Showing posts with label iran. Show all posts
Showing posts with label iran. Show all posts

Monday, October 19, 2015

Kissinger: A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse

A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse. By Henry Kissinger

With Russia in Syria, a geopolitical structure that lasted four decades is in shambles. The U.S. needs a new strategy and priorities.

Wall Street Journal, Oct 16, 2015

The debate about whether the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran regarding its nuclear program stabilized the Middle East’s strategic framework had barely begun when the region’s geopolitical framework collapsed. Russia’s unilateral military action in Syria is the latest symptom of the disintegration of the American role in stabilizing the Middle East order that emerged from the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.

In the aftermath of that conflict, Egypt abandoned its military ties with the Soviet Union and joined an American-backed negotiating process that produced peace treaties between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan, a United Nations-supervised disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria, which has been observed for over four decades (even by the parties of the Syrian civil war), and international support of Lebanon’s sovereign territorial integrity. Later, Saddam Hussein’s war to incorporate Kuwait into Iraq was defeated by an international coalition under U.S. leadership. American forces led the war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States were our allies in all these efforts. The Russian military presence disappeared from the region.

That geopolitical pattern is now in shambles. Four states in the region have ceased to function as sovereign. Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq have become targets for nonstate movements seeking to impose their rule. Over large swaths in Iraq and Syria, an ideologically radical religious army has declared itself the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) as an unrelenting foe of established world order. It seeks to replace the international system’s multiplicity of states with a caliphate, a single Islamic empire governed by Shariah law.

ISIS’ claim has given the millennium-old split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam an apocalyptic dimension. The remaining Sunni states feel threatened by both the religious fervor of ISIS as well as by Shiite Iran, potentially the most powerful state in the region. Iran compounds its menace by presenting itself in a dual capacity. On one level, Iran acts as a legitimate Westphalian state conducting traditional diplomacy, even invoking the safeguards of the international system. At the same time, it organizes and guides nonstate actors seeking regional hegemony based on jihadist principles: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Hamas in Gaza; the Houthis in Yemen.

Thus the Sunni Middle East risks engulfment by four concurrent sources: Shiite-governed Iran and its legacy of Persian imperialism; ideologically and religiously radical movements striving to overthrow prevalent political structures; conflicts within each state between ethnic and religious groups arbitrarily assembled after World War I into (now collapsing) states; and domestic pressures stemming from detrimental political, social and economic domestic policies.

The fate of Syria provides a vivid illustration: What started as a Sunni revolt against the Alawite (a Shiite offshoot) autocrat Bashar Assad fractured the state into its component religious and ethnic groups, with nonstate militias supporting each warring party, and outside powers pursuing their own strategic interests. Iran supports the Assad regime as the linchpin of an Iranian historic dominance stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean. The Gulf States insist on the overthrow of Mr. Assad to thwart Shiite Iranian designs, which they fear more than Islamic State. They seek the defeat of ISIS while avoiding an Iranian victory. This ambivalence has been deepened by the nuclear deal, which in the Sunni Middle East is widely interpreted as tacit American acquiescence in Iranian hegemony.

These conflicting trends, compounded by America’s retreat from the region, have enabled Russia to engage in military operations deep in the Middle East, a deployment unprecedented in Russian history. Russia’s principal concern is that the Assad regime’s collapse could reproduce the chaos of Libya, bring ISIS into power in Damascus, and turn all of Syria into a haven for terrorist operations, reaching into Muslim regions inside Russia’s southern border in the Caucasus and elsewhere.

On the surface, Russia’s intervention serves Iran’s policy of sustaining the Shiite element in Syria. In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule. It is a classic balance-of-power maneuver to divert the Sunni Muslim terrorist threat from Russia’s southern border region. It is a geopolitical, not an ideological, challenge and should be dealt with on that level. Whatever the motivation, Russian forces in the region—and their participation in combat operations—produce a challenge that American Middle East policy has not encountered in at least four decades.

American policy has sought to straddle the motivations of all parties and is therefore on the verge of losing the ability to shape events. The U.S. is now opposed to, or at odds in some way or another with, all parties in the region: with Egypt on human rights; with Saudi Arabia over Yemen; with each of the Syrian parties over different objectives. The U.S. proclaims the determination to remove Mr. Assad but has been unwilling to generate effective leverage—political or military—to achieve that aim. Nor has the U.S. put forward an alternative political structure to replace Mr. Assad should his departure somehow be realized.

Russia, Iran, ISIS and various terrorist organizations have moved into this vacuum: Russia and Iran to sustain Mr. Assad; Tehran to foster imperial and jihadist designs. The Sunni states of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Egypt, faced with the absence of an alternative political structure, favor the American objective but fear the consequence of turning Syria into another Libya.

American policy on Iran has moved to the center of its Middle East policy. The administration has insisted that it will take a stand against jihadist and imperialist designs by Iran and that it will deal sternly with violations of the nuclear agreement. But it seems also passionately committed to the quest for bringing about a reversal of the hostile, aggressive dimension of Iranian policy through historic evolution bolstered by negotiation.

The prevailing U.S. policy toward Iran is often compared by its advocates to the Nixon administration’s opening to China, which contributed, despite some domestic opposition, to the ultimate transformation of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The comparison is not apt. The opening to China in 1971 was based on the mutual recognition by both parties that the prevention of Russian hegemony in Eurasia was in their common interest. And 42 Soviet divisions lining the Sino-Soviet border reinforced that conviction. No comparable strategic agreement exists between Washington and Tehran. On the contrary, in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the U.S. as the “Great Satan” and rejected negotiations with America about nonnuclear matters. Completing his geopolitical diagnosis, Mr. Khamenei also predicted that Israel would no longer exist in 25 years.

Forty-five years ago, the expectations of China and the U.S. were symmetrical. The expectations underlying the nuclear agreement with Iran are not. Tehran will gain its principal objectives at the beginning of the implementation of the accord. America’s benefits reside in a promise of Iranian conduct over a period of time. The opening to China was based on an immediate and observable adjustment in Chinese policy, not on an expectation of a fundamental change in China’s domestic system. The optimistic hypothesis on Iran postulates that Tehran’s revolutionary fervor will dissipate as its economic and cultural interactions with the outside world increase.

American policy runs the risk of feeding suspicion rather than abating it. Its challenge is that two rigid and apocalyptic blocs are confronting each other: a Sunni bloc consisting of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States; and the Shiite bloc comprising Iran, the Shiite sector of Iraq with Baghdad as its capital, the Shiite south of Lebanon under Hezbollah control facing Israel, and the Houthi portion of Yemen, completing the encirclement of the Sunni world. In these circumstances, the traditional adage that the enemy of your enemy can be treated as your friend no longer applies. For in the contemporary Middle East, it is likely that the enemy of your enemy remains your enemy.

A great deal depends on how the parties interpret recent events. Can the disillusionment of some of our Sunni allies be mitigated? How will Iran’s leaders interpret the nuclear accord once implemented—as a near-escape from potential disaster counseling a more moderate course, returning Iran to an international order? Or as a victory in which they have achieved their essential aims against the opposition of the U.N. Security Council, having ignored American threats and, hence, as an incentive to continue Tehran’s dual approach as both a legitimate state and a nonstate movement challenging the international order?

Two-power systems are prone to confrontation, as was demonstrated in Europe in the run-up to World War I. Even with traditional weapons technology, to sustain a balance of power between two rigid blocs requires an extraordinary ability to assess the real and potential balance of forces, to understand the accumulation of nuances that might affect this balance, and to act decisively to restore it whenever it deviates from equilibrium—qualities not heretofore demanded of an America sheltered behind two great oceans.

But the current crisis is taking place in a world of nontraditional nuclear and cyber technology. As competing regional powers strive for comparable threshold capacity, the nonproliferation regime in the Middle East may crumble. If nuclear weapons become established, a catastrophic outcome is nearly inevitable. A strategy of pre-emption is inherent in the nuclear technology. The U.S. must be determined to prevent such an outcome and apply the principle of nonproliferation to all nuclear aspirants in the region.
Too much of our public debate deals with tactical expedients. What we need is a strategic concept and to establish priorities on the following principles:

• So long as ISIS survives and remains in control of a geographically defined territory, it will compound all Middle East tensions. Threatening all sides and projecting its goals beyond the region, it freezes existing positions or tempts outside efforts to achieve imperial jihadist designs. The destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad, who has already lost over half of the area he once controlled. Making sure that this territory does not become a permanent terrorist haven must have precedence. The current inconclusive U.S. military effort risks serving as a recruitment vehicle for ISIS as having stood up to American might.

• The U.S. has already acquiesced in a Russian military role. Painful as this is to the architects of the 1973 system, attention in the Middle East must remain focused on essentials. And there exist compatible objectives. In a choice among strategies, it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces. For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.

• The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.

• As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.

• The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.

• In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.

