Netanyahu’s message to Congress, and to the President

Strip away the politics associated with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress and this simple reality remains: Netanyahu had an urgent, much needed message to deliver about Iran. This morning Netanyahu delivered that message forcefully, persuasively, and to great applause from members of both political parties.

A few dozen Democratic members, including a hugely disproportionate number of African-American congressman but also (according to Fox News) half a dozen Jewish members, skipped the speech. Joe Biden was also absent.

However, the vast majority of Democrats attended, and they frequently were on their feet clapping. Netanyahu rewarded them with tributes to President Obama and a shout-out to Harry Reid.

Had we not been informed about the absentees, we would have thought there were none.

As for President Obama, he reportedly didn’t watch the speech, choosing instead to participate in some sort of video-conference. I hope he passes on Sports Center tonight in favor watching a replay of Netanyahu’s address. As we will see below, the Prime Minister had a special message for the President.

Netanyahu’s message to Congress and the American people was straightforward, analytic, and difficult to dispute on almost all fronts. First, Iran is the implacable enemy of both Israel and the U.S. Second, Iran is on the march. Instead of trying to join the community of nations, the regime is gobbling up nations, as Netanyahu put it.

Third, the nuclear deal that, according to publicly available information, is likely to emerge would “all but guarantee that Iran gets nuclear weapons” for two reasons. First, it would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and therefore with the ability to breakout to a nuclear weapon in a year or less. It could break out even more quickly if it cheated on inspections, as it has consistently done in the past.

Second, because the deal reportedly will expire in ten years or so, it would leave Iran with the ability to obtain nukes without violating a single provision of the deal. When the deal expires, Iran could have as many as 190,000 centrifuges (the number the regime says it aspires to), plus the missiles needed to deliver nuclear warheads anywhere in the world. Thus, Iran would be weeks away from being a major nuclear power.

Netanyahu addressed the two rationales put forth to defend the deal: (1) that Iran’s behavior will change for the better after a deal and (2) that there is no alternative to the deal other than war. The first rationale is absurd on its face. As Netanyahu said, with the lifting of sanctions, the Iranian regime will be strengthened, and thus have even less incentive to change for the better than it does now.

As for alternatives, Netanyahu argued that the alternative to a bad deal is a much better deal. Noting that Iran needs the deal more than the U.S. does, he predicted that if the U.S. holds out for better terms, with the threat of sanctions in the foreground, Iran will make significant concessions.

This was the only part of the speech that didn’t entirely persuade me.

Netanyahu concluded with his message for President Obama. Invoking the holocaust and noting that for the first ten in 100 generations the Jewish people can defend themselves, Netanyahu promised that “even if Israel has to stand alone, it will stand.”

His meaning was clear. If Obama signs an unsatisfactory deal, Israel reserves the right to take military action against Iran. And given Netanyahu’s passionate words about the existential threat Iran poses to Israel, the implication is that Israel might very well exercise that right.

Obama hopes that with Israeli elections about to take place, Netanyahu won’t be around to exercise it. But he can’t count on the defeat of Netanyahu, and I imagine that this speech, so enthusiastically received by both American political parties, improves Netanyahu’s electoral prospects.

Obama knows for certain, moreover, that his days in office are numbered. Thus, even if he’s confident that he can keep Netanyahu at bay, he should understand that Israel might very well “void” a bad deal long before its expiration date.

Will the combination of congressional pressure and Netanyahu’s promise to act alone if necessary induce Obama to drive a tougher bargain? I doubt it.

Will Netanyahu’s speech induce Congress to do what it can to obstruct a bad deal? Here, the prospects are better, now that the case against such a deal has been laid out so forcefully.

In any event, this was a speech that needed to be made and a message that needed to be delivered. Speaker Boehner should be applauded for giving Netanyahu this opportunity and Congress should be applauded for welcoming Netanyahu so dramatically.

NOTE: This post has been modified slightly to remove a disparaging description of President Obama’s confrontational style.

U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq after all

The Washington Post reports that some former U.S. troops have taken up the fight against ISIS in Iraq:

[A] growing band of foreigners [is] leaving behind their lives in the West to fight with new Christian militias against the Islamic State extremist group. The leaders of those militias say they have been swamped with hundreds of requests from veterans and volunteers from around the world who want to join them.

According to the Post’s account, some of the ex-U.S. troops are strongly motivated by religion. Others simply don’t want to leave the battlefield as long as ISIS is on the march.

So far, the number of American and other foreign fighters does not appear to be large. For example, Dweh Nawsha, the militia featured in the Post’s article, contains only six Westerners among its 200 Iraqi Assyrian Christian fighters. However, the Assyrian Patriotic Party says that more than 900 foreigners have been in touch about joining the fight.

