Diplomacy is better than war but bad diplomacy can cause bad wars

November 13, 2013

(This is the latest in an ongoing series of dispatches about Iran.)

The classic Marseillaise clip from Casablanca has become popular in Israel this week

 

* Stanley Weiss: It is one of the great ironies of history that the nation of Israel – and likely, the religion of Judaism as we know it – would not exist if it weren’t for an ancient king from the land that is now Iran. More than 25 centuries ago, it was Cyrus the Great, the founder and first ruler of the Persian Empire, who overthrew the Babylonian Empire, freed 40,000 Jews held in captivity and facilitate their return to Judea, the site of present-day Israel (TG: and the West Bank).

* Of course, this is not a history that you will read in any Iranian textbook. Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution, two generations have embraced jihad as a central pillar of faith and action featuring an unending campaign of vilification and proxy violence against the Jews. Now that messianic Islamic government is on the verge of having the nuclear bomb.

* Maybe if the entirety of Iran’s government and military hadn’t applauded when former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned just three months ago of “an impending regional storm that would uproot Israel;” or said Israel was “on its way to annihilation” or said that the Holocaust was “made up” or said that Israel “must be wiped off the map” – it would be easier for Israel to believe that Rohani speaks for a changed Iran.

* Maybe if former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani hadn’t warned that “the application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel” or former President Mohammad Khatami hadn’t called on the Islamic world to “mobilize to kill” Israel, it would be easier for Israel to believe Iran didn’t plan to build a nuclear bomb… As we all know, Muslims don’t believe in deathbed conversions. If you were an Israeli, would you?

***

* Alan Dershowitz: “All reasonable, thinking people – liberals, conservatives, Americans and their allies, the pro-Israel community (ignoring J Street) – must unite against a ‘Chamberlain moment’ bad deal on Iran with no Iranian quid pro quo… Indeed all reasonable, thinking people should understand that weakening the sanctions against Iran without demanding that they dismantle their nuclear weapons program is a prescription for disaster.”

***

* Bret Stephens: “When the history of the Obama administration’s foreign policy is written 20 or so years from now, the career of Wendy Sherman, our chief nuclear negotiator with Iran, will be instructive. In 1988, the former social worker ran the Washington office of the Dukakis campaign. That was the year the Massachusetts governor carried 111 electoral votes to George H.W. Bush’s 426. In the mid-1990s, Ms. Sherman was briefly the CEO of something called the Fannie Mae Foundation… From there it was on to the State Department, where she served as a point person in nuclear negotiations with North Korea and met with Kim Jong Il himself. The late dictator, she testified, was “witty and humorous,” “a conceptual thinker,” “a quick problem-solver” …

***

* Time magazine: Independent experts say Netanyahu is right on Iran.

* Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, now at Harvard, together with other independent nuclear experts: The Israeli and French government are right; the Americans and British are wrong.

* David Albright, an American former IAEA inspector, runs the Institute for Science and International Security, the Washington think tank that does the most-quoted independent research on Iran’s nuclear program: Tehran might create a bomb in as little as a month. And that month becomes the window for the outside world to mount a response, such as the “military option” that President Obama continues to say is “on the table.”

***

* New York Sun: “It is hard to recall a more sneering editorial in respect of Israel than that in the New York Times this morning accusing the Jewish state of ‘hysterical opposition’ to the negotiations with Iran over its efforts to build an atomic bomb. It wants the Jews to shut up … The thing to remember is that there was a time when the New York Times was more newspapermanly. In 1938, it issued more than a dozen editorials in respect of Munich. In hindsight one sees that Hitler made a fool of many great institutions. But the Times editorials on Munich were without the kind of condescension the Sulzberger family is taking today toward the intended target of the mullahs… Yet the Times of 2013 hurls not a word, nor a pixel, at the Mullahs. Instead it belittles Israel…”

***

* A “Special Report” by the Reuters news agency reveals Iran’s supreme (and supremely corrupt -- TG) leader Ayatollah Khamenei is worth $95 billion, making him the richest man in the world. He controls a vast financial empire built on property seizures and other assets.

 

* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.

