Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S.-Iran relations

Americans Eager to Sell Iran the Rope to Hang Them

Back in the 1970s, columnist George Will memorably characterized the eagerness of American businesses to do business in the Soviet Union as proof that they loved commerce more than they loathed Communism. Propping up a tottering evil empire that threatened Western freedom was nothing compared to the chance to make a buck. A generation later, we’re seeing the same phenomenon on display as other groups flock to Iran now that President Obama has made it possible, if not likely that it will be legal for Americans to do business in the Islamic Republic. As the New York Times reports today, though they were chaperoned by minders who kept them out of the presence of dissidents or other victims of the regime, one such group still found it impossible to escape being confronted with evidence of the theocracy’s hate-filled ideology. But, as with other hopeful, profit-minded pilgrims to other totalitarian regimes, participants preferred to see the country as one big market rather than one big prison whose rulers are intent to do harm to the West.

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Back in the 1970s, columnist George Will memorably characterized the eagerness of American businesses to do business in the Soviet Union as proof that they loved commerce more than they loathed Communism. Propping up a tottering evil empire that threatened Western freedom was nothing compared to the chance to make a buck. A generation later, we’re seeing the same phenomenon on display as other groups flock to Iran now that President Obama has made it possible, if not likely that it will be legal for Americans to do business in the Islamic Republic. As the New York Times reports today, though they were chaperoned by minders who kept them out of the presence of dissidents or other victims of the regime, one such group still found it impossible to escape being confronted with evidence of the theocracy’s hate-filled ideology. But, as with other hopeful, profit-minded pilgrims to other totalitarian regimes, participants preferred to see the country as one big market rather than one big prison whose rulers are intent to do harm to the West.

Like the Times’s own disgraceful journalistic tourists to Iran, such as Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof, the group featured in today’s article gushed over the welcome they received and the wonders of Iran’s ancient culture, friendly people, and market potential. The delegation of venture capitalists and business executives organized by a group called the Young President’s Organization got a red carpet tour as well as constant assurances that they and their money will be safe in Iran. When they had the temerity to ask about billboards across the country that proclaimed the regime’s trademark “Death to America” slogan, they were told that this was the product of a bygone era and that a “new Iran” was emerging. That seemed to comfort them, as did the likely inference that the presence of American cash would speed along the transformation of Iran.

But it’s likely that along with tourist sites and meetings with Iranians that said the right thing about wanting to re-engage with the West, these young entrepreneurs and executives didn’t find out much about the way the theocracy oppresses dissidents and religious minorities. Nor is likely that they learned much about the way the regime and its various military arms operate businesses that finance international terrorism as well as an arms buildup that threatens the region. It’s likely they also heard the same tripe about Iran’s right to civilian nuclear energy (in a nation overflowing with massive oil reserves).

What businesspeople who want to invest in Iran should understand is that their efforts to open up this market for American commerce serves to strengthen a brutal and anti-Semitic Islamist government that is a driving force behind regional violence. Dollars that go to Iran will help finance Iran’s terrorism as well as a nuclear program that will eventually, even if Tehran abides by a pact with the West, lead to a weapon that could destabilize the Middle East and threaten Israel with destruction. Just as important, it will make it harder, not easier for those who want change in the country to make their voices heard, let alone have an impact on events. Though Americans always tell themselves fairy tales about increased trade being a force for freedom, all they will be doing is putting cash in the coffers of an otherwise tottering government that will make it even more resistant to reform, let alone willing to expand freedom.

But what’s that compared to the chance of making money by doing business with the ayatollahs? To those who participate in such junkets, the answer is obviously not much. Rather than Americans exporting their values, all the effort to promote trade with Iran will do is to compromise their own principles and to legitimize a regime that those who cherish freedom should never seek to support. This story illustrates that the cost of President Obama’s appeasement of Iran cannot be measured solely by the terms of a nuclear deal that will abandon sanctions and grant the regime a path to a bomb. “Death to America” doesn’t mean just death to Americans critical of Iran but all Americans as well as Western freedom. Just as Lenin once boasted that capitalists would sell Communists the rope by which they would be hanged, a new generation of fools appears intent on gifting Iran with the money that will pay for the terrorists that will kill us.

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Deal or a Delay? Either Is a Triumph for Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s Speech Revealed Ignorance of Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Last Time Iran Lied

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s Secret Iran Talks Deserve Scrutiny

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the exchange of secret letters between President Obama and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has resumed. The letters are believed to concern Obama’s offer of cooperation with Iran against ISIS terrorists if Tehran will agree to a deal on its nuclear program. These letters have clearly been a crucial element in the six-year administration effort to forge a new détente with the Islamist regime. But they must also be placed in the context of the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and Israel about the nuclear talks. Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chided the U.S. for attempting to hide the details about the negotiations from Israel. While the president doesn’t like or trust the prime minister, those concerned about a drift toward accommodation of Iran’s demands are not wrong to note that the secrecy about the negotiations undermines the credibility of the administration’s assurances that it can be trusted not to betray the Israelis or American security interests in a futile pursuit of good relations with Khamenei’s government.

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Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the exchange of secret letters between President Obama and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has resumed. The letters are believed to concern Obama’s offer of cooperation with Iran against ISIS terrorists if Tehran will agree to a deal on its nuclear program. These letters have clearly been a crucial element in the six-year administration effort to forge a new détente with the Islamist regime. But they must also be placed in the context of the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and Israel about the nuclear talks. Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chided the U.S. for attempting to hide the details about the negotiations from Israel. While the president doesn’t like or trust the prime minister, those concerned about a drift toward accommodation of Iran’s demands are not wrong to note that the secrecy about the negotiations undermines the credibility of the administration’s assurances that it can be trusted not to betray the Israelis or American security interests in a futile pursuit of good relations with Khamenei’s government.

For the past few weeks, concerns about the details of the terms the U.S. is offering to Iran in the nuclear talks have been obscured by the controversy about Netanyahu’s determination to speak to a joint session of Congress next month about Iran. As I’ve pointed out, accepting House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation was a tactical blunder on Netanyahu’s part since it allowed the president and his apologists to divert the discussion about Iran from his indefensible pursuit of an entente with a radical terror-sponsoring tyranny to one about the Israeli’s alleged breach of protocol. This was a no-win confrontation for Israel and its friends that may have made it harder for Congress to pass tougher sanctions on Iran with a veto-proof majority because of defections from Democrats concerned about not taking sides with a foreign leader against the president. But the Journal report reminds us that the stakes here involve a lot more than the personal animus between Obama and Netanyahu.

The decision of the U.S. to keep Israel out of the loop about the details of its talks with Iran makes sense only inside the White House bubble where Netanyahu—the democratically-elected leader of America’s ally—is perceived as an enemy and the theocrat tyrant Khamenei is viewed as the head of a nation that must be wooed and won over in an effort to forge an entente with Tehran. Diplomacy is always best practiced outside of public view, but the problem with the discussion about Iran is that the administration’s public stand about its desire to prevent the regime from getting a nuclear weapon is at odds with everything we know about the negotiations.

