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Obama’s Faceoffs with Putin and Netanyahu

Washington was the center of contretemps over Putin’s seizure of Crimea and widening public differences with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

We recently interviewed Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute and reviewed of his new book Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes. (See The Peril of Engaging Rogue States: An Interview with Dr. Michael Rubin  and Engagement is Folly}.

Putin, according to Rubin is the consummate zero sum geo -politician. Diplomacy for the Kremlin thugocracy pales in comparison to unleashing military adventurism to recreate the former Soviet empire. Witness Georgia in 2008 with the severance of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and even the Kremlin support for Russian speaking breakaway state of Transnistria between the Ukraine and Moldavia. Remember Putin abhors NATO presence anywhere near the Russian sphere of influence. See the prescient title of a piece I wrote back in August 2008, Georgia: “Moscow Rules” and the West Wimps Out.  We had Bush and Condoleezza Rice back then.

The 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) witnessed the transfer of nearly 2000 nuclear missiles to Russia followed by 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances by the UK, US and Russia that guaranteed Ukrainian sovereignty including the rights of Russian citizens who chose to live there.  Recently Russia negotiated the extension of the lease on the Black Sea naval base in Sevastopol from 2017 to 2042. The move was heavily criticized by the opposition forces now in power in Kiev.  By seizing the Crimea province from Ukraine, the Russian guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty has been breached. Russian military exercises near Finland and the Ukraine are clear demonstrations of military force to send a message to the EU and the Obama White House West Wing not to dare send NATO forces to the Polish Ukrainian border. Thus, while there will be lots of economic sanctions and isolation rattling by Washington and Brussels, it is up to the G-8 and G-20 groups to consider ejection of Moscow, which will doubtless come up short.

Sochi may lose tourist revenues from the upcoming Paralympics, followed by the loss of the G-8 Summit in June and even the inaugural Russian Formula 1 race scheduled for August 2014.  Meanwhile the Moscow Stock Exchange and Ruble were punished in trading today. Whether that continues will be influenced by Putin’s contempt for the West and the threats by Obama that “there will be consequences”.  So, while Obama’s Russian reset strategy like his pivot to Asia and push for a Final Status agreement between Israel and the PA have been potential failures.

Just look at the interview with Obama by Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg about the President’s entreaties to Netanyahu to “seize the moment and make peace”. This included  a veiled no veto threat by the US should the PA, as suggested in the Oxford Union remarks of PA negotiator Saeb Erekat on Al Jazeera’s Head to Head program of last Friday,  might opt for accession to the UN Security Council for statehood.

This would let 5 million Palestinian UNWRA refugees file for compensation against Israel.  Further, the PA could file a case for crimes against humanity brought before the International Criminal Court at The Hague the day after the April 29 deadline is passed for an agreement set by Secretary of State Kerry.  Even the brief comments by Obama and Netanyahu in the Oval Office about “tough choices” versus non helpful Palestinian moves sent a chilling message.  (See this CBS news report, here).

Tomorrow, we shall see what happens when Netanyahu speaks to 14,000 delegates at the AIPAC Policy Conference following Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ)   speech. They would urge the delegates to scamper up Capitol Hill to convince their Senators and Representatives to pass the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act, S. 1881 co-sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Menendez. Problem is that Iran may already have its nukes given a decade long cooperative weapons development and ICBM program with North Korea. Read my article; Has Iran Developed Nuclear Weapons in North Korea?

As to Israel’s capabilities, realize that it already has ICBMs – the nuclear equipped Jericho III.  Yes, as the ancient Chinese curse goes, “may you live in interesting times”.

RELATED COLUMN: ‘Delusional’: Krauthammer Slams Obama Admin’s Belief that Putin has ‘Blinked’ on Ukraine

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

Benghazi and Iran: The Two Faces of Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is much in the news as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee given the release Wednesday of the long-awaited bi-partisan Benghazi Report.  Contrast that with her withering criticism of  the  nearly veto-proof  new Iran Sanctions legislation.  On Tuesday she rose on the floor of the US Senate to give a ringing condemnation of the bipartisan Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act (S. 1881), seeking standby sanctions authorities,  as unnecessary and dangerous legislation acceding to saber rattling by our ally Israel.  She castigated it for disrupting the Administration’s diplomatic initiative with Iran with what she deems a ‘strong’ P5+1 agreement triggered by concerns over Israel’s security.  She observed:

 And let me acknowledge Israel’s real well founded concerns, that a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten its very existence. I don’t disagree with that. I agree with it, but we’re not there yet. While I recognize and share Israel’s concern, we cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war. By stating that the United States should provide military support to Israel in a former resolution should it attack Iran, I fear that is how this bill is going to be interpreted.

