Netanyahu and the Republicans.

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The Race Non Sequitur, Iran and Netanyahu

After two weeks of watching the debate over his proposed plans to speak to a joint session of Congress on Iran sanctions next month become increasingly bitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be thinking he has no choice but to give the speech. A “senior government official” told the Jerusalem Post today that the prime minister had no plans to back down and postpone the speech until after the Knesset elections later in March. Apparently, Netanyahu thinks waiting until later in the spring to speak would be too late. With reports surfacing that the president has sought to persuade the Congressional Black Caucus to boycott his speech, the willingness of the administration sink so low as to play the race card against Israel illustrates that it no longer matters how right Netanyahu might be. Though his message about the danger from Iran is one that Congress and the American public need to hear, what he and his advisors seem not to understand is that the politics of the controversy have outstripped its content.

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After two weeks of watching the debate over his proposed plans to speak to a joint session of Congress on Iran sanctions next month become increasingly bitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be thinking he has no choice but to give the speech. A “senior government official” told the Jerusalem Post today that the prime minister had no plans to back down and postpone the speech until after the Knesset elections later in March. Apparently, Netanyahu thinks waiting until later in the spring to speak would be too late. With reports surfacing that the president has sought to persuade the Congressional Black Caucus to boycott his speech, the willingness of the administration sink so low as to play the race card against Israel illustrates that it no longer matters how right Netanyahu might be. Though his message about the danger from Iran is one that Congress and the American public need to hear, what he and his advisors seem not to understand is that the politics of the controversy have outstripped its content.

The reports about the White House signaling the Black Caucus that the speech should be seen as a domestic political issue rather than one about a difference of opinion over foreign policy is particularly ominous. It was bad enough that Democrats construed the decision to accept the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner as a partisan intrusion into an American policy dispute. But if African-American politicians and even ordinary citizens are being told that Netanyahu’s appearance at a joint session is motivated out of disrespect to the first black president of the United States rather than a belief that the administration’s opposition to more sanctions on Iran is bad policy, then the problem Israel is facing is far worse than even some of the prime minister’s critics had thought.

At this point, the informal movement to boycott Netanyahu’s appearance is gaining the sort of momentum that gives it a life of its own. Republicans and Netanyahu’s supporters both here and in Israel may think most congressional Democrats are bluffing and some might be. But even a partial boycott would undo any good that the speech might have done in the first place.

Netanyahu needs to recall that the reason his May 2011 speech to Congress was such a triumph was that the cheers and the dozens of standing ovations he received were bipartisan. It was a humiliation for Obama, who never before and never since has been given such a reception in the Congress, because the thunderous applause demonstrated that the pro-Israel coalition was genuinely bipartisan. The cheers from both sides of the aisle were a sign that both congressional parties rejected Obama’s ambush of Netanyahu on that trip and backed the Israeli’s stand. Perhaps Netanyahu and his advisors believed they could replicate that triumph now when the stakes are even higher with the administration pursuing détente with Iran and seeking a deal that would allow it to become a nuclear threshold power. But with Democrats and blacks now perceiving the speech to be a partisan ploy, any chance of that is gone.

Let’s concede again that this situation is not so much the product of a Netanyahu blunder as it is of a cynical political strategy employed by the administration. There was no breach of protocol in the invitation, as we now know that Boehner’s office informed the White House of the plan before Netanyahu accepted it. Nor was this a matter of the Israelis favoring the GOP over the Democrats, as the Israeli government rightly understood that a majority of the president’s party supported more sanctions. Indeed, the bill Netanyahu favors is co-sponsored by as many Democrats as Republicans and Senator Robert Menendez has publicly and personally challenged the president on the issue without anyone accusing him of being against his own party or showing disrespect to the first African-American president. (In fact, it was Obama who showed disrespect to Menendez and other Democrats by speciously claiming that the only reason they opposed him on the issue was to please donors—a code word for supporters of Israel). Those who are piling on Netanyahu with such criticisms, like Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the Reform movement, are saying more about their own partisan loyalties than telling us anything about Netanyahu.

Netanyahu deserves criticism for not anticipating that a speech during a congressional debate on the issue would be perceived as maladroit. But it is Obama who has politicized Israel and sought to make it a partisan issue, not Netanyahu or the GOP. Even worse, by injecting the non sequitur of race into this mess, Obama seems to be employing the sort of tactics we’d expect from his friend, race hustler Al Sharpton, not the leader of the free world. This is the worst sort of divisive politics that pits not only the two parties against each other but also two minority groups. Historically, most members of the Congressional Black Caucus have followed the example of Martin Luther King Jr. and been strong supporters of the State of Israel. Though many Democrats have drifted away from Israel in recent years, for Obama to play the race card in this way so as to buttress a policy that has nothing to do with the interests of African-Americans is disgraceful.

It is more than obvious that the smartest thing Netanyahu can do is to cease walking into the trap that Obama has laid for him. That this trap is to the president’s discredit, rather than that of Netanyahu, is irrelevant to the question of whether he should change his plans. The race non sequitur and the partisan issue are real even if they shouldn’t be. A veto-proof majority of both houses of Congress in favor of more pressure on Iran and against acceptance of it as a nuclear threshold power exists. Netanyahu needs to take himself out of the debate now so that majority can be re-assembled and that more sanctions can be passed.

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Can Iran Be Trusted On Nukes? Can Obama?

Though a vote won’t be held on a new Iran sanctions bill until late March, the question of what is exactly going on in the talks between the West and Tehran deserves more attention. The chattering classes have focused largely on a pointless dispute about whether Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will speak to Congress in March about Iran. But the real issue is the substance of the current negotiations. As a Washington Post editorial noted yesterday, the clear intent of the Obama administration is to acquiesce to Iran’s demands to be allowed to keep its nuclear infrastructure as well as treat the regime, as a legitimate regional power in the Middle East is no longer in much doubt. That leaves observers asking two very important questions. One is whether Iran can be trusted to keep the terms of any nuclear deal it signs. The other is whether the Obama administration can be trusted to hold the Iranians accountable.

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Though a vote won’t be held on a new Iran sanctions bill until late March, the question of what is exactly going on in the talks between the West and Tehran deserves more attention. The chattering classes have focused largely on a pointless dispute about whether Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will speak to Congress in March about Iran. But the real issue is the substance of the current negotiations. As a Washington Post editorial noted yesterday, the clear intent of the Obama administration is to acquiesce to Iran’s demands to be allowed to keep its nuclear infrastructure as well as treat the regime, as a legitimate regional power in the Middle East is no longer in much doubt. That leaves observers asking two very important questions. One is whether Iran can be trusted to keep the terms of any nuclear deal it signs. The other is whether the Obama administration can be trusted to hold the Iranians accountable.

As the Post points out, the danger inherent in the administration’s Iran policy is that by letting them keep thousands of centrifuges and a nuclear stockpile that could be quickly re-activated to allow it to build a weapon, the terms currently being discussed will, at the very least, allow the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power. Though he continues to insist, as he has since he first started running for president in 2007, that he won’t let Iran get a nuclear weapon, the president doesn’t seem to have a problem with that. Why? The answer is that Obama believes that the U.S. and Iran have common interests that will allow them to cooperate together in the region and that the ayatollahs have too much to gain from a reconciliation with the West in terms of their nation’s economy to want to risk it all by building a bomb.

But the problem with that formulation is that it is fundamentally mistaken. Iran has no interest in America’s need for regional stability and preserving moderate Arab regimes allied with the West, let alone protecting the existence of the state of Israel. To the contrary, it hopes to threaten both the Arab states and Israel via the threat of a nuclear weapon as well as keeping the pressure on them through the use of its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries and allied terror groups like Hamas. Yet Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon as well as its progress on ballistic missiles means that this is a problem that concerns the entire West and not just Israel and the Arabs.

That is why the bipartisan sanctions bill proposed by Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez is so important. It provides at least a measure of accountability to the process since it raises the price for Iran for dragging out negotiations or for continuing to refuse to accept even another weak deal with the West like the interim agreement signed in November 2013.

Even more to the point, is the question of whether even a weak deal, such as the one Obama and Kerry embraced in 2013 can be enforced by this or subsequent administrations. To date, the administration has refused to take seriously charges that the Iranians are already cheating on the interim deal. The dynamic of the process is such that the president views any such questions or even threats of more sanctions with hostility because he sees them as a threat to his goal of a rapprochement with Iran.

This is problematic because so long as Iran believes that Washington won’t take violations of a nuclear deal seriously, it will feel free to push the envelope on more cheating. Since the president has already conceded that, as the Post wrote, “a process that began with the goal of eliminating Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons has evolved into a plan to tolerate and restrict that capability,” it is difficult to believe the Islamist regime will think it need worry about the president abandoning a process to which he has become so devoted no matter what they do.

That brings us back to the question of the sanctions bill. Realists must understand that even if the bill is passed and then a threatened presidential veto is overridden, Congress can’t stop Obama from negotiating with Iran and coming up with a bad deal. Nor is it likely that it will be able to force him to put such a treaty to a vote as the Constitution demands since the president will seek to evade that requirement.

