“Of Thee I Sing 1776″ Going On Sabbatical

There will be “a pause” in the publication of our weekly “Of Thee I Sing 1776″ essays while co-editor and essayist Hal Gershowitz completes the sequel to his current novel, “Heirs of Eden.” We plan to resume publication of our weekly commentaries later this year. “Heirs of Eden” and Hal’s earlier Bantam Books, award-winning novel, “Remember This Dream” are available at Amazon.com .

We want to thank all of our subscribers who have been loyal readers of our commentaries for the past 283 issues.

We’ll “see you” later this year.

Hal and Steve

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What In The World Is Going On In Yemen?

 Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsActually, a lot more than salmon fishing. – Dangerous stuff, and it probably won’t end any time soon. Yemen is host to a genuine, long-running civil war, a vicious intramural religious conflict in which Shia and Sunni interests are vying for hegemony, and a potential standoff between the US and Iran.  It also represents the loss of a key American base of operations in the US fight against radical Islam (yes, we are fighting radical Islam). In short, it’s a mess and it’s apt to get worse.

First, a little geography and a little history.  Yemen is huge. It occupies nearly quarter million square miles of the Arabian Peninsula, stretching from the Red Sea to the west, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea (or the Persian Sea if you live in Iran) to the south, all the way to Oman in the east.  It has a long border with Saudi Arabia to the north, and therein lies much of the current tension.

Now, for some fascinating history.  While few people remember the Sabaeans who ruled the area a thousand years ago, most people will remember their kingdom and their queen – Sheba (who came calling on a king named Solomon). Toward the end of the 3rd century AD, the kingdom was ruled by Himyarites, which adds an interesting twist to Yemen’s history. The Himyarites converted to Judaism, which played a significant role in the history of Yeman for another 200 years or so.  In the 7th century Yemen fell under the influence of Islam as did most of the region.  

The 20th century ushered in much of the turmoil that has antagonized the entire Middle East.  Yemen was divided between the Ottomans and the British early in the last century.  The country was divided between two kingdoms, one constituting the Kingdom of Yemen in the north, which became the Yemen Arab Republic. South Yemen stayed in British hands until 1967. The Yemen of the north and the Yemen of the south combined to form the current republic of Yemen only 25 years ago.

Yemen, under former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, was one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Three men, essentially, ruled Yemen under a power-sharing agreement. President Saleh, Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, and Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar, who was very close to the Saudis, which kept Saudi money flowing into the hands of Yemen’s power brokers. Yemen, which has long been corrupt, has been in severe crisis for most of the past five years. That’s because few people cared for President Saleh, and his plan to amend the constitution to create a presidency for life, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He was forced to resign and the recently deposed And Rabbu Mansour Hadi was made President (he has since fled to Saudi Arabia, which brings us to the current crisis).

Keep two important facts in mind.

While the two Yemens (north and south) were combined into one nation in 1990, the people who inhabit the two regions are quite different, and, in many respects, don’t care for one another.

The rebel Houthis, about whom we read everyday, are actually a large sect of Shia Muslims from the north who follow a branch of Islam known as Zaidism.  They make up about one-third of the Yemini population, and actually ruled North Yemen for nearly 1,000 years. That ended in 1962.  They identify themselves as Houthis in honor of Badr al-Din al-Houthi who led an uprising in 2004.  In the south we find a large Sunni population.  All else aside, the current crisis is, in great measure, a battle between Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims.

Why the antagonism? Simply stated, the two branches of Islam really despise one another.  They have despised one another from the very early days of Islam, all the way back to 680 AD.  Actually, it was all about the succession of leadership of the faith. A small group (several dozen) of Muhammad’s relatives (Shia), including supporters of the prophet’s grandson, Hussein ibn Ali, met in battle at Karbala in present day Iraq.  A much larger force of Muslims known as Yazidis (to whom Muhammad’s grandson Hussein refused to give allegiance) faced them in battle.  Muhammad’s grandson Hussein, his own infant son and all of his male followers were killed and, according to the history of the event, their bodies mutilated and their women taken prisoner.

Robbed of their succession rights, the Shia have been marginalized in much of the Islamic world, except where the Shia predominate such as in Iraq, Iran and Bahrain. There is also a sizeable Shia plurality (between 35% and 40%) in Lebanon.  So, much of the fighting represents the latest iteration of the interminable Shia/Sunni conflict.  And that is why Saudi Arabia and several other Sunni-dominated countries are duking it with the Shiite Houthis in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia believes Shiite Iran is arming and supporting the Houthis, and Saudi Arabia will go to any length (and we mean any length) to keep Iranian influence (Shia) from spreading onto the Arabian Peninsula, where Saudi-backed Sunni Wahhabism dominates. 

Enter al-Qaeda.  Al-Qaeda of Yemen is the strongest remaining faction of al-Qaeda, and the US has aggressively waged a largely successful drone-centric war against al-Qaeda from Yemen.  That was until the Houthis overran the place.  We’ve now lost our base of operations in Yemen and that is a huge problem for the United States.

Then there is the potential dust-up with Iran over what is happening in Yemen.  We have moved formidable naval forces into the area to keep Iran from assisting the Houthis.  Some have compared the current situation to a budding Cuban missile crisis, which we think is way overblown. We would think it far-fetched that Iran would take on the US navy, but the far-fetched often becomes routine in this part of the world.

The potential for al-Qaeda-sponsored mischief is huge.  Al-Qaeda in Yemen is considered the strongest, best organized and the most sophisticated al-Qaeda operation in the world today.  They are now pretty much free to move about without constantly having to look over their shoulders for American drones.  Our intelligence operation on the Arabian Peninsula has been substantially degraded.

So, in summary, we have civil war, religious war, Iranian mischief and a substantial degradation of our intelligence capability all evolving at the same time.  Not a good place to be, even for salmon fishing.

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A Day of Remembrance.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsSo, it has been seventy years. That’s when it all ended – when the world began to learn what hate wrought just a few decades ago — hate on a scale unheard of in all of history. Winston Churchill called it a crime without a name. History has since given it a name – the Holocaust.

In Israel at precisely 10:00 am yesterday, a moment of solemnity descended upon the land of Israel when the entire nation paused, collectively, as it does every year on this date, to remember the victims of mankind’s greatest crime,  Solemnity as is experienced nowhere else in the world permeates every corner of this ancient land at this moment. Sirens wail and Israel comes to an absolute standstill as nearly eight million men women and children silently contemplate, each in his or her own way, the grotesque horror that befell their kin — mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins and even relatives so distant they didn’t even know they were Jewish—all six million of them. Automobiles, motorcycles buses, trucks and trams stop wherever they are. Surfers, boaters and swimmers stop – people stand knee-deep in the brine of the Mediterranean where moments earlier they swam, people praying at the western wall and soldiers at their duty stations –everywhere, everyone stops simply to remember.