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) in a release yesterday, upbraided Sen. Feinstein for these remarks. Matt Brooks, RJC executive director said:

Senator Feinstein is within her rights to disagree with a bipartisan majority of her colleagues who support Kirk-Menendez, but her suggestion that those colleagues have ceded control over ‘when and where the United States goes to war’ to Israel is outrageous, inflammatory and completely baseless.

[…]

We are deeply troubled to see Senator Feinstein making such incendiary and inaccurate remarks on the Senate floor. We call on her to retract this reckless and false charge and apologize to her colleagues and to the millions of Americans who support a comprehensive, robust strategy to prevent the Tehran regime from obtaining nuclear weapons capability.”

Watch Sen. Feinstein’s Senate floor speech on this C-SPAN video clip.

Contrast Sen. Feinstein’s Senate Floor remarks on NWFIA with the news that followed the release of yesterday’s Benghazi Report by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Benghazi Report, according to The Wall Street Journal in a lead article in today’s edition, “Benghazi Report Spreads Blame”, lambasted both the State Department and the Intelligence community.  It indicated that this was a “preventable attack” that took the lives of four Americans including the late Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens.  These valiant Americans may have died because of the lack of State Department attention to requests for enhanced security that might have been provided prior to the September 11, 2012 attack.  That could spell trouble for former Secretary of State Clinton  poised many believe to seek her party’s nomination for the Presidency in 2016.  Senator Feinstein in remarks captured in a  Global Affairs blog article of The Hill, “Feinstein rejects NYT on Benghazi, lent the impression that the attack may have been perpetrated by a local terrorist group, Anshar al-Sharia  ‘influenced’ by  Al Qaeda. The Global Affairs blog noted both her comments:

The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said that key conclusions of a recent New York Times investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attack are wrong.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) rejected the Times’s conclusion that al Qaeda wasn’t responsible for the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. She also took issue with the notion that the Libya strike was sparked by a U.S.-made anti-Islam video online.

“I believe that groups loosely associated with al Qaeda were” involved in the attack, she told The Hill last week. “That’s my understanding.”

She also disputed the notion that the Sept. 11, 2012, assault evolved from a protest against the video, which was widely disseminated by Islamic clerics shortly before the attack.

Given  her Senate floor speech on NWFIA and Israel, Sen. Feinstein  might address the objections  of RJC executive director Brooks by heeding the comments made during the January 14th Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) conference call – listen to this excerpt on You Tube – by both former Israeli Amb. (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, Dr. Michael Ledeen of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Sarah Stern, EMET’s executive director.

Commenting  that  Iran’s nuclear threat is directed at the US, Amb. Ettinger said:

 I think that when it comes to Iran the top priority is to send a message to legislators, you don’t do that for Israel.  You do it for America, namely Israel’s best friends on Capitol Hill are being told today by Israeli leaders and by friends of Israel, please have the back of our ally in the Middle East.  It is the wrong approach.  Israel should not be part of any Iranian related activity on the Hill.  It is America which is the number one target for Iran and not Israel. Once American legislators realize that we are going to see a sea change of attitudes on the Hill which could be the element stopping Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Stern of EMET  then drew attention to just such an initiative by her group:

We at EMET are working on a television campaign with exactly that message to go all over the United States without even mentioning Israel.  Instead, we talk about the annual November 4th ‘Death to America Rallies’ when they burned the American flag, etc…  Iran has actually said that by 2015 they will develop a Shahab missile to reach the Eastern seaboard of the continental United States.

In an Iconoclast post in late November 2013 on the cusp of the P5+1 agreement, we raised the issue of “Could Iranian missiles threaten Florida by 2015?”  I was acutely aware of this danger as a young US Army intelligence officer who  lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.  Sen. Feinstein was a young adult when the Soviet-backed threat nearly brought catastrophe to this hemisphere, prevented only because we were militarily prepared to act.  In our blog post we drew attention to that eerie precedent. We cited current comments from Mark Regev spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and a Clarion project briefing with IDF Brig. Gen. (ret.) Michael Herzog on the Iranian missile threat to the US.  We also referred to international investigative reports that a company owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps was allegedly building a possible missile base equipped with those Shahab missiles Stern referred to on the Paraguaná peninsula in Venezuela.