Indeed, even if the bill were to become law, the president could also use waivers in the legislation to prevent its enforcement. This is something of a poison pill that was forced on its sponsors by both political expediency (getting more Democratic votes) and legal technicalities (existing sanctions laws also have waivers that could be used by Obama to thwart this bill). But to the credit of both Kirk and Menendez, they have attempted to write their waivers in such a way as to constrict the president from wantonly ignoring the intent of Congress. Though this and other administrations have used waivers to flout the meaning of laws, doing so in this case will involve not merely a desire on the part of the president to ignore Congress but a willingness to lie about Iran’s conduct.

This is a president who has already demonstrated on a host of issues but most notably on immigration that he is not constrained by the normal Constitutional order or even the rule of law. That means that it is difficult to have confidence that any waiver, no matter how carefully it is drafted, will be able to force the president to hold Iran accountable.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem with the Iran talks. It’s not just that given its record as well as its regional and nuclear ambitions, Iran is not to be trusted. It’s that President Obama can also not be trusted to pursue a policy that is aimed at stopping Iran from becoming a threshold nuclear power. Without such accountability, there is no reason for Congress or the American people to trust the outcome of the negotiations.

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Obama Isn’t Worried About Iran Sanctions Vote Delay

Both sides of the debate about the nuclear talks with Iran are interpreting the letter from ten Senate Democrats sent to President Obama yesterday about holding back on a vote on increased sanctions as a victory for their position. Sanctions advocates believe the delay will enable wavering Democrats to join with Republicans and produce, once the March 24 deadline for an agreement with Iran stated in the letter passes, a veto-proof majority for a measure that will increase pressure on the Islamist regime to surrender its nuclear ambition. The administration, however, begs to differ. The president’s apologists think the willingness of Senator Robert Menendez to back off, even for only two months, on passing sanctions shows that the administration’s efforts to pressure members of Obama’s party into falling in line behind him are succeeding. We won’t know who is right until the end of March. But no one should scoff at the White House’s confidence that the stall will only strengthen their ability to find enough Democratic support to sustain a policy of Iran appeasement.

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Both sides of the debate about the nuclear talks with Iran are interpreting the letter from ten Senate Democrats sent to President Obama yesterday about holding back on a vote on increased sanctions as a victory for their position. Sanctions advocates believe the delay will enable wavering Democrats to join with Republicans and produce, once the March 24 deadline for an agreement with Iran stated in the letter passes, a veto-proof majority for a measure that will increase pressure on the Islamist regime to surrender its nuclear ambition. The administration, however, begs to differ. The president’s apologists think the willingness of Senator Robert Menendez to back off, even for only two months, on passing sanctions shows that the administration’s efforts to pressure members of Obama’s party into falling in line behind him are succeeding. We won’t know who is right until the end of March. But no one should scoff at the White House’s confidence that the stall will only strengthen their ability to find enough Democratic support to sustain a policy of Iran appeasement.

On the surface, sanctions advocates look to be in a strong position. The proposed legislation, dubbed the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, which was filed Tuesday night, is co-sponsored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Robert Menendez and also has 14 other co-sponsors including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and six Democrats. The bill will close loopholes in existing sanctions as well as make it even more difficult for Iran to go on selling oil. It will require any deal with Tehran to be submitted to Congress for review before the president can waive sanctions. However, the increased sanctions would not go into effect until July 6, five days after the current deadline for the talks passes, allowing plenty of time for diplomacy. Even more importantly, it includes provisions for a presidential waiver of sanctions on Iran if the White House is willing to claim it is in the national-security interest of the nation or if it would make a resolution of the issue more likely.

The extra two months of debate gives the administration several weeks to prove that Iran is serious about negotiating a deal that would truly end the nuclear threat rather than merely using the talks to stall the West. Moreover, the extra time can allow Democrats to say that they have given the president the opportunity to prove his point that diplomacy must be allowed to continue undisturbed by the possibility of more sanctions. If, as is almost certainly the case, the Iranians continue to stonewall Western negotiators, advocates of increased sanctions will be able to assert that the only thing that will prompt them to budge from their positions is the threat of even tougher sanctions on their economy. That should, at least in theory, be enough to motivate a considerable portion of the Democratic caucus as well as what it expected to be a near-unanimous Republican majority to pass a bill that would have more than enough votes to override a threatened presidential veto.

But no one should think the president is intimidated by any of this.

First, the delay until late March gives the White House plenty of time to work on Democrats to defect from the sanctions camp. As he showed us last year when a similarly overwhelming pro-sanctions majority was defeated by both former Majority Leader Harry Reid’s tactics and an administration disinformation campaign, the president is quite adept at marginalizing his foes and branding them as warmongers. He may be a lame duck, but he remains someone that most Democratic senators, with the possible exception of Menendez, don’t want to tangle with. Given enough time, Obama may be able to amass enough votes to sustain his veto.

But for all the tough talk emanating from Congress, it must be conceded that Obama has already won even before the debate really starts.

By changing the topic from his indefensible position opposing more pressure on an obdurate Iran to whether it was appropriate for the House to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, the president subtly changed the dynamic of the debate in a way that gave him a clear advantage.

Moreover, by forcing sanctions advocates to include the presidential waiver in their bill, the White House has included a poison pill that will, even if it survives his veto, enable Obama to ensure that its provisions never go into effect. As we have seen with the issue of immigration where he resorted to executive orders unilaterally granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens to bypass the authority of Congress to change the law, this president has no compunction about governing on his own. Even if more than two-thirds of both the Senate and the House wish to impose tougher sanctions on Iran, the president is perfectly comfortably ignoring the will of Congress and allowing the nuclear talks to go on with Iran indefinitely.

The president’s unwillingness to countenance any additional pressure on Iran, even if such pressure is the only conceivable measure that might induce it to actually give up its nuclear infrastructure, has signaled again that his goal here is détente with Tehran, not an end to their nuclear program as he pledged in his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney. As with other issues that he considers important, he will not listen to Congress. The delay might produce a veto-proof majority for sanctions. But President Obama isn’t wrong if he thinks that none of this will halt his push to appease Iran even if the talks continue to go on indefinitely without a resolution.

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Boehner’s Invite: To Bibi or Not to Bibi

The drama surrounding House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress about sanctions on Iran got a little more complicated today. But while the timing of the event was moved, the controversy over the visit continued to obscure the debate over the real issue: the president’s antipathy to any actions that might upset Iran. Thus, rather than put the White House on the defensive as Boehner hoped it would, the announcement about Netanyahu served to distract the media from what otherwise might have been the story of the day: the fact that Democratic Senator Robert Menendez aptly characterized the administration’s position on sanctions as something that “sounds like talking points coming out of Tehran.”

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The drama surrounding House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress about sanctions on Iran got a little more complicated today. But while the timing of the event was moved, the controversy over the visit continued to obscure the debate over the real issue: the president’s antipathy to any actions that might upset Iran. Thus, rather than put the White House on the defensive as Boehner hoped it would, the announcement about Netanyahu served to distract the media from what otherwise might have been the story of the day: the fact that Democratic Senator Robert Menendez aptly characterized the administration’s position on sanctions as something that “sounds like talking points coming out of Tehran.”

Faced with criticism for accepting the invite without consulting with the administration, the date of the event was pushed back from February 11 to early March when it will coincide with the annual AIPAC Conference in Washington. But anyone who thinks that this will cool down the tensions that had arisen between the President Obama and the Israeli government is wrong. The White House made a point of saying today that the president would not meet with Netanyahu while he was on this visit to the United States. This is a snub that is consistent with past practices about foreign leaders on the eve of their own elections (as Netanyahu will be prior to the March Knesset election) but also one that sent a clear message about Obama’s disdain for the prime minister.

Meanwhile, the debate over whether it was appropriate for Boehner to bring in Netanyahu and wise for the Israeli to accept the invite continues.

In defense of Boehner, the idea that he is the first speaker of the house to conduct his own foreign policy doesn’t hold water. His predecessor Nancy Pelosi visited Syria despite the opposition of the Bush administration and sent an unfortunate signal of congressional indifference the crimes of the Assad regime.

Nor is it fair to treat Netanyahu’s apparent desire to intervene in an internal American debate about sanctions as a unique event. After all, just last week British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had called several U.S. senators to lobby them to vote against more sanctions. If Cameron can try to persuade senators to back the president’s stand against pressure on Iran, it is not reasonable to pretend that it is a major breach of protocol for Netanyahu to give Congress his opinions on the issue when they have invited him to address a joint session.

Nevertheless, one has to question whether it is wise for Netanyahu to accept an invitation that clearly involves him in a tug-of-war between the GOP leadership and the president.