A short distance away, in almost every direction, the voices of hatred and the violence of bigotry, both religious and political, rage on having learned nothing of the past, making a mess of the present and, quite possibly, condemning the future.

“Never Again”, once a universal moral commitment, has, today, descended into an almost trite slogan everywhere – everywhere except in this ancient land. Here Never Again is an article of faith. It has real meaning. Here Never Again doesn’t mean retaliation; it means prevention.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addressing guests last night at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust reminded the large gathering “…we stand here tonight, in painful silence… in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day. Exactly seventy years since April 15th 1945, a Sunday afternoon. The day when the first British soldiers crossed the gates of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The joy of liberation was replaced by horror. The horror that was revealed before their eyes was inconceivable.”

“Not just today, but every day, we walk the depths of the valley, extruded between two mountains. This mountain of memorial and remembrance, on one side and the mountain of revival and vision on the other. The mountain of memory, commands us…to remember. Remember the sounds. Remember the sights. Remember the names. And yet the mountain of vision and rebirth, of construction and creation, calls on us to look ahead, and step into the future. Continuing to build a magnificent country, continuing to strive to construct another world, a safe world, full of promise.

“The Holocaust is our lowest point,” President Rivlin said. “…the most dreadful, in history…Four months ago, I stood in Poland, whose earth is soaked in blood, and I said that the State of Israel will forever deplore Auschwitz, and everything it symbolizes: anti-Semitism in all its forms and manifestations; The desecration of human dignity, whoever and wherever it is found, the desecration of that which was created in the image of God. The State of Israel, will continue its struggle against these and will not surrender. We build our future here, with open and alert eyes. We will not belittle any threats. Nor belittle, shameful statements calling for the extinction of the Jewish people. Yet, while we are prepared, we are not scared. The horrors of the past and the threats of the present, will not dictate our lives, nor shape the lives of our children. They will not dim our hopes for a future of creation and prosperity.”

And creativity and prosperity thrive in this tiny land like few other places on earth. Israel, the 100th smallest state on earth with less that 1/1000 of the world’s population, leads the world in the number of scientists and technicians in the workforce with 145 per 10,000, as opposed to 84 in the U.S., around 70 in Japan, and fewer than 60 in Germany. Israelis are prominent among Nobel Prize winners in every field, including medicine, chemistry, physics, literature, and economics. This nation, living under unrelenting threat of extinction is second only to Silicon Valley in innovation.

But when Iran says it aims to destroy Israel, Israelis believe it. They have no doubt that Hamas, the partner of the Palestinian Authority means it as well, as does Iran’s proxy,  Hezbollah, in Lebanon, and ISIS too. The greater neighborhood in which they live is the most violent place on the planet. Hate is the common coin of the realm in so much of the neighboring areas. Hate speech, enslavement, forced conversions, mass murder, and every form of deadly grotesquerie are daily occurrences throughout much of the region. Israel is not apt to wait until its cities are in flames to protect itself. That is why this tiny, threatened nation maintains a formidable defense force populated by one of the most motivated citizen armies in the world.

The sirens wailed yesterday morning throughout the land. Millions of people, young and old, stopped, bowed their heads and remembered. They remembered the past, contemplated the present and dedicated themselves to a long future.

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US-Iran Interim Agreement: the Ayatollah Weighs In.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsTo paraphrase Nancy Pelosi, we Americans may really have to agree to the final nuclear deal with Iran so that we can see what is in it. There yawns a gap so wide between what we hear from Washington and what we hear from Tehran one could shoot an Iranian Soumar long-range missile through it. The Republican opposition should stop protesting and just let Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khamenei do all the talking. His bellicosity is most instructive.

According to the Ayatollah, the phased lifting of sanctions commensurate with Iran’s step-by-step compliance with a final agreement, which has been a bedrock condition of the United States, is a non-starter for Iran. Sanctions are to be lifted as a reward for Iran signing an agreement, not for Iran complying with an agreement.

And, to add insult to injury, no UN inspectors will be allowed to step foot on any Iranian military base. Now, we have weapons testing facilities in many locations in the United States such as Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton Ohio and so on. Iran, of course, has its military proving grounds as well, but that really won’t matter because UN inspectors will not be allowed to set foot on any of them.

So just what is this impending historic arrangement with Iran about which the White House and its media sycophants are crooning?Based upon what we are learning from the Ayatollah, it may be little more than window dressing for an emerging modus vivendi between the United States and Iran, which, in effect will recognize Iran as the hegemon of the Middle East.

Those who are leery of the direction in which the negotiations have veered are castigated by liberal columnists, Administration spokespersons, and even the President as obstructionists and war mongers, but when the Ayatollah himself fires hyper-critical salvos at the Administration, his criticisms are shrugged off as rhetoric for local consumption. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu can only wish he might be accorded such understanding from the White House for his recent campaign excesses.

Let’s be very clear about just what the Ayatollah had to say about the Administration’s description of the interim agreement. “Americans put out a statement just a few hours after our negotiators finished their talks … this statement, which they called a ‘fact sheet’, was wrong on most of the issues.” That is how Khamenei characterizes what the Administration says was agreed to in Lausanne. Small wonder virtually all of our allies in the region are doing a slow burn over how the US has managed the Iranian nuclear negotiations.

The P5+1 have, up until now, insisted that Iran fully cooperate with a U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation into past nuclear activities that could be related to making weapons. It is, according to the IAEA, known that Iran was doing (and may still be doing) considerable research into nuclear weapon detonation technology. The West needs to know what the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear research were, or are. But Iran has made it clear that “possible military dimensions” (PMD) are an issue it will not budge on.

“PMD is out of the question. It cannot be discussed,” an Iranian official said. Add to that (for good measure) Khamenei’s statement, “Iran’s military sites cannot be inspected under the excuse of nuclear supervision.”

Now, this adds a new and very troubling wrinkle for the US and the other members of the P5t+1. We have been told, repeatedly, that the inspection requirements we have negotiated are among the most intrusive in history. Yet we are largely silent when Iran’s Supreme Leader emphatically states that no inspectors will be allowed on any Iranian military site. Well, several of the sites the P5+1 have been most concerned about are on Iranian military bases including the deep-underground enrichment center at Fordo, just outside the religious city of Qum. So what in the world is going on here?

We don’t wish to criticize anyone for trying to forge a workable deal with the Iranians. However, any experienced negotiator knows that the strongest card any negotiator can hold is simply the willingness to walk away from an impending deal that has turned sour. Considering where we and the other P5+1 members were when this process began, it is not unreasonable to say the deal did, in fact, turn sour some time ago.