As head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Feinstein may have also been briefed on the same information. For her to disregard this clear and present danger by Iran to the US and her constituents is myopic, misleading and dangerous.  The stronger stand by sanctions authorization under S. 1881 with near veto-proof bi-partisan support buttresses the diplomatic initiative the Administration is seeking to achieve.  Sen. Feinstein needs to correct her Senate speech mistakes and apologize to her fellow Senators, all Americans and to our ally Israel.  We must be realistic about the “catastrophic apocalyptic” threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to regional and world peace.  The current generation of Americans doesn’t have to live through another nuclear crisis as many of us and Sen. Feinstein did 52 years ago.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

Senate Democrats Back off New Iran Sanctions Legislation

As if on cue, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani trumpets how the Islamic Regime won big time with the announced Joint Plan of Action (JPA) implementation last Sunday in Geneva.  As The Guardian noted in a report, “Iran nuclear deal means ‘surrender’ for Western Powers, says Rouhani”:

Speaking on Tuesday in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, Rouhani said the “Geneva deal means the surrender of big powers before the great nation of Iran”.

Perhaps one of those victories is the ability of the Islamic regime to pursue what we would call the “nth” development of new, more efficient centrifuges to enrich uranium. Enrichment for only one purpose, to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.  The Obama White House  confirmed that Iran has been allowed to pursue ‘centrifuge research’.     The Washington Free Beacon noted this White House news conference call exchange in an article,” Iran permitted to continue advanced nuclear research”:

Asked by a reporter on a conference call if the deal stops “Iran from designing new types of centrifuges,” a senior administration official admitted that the deal does not prohibit this activity.

[…]

“So what’s the practical effect of this R&D [research and development] clarification that you labored over so hard? What does it preclude them from doing?” the reporter asked.

It—I mean, their commitment is to continue their current enrichment R&D practices, and those are the practices that are laid out in the November [IAEA} Director General’s report,” said one of two senior administration officials on the press briefing. “This—that’s been documented, and that’s what they were—that’s what they will continue to do.”

As we had reported  in an Iconoclast post on possible veto-proof  bipartisan Iran sanctions  legislation in the US Senate (S1881) that  the centrifuge research issue had allegedly hit a snag.

Now in the wake of Rouhani’s speech yesterday in Iran comes word that the White House is soft peddling the Iranian President’s trumpeting of this alleged “victory”.    An AFP article, “White House plays down Rouhani crowing on Nuclear Deal” notes these comments by White House spokesperson Jay Carney at yesterday’s press conference:

It is not surprising to us and nor should it be surprising to you that the Iranians are describing the agreement in a certain way towards their domestic audience. It does not matter what they say, it matters what they do.

Problem is it could  thwart the Obama Administration’s campaign to stifle new bi-partisan sanctions legislation , the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act (NWFIA), S1881.

However, under White House threat to veto  NWFIA, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid ,according to a report from  The Weekly Standard, has blocked bringing the measure up for a floor vote.  Note these comments from  Reid, Democrat  Senators and Minority Leader McConnell in The Hill report,  “Dems back away from Iran sanctions legislation”:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday he wanted to “wait and see how this plays out” before moving forward with a vote on the sanctions. Reid declined to say when he might bring the bill, which has 59 co-sponsors, including 16 Democrats, to a vote.

The majority leader noted 10 of his committee chairmen are opposed to the bill.

“We believe we ought to have that vote,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday. “We’re going to continue to press the majority leader to allow a vote on an issue that obviously enjoys the support of a very large bipartisan majority here in the Senate.”

“I think the Iran sanctions bill is meant to strengthen the president, not in any way impede the ongoing negotiations, which should and hopefully will be successful,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a Menendez-Kirk co-sponsor, told reporters Tuesday. “So as long as there’s progress, and as long as the progress is meaningful and visible, there may not need to be a vote.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), another co-sponsor, said both the administration and Congress wanted to reach a diplomatic solution through negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, if that was possible.

“As far as trying to work out with the administration a strategy so we have more harmony, let’s talk about it,” Cardin said. “So I think that’s what’s going on right now.”

Prior to the November 24th announcement in Geneva of the P5+1 interim agreement with Iran,  Reid had backed new sanctions legislation according to  a report in the Los Angeles Times on November 21, 2013.

Yesterday, an Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) conference call on Iran’s intentions over its nuclear program   featured former Israeli Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger and Dr. Michael Ledeen of the Washington, DC-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.  Dr. Ledeen is an impassioned advocate for both sanctions and support for regime change via what he argues could be a significant Iranian opposition.  Amb. Ettinger suggested that perhaps something more is required, when he commented:

Only one option to avoid facing an Iran which could become an uncontrollable strategic apocalyptic threat. That option is surgical, devastating, disproportional military preemption against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.