Losin’ in Lausanne (2)

Omri Ceren writes by email from Lausanne to elaborate on the AP story reporting that raw United States is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites. Omri writes:

And just like that, PMDs and Yemen are those things we were talking about in the last news cycle. For the rest of tonight and probably into tomorrow, the buzz is going to be about the monster scoop the AP just published. Washington is apparently ready to let the Iranians continue enrichment activities at Fordow, the underground military bunker – built into the side of a mountain and all but impervious to air attack – that they converted into a clandestine enrichment facility.

The policy implications of this concession more or less write themselves. Allowing the Iranians to enrich at Fordow means they could kick out inspectors at any time and have a fully-functioning enrichment facility hardened against military intervention. Since sanctions will be unraveled by design at the beginning of a deal, that means the West would have literally zero options to stop a breakout. The administration’s early pushback is that the breakout time will still be a year, so they could in theory reimpose sanctions, but it takes more than a year for sanctions to take an economic toll. So: zero options to stop a breakout.

But there’s an insidery history about Fordow’s role in negotiations that makes it into a political problem for the administration as well, alongside the policy problems. Timeline:

– The Iranians declared very early into the JPOA that shuttering Fordow was a red line for them. Zarif publicly berated Sherman on the issue and instructed her to “stick to the reality and stop speaking of impossible things” (http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Rejecting-US-comments-on-its-nuclear-program-Iran-FM-says-Fordo-Arak-are-non-negotiable-340458). This was during the first few months of the JPOA, where every other week the Iranians were declaring that something else was non-negotiable: dismantling centrifuges, downgrading their heavy water reactor at Arak, halting ballistic missile development, etc. The red lines were dismissed by administration spokespeople as the Iranians posturing for domestic benefit – but throughout the first half of 2014 Washington systematically collapsed on 100% of those asks.

– Except: last summer the Iranians floated a compromise proposal that would keep Fordow open but convert it into a research facility (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-07-09/news/sns-rt-us-iran-nuclear-fordow-20140709_1_fordow-enriched-uranium-interim-nuclear-deal). The move was widely hailed as a sign the Iranians were willing to meet the Americans halfway. Robert Einhorn from Brookings – a top State nonproliferation official stretching back to the Clinton era – had suggested the compromise in a widely-read whitepaper on negotiations (http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2014/03/31-nuclear-armed-iran-einhorn). Now the Iranians were willing to compromise! The proposal was used to silence skeptics of Iranian intentions and boosted the momentum of negotiations.

– Except: now that concession has been reversed.

The role Fordow has played means that this development will be a double gut-punch. It’s now just a policy trainwreck, but it’s politically toxic because it seems like the administration got played again (or that it misled lawmakers again). The White House started out promising that Fordow would be shuttered, then that it would be converted into an R&D plant where no enrichment would take place, and now they’ve collapsed. Criticism is already being heard from the Hill – for a taste see < a href=" https://twitter.com/SpeakerBoehner/status/581140844863983618">this tweet from Boehner – and the afternoon cable shows out of New York and DC are still several hours away.

At this rate it just might be easier to turn over our nuclear arsenal to Iran for safekeeping.

introducing Grant Starrett [Updated]

From 2011 through 2014, the House of Representatives was conservatism’s only reliable line of defense against President Obama’s leftist encroachments. It’s quite possible that after 2016, conservatives will again need to look to the House to play this vital defensive role.

To maintain control of the House, and to keep it in fighting trim, Republicans must run strong, principled conservatives — and not just for open and Democrat-held seats. We saw in 2006 what happens when entrenched Republican incumbents become embarrassments.

That’s why I agree with Erick Erickson, who recently tweeted, “If Grant Starrett gets in, he’s got my support. He’s a great guy.”

Who is Grant Starrett, and what might he be getting into?

Starrett is a rising conservative star. He’s a graduate of Stanford, where he founded the Stanford Conservative Society and grew it to over 500 members, and of Vanderbilt Law School, where he was president of its Federalist Society.

Grant was the Students for Mitt Chair in Romney’s 2008 Presidential campaign and the Coalitions Coordinator in the 2012 Romney campaign. He spent the summers between school working for the Senate Steering Committee under Senator Jim DeMint, the White House, FoxNews, and the American Center for Law and Justice.

Grant has taken a lead role in Tennessee’s judicial wars, fighting trial lawyers and activist judges to restore constitutional order to Tennessee’s judicial selection process. Currently, he serves as Vice President and Special Counsel at Lion Real Estate Group.

I got to know Grant through my friend Joe Malchow, the publisher of Power Line. A long conversation with Grant made it easy to see why Joe holds him in such high regard, both personally and politically.