 

CONTENTS

1. Diplomacy is better than war but bad diplomacy can cause bad wars
2. “Let’s remember what Iran has said about Israel” (By Stanley Weiss, Huff. Post, Nov. 11, 2013)
3. “Oppose the deal on Iran” (By Alan Dershowitz, Ha’aretz, Nov. 12, 2013)
4. “Vive La France on Iran” (Wall Street Journal, Lead editorial, Nov. 11, 2013)
5. “Axis of Fantasy vs. Axis of Reality” (By Bret Stephens, WSJ, Nov. 11, 2013)
6. “Hysteria of the Times” (Editorial, New York Sun, Nov. 11, 2013)
7. “Experts say Israel is right to be wary” (By Karl Vick, Time magazine, Nov. 11, 2013)
8. “Exclusive investigation into the business empire of Iran’s supreme leader” (Reuters, Nov. 11, 2013)


DIPLOMACY IS BETTER THAN WAR BUT BAD DIPLOMACY CAN CAUSE BAD WARS

[Notes by Tom Gross]

This is the latest in an ongoing series of dispatches about Iran.

The BBC, The Guardian and other media have been misleading their audience in recent days by telling them that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is against a nuclear deal with Iran.

In fact, Netanyahu has repeatedly said he is for a deal. What he (like the French government, the Arab governments, and many others in the world) is against is a phony deal of the kind the Americans and British foreign ministers seemed to be toying with last weekend. A deal that would almost certainly see Iran eventually acquire a nuclear weapons arsenal and even before that force the Saudis, Egyptians, Turks, Qataris, Bahrainis and others to acquire nuclear weapons of their own -- mostly likely by buying them from Pakistan of North Korea.

As Netanyahu said yet again to reporters yesterday (not reported by the BBC) “Israel prefers the diplomatic option over any other option. But we want a genuine diplomatic solution that dismantles Iran’s military nuclear capabilities.”

And as Alan Dershowitz says in the article below, “diplomacy is better than war but bad diplomacy can cause bad wars.”

While Israelis may disagree with Netanyahu about his approach to the Palestinian question and much else – on the question of Iran they are united from left to right behind Netanyahu.

For example, in its lead editorial yesterday the Israeli paper Ma’ariv (which has been critical of Netanyahu on other issues) wrote:

“Netanyahu is claiming that the projected agreement with Iran ‘is not just appeasement, it is fraud,’ and that ‘It does not endanger peace for Israel, but for the world.’ Anyone with a brain knows that Netanyahu is right. It is not a matter of Left and Right, but of common sense and a willingness to see reality as it is. The U.S. short-term settlement will undoubtedly become a danger to world peace in the long-term.”

While the New York Times is – as many critics have noted this week – becoming hysterical in its criticism of Netanyahu and Israel – in its lead editorial, a more sober Washington Post urges the Obama administration to find “a better Iran deal.”

Indeed virtually every single Arab country (with the exception of Syria’s Assad government, which is in effect an Iranian-puppet regime) is behind Netanyahu on this issue.

While the American, British and German governments seemed a little too eager to appease the ayatollahs last weekend, the French refused to sign. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called it a “suckers’ deal”. This led the Wall Street Journal to write (in the editorial below): “At least for the time being, Francois Hollande’s Socialist government has saved the West. Vive La France!”

And which is why many Israelis have been playing this classic clip from Casablanca on their YouTube and Facebook accounts in recent days.

I attach seven articles below. (Alan Dershowitz and Bret Stephens are both long-time subscribers to this list.)

-- Tom Gross




ARTICLES

DO YOU BELIEVE IN DEATHBED CONVERSIONS?

Let’s Remember What Iran Has Said About Israel
By Stanley A. Weiss
The Huffington Post
November 11, 2013

WASHINGTON – It is one of the great ironies of history that the nation of Israel – and likely, the religion of Judaism as we know it – would not exist if it weren’t for an ancient king from the land that is now Iran. More than 25 centuries ago, it was Cyrus the Great, the founder and first ruler of the Persian Empire, who rose from his roots in present-day southwestern Iran to overthrow the Babylonian Empire, free 40,000 Jews held in captivity and facilitate their return to Judea, the site of present-day Israel.

Of course, this is not a history that you will read in any Iranian textbook. Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution was launched 34 years ago last week by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, two generations of his disciples, in the words of Islamic scholar Andrew Bostom, “have embraced jihad as a central pillar of faith and action” featuring “an unending campaign of vilification and proxy violence against the ‘Zionist entity,’ Israel.” But with Western and Iranian diplomats coming close to an agreement that would provide Iran with limited relief from crippling economic sanctions in exchange for a temporary freeze on some of its nuclear activities, Israel has been cast as the skunk at the garden party.