We must remember that for the past twenty years US policy encompassing three different presidents was predicated on the conclusion that an Iran capable of producing nuclear weapons was a danger to world peace, contrary to our national interests and to those of virtually all of our allies in the region. We would offer friendship and normal relations if Iran ceased sponsoring terrorism and abandoned its determined march to nuclear weapons, but we would stop them from developing nuclear weapons by force if necessary.

It has been clear for some time that we have been seriously out negotiated to the point that banning nuclear weaponization is no longer even the objective of the negotiations. The objective has slowly morphed into a pause or, perhaps, a slowdown to the reality of a nuclear-armed Iran.

There must be some commonality of interest for a negotiation to succeed. The Obama Administration entered these negotiations believing that Iran could, over time, be coaxed into living harmoniously with the United States and, at least, most of our allies. That belief probably has never been realistic. The Ayatollahs have never seen the Islamic Revolution that brought them to power as an end unto itself. It has never been considered as a terminus, but rather as a commencement of a revolutionary Islamic terrorist movement to be exported at every opportunity. Think Hezbollah and the estimated 100,000 Iranian-supplied rockets they now possess in Lebanon, think Buenos Aires bombing, think the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, think Iranian-backed bombing in Bulgaria, think support of Hamas, think Iran-sponsored bomb-plot in Azerbaijan, think attempts against Jewish targets in Georgia, India, Thailand, Kenya and even Cyprus. This is not just lawlessness, it is religious fervor, and we are not going to coax the Iranians into comity with the west.

Under the system of nation states that has been the international organizing principle since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, individual states interacted, sometimes peacefully, sometimes belligerently, but generally with rational interests, as ugly as they sometimes were – interest in more land, more resources, warm-water ports or whatever. They sometimes fought, generally made peace sooner or later, and were motivated to go to war or to make peace by rational standards. That’s why the doctrine of mutually assured destruction worked. But as Henry Kissinger and George Schultz eloquently wrote this week in the Wall Street Journal, “Previous thinking on nuclear strategy assumed the existence of stable state actors. Among the original nuclear powers geographic distances and the relatively large size of programs combined with moral revulsion to make surprise attack all but inconceivable. How will these doctrines translate into a region where sponsorship of nonstate proxies is common, the state structure is under assault and death on behalf of jihad is a kind of fulfillment?”

It is tempting to be reassured by the warm handshakes and smiles we were treated to as our diplomats posed with the Iranians for photographers in Lausanne ten days ago. But the Ayatollah is the real voice of the Iranian regime with whom we are negotiating. He dislikes us, doesn’t trust us and has publically proclaimed that inspections will not really be nearly as intrusive as the White House suggests. He says that all sanctions will be lifted as a condition of signing the agreement, not compliance with it. Furthermore, we are told by the Ayatollah that there is nothing sacrosanct about the June 30th deadline. “What has been achieved so far does not guarantee a deal or even that the negotiations will continue to the end,” Khamenei said, adding that an extension of the deadline should not be a problem. Is it any wonder that the Saudis and the Israelis are extremely concerned? Is it any wonder that, according to a just-released NBC poll,  68 percent of Americans believe that Iran was  not likely to abide by a nuclear agreement?

And to think — it has taken two years of negotiations to reach this level of agreement.

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The Iran Nuclear Framework Agreement: Chalk One Up for The Ayatollah.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWe don’t really want to join the chorus of naysayers who are excoriating the Obama Administration for negotiating a bad agreement with Iran. Face it. President Obama was left with a somewhat limited hand to play by a succession of his predecessors, and he has had pretty limited support from our European allies for playing hardball at the negotiating table.

No, it is not a good deal, but it is, in some respects, a better deal than we had feared it might be. Iran will, after all, reduce its stockpile of enriched nuclear material to a fraction of what it had produced. Nonetheless, it does represent a stark departure from what the United States, Europe and virtually all of the Middle East stakeholders (Arab and Israeli alike) had hoped to see accomplished at the outset of the talks. So chalk one up for the Ayatollah.

In spite of all the rose-garden hype about the historic achievement the agreement represents, Iran dismantles nothing. It merely promises to recalibrate and retask some of its more worrisome facilities and infrastructure, and to substantially reduce its stockpile of enriched material. Metaphorically, Iran is switching its nuclear engine’s gears from drive to idyll or neutral. More ominously, its ballistic missile program was kept off the agenda, as was any discussion of its known research into nuclear detonation technology, and its deadly mischief throughout the region remained nonnegotiable. Iran has amassed an impressive nuclear infrastructure including hardened underground centrifuge complexes, and heavy-water reactors. It has very impressive break-out capability, which it keeps. The p5 +1 had one major negotiating chip short of war – sanctions. We’re lifting them and, in return Iran keeps its nuclear infrastructure and promises to curtail its activity – for a while. Not a terribly impressive outcome.

Ironically, according to Michael Morell, former CIA Deputy Director, we have negotiated Iran out of a robust nuclear energy capability and left them with a pretty robust nuclear weapons capability. Morell explained during a Charlie Rose interview “if you are going to have a nuclear weapons program, 5,000 (centrifuges) is pretty much the number you need…if you have a (nuclear) power program, you need a lot more. By limiting them to a small number of centrifuges, we are limiting them to the number you need for a weapon.”

The consensus among various nuclear experts concurs with Morell. Matthew Kroenig, Associate Professor at Georgetown University and author of “The Iranian Nuclear Threat: Choices and Consequences,” says Morell  “is absolutely correct.”   Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association and David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security also agree. Professor Matthew Bunn of Harvard University and Co-Principal Investigator of the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs concurs as well.

“People think surely you must need a bigger enrichment system to make 90 percent enriched material for bombs than to make 4-5 percent enriched material for power reactors,” Bunn said. “But exactly the opposite is true.” Bunn said there are two reasons. First, you need tens of tons of material to fuel a power reactor for a year, but just tens of kilograms to make a bomb. Bottom line: Making bombs takes fewer centrifuges. And without a lot of centrifuges, it’s hard to make nuclear power.

Then there is the matter of Iran’s general threat to the region. While Iran, like America, is fighting ISIS, it is no less a trouble maker in the region. That we would enter into talks with Iran and agree to abandon effective economic sanctions without even addressing the very real and present danger the radical theocratic regime represents to virtually every ally we have in the region is beyond troubling. Indeed, just days before the agreement was inked, Reza Naqdi, who commands the key Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, announced that “erasing Israel from the map is nonnegotiable.”

We hope the Obama administration recognizes that whatever the Israeli’s have to do to keep Iran from wiping their nation off the map is also nonnegotiable. The Basij militia, the reader might recall, were the official thugs who went after the unarmed protestors with such brutal and deadly vengeance after the corrupt 2009 Iranian presidential election.

President Obama’s new mantra that he has expressed directly to the Ayatollah, as well as to the American People, that, essentially, there are those who favor this agreement and those who favor war, is both disingenuous and deceitful. There are also those who would have simply preferred a much better agreement.