As Erick Erikson’s tweet indicates, Grant is seriously considering running for the House of Representatives in Tennessee’s Fourth Congressional District. It’s clear to me that Grant is the kind of energetic, talented Constitutional conservative we will need to preserve the House of Representatives as a bulwark against the left’s “transformative” agenda and, should circumstances permit, to make it the engine of conservatism transformation.

It’s equally clear that the Republican incumbent, Scott DesJarlais, should be replaced. DesJarlais, a physician, was embroiled in a personal scandal in 2012, when it was revealed that he had affairs with his patients. The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners reprimanded him for this.

DesJarlais is an outspoken critic of abortion. Yet, according to his divorce trial transcript, he pressured one of the patients he had sex with to get an abortion and pressured his ex-wife to do the same.

Scandal aside, DesJarlais isn’t a strong conservative. His lifetime ratings from Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, Citizens Against Government Waste, and National Taxpayers Union range from 76 percent to 79 percent.

DesJarlais voted against the most aggressive budget-cutting bills in the House, namely the Republican Study Committee budgets in 2011 and 2013. He voted against cutting funding for the DOE loan program that funded Solyndra. He has supported “crony capitalism” legislation on a number of occasions.

In 2014, DesJarlais survived a primary challenge by only 38 votes. Considering his scandals, this result is a quite a tribute to his resiliency. But he clearly remains vulnerable to challenge.

Like Erick, I hope that Grant challenges DesJarlais. If he does, I’ll be asking readers to support him.

UPDATE: One of my go-to sources on national security issues writes:

[Grant] is also solid on national defense and security issues; we have had many long conversations about it. . . .He would be a welcome addition to the Hill at a time when the world is increasingly dangerous but too many members still do not understand the importance of a strong defense to handle and deter rising threats.

The current fight for a better defense budget is only the latest example of how we need people who follow both fiscal conservative AND strong national security principles.

Obama continues assault on Israel

Reader Martin Karo writes:

Arutz Sheva reports on the Obama administration’s release – a broadcast, not a leak – of formerly top secret data regarding Israel’s nuclear facilities and capabilities. The damaging revelations come via the Defense Department’s publication of a detailed, 386-page report on Israeli and NATO nations’ nuclear facilities and capabilities. In an overtly political act, the Pentagon declassified only the part about Israel, continuing to classify the parts regarding other countries.

The timing of the release — in the middle of the Obama administration’s attacks on Israel over its revelations on what parts of the store Obama was giving away in order to get an Iranian signature on the dotted line – and the decision to spill the secrets on Israel’s program, and only Israel’s program, is transparently a malicious act by Obama to damage Netanyahu. And probably a signal from Barry to Bibi to shut up and sit down in the back.

The alternative theory – that Obama intended to damage Israel as a whole – cannot be ruled out either. Obama’s motive could be deep-grained animosity towards the Jewish State, or at least to inject a rough equivalence justification for his Iran deal – “Israel has an advanced nuclear program, why should Iran not be allowed to have one?” The latter theory also partially explains Obama’s vitriolic “RACIST! ™” attack on Netanyahu for attempting to increase Likud’s election turnout by pointing out the opposition was turning out in droves (via Obama-supplied buses, but set that aside for now). “So what if Iran calls for death to Israel? They are racists!” [“But what about their ‘death to America’ chants?” “Well, if the white shoe fits…”]

Americans to Environmentalists: Yawn

Gallup is out with its annual poll of environmental issues.  I’ll just go with their headline:

In the U.S., Concern About Environmental Threats Eases

Among the key findings:

Consistent with the decline in worry about specific environmental problems, Americans have become more positive about the quality of the environment in recent years. If Americans perceive the environment to be in relatively good shape, it follows they would be less concerned about potential environmental threats to Americans. The more positive views about the environment could be the result of federal, state and local government’s as well as individuals’ actions to minimize potential environmental threats to U.S. citizens.

This chart tells the story:

Gallup 1 copy

Darn progress!  How are you going to scare people in direct mail letters if things keep getting better? Well, at least there’s global warming.  Wait—you say that’s not working either?  Gallup again:

Importantly, even as global warming has received greater attention as an environmental problem from politicians and the media in recent years, Americans’ worry about it is no higher now than when Gallup first asked about it in 1989.

I’m sure if Gore keeps trying this will change.  Any day now.


Losin’ in Lausanne

The Wall Street Journal has a scoop on the endgame in the negotiations with Iran over a deal on its nuclear program. The United States is folding on issues involving the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past work. The descent into absurdity continues. Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman report (story accessible here via Google):

Iran’s refusal to implement the IAEA work plan threatens to undermine the prospects for this comprehensive agreement, say diplomats involved in the talks. The ability of the IAEA and global powers to verify whether Iran is abiding by any future deal to prevent it from racing to develop a nuclear weapon depends, in part, on an understanding of its past work, according to these officials.