While last-minute disagreements between France and negotiators from the United States, Britain, Russia, Germany, and China temporarily scuffled the deal – they reportedly pledged to return to the bargaining table next week – Westerners have hailed a possible agreement as an “historic warming of relations” and “a potential American rapprochement with Iran.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, has called the negotiations a “grievous historic error.” While he continues to lobby the U.S. to intensify sanctions instead of relaxing them, a backlash over Israel’s hardline stance has already begun.

At the heart of the disagreement is uranium. In its original form, it is a harmless mineral. But it is turned into a powerful “fissile” material capable of setting off a nuclear reaction by rapidly-spinning metal tubes, called centrifuges. These centrifuges work by creating a force thousands of times more powerful than gravity, which separate the dangerous parts of uranium from the not – dangerous parts. This process is known as “enrichment.”

Iran is believed to have at least 19,000 of these centrifuges. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty does not expressly forbid Iran’s right to use centrifuges to enrich uranium to create power. While Iran insists that it only wishes to use its nuclear facilities to create electricity, uranium only needs to be enriched to 6 percent to create electricity – and not the 20 percent that Iran’s uranium has reportedly reached, making it near bomb-ready.

Iran’s position is complicated by the fact that it is also building a heavy-water nuclear reactor to produce plutonium, which can be swapped for uranium to create a nuclear weapon. As the New York Times has pointed out, Iran’s many explanations for why it is building the reactor “have left most Western nations and nuclear experts skeptical” since “the country has no need for the fuel for civilian uses right now and the reactor’s design renders it highly efficient for producing the makings of a nuclear weapon.”

It’s clear to me that for any deal to be worth suspending sanctions, Iran must do three things. First, it must immediately stop construction of the heavy – water reactor. Second, it must dispose of the uranium it has already enriched to 20 percent. And third, it must do away with many of its centrifuges, leaving only enough to enable enrichment to 6% for electricity.

But Israel goes one step further and insists that sanctions remain in place until Iran fully dismantles all of its centrifuges – arguing that if you leave any centrifuges in place, you leave in place Iran’s ability to enrich uranium and build a nuclear weapon. Given global politics, it is much easier for Iran to return to enrichment than for Western nations to reapply sanctions. Which means that any deal short of dismantling centrifuges is an act of trust in the goodwill and peaceful desires of the Iranian regime – and, Israel argues, we’d be credulous waifs to trust a regime with Iran’s record.

While much of the world seems convinced that recently inaugurated Iranian President Hassan Rohani is a moderate and take him at his word – as he declared to the United Nations in September – that Iran is ready “to discard any extreme approach in the conduct of our relations with other states,” Israel believes otherwise. And as much as many people, including me, would like to see an agreement, it’s easy to understand Israel’s strong opposition.

Maybe if Rohani hadn’t taken part in a military parade in Tehran just a few days before that UN speech that again called for the destruction of Israel, including a truck carrying Shihab missiles capable of reaching Israel sporting a banner in Persian that read, “Israel must stop existing” – it would be easier for Israel to trust Rohani.

Maybe if Rohani hadn’t called Israel “an occupier” and “a usurper government,” with “war – mongering policies” in an op-ed in September; or called Israel “a wound” in August – it would be easier for Israel to believe Rohani was different.

Maybe if Rohani hadn’t bragged on Iranian state IRIB TV in May that he, as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator from 2003-5, worked with the regime to utterly ignore a 2003 agreement he had negotiated with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which required Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities – it would be easier for Israel to believe that Rohani is a man who lives up to agreements now.

Maybe if the world hadn’t witnessed millions take to the streets in cities across Iran last week in one the largest protests in its history – with demonstrators chanting “death to Israel,” burning the Israeli flag and hanging Netanyahu in effigy – it would be easier for Israel to believe that Iran was ready to “discard any extreme approach in the conduct of its relations.”

Maybe if Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameni, universally understood to be “the dominant figure in Iranian politics,” hadn’t called Israel an “illegitimate and bastard regime” last weekend; or said that “the opportunity must not be lost . . . to kill all the Jews and annihilate Israel” in 2012; or said that “the foundation of the Islamic regime is opposition to Israel and the perpetual subject of Iran is the elimination of Israel from the region” in 2001 – it would be easier for Israel to believe that Iran has had a change of heart.

Maybe if the entirety of Iran’s government and military hadn’t applauded when former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned just three months ago of “an impending regional storm that would uproot Israel;” or said Israel was “on its way to annihilation” in 2008; or said that the Holocaust was “made up” in 2006; or said that Israel “must be wiped off the map” in 2005 – it would be easier for Israel to believe that Rohani speaks for a changed Iran.

