To Obama, Israel is the real problem in the Mid East

You know something is fundamentally wrong when the United States is playing hardball with its only ally in the Mid-East (outside of Iraq -- thank you, George Bush!) -- while giving Iran a veritable pass in its on-going efforts to build nuclear weapons. Why is the U.S. giving Israel a hard time? Because it had the temerity this past week to announce that it was going to pursue more construction in its capital city (Jerusalem) that was beyond the artificial "green line" border that marks the boundary left over from the 1967 war. Israel is, of course, a sovereign nation and this is (of course) an internal decision that is (frankly) none of the United States' business. Right?

Well, not exactly. You see, the Obama Administration sees Israel as the evil-doer in the region, and believes that if it weren't for Israel settlements and Israeli aggression, peace would be at hand. As Jennifer Rubin at Commentary Magazine writes, the "Obami's" (as she calls them) have now left it up to political Chicago players David Axelrod to go on national TV to chide the Israelis for having the gumption to defy "The Messiah's" wishes that Israel lie prostrate in front of Hamas and the Palestinians and beg for their lives:

The White House is, as this report suggests, upping the ante with continued criticism of Israel. Taking to the morning talk shows, David Axelrod — a political operative who now seems at the center of foreign-policy formulation (more on this later) — went on the Fox, ABC, and NBC Sunday talk shows to repeat how insulted the Obami were over Israeli building in Jerusalem and what an affront this was to them.

The reaction of the Obami is even more startling considering the location and strategic importance of Ramat Shlomo. But this administration doesn’t make such fine distinctions and is not like past ones, we are learning. It might have something to do with the fact that Axelrod and the Chicago pols are running foreign policy. It’s attack, attack, attack — just as they do any domestic critic (even the Supreme Court Chief Justice). It’s about bullying and discrediting, trying to force the opponent into a corner. And in this case, their opponent is plainly the Israeli government. For that is the party the Obami is now demanding make further concessions to… well, to what end is not clear. Perhaps we are back to regime change — an effort to topple the duly elected government of Israel to obtain a negotiating partner more willing to yield to American bullying.

The language the Obami employ – ”personal,” “insulting,” and “affront” – suggests an unusual degree of personal peevishness and hostility toward an ally. That, I suppose, is the mentality of Chicago pols and of those who regard Israel not as a valued friend but as an irritant. And it is the language not of negotiators but of intimidators.

Does this strike anyone other than me to be the height of hubris? The notion that Obama would be personally affronted by the actions of an democratic ally in a region that has nothing but monarchs, despots and terrorists? It also again reinforces that there is a strong anti-Israel lobby within the Obama Administration -- which is not surprising, since the liberal intelligentsia (oxymoron) and academic infrastructure that animates the Obama White House and foreign policy establishment is generally unsympathetic to Israel, if not down right hostile. The truth is that conservatives and Republicans have always been a better friend to Israel than has the left -- even as Jews vote for Democrats over Republicans by a 90-10 margin. Makes no sense -- but that's the deal!

In any event, the irony that Obama would be beating up Israel while the Mullahs in Iran continue their "centrifuge party" in Tehran is quite amazing. We have an Islamic revolutionary state that is trying to wage war against its neighbors while oppressing democracy at home and what is Obama excited about? Israel builing a few more homes in Jerusalem? Are you serious?

Here's a quote from Rubin's piece that sums this up nicely. From Illinois Rep Mark Kirk (now a Senate candidate):

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, making it official United States policy that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel,” Congressman Kirk said. “As a staff member, I helped draft this historic legislation; as a Congressman I continue to urge its enforcement. History teaches us that a divided Jerusalem leads to conflict while a unified Jerusalem protects the rights of all faiths. I urge the Administration to spend more time working to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs and less time concerned with zoning issues in Jerusalem. As Iran accelerates its uranium enrichment, we should not be condemning one of America’s strongest democratic allies in the Middle East.

Couldn't have said it any better myself. The reality here is that Obama still believes that a lasting peace is possible with the Palestinians and their terrorist leaders, and the if only Israel would concede and appease, progress would be made.

Wait a minute: haven't we seen this play before? Didn't Ehud Barak offer up to Arafat a two-state solution with virtually every concession that Arafat (supposedly) wanted? And what happened? Did the Palestinians choose peace?

Up is down and down is up and through a looking glass we go (again and again)!

Iran 2010: Threat & Opportunity

(Washington, Jan. 17) When judgment is rendered on the success or failure of U.S. foreign policy in 2010 the verdict will depend more than anything on the outcome of our confrontation with Iran. The threat to U.S. global interests from Iran is immense, but so too is the opportunity for a historic and transformational advancement of those interests. Converging circumstances in both Washington and Teheran strongly suggest that a decisive turning point is at hand.