As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius pointed out yesterday, the White House continues to claim that its offers to let Iran keep much of its nuclear infrastructure are misunderstood. He writes that officials say granting Iran the right to keep several thousands centrifuges and a stockpile of nuclear fuel would actually be tougher than one that would give them only a few hundred newer machines and a larger stockpile. But this is a classic Obama false choice in which a straw man is set up for the administration to knock down. What the Israelis and concerned members of Congress who support the threat of more sanctions want is for the president to keep his 2012 campaign pledge that stated that any deal would involve the end of Iran’s nuclear program. The administration has abandoned that position in favor of one that gives Iran the ability to build a bomb but only under circumstances that would take more than a year for them to “break out” to a weapon.

The problem with the one-year breakout offer is that there is a good argument to be made by the Israelis and others that the breakout period would be much shorter. Moreover, the idea that U.S. intelligence in Iran is good enough to detect the breakout in time to do something to prevent is, to put it mildly, a dubious assumption.

American officials may be angry about the fact that the Israelis are doing their best to publicize the details about American offers to Iran that make it clear that, at best, the U.S. is prepared to acquiesce to Khamenei’s regime becoming a threshold nuclear power. But, like their much publicized hurt feelings about Netanyahu’s speech to Congress that they’ve used to pick off wavering Democrats from the ranks of supporters of more sanctions, their umbrage about the Israeli disclosures rings false. The more we know about Obama’s communications with Khamenei and the fine print in the Western offers in the nuclear negotiations, the more it seems certain that détente is the president’s goal, not putting an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Disputes with Israel are being used as a cover to shield a diplomatic offensive aimed at allowing Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. If the president expects the country and Congress to follow his lead on Iran, it’s only fair to ask where he is leading us before, rather than after, he signs a nuclear deal that endangers U.S. allies and puts American security in the hands of the supreme leader and his terrorist auxiliaries.

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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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Is Washington Encouraging Iran’s Threats?

The United States and Iran have been locked in dead-end negotiations over the Islamist regime’s nuclear program for over a year, but the lines of communication between Washington and Tehran appear to be open. According to Iran’s IRNA news agency, that country’s deputy foreign minister said that his country had sent a warning to Israel via their U.S. negotiating partners. The message was a threat that retaliation should be expected for the death of an Iranian general in an Israeli air strike on a Syrian site where Hezbollah terrorists were establishing a missile base. But according to the State Department, no such message was passed on to the Israelis. While the U.S. condemned the talk of threats, if the account is accurate, the omission shows that the Obama administration may find it easier to talk to a radical Iranian regime than it does to their democratic ally Israel.

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The United States and Iran have been locked in dead-end negotiations over the Islamist regime’s nuclear program for over a year, but the lines of communication between Washington and Tehran appear to be open. According to Iran’s IRNA news agency, that country’s deputy foreign minister said that his country had sent a warning to Israel via their U.S. negotiating partners. The message was a threat that retaliation should be expected for the death of an Iranian general in an Israeli air strike on a Syrian site where Hezbollah terrorists were establishing a missile base. But according to the State Department, no such message was passed on to the Israelis. While the U.S. condemned the talk of threats, if the account is accurate, the omission shows that the Obama administration may find it easier to talk to a radical Iranian regime than it does to their democratic ally Israel.

Of course, Israeli and American officials talk all the time about all sorts of things related to the alliance between the two democracies. But the dustup over the Israeli strike on the Syrian missile base may illustrate the curious nexus between U.S. efforts to make friends with Iran and the spat between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu over sanctions on the Islamist regime.

The Iranians are clearly furious about the death of General Ali Allahdadi, a ballistic missile expert at a site near the town of Kunetra, along the border between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Allahdadi was supervising the creation of a new Hezbollah base in Syria. Iran and Hezbollah have backed the Assad government in Damascus with troops and arms in the Syrian civil war. In return, Assad has apparently given his OK for Hezbollah to set up a base from which it could potentially fire missiles into Israel. Having a Syrian launching pad would immeasurably strengthen Hezbollah because it would give them an option for hitting Israeli targets that would not invite retaliation on them in Lebanon. The widespread destruction caused by the 2006 war that was provoked by Hezbollah attacks on Israeli targets earned the terror group the ire of most Lebanese. But neither Hezbollah nor other Lebanese seem to care if attacks on Israel cause more destruction in war-torn Syria.

Since Hezbollah is under Iranian orders, the presence of one of Tehran’s missile experts at their Syrian base was no surprise. The destruction of the base and the death of their man there angered Iran perhaps to the point where it might seek to escalate the battle with Israel.

But the question is not why the Iranians sought to create the missile base. Rather it is what made them think the Israelis would sit back and wait to be hit rather than taking the facility out as it did Syria’s nuclear facility in 2007 and the various Iranian weapons convoys that have attempted to transfer some of Syria’s heavy weapons into Lebanon?

The Iranians have created a de facto alliance with the Obama administration against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq. But while the U.S. seems content to let the Iranians extend their hegemony over a crippled Syria, that entente does not extend to Israel, which rightly views Iranian activities in the vicinity of their border a deadly threat.

It’s not clear whether missiles fired today into the Golan from Syria were an opening salvo in an Iranian retaliation campaign or just stray fire from a civil war whose combatants are all too close to the Jewish state. But Israel is rightly now on alert and anticipating the possibility of more such attacks or an attempt by Hezbollah to carry out some sort of spectacular terrorist attack on Jewish or Israeli targets elsewhere in the world.

But what is most troubling about this story is not so much the Iranian threats but the possibility that the U.S. is not coordinating with Israeli efforts to defend against them. Can it be that the Obama administration is so besotted with the notion of détente with Iran via nuclear talks that it is distancing itself from Israeli acts of self-defense intended to warn Tehran to avoid escalating the conflict? One would hope not, but with U.S. foreign policy now almost obsessively focused on lessening tension with Iran, the administration’s unwillingness to confront Tehran about terrorism may be causing the Islamist regime to abandon caution.

This episode not only demonstrates the dangers of appeasing a state sponsor of terror; it also shows that Obama’s predilection for picking fights with Israel may be increasing the chances of violence. It is not too late for the White House to step back from the brink and send an even sterner warning to Iran to stand down. If it doesn’t, the blame for what follows will belong to both the Iranians and a president who fell in love with the idea of allowing Iran “to get right with the world.”

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Obama’s White Flag On Assad a Gift for Iran

As anyone who has heard President Obama discuss his opposition to more sanctions being placed on Iran knows, the White House is deeply disturbed at the notion of the United States doing anything to disturb those who run the Islamist regime. Thus, the news that the United States is signaling what may be the formal end of its opposition to Bashar Assad’s rule over Syria must be seen in the context of a general American push for détente with that dictator’s allies in Tehran. This is bad news for the people of Syria who are seeking an alternative to Assad’s murderous rule–other, that is, than the ISIS terrorists. But it is very good news for the Iranians who are pleased about the way the rise of ISIS has led to a de facto alliance on the ground between the U.S. and Iran’s allies Assad and Hezbollah in the effort to fight ISIS. This has led not only to a tacit green light for Assad to go on killing Syrians but also for negotiations that seemed fated to grant a Western seal of approval for Iran’s aspiration to become a threshold nuclear power.