It is true that Iran is not, strictly speaking, a partisan issue. Large numbers of Democrats, in both the House and the Senate, lined up to support increased sanctions last year before they were torpedoed by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Moreover, Menendez’s decision to directly challenge Obama on Iran in a face-to-face confrontation last week at a Senate Democratic conference shows that there are a lot of Democrats who are appalled by the president’s clear preference for détente with Iran instead of pressuring it to give up its nukes.

Boehner and others might have hoped that Netanyahu’s eloquence on the issue and deft American political touch would help turn the tide on the sanctions debate and help bring in large numbers of Democrats to build a veto-proof majority for the bill co-sponsored by Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk.

But unfortunately Boehner’s invitation has made Netanyahu the issue rather than Obama’s indefensible stance against a measure that would aid rather than hurt diplomacy. Leaving aside the uncertain political implications of yet another spat with the White House on Netanyahu’s reelection prospects, unlike almost every previous conflict between the two leaders, this one cannot be described as one that Obama picked. Though it is in the best interests of Israel, its moderate Arab neighbors, and the world for Congress to act to give Iran a reason to avoid stonewalling the West in the nuclear talks, this move can be represented, fairly or unfairly, as going beyond the normal behind-the-scenes lobbying that Israel and other allied countries always do.

Netanyahu has often been unfairly criticized for stoking conflict with Obama when, in fact, most of the time he has been on the receiving end of provocations and cheap shots from an administration bent on undermining him as well as downgrading the alliance with Israel. But in this case, Netanyahu has stepped into something that will do him and his cause very little good.

Foes of Israel have often sought to cast conflicts between Washington and Jerusalem as personal feuds between presidents and prime ministers, something that dates back to the effort to get the Senate to choose “Reagan or Begin” in the debate over the sale of AWACS airplanes to Saudi Arabia. In this case, that’s a crude distortion of clear differences between an administration that has abandoned its principles on Iran and Israeli government that is trying to remind Congress of its duty to act to safeguard the security of the Middle East. But if the perception that Netanyahu is allying himself with Boehner allows Obama to peel off a few weak-willed pro-Israel but partisan Democrats, that will be enough to sustain the president’s veto– especially when sanctions advocates might have had the votes anyway. Though pro-Israel activists are celebrating Netanyahu’s decision to accept the invitation in the belief that his rhetoric will turn the tide on sanctions, this was an unforced error on Israel’s part. If they are to prevail, they need to change the conversation from one about an Obama-Netanyahu feud to the facts about the sanctions debate that Menendez is trying to bring to the public’s attention.

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Iran Agrees With Obama: Don’t Pressure Us.

Last Friday, President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron appealed to Congress at a joint press conference to back off on plans for more sanctions on Iran. It’s not clear whether any but the most fervent Obama loyalists were listening to their pleas but there was one party that heartily endorsed their position: Iran. As Agence France Presse noted, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif said on Saturday night that the talks would succeed if only the “Western countries” would “stop with the pressure” on the Islamist regime. That quote would be considered comical if it didn’t seem to dovetail so nicely with the president’s approach, which seems to prioritize the illusory chances for détente with Tehran while seeking to prevent Congress from strengthening his hands in the negotiations.

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Last Friday, President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron appealed to Congress at a joint press conference to back off on plans for more sanctions on Iran. It’s not clear whether any but the most fervent Obama loyalists were listening to their pleas but there was one party that heartily endorsed their position: Iran. As Agence France Presse noted, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif said on Saturday night that the talks would succeed if only the “Western countries” would “stop with the pressure” on the Islamist regime. That quote would be considered comical if it didn’t seem to dovetail so nicely with the president’s approach, which seems to prioritize the illusory chances for détente with Tehran while seeking to prevent Congress from strengthening his hands in the negotiations.

Fortunately, the Senate doesn’t appear to be listening to the president’s warnings or Zarif. A bipartisan bill proposing new sanctions on Iran sponsored by Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez has already been drafted (the text can be read here) and will be submitted to the Senate Banking Committee. The key point to remember about this proposal is that the bill doesn’t immediately impose increased sanctions but rather holds them in abeyance until after the current talks fail. All they would do then is to remind Iran of the consequences of their failure to negotiate a deal that even Obama could accept.

Why, then, is the president opposing a measure that would only make an outcome that he supports more rather than less likely? The only answer is that he genuinely seems to fear ruffling the feathers of Iran’s Islamist dictators. Though his rhetoric on Iran’s nuclear threat was always exemplary, he has discarded the tough talk that characterized his statements about the issue when he was running for reelection in 2012 when he vowed that any deal would result in the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program. That went out the window with the interim nuclear deal signed in November 2013 when the West tacitly recognized Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and allowed its infrastructure and stockpile to stay in place. That agreement was supposed to be followed by a strictly limited six months of talks, but they have since been extended twice with no end in sight. Yet even now, a year after he successfully persuaded Congress (with the help of former Majority Leader Harry Reid who buried an earlier Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill despite the support of a veto-proof majority of both houses), Obama is still singing the same tired tune about not alienating the Iranians and Western allies who are uncomfortable with more sanctions.

But since the president’s goal appears to be a warming of relations with Iran, he thinks anything that pushes them too hard will make it more difficult to conclude even another weak deal. This talk about offending the sensitive feelings of the ayatollahs rings false. As the Washington Post noted in an editorial endorsing more sanctions, the president’s pleas for more patience with the Islamist regime comes not only after the Iranians announced the construction of two new nuclear plants but also after the regime sent the case of Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaiain to a Revolutionary Court for “processing” on some bogus charges that have yet to be announced. Rezaiain has been imprisoned for six months. But as the Post correctly notes, if this unjust treatment of an American citizen is not considered enough of a provocation for Washington to cut off talks with Tehran, then it is impossible to credibly argue that a proposal for potential sanctions would make an agreement impossible.

Nor is there any weight to the argument that the president can always ask for more sanctions if the talks fail.

First, given his decision to keep extending the talks despite his pledges not to do so, there seems little chance that he will ever concede failure and respond appropriately to the Iranian refusal to give up their nuclear ambitions. It should also be noted that despite the president’s boasting of having imposed the sanctions on Iran that brought them to the table, the Obama administration has consistently opposed proposals for restrictions on doing business with the Islamist regime including the ones that are now in place.

So long as this president is more concerned with the illusory chance to, as he stated last month, “let Iran get right with the world” than with preventing them from becoming, at best, a threshold nuclear power, Tehran knows he will never pressure them in a way that will convince them that the West can’t be waited out. Until Zarif starts fearing pressure rather than endorsing Obama’s opposition to it, the Iranian threat won’t be defused. That’s why Congress must act now. Menendez stood up and challenged the president on Iran policy in a meeting with Democratic senators last week. With veto-proof majorities for more sanctions ready to vote for it, the rest of the Senate should show the same courage. The Kirk-Menendez bill should be passed as soon as possible.

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Menendez Stands Up to Obama on Iran. Will the GOP?

As the Republican leadership of Congress ponders whether they will challenge President Obama’s positions on a variety of issues, one member of the other party has just given them an object lesson in standing up to the White House. The question now is whether, for all of their brave talk about not being bulldozed by Obama, the GOP can muster the same courage to oppose him that was shown by a liberal Democrat.

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As the Republican leadership of Congress ponders whether they will challenge President Obama’s positions on a variety of issues, one member of the other party has just given them an object lesson in standing up to the White House. The question now is whether, for all of their brave talk about not being bulldozed by Obama, the GOP can muster the same courage to oppose him that was shown by a liberal Democrat.

Senator Robert Menendez was the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee when Democrats ran the Senate and is now its ranking minority member and is on most issues a reliable liberal vote. He was present when, during the course of the Senate Democrats Issue Conference, President Obama denigrated those who favored the passage of new, tougher sanctions on Iran. Not satisfied with claiming that they were wrong and that if they succeeded, it would result in the world blaming the United States and not Iran for the collapse of the talks, he then went further. Obama then said sanctions advocates were not merely ignoring the long view of the issue. He said they were merely seeking to appease donors to make short-term political gains.

When he heard this, Menendez, who has been the foremost advocate of increased sanctions on Iran, was reportedly seated at a table in front of the podium. He then rose to his feet and told the president he “took personal offense” at his remarks. Observers told the New York Times that what followed was “a forceful exchange.”

By all accounts, Menendez was polite and didn’t speak in anger. But he was not afraid to literally stand up and tell Obama that he was dead wrong about sanctions and their potential impact on the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran. Neither side backed down but Obama left the conference knowing that a key Democrat could not be intimidated.

This is important not just because it shows that Obama faces vocal dissent against his attempt to appease Iran from Democrats. It is significant because it happened at a moment when the country is waiting to see whether the Republican who succeeded Menendez as Foreign Affairs Committee chair will have the guts to follow his example.

Senator Bob Corker has been deliberately ambiguous about whether he will push the bill co-sponsored by Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk that is currently being readied for presentation. At times Corker seems reluctant to directly challenge Obama on Iran.