The sudden leap of Yemen onto the front pages of U.S. newspapers has underlined how far reaching are the dangers Iran poses for the United States and its allies. Both the Bush and Obama administrations chose to narrow the focus on Iran to that country’s nuclear ambitions correctly seeing that issue as the most critical and most likely to rally international support.

The fact that Iran by supplying sophisticated weaponry to its proxies in both Iraq and Afghanistan is killing American soldiers has been downplayed by both administrations. The fact that murderous violence aimed at Israel and the United States in Lebanon, the West Bank, Gaza, and Yemen has been powerfully fueled by Teheran’s money and fanatical ideology has similarly been acknowledged but in a very low key.

Both Bush and Obama repeatedly denounced the wickedness of al-Qaeda but failed to connect the dots regarding the obvious implications of the religious zealotry and violent strategies that are common to Bin-Laden and the Iranian mullahs e.g. pathological hatred of Israel, predilection for blowing people up, and determination to take the battle to the heartland of the Great Satan America.

Bush’s Iran strategy was to isolate and not talk to them. Obama reversed field and opted for engagement. Both approaches utterly failed to modify Iranian objectives; Teheran’s response to both isolation and engagement has been a mix of arrogance, insult, and continued bad behavior culminating most recently in Ahmadinejad’s bombastic demand that Israel and America give up their own nuclear weapons as a precondition for any Iranian response.

Obama’s oft declared end of year deadline for positive Iranian response has come and gone. He now must be prepared to implement those “serious consequences” he has long spoken of. This will not be easy, particularly in light of China’s recent declared intention of using its veto to block sanctions in the United Nations Security Council.

Given the U.N’s almost limitless capacity for procrastination Obama’s best hope for support lies with the European Union, but despite encouraging rhetoric from Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy, action from that multi-lateral body is far from certain.

In the end Obama must consider an approach he has long decried: unilateral United States action.

So, amidst these growing threats, where is the grand opportunity?

It principally lies in the very realistic chance of achieving “regime change” in Iran by boldly siding with the growing opposition in that country. Once they merely sought honest elections. Now clearly their goal is the overthrow of the dictatorship. The Iranian people- now chanting in street demonstrations “Obama, are you with us or them?” – are the most educated and sophisticated populace between Israel and India and as they showed in 1979 they have the capacity to bring down an intolerable regime.

In his Nobel Address President Obama eloquently stated some realities that much of the world sometimes forgets. He said that evil exists, and that peaceful means would not have stopped Hitler and will not stop al- Qaeda. He reminded his audience that American power had for half a century been the principal guarantor of their freedom, and while collective security is always preferred, sometimes one nation i.e. the United Stated must act alone.

Many saw President Obama’s speech as a justification of his Afghan escalation, but he was also laying down a marker for Iran and clearly signaling that he was ready for a major course correction is his own approach to world affairs.

Absent a pathologically hostile regime in Iran, U.S. foreign policy challenges from Pakistan to Israel dramatically shift in our favor, the entire Middle East is transformed, and U.S. global influence, and the cause of freedom reaches a pinnacle unmatched since the Second World War.

Heady stuff. Not easy, not certain, but once again History offers America an opportunity to be the great catalyst for human progress. Bill Moloney was Colorado Education Commissioner, 1997-2007. His columns have appeared in the Wall St Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post.

Will Obama blink on Iran?

This morning the New York Times reports that (surprise!) Iran has rejected the deal its negotiators agreed to last week that would have compelled Iran to ship its uranium to Russia for enrichmentinto fuel rods that could be used only in nuclear power plants. Leaving aside the (significant) question as to whether Russia could be trusted as a partner in this program, the agreement that was supposedly reached by the IAEA and Iran in Vienna promised to at the very least slow down Iran's bomb making program, "buying time" for Obama and the Europeans to figure out a way to resolve the nuclear "standoff" peaceably. Many news outlets had praised the apparent agreement in Vienna as a major step forward in the Obama Administration's diplomacy-centered foreign policy. Oops. Not so fast. The Iranian theocracy has apparently nixed the agreement, putting yet another spin on the on-again, off-again diplomatic machinations of dealing with the Iranians. This cannot seriously be a surprise to Barack Obama, who though living largely in a fantasy world of his own making, has to be aware of the past decade of smoke and mirrors that has marked U.S. engagement with Iran. As I have written many times, Iran's nuclear program is really non-negotiable -- so any pretense to serious discussions on it are bound to be met with failure. This has not, of course, kept the great Obama from trying to bend metal with his brain, or to use his x-ray vision and leap tall buildings in a single bound. But it should be of no surprise that the results with Iran are the same as those that confronted George W. Bush -- even in the midst of Obama's fig leaf to the Mullahs that he's ready to listen to their myriad grievances, etc.