The IAEA was empowered by the U.N. to investigate Iran’s alleged weapons research, and reports back to the Security Council. Lifting U.N. sanctions on Iran are supposed to be tied to a resolution of the dispute. But the six powers negotiating with Tehran have the power to set their own terms for an agreement.

“We are concentrating on verification issues,” Mr. Amano said about the specific role his agency plays.

The West has accused Iran of conducting weapons-related tests at military sites near Tehran, and having secret government offices dedicated to this work. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded Iran had a dedicated nuclear weapons program, which they believe largely ended in 2003.

As a result, the U.S. and its negotiating partners are seeking to get Iran’s upfront approval to implement a scaled-back version of the IAEA’s 2013 agreement with Iran to a 12-step work plan to resolve questions related to possible weaponization work. Mr. Amano said Iran has addressed only one of the 12 areas.

The new plan would seek access to some of Iran’s sites and documents believed tied to past weaponization work, known in diplomatic parlance as “possible military dimensions,” or PMD.

What to do? Put it off into the rosy future:

Under the new plan, Tehran wouldn’t be expected to immediately clarify all the outstanding questions raised by the IAEA in a 2011 report on Iran’s alleged secretive work. A full reckoning of Iran’s past activities would be demanded in later years as part of a nuclear deal that is expected to last at least 15 years.

Writing by email from Lausanne, Omri Ceren explains:

The WSJ scoop…is huge precisely because it’s about a well-understood issue that goes back years. The West has been pushing Iran to come clean to the IAEA on whatever nuclear-related work the Iranian military has been doing: uranium mining, enrichment, weaponization, etc. The Iranians have refused, and are stonewalling on 11 of 12 issues. And so – per the Journal – “in response… the U.S. and its diplomatic partners are revising their demands on Iran.” Full disclosure will reportedly be put off until later in the deal, after sanctions relief has already been granted. I’ve pasted the full WSJ article below and then, below that, a checklist of the 12 PMDs in case you’re reporting this out and need specifics.

It’s important to remember why “possible military dimensions” (PMDs) matter. The label is a bit misleading: it makes it sound like the IAEA is only investigating weaponization work. That’s allowed some people to mischaracterize the issue as ‘the West is trying to extract a ‘mea culpa’ from the Iranians to embarrass them’ (the NYT had a typical example a few weeks ago, sourced to a former American negotiator who rhetorically asked “is it worth blowing up a potential agreement in the name of forcing a confession?”) But that’s not it.

PMD disclosure is about baselining all of Iran’s nuclear activities – not just its known civilian parts – as a prerequisite for verifying that those activities have been halted under a nuclear deal. Iran has uranium mines; some are civilian and some are military. It has centrifuges; some are operated by civilians and some by IRGC personnel. It has uranium stockpiles; some are maintained by civilians and some by the military. There’s no way for future inspectors to verify that Iran has shuttered its mines, stopped its centrifuges, and shipped off its stockpile – for instance – unless the IAEA knows where all the mines and stockpiles are.

No PMDs mean no verification….

If Iran is able to successfully evade addressing the IAEA’s concerns now, when biting sanctions are in place, why would it address them later when these sanctions are lifted, regardless of anything it may pledge today?

That’s a question that answers itself.

The best of Matt Lee

It seems to me highly improbable that the AP’s diplomatic correspondent would be as big a thorn in the side of State Department flacks as Matt Lee is. Lee elicits the obligatory verb “grilling” whenever one refers to his inquiries at State Department briefings.

We have featured videos of Lee “grilling” State Department spokesmen Jen Psaki and Marie Harf several times here. This week Lee “grilled” Psaki over the deparment’s letting Iran slide for the Supreme Leader’s “Death to America” routine while mercilessly disparaging Benjamin Netanyahu for relatively inoffensive comments. RealClearPolitics has posted the video of this exchange with a transcript here.

Washington Free Beacon video editor David Rutz has compiled a video mashing up Lee’s “most pointed questions, observations and sighs at departing spokeswoman Jen Psaki and co.’s spin on the Obama administration’s flatlining foreign policy” (below).

You can follow Matt Lee on Twitter @APDiploWriter, and now would be a good time to do so if you aren’t already.

We’re number 4

I learn (via InstaPundit, of course) that Newsmax has announced its Top 50 Conservative Blogs of 2015. Accepting the award on behalf of InstaPundit, Glenn Reynolds comments: “It’s always nice to be number one.”

In a competitive field, Power Line comes in at number 4. As we approach the end of our thirteenth year online, that’s not too shabby either. We try harder.

The Newsmax Top 50 demonstrates familiarity with, and appreciation of, the sites on the list. Like all such lists, it’s subject to argument — except for Glenn’s ranking as number 1. That is inarguable.

I’m taking the liberty of bringing it to your attention because the descriptions of the sites in the Newsmax Top 50 are useful; the list may make you aware of some you would enjoy and remind you of others you haven’t visited in a while.