Maybe if former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani hadn’t warned that “the application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel” in 2001; or former President Mohammad Khatami hadn’t called on the Islamic world to “mobilize to kill” Israel in 2000; – it would be easier for Israel to believe Iran didn’t plan to build a nuclear bomb.

Maybe if the commander of Iran’s Navy hadn’t threatened to “dispatch destroyers and submarines until we kill (Israel)” in 2011; or the commander of Iran’s Aerospace Force hadn’t said, “our missiles are aimed at U.S. forces and Israel” in 2011; or the co-founder of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard hadn’t said “the time has come for the Zionist regime’s death sentence” in 2008 – it would be easier for Israel to believe that Iran’s nuclear program would be safe in the hands of its military.

And maybe if Iran hadn’t spent the past decade providing financial support and arms to every organization that has called for Israel’s destruction, from Hezbollah to Hamas to Syria – it would be easier for Israel to believe that Iran had only peaceful purposes at heart.

But with such an unbroken string of death threats the past 34 years, in a region where Tehran is as close to Jerusalem as St. Louis is to New York, why shouldn’t Israel hold out for the complete dismantling of Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons?

Are sanctions crippling Iran’s economy? Yes. Are negotiations with the West an act of desperation on the part of Rohani? Yes. But does that mean that Iran renounces the destruction of Israel? Well, that would take a deathbed conversion – and as we all know, Muslims don’t believe in deathbed conversions. If you were an Israeli, would you?

 

HAVE WE LEARNED NOTHING FROM NORTH KOREA AND NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN?

Oppose the deal on Iran
By Alan M. Dershowitz
Ha’aretz
Nov. 12, 2013

All reasonable, thinking people - liberals, conservatives, Americans and their allies, the pro-Israel community (ignoring J Street) - must unite against a ‘Chamberlain moment’ bad deal on Iran with no Iranian quid pro quo.

***

Diplomacy is better than war but bad diplomacy can cause bad wars. The U.S. is leading the noble efforts, stalled for the moment, to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough in our determination to prevent Iran from developing, or having the capacity to develop, nuclear weapons. There is little dispute about this essential goal: Virtually everyone agrees that a nuclear armed Iran would pose unacceptably grave dangers to the United States and its allies.

Nor is there much controversy over the preference for “jaw jaw” over “war war” as Winston Churchill once put it. But the understandable concern, expressed by Israeli, French, Saudi and some other leaders, is that the Iranian leadership is playing for time – that they want to make insignificant concessions in exchange for significant reductions in the sanctions that are crippling their economy. Their goal is to have their yellow cake and eat good food at the same time. These leaders, and many experienced nuclear and diplomatic experts, fear that a bad deal, such as the one that Secretary Kerry seemed ready to accept, would allow the Iranians to inch closer to nuclear weapons capacity while strengthening their faltering economy. The net result would be a more powerful Iran with the ability to deploy a nuclear arsenal quickly and surreptitiously.

Were this to occur, we would be witnessing a recurrence of the failed efforts to prevent a nuclear North Korea but in a far more volatile and dangerous neighborhood of the globe. Were Iran to use the current diplomatic efforts as a cover to buy time to make a preventive military attack unrealistic, this would indeed be our “Chamberlain moment”, a replication of the time three-quarters of a century ago, when the idealistic but naive British prime minister made a bad deal with the Nazis in a desperate but futile effort to avoid deploying the military option against Hitler’s growing power.

Winston Churchill, despite his preference for jaw, railed against Chamberlain’s concession, describing it as a defeat without a war. The war, of course, soon came and the allies were in a weaker position, having ceded the industrially and militarily critical Sudetenland to Germany while at the same time giving it more time to enhance its military power. The result was tens of millions of deaths that might have been avoided if the British and French had engaged in a preventive war instead of giving dangerous concessions to the Nazis when they were still weak.

The immediate choice for the world today is not between diplomacy and preventive war, as it may have been in 1938. We have a third option: To maintain or even increase the sanctions while keeping the military option on the table. It was this powerful combination that brought a weakened and frightened Iran to the bargaining table in the first place. It is this combination that will pressure them to abandon their unnecessary quest for nuclear weapons, if anything will. To weaken the sanction regime now, in exchange for a promise to maintain the status quo, would be bad diplomacy, poor negotiation and a show of weakness precisely when a show of strength is called for.