So now that the Iranian's have apparently given Obama the proverbial finger, what's next? If his grand plan for engagement fails (as it inevitably will), will Obama be able to play hardball? Robert Kagan at the Washington Post asks this very question, and comes to the conclusion that Iran is clearly testing Obama to see whether he will blink -- and whether Tehran's friends in Moscow will be persuaded to launch sanctions that truly have a bite:

Tehran is obviously probing to see whether President Obama can play hardball or whether he can be played. If Obama has any hope of getting anywhere with the mullahs, he needs to show them he means business, now, and immediately begin imposing new sanctions.

This is precisely correct -- and the key now will be Obama's response to the Iranian rejection. Will be move forward aggressively to put together a program of aggressive penalties for Iran's non-compliance? Will he move to put a credible military option back on the table to show Iran that he means business? Can he play hardball?

For Kagan, it is an open question:

Many of us worry that, for Obama, engagement is an end in itself, not a means to an end. We worry that every time Iran rejects one proposal, the president will simply resume negotiations on another proposal and that this will continue right up until the day Iran finally tests its first nuclear weapon, at which point the president will simply begin negotiations again to try to persuade Iran to put its nuclear genie back in the bottle.

This is exactly my fear: that our president is a talker, and lacks the steel in his spine to move forcefully against this real and present threat to security in the Middle East. And as for Russia -- it is equally clear that Putin is working Obama as effectively as the Mullah's are:

Russia, meanwhile, will continue to be accommodated as a partner in this effort, on the perpetually untested theory that if Obama ever did decide to get tough with Iran, Moscow would join in. Russia thus reaps all the rewards of engagement without ever having to make a difficult decision.

This is a bad spot to be in: Iran continues to buy time to further its enrichment program, and we continue to court an "ally" in Russia that has its own economic stake in maintaining productive relations with Iran. We are caught in the middle, being played by both sides.

The rubber has hit the road concerning Obama's "talk first" policy on Iran.   Will we now get run over?

We're talking. But do we speak the same language?

Finally! A national news outlet has published a piece on something I have been railing about for the past several years: the futility of more negotiations with Iran. As Michael Ledeen writes in today's WSJ: "We've Been Talking to Iran for 30 Years".  And what do we have to show for all that talk? Absolutely zilch. Nada. Nothing.

It all began with Jimmy Carter after the fall of the Shah in 1979. In an effort to "reach out and engage" the Ayatollah Khomeini and his new revolution, Carter offered "aid, arms and understanding". And what did we get in return? A siege of our Embassy in Tehran and a year-long hostage crisis.

A lot of good that did us.

And it goes on -- every administration since has tried (and failed) to negotiate with Tehran. Here's what Ledeen says about the George W. Bush years -- the administration that was notorious for its (supposed) unwillingness to negotiate: Most recently, the administration of George W. Bush—invariably and falsely described as being totally unwilling to talk to the mullahs—negotiated extensively with Tehran. There were scores of publicly reported meetings, and at least one very secret series of negotiations. These negotiations have rarely been described in the American press, even though they are the subject of a BBC documentary titled "Iran and the West."

At the urging of British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, the U.S. negotiated extensively with Ali Larijani, then-secretary of Iran's National Security Council. By September 2006, an agreement had seemingly been reached. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Nicholas Burns, her top Middle East aide, flew to New York to await the promised arrival of an Iranian delegation, for whom some 300 visas had been issued over the preceding weekend. Mr. Larijani was supposed to announce the suspension of Iranian nuclear enrichment. In exchange, we would lift sanctions. But Mr. Larijani and his delegation never arrived, as the BBC documentary reported.

Negotiations have always been accompanied by sanctions. But neither has produced any change in Iranian behavior...

Thirty years of negotiations and sanctions have failed to end the Iranian nuclear program and its war against the West. Why should anyone think they will work now? A change in Iran requires a change in government. Common sense and moral vision suggest we should support the courageous opposition movement, whose leaders have promised to end support for terrorism and provide total transparency regarding the nuclear program.

Exactly. But this should be no surprise to anyone who even has a basic understanding of revolutionary regimes. They don't want accommodation. The animating principle around revolutionary change is to upset the status-quo. The Shah represented the capitalist West and all its "depravity". It kept Iran from a society based on the core tenets of Shia Islam. Khomeini and the Mullah's sought to destroy Western influences and create a fundamentalist Islamic state -- which they have done so, even as they pay lip service to "democratic elections" (we saw how democratic those elections were this summer). They do this by exporting revolution and their ideology abroad. It is the reason the current Iranian state came into being.