Presidents deserve a degree of deference from Congress on foreign policy but the conduct of this administration on Iran cries out for Congressional intervention. Step by step the president’s original promises about any nuclear deal with Iran requiring the elimination of its program have unraveled. At every point in the negotiations, the U.S. has given up when Iran said no. In November 2013 that led to a weak agreement that allegedly froze Tehran’s nuclear progress in place but in practice did more to encourage the Iranians to believe that they had no reason to concede anything that would compromise their ability to become, at the very least, a threshold nuclear power.

If Menendez has no confidence in Obama’s intentions about Iran, he has good reason. He remembers very well that the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table were first watered down and then passed over the president’s objections. After the interim deal was signed, efforts to pass a bill that would toughen those sanctions if the next round of negotiations failed, were headed off by Obama’s veto threats, backed up former Majority Leader Harry Reid’s ability to stall any bill he didn’t like.

But any arguments that Obama had to be trusted on the talks have gone out the window as his pledge to limit the negotiations to a finite period were abandoned as the talks were extended twice with no consequences and the U.S. showing not the slightest intention to hold the Iranians accountable for stonewalling the process. As was the case during the prelude to the interim agreement, the U.S. is retreating to the point where Iran feels it has every confidence that it can hold onto all of its nuclear infrastructure and fuel stockpile while still getting sanctions relief.

The president said today in a joint news conference with British Prime David Cameron that the Iranians had no doubt that Obama could get Congress to pass more sanctions if the talks failed. That’s true. But that’s not what the new sanctions are trying to fix. The problem is that the Iranians have been given good reason to believe that Obama’s zeal for a deal is such that he will never concede that the talks have failed and will either let them go on indefinitely or will conclude a bad deal that does not prevent the Islamist regime from eventually realizing its nuclear ambition.

New sanctions will remind both Iran and Obama that the goal of these talks is not to create a new détente between the two countries, as the president seems to think is desirable, but to force the Islamists to give up any chance of getting a bomb in the foreseeable future.

Menendez rightly understand that it is the Senate’s duty to act expeditiously to ensure that Tehran understands that it will be held accountable for their so-far successful effort to run out the clock on the nuclear talks. He also knows that the drift toward Iran détente must be halted now before it is too late. That Obama would stoop so low as to question the motives of his opponents on this issue is a sign that he is worried about losing the upcoming fight over sanctions.

Senate Republicans must take heart from Menendez’s example. While they cannot fight every battle to the last ditch with Obama, this is one on which they can count on significant Democratic support. Corker should take up Menendez’s challenge. If he doesn’t, the Republican leadership should exert its influence to see to it that he doesn’t shame his party and fail the country.

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Iran Appeasement at Stake in Midterms

American elections are always closely watched by foreign nations. But there may no more interested observers of tonight’s midterm results than the leaders of Iran. The ability of the Obama administration to pursue détente with Iran and to cut a new weak deal that will enable the Islamist regime to become a nuclear threshold state may rest on the ability of President Obama’s party to hold onto control of the Senate.

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American elections are always closely watched by foreign nations. But there may no more interested observers of tonight’s midterm results than the leaders of Iran. The ability of the Obama administration to pursue détente with Iran and to cut a new weak deal that will enable the Islamist regime to become a nuclear threshold state may rest on the ability of President Obama’s party to hold onto control of the Senate.

The administration’s zeal for a deal with the Iranians appears undiminished by Tehran’s decision to continue to impede the efforts of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to discover what is going on at their nuclear plants. As the Wall Street Journal reported last Friday, the IAEA has made public the fact that there has been no progress made in getting access for inspections despite a year of negotiations. The Iranians are, as is their wont, continuing to run out the clock on the West on those talks. At the same time they are stringing the U.S. along in its efforts to broker a deal despite reports of far-reaching concessions that would allow it to keep their nuclear infrastructure in any agreement.

Given the growing sentiment in Europe for ending economic sanctions on Iran, there is no guarantee that watering down the terms of an agreement even more will entice the Islamists to sign a deal ending the standoff. Yet given the administration’s signals about treating this issue as their top foreign-policy priority, it seems likely that Obama will get some kind of an accord that will enable him to say he has addressed the world’s concerns about the nuclear threat from Iran even if it does little to diminish that threat.

Obama’s ability to do as he likes on Iran stems in no small measure from the president’s ability to get the Democratic majority in the Senate—and in particular, Majority Leader Harry Reid—to do his bidding on the issue. Though a bipartisan proposal for toughening sanctions on Iran if the talks failed had overwhelming support in the Senate last winter, including the vocal advocacy of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez, Reid was able to spike the effort. If, as the administration has indicated, it will seek to bypass congressional approval for any new Iran deal, the president knows he can count on Reid to perform the same service this year despite complaints from fellow Democrat Menendez. But with the GOP in control of the Senate, the administration will have a lot less leeway in their pursuit of appeasement.

If a deal is signed, the president and his cheering section in the media will, no doubt, go all out to label any skeptics of the agreement as warmongers in much the same manner as they did last year. In order to end sanctions on Iran, a key requirement for Tehran in any accord, the president will suspend enforcement of the laws. But getting rid of them will require congressional action that is unlikely to occur. More to the point, Congress will have an opportunity to respond to an end run around the Constitution that requires Senate approval of all treaties with new sanctions on Iran.

Interestingly, the International Business Times speculates today that a switch in control of the Foreign Relations Committee could work to Obama’s advantage. If, as expected, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker replaces Menendez and Democrat Dick Durbin becomes the ranking member instead of Republican Mark Kirk, the IBT thinks this pair is more likely to do Obama’s bidding on Iran than the current team.

But that underestimates support throughout the Senate and on the committee for tougher sanctions on Iran. More to the point, the “sanctions mongers,” as the IBT refers to opponents of Iran appeasement, will likely have the backing of the putative Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. With or without a new weak deal with Iran, the odds are, Republicans in both the House and the Senate will pass a bill similar to the one proposed by Menendez and Kirk last year which sought to hold the president’s feet to the fire on Iran.

Those who think a GOP-run Senate will back Obama’s play on Iran are underestimating the skepticism about the president’s policy in Congress as well as the deep concern for Israel’s security in the GOP at a time when, as Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic column illustrated last week, the administration’s is seeking to chill relations with the Jewish state.

That’s why it won’t be just U.S. political junkies staying up tonight to see if Reid or McConnell is running the Senate next year. The ayatollahs understand their ability to manipulate a U.S. government that they have pegged as a weak negotiating partner may be dependent on the outcome.

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Congress Can Stop Obama’s Iran Appeasement End Run

While most of the attention on the Iran nuclear issue has rightly been on the negotiations being conducted by the U.S. and its allies with Tehran, the Obama administration is already planning for the aftermath of what it hopes will be a new agreement. But rather than preparing for an effort to persuade Congress of the merits of its diplomatic efforts, the president is planning on an end run around the laws it passed and unilaterally suspending enforcement of the sanctions on Iran. In doing so, he will not only be continuing a path he has pursued on issues such as immigration but will go even further in violating the constitutional requirement that the legislative branch approve all treaties with foreign powers.

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While most of the attention on the Iran nuclear issue has rightly been on the negotiations being conducted by the U.S. and its allies with Tehran, the Obama administration is already planning for the aftermath of what it hopes will be a new agreement. But rather than preparing for an effort to persuade Congress of the merits of its diplomatic efforts, the president is planning on an end run around the laws it passed and unilaterally suspending enforcement of the sanctions on Iran. In doing so, he will not only be continuing a path he has pursued on issues such as immigration but will go even further in violating the constitutional requirement that the legislative branch approve all treaties with foreign powers.

The president’s problem isn’t limited to the fact that many Americans are rightly worried that the deal in the works with Iran is one that won’t do much to prevent the Islamist regime from eventually realizing its nuclear ambition. It’s that the economic sanctions that were imposed on Iran by laws enacted by Congress must be rescinded in the same manner that they were passed: by a vote. If the agreement that the U.S. is pushing hard to conclude with Iran is a good one, then the president and Secretary of State John Kerry should have no problem selling it to Congress, which could then simply vote to rescind the sanctions.

But such a vote would require hearings and a full debate on the matter. During the course of that debate, it almost certainly would become clear that what the administration is prepared to allow Iran would fall far short of the president’s campaign pledges to end Tehran’s nuclear program or to prevent it from ever getting a bomb. The administration has already publicly floated some of the terms it is offering the Iranians. While last year’s weak interim deal tacitly endorsed Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium that could be used for a weapon, the U.S. has retreated further from its initial tough position and is now prepared to allow the Iranians to have at least 1,000 centrifuges that could process the material to build nuclear fuel. Since the Iranians are insisting with their usual persistence that they be allowed to keep all of their centrifuges, most observers now assume that the U.S. will agree to a deal that will allow them to have thousands.

In order to save face, American negotiators have reportedly suggested that the pipes connecting the centrifuges be disconnected, a pathetic stance that further undermines American credibility since it is understood that they can easily be reconnected anytime the ayatollahs deem it in their interest. The same can be said of Iran’s agreement to deactivate its existing stockpile of enriched uranium since that too can be reversed with ease.