The U.S. must decide for itself the role it will play in the 21st century; the Middle East will be our most immediate—and perhaps most severe—test. At question is not the strength of American arms but rather American resolve in understanding and mastering a new world.

Mr. Kissinger served as national-security adviser and secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Control d'armes en acció: Els nois dolents enganyen i les democràcies no fan res

Les sancions contra l'Iran no es manipularan. . Per Douglas J. Feith
Control d'armes en acció: Els nois dolents enganyen i les democràcies no fan res.
Translation to Catalan of Sanctions on Iran Won't Be Cranked Back Up. By Un Liberal Recalcitrant
Wall Street Jounal, updated Nov. 18, 2013 7:24 p.m. ET

El president Obama vol que l'Iran suspengui parts del seu programa nuclear a canvi d'alleujar les sancions econòmiques internacionals. Els crítics sostenen que si Occident arriba a un acord en aquest sentit, l'Iran podria enganyar molt més fàcilment, molt abans que la resta del món pogués establir noves i dures sancions. Però el senyor Obama insisteix que relaxar les sancions és reversible : Si els iranians estan pel "no seguir endavant", va dir recentment a NBC News, "Podem anar endavant ".
Els acords de pau i el control d'armes tenen una llarga història que hauria de ser un advertiment contra aquestes garanties. Els països democràtics, durant molt de temps, no van poder aconseguir el que esperaven dels seus antagonistes no democràtics - i després es van veure incapaços o no van estar disposats a complir el tracte-.

Després de la Primera Guerra Mundial, els tractats de Versalles i Locarno van sotmetre Alemanya  a mesures de control d'armes, incloent la desmilitarització de Renània. Quan el règim nazi d'Alemanya, va remilitaritzar audaçment la Renània el 1936, ni la Gran Bretanya, ni França, ni cap altre signant del tractat va prendre cap tipus d’acció legal.

Aquest i d’altres incidents del segle XX van portar l’estratega dels EUA Fred Iklé a escriure un clarivident article el 1961 a la revista "Afers exteriors", titulat "Després de Detectar-ho - Què ?" Va sostenir : "Si signem un acord de control d'armes, hem de saber no només que som tècnicament capaços de detectar una violació, sinó que també nosaltres, o la resta del món, estarà en condicions de reaccionar eficaçment si es descobreix una violació, ja sigui legalment, política o militar. " Iklé va preveure que els soviètics violarien els seus acords i que als presidents dels Estats Units els resultaria difícil o impossible de posar remei a les violacions.

No obstant això, els EUA va fer una sèrie de tractats de control d'armes amb els soviètics i quan es van produir les violacions previstes, no va haver-hi cap tipus d'imposició, ni tan sols es va intentar.
Durant el govern de Reagan, les autoritats nord-americanes van detectar un enorme radar a la ciutat soviètica de Krasnoyarsk que violava el Tractat de Míssils Antibalístics del 1972. Malgrat la seva reputació de ser un escèptic en relació al control d'armes i de la línia dura anti - soviètica, Reagan va concloure que no tenia bones opcions, fora de la de queixar-se. Els EUA seguí per adherir-se al tractat per als següents 16 anys, fins que el president George W. Bush ho va retirar per raons no relacionades amb les violacions del tractat.

Una altra democràcia que no ha aconseguit complir els acords és Israel. Quan Israel va signar els Acords d'Oslo amb l'OAP el 1993, al després Ministre de Relacions Exteriors israelià Shimon Peres se li va preguntar què faria Israel si es es violés l'acord. Ell va declarar que era un tractat "reversible", assegurant que era escèptic i que si l'OAP trenqués les seves promeses de pau, Israel no només aturaria els recessos territorials, sinó que reprendria territoris ja negociats.
L'OAP va violar ràpidament el Tractat d’Oslo de diverses maneres, el més flagrant amb la Segona Intifada l’any 2000. Però cap govern israelià d'esquerra o de dreta mai va liquidar els acords, i encara menys revertir qualsevol retirada.

El que sol passar amb aquest tipus d'acords és el següent : Al costat democràtic, els líders polítics donen publicitat a l'acord per als seus votants significantlo com una gran fita diplomàtica de la que cal sentir-se’n orgullós. Per l’altra banda  -generalment el costat no democràtic, es porta a terme l’engany, la deshonestedat i l’agressió.

Els líders democràtics no tenen cap desig de detectar la violació perquè no volen admetre que l'acord o plusvàlua, per raons diverses, és una eina de relacions amb l’altra part i, òbviament, no volen pertorbar aquesta relació. En els casos que no es pot passar per alt la violació, afirmaran que l'evidència no és concloent. Però si és concloent, en menyspreen la importància de la infracció. Els funcionaris del costat democràtic de vegades actuen de facto com a advocats de la defensa per als tramposos.

Recordem el cas de Krasnoyarsk. Alguns funcionaris nord-americans en les reunions internes de l'administració en què he participat, van dir que no hem d’acusar els soviètics de violar el Tractat ABM, simplement perquè es va construir el radar en un camp de futbol  gran. Per desgràcia, però sostingut de forma descarada, vam haver d’esperar a que els soviètics el posesin en marxa..
Quan els funcionaris de l'OAP en la dècada de 1990 van violar el tractat d’Oslo per incitar a l'odi contra Israel i donar suport al terrorisme, els israelians que havien signat el tractat, van oferir excuses similars i vergonyoses tals com: "No ens importa el que diguin, només el que fan" i "Cal fer les paus amb els enemics, nopas  amb els amics. "

Un acord que realment desmantellés el programa nuclear iranià seria un èxit formidable. Però si Obama pot justificar el seu acord amb l'Iran només amb la promesa de “relaxar les sancions” als tramposos iranians, ningú donarà credibilitat al programa.. La història ensenya que hem d'esperar sempre l'engany, però no una aplicació efectiva del tractat.

Feith, investigador principal a l'Institut Hudson,  va exercir com subsecretari de Defensadels EUA per a la política ( 2001-05 ) i és l'autor de  "War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism" (Harper, 2008)

--- Sanctions on Iran Won't Be Cranked Back Up. By Douglas J. Feith
Arms control in action: The bad guys cheat, and democracies do nothing.Wall Street Jounal, updated Nov. 18, 2013 7:24 p.m. ET

President Obama wants Iran to suspend parts of its nuclear program in return for easing international economic sanctions. Critics contend that if the West strikes a deal along these lines, Iran could cheat far more easily than the rest of the world could reinstate tough sanctions. But Mr. Obama insists that relaxing sanctions is reversible: If the Iranians are "not following through," he recently told NBC News, "We can crank that dial back up."

Peace and arms-control agreements have a long history that warns against such assurances. Democratic countries have time and again failed to get what they bargained for with their undemocratic antagonists—and then found themselves unable or unwilling to enforce the bargain.

After World War I, the Versailles and Locarno Treaties subjected Germany to arms-control measures, including demilitarization of the Rhineland. When Germany's Nazi regime boldly remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936, neither Britain, France nor any other treaty party took enforcement action.

This and other 20th-century incidents led U.S. strategist Fred Iklé to write a prescient 1961 "Foreign Affairs" article titled "After Detection—What?" He argued: "In entering into an arms-control agreement, we must know not only that we are technically capable of detecting a violation but also that we or the rest of the world will be politically, legally and militarily in a position to react effectively if a violation is discovered." Iklé foresaw that the Soviets would violate their agreements, and that U.S. presidents would find it difficult or impossible to remedy the violations.

Nevertheless, the U.S. made a series of arms-control treaties with the Soviets. When the predicted violations occurred, no enforcement actions were even attempted.

During the Reagan administration, U.S. officials detected a huge radar in the Soviet city of Krasnoyarsk that violated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Despite his reputation as an arms-control skeptic and anti-Soviet hard-liner, Reagan concluded he had no good options other than to complain. The U.S. continued to adhere to the treaty for another 16 years, until President George W. Bush withdrew for reasons unrelated to violations.

Another democracy that has failed to enforce agreements is Israel. When Israel signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was asked what Israel would do if the agreement were violated. He declared it was "reversible," assuring skeptics that if the PLO broke its peace pledges, Israel would not only stop territorial withdrawals, but retake the land already traded.

The PLO promptly violated Oslo in various ways, most egregiously by launching the Second Intifada in 2000. But no Israeli government—on the left or right—ever terminated the Accords, let alone reversed any withdrawals.

What typically happens with such agreements is the following: On the democratic side, political leaders hype the agreement to their voters as a proud diplomatic achievement. The nondemocratic side—typically an aggressive, dishonest party—cheats.

The democratic leaders have no desire to detect the violation because they don't want to admit that they oversold the agreement or, for other reasons, they don't want to disrupt relations with the other side. If they can't ignore the violation, they will claim the evidence is inconclusive. But if it is conclusive, they will belittle the significance of the offense. Officials on the democratic side sometimes even act as de facto defense attorneys for the cheaters.