The Kurdish authorities in Northern Iraq, where the Christian militias operate, are working out how to vet foreign fighters. All recruits reportedly are interviewed before they come and some sort of background check is said to be carried out. It seems unlikely, though, that the background check consists of much.

In general, the Kurds are happy to have additional fighters. However, some fear that the influx of foreign Christian fighters will make the struggle seem like a holy war, a Christian Crusade. The Kurds insist that they are fighting only for their land.

Right now, the Kurds use Christian militias as a second line of defense. The front line consists of Kurdish peshmerga forces. However, if ISIS continues its merciless assault on Christians in the Middle East, it seems likely that thousands of Western Christians will join the fight and that their role will expand.

Free-lance American fighters have participated in foreign wars before. However, the only precedent I know of for substantial private American participation is the Spanish Civil War. American Socialists organized the Eugene Debs brigade. American Communists, a much more cynical lot, organized the Abraham Lincoln brigade, which consisted of nearly 3,000 Reds. A cousin of my father was one of them.

The Spanish Civil War has come to be called a dress rehearsal for World War II. The fight against ISIS in Iraq sometimes feels like a dress rehearsal for something ominous.

M. Stanton Evans, RIP

Sad news this morning of the passing of M. Stanton Evans at the age of 80. He was, in addition to his long list of books and distinguished career in journalism, the author of the Sharon Statement, one of the founding documents of modern conservatism produced at the founding of Young Americans for Freedom in 1960.

Stan 2 copyStan was my first mentor in professional life. I came to Washington DC right out of college in 1981 to be an intern/fellow at his recently founded National Journalism Center (others in that NJC class included John Fund and Martin Morse Wooster). Working and breathing around Stan was a valuable graduate education through a method best described by a Yogi Berra aphorism that could easily have come from Stan: You can observe a lot just by watching. In addition to hands-on training in the craft of journalism, you picked up a lot of wisdom about journalism and politics just hanging around Stan.

Coming back to me now is a conversation we had over dinner back around 2009 or so, during which Stan regaled with tales of being interviewed recently by Adam Clymer of the New York Times for his eventual Times obituary.  I naturally asked,  “You mean ‘that asshole’ Adam Clymer, as Dick Cheney called him?”  Yes, indeed, and Stan made great fun of how the background interview went.  I wonder how much misinformation Stan deliberately planted; we’ll find out shortly.

Back in 2011 I wrote about Stan here on Power Line, and included my tribute to him at a dinner in Stan’s honor that the Heritage Foundation and Donors Trust organized for him. I can do no better now than to reprint much of that post today:

If you’ve never heard Stan’s deadpan midwestern baritone in person, you’ve missed a great treat, as it won’t come across anywhere near as well in pixels.  But all is not lost: there are supposedly some recordings of his greatest hits available on the Philadelphia Society website.  [There are also several great YouTube videos of Stan in action: just plug his name in to a YouTube search engine, and be prepared to grin.]  Stan’s specialty is using mordant irony against liberals.  He loves to throw liberal clichés over his shoulder.  Back in the 1960s he wrote, “Any country that can land a man on the moon, can abolish the income tax.”  Or he would shock liberals by saying, “I didn’t agree with what Joe McCarthy was trying to do, but I sure admired his methods.”

Nixon inspired some of his best ironic barbs.  Early on Stan said, “There’s only two things I don’t like about Nixon: his domestic policy, and his foreign policy.”  He added later that he didn’t come to support Nixon until after Watergate.  “I mean,” he’d say, “after wage and price controls, Watergate was like a breath of fresh air.”  He once claimed to have called over to the White House in the middle of their Watergate agony and said, “Gosh, if I’d only known you guys were doing all of this neat stuff, I wouldn’t have been so hard on you.”

I heard Stan run through some of his greatest hits like these at a conference at Princeton, where several humorless liberals in the audience took him seriously and were appalled.  I think it was exactly this kind of reaction that makes life worth living for Stan.  Why bother arguing with liberals when you can ruin their whole day and get a good laugh out of it at the same time?

Last night a parade of speakers alternately saluted and roasted Stan, and it was my privilege to go last and introduce him for his rebuttal.  Here are excerpts:

We gather tonight in a “let us now praise famous men” mode, but it is a mode distinctly uncongenial to our guest of honor.

So rather than dwell on the usual things, I thought I’d share a few of the items Stan typically leaves off his CV that were crucial and formative to many of his students and protégés.

Start with his lifestyle, as liberals would call it, or, as Stan’s mother would have said, his vices.  Winston Churchill once dismissed the socialist Ramsay McDonald, who was a pacifist, a vegetarian, a non-smoker, and, worst of all, a teetotaler, by saying that McDonald had all of the virtues he abhorred and none of the vices he admired.

I think Churchill would have approved of Stan; he has all the right bad habits. . .

Stan is the only person I’ve ever known who can take Socratic irony and actually make it ironic.