Seen in that light any agreement—assuming the Iranians are willing to agree to another weak deal rather than simply waiting until the international coalition Obama is leading unravels—will be difficult to sell to a skeptical Congress that pushed an unwilling administration into agreeing to the sanctions in the first place.

In order to evade the law, the president will have to do two things.

First, he will have to declare that any agreement will be merely an informal add-on to existing international deals rather than a treaty and so avoid a constitutionally required two-thirds ratification vote in the Senate he’d be unlikely to win. That will be a blatant lie but since the move would have to be taken to court, it’s a gamble he’d likely win.

Second, he will have to unilaterally suspend enforcement of the sanctions on Iran passed by Congress rather than have them rescinded. As even the New York Times notes in its article on the topic yesterday, that is not a stance even most Democrats would tolerate.

More to the point, the president’s prepared end run also signals the resumption of a political battle over renewed sanctions that the administration thought it had conclusively won last winter. At the time, majorities in the House and the Senate were prepared to enact even tougher restrictions on commerce with Iran that would have tightened the noose on Tehran’s oil business. But, with the able assistance of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the president was able to stop the Senate from voting on the measure proposed by Senator Robert Menendez, the Foreign Relations Committee chair and Senator Mark Kirk. Supporters of more sanctions (which would not have gone into effect until the next phase of negotiations with Iran was pronounced a failure) were branded “warmongers” who didn’t want to give diplomacy a chance and thus effectively silenced.

But this time that strategy won’t work.

After a year of talks that have been dragged beyond the original six-month deadline and may yet be further extended as Iran continues its decade-old strategy of running out the clock on the West, it is no longer possible to argue that Obama needs to be given an opportunity to test the good will of the Iranians. Nor can the president pretend that the current terms are anything but a transparent surrender to Iranian demands and not a fulfillment of his pledges.

That’s why Menendez is prepared to try again this fall when Congress returns to Washington after the midterm elections. As the Times reports:

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat, said over the weekend that, “If a potential deal does not substantially and effectively dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, I expect Congress will respond. An agreement cannot allow Iran to be a threshold nuclear state.” He has sponsored legislation to tighten sanctions if no agreement is reached by Nov. 24.

If that weren’t enough of a threat to force the administration to stiffen its spin in negotiations with Iran, there is also the real possibility that in January the president will not be able to rely on Reid to spike sanctions legislation. If, as they are favored to do, the Republicans take control of the Senate, it is highly likely that Obama will find himself presented with new sanctions legislation on his desk in the new year whether or not he has signed off on a deal with Iran.

This is a crucial moment in the negotiations with Iran when the outcome is not yet determined. Unfortunately, the president’s efforts to loosen sanctions have already undermined international support for isolating Iran. With the possibility of a new deal, they are on the verge of complete collapse. But renewed and even tougher sanctions on Iran will signal to Europe that their expectations of a return to business as usual with Iran were a bit premature.

While the president thinks he can evade his constitutional requirements to let Congress vote on a treaty or rescind another law he doesn’t like, members of both parties appear ready to respond appropriately to this lawless plan. Unlike environmental regulations or even immigration laws, appeasement of Iran isn’t something that can be imposed on the country by presidential whim.

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Obama’s Been Pickpocketed By Reality

A liberal who has been mugged by reality may turn to conservatism, as Irving Kristol famously said. Or that liberal might blame society on behalf of his mugger and redouble his liberalism. But in either case the liberal knows he’s been victimized. What happens to a liberal who, instead, has been pickpocketed by reality–robbed and victimized but who assumes he’s just misplaced his wallet? The last few days have given us our clearest answer yet, in the incoherent ramblings of President Obama on the nature of the threats to the free world.

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A liberal who has been mugged by reality may turn to conservatism, as Irving Kristol famously said. Or that liberal might blame society on behalf of his mugger and redouble his liberalism. But in either case the liberal knows he’s been victimized. What happens to a liberal who, instead, has been pickpocketed by reality–robbed and victimized but who assumes he’s just misplaced his wallet? The last few days have given us our clearest answer yet, in the incoherent ramblings of President Obama on the nature of the threats to the free world.

And over the weekend Democrats tried desperately to convince him he’s been mugged. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says he’s being “too cautious” on ISIS. That’s her way of saying that she’s privy to enough intel to wonder what Obama sees when he looks at the same information. Bob Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thinks Obama needs to be doing more to fend off Russia’s invasion of Ukraine–and yes, by the way, he used the word “invasion” rather than participate in the administration’s Orwellian word games to deny reality and make excuses for abandoning American allies.

And the Washington Post editorial board laid into Obama’s swirling confusion over the complexity of the world:

This argument with his own administration is alarming on three levels.

The first has to do with simple competence. One can only imagine the whiplash that foreign leaders must be suffering…

Similarly, his senior advisers uniformly have warned of the unprecedented threat to America and Americans represented by Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq. But Mr. Obama didn’t seem to agree…

When Mr. Obama refuses to acknowledge the reality, allies naturally wonder whether he will also refuse to respond to it.

One can almost imagine the Post’s editors intended the editorial to be read aloud, slowly and with exaggerated elocution, as if speaking to a child. And so the president hasn’t really been mugged by reality, because he doesn’t seem to know he’s been hit.

The Post editorial was right to call attention to the bewilderment America’s allies around the world must be experiencing. But it’s worth dwelling on the same confusion America’s enemies must be feeling. Their actions have resulted in a propaganda windfall because they surely expected the American president not to parrot their talking points or shrug off their murderous intent.

When it was revealed in August that President Obama had downgraded American security cooperation with Israel and was withholding weapons transfers to Israel during wartime, Times of Israel editor David Horovitz wrote a column headlined “US livid with Israel? Hamas can’t believe its luck.” Indeed, Hamas probably expects at best empty words from Obama about Israel’s right to defend itself, but it’s doubtful they ever imagined they would start a war with Israel only to have the American president withhold military support from Israel during that war and then fume that the U.S.-Israel military relationship is such that both sides assume America will have Israel’s back, at least during wartime. Obama wants Israel to make no such assumptions.

Similarly, could Vladimir Putin have expected the Obama administration to help him obfuscate the fact that he has invaded Ukraine–again? Administration officials “have a perfectly clear idea what Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing in Ukraine,” the Daily Beast’s Christopher Dickey wrote late last week. “They just don’t want to say the word out loud.” Putin must be giddy.

And when video surfaced revealing that, in the words of CNN, “Libyan militia members have apparently turned the abandoned U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, into a water park,” U.S. Ambassador Deborah Jones protested the coverage of an event the symbolism of which was impossible to ignore. It was not true that those ransacking the compound were ransacking the compound, she claimed; they were, um, guarding it. We are truly in the best of hands.

What is most troublesome about this, and what might be responsible for bringing Democrats out of the woodwork to denounce Obama’s foreign-policy silliness, is the fact that there doesn’t appear to be anything that can get the president to confront reality. It’s always been assumed that at some point Obama will wake up; Democrats are no longer convinced that’s the case, and have gone public to try to assure friends and foes alike that not everyone in the U.S. government is so steeped in comforting delusions while the world burns.

Someone’s at the wheel, in other words, just not the president. And now it’s the rest of the world’s turn to believe the spin coming out of Washington, instead of hoping American officials don’t believe the spin coming in.

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Kerry’s False Iran Talks Narrative

Who are the obstacles to a new nuclear deal between the West and Iran? According to the New York Times, it’s the extremists on both sides: Iranian mullahs and members of Congress, both of whom are said to want the negotiations to fail. But the problem here is that both the newspaper and the anonymous U.S. officials who were the sources for the piece assume the object of the exercise is a deal of any sort. Their American critics have a different goal: stopping Iran from getting a bomb.

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Who are the obstacles to a new nuclear deal between the West and Iran? According to the New York Times, it’s the extremists on both sides: Iranian mullahs and members of Congress, both of whom are said to want the negotiations to fail. But the problem here is that both the newspaper and the anonymous U.S. officials who were the sources for the piece assume the object of the exercise is a deal of any sort. Their American critics have a different goal: stopping Iran from getting a bomb.

The Times article advances the administration’s agenda in which it has sought to portray critics of the Iran talks as warmongers determined to thwart progress in the same way that hard-line ayatollahs might. But the facile analogy tells us more about Kerry’s mindset than anything else. Like Cold War-era liberals who urged the U.S. not to be too tough on Moscow, lest the real hardliners in the Kremlin get the best of the liberal Communists, the assumption that there is any real support in Tehran for reconciliation or willingness to give up their nuclear quest is probably a pointless diversion. Contrary to the Times, the recent statements of Iran’s supreme leader–in which he stated that his country intends to increase the number of centrifuges enriching uranium, not reduce them–did not so much blindside his envoys as it made clear that the belief that they would accommodate Western demands was always a delusion. The supposed leader of the Iranian moderates, President Hassan Rouhani, is a loyal servant of Ayatollah Khamenei and helped deceive the West in the past. Whatever issues divide the Iranians, they are united in an effort to bluff the Obama administration into giving them another diplomatic victory.