Recall the Krasnoyarsk case. Some U.S. officials in internal administration meetings in which I participated said we should not accuse the Soviets of violating the ABM Treaty simply because they built the football-field-size radar. Rather, they disgracefully but brazenly argued, we should wait until the Soviets turned it on.

When PLO officials in the 1990s breached Oslo by inciting anti-Israel hatred and supporting terrorism, the Israelis who had made the deal offered similarly disgraceful excuses along the lines of: "We don't care what they say, only what they do," and "You have to make peace with your enemies, not with your friends."

An agreement that actually dismantled the Iranian nuclear program would be a formidable accomplishment. But if Mr. Obama can justify his deal with Iran only by promising to "crank up" the relaxed sanctions if and when the Iranian regime cheats, no one should buy it. History teaches that we should expect the cheating, but not effective enforcement.

Mr. Feith, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, served as U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy (2001-05) and is the author of "War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism" (Harper, 2008).

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why China Frets Over America's Retreat. By Daniel Blumenthal

Why China Frets Over America's Retreat. By Daniel Blumenthal
The Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2013, on page A17
Usually Chinese leaders decry Washington's foreign-policy aggression. That won't be an issue at this week's summit.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with President Obama in California at week's end, Mr. Xi will confront a new strategic reality: America in retreat. Chinese leaders normally complain that Washington is too aggressive. But what should really worry Beijing is the opposite—a bipartisan U.S. consensus for a foreign policy of retrenchment. As much as China aspires to global leadership, Beijing has neither the wherewithal nor the desire to take on the responsibilities that come with that role.

Since the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, Sino-American summitry has followed a pattern to which both countries have grown accustomed. Beijing complains of U.S. heavy-handedness. Washington complains that it shoulders all the burdens of global leadership and asks China to play a more responsible and prominent role in world affairs.

Neither country is serious while doing this minuet. At best Washington is conflicted about a greater leadership role for an authoritarian China. For its part, China has become accustomed to the benefits of a post-World War II American-led (and paid-for) global compact that includes freer markets, more peaceful international relations and more liberal governments.

The temptation to repeat this dance will be great this week. Presidents Xi and Obama will be meeting during a period of deep mutual suspicion. The downward spiral of distrust began in 2009 over escalating tensions about territory between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors, and it reached a new low when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a "pivot" toward Asia in 2011.

The pivot strategy has two pillars. The first is a positive desire to deeply embed the U.S. in all of Asia's increasingly vibrant political and economic life. The second is a reaction to growing Chinese dominance in the region, and the resulting clamor—from America's regional allies and in the U.S.—for Washington to counterbalance predatory Chinese military power.

China chose to hear only the second part of the pivot strategy, reacting to it as Cold War-style containment with Asian characteristics. Relations between the two powers have been frosty since then.

Yet if Mr. Xi examines U.S. foreign policy more closely, he will see that Beijing is worried about the wrong things. The problem is not too much American power. It is too little.

Consider recent events in Washington: Mr. Obama announced the end of the war on terror without evidence that the conflict had ended and denied leaks suggesting the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria. He ignored a new International Atomic Energy Agency report suggesting that Iran is making huge progress in developing nuclear weapons, and refused efforts to restore draconian cuts to the U.S. military budget.

In response—a few outliers notwithstanding—Congress, including Republicans, remained silent. This marked a significant shift. Once the tribune of American global leadership, much of the right now marches in foreign-policy lock step with a left that has little interest in the exercise of U.S. power. This left-right neo-isolationist alliance is a recipe for global chaos—an outcome more harmful to China than the big-footed America that China is used to complaining about.

Why? Because despite China's politically correct paeans to international institutions and multilateralism, Chinese leaders well know that international politics needs a prime actor willing to provide global public goods such as secure maritime trade, peace between great powers, nonproliferation, counterterrorism and leadership on international trade and investment.

If the U.S. abdicates its role, China is the only other nation in line for the post of prime power. Is China ready to assume primacy in the international community? The answer is no.

Granted, China is active on the world stage. Recently President Xi announced proposals for Arab-Israeli peace and a Syrian cease-fire. Once again, Beijing prodded North Korea to open up and reform its economy. But peace proposals, state visits and commercial diplomacy cannot maintain world order.

Taking the global leadership reins from the U.S. would require incurring real costs, taking big risks, using political capital and, if necessary, expending blood and treasure. If China wanted to lead the world, it would build a navy capable of protecting—rather than disrupting—sea lanes. It would contribute to the fight against terror and help to keep cyberspace an open commons for commercial transactions and the sharing of ideas. It is doing none of these things.

Think of it this way: Does China wish to anger anyone in the Middle East by taking sides in Syria or pressuring Iran? Manage the collapse of North Korea? Steward a new era of free trade? Push back al Qaeda?

Chinese leaders appear not to give much consideration to taking on these tasks, nor has Washington thought through what a world with no leader would look like. Does a global system of anti-democratic regional hegemons, spheres of influence, and exclusive trading blocs really appeal?

For all of these reasons, this could be a truly pivotal summit. As counterintuitive as it may seem, for the first time since the Soviet collapse China has an interest in America acting more, not less, assertively in foreign affairs.

Mr. Blumenthal is the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Friday, March 29, 2013

America's Voluntary Standards System: A 'Best Practice' Model for Asian Innovation Policies? By Dieter Ernst

America's Voluntary Standards System: A 'Best Practice' Model for Asian Innovation Policies? By Dieter Ernst
East-West Center, Policy Studies, No. 66, March 2013
ISBN: 978-0-309-26204-5 (print); 978-0-86638-205-2 (electronic)
Pages: xvi, 66


Across Asia there is a keen interest in the potential advantages of America's market-led system of voluntary standards and its contribution to US innovation leadership in complex technologies.

For its proponents, the US tradition of bottom-up, decentralized, informal, market-led standardization is a "best practice" model for innovation policy. Observers in Asia are, however, concerned about possible drawbacks of a standards system largely driven by the private sector.

This study reviews the historical roots of the American system, examines its defining characteristics, and highlights its strengths and weaknesses. A tradition of decentralized local self-government has given voice to diverse stakeholders in innovation. However, a lack of effective coordination of multiple stakeholder strategies constrains effective and open standardization processes.

Asian countries seeking to improve their standards systems should study the strengths and weaknesses of the American system. Attempts to replicate the US standards system will face clear limitations--persistent differences in Asia's economic institutions, levels of development, and growth models are bound to limit convergence to a US-style market-led voluntary standards system.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

IMF working paper: Iran — The Chronicles of the Subsidy Reform

A recent IMF Working Paper by staff of the Middle East and Central Asia Department, "Iran — The Chronicles of the Subsidy Reform," [1] analyses the December 2010 changes in subsidies of domestic energy and agricultural prices, which increased about 20 times, making it the first major oil-exporting country to reduce substantially implicit energy subsidies.

Their paper reviews the economic and technical issues involved in the planning and early implementation of the reform, including the transfers to households and the public relations campaign that were critical to the success of the reform. It also looks at the reform from a chronological standpoint, in particular in the final phases of the preparation. The paper concludes by an overview of the main challenges for the second phase of the reform.

Buy a print copy at or request a PDF version from us for free.


On Saturday, December 18, 2010, at 9:00 p.m. Tehran time, speaking in a televised “conversation with the nation”, President Ahmadinejad announced the start of what he termed the most sweeping economic “surgery” in Iran’s modern history. Just after midnight on December 19, Iranian media began releasing announcements detailing the new price structure for liquid fuels. Within twenty-four hours, new natural gas, electricity, and water tariffs were published, and allowable ceilings for the increase in taxi and public transport tariffs followed. At the time, close to 80 percent of Iran’s population was granted unrestricted access to compensatory payments that had been deposited in specially-created bank accounts starting in October 2010.

The reform, officially referred to as Targeted Subsidies Reform, made Iran the first major energy producing and exporting country to cut drastically massive indirect subsidies to energy products and replace them with across the board energy dividend transfers to the population. It is estimated that the price increases removed close to US$50–US$60 billion dollars in annual product subsidies. By December 2011, in the first 12 months following the price increase, Iranian households will have received at least US$30 billion in freely usable cash, and another $10–$15 billion will have been advanced to enterprises to finance investment in restructuring aimed at reducing energy intensity.


Although oil and gas production has accounted for an increasingly smaller share of real GDP, oil and gas revenues remain the main source of foreign exchange earnings and fiscal revenues. The share of oil in real GDP fell from an average of 40 percent of real GDP in the 1960s to about 10½ percent in the last decade, reflecting average annual non-oil GDP growth rate of 5.7 percent compared to only 4.4 percent for oil and gas GDP. Oil and gas receipts accounted for about 72 percent of export revenues in the last decade, despite rapid non-oil export growth.  Oil and gas revenues also account for 65 percent of fiscal revenues, and are likely to remain the main source of financing for development projects in the foreseeable future notwithstanding recent efforts to diversify fiscal revenues.