President Obama said during his speech at the recent G20 that Iran "has an opportunity to join the community of nations". This is pure folly. This is not a nation -- sorry, Mr. President -- that wants to be a part of the international community". Iran wants fundamentally to destroy the system, not join it.

The point here is this: Iran isn't interested in substantive negotiations with the United States, Europe or anyone else. We speak different languages -- both literally and figuratively. Iran wants power so that it can further its Islamic goals. It doesn't want to play nice and play in the international sandbox.

This should be crystal clear to anyone who is willing to listen and look objectively at the record of Iran since the 1979 revolution.

Got that, Mr. President?

'Axis of Evil' outfoxes Uncle Sam

(Boston) While the world watched the fraudulent Iranian elections, by chance I found myself here in the historic capital of American election fraud. Just a few steps from Boston’s City Hall the Union Oyster House has been a favored haunt of local politicians since Colonial times. As we sampled the culinary delights of this Beantown landmark my companion- a wryly self-described “humble servant of the people”- noted that two centuries earlier Governor Elbridge Gerry had enjoyed similar fare here. It was he who invented “gerrymandering”, a method of redistricting now institutionalized in every state as the most successful form of election fraud in American history.

Through the years Boston continued to invent, refine and export to grateful imitators nationwide many new breakthroughs in election fraud. One of the most productive was creating the key patronage post of Cemetery Commissioner said official being responsible not just for mowing the grass above the graves but much more importantly insuring that those loyal Democrats beneath the grass were not deprived of their right to vote “early and often” every election day.

While stealing votes outright was more cost effective sometimes it was necessary to buy them. Even then these thrifty New Englanders deplored wasteful spending. Jack Kennedy’s grandfather Boston Mayor “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald insisted that the “Machine never bought more votes than actually required”. In another context his son-in-law Joe Kennedy sternly told a Chicago alderman that he “wasn’t paying for a landslide”.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ignored these counsels of moderation, apparently being quite willing to pay for a landslide and/or steal more votes than actually required.

The initial U.S. response to this self-evident fraud was somewhere between an embarrassment and a disgrace (when you sound less tough than the Europeans you know you’ve dropped the ball badly). Waffling between saying it didn’t matter who won the election and being fearful of accusations of “meddling” Obama and company demonstrated once again why foreign and national security policy has been the Achilles Heel of the Democratic party for over forty years.

In its obsequiousness Obama’s expression of gratitude to “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Khamenei for his willingness to look into irregularities in a few precincts rivaled the notorious bow to the King of Saudi Arabia.

Amazingly none of this qualified as the week’s top example of U.S. spinelessness. After North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-IL defiantly announced that he was (A) weaponizing his nuclear stockpile, (B) conducting further tests of his Hiroshima sized bomb, and (C) scheduling tests of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the U.S., the Obama Administration announced it would adhere to a new “get tough” policy proposed by Chinese and Russians at the United Nations.

The heart of the policy involves intercepting North Korean vessels suspected of carrying nuclear presents to friends like Syria or Iran and asking permission to board and search; however if they say no, that’s O.K. too.

When loony right-wingers in Congress questioned the adequacy of this response the Administration gave further evidence of its resolve by announcing that if North Korea persists in its’ nuclear naughtiness in next year’s budget we may refuse to make further cuts to Missile Defense spending beyond these already included in this year’s budget.

Right now, if you’re keeping score the old “Axis of Evil” – Syria, Iran, and North Korea-is definitely ahead on points. Obama’s much hyped but pathetic speech in Cairo (“America is one of the largest Muslim nations; my daddy was a Muslim”) clearly signaled he isn’t going to fuss too much when Iran inevitably gains full nuclear power status. As noted above he’s O.K. with letting Russia and China via the UN set the limits of U.S. toughness with North Korea.

The only member of the “Axis” who’s even been scored upon in this contest is Syria and that only because the Israelis who know a threat when they see one helpfully bombed that country’s rising nuclear facility flat.

The Boston Globe (owned by the N.Y. times since 1994 and hopefully soon going bankrupt) was “deeply troubled by this unilateral Israeli action” and this week even had the effrontery to editorially call on Obama to “oblige Netanyahu to rearrange his governing coalition to be more in accord with U.S.. policy toward the Palestinians”.

What’s wrong with this picture? A lot, and the price of folly may be exacted sooner than we think.

William Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, and Rocky Mountain News.