On the other hand, the members of the House and the Senate that have warned the White House that they will oppose any deal that leaves Iran with a nuclear capability are not the problem. There is no difference between the stated positions of Democrat Robert Menendez, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and President Obama. Both have said they will not settle for an agreement that will allow Iran to get a bomb. Menendez and the broad bipartisan majority of both Houses of Congress have put on record their opposition to a weak deal that would leave Iran’s infrastructure in place with no credible guarantees to stop them from resuming their nuclear quest. But the motivation for the congressional critiques is not opposition to diplomacy per se so much as their understanding that administration diplomats have succumbed before to their zeal for a deal and may yet again.

At the heart of this dynamic is not the meme of extremists on both sides opposing compromise but the direction that the negotiations have taken. Kerry threw away the West’s formidable economic and military leverage over Iran last fall and signed an interim nuclear deal that tacitly recognized its right to enrich uranium and loosened sanctions in exchange for concessions that could be easily reversed. The Iranians had every expectation that this pattern would be repeated in the current round of talks and have understandably refused to back down and agree to anything that would really limit their ability to go nuclear.

This places Kerry in a bind. The administration desperately needs an agreement because neither President Obama nor America’s European allies have any appetite for continuing the existing sanctions on Iran’s economy, let alone toughening them (as Congress would like to do) in order to bring Tehran to its knees. Having started the process of unraveling support for sanctions last fall, getting the international community to agree to a genuine boycott of Iranian oil may be beyond the capacity of this administration.

That’s what Iran is counting on as it plays out the clock on the talks denying they will give Kerry any extra time during which he can somehow craft a deal. That leaves the U.S. vulnerable to a nuclear shakedown in which an agreement that would place no real obstacles in Iran’s place might be presented to the American people as proof that Obama kept his word to stop Iran. While most Americans are hazy about the details of these talks, they should not be deceived into thinking this is an issue on which reasonable people can split the difference. An agreement that allows Iran to keep its nuclear program (something that the president specifically vowed not to let happen) and gives it access to its nuclear stockpile with only a brief “break out” period standing between the ayatollahs and the bomb is not a compromise. It is a Western surrender that will put nuclear weapons within reach of the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.

As time winds down toward the moment when another Kerry cave-in becomes the only way a deal gets done, it is imperative that Congress sends a clear message that it will never pass any bill lifting sanctions on Iran unless the negotiations produce an accord that is something more than a Western fig leaf covering Iran’s nuclear ambition.

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Lacking Achievements, Hillary Invents One

Last month, in writing about the challenge Hillary Clinton will face in running for president after presiding over foreign-policy disasters at the State Department, I gave her too much credit. With regard to Iran, I said she’d probably act as though she had been “skeptical of Iranian ‘reform,’” since she didn’t negotiate the naïve deal with the Islamic Republic; John Kerry did.

I suppose I had momentarily forgotten she’s a Clinton. This week she reminded us. She won’t merely pretend to have been privately wary of the Iranians. She will just make stuff up and rewrite history, counting on the media’s investment in her election and fear of crossing her to cover for her distortions. Like the daring woman who dodged a phantom shower of gunfire in Bosnia, Hillary is back casting herself as the heroic defender of freedom she has never been. Josh Rogin reports on Clinton’s speech to the American Jewish Committee this week:

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Last month, in writing about the challenge Hillary Clinton will face in running for president after presiding over foreign-policy disasters at the State Department, I gave her too much credit. With regard to Iran, I said she’d probably act as though she had been “skeptical of Iranian ‘reform,’” since she didn’t negotiate the naïve deal with the Islamic Republic; John Kerry did.

I suppose I had momentarily forgotten she’s a Clinton. This week she reminded us. She won’t merely pretend to have been privately wary of the Iranians. She will just make stuff up and rewrite history, counting on the media’s investment in her election and fear of crossing her to cover for her distortions. Like the daring woman who dodged a phantom shower of gunfire in Bosnia, Hillary is back casting herself as the heroic defender of freedom she has never been. Josh Rogin reports on Clinton’s speech to the American Jewish Committee this week:

Hillary Clinton is now claiming to be the architect of crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy. But during her tenure as Secretary of State, her department repeatedly opposed or tried to water down an array of measures that were pushed into law by Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

Rogin offers a corrective:

What Clinton didn’t mention was that top officials from her own State Department—in conjunction with the rest of the Obama administration—often worked hard against many of the measures she’s now championing. Some bills Foggy Bottom slowed down; others, the State Department lobbied to be made less strict; still others were opposed outright by Clinton’s deputies, only to be overruled by large majorities in the House and the Senate. …

The most egregious example of the administration’s effort to slow down the sanctions drive came in late 2011, when Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez openly chastised top administration officials for opposing an amendment to sanction the Central Bank of Iran that he had co-authored with Sen. Mark Kirk. Leading administration officials including Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman publicly expressed “strong opposition” (PDF) to the amendment, arguing that it would anger allies by opening them up for punishment if they did not significantly reduce their imports of Iranian oil.

Clinton’s top deputies fought the amendment at every step of the legislative process. Clinton’s #2 at the State Department, Bill Burns, even joined an emergency meeting with top senators to urge them to drop the amendment. They refused. The amendment later passed the Senate 100-0. Menendez said at the time that the administration had negotiated on the amendment in bad faith.

The record is quite clear: Hillary Clinton was a powerful obstacle to effective Iran sanctions. It is a tribute to the hard work and determination of those like Kirk and Menendez to be able to get any sanctions through Clinton and Obama’s dedicated obstruction of efforts to use sanctions to stop or slow Iran’s march to a nuclear weapon.

The whole incident is a preview of what 2016 will be like if Hillary does decide to accept her party’s coronation as its new cult leader. The Clinton campaign would indeed be a fairytale ending to a storybook career–just not in the way those terms are traditionally understood. The campaign narrative will be, at best, historical fiction–though closer to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter than the West Wing, in terms of its relationship to the real world.

As Rogin reported, and as ABC News picked up on last night, Kirk is pushing back:

“I worked for months to round-up the votes [in the UN Security Council],” Clinton said. “In the end we were successful… And then building on the framework established by the Security Council, with the help of Congress, the Obama administration imposed some of the most stringent, crippling sanctions on top of the international ones.”

Those sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table earlier this year.

“Secretary Clinton’s comments are a blatant revision of history,” said Kirk, who with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., co-sponsored several sanctions bills in recent years. “The fact is the Obama administration has opposed sanctions against Iran led by Senator Menendez and me every step of the way.”

It’s significant that Kirk is speaking up, because he is neither a conservative firebrand (he is the moderate Republican holding President Obama’s former Senate seat) nor a serial self-promoter, unlike so many of his colleagues. He is also not contemplating running against Clinton for the presidency in 2016.

He is speaking out, quite simply, because Clinton is selling a self-aggrandizing fantasy to the public in hopes of deceiving her way into the White House. In the process, she is demeaning those really responsible for the sanctions. But the silver lining is that her attempt to rewrite history indicates her awareness of just how out of step she is with the American public.

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Iran Sanctions Foes’ Dishonest Arguments

It’s been a bad week for those trying to stop the Senate from passing tougher sanctions on Iran. After two months of dithering the Obama administration finalized the nuclear deal signed with Iran in November. That should have helped the president to orchestrate greater opposition to the push for more sanctions he opposes. But instead, the Iranians used the completion of the interim deal to celebrate what they say is a great victory over the West for the regime that confirms their right to continue enriching uranium and pursuing their nuclear goal regardless of what any agreement says. That gave the lie to the administration’s claims that the negotiations are succeeding in heading off the nuclear threat. It also strengthened arguments by sanctions proponents that putting more such restrictions in place to be implemented should the talks fail was both prudent and the best way to ensure that diplomacy has a chance to succeed.

But rather respond to Iran’s provocations, both the administration and its allies in Congress and the media have doubled down on their illogical claim that passing more sanctions now is tantamount to a declaration of war on Iran. While it is discouraging to hear this canard voiced by White House functionaries, it is even worse to hear it from those who claim to share the goal of preventing Tehran from getting a bomb. That’s essentially the position that Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg has taken in his latest column. While it is disappointing to see a man considered one of the most astute observers of the Middle East taking such a blatantly disingenuous position on an issue on which he had previously staked out a strong position, it looks as if in this case his attachment to President Obama and his loathing for the administration’s critics outweighs common sense and his ability to offer a clear-eyed evaluation of the situation.

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It’s been a bad week for those trying to stop the Senate from passing tougher sanctions on Iran. After two months of dithering the Obama administration finalized the nuclear deal signed with Iran in November. That should have helped the president to orchestrate greater opposition to the push for more sanctions he opposes. But instead, the Iranians used the completion of the interim deal to celebrate what they say is a great victory over the West for the regime that confirms their right to continue enriching uranium and pursuing their nuclear goal regardless of what any agreement says. That gave the lie to the administration’s claims that the negotiations are succeeding in heading off the nuclear threat. It also strengthened arguments by sanctions proponents that putting more such restrictions in place to be implemented should the talks fail was both prudent and the best way to ensure that diplomacy has a chance to succeed.