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As anyone who has heard President Obama discuss his opposition to more sanctions being placed on Iran knows, the White House is deeply disturbed at the notion of the United States doing anything to disturb those who run the Islamist regime. Thus, the news that the United States is signaling what may be the formal end of its opposition to Bashar Assad’s rule over Syria must be seen in the context of a general American push for détente with that dictator’s allies in Tehran. This is bad news for the people of Syria who are seeking an alternative to Assad’s murderous rule–other, that is, than the ISIS terrorists. But it is very good news for the Iranians who are pleased about the way the rise of ISIS has led to a de facto alliance on the ground between the U.S. and Iran’s allies Assad and Hezbollah in the effort to fight ISIS. This has led not only to a tacit green light for Assad to go on killing Syrians but also for negotiations that seemed fated to grant a Western seal of approval for Iran’s aspiration to become a threshold nuclear power.

It must be acknowledged that at this point the United States has no good options open to it on Syria. If the U.S. had acted swiftly to aid moderate opponents to the Assad regime after the Arab Spring protests began, it might have been possible to topple Assad, something that would have been a telling blow to Iran’s ambitions for regional hegemony. But President Obama was characteristically unable to make a decision about what to do about it for years despite continually running his mouth about how Assad had to go. By the time he was ready to strike—after Assad crossed a “red line” enunciated by the president about his use of chemical weapons against his own people—the moderate option looked less attractive. The president quickly backed down and punted the task of cleaning up the chemical weapons to Assad’s Russian ally.

Even worse, after Obama’s precipitate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and inaction on Syria led to the rise of ISIS terrorists, Washington seemed more interested in using this crisis as an excuse to make common cause with Iran than in actually fighting the Islamist group. Thus, while U.S. air attacks on ISIS have barely made a dent in the terrorists’ grip on control of much of Syria and Iraq, the administration is signaling enthusiasm for Russian and United Nations-sponsored diplomatic events that will effectively doom a framework agreed to by the West last year in Geneva by which Assad would be forced to yield power.

The administration will defend this switch as something that will aid the effort to end a war that has killed hundreds of thousands. They also justify the tacit alliance with Iran, Assad, and Hezbollah on the Syrian battlefield as the only possible option available to those who wish to combat ISIS. At this point with non-Islamist Syrian rebels effectively marginalized and the battlefield dominated by the Iran/Hezbollah/Assad alliance and their ISIS foes, forcing Assad out may no longer be an option.

But the chain of events that led to this American move to allow Assad to survive despite his crimes must now be viewed from a different perspective than merely one of Obama’s Hamlet routine on difficult issues.

The decision to gradually back away from the president’s campaign pledge to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program and to engage in negotiations aimed at granting Tehran absolution for its ambitions will, if it results in an agreement, at best make Iran a threshold nuclear power. A weak nuclear deal will further buttress Iran’s hopes for regional hegemony by which it will further threaten moderate regimes and strengthen its Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist allies.

It’s not clear yet whether the Iranians will ever sign a nuclear agreement with the U.S. or if, instead, it will continue to run out the clock on the talks. That’s something that the president’s zeal for a deal may permit because he refuses to admit failure or pressure the Iranians as Congress would like him to do by toughening sanctions in the event the talks collapse.

But what we do know now is that this administration’s Syria policy must now be viewed through the prism of its infatuation with the idea of, as the president put it last month, letting “Iran get right with the world.”

Options for getting rid of the butcher Assad may be few these days. But the American white flag acknowledging his continued reign of terror is more than merely an admission that he can’t be pushed out of Damascus. It must now be understood as part of a comprehensive policy that is aimed at appeasing Iran. That presents a danger not only to the oppressed people of Syria but to every other nation in the region, including both moderate Arabs and Israel, who are targets of Iran’s predatory ambition.

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Iran to Host Holocaust Cartoon Contest

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shocked the world with his virulent Holocaust denial, a position he later characterized as his major achievement. In reality, of course, Ahmadinejad did not introduce Holocaust revisionism into the Iranian political sphere. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei argued that the Jews “exaggerated” the Holocaust, and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, labelled a “pragmatist” and moderate by many in the United States, dismissed the Holocaust as “Zionist propaganda.” Ahmadinejad’s predecessor Mohammad Khatami, lionized as a reformist in the West for his calls for “dialogue of civilizations,” also promoted Holocaust denial, just more quietly. As George Michael, at the time an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, chronicled:

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shocked the world with his virulent Holocaust denial, a position he later characterized as his major achievement. In reality, of course, Ahmadinejad did not introduce Holocaust revisionism into the Iranian political sphere. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei argued that the Jews “exaggerated” the Holocaust, and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, labelled a “pragmatist” and moderate by many in the United States, dismissed the Holocaust as “Zionist propaganda.” Ahmadinejad’s predecessor Mohammad Khatami, lionized as a reformist in the West for his calls for “dialogue of civilizations,” also promoted Holocaust denial, just more quietly. As George Michael, at the time an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, chronicled:

…It was during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, whose rhetorical calls for a dialogue of civilizations won European and U.N. plaudits, that the Islamic Republic became a sanctuary for revisionists. Tehran granted asylum not only to Graf but also to Wolfgang Fröhlick, an Austrian engineer who argued in court under oath that Zyklon-B could not be used to kill humans. Indeed, it was under Khatami that Iranian policy shifted from anti-Zionism to unabashed anti-Semitism. In August 2003, the Iranian government invited Frederick Töben, a retired German school teacher living in Australia, to speak before the International Conference on the Palestinian Intifada held in Tehran in which he impugned the Holocaust by contending that Auschwitz concentration camp was physically too small for the mass killing of Jews.

When Hassan Rouhani became Iran’s president, President Obama and many other Western officials treated him like a breath of fresh air. Perhaps this reflects the superficiality that infuses the personalities of Western politicians. After all, they drew their conclusions based on Rouhani’s carefully staged pronouncements and press conferences, rather than on the reality of his record. If Holocaust denial is the canary in the coalmine, then it’s apparent that Obama’s assessment of Rouhani’s commitment to change is wrong. From the Mehr News Agency comes this announcement of a new contest to draw Holocaust caricatures. The logic expressed by the Iranian government is that if Charlie Hebdo is allowed to insult the Prophet Muhammad, then the Iranians and anti-Semites worldwide should gave the right to ridicule Jews and victims of genocide.

Make no mistake: The Iranian government—let’s not disparage the Iranian people by linking them to the regime that oppresses them—does have that right. Free speech should be sacrosanct, and no one is going to shoot up Iranian newspapers or attack Iranian groceries because of it. At the same time, however, let’s make no mistake that the Iranian regime’s reaction—praising terrorism and ridiculing Jews—reflects its character far more truthfully than the nonsense espoused by President Obama and his proxies.