As the Wall Street Journal put it:

The truth, contrary to the President, is that the critics of his Iran framework do not want war. But they also don’t want a phony peace to lead to a nuclear Middle East that leads to a far more horrific war a decade from now. That’s why this agreement needs a thorough vetting and genuine debate.

Or, as the Washington Post opined:

Both Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry emphasized that many details need to be worked out in talks with Iran between now and the end of June. During that time, the administration will have much other work to do: It must convince Mideast allies that Iran is not being empowered to become the region’s hegemon; and it must accommodate Congress’s legitimate prerogative to review the accord. We hope President Obama will make as much effort to engage in good faith with skeptical allies and domestic critics as he has with the Iranian regime.

 Iran’s nuclear development activity began 60 years ago and we were complicit in its birth. We refer, of course, to the Atom’s for Peace Program, the idea for which was first introduced to the UN general Assembly in 1953 by none other than American President Dwight D. Eisenhower. We supplied information and equipment to friends throughout the world, including our good friend (at the time), the Shah of Iran. An American company built Iran’s first nuclear reactor.

Of course, everything changed after the fall of the Shah and the subsequent revolution in Iran. While the Ayatollahs publically forswore nuclear weapon development, work, of course, continued. Iran’s first nuclear power plant was opened on September 12, 2011 with Russian assistance. Three years ago, our intelligence agencies reported that Iran was pursuing research into weaponization, but saw no evidence that actual weaponization was being attempted.

At about the same time the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had undertaken research and gained experience geared to developing a nuclear weapons capability, but IAEA could not confirm whether that work had continued beyond 2003. What has become clear is that Iran did begin aggressively enriching nuclear material, declaring that its enrichment program was purely for peaceful purposes.

Its acquisition and development of thousands of centrifuges and its construction of at least one heavy water, plutonium-producing reactor makes it clear it has been developing the capability to produce weapons-grade material. That reality, and its support of, and involvement in, terrorist activity throughout the world, and its support of open warfare against American allies such as Yemen, as well as its genocidal threats against Israel make a nuclear-capable Iran a serious threat to American interests.

The American negotiating position has diminished from eliminating Iran’s nuclear weapons development, to rolling it back, to, now, essentially holding it in place. Iran is (or is close to being) a nuclear threshold state. Iran has never needed an underground-fortified facility as they have in Fordow to make medical isotopes or to generate electricity. They didn’t need a plutonium-producing heavy water reactor at Arak for any peaceful purpose, nor did they need secret, hidden centrifuges spinning away underground so that more of their people could plug in electric toasters.

No other country in the world, today, overtly advocates the destruction of another country. Only Iran does that. And no other country is openly threatened with annihilation. Only Israel lives with that threat. No other country in the world, today, actively engages in support of terrorism on a worldwide basis. Only Iran does that.

The sanctions we and the other members of the UN Security Council imposed were entirely justified and they were exacting a very heavy toll on Iran. That is why Iran came to the negotiating table in the first place. But as we look at the framework for an agreement announced yesterday, it would appear that Iran has given up little, other than a pause, perhaps for a year, perhaps for ten years.

The die was cast for a weak deal when the President declared at the Center for Middle East Policy last December that Netanyahu’s demand that Iran dismantle its military nuclear capability was “unrealistic.” The alternative to dismantling is, when all is said and done, little more than mothballing that capability. As Dr. Emily Landau, senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and Director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project, says, “Iran will still have everything there to break out and use whenever it wants to.”

While the White House suggests the sanctions that we and the other P5 +1 are lifting can be “snapped back” at the drop of a hat, anyone who has even fifth-grade knowledge of how the UN Security Council works knows that that is just plain nonsense.

Iran gets its economy back, and the rest of the world lives with a nuclear capable Iran that can and, we believe, will continue with its nuclear weaponization at a time of its choosing.

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Netanyahu, Obama and Campaign Hyperbole

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute campaign rant that there would be no Palestinian State while he was Prime Minister sounded, even to us, like finger nails screeching down a blackboard. It must have come across as startling as Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign pledge that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided,” was to Palestinians abroad and Arabists in our own country. Not surprisingly, both politicians hurriedly “walked back” their campaign blather within 24 hours.

It is generally axiomatic in American politics that politicians pander to their base when running, and tack to the center once in office. Netanyahu cobbled together a coalition of right-leaning and hard-right minorities within the Israeli electorate in order to win the right to try to form a government. No one knows for sure, at this time, whether he will succeed in forming a new government consisting of an allied cabinet of ministers and the factions they represent in the Knesset. We certainly expect, however, that he will.

The campaign alarm Netanyahu expressed over the large number of Arabs who were voting was reprehensible in a modern democratic society, but we give him credit for candor. It probably was alarming to him. He wasn’t trying to stop Arabs from voting, but he was desperately trying to get the rightists out to vote for him. But think about this. His sense of alarm demonstrated just how vibrant Israeli democracy is. The anti-Netanyahu Arab minority has the right to vote, and vote they did. Where else in the Arab world today, do heads of state really worry about the Arab vote? Where else in the Arab world today do they even vote? Nonetheless, it was sorry rhetoric in such a strong democracy.

The crassness of it aside, it was a rather obvious assessment of reality in that troubled and chaotic neighborhood. The fact is there will be no Palestinian State while Netanyahu is Prime Minister, nor would there be a Palestinian State if Herzog or Livni were Prime Minister. There will not be a two-state solution while Hamas is a partner in the Palestinian government, and not while the Palestinians demand the right of all Palestinians and their descendants to return to the homes they once occupied in what is now Israel, and certainly not while any Palestinian government refuses to agree that a peace settlement will end the dispute.

Actually, Netanyahu’s (immediately retracted) words are not the issue. His words are simply the excuse that President Obama now has to “rethink” the US position on supporting Israel in world forums, especially the UN Security Council. It is a fatuous excuse. Israel is either an ally of the United States or it is not. The campaign hyperbole of an Israeli Prime Minister was just that — campaign hyperbole. Its retraction should be taken at face value, not because the retraction evidences fidelity to a two state solution (it may or may not), but because of the interests and values that bind us as allies.

The Palestinian issue won’t be resolved until the Palestinian body politic and the Israeli body politic really want to resolve the dispute. There can be no question but that most Israelis yearn for peaceful coexistence. Each side, however, constantly gives the other side justification for not resolving the dispute, and as long as there is a strong rejectionist movement on both sides there will be no resolution. Progress toward peace has been, and will continue to be, subject to easy unraveling.

Every American administration seems to believe peace is simply a matter of process. Reagan pursued a plan that would have tied the Palestinians to Jordan, required Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied after the six-day war (following successful peace and security arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians). Bush 41 pursued the Madrid peace process. Clinton pursued the Wye Plantation agreement (remember that one) and then the 2000 Camp David Talks. Bush 43 pursued the Annapolis peace talks and the so-called road map; and Obama pursued peace talks that collapsed last year encumbered by the expansion of some settlements by the Israelis, and the subsequent announcement by the PA (during the talks) that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas had secretly formed a unity government.

