One Year After the Iran Nuclear Deal: Yousef Al Otaiba, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 3, 2016— Saturday marked one year since the framework agreement for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the nuclear deal with Iran—was announced.
Tear Down Iran’s Anti-Democracy Wall: Benjamin Weinthal, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 17, 2016— Is there anything new to say about bringing about a democratic political and social order in Iran?
Another Obama Administration Betrayal on Iran: Abraham Cooper & Harold Brackman, Algemeiner, Apr. 4, 2016— We have just finished celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim.
A World Unmoored: Lee Smith, Weekly Standard, Apr. 25, 2016— Why is John Kerry eager to provide Iran with more economic benefits by publicly declaring the Iranians may actually deserve more relief?
John Kerry Confronts Concerns of Arab States After Iran Nuclear Deal: David E. Sanger, New York Times, Apr. 7, 2016
The Iran Nuclear Deal Keeps Changing: Eli Lake, Bloomberg, Apr. 1, 2016
Prisoner of the Ayatollahs: Washington Post, Apr. 14, 2016
Imaginary Iran: Michael Rubin, Commentary, Mar. 31, 2016
Yousef Al Otaiba
Wall Street Journal, Apr. 3, 2016
Saturday marked one year since the framework agreement for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the nuclear deal with Iran—was announced. At the time, President Obama said this agreement would make “the world safer.” And perhaps it has, but only in the short term and only when it comes to Iran’s nuclear-weapons proliferation.
Sadly, behind all the talk of change, the Iran we have long known—hostile, expansionist, violent—is alive and well, and as dangerous as ever. We wish it were otherwise. In the United Arab Emirates, we are seeking ways to coexist with Iran. Perhaps no country has more to gain from normalized relations with Tehran. Reducing tensions across the less than 100-mile-wide Arabian Gulf could help restore full trade ties, energy cooperation and cultural exchanges, and start a process to resolve a 45-year territorial dispute. Since the nuclear deal, however, Iran has only doubled down on its posturing and provocations. In October, November and again in early March, Iran conducted ballistic-missile tests in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
In December, Iran fired rockets dangerously close to a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz, just weeks before it detained a group of American sailors. In February, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan visited Moscow for talks to purchase more than $8 billion in Russian fighter jets, planes and helicopters. In Yemen, where peace talks now hold some real promise, Iran’s disruptive interference only grows worse. Last week, the French navy seized a large cache of weapons on its way from Iran to support the Houthis in their rebellion against the U.N.-backed legitimate Yemeni government. In late February, the Australian navy intercepted a ship off the coast of Oman with thousands of AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. And last month, a senior Iranian military official said Tehran was ready to send military “advisers” to assist the Houthis.
The interference doesn’t stop there. Since the beginning of the year, Tehran and its proxies have increased their efforts to provide armor-piercing explosive devices to Shiite cells in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. A former Iranian general and close adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for Iran to annex all of Bahrain. And in Syria, Iran continues to deploy Hezbollah militias and its own Iranian Revolutionary Guard to prop up Syria’s Bashar Assad.
These are all clear reminders that Iran remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism—a persistent threat not only to the region but to the U.S. as well. “Death to America” has always been more than an ugly catchphrase; it has been Iranian policy. Iran has orchestrated countless terrorist attacks against Americans: from the Marine barracks in Beirut to Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. During the Afghanistan war, Iran paid Taliban fighters $1,000 for each American they killed. In Iraq, Iran supplied the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that killed or maimed thousands of U.S. soldiers. And in recent weeks seven Iranian hackers were indicted in a U.S. federal court for a cyberattack against U.S. banks and critical infrastructure.
As Henry Kissinger once said, Iran can be either a country or a cause. Today “Iran the cause” is showing little of the same kind of pragmatism and moderation in its regional policies and behavior as it did in the nuclear talks. Last week, Mr. Khamenei insisted ballistic missiles were key to the Islamic Republic’s future. “Those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors,” he said. It is now clear that one year since the framework for the deal was agreed upon, Iran sees it as an opportunity to increase hostilities in the region. But instead of accepting this as an unfortunate reality, the international community must intensify its actions to check Iran’s strategic ambitions.