Iran’s high dependence on oil export revenues has had a profound impact on its business cycle. In the most recent business cycle during 2002-2008, fiscal spending and credit growth increased at the same time as export revenues and oil prices, resulting in an overheating of the economy and a surge in inflation. The subsequent tighter monetary and fiscal policies coincided with the sharp fall in oil exports caused by the international recession of 2008-2009. As a result, inflation and output declined sharply.

Domestic energy prices have historically been set administratively in Iran, as in the majority of oil exporting countries. They were set at a level high enough to cover production costs and have been changed only occasionally. This worked well when international oil prices were relatively stable and low, and close to production costs. However, when international prices began to rise after 2002, low domestic energy prices became increasingly out of line with the market value of oil. In addition, high domestic rates of inflation and subsequent exchange rate depreciations contributed to further erode domestic energy prices vis-à-vis their international benchmarks. The March 2002 unification of exchange rates and the resulting rial depreciation also accentuated a growing disparity between domestic and international energy prices.

Increasingly cheaper energy stimulated demand, making Iran the country with the highest level of energy subsidy. Not surprisingly, domestic energy use and energy intensity in Iran, as in many other energy producing countries, increased rapidly. Cheap domestic energy prices led to a rapid increase in domestic energy consumption. As a result, Iran became one of the most energy-intensive economies in the world. The high domestic absorption of crude oil distillates, natural gas, and electricity reduced the availability of these energy products for the export market. Iranian oil energy companies were also increasingly starved of funds needed for investment since domestic energy prices were set at barely cost recovery levels. Environmental pollution and its impact on human health, as well as the time lost due to traffic congestion on Iranian roads provided additional urgency for the reform. Not surprisingly, by 2007 some analysts started questioning not only Iran’s plans to increase its oil production capacity, but also its ability to stop a decline in oil production and exports.


The Iranian authorities were clear from the outset that the main reform objective was to reduce waste and rationalize consumption. By compensating households for the energy price increases, most consumers would be better off because the higher energy price would discourage some marginal gasoline consumption, while the cash compensation would allow consumers to buy more other goods and services.


The reform would also improve social equity in the distribution of Iran’s hydrocarbon wealth. For the poor who benefited little for cheap domestic energy price, the compensation would represent a large share of their income, lifting virtually every Iranian out of poverty.  This gave the government a powerful public relations and moral argument in support of the reform.

The likely large substitution effect triggered by large price increases could provide a significant stimulus to Iran’s domestic production and further diversification efforts, particularly given the slow growth in recent years, and relatively high, double-digit unemployment. The distribution of about $30 billion in annual compensatory payments directly to the population would support domestic demand and nonenergy sector growth.  The reform was not expected to contribute to fiscal consolidation. The reform legislation, and the political debate that preceded it, ruled out using the reduction of energy subsidies to improve the country’s fiscal balance. To the contrary, Iranian reforms, including the privatization program launched in 2006, aimed at reducing the size and the role of the public sector in the economy. However, potential large savings in domestic energy use could make significant quantities of crude oil and refined products available for exports (Box 2). The revenue from such exports could support a virtuous cycle of investment in the energy sector that would add production and refining capacity and further increase exports.


[1]  Dominique Guillaume, Roman Zytek, and Mohammad Reza Farzin: Iran — The Chronicles of the Subsidy Reform. July 2011.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Iranians adjust to increases in fuel – diesel costs 837% more than a month ago

Please see commentary on this and other subjects at

Iranians adjust to increases in fuel – diesel costs 837% more than a month ago

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Obama's Russia Tribute - What he gave away in return for watered-down Iran sanctions

Obama's Russia Tribute. WSJ Editorial
What he gave away in return for watered-down Iran sanctions.WSJ, May 27, 2010

When the Obama Administration last week secured the Kremlin's support for U.N. sanctions on Iran, the White House touted a big dividend from its "reset" in relations with Russia. Now the price for Moscow's cooperation is becoming clearer, and the only ones who should be cheering are the Russians and Iranians.

Three days after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the deal on a diluted Security Council resolution, she quietly met an explicit demand from Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Buried in last Friday's Federal Register, the State Department announced it was ending long-standing sanctions against four Russian entities that had helped Iran's nuclear weapons and missile programs.

The draft U.N. resolution also includes a loophole for Russia, which would be allowed to deliver the five S-300 surface-to-air missiles that Moscow agreed to sell Tehran in 2005. The S-300s can intercept missiles and aircraft but fall outside the U.N. resolution's ban on the sale of eight categories of conventional weapons to Iran. Mikhail Margelov, the head of the foreign affairs committee of Russia's upper house of parliament, crowed last Friday that sanctions "will not hit current contracts between Russia and Iran."

All of this came on top of the White House decision a week earlier to resubmit to Congress a civilian nuclear cooperation pact with Russia. This was another goodie for Moscow.

These so-called "123 agreements"—named after a section of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954—open the door to technology transfers, commerce in nuclear materials and joint research between the U.S. and select countries. The Bush Administration negotiated the deal with the Kremlin but shelved it after the Russians invaded Georgia in August 2008.

President Obama said that "the situation in Georgia need no longer be considered an obstacle" and that "the level and scope of U.S.-Russia cooperation on Iran are sufficient to justify" the deal. Unlike a treaty, Congress doesn't ratify the pact but has 90 days to act or the deal automatically goes into force. Democrat Edward Markey and Republican Jeff Fortenberry last week introduced a resolution in the House to stop the deal.

It's an uphill but worthy effort. Russia continues illegally to occupy Georgian territory, but the larger problem is its proliferation. Both Republican and Democratic Administration have turned a blind eye to Russian misbehavior. When the Bush Administration submitted the agreement for review, the Government Accountability Office criticized the mandatory accompanying "proliferation statement" on Russia as shoddy and incomplete.

Starting in the 1990s, Moscow sold Iran nuclear centrifuges and missile technology. One company sanctioned until last week, the state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, was put on the list as recently as 2008, while the Moscow Aviation Institute helped Iran develop ballistic missiles.

Nonetheless, the Obama Administration now says "Russia's approach to Iran has evolved," in the words of State spokesman P.J. Crowley. Gary Samore, the White House arms control coordinator, insists that "the Russians understand that the consequences [of shipping the S-300s] would be very severe."

These assurances don't square with Russian statements or actions. The week that President Obama sent the nuclear cooperation pact to Congress, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was in Damascus touting future nuclear business with Iran's close ally in terrorism. "Cooperation [with Syria] on atomic energy could get a second wind," he said.

In return for all this, the Administration gets weak sanctions similar to the three sets the Bush Administration won without paying such a high tribute. If this represents what the Administration calls "smart diplomacy," we'd hate to see what we give up when we're dumb.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Iran's Nuclear Coup - Ahmadinejad and Lula expose Obama's hapless diplomacy.

Iran's Nuclear Coup. WSJ Editorial
Ahmadinejad and Lula expose Obama's hapless diplomacy.
WSJ, May 18, 2010

What a fiasco. That's the first word that comes to mind watching Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raise his arms yesterday with the leaders of Turkey and Brazil to celebrate a new atomic pact that instantly made irrelevant 16 months of President Obama's "diplomacy." The deal is a political coup for Tehran and possibly delivers the coup de grace to the West's half-hearted efforts to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb.

Full credit for this debacle goes to the Obama Administration and its hapless diplomatic strategy. Last October, nine months into its engagement with Tehran, the White House concocted a plan to transfer some of Iran's uranium stock abroad for enrichment. If the West couldn't stop Iran's program, the thinking was that maybe this scheme would delay it. The Iranians played coy, then refused to accept the offer.

But Mr. Obama doesn't take no for an answer from rogue regimes, and so he kept the offer on the table. As the U.S. finally seemed ready to go to the U.N. Security Council for more sanctions, the Iranians chose yesterday to accept the deal on their own limited terms while enlisting the Brazilians and Turks as enablers and political shields. "Diplomacy emerged victorious today," declared Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, turning Mr. Obama's own most important foreign-policy principle against him.

The double embarrassment is that the U.S. had encouraged Lula's diplomacy as a step toward winning his support for U.N. sanctions. Brazil is currently one of the nonpermanent, rotating members of the Security Council, and the U.S. has wanted a unanimous U.N. vote. Instead, Lula used the opening to triangulate his own diplomatic solution. In her first game of high-stakes diplomatic poker, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leaving the table dressed only in a barrel.

So instead of the U.S. and Europe backing Iran into a corner this spring, Mr. Ahmadinejad has backed Mr. Obama into one. America's discomfort is obvious. In its statement yesterday, the White House strained to "acknowledge the efforts" by Turkey and Brazil while noting "Iran's repeated failure to live up to its own commitments." The White House also sought to point out differences between yesterday's pact and the original October agreements on uranium transfers.