The leadership of the pro-Israel community, both in the United States and Israel, have shown rare unity around the issue of not weakening the sanctions merely in exchange for the promise of a nuclear standstill from the Iranians. Liberals and conservatives, doves and hawks, all seem to realize that the best way to avoid the Scylla and Charybdis of a nuclear Iran or a military attack is to maintain the tough sanctions while diplomacy continues.

As usual, the only outlier seems to be J Street, whose claim to be “pro-Israel” grows less credible by the day. Previously, J Street claimed to support tough sanctions as an alternative to the military option and drumbeating. But now that Israel and its supporters insist that sanctions be maintained, J Street seems to be supporting the Neville Chamberlain approach to diplomacy: Make substantial concessions in exchange for hollow promises, thereby weakening our negotiating position and increasing the chances that the United States will be forced to take military action as the only means of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

This is the time when the entire pro-Israel community must stand together in opposition to the deal being offered the Iranians – a deal which is bad for the United States, for the West, and for Israel. The Israeli people seem united in opposition to this bad deal. The American Congress is doubtful about the deal. This is not a liberal/conservative issue. Liberals who view military action as a last resort should oppose this deal, and conservatives who fear a nuclear Iran above all else should oppose this deal.

Indeed all reasonable, thinking people should understand that weakening the sanctions against Iran without demanding that they dismantle their nuclear weapons program is a prescription for disaster. Have we learned nothing from North Korea and Neville Chamberlain?

 

“AT LEAST FOR THE TIME BEING, FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE’S SOCIALIST GOVERNMENT HAS SAVED THE WEST”

Vive La France on Iran
The French save the West from a very bad nuclear deal with Iran.
Wall Street Journal (Lead editorial)
Nov. 11, 2013

We never thought we’d say this, but thank heaven for French foreign-policy exceptionalism. At least for the time being, François Hollande’s Socialist government has saved the West from a deal that would all but guarantee that Iran becomes a nuclear power.

While the negotiating details still aren’t fully known, the French made clear Saturday that they objected to a nuclear agreement that British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama were all too eager to sign. These two leaders remind no one, least of all the Iranians, of Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. That left the French to protect against a historic security blunder, with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declaring in an interview with French radio that while France still hopes for an agreement with Tehran, it won’t accept a “sucker’s deal.”

And that’s exactly what seems to have been on the table as part of a “first-step agreement” good for six months as the parties negotiated a final deal. Tehran would be allowed to continue enriching uranium, continue manufacturing centrifuges, and continue building a plutonium reactor near the city of Arak. Iran would also get immediate sanctions relief and the unfreezing of as much as $50 billion in oil revenues – no small deliverance for a regime whose annual oil revenues barely topped $95 billion in 2011.

In return the West would get Iranian promises. There is a promise not to activate the Arak reactor, a promise not to use its most advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium or to install new ones, a promise to stop enriching uranium to 20%, which is near-weapons’ grade, and to convert its existing stockpile into uranium oxide (a process that is reversible).

What Iran has not promised to do is abide by the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which imposes additional reporting requirements on Iran and allows U.N. inspectors to conduct short-notice inspections of nuclear facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has complained for years that Iran has refused to answer its questions fully or provide inspectors with access to all of its facilities. IAEA inspectors have been barred from visiting Arak since August 2011.

In other words, the deal gives Iran immediate, if incomplete, sanctions relief and allows it to keep its nuclear infrastructure intact and keep expanding it at a slightly slower pace. And the deal contains no meaningful mechanisms for verifying compliance. “What we have to do is to make sure that there is a good deal in place from the perspective of us verifying what they’re doing,” President Obama told NBC’s Chuck Todd in an interview Wednesday. What we have is the opposite.

The President also told Mr. Todd that if Iran fails to honor the deal the U.S. can re-apply existing sanctions: “We can crank that dial back up.”

That’s also misleading. Once sanctions are eased, the argument will always be made (no doubt by Mr. Obama) that dialing them back up will give Iran the excuse to restart enrichment. Any “interim” agreement gives more negotiating leverage to Iran. If Iran really intends to cease its nuclear program, it should be willing to do so immediately and unconditionally.

All of this echoes the strategy Iran pursued after its illicit nuclear facilities were discovered in 2002. Current Iranian President Hasan Rouhani was his country’s nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005, when Iran briefly suspended its civilian and military nuclear work in the teeth of intense international pressure (and American armies on its borders with Iraq and Afghanistan). That previous suspension is treated by U.S. negotiators as a model of what they might achieve now.