It is time to shine a bright light on Iran’s hostile acts across the region. At the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh later this month, the U.S., the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman should reach an agreement on a common mechanism to monitor, expose and curb Iran’s aggression. This should include specific measures to block its support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah units in Syria and Lebanon, and Iranian-linked terrorist cells in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
If the carrots of engagement aren’t working, we must not be afraid to bring back the sticks. Recent half measures against Iran’s violations of the ballistic-missile ban are not enough. If the aggression continues, the U.S. and the global community should make clear that Iran will face the full range of sanctions and other steps still available under U.N. resolutions and in the nuclear deal itself. Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region must stop. Until it does, our hope for a new Iran should not cloud the reality that the old Iran is very much still with us—as dangerous and as disruptive as ever.
Jerusalem Post, Apr. 17, 2016
Is there anything new to say about bringing about a democratic political and social order in Iran? A lively panel titled “Anti-democratic Regimes: Confrontation or Coexistence?” at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Forum on Wednesday offered fresh insights into a post-nuclear deal world in the Islamic Republic. “Do we want regime change in Iran?” Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, asked rhetorically. His answer: “How can we not want regime change in Iran. Of course, we want it.”
Abrams described Iran as a “vicious, repressive regime,” and there is no shortage of new evidence to bolster his case. Iran’s clerical regime is the world leader in juvenile executions. Just last week, gay flight attendants for Air France objected to working on the newly started Paris-Tehran route because of the Islamic Republic’s lethal homophobia. According to a 2008 British WikiLeaks cable, Iran had executed 4,000 to 6,000 gays and lesbians since the country’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, told Reuters this month that “[President Hassan] Rouhani doesn’t seem at all interested to push for it, fight the battle and improve the human rights situation. And that’s a problem because we’re now into the third year of his term.”
Back to a reorganization of Iranian society, Abrams said: “The confrontation part was missing” with Iran’s regime during the Green Movement in 2009 when Iranians flooded the streets of Tehran to oppose a fundamentally corrupt election. US President Barack Obama ignored the pleas from Iranian democrats to stand with them. In contrast to Reagan’s democracy expansion program in the Iron Curtain countries and Russia, Obama was never in the business of promoting democracy into all walks of Iranian life. Hence, Abrams said, Obama missed his Ronald Reagan moment, when he called on former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” in Berlin.
“Words give you leverage” and can “undermine a regime’s political legitimacy,” said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where this writer is a fellow. He added that the US can “use nonnuclear sanctions to go after Iran for domestic repression, missile tests and terrorism.” The be-all and end-all of Iran’s system is an anti-democratic theocracy whose preservation is ruled by, as Dubowitz said, the “dedicated revolutionaries” Rouhani and the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The rift between Iran’s regime, which stunts individual growth, and a restive young society has not vanished since 2009. “There is something that I believe in 100 percent and that is that democracy will come to Iran because Iran has the potential for it,” Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, told Iran Wire on Wednesday. A window into the courtyard of that potential was on display when the Iranian marathon runner Akbar Naghdi draped himself in an American flag earlier this month to protest Iran’s refusal to grant visas to 10 American athletes. Naghdi said he did so as a “signal of friendship.”
Since the closure of the Iran nuclear deal negotiations in July, Khamenei has intensified his efforts to block Western influences into Iranian society. The closure of American- style fast food franchises is one of the more salient examples. “If sanctions are not paired with strong initiatives to empower Iranian civil society, then they don’t serve the purpose of weakening the regime to the point of bringing about real social and political change. Sanctions alone without initiatives designed to empower Iranian civil society only serve the purpose of weakening the regime to the point of negotiation,” Maryam Nayeb Yazdi, a Canadian- Iranian intellectual and human rights expert based in Toronto, told The Jerusalem Post on Friday.
“The international community abandoned and ignored the people of Iran and also us activists defending the voices of Iranians. Iranians watched as the economy in their country fell apart while no international body or organization was helping them to at least gain access to technology so they may empower themselves or gain independence,” she added. The key take away from many veteran expert Iran observers is not to let opponents of a democratic Iran off the hook. If past is prologue in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a new democratic upheaval might just be around the corner.
Abraham Cooper & Harold Brackman
Algemeiner, Apr. 4, 2016
We have just finished celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim. It is the one day in the Jewish calendar where merrymaking and drinking are sanctioned to the point where you can’t tell the difference between the bad guy (Haman) and the good guy (Mordechai). But even with the ISIS Belgium attacks still reverberating across the globe, we’re left wondering if the spirit of Purim hasn’t infected the White House.