Small wonder Netanyahu assured his base in the waning hours of an election campaign that there would be no two-state solution while he was Prime Minister. This is the same Hamas that has regularly fired rockets at Israeli civilian centers ever since they took over the Gaza Strip following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal. This is the same Hamas that is committed by its charter to genocide against Jews in general and against Israel in particular. And horrors of horrors, Netanyahu promises that there will be no Palestinian state while he is Prime Minister.

The UN and the EU may be ready to welcome into the family of nations a Palestinian state joined at the hip with Hamas, but no one should expect Israel to. President Obama’s high pique over Netanyahu’s recanted campaign excesses are, in our judgment, overwrought.

The idea of a Palestinian Authority-Hamas unity government is anathema to Israelis, but cheered by almost all Palestinians. According to a reliable poll by Ramallah-based Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD) conducted last year, Three quarters of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza support integrating Fatah and Hamas security services and the inclusion of Hamas in the Palestine Liberation Organization. An even larger majority supports a Hamas-PA partnership even if it results in U.S. economic sanctions or Israeli political pressure.

So what does all of this tell us? It tells us that until the time is conducive, and the parties themselves want to make progress, there will be no lasting progress. Anwar Sadat’s readiness and determination to end the cycle of war with Israel paved the way for peace between Egypt and Israel. The ’94 Oslo accords, which had limited but important lasting value, was pursued by Israelis and Palestinians in Oslo to the surprise of the US and the rest of the world. Every US Administration, it seems, drags both parties to its own version of peace talks. What we’ve learned is that peace efforts orchestrated by Washington to which the parties themselves are not committed, are fraught with danger, rarely accomplish anything positive and create more friction then they alleviate.

President Obama seems determined to hang on to Netanyahu’s remarks even if the Israeli Prime Minister has let them go. Obama now considers Netanyahu’s campaign excesses a new statement of positions that justifies recalculation of America’s support of Israel. “We take him at his word,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said of Netanyahu.

Earnest also complained about Netanyahu’s remarks about the heavy Arab turnout. “These kinds of cynical, divisive election day tactics stand in direct conflict to … the values that are critical to the bond between our two countries,” he said.

Someone should ask Mr. Earnest if President Obama also thinks the “Death to America” remarks this week by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, might also be in direct conflict to the values that are critical to the bond he is seeking with Iran.

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The Administration and the US Senate on Iran: Dumb and Dumber.

 Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsSometimes it seems as though a mysterious force descends on Republicans in the US Congress with the sole purpose of enfeebling their judgment in order to create, throughout the land, sympathy for the Obama Administration. The recent letter, signed by 47 Republican members of the Senate, to Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, is a good example of how this befuddling and mysterious life force seems to manifest itself.

Ironically, a letter designed to enrich(es) your (Ayatollah Khamenei) knowledge of our constitutional system and promote(s) mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress…” demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding (by the signatories to the letter) of the very constitutional process about which the 47 Republican Senators wish to enrich the Ayatollah’s knowledge.

In fact, a proper understanding of our advise and consent process would have demonstrated that the Senate could include its own Reservations, Understandings, and/or Declarations to a proposed treaty. But we’re nitpicking. The President has announced his decision to by-pass the Senate’s ratification process by treating this nuclear limitation agreement as an executive agreement and not a treaty, thereby excluding the Senate from any role in the process.   We do not quarrel with the notion that the negotiation of agreements and treaties are the prerogative of the executive branch of our government. Yet these agreements (when they apply to arms limitations) once negotiated, are generally forwarded to the US Senate for approval. That, in more recent years, was true of Salt I, Start I, Start II, Sort and New Start. There have been exceptions, but whenever an agreement is transformative, wise judgment dictates that it be codified on a non-partisan basis.

And that is where the Obama Administration has become a full and equal partner in poor governance. It rather likes, in fact it even brags about, circumventing or ignoring Congress and prior agreements when our legislative body doesn’t embrace what the President wants to do. Remember the Missile Defense Treaty that was abrogated by President Obama in deference to his eagerness to “reset” relations with Russia. How did that work out?

“Catastrophic for Poland” is how the Polish Ministry of Defense described the suspension of the program. Mirek Topolanek, the former Czech prime minister complained the decision to abrogate the treaty as another sign that “the Americans are not interested in this territory as they were before.” He continued, “this is not good news for the Czech state, for Czech freedom and independence.” Remember Lech Walesa, the former president of Poland and founder of Solidarity? He observed with bitterness: “I can see what kind of policy the Obama administration is pursuing toward this part of Europe.”

And, of course, we needn’t dwell on Russia’s lack of reciprocation to our unilateral reset.

But we digress. The Republicans’ letter to the Ayatollah was “bush league” writ large. We are not familiar with any instance in our history in which members of Congress intervened directly with a foreign government to warn that government of the limitations of an agreement it was negotiating with The United States. As precedents go, this was a poor one to initiate. The immediate backpedaling by some of the signatories once the letter was called out for what it was (a gross and clumsy tantrum by its author(s) constituted a pathetic display of ineptitude.

We are certainly not apologists for the agreement being negotiated, elements of which have been leaked by the Administration. Assuming what has been made public is accurate, it is a bad agreement and riddled with concessions that contradict what the US and the other members of the UN Security Council (plus Germany) were demanding when this negotiating process began. Let’s review:

At the outset of these negotiations it had been the position of the concerned nations of the world that Iran close its Arak and Fordow nuclear facilities, which it is believed can have no practical purpose other than to ultimately produce nuclear weapons-grade material. Iran has refused to do that, so we dropped those demands. The reader should keep in mind that Iran has four such facilities that we know of. Furthermore, early on, we insisted that the thousands of centrifuges Iran had acquired be dismantled (destroyed) or reduced to only a few hundred. Iran apparently refused to do that and, from what we now understand, Iran will be allowed to keep several thousand and the Ayatollah has made it clear that Iran will, in the future, go on to acquire well over 100,000 centrifuges. Also, an early demand of the p5+1 was that any agreement have a term of at least 20 years. Now, apparently, we have been negotiated down to 10 years “or more.”

We and the other members of the UN Security Council have gone from a hard-and-firm effort to stop Iran’s nuclear program to a hail-Mary plan to regulate it. Iran is not going to be regulated by the United States, the UN Security Council or anyone else. Iran is a rogue state. That bears repeating. Iran is a rogue state. It plots and plans terrorist activity all over the world. It has been responsible for countless US casualties in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. It planned, and nearly succeeded, in assassinating the Saudi Ambassador in a Washington, D.C. restaurant. It is, it appears, responsible for the deaths of 84 men women and children (with hundreds wounded) at the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. It supplies rockets and trains those who would fire them at Israel’s civilian population. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency reports a chronic lack of compliance with resolutions of the UN Security Council pertaining to its nuclear program.