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New Syria Threat Requires U.S. Action

As far as the Obama administration is concerned, the only thing to worry about in Syria these days is the still potent ISIS terrorist movement that has occupied a large section of the country as well as one in Iraq. U.S. efforts to roll back ISIS’s enormous gains in the last year have fallen flat, but that failure has been accompanied by a tacit alliance with the Assad regime and its Iranian ally that has led Washington to forget that only a year and a half ago it was prepared to use force to compel Syria’s government to give up the chemical weapons it had used against civilians. But according to Germany’s Der Spiegel, Obama’s sleight-of-hand diplomacy may eventually blow up in our faces. According to the paper, the Syrians have, with help from Iran and North Korea, begun to reconstitute their WMD program. In particular, they are seeking rebuild the same nuclear program the Israelis took out with a pre-emptive strike in 2007. If so, instead of helping to rid the region of nukes, the administration may be acquiescing to a profoundly dangerous instance of proliferation.

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As far as the Obama administration is concerned, the only thing to worry about in Syria these days is the still potent ISIS terrorist movement that has occupied a large section of the country as well as one in Iraq. U.S. efforts to roll back ISIS’s enormous gains in the last year have fallen flat, but that failure has been accompanied by a tacit alliance with the Assad regime and its Iranian ally that has led Washington to forget that only a year and a half ago it was prepared to use force to compel Syria’s government to give up the chemical weapons it had used against civilians. But according to Germany’s Der Spiegel, Obama’s sleight-of-hand diplomacy may eventually blow up in our faces. According to the paper, the Syrians have, with help from Iran and North Korea, begun to reconstitute their WMD program. In particular, they are seeking rebuild the same nuclear program the Israelis took out with a pre-emptive strike in 2007. If so, instead of helping to rid the region of nukes, the administration may be acquiescing to a profoundly dangerous instance of proliferation.

The Syrians are denying the Der Spiegel report but their claim that it is all lies is no more to be trusted than anything else that emanates from that despotic and murderous regime. Far more credible are the allegations that Syria has used the cover of the civil war to begin the work of reassembling a WMD threat even as Assad claimed to be getting rid of his chemical weapons under the supervision of his Russian ally. This is shocking because Israel had thought it had put to rest the nuclear threat with a daring raid that took out the Syrians’ reactor. According to the German paper:

Analysts say that the Syrian atomic weapon program has continued in a secret, underground location. According to information they have obtained, approximately 8,000 fuel rods are stored there. Furthermore, a new reactor or an enrichment facility has very likely been built at the site — a development of incalculable geopolitical consequences.

Some of the uranium was apparently hidden for an extended period at Marj as-Sultan near Damascus, a site that the IAEA likewise views with suspicion. Satellite images from December 2012 and February 2013 show suspicious activity at Marj as-Sultan. The facility, located not far from a Syrian army base, had become the focal point of heavy fighting with rebels. Government troops had to quickly move everything of value. They did so, as intelligence officials have been able to reconstruct, with the help of Hezbollah, the radical Shiite “Party of God” based in Lebanon. The well-armed militia, which is largely financed by Iran, is fighting alongside Assad’s troops.

The report goes on to describe the effort as being largely the work of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and has been aided by North Korean advisers.

It should be conceded that no matter how much progress they’ve made in the last year, Syria is probably a long way from a bomb. But given Iranian involvement, the creation of this facility raises doubts about the efficacy of any nuclear deal with Tehran struck by an Obama administration eager for any agreement that could foster détente with the Islamist regime.

Just as dangerous is the thought that Assad, who is winning his civil war due as much to American indifference as to aid from Iran and Hezbollah, will not only survive but also emerge even more dangerous and powerful than he was before the rebellion against him began.

A Syria that is either on its way to becoming a nuclear threshold state or which will serve as a depository for an Iranian nuclear program that is forced to go partially underground by a sham deal with the West would, at best, be a destabilizing force in an already volatile region. At worst, it would be a standing invitation to a new war involving Israel, Hezbollah, and Hamas that sets the Middle East aflame.

The answer to this threat should be clear. The U.S. and its allies must either insist that this facility be shut down and destroyed or it must be taken out by air strikes either by Western forces or the Israelis, who continue to be available to do America’s dirty work in this regard.

But the most worrisome aspect of this issue is not only Assad’s determination to get back to the position of strength he occupied before the civil war. It’s that the U.S. policy in Syria is so deeply entwined with that of Iran and the Syrian government that it may not be possible to persuade Obama to act no matter what Damascus does. The administration seems intent on empowering Tehran and allowing it to keep its nuclear toys in the hope that this will cause it to abandon the pursuit of a weapon as well as allowing it to, in the president’s foolish phrase, “get right with the world.” But it appears détente with Iran may also mean a set of policies that causes the U.S. to acquiesce to a Syrian regime that is a danger to its own people and its neighbors. If there were ever a reason for the president to reevaluate a course that seems set for disaster, the news about Syria would seem to be it.

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Note to Obama: Iran Doesn’t Want to Get Right With the World

Most of the headlines generated by President Obama’s interview with NPR this week focused on his threat to veto bills passed by the new Republican Congress. But the president’s comments about Iran in the same piece deserve just as much scrutiny. When asked if he was considering opening an embassy in Tehran as he is planning to do in Havana, the president spoke of his commitment to engagement and diplomacy with Iran and of giving it an opportunity to “get right with the world” and become “a very successful regional power.” Anyone seeking to understand why Iran has been able to force the West to back down from its original positions in the talks making it likely that any deal will allow it to become a threshold nuclear power need only listen to Obama’s hopes. In speaking in this manner, once again the president demonstrated why he is Tehran’s best diplomatic asset.

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Most of the headlines generated by President Obama’s interview with NPR this week focused on his threat to veto bills passed by the new Republican Congress. But the president’s comments about Iran in the same piece deserve just as much scrutiny. When asked if he was considering opening an embassy in Tehran as he is planning to do in Havana, the president spoke of his commitment to engagement and diplomacy with Iran and of giving it an opportunity to “get right with the world” and become “a very successful regional power.” Anyone seeking to understand why Iran has been able to force the West to back down from its original positions in the talks making it likely that any deal will allow it to become a threshold nuclear power need only listen to Obama’s hopes. In speaking in this manner, once again the president demonstrated why he is Tehran’s best diplomatic asset.

To be fair, President Obama did not pretend as if his diplomatic dancing partners are boy scouts. He acknowledged Iran’s record of support for terrorism, its threats to the region and its work toward a nuclear weapon He insisted that the goal of diplomacy with that rogue nation was to ensure that it does not get a nuclear weapon or have a breakout capacity to get one. The problem with American policy toward Iran has never been Obama’s rhetoric. Rather, it has been the huge gap between his stated goals and the points that Iran has won throughout the negotiations.

Even President Obama’s current assurances do not measure up to his original positions. In his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney in 2012, he promised that any deal would result in eliminating Iran’s nuclear program. Now he speaks of accommodating its desire for a modest nuclear program for its energy needs and even of respecting its “legitimate defense concerns.” But as a major oil producer, Iran has no need for small nuclear power. As an aggressive and dangerous power in the region that has sought to dominate Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian territories with its terrorist auxiliaries and intimidate other moderate Arab countries, any talk of its “defense concerns” is equally absurd.

Iran’s leaders have made it clear that what they want is American acknowledgement of its hegemony in the region, not a chance to get right with the world. That Obama still refuses to see this has enabled Iran to expand its influence throughout the region with little fear of the consequences of what even the president acknowledged was its “adventurism.”