It’s really a model of what they should beware. “Tehran showed that it was possible to exploit the gap between Europe and the United States to achieve Iranian objectives,” Hossein Mousavian, Mr. Rouhani’s deputy at the time, acknowledged in his memoir. “The world’s understanding of ‘suspension’ was changed from a legally binding obligation” to “a voluntary and short-term undertaking aimed at confidence building.”

Now the U.S. seems to be falling for the same ruse again. This time, however, Iran is much closer to achieving its nuclear objectives. No wonder Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu felt compelled to warn the Administration and Europe that they risked signing “a very, very bad deal,” a blunt public rebuke from a Prime Minister who has been notably cautious about criticizing the White House. The Saudis, who gave up on this Administration long ago, are no doubt thinking along similar lines. The BBC reported last week that the Kingdom has nuclear weapons “on order” from Pakistan.

The negotiators plan to resume talks on November 20, and France will be under enormous pressure to go along with a deal. We hope Messrs. Hollande and Fabius hold firm, and the U.S. Congress could help by strengthening sanctions and passing a resolution insisting that any agreement with Iran must include no uranium enrichment, the dismantling of the Arak plutonium project and all centrifuges, and intrusive, on-demand inspections. Anything less means that Iran is merely looking to con the West into easing sanctions even as it can restart its program whenever it likes.

 

FRANCE, ISRAEL AND SAUDI ARABIA CONFRONT OBAMA’S MAKE-BELIEVE FOREIGN POLICY

Axis of Fantasy vs. Axis of Reality
France, Israel and Saudi Arabia confront an administration conducting a make-believe foreign policy.
By Bret Stephens
Wall Street Journal
Updated Nov. 11, 2013

When the history of the Obama administration’s foreign policy is written 20 or so years from now, the career of Wendy Sherman, our chief nuclear negotiator with Iran, will be instructive.

In 1988, the former social worker ran the Washington office of the Dukakis campaign and worked at the Democratic National Committee. That was the year the Massachusetts governor carried 111 electoral votes to George H.W. Bush’s 426. In the mid-1990s, Ms. Sherman was briefly the CEO of something called the Fannie Mae Foundation, supposedly a charity that was shut down a decade later for what the Washington Post called “using tax-exempt contributions to advance corporate interests.”

From there it was on to the State Department, where she served as a point person in nuclear negotiations with North Korea and met with Kim Jong Il himself. The late dictator, she testified, was “witty and humorous,” “a conceptual thinker,” “a quick problem-solver,” “smart, engaged, knowledgeable, self-confident.” Also a movie buff who loved Michael Jordan highlight videos. A regular guy!

Later Ms. Sherman was to be found working for her former boss as the No. 2 at the Albright-Stonebridge Group before taking the No. 3 spot at the State Department. Ethics scolds might describe the arc of her career as a revolving door between misspending taxpayer dollars in government and mooching off them in the private sector. But it’s mainly an example of failing up – the Washingtonian phenomenon of promotion to ever-higher positions of authority and prestige irrespective of past performance.

This administration in particular is stuffed with fail-uppers – the president, the vice president, the secretary of state and the national security adviser, to name a few – and every now and then it shows. Like, for instance, when people for whom the test of real-world results has never meant very much meet people for whom that test means everything.

That’s my read on last weekend’s scuttled effort in Geneva to strike a nuclear bargain with Iran. The talks unexpectedly fell apart at the last minute when French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius publicly objected to what he called a “sucker’s deal,” meaning the U.S. was prepared to begin lifting sanctions on Iran in exchange for tentative Iranian promises that they would slow their multiple nuclear programs.

Not stop or suspend them, mind you, much less dismantle them, but merely reduce their pace from run to jog when they’re on Mile 23 of their nuclear marathon. It says something about the administration that they so wanted a deal that they would have been prepared to take this one. This is how people for whom consequences are abstractions operate. It’s what happens when the line between politics as a game of perception and policy as the pursuit of national objectives dissolves.

The French are not such people, believe it or not, at least when it comes to foreign policy. Speculation about why Mr. Fabius torpedoed the deal has focused on the pique French President François Hollande felt at getting stiffed by the U.S. on his Mali intervention and later in the aborted attack on Syria. (Foreign ministry officials in Paris are still infuriated by a Susan Rice tirade in December, when she called a French proposal to intervene in Mali “crap.”)