Good luck drawing those distinctions with the Chinese or Russians, who will now be less likely to agree even to weak sanctions. Having played so prominent a role in last October's talks with Iran, the U.S. can't easily disassociate itself from something broadly in line with that framework.

Under the terms unveiled yesterday, Iran said it would send 1,200 kilograms (2,646 lbs.) of low-enriched uranium to Turkey within a month, and no more than a year later get back 120 kilograms enriched from somewhere else abroad. This makes even less sense than the flawed October deal. In the intervening seven months, Iran has kicked its enrichment activities into higher gear. Its estimated total stock has gone to 2,300 kilograms from 1,500 kilograms last autumn, and its stated enrichment goal has gone to 20% from 3.5%.

If the West accepts this deal, Iran would be allowed to keep enriching uranium in contravention of previous U.N. resolutions. Removing 1,200 kilograms will leave Iran with still enough low-enriched stock to make a bomb, and once uranium is enriched up to 20% it is technically easier to get to bomb-capable enrichment levels.

Only last week, diplomats at the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran has increased the number of centrifuges it is using to enrich uranium. According to Western intelligence estimates, Iran continues to acquire key nuclear components, such as trigger mechanisms for bombs. Tehran says it wants to build additional uranium enrichment plants. The CIA recently reported that Iran tripled its stockpile of uranium last year and moved "toward self-sufficiency in the production of nuclear missiles." Yesterday's deal will have no impact on these illicit activities.

The deal will, however, make it nearly impossible to disrupt Iran's nuclear program short of military action. The U.N. is certainly a dead end. After 16 months of his extended hand and after downplaying support for Iran's democratic opposition, Mr. Obama now faces an Iran much closer to a bomb and less diplomatically isolated than when President Bush left office.

Israel will have to seriously consider its military options. Such a confrontation is far more likely thanks to the diplomatic double-cross of Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazil's Lula, and especially to a U.S. President whose diplomacy has succeeded mainly in persuading the world's rogues that he lacks the determination to stop their destructive ambitions.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The State Department is sitting on funds to free the flow of information in closed societies

Mrs. Clinton, Tear Down this Cyberwall. By L. GORDON CROVITZ
The State Department is sitting on funds to free the flow of information in closed societies.WSJ, May 03, 2010

When a government department refuses to spend money that Congress has allocated, there's usually a telling backstory. This is doubly so when the funds are for a purpose as uncontroversial as making the Internet freer.

So why has the State Department refused to spend $45 million in appropriations since 2008 to "expand access and information in closed societies"? The technology to circumvent national restrictions is being provided by volunteers who believe that with funding they can bring Web access to many more people, from Iran to China.

A bipartisan group in Congress intended to pay for tests aimed at expanding the use of software that brings Internet access to "large numbers of users living in closed societies that have acutely hostile Internet environments." The most successful of these services is provided by a group called the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, whose programs include Freegate and Ultrasurf.

When Iranian demonstrators last year organized themselves through Twitter posts and brought news of the crackdown to the outside world, they got past the censors chiefly by using Freegate to get access to outside sites.

The team behind these circumvention programs understands how subversive their efforts can be. As Shiyu Zhou, deputy director of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, told Congress last year, "The Internet censorship firewalls have become 21st-century versions of Berlin Walls that isolate and dispirit the citizens of closed-society dictatorships."

Repressive governments rightly regard the Internet as an existential threat, giving people powerful ways to communicate and organize. These governments also use the Web as a tool of repression, monitoring emails and other traffic. Recall that Google left China in part because of hacking of human-rights activists' Gmail accounts.

To counter government monitors and censors, these programs give online users encrypted connections to secure proxy servers around the world. A group of volunteers constantly switches the Internet Protocol addresses of the servers—up to 10,000 times an hour. The group has been active since 2000, and repressive governments haven't figured out how to catch up. More than one million Iranians used the system last June to post videos and photos showing the government crackdown.

Mr. Zhou tells me his group would use any additional money to add equipment and to hire full-time technical staff to support the volunteers. For $50 million, he estimates the service could accommodate 5% of Chinese Internet users and 10% in other closed societies—triple the current capacity.

So why won't the State Department fund this group to expand its reach, or at least test how scalable the solution could be? There are a couple of explanations.

The first is that the Global Internet Freedom Consortium was founded by Chinese-American engineers who practice Falun Gong, the spiritual movement suppressed by Beijing. Perhaps not the favorites of U.S. diplomats, but what other group has volunteers engaged enough to keep such a service going? As with the Jewish refuseniks who battled the Soviet Union, sometimes it takes a persecuted minority to stand up to a totalitarian regime.

The second explanation is a split among technologists—between those who support circumvention programs built on proprietary systems and others whose faith is on more open sources of code. A study last year by the Berkman Center at Harvard gave more points to open-source efforts, citing "a well-established contentious debate among software developers about whether secrecy about implementation details is a robust strategy for security." But whatever the theoretical objections, the proprietary systems work.

Another likely factor is realpolitik. Despite the tough speech Hillary Clinton gave in January supporting Internet freedom, it's easy to imagine bureaucrats arguing that the U.S. shouldn't undermine the censorship efforts of Tehran and Beijing. An earlier generation of bureaucrats tried to edit, as overly aggressive, Ronald Reagan's 1987 speech in Berlin urging Mikhail Gorbachev: "Tear down this wall."

It's true that circumvention doesn't solve every problem. Internet freedom researcher and advocate Rebecca MacKinnon has made the point that "circumvention is never going to be the silver bullet" in the sense that it can only give people access to the open Web. It can't help with domestic censorship.

During the Cold War, the West expended huge effort to get books, tapes, fax machines, radio reports and other information, as well as the means to convey it, into closed societies. Circumvention is the digital-age equivalent.

If the State Department refuses to support a free Web, perhaps there's a private solution. An anonymous poster, "chinese.zhang," suggested on a Google message board earlier this year that the company should fund the Global Internet Freedom Consortium as part of its defense against Chinese censorship. "I think Google can easily offer more servers to help to break down the Great Firewall," he wrote.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

More Mr. Nice Guy - While nukes proliferate, the Federal President fiddles

More Mr. Nice Guy. By John Bolton

In his lengthy State of the Union address, President Obama was brief on national security issues, which he squeezed in toward the end. International terrorism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even America’s relief efforts in Haiti all flashed past in bullet-point mentions. On Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama emphasized neither victory nor determination, but merely the early withdrawal of U.S. forces from both. His once vaunted Middle East peace process didn’t make the cut.

Nonetheless, during this windshield tour of the world, the president found time to opine more explicitly than ever before that reducing America’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems will temper the global threat of proliferation. Obama boasted that “the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades” and that he is trying to secure “all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.”

Then came Obama’s critical linkage: “These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Obama described the increasing “isolation” of both North Korea and Iran, the two most conspicuous—but far from the only—nuclear proliferators. He also mentioned the increased sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its second nuclear test in 2009 and the “growing consequences” he says Iran will face because of his policies.

In fact, reducing our nuclear -arsenal will not somehow persuade Iran and North Korea to alter their behavior or encourage others to apply more pressure on them to do so. Obama’s remarks reflect a complete misreading of strategic realities.

We have no need for further arms control treaties with Russia, especially ones that reduce our nuclear and delivery capabilities to Moscow’s economically forced low levels. We have international obligations, moreover, that Russia does not, requiring our nuclear umbrella to afford protection to friends and allies worldwide. Obama’s policy artificially inflates Russian influence and, depending on the final agreement, will likely reduce our nuclear and strategic delivery capabilities dangerously and unnecessarily. (Securing “loose” nuclear materials internationally has long been a bipartisan goal, properly so. Obama said nothing new on that score.) Meanwhile, Obama is considering treaty restrictions on our missile defense capabilities more damaging than his own previous unilateral reductions.

What warrants close attention is the jarring naïveté of arguing that reducing our capabilities will inhibit nuclear proliferators. That would certainly surprise Tehran and Pyongyang. Obama’s insistence that the evil-doers are “violating international agreements” is also startling, as if this were of equal importance with the proliferation itself.

The premise underlying these assertions may well be found in Obama’s smug earlier comment that we should “put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough.  .  .  .  Let’s leave behind the fear and division.” By reducing to the level of wayward boys the debates over whether his policies are making us more or less secure, Obama reveals a deep disdain for the decades of strategic thinking that kept America safe during the Cold War and afterwards. Even more pertinent, Obama’s indifference and scorn for real threats are chilling auguries of what the next three years may hold.

Obama has now explicitly rejected the idea that U.S. weakness is provocative, arguing instead that weakness will convince Tehran and Pyongyang to do the opposite of what they have been resolutely doing for decades—vigorously pursuing their nuclear and missile programs. Obama’s first year amply demonstrates that his approach will do nothing even to retard, let alone stop, Iran and North Korea.