But rather respond to Iran’s provocations, both the administration and its allies in Congress and the media have doubled down on their illogical claim that passing more sanctions now is tantamount to a declaration of war on Iran. While it is discouraging to hear this canard voiced by White House functionaries, it is even worse to hear it from those who claim to share the goal of preventing Tehran from getting a bomb. That’s essentially the position that Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg has taken in his latest column. While it is disappointing to see a man considered one of the most astute observers of the Middle East taking such a blatantly disingenuous position on an issue on which he had previously staked out a strong position, it looks as if in this case his attachment to President Obama and his loathing for the administration’s critics outweighs common sense and his ability to offer a clear-eyed evaluation of the situation.

Throughout the last five years, Goldberg has been an ardent supporter of the president even while frequently expressing impatience and concern over his approach to Iran. Though no fan of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Goldberg has treated the concerns of Israel and the pro-Israel community in this country on the Iranian nuclear threat as serious and credible. He rightly refers to Iran as a despotic state sponsor of terror and believes its possession of a nuclear weapon would undermine U.S. security and that of its Arab allies as well as pose an existential threat to Israel. He understands that Iran has deceived the West in negotiations before and can’t be trusted today. He has been a proponent of tough sanctions and hard-headed diplomacy on Iran and has publicly vouched for the president’s bona fides on the issue, going so far as to be among the very few who believe that if push came to shove, Obama would order the use of force against Tehran in order to forestall its drive for a nuclear weapon.

But though he still calls himself an “Iran hawk” (a term that few, if any, other commentators on the subject have adopted), Goldberg has now officially drunk the administration’s Kool-Aid on the topic and says the deal struck in Geneva in November is the best the West can hope for. Rather than call, as he did in the past, for an end to Iran’s nuclear program, he’s veiled his former hawkishness, saying he is willing to settle for a deal that will “substantially denuclearize” the regime, a weasel-worded expression vague enough to encompass an agreement that would, as Iran demands, leave its nuclear infrastructure in place and the threat to Israel and its Arab neighbors undiminished.

While claiming to be a skeptic on the upcoming talks, he accepts the argument that any congressional move to strengthen the president’s hand in negotiations would provide the Iranians an excuse to end the negotiations. Given that Iran was brought to the table by sanctions (that were consistently opposed by the administration) this makes no sense, especially since the Iranians have so much to gain by talks that have already brought them considerable sanctions relief. By loosening the sanctions while acknowledging the Iranian right to uranium enrichment during the interim deal, the U.S. appears willing to give up much of the economic and military leverage it held over Iran. But now both the president and his supporters like Goldberg are prepared to treat Iranian bluster as an imperative that America dare not contravene. The illogical argument that the time isn’t right for more sanctions accepts this Iranian dictate in a way that undermines any hope the West can achieve the dismantling of Iran’s facilities and the export and/or destruction of all its nuclear material. The process now seems to be one in which it is the West that is the supplicant and the ayatollahs the masters of the situation.

The Iranians don’t like the idea that if the current negotiations fail they will be subjected to a new round of sanctions that would end the lucrative oil trade that is keeping the regime afloat while funding their nuclear program, terrorism, and their intervention in Syria. But without that threat, their improving economy and the prospect that Russia is prepared to engage in an oil-for-goods swap that will make a mockery of the sanctions means Iran will have no reason to treat the president’s threats of future action seriously.

This is the key point in the argument to increase sanctions that Goldberg and other administration supporters consistently mischaracterize.

Like Obama, Goldberg poses this debate as an entirely specious choice between supporters of diplomacy and those who want to fight a war against Iran. This is false. No one in Congress wants war. Neither does Israel or its friends. Nor does anyone (except perhaps for Goldberg in his least credible columns) think Obama or Congress would ever authorize a strike on Iran. To claim that is the goal of sanctions advocates is a blatant lie. To the contrary, those pushing for more sanctions understand all too well that a genuine economic embargo of Iran, rather than the leaky restrictions currently in place, is the only option that has any chance of bringing the Islamist regime to its senses by methods short of war.

The alternative to tougher sanctions isn’t the war Goldberg claims sanctions proponents want; it’s appeasement that will inevitably result in a policy of containment of a nuclear Iran that Obama says he opposes.

There’s a reason that sanctions proponents don’t trust the president to conduct diplomacy without first committing the U.S. to taking the next step toward isolating Iran once the next round of talks fail (a proposition that even Goldberg concedes is a 50-50 proposition). Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez and other sponsors of the bill remember all too well that the current sanctions about which the president boasts were watered down and then fought tooth and nail by the administration. The administration has consistently sought engagement with Iran even when it meant ignoring the regime’s bloody repression of dissidents and its drive for regional hegemony in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon and the annihilation of Israel. Now it appears all too willing to turn engagement into détente and a common agenda that will allow the U.S. to substantially withdraw from the region and thereby place its allies in peril.

The idea that more sanctions now would turn the tyrants of Tehran into victims of American provocations is ridiculous. So is the claim that preventing them will allow diplomacy to work to make Iran give up what they clearly wish to retain. More sanctions may not “denuclearize” Iran, but their passage offers the only hope that this goal can be achieved by diplomacy. The only way to justify opposition to them is to demonize both administration supporters (like Menendez, Chuck Schumer, and the many other Democrats who support additional sanctions) and opponents who want to ensure that the president keeps his promises about Iran. That’s a canard that the Jeffrey Goldberg, who was a supportive but tough critic of Obama on Iran throughout his first term, would never have sunk to. But sadly, such despicable smears are all he and other administration loyalists have left. 

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Only Congress Can Keep Obama Honest on Iran

Judging from the reaction from the White House and its cheering section in the liberal media, the administration is convinced that the nuclear deal it struck with Iran this week is the first step toward a fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy. By agreeing to legitimize Iran’s nuclear program and loosening sanctions in exchange for cosmetic concessions from Iran that did not roll back the regime’s dramatic advances toward its ambition to get a bomb in the last five years, President Obama has finally achieved his dream of initiating a détente with the ayatollahs that he first articulated during the 2008 presidential campaign. In doing so, he seeks to change the calculus in the Middle East and swing U.S. policy away from its traditional alliances with Israel and moderate Arab states like Saudi Arabia.

The president thinks this strategy will deter Iran from getting a bomb while also utilizing the help of the mullahs to settle things in Afghanistan and Syria. While defended by his apologists as a realist take on foreign policy, this is exactly the sort of magical thinking about Iran that characterized Jimmy Carter’s disastrous engagement with the ayatollahs. While, as I wrote yesterday, the chances that Iran will keep its word and not use American weakness and gullibility to move closer to a bomb are not zero, they are not much more than that. As for changing the region, by granting Iran a second huge victory (the first being his retreat on Syria that ensured Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad would stay in power), he has set in motion a chain of events that will further destabilize the region, make a nuclear arms race inevitable and emboldened terrorist groups allied with Iran. While this does represent a profound shift in U.S. policy, it is one that will leave the U.S. weaker, less secure, and less able to influence events than it is already.

Is there anything that can be done about this? While the president is right to think that no American ally can deter him from pursuing détente with the murderous Iranian regime–as his disdain for both Israel and Saudi Arabia makes clear–there is one factor that could obstruct his misguided attempt to essentially withdraw the U.S. from the Middle East: Congress. Only Congress has the ability to keep Obama honest on Iran.

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Judging from the reaction from the White House and its cheering section in the liberal media, the administration is convinced that the nuclear deal it struck with Iran this week is the first step toward a fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy. By agreeing to legitimize Iran’s nuclear program and loosening sanctions in exchange for cosmetic concessions from Iran that did not roll back the regime’s dramatic advances toward its ambition to get a bomb in the last five years, President Obama has finally achieved his dream of initiating a détente with the ayatollahs that he first articulated during the 2008 presidential campaign. In doing so, he seeks to change the calculus in the Middle East and swing U.S. policy away from its traditional alliances with Israel and moderate Arab states like Saudi Arabia.

The president thinks this strategy will deter Iran from getting a bomb while also utilizing the help of the mullahs to settle things in Afghanistan and Syria. While defended by his apologists as a realist take on foreign policy, this is exactly the sort of magical thinking about Iran that characterized Jimmy Carter’s disastrous engagement with the ayatollahs. While, as I wrote yesterday, the chances that Iran will keep its word and not use American weakness and gullibility to move closer to a bomb are not zero, they are not much more than that. As for changing the region, by granting Iran a second huge victory (the first being his retreat on Syria that ensured Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad would stay in power), he has set in motion a chain of events that will further destabilize the region, make a nuclear arms race inevitable and emboldened terrorist groups allied with Iran. While this does represent a profound shift in U.S. policy, it is one that will leave the U.S. weaker, less secure, and less able to influence events than it is already.