It is not hard to understand how we got to this reality with Iran. After years of very understandable war fatigue in Iraq and Afghanistan with virtually nothing to show for it in Iraq and possibly little to show for it in Afghanistan, the country has inculcated a strong desire to avoid military engagement with Iran at all costs—or even threatening it. And Iran knows it. Without a believable willingness to use force if necessary, the United States has relied solely on sanctions. After all tough sanctions initiated by President Bush and extended by President Obama did bring Iran to the negotiating table.

Iran, we believe, is convinced that the United States will not attack under any circumstances. Iran is, we think, betting (or we might say bargaining) certain that America will make concession after concession rather than allow the talks to fail. None of our European allies seem to have the stomach for an endless regimen of sanctions and they certainly have no intention of military intervention.

Iran has made impressive progress with its nuclear program while the west dithered. Remember, as recently as 2003, Iran was reported to have only 130 centrifuges capable of converting uranium into an ugly concentration from which a chain reaction could be initiated. Such a chain reaction could be used to create nuclear energy or to simply blow things up like things haven’t been blown up in seventy years. While we talked and moaned and groaned Iran continued to build these centrifuges and by the time we reached the first interim agreement with Iran in November 2013, the Islamic Republic had nearly 20,000 centrifuges spinning away. Some experts say Iran could now produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb in as little as 45 days. It is believed Iran’s current stockpile of low-enriched uranium could, with further enrichment, quickly produce six or seven nuclear bombs.

Force, either military or economic, and the willingness to use it are what make negotiations a viable alternative when negotiating partners are military or economic antagonists. Iran understands full well, that we have the capability to use force. They probably do not, however, fear that even a limited military strike or series of strikes are still options in our playbook. And, thus far, they have achieved great sanctions relief just by agreeing to talk without giving up very much of anything. They have even seen President Obama promise to veto any reinstitution of sanctions while the talks are in progress, so we anticipate that their strategy will be to keep us talking, or to just see what happens should the talks collapse.

The Administration’s negotiating strategy with this rogue regime that reviles us seems to be all carrot and no stick. The idea that we, alone, could re-impose strict sanctions seems unrealistic in the extreme.

And then there is the spectacle of the Republicans’ letter last week warning the Ayatollah that any agreement is apt to be short lived anyway. All in all –dumb and dumber.

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Hillary’s Email Imbroglio: Much Ado About… Who Knows What.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsFormer Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, has managed to maneuver herself into an incredibly Clintonesque corner over her current email contretemps. One could almost hear Frank Sinatra singing in the background, “I did it my way,” as Mrs. Clinton tried to explain to the press her reasons for comingling over 60,000 personal and official State Department emails on her Blackberry.

As everyone now knows, Secretary Clinton conducted 100% of her State Department email correspondence on her own private blackberry, all of which was stored on her own private server. She has announced that she has turned over to the State Department every email they need to see, and they (and we) will see there was nothing about which to be concerned. Everything else (that which she chose not to turn over to the State Department) she says is private and none of the government’s business and none of our business.

Well, hold on. How would anyone know what was or wasn’t the people’s business? Who says so? Ah, Hillary Clinton says so – and that’s the problem. She is telling us that she and her personal counsel have determined which of the tens of thousands of emails she generated during the time she served as Secretary of State, all of which were saved on (and since deleted from) her personal blackberry, and all of which are presumably still etched in her own private server will and will not be made available to the government.

Mrs. Clinton says, in retrospect (translation: now that stuff has hit the fan) she should have used separate devices. “I thought using one device would be simpler, and, obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way,” Mrs. Clinton opined at yesterday’s news conference at the United Nations in New York. “Looking back, it would have been probably…smarter to have used two devices.” Well, not really. How about simply using any smart phone that allows one to have more than one account on it.

As Secretary of State from 2009 until early 2013, Mrs. Clinton exclusively used a personal email account managed through a private computer server in her home in Chappaqua, N.Y. Why in the world, would the nation’s top diplomat do something like that? Well, simply because it gave the Secretary complete control over what communications would ever see the light of day. Specifically, it gave her the final say over what ever would be accessible by the media, by Congress and by the public through our various public-records laws.

Why in the world did she wait two years to turn over some of the emails, instead of turning them all over, which the spirit of the law intended and which (now) the letter of the law requires? It is hard to escape the conclusion that had she not been asked by the government, none of her email correspondence would have been turned over to the government nor could any of it have ever been made available under the Freedom of Information Act.

An obvious answer to every doubter’s question would simply be to have an independent party (perhaps a trusted, non-partisan official of the FBI or the judiciary) review what is still on her server and determine what, if anything might still pertain to State Department business. But alas, Mrs. Clinton has nixed that obvious alternative claiming that all of the remaining (private) 30,000 emails are simply variations of personal correspondence between she and her husband (who says he doesn’t use email) and other personal family matters.

The question isn’t whether Mrs. Clinton is hiding anything. Of course she is. By definition, whatever she has deleted and refused to turn over to the government is hidden – permanently. The more important question is whether what she is hiding is relevant or potentially damaging, improper or unlawful. Frankly we doubt it, but that really isn’t the point. The real problem for Mrs. Clinton is that a reasonable person in high office wouldn’t comingle all of his or her personal email with all of his or her official email. And a reasonable person certainly wouldn’t wait two years after they left office to decide what they would or wouldn’t turn over to the government. And that simply suggests, by definition, that Mrs. Clinton is not (was not) behaving as a reasonable person should behave in high office. Now, that’s not such an aberration in Washington, but it is the last thing Hillary needed the public to be reminded of just before she announces her candidacy for President.

This modus-operandi will have a familiar ring to those Americans old enough (and with long-enough memories) to remember the lost (and subpoenaed) Rose Law Firm billing records that mysteriously turned up (after two years of looking) in the Clinton White House residential quarters. To this day no one knows how those records got there. Well, we presume, almost no one knows.

And who can forget that wonderful 100 to 1 return Mrs. Clinton pocketed on her first-ever cattle futures trade back in 1978. That was when husband Bill was running for Governor and she apparently turned $1,000 (over the course of a year) into $100,000 trading in one of the most risky futures trading pits in the world (especially for first-time traders). Mrs. Clinton had insisted that she did it all on her own after learning how by reading one article in the Wall Street Journal. Actually, the reader may recall, it later came out that James Blair, outside counsel to Arkansas corporate heavyweight Tyson Foods (a company regulated by the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission), turned out to be her guide. That may have been the first time we heard I did it my way, playing in the background.