Neither Bush nor Obama administration efforts toward international sanctions have had any measurable impact. The first Security Council sanctions on North Korea after its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests in 2006 did not stop Pyongyang from conducting further missile launches and a second nuclear detonation in 2009. Nor have the measures imposed after that second test, about which Obama boasted, impaired the North’s nuclear program or even brought Pyongyang back to the risible Six-Party Talks. Three sets of Security Council restrictions against Iran have only glancingly affected Tehran’s nuclear program, and the Obama administration’s threats of “crippling sanctions” have disappeared along with last year’s series of “deadlines” that Iran purportedly faced. In response, Tehran’s authoritarianism and belligerence have only increased.

With his counterproliferation strategies, such as they were, in disarray, Obama now pins his hopes on moral suasion, which has never influenced Iran, North Korea, or any other determined proliferator. Perhaps it would have been better had the president’s speech not mentioned national security at all.

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is the author of Surrender Is Not an Option.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Iran's Big Victory in Geneva - We are now even further from eliminating Tehran's threat

Iran's Big Victory in Geneva. By JOHN BOLTON
We are now even further from eliminating Tehran's threat.
WSJ, Oct 05, 2009

The most widely touted outcome of last week's Geneva talks with Iran was the "agreement in principle" to send approximately one nuclear-weapon's worth of Iran's low enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia for enrichment to 19.75% and fabrication into fuel rods for Tehran's research reactor. President Barack Obama says the deal represents progress, a significant confidence-building measure.

In fact, the agreement constitutes another in the long string of Iranian negotiating victories over the West. Any momentum toward stricter sanctions has been dissipated, and Iran's fraudulent, repressive regime again hobnobs with the U.N. Security Council's permanent members. Consider the following problems:

• Is there a deal or isn't there? Diplomacy's three slipperiest words are "agreement in principle." Iran's Ambassador to Britain exclaimed after the talks in Geneva, "No, no!" when asked if his country had agreed to ship LEU to Russia; it had "not been discussed yet." An unnamed Iranian official said that the Geneva deal "is just based on principles. We have not agreed on any amount or any numbers." Bargaining over the deal's specifics could stretch out indefinitely.
Other issues include whether Iran will have "observers" at Russian enrichment facilities. If so, what new technologies might those observers glean? And, since Tehran's reactor is purportedly for medical purposes, will Mr. Obama deny what Iran pretends to need to refuel it in 2010?

• The "agreement" undercuts Security Council resolutions forbidding Iranian uranium enrichment. No U.S. president has been more enamored of international law and the Security Council than Mr. Obama. Yet here he is undermining the foundation of the multilateral campaign against Tehran's nuclear weapons program. In Resolution 1696, adopted July 31, 2006, the Security Council required Iran to "suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development." Uranium enriched thereafter—the overwhelming bulk of Iran's admitted LEU—thus violates 1696 and later sanctions resolutions. Moreover, considering Iran's utter lack of credibility, we have no idea whether its declared LEU constitutes anything near its entire stockpile.

By endorsing Iran's use of its illegitimately enriched uranium, Mr. Obama weakens his argument that Iran must comply with its "international obligations." Indeed, the Geneva deal undercuts Mr. Obama's proposal to withhold more sanctions if Iran does not enhance its nuclear program by allowing Iran to argue that continued enrichment for all peaceful purposes should be permissible. Now Iran will oppose new sanctions and argue for repealing existing restrictions. Every other aspiring proliferator is watching how violating Security Council resolutions not only carries no penalty but provides a shortcut to international redemption.

• Raising Iran's LEU to higher enrichment levels is a step backwards. Two-thirds of the work to get 90% enriched uranium, the most efficient weapons grade, is accomplished when U235 isotope levels in natural uranium are enriched to Iran's current level of approximately 3%-5%. Further enrichment of Iran's LEU to 19.75% is a significant step in the wrong direction. This is barely under the 20% definition of weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium (HEU). Ironically, Resolution 1887, adopted while Mr. Obama presided over the Security Council last week, calls for converting HEU-based reactors like Iran's to LEU fuel precisely to lower such proliferation risks. We should be converting the Tehran reactor, not refueling it at 19.75% enrichment.

After Geneva, the administration misleadingly stated that once fashioned into fuel rods, the uranium involved could not be enriched further. This is flatly untrue. The 19.75% enriched uranium could be reconverted into uranium hexafluoride gas and quickly enriched to 90%. Iran could also "burn" its uranium fuel (including the Russian LEU available for the Bushehr reactor) and then chemically extract plutonium from the spent fuel to produce nuclear weapons.

The more sophisticated Iran's nuclear skills become, the more paths it has to manufacture nuclear weapons. The research-reactor bait-and-switch demonstrates convincingly why it cannot be trusted with fissile material under any peaceful guise. Proceeding otherwise would be winking at two decades of Iranian deception, which, unfortunately, Mr. Obama seems perfectly prepared to do.

The president also said last week that international access to the Qom nuclear site must occur within two weeks, but an administration spokesman retreated the next day, saying there was no "hard and fast deadline," and "we don't have like a drop-dead date." Of course, neither does Iran. Once again, Washington has entered the morass of negotiations with Tehran, giving Iran precious time to refine and expand its nuclear program. We are now even further from eliminating Iran's threat than before Geneva.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

We've Been Talking to Iran for 30 Years

We've Been Talking to Iran for 30 Years. By MICHAEL LEDEEN
The seizure of the U.S. embassy followed the failure of Carter administration talks with Ayatollah Khomeini's regime.
WSJ, Sep 30, 2009

The Obama administration's talks with Iran—set to take place tomorrow in Geneva—are accompanied by an almost universally accepted misconception: that previous American administrations refused to negotiate with Iranian leaders. The truth, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said last October at the National Defense University, is that "every administration since 1979 has reached out to the Iranians in one way or another and all have failed."

After the fall of the shah in February 1979, the Carter administration attempted to establish good relations with the revolutionary regime. We offered aid, arms and understanding. The Iranians demanded that the United States honor all arms deals with the shah, remain silent about human-rights abuses carried out by the new regime, and hand over Iranian "criminals" who had taken refuge in America. The talks ended with the seizure of the American Embassy in November.

The Reagan administration—driven by a desire to gain the release of the American hostages—famously sought a modus vivendi with Iran in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War during the mid-1980s. To that end, the U.S. sold weapons to Iran and provided military intelligence about Iraqi forces. High-level American officials such as Robert McFarlane met secretly with Iranian government representatives to discuss the future of the relationship. This effort ended when the Iran-Contra scandal erupted in late 1986.

The Clinton administration lifted sanctions that had been imposed by Messrs. Carter and Reagan. During the 1990s, Iranians (including the national wrestling team) entered the U.S. for the first time since the '70s. The U.S. also hosted Iranian cultural events and unfroze Iranian bank accounts. President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright publicly apologized to Iran for purported past sins, including the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh's government by the CIA and British intelligence in August 1953. But it all came to nothing when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed that we were their enemies in March 1999.

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.

Until the end of 2006—and despite appeals for international support, notably from Mr. Clinton—sanctions were almost exclusively imposed by the U.S. alone. Mr. Carter issued an executive order forbidding the sale of anything to Tehran except food and medical supplies. Mr. Reagan banned the importation of virtually all Iranian goods and services in October 1987. Mr. Clinton issued an executive order in March 1995 prohibiting any American involvement with petroleum development. The following May he issued an additional order tightening those sanctions. Five years later, Secretary of State Albright eased some of the sanctions by allowing Americans to buy and import carpets and some food products, such as dried fruits, nuts and caviar.

Mr. Bush took spare parts for commercial aircraft off the embargo list in the fall of 2006. On the other hand, in 2008 he revoked authorization of so-called U-turn transfers, making it illegal for any American bank to process transactions involving Iran—even if non-Iranian banks were at each end.

Throughout this period, our allies advocated for further diplomacy instead of sanctions. But beginning in late 2006, the United Nations started passing sanctions of its own. In December of that year, the Security Council blocked the import or export of "sensitive nuclear material and equipment" and called on member states to freeze the assets of anyone involved with Iran's nuclear program.

In 2007, the Security Council banned all arms exports from Iran, froze Iranian assets, and restricted the travel of anyone involved in the Iranian nuclear program. The following year, it called for investigations of Iranian banks, and authorized member countries to start searching planes and ships coming or going from or to Iran. All to no avail.

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.

Mr. Ledeen, a scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, is the author, most recently, of "Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West," out next month from St. Martin's Press.