By insisting on forcing the U.S. to acknowledge its “right” to enrich uranium and to allow it to keep its nuclear infrastructure and its stockpile of fuel that could be re-activated to make a bomb, Iran has retained the ability to build a weapon. By keeping United Nations inspectors out of facilities where military research has gone on, it has also ensured that a breakout would be possible and not likely to be detected in time even assuming the West had the will to respond.

So long as Iran thinks Obama’s goal in these talks is détente rather than eliminating the nuclear threat it will continue, as it has throughout the process, to stand its ground and defend its ability to eventually build a bomb while Western sanctions are removed. It is Obama’s zeal for a deal that won Tehran limited sanctions relief last year and may cause the entire collapse of economic restrictions on doing business with the Islamist regime in 2015.

The president’s blind belief in diplomacy and engagement with a bad actor may be predicated on a belief that Iran wants to change. But no serious person can look at the nature of that regime or its policies and goals and believe that what Iran wants is to be a responsible player in a peaceful Middle East. The U.S. had an opportunity to ensure that the Iranian threat could be eliminated by economic sanctions. But Obama threw that leverage away last year in the interim nuclear deal and there appears little hope that it can be resurrected. The more Obama talks about a rosy future of U.S.-Iran relations, the less likely it will be that the Islamists will ever take America’s vows about stopping their nuclear ambitions seriously.

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Obama Falls For Iran’s ‘Good Cop’ Routine

Since winning election in 2013, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has been accorded sympathetic treatment in the foreign press. That his moderation was largely a fictional construct didn’t matter. All that mattered was that Iran had replaced a cartoonlike villain—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—with someone who could be called a moderate. That was bad enough when it came to whitewashing the regime he fronted before the nuclear talks began. However, Rouhani’s fake identity is crucial to the effort to sell the West on the need to appease Iran by signing a deal that would fail to prevent it from becoming a threshold nuclear power. The key to Iran’s success in the talks is for the U.S. to fall for Rouhani’s pose as the good cop resisting the evil influence of the “bad cop” hardliners.

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Since winning election in 2013, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has been accorded sympathetic treatment in the foreign press. That his moderation was largely a fictional construct didn’t matter. All that mattered was that Iran had replaced a cartoonlike villain—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—with someone who could be called a moderate. That was bad enough when it came to whitewashing the regime he fronted before the nuclear talks began. However, Rouhani’s fake identity is crucial to the effort to sell the West on the need to appease Iran by signing a deal that would fail to prevent it from becoming a threshold nuclear power. The key to Iran’s success in the talks is for the U.S. to fall for Rouhani’s pose as the good cop resisting the evil influence of the “bad cop” hardliners.

Rouhani was the least extreme of the set of loyal Islamists who were allowed to run for president but his victory served the purposes of the country’s radical rulers. His pose of moderation has always been more about the need to sell the world a narrative about Iran being on the cusp of change. It didn’t matter that the election that he won was hardly democratic or that he has no real power, which remains firmly in the hands of the country’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Nor did anyone care that Rouhani has a long record as a faithful servant of the radical Islamist regime, including a stint at diplomacy after which he boasted of his ability to deceive the West on the nuclear issue. Indeed, the secret talks conducted by the Obama administration that led to the interim nuclear deal signed last November preceded Rouhani’s victory.

Rouhani’s election hasn’t moderated Iran’s behavior either at home or abroad. The country remains a brutal tyranny that punishes dissent, either political or religious, without mercy and spews anti-Semitic hate. It has not ceased to support terrorism abroad and has used its Hezbollah auxiliaries as well as the regime’s own forces to help ally Bashar Assad defend his reign of terror in Syria by slaughtering opponents. And it has continued to defy the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors who want to find out what’s going in its nuclear military research sites.

It is true that there are competing factions within Iran and some of them would like to see Rouhani and his friends fall. That has allowed credulous foreign journalists to buy into the narrative about the moderate Rouhani championing accommodation with the West while the hardliners seek to shut down the nuclear talks. This leads to articles like the one published in today’s New York Times that centers on Rouhani’s pledges to resist his opponents and fight for a nuclear deal that would end sanctions on Iran. Some within the regime are so distrustful of the West that even the sham of a détente with the United States is unacceptable to them.

But the problem with this narrative is that the two sides have the same goal: a nuclear Iran and a U.S. retreat from the region allowing the regime to exercise hegemony in a way that would destabilize and endanger U.S. allies.

Appeasing Iran sufficiently in order to allow Rouhani to tell his opponents that he had bested the U.S. would give President Obama an agreement that he could attempt to portray as a badly needed foreign-policy triumph. But what the president and his foreign-policy team miss in their zeal for a deal is that lifting sanctions and making Rouhani a hero in Iran won’t make that nation less murderous either at home or abroad. Iran’s failing economy and plunging oil prices give the president an opportunity to press the regime to make real concessions on the nuclear issue that would truly end the threat. But rather than risk a confrontation that would force it to give up their nuclear infrastructure, the president, with his press cheering section aiding his cause, seems more worried about helping Rouhani.

The good Iranian cop may have his differences with the bad ones that are closer in many ways to Khamenei. But the U.S. ought to be indifferent as to which Islamist faction rules in Tehran. Rouhani won’t bring freedom to Iran or give up its deadly foreign ambitions to undermine moderate Arab governments and to destroy Israel. Rather than worrying about his factional fights, U.S. negotiators should not be fooled by this transparent charade. But so long as Rouhani can count on Obama and friendly outlets like the Times to make his case for him, the chances that any deal reached will actually prevent Iran from eventually getting a bomb seem small.

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In Nuke Talks, Obama Still Iran’s Best Asset

For the first time since the Iran nuclear talks were extended for the second time last month, the United States and its allies will meet again with Tehran’s negotiators in Vienna on Wednesday. To listen to public statements from the Obama administration, the allied team will be there to insist on a deal that will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But the same factors that have tilted these negotiations in Iran’s direction throughout the process still seem to be pushing the outcome toward an agreement that will be touted as a desperately needed foreign-policy triumph for the administration. With both the French becoming more vocal about their dissatisfaction with America’s leadership in the talks and the Islamist regime making no secret of their unwillingness to make more concessions, the question facing the negotiators is not so much whether a deal is possible, but whether the U.S. is able to resist the temptation to continue giving ground to the Iranians in order to get a deal at virtually any price.

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For the first time since the Iran nuclear talks were extended for the second time last month, the United States and its allies will meet again with Tehran’s negotiators in Vienna on Wednesday. To listen to public statements from the Obama administration, the allied team will be there to insist on a deal that will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But the same factors that have tilted these negotiations in Iran’s direction throughout the process still seem to be pushing the outcome toward an agreement that will be touted as a desperately needed foreign-policy triumph for the administration. With both the French becoming more vocal about their dissatisfaction with America’s leadership in the talks and the Islamist regime making no secret of their unwillingness to make more concessions, the question facing the negotiators is not so much whether a deal is possible, but whether the U.S. is able to resist the temptation to continue giving ground to the Iranians in order to get a deal at virtually any price.