How else can we explain two parallel headlines emanating from Washington? First, in an unprecedented indictment, the US Justice Department is prosecuting aliens working for a foreign government who disrupted key web sites of the New York Stock Exchange — Capital One, AT&T and PNC. They also targeted a dam (yes a dam!) in upstate New York. Hundreds of thousands of customers were inconvenienced, and the financial institutions were damaged to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. It’s unknown for what nefarious purposes the dam was targeted.
Guess who did it? Seven Iranian hackers, ostensibly working for two Iranian “companies” — but probably working for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The indictment described the attacks as “systematic,” “widespread,” and the cause of “potential havoc.”
Headline #2: After a summer of promises to the US Congress from the highest levels of the Obama administration that Iranian sanctions relief under its deal with Tehran would be only “nuclear-related” and not extend to Iranian activities related to terrorism and human rights abuses, the Administration is now reportedly poised to dismantle the sanctions regime by allowing Tehran’s mullahs access to the US dollar.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew swore in July 2015 testimony that, under no circumstances, would Iran be given access to “the world’s largest financial and commercial market.” Adam Szubin, the chief of the Treasury Department’s sanctions enforcement office, declared that Iran would not be allowed to “dollarize” foreign payments. But now, the mullahs are impatient over the pace of the vast sanctions relief they were given, to say nothing of their $100 billion-plus windfall — so these solemn commitments of Obama officials are being thrown in the waste basket already full of mendacious testimony and empty promises about the nuclear deal.
Apparently, we are about to witness another bonanza for the Iranians. It will be the end of any effective sanctions for years and maybe decades. There will be nothing left with which to effectively pressure Tehran short of war. Moreover, according to Jack Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz, sanctions experts at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, once this policy is implemented, the negative consequences for the global financial system and the US dollar are potentially “devastating”: letting Iran access to US dollars would signal to the world that we’ve vetted the Iran’s financial system. Global watchdogs who monitor money laundering and terror financing, like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), would slowly begin to stand down.
Signs of the continuing frivolous spirit of Purim abound, as word has also leaked that the Obama administration has agreed to pay Tehran hundreds of millions of dollars plus more than a billion dollars in interest for President Jimmy Carter’s failure to deliver on a massive arms deal. This, after Ayatollah Khomeini toppled the Shah in 1979 and held US hostages after ransacking our embassy! What’s next? Compensating Haman’s descendants for his execution after the evil Persian Foreign Minister attempted genocide of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire more than 2,000 years ago failed?
One can only hope that the next president of the United States will stay out of Middle East Bazaars. Because the last president to do so got taken to the cleaners by the Ayatollah Khamenei. And it looks like we and our Middle East allies will be paying a hefty price for that folly for many Purims to come.
Weekly Standard, Apr. 25, 2016
Why is John Kerry eager to provide Iran with more economic benefits by publicly declaring the Iranians may actually deserve more relief? Why did the secretary of state tell Charlie Rose that the United States and Iran want the same thing when it comes to ending the war in Syria? Why does America’s top diplomat give Iran a pass on its ballistic missile tests, even though they violate U.N. Security Council resolutions? Why? Because Kerry hearts Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister.
It's hardly a secret that Kerry has a man crush on his Iranian counterpart. Even the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee intimated as much last week when he described the White House's waltz with the clerical regime in Tehran: "There are some people who are invested in this and have developed relationships and I think are trying to bend this in a way that will benefit Iran," said Sen. Bob Corker.
Democrats as well as Republicans say the White House misled them on the Iran deal. The administration said it would not allow Iran access to the U.S. banking system, but top officials are now saying that Iran may be allowed to exploit a loophole having to do with offshore banking to access the dollar that way. Permitting Iran to make dollar transactions, said Rep. Brad Sherman, "is clearly not required" by the nuclear deal. "This will set bad precedent," the Democratic congressman from California told the Associated Press, "and it will not be the last time the Iranians and/or their business partners receive additional relief."
Meanwhile the Obama White House refuses to say that ballistic missile tests are in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to the dismay of allies, U.S. lawmakers, and even administration officials. According to the Washington Free Beacon, there are voices in the administration who want "to use harsher language against Iran," but "they're being overruled by others who are defending Russia and Iran's interpretation." That sounds a lot like John Kerry.