But the French also understand that the sole reason Iran has a nuclear program is to build a nuclear weapon. They are not nonchalant about it. The secular republic has always been realistic about the threat posed by theocratic Iran. And they have come to care about nonproliferation too, in part because they belong to what is still a small club of nuclear states. Membership has its privileges.

This now puts the French at the head of a de facto Axis of Reality, the other prominent members of which are Saudi Arabia and Israel. In this Axis, strategy is not a game of World of Warcraft conducted via avatars in a virtual reality. “We are not blind, and I don’t think we’re stupid,” a defensive John Kerry said over the weekend on “Meet the Press,” sounding uncomfortably like Otto West (Kevin Kline) from “A Fish Called Wanda.” When you’ve reached the “don’t call me stupid” stage of diplomacy, it means the rest of the world has your number.

Now the question is whether the French were staking out a position at Geneva or simply demanding to be heard. If it’s the latter, the episode will be forgotten and Jerusalem and Riyadh will have to reach their own conclusions about how to operate in a post-American Middle East. If it’s the former, Paris has a chance to fulfill two cherished roles at once: as the de facto shaper of European policy on the global stage, and as an obstacle to Washington’s presumptions to speak for the West.

A decade ago, Robert Kagan argued that the U.S. operated in a Hobbesian world of power politics while Europe inhabited the Kantian (and somewhat make-believe) world of right. That was after 9/11, when fecklessness was not an option for the U.S.

Under Mr. Obama, there’s been a role reversal. The tragedy for France and its fellow members of its Axis is that they may lack the power to master a reality they perceive so much more clearly than the Wendy Shermans of the world, still failing up.

 

IT IS HARD TO RECALL A MORE SNEERING EDITORIAL…

Hysteria of the Times
Editorial
New York Sun
November 11, 2013

It is hard to recall a more sneering editorial in respect of Israel than that in the New York Times this morning accusing the Jewish state of “hysterical opposition” to the negotiations with Iran over its efforts to build an atomic bomb. It wants the Jews to shut up while Secretary of State Kerry, who betrayed his country during the Vietnam war, once again meets in secret negotiations an enemy, this time with a country that is building an atomic weapon while talking of its desire to wipe Israel off the face of the map.

The thing to remember is that there was a time when the New York Times was more newspapermanly. In 1938, it issued more than a dozen editorials in respect of Munich. They weren’t perfect; in hindsight one sees that Hitler made a fool of many great institutions. But the Times editorials on Munich were without the kind of condescension the Sulzberger family is taking today toward the intended target of the mullahs. And when the warnings were sounded, particularly in London, against the appeasement at Munich, it issued a famous editorial on democracy.

“When Mr. Chamberlain got home from Munich,” it began, “he was in a more embarrassing position than Signor Mussolini or Herr Hitler. The latter two did not have to answer questions. Mr. Chamberlain did. The two corporate potentates did not have to submit to criticism, inside their own countries. Mr. Chamberlain did. The difference is childishly simple. In Germany and Italy the people are responsible to their governments. In England the government is responsible to the people. In Germany and Italy the ruler can make no mistakes and do no wrong – it is treason to say that he can.”

The Times of 1938 made the point that in England, the ruler had to sit while his errors were pointed out. No allegations that Duff Cooper, the First Lord of the Admiralty who resigned in protest over Munich, was being “hysterical.” Yet the Times of 2013 hurls not a word, nor a pixel, at the Mullahs. Instead it belittles Israel and accuses it of hysteria. No paeans are heard from 8th Avenue to the only democracy among the front-line states. “What England does in the long run will be what the people will do.” The same can be said today about Israel.

 

EXPERTS SAY ISRAEL IS RIGHT TO BE WARY

Experts say Israel is right to be wary
By Karl Vick
Time magazine
Nov. 11, 2013

It’s an extremely technical business, negotiating a nuclear agreement. But in the case of the talks in Geneva last week over the Iranian program, a helpful level of understanding can be had simply by seeing who goes where. The easiest way to tell that Tehran and world powers were close to at least an interim accord over the weekend was seeing who showed up unexpectedly in Geneva: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry broke off a trip to northern Africa to swoop in, joining European diplomats of the rank appropriate for signing such a document, should one be agreed upon.