Back in 1997, Mrs. Clinton’s penchant for secrecy almost cost her husband’s Administration $286,000. A suit in federal court determined that the health-care task force Hillary was running had “run amok” in its pursuit of secrecy. Federal judge Royce Lamberth’s financial sanctions were later rescinded on appeal because an appellate court found that there was no ill intent in the secrecy. It was, in effect, just an early case of Hillary saying, “I did it my way.”

There is not, however, a plausible “great right wing conspiracy” to blame for this mess as she has blamed prior messes on. It is a mess purely of her own making. It is almost breathtaking to contemplate that she believes that the inconvenience of carrying two phones or having two accounts on one phone justified her massive comingling of personal and official email correspondence, and that she and she alone should determine what the government sees and what it doesn’t see. As John Stewart quipped, “I think the concern…is that the aides are the ones that get to decide which emails are appropriate to be shared as opposed to an independent arbiter. That is why Doritos doesn’t get to decide which ingredients consumers need to know about, or why you don’t get to tell the cops which pocket to search.”

 This public relations train wreck will not, by itself, do great harm to Mrs. Clinton’s presidential aspirations. She has not, however, enjoyed a good run-up to the coming formal announcement of her candidacy. Her book tour was a flop and she has avoided the press like the plague for the last five or six months. This was a very bad coming out party.

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Netanyahu’s Sin: Shining Light on a Pact That Shouldn’t See the Light of Day.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWe suspect the Obama Administration began leaking details last week about the agreement it is seeking with Iran in order to dampen the extent to which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address might resonate with Congress and, more importantly, with the American People. They failed.

Talking heads from both the right and left were eager to share their opinions of the speech, but we thought centrist CNN commentator David Gergen (who would have preferred that Netanyahu delay his remarks until after the elections in Israel) offered the most clear-headed and dispassionate assessment. Gergen opined, “…Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday to the U.S. Congress should be required reading for anyone who cares about peace in the Middle East.

The United States and its negotiating partners are moving into the final stages of possibly reaching a nuclear deal with Iran. Forceful but not bombastic, Netanyahu laid out the clearest and strongest case against the deal of any public leader so far.

Iran, he argues, remains the biggest terrorist state in the Middle East and already dominates four Arab capitals — Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. The regime cannot be trusted.

The deal shaping up, Netanyahu warns, would allow Tehran to keep a huge nuclear infrastructure that it would almost certainly try to build up further through cheating. In about a decade, the deal would lift all restrictions. It is foolhardy, he argues, to expect a regime that has held power for 36 years to give up its grip — or its ambitions — in the next 10.

The Obama administration sharply disagrees with Netanyahu’s assessment. Fair enough. But in coming days, the President must lay out his case just as clearly and strongly, as his top advisers began to do Monday at the AIPAC conference. Armed with both arguments, the American people — along with the Congress — will then have a reasoned basis upon which to render a judgment. Democratic peoples thrive when they can hear all sides.”

And that is precisely why the Obama Administration has been apoplectic in its bush-league, month-long, denunciation of the Prime Minister’s temerity to address Congress. They did not want the cogent case Netanyahu presented to be aired before they had a chance to reach a final agreement with Iran. They especially did not want the case against the agreement to be accorded the attention that an address to a joint meeting of Congress might attract. In their efforts to sandbag the address they merely heightened the attention and the interest of the American People.

UN Ambassador Samantha Power and National Security Advisor Susan Rice both delivered superb speeches the day before Netanyahu’s speech. Their words could not have been more reassuring, or, sadly, more lacking in certainty.

Ambassador Rice insisted with a straight face, that a good deal is one that would cut off every single pathway for Iran to make a nuclear weapon, adding that the controversial “sunset clause” would be set at more than a decade with additional provisions providing transparency for a longer period of time — except the deal cuts off no pathways at all. Iran will not be required to dismantle any of the infrastructure it currently has at its command. Iran will simply agree not to use that infrastructure nor build upon it for the next ten years. We (and Israel) are expected to rely upon Iran’s fidelity to transparency, now and for the next decade or more.

Really? Let’s revisit the recently released report of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Last month The New York Times obtained a copy of the IAEA document and reported, that Iran was still refusing to answer the agency’s longstanding questions about suspected work on nuclear weapons and designs. A lurking issue, according to the New York Times, has been whether, as part of any final accord, Iran will be compelled to answer all questions that the IAEA has put to it about evidence of past work on designing weapons.

“We’ve been stonewalled on all those questions,” one European official involved in the talks said recently. “And the question is, does it make sense to lift sanctions against Iran before it satisfies the inspectors?” Well, come to think of it, that is essentially what many Americans as well as the Israeli Prime Minister have been asking too.

The Times reported that American officials have cloaked the details of the negotiations in secrecy, and have not been specific about how an agreement would compel compliance with the international inspectors, who are part of the United Nations. Iranian demands for an agreement include a lifting of all United Nations resolutions and sanctions against Iran. The IAEA report said the agency “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.

 We know Iran has been busy developing long-range ballistic missile capability, and that too has been of concern to the IAEA. Iran has, reportedly, excluded from the nuclear agreement negotiations any aspect of its long-range ballistic-missile program. This is very relevant and very serious.

In a November 2012 report, the IAEA stated “Iran has carried out activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. This information, which comes from a wide variety of independent sources, including from a number of Member States, from the Agency’s own efforts and from information provided by Iran itself, is assessed by the Agency to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that prior to the end of 2003 the activities took place under a structured program; that some continued after 2003; and that some may still be ongoing.”

In a November 2013 report, the IAEA reported,“Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile. Iran is required to cooperate fully with the Agency on all outstanding issues, particularly those which give rise to concerns about the possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program, including by providing access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the Agency.”

To this day, Iran has refused to comply with IAEA demands for access to these sites and to relevant records.

UN Ambassador Samantha Power was almost reassuring when she said, “The United States will not allow Iran to obtain Nuclear weapons –Period!” Why in the world did she throw in that now widely ridiculed Obamaism, “Period!” as in, If you like your current health insurance plan you can keep it “Period! And if you like your doctor you can keep him,”Period!” The only way we can assure that Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons, short of going to war, is to insist that they dismantle the infrastructure they have built to do just that – Period!

As though trying to demonstrate Orwellian Newspeak Nancy Pelosi called Netanyahu’s address “an insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the p5 +1 nations and called the Prime Minister condescending toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”   Then again, this is the same Nancy Pelosi who told the nation that we’ll have to pass Obamacare so that we could see what was in it. Well we did pass Obamacare so that we could see what was in it, and that, Mrs. Pelosi, is the problem. Such protestations may have helped pass Obamacare, but they are not likely to promote confidence in our efforts to control Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran is an enemy nation. That isn’t just our opinion. It is Iran’s position, stated often, menacingly and unambiguously. Why in the world we would agree to a sunset provision in an arms limitation agreement with an enemy who has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of American servicemen, who has vowed to defeat us and wipe an ally, Israel, off the face of the earth is, indeed, perplexing.