As the next round of talks begins, observers need to think back to the allies’ position prior to the signing of the interim deal to understand just how far the U.S. has retreated from its current perilous position. In 2012 when he was running for reelection, President Obama vowed during his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney that any deal must end Iran’s nuclear program. The allies were similarly united behind a position that Iran had no right to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel under any circumstances and that its plutonium plant at Arak must be dismantled.

Since then, the U.S. has accepted the notion that Iran has the right to a nuclear program and that its infrastructure will remain largely in place no matter what the terms of an agreement might say. It has also tacitly recognized Iran’s right to enrichment while claiming that the low levels permitted freeze its progress toward a bomb even though everyone knows these restrictions can easily be reversed. The U.S. has also given every indication it will allow Iran to keep its centrifuges as well as showing no sign that it will press Tehran to give up its plutonium option or stop producing ballistic missiles whose only purpose would be to deliver nuclear warheads. Even worse, the administration seems to be giving up any effort to find out just how much progress the Iranians have made toward weaponizing their nuclear project or to force them to admit International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to get the answers to this vital question.

Based on the experience of the last year and a half of talking with Obama’s envoys, Iran’s negotiators know they only have to stand their ground and it’s only a matter of time until the Americans give in to their demands one by one until they get terms that will let them become a nuclear threshold power as well as lifting the economic sanctions that continue to cripple Iran’s economy.

That the Iranian people are clamoring for an end to the sanctions is clear. As the New York Times reported on Friday, anticipation of the collapse of the restrictions is the talk of Tehran. The eagerness of their would-be European trading partners is just as vocal. In theory, this desire to reconnect Iran to the global economy ought to give the U.S. the leverage to make the Iranians give up their nuclear ambitions. On top of that, the collapse of the price of oil should have Iran even more desperate and the position of the allies even stronger.

But the Iranians know whom they are dealing with. As has become increasingly clear in the last year in which the talks went into two overtime periods despite administration promises that the talks would be finite in length, President Obama’s goal is not so much to fulfill his campaign promise about the nuclear threat as it is to launch a new détente with the Iran. This is a crucial point since it not only makes him more reluctant to stick to Western demands about nuclear issues but makes it impossible for him to contemplate abandoning the negotiations. That means that the Iranians know the president isn’t even thinking, as he should be, of ratcheting up the economic pressure with tougher sanctions, or of making the Islamists fear the possibility that the U.S. would ever use force to ensure the threat is eliminated.

Under these conditions the chances of the U.S. negotiating a deal that could actually stop Iran from ever getting a bomb are slim and none. Instead, the only question remains how far the Iranians are willing to press the president to bend to their will in order to let him declare a victory and welcome this terrorist-sponsoring regime moving closer to regional hegemony as well as a nuclear weapon.

Rather than the renewed diplomacy being a signal for congressional critics from both parties of the president’s policy to pipe down, the new talks should encourage them to work harder to pass the sanctions the president claims he doesn’t need. Unless they act, the path to appeasement of Iran seems to be clear.

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Do Americans Favor Appeasing Iran?

One of the foundations of President Obama’s push for détente with Iran is the assumption that Americans have had enough of conflicts in the Middle East. By seeking to strike a deal with Tehran on its nuclear-weapons program, the administration hopes to eliminate the chance of a confrontation with the Islamist regime on the issue. In order to defeat a campaign for tougher sanctions on Iran last year, Obama labeled critics of his weak interim deal with Iran as “warmongers,” an epithet that is considered to be an all-purpose argument winner in the aftermath of the Iraq war. But are those assumptions correct? According to pollster Frank Luntz, Americans are far more wary of appeasing Iran or allowing it to become a threshold nuclear power than the president and his supporters think.

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One of the foundations of President Obama’s push for détente with Iran is the assumption that Americans have had enough of conflicts in the Middle East. By seeking to strike a deal with Tehran on its nuclear-weapons program, the administration hopes to eliminate the chance of a confrontation with the Islamist regime on the issue. In order to defeat a campaign for tougher sanctions on Iran last year, Obama labeled critics of his weak interim deal with Iran as “warmongers,” an epithet that is considered to be an all-purpose argument winner in the aftermath of the Iraq war. But are those assumptions correct? According to pollster Frank Luntz, Americans are far more wary of appeasing Iran or allowing it to become a threshold nuclear power than the president and his supporters think.

According to a story in the Times of Israel, the veteran analyst claims a new poll shows that 69 percent of Americans oppose a deal with Iran leaving it with nuclear capabilities. This is significant, because even if we assume that Iran will eventually sign a new nuclear pact rather than just continuing to run out the clock by stalling Western negotiators as they have done for the last year, such a deal in which the Iranians keep their program is exactly what Secretary of State John Kerry is likely to bring home from the talks.

Just as important, the survey showed that huge majorities of Americans believe Iran is not negotiating in good faith and can’t be trusted to abide by any agreement it might sign. The poll also shows that 62 percent believe Iran is an enemy of the U.S.

These numbers should embolden Congress to act now to pass new sanctions that would both strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks as well as to make it clear that a return to a policy of pressure rather than appeasement is the only way to halt the nuclear threat short of using force.

It is true that even if we take these poll numbers into account, there probably isn’t much appetite for a new confrontation with Iran or even much interest in the issue, especially when compared with domestic issues. But the free ride that the president has been enjoying during the last two years as he fecklessly pursued détente with the ayatollahs may not last forever. Rather than going to sleep on foreign policy, the American people are genuinely alarmed about the way the president’s policy of retreat in the Middle East—of which his Iran engagement has been a central plank—has created new crises, facilitated the rise of ISIS, and made the world less safe. Indeed, Luntz’s poll shows that Americans think the world is more dangerous than it was under George W. Bush, a startling result considering that Obama rode into the White House by riding a tide of anger about the Iraq war.

These numbers don’t show that Americans want war with Iran. Nobody and certainly not those calling for tougher sanctions on Iran want that. But it does mean that the belief that the administration can sell any sort of nuclear deal with Iran to the public is misplaced. Americans rightly fear Iran and know that any deal that allows them to become a threshold nuclear power is not something that is compatible with the defense of U.S. security. After the rise of ISIS and the collapse of confidence in Obama’s foreign policy, the administration will have to do more than merely label critics of its Iran policy as warmongers if they wish to prevail.

The debate on Iran is only just beginning. Those who think that it can be squelched have not taken into account the fact that most Americans rightly fear the ayatollahs and don’t want their government to turn a blind eye to a nuclear program that threatens to destabilize the region and plunge the Middle East into even worse turmoil.

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Obama’s Iran Promises Ring Hollow

At yesterday’s post-midterm elections news conference President Obama was also asked about the nuclear negotiations with Iran. His reply was consistent with the rhetoric he has been using about this subject since he first was running for president in 2008. He told the country his goal was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that no deal with Tehran was better than a bad deal. As with most everything else he has said on the subject during his presidency, this is an exemplary statement of what America’s policy should be. The only problem is that his actions flatly contradict this pronouncement. While that fact was already no secret, today’s revelations about the president carrying on a correspondence with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further undermines his narrative about being tough with the Islamist regime.