And when it became clear there was nothing to sign there was more rapid and unscheduled travel: Kerry’s chief negotiator, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, went immediately from Geneva to Jerusalem, to brief not only government officials and but Israeli experts and columnists gathered at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Israel has no seat at the negotiations, but it played a huge role in bringing them about by threatening airstrikes – and it’s playing a pivotal role in how the talks are perceived elsewhere, including the U.S. Congress.

The message from the Obama administration after the talks was that Washington was not out-toughed by France in the negotiations, as initial reports from Geneva had it. “France and other countries came with new ideas, but on Saturday we were united on the wording of the agreement,” a senior American official was quoted as telling the Israeli press. “We placed a tough deal on the table and the Iranians were the ones who didn’t take it. I hope the Iranians don’t miss it. But in any event we are in no hurry.”

In Israel, skepticism toward an interim deal with Iran reaches beyond Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Polls show Israeli Jews overwhelmingly fear Iran’s leaders will do what they did in 2005, the last time they signed a pact with the West halting their nuclear program – use the time-out to advance their knowledge of the nuclear processes, then resume a project that critics fear will produce a nuclear weapon. But Netanyahu has been so strident on the point for so long that many commentators say he’s seen as the boy who cried wolf. “A prime minister who deserves credit for internationalizing the Iranian issue and turning it into a top priority on the global agenda, is now paying the price for the Israelization of the Iranian issue,” Alon Pinchas, a former Israeli consul to New York, writes in Monday’s Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest-selling newspaper. Pinchas chides Netanyahu for “constant threats that have lost credibility” and condemning a proposed interim agreement as “the deal of the century” for Iran before its terms had been negotiated.

But even if Netanyahu has worn out his welcome, some of the West’s leading experts on nuclear proliferation are making much the same case. And on Oct. 28, it found a friend in Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, now at Harvard.

Heinonen, who speaks with a Finnish accent and a bureaucrat’s caution, was blunt on the danger posed by the stockpiles of uranium Iran has enriched beyond the 3 percent “low enrichment” required to fuel a nuclear reactor to the 20 percent “medium” level ostensibly necessary for research. “Medium” has a half-way sound but because so much of the heavy lifting in the nuclear cycle precedes the spinning of centrifuges, 20percent actually is most of the way to the “heavily enriched” 90 percent level required to fuel a nuclear weapon. “If you already have 20 percent enriched uranium, actually you have done 90 percent of your work,” Heinonen said. He adds that the same formulations apply to uranium technically dubbed low-enriched, “which is why I understand the concerns of Prime Minister Netanyahu.” Iran has almost 7 metric tons of that material, and “you have done something like 60 percent of the effort you have to do to produce weapons grade uranium.”

Why all this matters was explained in another conference call to international reporters on Nov. 7. David Albright, an American former IAEA inspector, runs the Institute for Science and International Security, the Washington think tank that does the most-quoted independent research on Iran’s nuclear program. Recently, it estimated how long Iran would need to do what much of the world most fears – cast aside its consistent claims that its nuclear program is meant for peaceful means, and make a dash for a bomb. The amount of time it needs, Albright noted, depends on how much enriched uranium it has on hand, and how many centrifuges it has available to spin the uranium to higher, more dangerous levels. With current stores and no “cap” imposed by an interim agreement on the number of centrifuges it could use, Tehran might create a bomb in as little as a month, the ISIS study concluded. That month becomes the window for the outside world – including IAEA inspectors, if Iran hasn’t kicked them out by then – to detect what’s going on, and mount a response, such as the “military option” that President Obama continues to say is “on the table.”

Albright said Iran’s leadership team on the nuclear issue, President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, “is very good on making promises – enticements – but has not been so good about delivering,” Albright told the reporters on the Nov. 7 call. “And it happened in ‘05 the same way: Lots of promises, but in the end Iran wants a centrifuge program that is essentially uncapped. They’ll trade that for some transparency, but it’s never viewed as enough … and so you never get a settlement.”

Still, Tehran did manage to produce a bit of encouraging news on Monday. The two sides parted ways in Geneva with another key sticking point unresolved – the future of the heavy water reactor under construction at Arak, which presents Iran with a possible second route to a bomb. But Tehran did reach an agreement with the IAEA to give UN inspectors “managed access” to the plant, as well as to a uranium mine.

 

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I was going to attach this important three-part Reuters series, “Assets of the Ayatollah,” but in retrospect they will make this dispatch too long. So you can read them here:

www.reuters.com/investigates/iran/#article/part1

www.reuters.com/investigates/iran/#article/part2

www.reuters.com/investigates/iran/#article/part3

-- Tom Gross

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