Frankly, we fear the nuclear discussions have dragged on (and been extended) for so long by Iran as a negotiating tactic. It has imposed upon Secretary Kerry an investment of so much of his time, that (Iran might assume) he will embrace a poor agreement rather than come up empty handed after having expended so much effort. If that’s the case, we hope (and we believe) Kerry will say, “no deal.”

Meanwhile, we believe the Administration wildly over reacted to Netanyahu’s decision to accept Speaker Boehner’s invitation to address Congress. Protocol was never the issue. Having the nation’s attention focused on why the emerging deal is a bad one was, and is, the cause of the President’s outrage.

We are reminded of a wonderful bit of wisdom shared with the world by the late and very popular astronomer, Carl Sagan. “For me,” Sagan wrote, “it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”


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Netanyahu Address to Congress: It’s The Right Place and The Right Time.

Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors We’ve had our issues over the years with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His decision to address Congress, however, is not one of them. Speaker Boehner’s decision to invite Netanyahu and Netanyahu’s decision to accept that invitation were appropriate given the circumstances. So just what were those circumstances?

The night before the invitation was formally proffered, President Obama announced to the world, during his State of the Union Address, that he would veto any legislation that presumed to reinstitute or increase sanctions on Iran should Iran cheat on the impending nuclear limitation agreement between Iran and the p5+1 (really the United States). Given that the presumed first target of a future Iranian nuclear weapon would be Tel Aviv, we’re inclined to cut the Israeli Prime Minister considerable slack regarding his acceptance of any invitation to go anywhere to address any audience to warn of the dangers of a Nuclear-armed Iran.

Furthermore, we’re also inclined to cut Speaker Boehner considerable slack in extending the invitation to the Israeli Prime Minister. The White House not only used the State of the Union Address to tell Congress to mind its own business (as though critical arms agreements are none of its business), but it announced (almost simultaneously) that it was planning to circumvent Congress by not seeking its approval of the impending pact after the fact.

The charge made by Obama sycophants that Netanyahu’s addressing Congress amounts to Israeli interference in a partisan American political dispute is, well, bizarre. Iran has threatened to liquidate Israel…to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the earth, and they are busily going about the task of developing the wherewithal to do just that. If anything, Israel fears this Administration is compromising its ability to defend itself in the years ahead, by acquiescing to Iran becoming nuclear threshold state – a state that can weaponize its nuclear capability at a time of its choosing.

This Administration simply does not want the American people to hear a cogent case against a bad deal by the one person who can make that case better than anyone in the world.

Critics argue that Netanyahu is trying to bolster his prospects in Israel’s elections scheduled for March 17th. That may be true (although polls in Israel suggest that that would be a recklessly unnecessary strategy), but so what. If Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose an existential threat to Israel’s existence it is quite irrelevant if articulating that helps any candidate.

Others argue that Netanyahu could have waited until after Israel’s March 17 elections to come and address Congress. That argument is, in our opinion, either disingenuous or naïve. The go-no/go deadline for continuation of the nuclear talks is March 24, which would mean an address to Congress after the Israeli elections, would come when there would be little or no time to alter the course of the talks. The die would have been cast (if it already isn’t).

The New York Times this week echoed an editorial theme, which has been widespread in the nation’s press. Their editorial’s concluding paragraph opines, “Mr. Netanyahu, who is scheduled to address Congress next week, has already denounced the deal. The agreement must be judged on the complete package, not on any single provision…” Really? It would only take one provision to poison the well if that provision enables Iran to keep enriching uranium with enrichment technology they already have and refuse to dismantle.

If Iran has the ability (technology) to produce a nuclear weapon and they are allowed to keep that technology and, indeed, to continue enriching uranium, everything else may be little more than window dressing. The Times editorial concluded with, “Even if the deal is not perfect, the greater risk could well be walking away and allowing Iran to continue its nuclear activities unfettered.” Unfettered? Iran is at the negotiating table because both Presidents Bush (43) and Obama, signed legislation that imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran. We know of no one who has suggested that Iran might be allowed to continue its nuclear activity “unfettered.” The Administration, however, is so worried that Iran would walk away from the talks if Congress stipulated that tough sanctions would be re-imposed should Iran discontinue the negotiations or if Iran cheated on any deal that is reached, that the President has publically (and foolishly, in our opinion) committed himself to vetoing any legislation that makes that clear.

Now we appreciate that the Iranian nuclear problem is not merely a product of this Administration’s making. Not by a long shot. Four prior Administrations have failed to deal effectively with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But we are at a very decisive moment that is unfolding on President Obama’s watch — and that of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Netanyahu knows perfectly well what address would be posted on Iran’s first nuclear weapons, and his determination to present Israel’s case to anyone who will listen is understandable. The hyperventilated pique evidenced at the White House has little to do with a protocol misstep, and everything to do with a desire to keep a critique of the evolving agreement from being aired to a large American audience.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice opined during a Charlie Rose interview this week that Netanyahu’s speech had “injected a degree of partisanship” into a relationship that should be above politics. “It’s destructive to the fabric of the relationship,” Rice told the Charlie Rose show. “It’s always been bipartisan. We need to keep it that way.” Huh? Israel’s very real fear that we are negotiating a deal with Iran that could give Iran the wherewithal to deliver on its often stated belief that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth, is trivialized to “injecting a degree of partisanship into a relationship that should be above politics.

Israel believes its very survival is the issue and why shouldn’t they? Iran announces on a regular basis that Israel’s survival is the issue. The Administration announced that it would veto any legislation that re-imposed strict sanctions if the talks failed, and then announced its intention to circumvent Congress altogether in implementing any deal Obama reaches with Iran. It was the Administration that injected a degree of partisanship into the Iran nuclear issue.

We appreciate that the President has great confidence in his persuasive ability, but we’ll cut Prime Minister Netanyahu quite a bit of slack in not sharing that confidence. Netanyahu and Obama have been conditioned by very different circumstances. Netanyahu understands his neighborhood and Israel’s sworn enemies who occupy it quite well. He enlisted in the Israel Defense Force during the 1967 six-day war. Netanyahu quickly became a team leader in Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s Special Forces unit that has played a key role in the rescue of hostages. He was wounded during the successful rescue of hijacked passengers aboard a Sebena Airlines flight in 1972. He also saw action at the front lines (and was wounded again) during the War of Attrition with Egypt and he fought in the 1973 war when Egypt attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holy days.

He takes Iran’s threats to wipe his country off the face of the earth at face value. We should too. Speaker Boehner has invited Netanyahu to share his concerns with the Congress. He has accepted. It is the right place and the right time.

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Ideas and commentary with allegiance to neither the left nor the right, but only to this sweet land of liberty.