Kerry reportedly speaks to Zarif on the phone regularly. In the first two weeks of this year, the AP has reported, the two spoke at least 11 times. That's a good thing, says Kerry, because it means there's now a channel open to discuss issues between the two countries—like when Iran kidnaps American sailors, lays siege to the diplomatic missions of U.S. allies, or launches ballistic missile tests. That is, the purpose of the newly opened channel with Iran is to facilitate America's ability to complain when the clerical regime acts up.
Why Kerry boasts of this dubious achievement is partly a function of his vanity. The secretary of state seems to believe that diplomacy is the practice of mawkishly ingratiating himself with counterparts. The pictures of Kerry laughing with Zarif as well as his opposite number in Moscow, Sergey Lavrov, are evidence of something gone wrong in Washington policy-making circles. The opposite of glad-handing the Iranian and Russian foreign ministers is not war but a measure of propriety and dignity. After all, the Iranians threaten America's chief Middle Eastern ally, Israel, with genocide, while the Russians are trying to drag another U.S. partner, Turkey, into conflict. America's leading diplomat praises Zarif and Lavrov on a talk show for their "helpfulness" on Syria, when he should show contempt and revulsion for representatives of two governments that are assisting Bashar al-Assad in an atrocity-filled war on his own people.
Kerry is off the reservation, but it's the president who is giving Iran concession after concession. This makes Kerry Obama's ideal point man—the former senator from Massachusetts tells himself he's doing diplomacy while Obama lets critics at home and abroad stick Kerry with the charge of appeasement. But it's not really appeasement—it's an Obama reeducation program. He's correcting American foreign policy by changing what he's called a mindset "characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy."
As Obama recently told the Atlantic, a "very proud" foreign policy moment of his presidency was his decision not to order strikes against Assad in August 2013 for using chemical weapons, crossing Obama's own red line. Obama believes he freed himself from what he calls the "Washington playbook," which comes "out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses."
The issue, as Obama saw it, wasn't just the Iraq war but the kind of American thinking that led to the war. Decades of American thinking were wrong, maybe a whole century was wrong. Obama offers a different kind of thinking: Publicly insulting American allies is honorable. The only way to avoid war is to consort with a state sponsor of terror. Peace and security is the result of giving tens of billions of dollars to a regime that is making war across the Middle East. It's a travesty. The purpose of America's post-WWII foreign policy was to clarify a complicated and often dangerous world for the leaders of a large republic responsible for the life, liberty, and prosperity of its citizens by ensuring a degree of stability abroad. These are our allies, it said, and these our adversaries, for we know them by their actions and affections. Did it sometimes lack nuance? Yes, because it wasn't meant to be a work of art but a guide to making life and death decisions.
The "playbook" Obama disparages provided Kerry with what was surely his finest moment as secretary of state. When the Syrian despot tested not only an American president's promise but the moral content of the international order, America had to act, Kerry said, and lead. "History," said Kerry in a stirring speech on August 30, 2013, explaining why it was necessary to strike Assad, "would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator's wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency."
Obama hadn't let his secretary of state know that he wasn't going to strike Assad, making a fool of Kerry. But Kerry's incoherence since then, his efforts on behalf of Zarif and Lavrov, his romance with monsters are evidence of something much more ruinous. In dismantling the global order backed by American power and leadership, Obama has left the world, including his secretary of state, unmoored.
John Kerry Confronts Concerns of Arab States After Iran Nuclear Deal: David E. Sanger, New York Times, Apr. 7, 2016—A year after he struck the outlines of a nuclear deal with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry finds himself confronting a new challenge from Tehran: While it is observing the nuclear agreement to the letter, its missile launches, arms shipments to Yemen and involvement in Syria have, if anything, accelerated.
The Iran Nuclear Deal Keeps Changing: Eli Lake, Bloomberg, Apr. 1, 2016—Like most of Washington, I was under the impression that the nuclear negotiations with Iran ended in July. There was the press conference in Vienna, the U.N. resolution that lifted the sanctions on Iran and the fight in Congress that followed. That turns out to have been wrong.
Prisoner of the Ayatollahs: Wall Street Journal, Apr. 14, 2016—It’s been nearly two years since Hassan Rouhani vowed to free the two leaders of Iran’s pro-democracy movement. Such promises were at the heart of the Iranian president’s “moderation” pitch, yet today both opposition leaders remain under house arrest without charge.
Imaginary Iran: Michael Rubin, Commentary, Mar. 31, 2016—Never before in recent history has the United States faced a country that has so persistently sought to kill Americans or attack Americans only to avoid consequences after every outrage.