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At yesterday’s post-midterm elections news conference President Obama was also asked about the nuclear negotiations with Iran. His reply was consistent with the rhetoric he has been using about this subject since he first was running for president in 2008. He told the country his goal was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that no deal with Tehran was better than a bad deal. As with most everything else he has said on the subject during his presidency, this is an exemplary statement of what America’s policy should be. The only problem is that his actions flatly contradict this pronouncement. While that fact was already no secret, today’s revelations about the president carrying on a correspondence with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further undermines his narrative about being tough with the Islamist regime.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama wrote to the Iranian leader in the context of the campaign against ISIS in Iraq, a common enemy of both the U.S. and the Islamist regime. The content of the letters as reported by the Journal is not as much a concern as the fact that the administration has kept its key allies in the Middle East, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates out of the loop on the correspondence much as it did last year when the U.S. conducted secret talks with Tehran in order to facilitate the interim nuclear accord signed last November. President Obama apparently is far more interested in ingratiating himself with Khamenei than with Israel.

This news casts a shadow over the president’s assurances given in his press conference yesterday about Iran. The president said that the U.S. would learn whether a deal could be obtained with Iran sometime in the “next several weeks.” But what Iran has already learned about U.S. policy in the last two years is that the best thing they have going for them in the talks is that the president’s obsession with creating a new détente with the regime always outweighs his supposed commitment to stopping them. Though he boasted of how tough he has been on them—taking credit for economic sanctions that he opposed tooth and nail prior to their adoption—the record of the past six years is quite different. The president jettisoned America’s considerable economic and military leverage over Iran last year when he agreed to tacitly recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and allowed them to keep their nuclear infrastructure.

In the follow-up talks conducted this year, which have predictably gone into overtime far past the original timeline and may well extend beyond the new November 24 deadline, he has offered even more concessions, including absurd proposals about disconnecting the pipes that link the centrifuges spinning the nuclear fuel. He continues to buy into the lie that Iran seeks nuclear power for its “peaceful energy needs”—a joke considering its oil reserves—and seems more interested in reintegrating the brutal, anti-Semitic regime back into the international economy than in halting their support of terrorism or forcing them to stop building missiles that couldn’t threaten the West as well as Israel and moderate Arabs.

The president has continued to frame opponents of his weak diplomacy as seeking war, a point he alluded to in his remarks. But the real alternative to Obama’s campaign of appeasement was the tougher sanctions proposed by a bipartisan congressional coalition that he expended considerable political capital to defeat last year.

The problem isn’t whether the Iranians will sign a deal either before November 24 or after it. It is, rather, why the U.S. has abandoned the stance the president enunciated in his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney when he said any agreement must result in the end of Iran’s nuclear program. Last year’s interim agreement ensured that its nuclear program would survive. If the leaks coming out of the current talks are right, there’s little doubt that the sanctions will be lifted (by Obama simply ordering them not to be enforced rather than by congressional vote as required by law) in exchange for measures that will do nothing to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state. But, as he did last year, the president will claim victory and count on his press cheerleaders to back up his assertions that critics are warmongers.

As troubling as the letters to Khamenei may be, it is Obama’s diplomatic initiative that is the real threat to America’s Middle East allies as well as to the long-term security interests of the West. What those worried about this threat need are not more hollow promises from the president but transparency about an appeasement strategy.

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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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Is There a Tacit Obama-Iran Alliance?

One of the most important sidebars to the furor over the decision of two “senior administration officials” to tell columnist Jeffrey Goldberg that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a “chickenshit” coward was their boast that he had missed his chance to prevent them from making a weak deal allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear state. Aside from the general discussion about an administration that is diffident about criticizing actual enemies of the United States choosing to lob outrageous insults at America’s sole democratic ally is the question whether this was a part of an effort to pre-empt Israeli criticism of a weak Iran nuclear deal or was merely just another instance of the Obama foreign policy team’s lack of discipline and incompetence. The Washington Post editorial page has weighed in on behalf of the latter point of view. But unfortunately there is good reason to think this latest administration attack on Israel was part of a calculated strategy on Iran.

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One of the most important sidebars to the furor over the decision of two “senior administration officials” to tell columnist Jeffrey Goldberg that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a “chickenshit” coward was their boast that he had missed his chance to prevent them from making a weak deal allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear state. Aside from the general discussion about an administration that is diffident about criticizing actual enemies of the United States choosing to lob outrageous insults at America’s sole democratic ally is the question whether this was a part of an effort to pre-empt Israeli criticism of a weak Iran nuclear deal or was merely just another instance of the Obama foreign policy team’s lack of discipline and incompetence. The Washington Post editorial page has weighed in on behalf of the latter point of view. But unfortunately there is good reason to think this latest administration attack on Israel was part of a calculated strategy on Iran.

That President Obama has considered engagement with Iran as one of his foreign-policy priorities since coming to office is no secret. But that assumption was given further credence on Friday when the Washington Free Beacon reported on a tape of a talk given by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes (one of those suspected of being one of the sources for Goldberg’s infamous column) in which he declared that an Iran deal would be the most important objective of the president’s second term and the moral equivalent of ObamaCare as an administration priority.

But we didn’t need Rhodes to tell us that. In signing an interim nuclear deal last year with Tehran that did nothing to force it to give up its nuclear infrastructure or long-term hopes of a weapon, he threw away the West’s considerable economic and military leverage and began a process of unraveling sanctions. But in order to seal a final deal with Iran—assuming, that is, that the Islamist regime deigns to sign one rather than merely keep running out the clock as Obama vainly pursues them—he must do two things: overcome considerable bipartisan opposition from Congress and make sure that Israel and/or moderate Arab regimes equally scared by the Iranians aren’t able to scuttle an agreement.

The president’s formula for achieving this dubious goal is clear.

On the one hand, he will try to forge an agreement that will not require congressional approval. That will be no easy task as the Constitution requires the Senate to approve any treaty with a foreign power and only Congress can repeal the economic sanctions it passed in recent years. But as we already know this isn’t a president that is troubled much by having to tread on the Constitution or violate the law. He will, as has already been reported, attempt to portray an Iran deal as something other than a new treaty. He will also use his executive power to suspend enforcement of sanctions, perhaps indefinitely, in order to render existing laws null and void.

As for Israel, as Goldberg’s column indicated, the administration thinks they’ve already won since Netanyahu failed to order an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities during the president’s first term.

So where does this leave us?

According to the Washington Post editorial, Goldberg’s column was merely an indication of the loose tongues that operate in the West Wing. Assuming that the assault on Netanyahu’s character and the gloating about Israel’s inability to stop U.S. efforts to appease Iran was, in its view, giving the “White House too much credit for calculation” since the insults would make it harder for the U.S. to “reach an accommodation with Israel on Iran and settlements.”

But as the record of the last six years and Rhodes’s indiscreet talk verifies, this administration isn’t interested in an accommodation with Israel on key issues. Rather it seeks to crush Israel’s efforts to resist détente with Iran as well as to muscle it on the peace process with the Palestinians even though the latter have frustrated the administration by steadfastly refusing to make peace on even the most favorable of terms on a diplomatic playing field tilted in their direction by the White House.