Friday, August 7, 2009

US Air Force and Naval forces could do serious damage to Tehran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails

There Is a Military Option on Iran. By CHUCK WALD
U.S. Air Force and Naval forces could do serious damage to Tehran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails.
WSJ, Aug 07, 2009

In a policy address at the Council on Foreign Relations last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of Iran, “We cannot be afraid or unwilling to engage.” But the Iranian government has yet to accept President Obama’s outstretched hand. Even if Tehran suddenly acceded to talks, U.S. policy makers must prepare for the eventuality that diplomacy fails. While there has been much discussion of economic sanctions, we cannot neglect the military’s role in a Plan B.

There has been a lack of serious public discussion of the military tools available to us. Any mention of them is either met with accusations of warmongering or hushed with concerns over sharing sensitive information. It is important to discuss, within legal limits, such a serious issue as openly as possible. Discussion strengthens our democracy and dispels misinformation.

The military can play an important role in solving this complex problem without firing a single shot. Publicly signaling serious preparation for a military strike might obviate the need for one if deployments force Tehran to recognize the costs of its nuclear defiance. Mr. Obama might consider, for example, the deployment of additional carrier battle groups and minesweepers to the waters off Iran, and the conduct of military exercises with allies.

If such pressure fails to impress Iranian leadership, the U.S. Navy could move to blockade Iranian ports. A blockade—which is an act of war—would effectively cut off Iran’s gasoline imports, which constitute about one-third of its consumption. Especially in the aftermath of post-election protests, the Iranian leadership must worry about the economic dislocations and political impact of such action.

Should these measures not compel Tehran to reverse course on its nuclear program, and only after all other diplomatic avenues and economic pressures have been exhausted, the U.S. military is capable of launching a devastating attack on Iranian nuclear and military facilities.

Many policy makers and journalists dismiss the military option on the basis of a false sense of futility. They assume that the U.S. military is already overstretched, that we lack adequate intelligence about the location of covert nuclear sites, and that known sites are too heavily fortified.

Such assumptions are false.

An attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would mostly involve air assets, primarily Air Force and Navy, that are not strained by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the presence of U.S. forces in countries that border Iran offers distinct advantages. Special Forces and intelligence personnel already in the region can easily move to protect key assets or perform clandestine operations. It would be prudent to emplace additional missile-defense capabilities in the region, upgrade both regional facilities and allied militaries, and expand strategic partnerships with countries such as Azerbaijan and Georgia to pressure Iran from all directions.

Conflict may reveal previously undetected Iranian facilities as Iranian forces move to protect them. Moreover, nuclear sites buried underground may survive sustained bombing, but their entrances and exits will not.

Of course, there are huge risks to military action: U.S. and allied casualties; rallying Iranians around an unstable and oppressive regime; Iranian reprisals be they direct or by proxy against us and our allies; and Iranian-instigated unrest in the Persian Gulf states, first and foremost in Iraq.

Furthermore, while a successful bombing campaign would set back Iranian nuclear development, Iran would undoubtedly retain its nuclear knowhow. An attack would also necessitate years of continued vigilance, both to retain the ability to strike previously undiscovered sites and to ensure that Iran does not revive its nuclear program.

But the risks of military action must be weighed against those of doing nothing. If the Iranian regime continues to advance its nuclear program despite the best efforts of Mr. Obama and other world leaders, we risk Iranian domination of the oil-rich Persian Gulf, threats to U.S.-allied Arab regimes, the emboldening of radicals in the region, the creation of an existential threat to Israel, the destabilization of Iraq, the shutdown of the Israel-Palestinian peace process, and a regional nuclear-arms race.

A peaceful resolution of the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions would certainly be the best possible outcome. But should diplomacy and economic pressure fail, a U.S. military strike against Iran is a technically feasible and credible option.

Gen. Wald (U.S. Air Force four-star, retired) was the air commander for the initial stages of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and deputy commander of the U.S. European Command. He was also a participant in the Bipartisan Policy Center’s project on U.S. policy toward Iran, “Meeting the Challenge.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Conservative on Israel and Iran: After years of failed diplomacy no one will be able to call an attack precipitous

It’s Crunch Time for Israel on Iran. By JOHN BOLTON
After years of failed diplomacy no one will be able to call an attack precipitous.
WSJ, Jul 29, 2009

Legions of senior American officials have descended on Jerusalem recently, but the most important of them has been Defense Secretary Robert Gates. His central objective was to dissuade Israel from carrying out military strikes against Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities. Under the guise of counseling “patience,” Mr. Gates again conveyed President Barack Obama’s emphatic thumbs down on military force.

The public outcome of Mr. Gates’s visit appeared polite but inconclusive. Yet Iran’s progress with nuclear weapons and air defenses means Israel’s military option is declining over time. It will have to make a decision soon, and it will be no surprise if Israel strikes by year’s end. Israel’s choice could determine whether Iran obtains nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Obama’s approach to Tehran has been his “open hand,” yet his gesture has not only been ignored by Iran but deemed irrelevant as the country looks inward to resolve the aftermath of its fraudulent election. The hardliner “winner” of that election, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was recently forced to fire a deputy who once said something vaguely soothing about Israel. Clearly, negotiations with the White House are not exactly topping the Iranian agenda.

Beyond that, Mr. Obama’s negotiation strategy faces insuperable time pressure. French President Nicolas Sarkozy proclaimed that Iran must re-start negotiations with the West by September’s G-20 summit. But this means little when, with each passing day, Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile laboratories, production facilities and military bases are all churning. Israel is focused on these facts, not the illusion of “tough” diplomacy.

Israel rejects another feature of Mr. Obama’s diplomatic stance. The Israelis do not believe that progress with the Palestinians will facilitate a deal on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Though Mr. Gates and others have pressed this fanciful analysis, Israel will not be moved.

Worse, Mr. Obama has no new strategic thinking on Iran. He vaguely promises to offer the country the carrot of diplomacy—followed by an empty threat of sanctions down the road if Iran does not comply with the U.S.’s requests. This is precisely the European Union’s approach, which has failed for over six years.

There’s no reason Iran would suddenly now bow to Mr. Obama’s diplomatic efforts, especially after its embarrassing election in June. So with diplomacy out the door, how will Iran be tamed?

Mr. Gates’ mission had extraordinary significance. Israel sees the political and military landscape in a very inauspicious light. It also worries that, once ensnared in negotiations, the Obama administration will find it very hard to extricate itself. The Israelis are probably right. To prove the success of his “open hand,” Mr. Obama will declare victory for “diplomacy” even if it means little to no gains on Iran’s nuclear program.

Under the worst-case scenario, Iran will continue improving its nuclear facilities and Mr. Obama will become the first U.S. president to tie the issue of Israel’s nuclear capabilities into negotiations about Iran’s.

Israel understands that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent commitment to extend the U.S. “defense umbrella” to Israel is not a guarantee of nuclear retaliation, and that it is wholly insufficient to deter Iran from obliterating Israel if it so decides. In fact, Mrs. Clinton’s comment tacitly concedes that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons, exactly the wrong message. Since Israel, like the U.S., is well aware its missile defense system is imperfect, whatever Mr. Gates said about the “defense umbrella” will be politely ignored.

Relations between the U.S. and Israel are more strained now than at any time since the 1956 Suez Canal crisis. Mr. Gates’s message for Israel not to act on Iran, and the U.S. pressure he brought to bear, highlight the weight of Israel’s lonely burden.

Striking Iran’s nuclear program will not be precipitous or poorly thought out. Israel’s attack, if it happens, will have followed enormously difficult deliberation over terrible imponderables, and years of patiently waiting on innumerable failed diplomatic efforts. Absent Israeli action, prepare for a nuclear Iran.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Germany's Spies Refuted the 2007 NIE Report

Germany's Spies Refuted the 2007 NIE Report. By BRUNO SCHIRRA
'Work on nuclear weapons can be observed in Iran even after 2003'
WSJ, Jul 20, 2009

President Obama has committed to trying diplomacy to stop the Iranian bomb. Time, though, is on the mullahs' side, not least because so much of it was wasted after the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate made the improbable case that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. This assessment not only contradicted previous U.S. intelligence consensus but -- as recent court documents show -- also the conclusions of a key U.S. ally with excellent sources in Iran -- Germany.

The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, has amassed evidence of a sophisticated Iranian nuclear weapons program that continued beyond 2003. This usually classified information comes courtesy of Germany's highest state-security court. In a 30-page legal opinion on March 26 and a May 27 press release in a case about possible illegal trading with Iran, a special national security panel of the Federal Supreme Court in Karlsruhe cites from a May 2008 BND report, saying the agency "showed comprehensively" that "development work on nuclear weapons can be observed in Iran even after 2003."

According to the judges, the BND supplemented its findings on August 28, 2008, showing "the development of a new missile launcher and the similarities between Iran's acquisition efforts and those of countries with already known nuclear weapons programs, such as Pakistan and North Korea."

