July 15, 2015
Reading the 150-page agreement with Iran takes less time than one might have anticipated, because it isn’t really a 150-page agreement.
Why not? Because roughly 60 pages consist of lists — lists of all the sanctioned entities that will henceforth have sanctions lifted. These lists include the nicely titled “Foreign Sanctions Evaders List.”
We learn several things from perusing those lists.
First, it has taken decades to build the structure of international sanctions against Iran, and now we are entirely abandoning it. To believe that these sanctions can or will “snap back” — 60 pages’ worth of listed firms, entities, companies, ports, ships, banks, individuals, and on and on — if Iran engages in some violation is foolish. Rob Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has made a related point:
There is only one penalty for any infraction, big or small — taking Iran to the UN Security Council for the “snapback” of international sanctions. That is like saying that for any crime — whether a misdemeanor or a felony — the punishment is the death penalty. In the real world, that means there will be no punishments for anything less than a capital crime. . . . But the problem with snapback gets worse. The agreement includes a statement that Iran considers a reimposition of sanctions as freeing it from all commitments and restrictions under the deal. In other words, the violation would have to be really big for the Security Council to blow up the agreement and reimpose sanctions. That effectively gives Iran a free pass on all manner of small to mid-level violations.
Quite right: and that even assumes that the Obama administration will wish to use the agreement’s elaborate procedures, get disputes to the Security Council, re-sanction Iran, and prevent violations of its commitments. But the administration has most recently acted as Iran’s lawyer, defending its violations of the previous agreement and attacking the press for suggesting that violations had occurred.
And Satloff has noted another remarkable aspect of the agreement. It seems that “all contracts signed by Iran up until that point are grandfathered in and immune from sanctions. That means one can expect a stampede of state-to-state and private sector contracts — some real, many hypothetical — all designed to shield Iran from the impact of possible reimposition of sanctions, thereby weakening the impact of the punishment.” That’s my reading as well. And let’s be realistic: Soon enough, the EU will have a huge economic investment in Iran and its companies and trade unions will strongly resist any sanctions that could hurt profits or employment. The idea of restoring the sanctions regime is a fantasy.
EDITORIAL: Don’t Try Trusting Iran
Second, we learn from the lists and the conditions surrounding them how far the Obama administration has gone in accommodating Iran. Here is paragraph 25 of the text of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action:
25. If a law at the state or local level in the United States is preventing the implementation of the sanctions lifting as specified in this JCPOA, the United States will take appropriate steps, taking into account all available authorities, with a view to achieving such implementation. The United States will actively encourage officials at the state or local level to take into account the changes in the U.S. policy reflected in the lifting of sanctions under this JCPOA and to refrain from actions inconsistent with this change in policy.
Think about that: Obama has agreed that the federal government will fight any move by any state to impose or maintain state sanctions on Iran — for example, for human-rights violations, support of terror, aggression in the region, or any other reason. Because, you see, state sanctions of any kind, interfering with finance or commerce in any way, are surely “inconsistent with this change in policy.”
How far we have come. Initially U.S. policy aimed at a sort of zero option: Iran zeroes out its nuclear program, and we zero out sanctions. Satloff summarizes where we went next:
Then, the United States conceded to Iran the right to have its own nuclear reactors but not to develop indigenous capacity to enrich nuclear fuel, which doubles as the core element of nuclear weapons. Then, the United States conceded to Iran the right to enrich but under strict limitations. Then, the United States conceded to Iran that the strict limitations on enrichment would expire at a certain point in the future.
Iran has been arguing for years that it has the right to enrich uranium under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The United States has always said “no way” — until now. The George W. Bush administration insisted that before our allies Jordan and the UAE could sign a civil nuclear-cooperation agreement with us, they had to agree they would not enrich uranium — not spin one centrifuge. Now we allow Iran 6,000 centrifuges, and indeed the JCPOA legitimizes Iran as a nuclear state. Decades of American nonproliferation policy are dead.