Goals often dictate not only tactics employed but also the character of the conflict. Having set reconciliation with Iran as one of his chief objectives—something that was made clear in the president’s first inaugural address and reaffirmed by his subsequent decisions on the long running diplomatic engagement he has pursued—Obama has determined that achieving it is worth sacrificing the United States’ close relations with Israel as well as enraging Arab states that have, to their surprise, found themselves aligned with Israel on this issue rather than the Americans.

Though the administration has been rightly criticized for its habit of equivocation on foreign-policy crises, its single-minded determination to outmaneuver the Israelis on Iran while never giving up on efforts to appease the Islamist regime has been impressive. Having thrown away its previous positions on stopping Iran’s nuclear enrichment or dismantling its nuclear program (as President Obama vowed in his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney in 2012), it will clearly stop at nothing to get a deal if one is to be had.

Rather than a reset with Israel as the Post advises, Obama has something else in mind. While it may be going too far to say that the administration thinks of itself as entering into an alliance with the Iranians, the bottom line here is that the new Middle East that it envisions after an Iran deal is one in which traditional U.S. allies will be marginalized and endangered while Tehran and its terrorist allies will be immeasurably strengthened. The administration can only achieve that dubious goal by working assiduously against Israel and the bipartisan coalition that backs the alliance with the Jewish state in Congress.

It remains to be seen whether the next Congress will sit back and allow the administration to achieve a détente with the Islamic Republic that will amount to a new tacit U.S.-Iran alliance at the expense of the Jewish state. But whether Congress acts or not (and if the Senate is controlled by the Republicans it is far more likely to be able to thwart the president’s objectives), let no one say that we haven’t been warned about what was about to unfold.

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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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Assessing the Iran Appeasement Project

Supporters of détente with Iran can almost taste it. After years of having to listen to even a liberal Democratic president vow to stop the Islamist regime’s drive for nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, Tehran’s apologists are tantalized by the prospect that President Obama will go all the way and sign on to a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran that will, they hope, put an end to the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. If true, it will mark a major victory for Iran and present a clear and present danger to both the West and Israel as the regime will be immeasurably strengthened and undeterred from its nuclear dreams.

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Supporters of détente with Iran can almost taste it. After years of having to listen to even a liberal Democratic president vow to stop the Islamist regime’s drive for nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, Tehran’s apologists are tantalized by the prospect that President Obama will go all the way and sign on to a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran that will, they hope, put an end to the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. If true, it will mark a major victory for Iran and present a clear and present danger to both the West and Israel as the regime will be immeasurably strengthened and undeterred from its nuclear dreams.

But though such a pact is not yet signed, Laura Rozen, one of the leading cheerleaders for this effort, writes in Al Monitor today that a lot of the credit (or blame, depending on your point of view, belongs to William Luers of the United Nations Association. While future historians probably label Luers as a minor figure among this generation’s Guilty Men who worked to appease a dangerous and possibly genocidal rising power, especially when compared to the central role played by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. But Luers’ work to normalize a government that ought to remain beyond the pale for decent people nevertheless deserves thorough scrutiny.

Luers, 85, is a former veteran diplomat who served in Moscow as head of the State Department’s Soviet Affairs desk and later as ambassador to Czechoslovakia before the fall of the Communist empire. In the last decade, however, he has devoted himself to fostering good relations with Iran, and becoming according to Rozen’s sources, the driving force behind a “track 2 dialogue” bringing together members of the Iranian regime with Americans. Luers and those backing his effort have also promoted The Iran Project, a think tank devoted to Iran détente and pooh-poohing concerns about the nuclear threat from Tehran.

The Iran Project is backed by major figures within the U.S. foreign policy establishment and has found an eager audience in the media for its reports downplaying the Iranian threat and promoting the virtues of friendship with the ayatollahs even as the regime’s domestic oppression and promotion of terror abroad has increased. More importantly, it has played a not insignificant role in convincing the Obama administration to abandon the president’s pledges to end Iran’s nuclear program and isolate the rogue regime and to pursue the current diplomatic track that Luers and his friends believe is so close to a happy conclusion.

What was the secret to their success?

First, it must be admitted that they have worked the system perfectly in championing the notion of a newly moderate Iran, a campaign that received a major boost when the seemingly more moderate and reasonable Hassan Rouhani replaced the seemingly irrational Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran last year. Since President Obama came into office determined to pursue a policy of “engagement” with Iran only to be repeatedly rebuffed by the Islamists. But advocates of the notion that Iran was only waiting to be embraced by the U.S. didn’t have to struggle too hard to get both the president and Kerry to try again. Their zeal for a deal overcame their common sense and the West wound up forfeiting the enormous economic and political leverage it had over Iran when an interim nuclear agreement was signed last November. That deal didn’t significantly lessen Iran’s ability to build a bomb but it did start the process of unraveling the international sanctions on the regime that had been so painstakingly built up in previous years.

Second, Luers and company worked hard to cause opinion makers and administration officials ignore the truth about Iran. The idea of Iranian moderation, whether in the form of Rouhani, a veteran regime official who has boasted of deceiving Western negotiators in the past or others taking part in back channel talks sponsored by the appeasers, was always farcical. There has been no change in Iranian policies either at home (where oppression of dissidents is no less fierce than before and official anti-Semitism is rampant) or abroad (as Iran’s terrorist auxiliaries continue to kill and its rogue ally Assad butchers hundreds of thousands of innocents) in the last year. But the point of the Iran Project isn’t to highlight actual change but to promote the idea that the act of diplomacy will itself start the process of making Iran more peaceful.

In Luers’ world Iran is not a hostile power driven by extreme Islamist ideology, bent on regional hegemony and determined to use terror and armed force to intimidate moderate neighbors and support those bent on Israel’s destruction but a reasonable government just waiting for the right offer to be welcomed into the community of nations. In other words, appeasement of this evil government is just a rational response to a difficult problem that can be solved by diplomacy.

This is disturbing enough but what comes across in Rozen’s adoring article about Luers is the diplomat’s indifference to the dangers of the course that he has helped chart. The Iran Project has worked hard to emphasize the downside of confronting Iran over its nuclear effort but done little to point out the hazards of a policy of appeasement.

Interestingly, Rozen points out that Luers befriended Vaclav Havel when the latter was a dissident during the era of Communist rule in Prague. But we hear nothing about a similar effort to support those working to change regimes in Tehran. Indeed, the last thing the Iran Project seems interested in is anything that seeks to undermine the despotic rule of the ayatollahs. As with those who opposed President Ronald Reagan’s labeling of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” the Iran appeasers will hear no evil about their negotiating partners even if it means whitewashing a dangerous theocracy bent on obtaining a nuclear weapon.

If a nuclear deal is signed, it will be a triumph for Luers but it will not mark a new period of understanding between Iran and the United States. Iran’s character is as unchanged as its dangerous strategic goals. The only thing that will be altered is the West’s ability to resist an Islamist regime whose nuclear ambition will, at the very least, signal the start of an era of increased instability in the Middle East and bloodshed that will be worsened by the power the appeasers are handing Tehran.

Instead of celebrating Luers, honest observers should be ignoring his advice and pleading with the president to step back from this course of appeasement before it is too late to reverse the damage to Western security that has already been caused.

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