Is there anything that can be done about this? While the president is right to think that no American ally can deter him from pursuing détente with the murderous Iranian regime–as his disdain for both Israel and Saudi Arabia makes clear–there is one factor that could obstruct his misguided attempt to essentially withdraw the U.S. from the Middle East: Congress. Only Congress has the ability to keep Obama honest on Iran.

While much of the mainstream media reacted to the Iran deal with relief at an opportunity to step back from the need to confront the nuclear peril, congressional reaction was both sober and appropriately critical. Both Republicans and Democrats rightly pointed out that the agreement the president grabbed was an unsatisfactory retreat from his past promises. Does this matter? In one sense, the answer is no. Congress is powerless to prevent Obama from signing any deal he wants with Iran. His executive powers allow him to release the billions in frozen assets that are being use to bribe the Iranians to sign the piece of paper in Geneva. But the sanctions that have squeezed Iran’s economy cannot be abrogated by presidential fiat. It will take congressional approval to do that, and if Iran is allowed to keep its nuclear toys and go on enriching uranium, that won’t happen.

Thus, despite his urging, it appears that the Senate will move ahead to pass the next round of tougher sanctions on Iran that have already been passed by the House. This bill will tighten the noose on the Iranian economy and make it even more difficult for the regime to go on selling its oil. But far from a breach of faith with Iran, as the administration claimed in recent weeks, passing the new sanctions will be the only thing that can keep the president honest on the subject.

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez indicated yesterday, the sanctions will probably be amended to postpone their implementation until after the six-month period during which the administration claims it will be negotiating a follow-up agreement with the Iranians. That will give President Obama a chance to prove that his deal is not merely an effort to appease Iran and that he is still serious about halting their push toward a weapon. But if six months from now the Iranians have still not agreed to dismantle a single centrifuge or given up their stockpile of enriched uranium, the sanctions will not be delayed.

As most members of Congress seem to recognize, the choice here was not between war and an unsatisfactory nuclear deal. They rightly disagree with the idea that Iran is too strong to be further opposed or that it is unrealistic to suppose the West can force the regime to give up their nuclear dream. While the signal of weakness from the administration to the Iranians may have convinced them they need not fear the use of force or continued sanctions, a determined stand by Congress may be the only thing that can act as any sort of deterrent against an Iranian nuclear breakout.

The push to pass sanctions will likely be criticized as the work of the dreaded “Israel Lobby,” and we have already begun to hear calumnies of those pushing to restrain Obama’s appeasement as being merely a function of the Jewish state’s instructions. One such statement came last week from Carter administration National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski who tweeted, “Obama/Kerry = best policy team since Bush I/Jim Baker. Congress is finally becoming embarrassed by Netanyahu’s efforts to dictate US policy.” If “best policy team” means most hostile to Israel, he’s probably right. But the key here is the attempt to brand members of Congress who won’t buy into Iran détente as being, in New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s phrase, “bought by the Jewish lobby.”

But I doubt Democrats like Menendez or Chuck Schumer or Republicans like Bob Corker or Lindsey Graham will be deterred by this kind of slander that borders on open anti-Semitism.

While Congress can’t stop the president from embarking on this potentially disastrous course of action toward Iran, it can make it impossible for him to further reward the ayatollahs if they continue their past policy of deceiving the West. The president may hope that once agreements are signed, the world will stop caring about Iranian nukes. But the House and the Senate should use their power of the purse to obstruct such a craven retreat from American responsibility. They are the only ones who have any hope of keeping Obama honest on Iran. And they should not be intimidated from doing so by anti-Semitic slanders.

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Will the White House Spike Iran Sanctions?

Two years ago Senator Robert Menendez pitched a fit at a committee hearing when Obama administration figures came to the Senate to try and persuade it not to adopt tougher sanctions on Iran. The New Jersey Democrat was especially put out because prior to proposing legislation on the issue with Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, he had agreed to water down the bill at the request of the White House. Having bargained Menendez and Kirk down, the White House then sought to torpedo the weaker bill that was on the verge of passage. Despite that intervention, the bill passed and it became part of a raft of laws the president had consistently opposed but for which he took credit during his reelection campaign. Fast-forward to today and we are about to see the exercise repeated.

As Politico reported earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Capitol Hill on Thursday to try and talk Congress out of once again strengthening sanctions on Iran. They claim such a move would harm the chances of progress in the P5+1 talks with Iran that will reconvene next week. But the arguments against tougher sanctions make no more sense today than they did two years ago.

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Two years ago Senator Robert Menendez pitched a fit at a committee hearing when Obama administration figures came to the Senate to try and persuade it not to adopt tougher sanctions on Iran. The New Jersey Democrat was especially put out because prior to proposing legislation on the issue with Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, he had agreed to water down the bill at the request of the White House. Having bargained Menendez and Kirk down, the White House then sought to torpedo the weaker bill that was on the verge of passage. Despite that intervention, the bill passed and it became part of a raft of laws the president had consistently opposed but for which he took credit during his reelection campaign. Fast-forward to today and we are about to see the exercise repeated.

As Politico reported earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Capitol Hill on Thursday to try and talk Congress out of once again strengthening sanctions on Iran. They claim such a move would harm the chances of progress in the P5+1 talks with Iran that will reconvene next week. But the arguments against tougher sanctions make no more sense today than they did two years ago.

That the administration is going all out to halt the drive to toughen sanctions was apparent yesterday when it called a group of Jewish leaders (without, as is their usual practice, of including more marginal left-wing groups) into the White House to try and get them to back their opposition to the new legislation. They seem to have failed, though the Democrats’ Jewish support group, the National Jewish Democratic Council, appears to be succumbing to the presidential pressure in this respect.

The excuse for the new negotiations with Iran is the supposed moderation of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that is alleged to have created an opening for diplomacy. But the Iranian charm offensive has not impelled Tehran to change its position one bit. The Iranians are still defending their “right” to enrich uranium and refusing to let their stockpile of nuclear fuel out of their country. Both of these points would allow the Iranians to easily cheat on a nuclear deal despite any assurances to the contrary. This was confirmed again today when Iran’s top nuclear official denied the claim that they had already stopped enriching uranium to the 20 percent mark that makes it viable for a weapon.

The past has shown that the only thing that has caused Iran to even talk about the nuclear issue is the threat of increased sanctions. It was the sanctions that the administration belatedly enforced in the last two years that brought about the pain in the Iranian economy that is the impetus of the charm offensive that has fooled so many Westerners. By again trying to stall more sanctions, the president is sending yet another signal to Tehran that he doesn’t intend to keep pressing them, let alone credibly threaten force once the talks prove futile, as they have every previous time in the last decade.

Indeed, if the president were serious about gaining a satisfactory resolution to the dispute with Iran he would be demanding more sanctions from Congress in order to strengthen his hand in the talks, not trying to weaken it.

All this means that, as it has had to do in the past, Congress must rise to the challenge and ignore the advice from Obama, Kerry, and Lew. Just as it forced the president’s hand throughout a five-year period when Obama was more interested in engaging the Iranians than pressuring them, the House and the Senate must act now to finish the economic isolation of the Islamist regime and boost the otherwise dim chances for a diplomatic solution that will prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon rather than merely delaying it.

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Senate Steps Up Effort to Aid Syrian Rebels

Congress seems to be stepping into the vacuum left by the administration’s non-policy on Syria. At least it appears that way from the bipartisan vote yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which voted 15-3 to approve a bill co-sponsored by chairman Robert Menendez and ranking minority member Bob Corker that calls for providing lethal aid to vetted rebel groups.

Committee members beat back objections from their colleague, Senator Rand Paul, who claimed that they were “rushing” to get involved in Syria–as if the U.S. hasn’t sat on the sidelines for more than two years.

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Congress seems to be stepping into the vacuum left by the administration’s non-policy on Syria. At least it appears that way from the bipartisan vote yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which voted 15-3 to approve a bill co-sponsored by chairman Robert Menendez and ranking minority member Bob Corker that calls for providing lethal aid to vetted rebel groups.

Committee members beat back objections from their colleague, Senator Rand Paul, who claimed that they were “rushing” to get involved in Syria–as if the U.S. hasn’t sat on the sidelines for more than two years.

What was most striking was the extent to which the Democrats on the panel criticized a Democratic president. The Daily Beast quotes Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania: “I have to say I think we all share this, at least the last year if not longer, we’ve all been frustrated that our country hasn’t done enough to be responsive. I think it’s in our national security interests to address this.”

The question now is whether Sen. Harry Reid will allow this legislation to come to a floor vote and what, if anything, the House will do. The White House is no doubt lobbying to prevent passage.

Even if this bill passes, it will not necessarily change the balance of power on the ground. At this late date, it may be necessary for the U.S. and our allies to enforce a no-fly zone and mount air strikes to prevent Bashar Assad from scoring more significant gains–arms to the rebels may no longer be enough. But at the very least this congressional action should push the Obama administration to do more than it has done to date–which isn’t much.

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