RELATED: Obama’s Jihadist Stimulus Package
What has Iran gained in this agreement? The New York Times’s Thomas Erdbrink tweeted the speech of Iran’s President Rouhani:
Our objective was to have the nuclear program and have sanctions lifted. At first they wanted us to have 100 centrifuges now we will have 6,000. They wanted restrictions of 25 years now its 8. First they said we could only have IR1 centrifuges, now we can have IR6, 7, and 8, advanced centrifuges. Heavy water plant at Arak had to be dismantled but now it will remain with heavy water under conditions. Fordo had to be closed now we will have 1000 centrifuges there.
There are of course other ways to measure. Iran has four Americans being held hostage, and apparently it keeps all four; indeed Kerry rejected the idea that he should have tried to insist on their freedom before signing a deal. Iran has always argued that its nuclear program was legal, and we said it was illegal; now we give that up. Iran has not had to disclose previous work on nuclear warheads to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran will get an immense cash haul, perhaps $150 billion, plus the profits from future oil sales, gas development, and trade and investment. And worst of all, the arms embargo ends in five years, and the embargo on helping Iran build ballistic missiles in eight.
RELATED: Obama’s Iran Deal Provides for Congressional Review — by Iran’s Congress
So the third thing we learn from reading the JCPOA is the neat sequencing. At five years, Iran begins rearming without any limits; at eight years, it begins modernizing and enlarging its ballistic missiles; after ten years, the nuclear limits start falling away. That is, Iran can then develop warheads and it will have the missiles on which to put them. And its years of conventional military buildup will make any U.S. or Israeli military strike against the Iranian nuclear-weapons program much harder and more dangerous.
The fourth thing we learn from reading the JCPOA is what has changed. On its very first page the document says the the deal “will mark a fundamental shift” in how we approach Iran and its nuclear program. You betcha; that’s one true line in the document. Once upon a time, faced with an implacable enemy, Ronald Reagan said we would do what Truman and Kennedy had done: persevere until we had won, until there was a fundamental shift in Soviet conduct or an end to the Soviet Union. Obama is instead throwing in the towel: The fundamental shift in behavior comes from the United States, not Iran. The Islamic Republic remains an implacable enemy, holding hostages, supporting terror, organizing “Death to America” marches even as its negotiators sat in Vienna and Lausanne smiling across the table at John Kerry.
Of course Obama has a theory: The main problems in world politics come from American militarism, aggression, bullying, and the like, and if we open our “clenched fists” to embrace Iran, it will respond in kind. We’ve seen the results of such policies in Russia and North Korea, and most recently in Cuba. In fact Obama’s Iran deal is based on his “Cuba model”: Hand a lifeline to a regime in deep economic trouble and ignore the population of the country and their quest for human rights and decent government. Call it a historic achievement, and above all don’t bargain hard for recompense. For, you see, in these openings to Iran and Cuba we are only righting the historical wrongs America has committed and for which we need to apologize.
People who do not live in and bicycle around in Lausanne or Vienna, but rather try to survive in Israel and the Persian Gulf countries, understand all of this. Iran has won a great victory: A weak country has outmaneuvered and outnegotiated the United States and the EU. Kerry and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will probably share a Nobel Peace Prize, which is disgraceful, but Zarif does deserve recognition for producing a far better deal for Iran than he had any right to expect. He owes a huge debt of gratitude to Barack Obama and his view of the world. For the rest of us, the rise of Iran means great danger ahead.
— Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of Tested by Zion: the Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
Friday, October 16, 2015
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 10/16/2015 11:41:00 AM
Thursday, October 15, 2015
October 8, 2015
Condoleezza Rice was secretary of state from 2005 to 2009. Robert M. Gates was defense secretary from 2006 to 2011.
One can hear the disbelief in capitals from Washington to London to Berlin to Ankara and beyond. How can Vladimir Putin, with a sinking economy and a second-rate military, continually dictate the course of geopolitical events? Whether it’s in Ukraine or Syria, the Russian president seems always to have the upper hand.
Sometimes the reaction is derision: This is a sign of weakness. Or smugness: He will regret the decision to intervene. Russia cannot possibly succeed. Or alarm: This will make an already bad situation worse. And, finally, resignation: Perhaps the Russians can be brought along to help stabilize the situation, and we could use help fighting the Islamic State.