It's important to point out that this was no ordinary agency report, the kind that often consists just of open source material, hearsay and speculation. Rather, the BND submitted an "office testimony," which consists of factual statements about the Iranian program that can be proved in a court of law. This is why, in their March 26 opinion, the judges wrote that "a preliminary assessment of the available evidence suggests that at the time of the crime [April to November 2007] nuclear weapons were being developed in Iran." In their May press release, the judges come out even more clear, stating unequivocally that "Iran in 2007 worked on the development of nuclear weapons."

The judges had been asked to consider an appeal in the case of a German-Iranian businessman accused of brokering supplies for Iran's nuclear weapons program. The Federal Prosecutor had charged the defendant, identified by the authorities only as "Mohsen V.," with violating Germany's War Weapons Control Law and the Foreign Trade Act. A lower court in Frankfurt refused to try the case on the grounds that it was unlikely that Iran had a nuclear program at the time of the defendant's activities in 2007, citing the NIE report as evidence.

That's why the Supreme Court judges had to rule first on the question of whether that program exists at all. Having answered that question in the affirmative, the court had to rule next on the likelihood of the defendant to be found guilty in a trial. The supreme court's conclusions are unusually strong.

"The results of the investigation do in fact provide sufficient indications that the accused aided the development of nuclear weapons in Iran through business dealings."

The supreme court thus annulled the lower court's decision to throw out the case, demanding that the Frankfurt-based judges try the defendant on the original charges.

The case itself sheds light on how these networks function. According to the supreme court judges, the businessman has brokered "industrial machines, equipment and raw materials primarily to Iranian customers," for Iran's nuclear weapons program.

According to the same decision, the defendant's business partners in Tehran "dealt with acquiring military and nuclear-related goods for Iran and used various front companies, headquartered for example in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, to circumvent existing trade restrictions." According to the judges, Mohsen V. also tried to supply to Tehran via front companies in Dubai "Geiger counters for radiation-resistant detectors constructed especially for protection against the effects of nuclear detonations."

Defendant Mohsen V.'s various business contacts in Iran, Russia, Germany, and the Near and Middle East are listed in the prosecutor's files and in the judges' decision. So is information related to the secret supply of "two high-speed cameras needed to develop nuclear warheads. The delivery of the cameras to the final customers in Iran occurred on November 1, 2007 at the latest." The Karlsruhe judges wrote that, by his own admission, Mohsen V. was "aware of the cameras' possible use in the military arena."

The court's decision and the BND's reports raise the question of how, or why, U.S. intelligence officials could have come to the conclusion that Iran suspended its program in 2003. German intelligence officials wonder themselves. BND sources have told me that they have shared their findings and documentation with their U.S. colleagues ahead of the 2007 NIE report -- as is customary between these two allies. It appears the Americans have simply ignored this evidence despite repeated warnings from the BND. This suggests not so much a failure of U.S. intelligence but its sabotage.

The politicized 2007 NIE report undermined the Bush Administration's efforts to rally international support for tough action against Iran. The world's best hope is that the Obama Administration is not being fed the same false sense of security.

Mr. Schirra is an investigative reporter in Berlin and author of "Iran -- Sprengstoff für Europe," Iran -- Explosives for Europe (Econ, 2006). Belinda Coopers translated this article from the German.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The release of the Irbil Five - Quds Force commanders from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)

Obama Frees Iranian Terror Masters. By Andrew C. McCarthy
The release of the Irbil Five is a continuation of a shameful policy.
NRO, July 11, 2009 7:00 AM

There are a few things you need to know about President Obama’s shameful release on Thursday of the “Irbil Five” — Quds Force commanders from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who were coordinating terrorist attacks in Iraq that have killed hundreds — yes, hundreds — of American soldiers and Marines.

First, of the 4,322 Americans killed in combat in Iraq since 2003, 10 percent of them (i.e., more than 400) have been murdered by a single type of weapon alone, a weapon that is supplied by Iran for the singular purpose of murdering Americans. As Steve Schippert explains at NRO’s military blog, the Tank, the weapon is “the EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator), designed by Iran’s IRGC specifically to penetrate the armor of the M1 Abrams main battle tank and, consequently, everything else deployed in the field.” Understand: This does not mean Iran has killed only 400 Americans in Iraq. The number killed and wounded at the mullahs’ direction is far higher than that — likely multiples of that — when factoring in the IRGC’s other tactics, such as the mustering of Hezbollah-style Shiite terror cells.

Second, President Bush and our armed forces steadfastly refused demands by Iran and Iraq’s Maliki government for the release of the Irbil Five because Iran was continuing to coordinate terrorist operations against American forces in Iraq (and to aid Taliban operations against American forces in Afghanistan). Freeing the Quds operatives obviously would return the most effective, dedicated terrorist trainers to their grisly business.

Third, Obama’s decision to release the five terror-masters comes while the Iranian regime (a) is still conducting operations against Americans in Iraq, even as we are in the process of withdrawing, and (b) is clearly working to replicate its Lebanon model in Iraq: establishing a Shiite terror network, loyal to Iran, as added pressure on the pliant Maliki to understand who is boss once the Americans leave. As the New York Times reports, Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, put it this way less than two weeks ago:

Iran is still supporting, funding, training surrogates who operate inside of Iraq — flat out. . . . They have not stopped. And I don’t think they will stop. I think they will continue to do that because they are also concerned, in my opinion, [about] where Iraq is headed. They want to try to gain influence here, and they will continue to do that. I think many of the attacks in Baghdad are from individuals that have been, in fact, funded or trained by the Iranians.

Fourth, President Obama’s release of the Quds terrorists is a natural continuation of his administration’s stunningly irresponsible policy of bartering terrorist prisoners for hostages. As I detailed here on June 24, Obama has already released a leader of the Iran-backed Asaib al-Haq terror network in Iraq, a jihadist who is among those responsible for the 2007 murders of five American troops in Karbala. While the release was ludicrously portrayed as an effort to further “Iraqi reconciliation” (as if that would be a valid reason to spring a terrorist who had killed Americans), it was in actuality a naïve attempt to secure the reciprocal release of five British hostages — and a predictably disastrous one: The terror network released only the corpses of two of the hostages, threatening to kill the remaining three (and who knows whether they still are alive?) unless other terror leaders were released.

Michael Ledeen has reported that the release of the Irbil Five is part of the price Iran has demanded for its release in May of the freelance journalist Roxana Saberi. Again, that’s only part of the price: Iran also has demanded the release of hundreds of its other terror facilitators in our custody. Expect to see Obama accommodate this demand, too, in the weeks ahead.

Finally, when it comes to Iran, it has become increasingly apparent that President Obama wants the mullahs to win. What you need to know is that Barack Obama is a wolf in “pragmatist” clothing: Beneath the easy smile and above-it-all manner — the “neutral” doing his best to weigh competing claims — is a radical leftist wedded to a Manichean vision that depicts American imperialism as the primary evil in the world.

You may not have wanted to addle your brain over his tutelage in Hawaii by the Communist Frank Marshall Davis, nor his tracing of Davis’s career steps to Chicago, where he seamlessly eased into the orbit of Arafat apologist Rashid Khalidi, anti-American terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, and Maoist “educator” Michael Klonsky — all while imbibing 20 years’ worth of Jeremiah Wright’s Marxist “black liberation theology.” But this neo-Communist well from which Obama drew holds that the world order is a maze of injustice, racism, and repression. Its unified theory for navigating the maze is: “United States = culprit.” Its default position is that tyrants are preferable as long as they are anti-American, and that while terrorist methods may be regrettable, their root cause is always American provocation — that is, the terrorists have a point.

In Iran, it is no longer enough for a rickety regime, whose anti-American vitriol is its only vital sign, to rig the “democratic” process. This time, blatant electoral fraud was also required to mulct victory for the mullahs’ candidate. The chicanery ignited a popular revolt. But the brutal regime guessed right: The new American president would be supportive. So sympathetic is Obama to the mullahs’ grievances — so hostile to what he, like the regime, sees as America’s arrogant militarism — that he could be depended on to go as far as politics allowed to help the regime ride out the storm.

And so he has. Right now, politics will allow quite a lot: With unemployment creeping toward 10 percent, the auto industry nationalized, the stimulus revealed as history’s biggest redistribution racket (so far), and Democrats bent on heaping ruinous carbon taxes and socialized medicine atop an economy already crushed by tens of trillions in unfunded welfare-state liabilities, Iran is barely on anyone’s radar screen.

So Obama is pouring it on while his trusty media idles. When they are not looking the other way from the carnage in Iran’s streets, they are dutifully reporting — as the AP did — that the Irbil Five are mere “diplomats.” Obama frees a terrorist with the blood of American troops on his hands, and the press yawns. Senators Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl press for answers about the release of the terrorist and Obama’s abandonment of a decades-old American policy against trading terrorists for hostages, and the silence is deafening.

Except in Tehran, where the mullahs are hearing exactly what they’ve banked on hearing.

— National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad (Encounter Books, 2008).