The fact is that Putin is playing a weak hand extraordinarily well because he knows exactly what he wants to do. He is not stabilizing the situation according to our definition of stability. He is defending Russia’s interests by keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power. This is not about the Islamic State. Any insurgent group that opposes Russian interests is a terrorist organization to Moscow. We saw this behavior in Ukraine, and now we’re seeing it even more aggressively — with bombing runs and cruise missile strikes — in Syria.
Putin is not a sentimental man, and if Assad becomes a liability, Putin will gladly move on to a substitute acceptable to Moscow. But for now, the Russians believe that they (and the Iranians) can save Assad. President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry say that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. That is true, but Moscow understands that diplomacy follows the facts on the ground, not the other way around. Russia and Iran are creating favorable facts. Once this military intervention has run its course, expect a peace proposal from Moscow that reflects its interests, including securing the Russian military base at Tartus.
We should not forget that Moscow’s definition of success is not the same as ours. The Russians have shown a willingness to accept and even encourage the creation of so-called failed states and frozen conflicts from Georgia to Moldova to Ukraine. Why should Syria be any different? If Moscow’s “people” can govern only a part of the state but make it impossible for anyone else to govern the rest of it — so be it.
And the well-being of the population is not the issue either. The Russian definition of success contains no element of concern for the dismal situation of the Syrian people. Refugees — that’s Europe’s problem. Greater sectarianism — well, it’s the Middle East! Populations attacked with barrel bombs and Assad’s chemicals, supposedly banned in the deal that Moscow itself negotiated — too bad!
Putin’s move into Syria is old-fashioned great-power politics. (Yes, people do that in the 21st century.) There is a domestic benefit to him, but he is not externalizing his problems at home. Russian domestic and international policies have always been inextricably linked. Russia feels strong at home when it is strong abroad — this is Putin’s plea to his propagandized population — and the Russian people buy it, at least for now. Russia is a great power and derives its self-worth from that. What else is there? When is the last time you bought a Russian product that wasn’t petroleum? Moscow matters again in international politics, and Russian armed forces are on the move.
Let us also realize that hectoring Putin about the bad choice he has made sounds weak. The last time the Russians regretted a foreign adventure was Afghanistan. But that didn’t happen until Ronald Reagan armed the Afghan mujahideen with Stinger missiles that started blowing Russian warplanes and helicopters out of the sky. Only then did an exhausted Soviet Union led by Mikhail Gorbachev, anxious to make accommodation with the West, decide that the Afghan adventure wasn’t worth it.
So what can we do?
First, we must reject the argument that Putin is simply reacting to world disorder. Putin, this argument would suggest, is just trying to hold together the Middle East state system in response to the chaos engendered by U.S. overreach in Iraq, Libya and beyond.
Putin is indeed reacting to circumstances in the Middle East. He sees a vacuum created by our hesitancy to fully engage in places such as Libya and to stay the course in Iraq. But Putin as the defender of international stability? Don’t go there.
Second, we have to create our own facts on the ground. No-fly zones and safe harbors for populations are not “half-baked” ideas. They worked before (protecting the Kurds for 12 years under Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror) and warrant serious consideration. We will continue to have refugees until people are safe. Moreover, providing robust support for Kurdish forces, Sunni tribes and what’s left of the Iraqi special forces is not “mumbo-jumbo.” It might just salvage our current, failing strategy. A serious commitment to these steps would also solidify our relationship with Turkey, which is reeling from the implications of Moscow’s intervention. In short, we must create a better military balance of power on the ground if we are to seek a political solution acceptable to us and to our allies.
Third, we must “de-conflict” our military activities with those of the Russians. This is distasteful, and we should never have gotten to a place where the Russians are warning us to stay out of their way. But we must do all that we can to prevent an incident between us. Presumably, even Putin shares this concern.
Finally, we need to see Putin for who he is. Stop saying that we want to better understand Russian motives. The Russians know their objective very well: Secure their interests in the Middle East by any means necessary. What’s not clear about that?
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 10/15/2015 10:28:00 AM