Stan is, for example, a fan of America’s Founding Fathers, but does them one better: he’s not so sure that taxation with representation is such a hot idea, either.

Then there was the time in 1968, when he signed on to the McCarthy for President campaign. That lasted about 48 hours, until he discovered that the candidate was Eugene McCarthy.

I have wondered exactly where Stan got the idea to found the National Journalism Center.  Back in 1970, William F. Buckley told Playboy magazine that the biggest problem facing the conservative movement was a scarcity of good writers and journalists.  Stan’s founding of the NJC helped address that gap, but I don’t think he got the idea from Buckley’s Playboy interview because we all know Stan only buys Playboy for the pictures. . .

The National Journalism Center should be regarded as more than just a training ground for conservative journalists.  It represents an apostolic succession of sorts, and is the kind of legacy that lasts longer and goes deeper than the printed word, whose ink will fade, whose pixels will disappear when the hard drive crashes.  The larger world does not appreciate the extent to which a cadre of Stan Evans-influenced journalists would be different from writers who emerge from the name-brand journalism schools—and not just ideologically different.  For one thing, we can drink more, which is saying a lot in the world of ink-stained wretches.

There was no by-the-numbers didactic instruction in Stan’s method at the NJC.  Instead, his method consisted of practicing Yogi Berra epistemology, which the great Yogi summarized with his aphorism that “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

You could not help but absorb Stan’s approach to good journalism and quality writing, just by being around him, and watching how he went about his craft.  I like to think Stan had a good eye for talent; after all, he invited into his realm, 30 years ago, lowlifes like myself, John Fund, and Martin Morse Wooster, and many worse after us.  I tried to talk them into an NJC karaoke act here tonight, but apparently this would violate several DC laws related to animal cruelty. . .

Stan may not exactly want to lay claim to all of his apostles.  But we lay claim to him.  In fact, if it wasn’t for Stan and the NJC, I might well have made the dreadful mistake of getting a real job out of college. . .

Well, Stan did not disappoint when he took the podium to acknowledge our gratitude.  He noted that with the results of the last election, “There’s been a revival or sorts of traditional conservative values, the desire for sound fiscal policy, and a strong foreign policy.  In other words—hate.”

Postscript: The Intercollegiate Studies Institute produced this 3 minute video about Stan a couple years ago; it does a nice job of summing up his career and significance in a short compass:

Netanyahu’s moment, part 5

President Obama’s outrage at Prime Minister Netanyahu is undoubtedly genuine, but every ground presented for it by the administration for it is a transparent pretext. One such ground is Netanyahu’s appearance before Congress within a few weeks of Israeli elections. The timing of the speech, however, is rather obviously dictated by the administration’s March 23 deadline for the outline of a final agreement with Iran. Obama’s outrage is keyed to Netanyahu’s opposition to the terms of the coming deal and his desire to explain his opposition to the American people before it is presented to them as a fait accompli.

Yesterday Secretary of State Kerry and others warned Netanyahu not to reveal details of the coming deal in his speech to Congress. One can only wonder why such details are to be kept from Congress and the American people when they have been entrusted to the mullahs.

Actually, one need not wonder. One can reasonably infer that Obama seeks to present a bad deal to Congress and the American people as a given fact.

In his weekly Wall Street Journal column today — “Israel and the Democrats” (accessible here via Google) — Bret Stephens makes this point and others regarding the deficient merits of the deal. As we await Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress this morning, Stephens provides a short course in the relevant points of reference:

The administration is now…waging an unprecedented campaign of personal vilification against Benjamin Netanyahu (of a sort they would never dream of waging against, say, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan ), accusing him of seeking political gain for himself in the U.S. at Mr. Obama’s expense.

Yet the calendar chiefly dictating the timing of Mr. Netanyahu’s speech was set by John Kerry, not John Boehner, when the secretary of state decided that the U.S. and Iran would have to conclude a framework deal by the end of this month. Mr. Netanyahu is only guilty of wanting to speak to Congress before it is handed a diplomatic fait accompli that amounts to a serial betrayal of every promise Mr. Obama ever made to Israel.

Among those betrayals:

In June 2010 the administration pushed, and the U.N. Security Council adopted, Resolution 1929, which “demands” that “Iran halt all enrichment activities.” But now the administration will endorse Iran’s “right” to an industrial-scale enrichment capability—a right, incidentally, that the administration denies to South Korea.

Resolution 1929 also states that Iran is “prohibited from undertaking any activity related to ballistic missiles.” But Iran continues to manufacture and test ballistic missiles, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei demands they be mass produced, and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator is adamant that “we are not ready to discuss this matter with any foreigner.” All of which gives the lie to weak State Department protestations that a deal will halt the ballistic missile program.

In December 2013, Mr. Obama personally assured a pro-Israel audience in Washington that, when it came to diplomacy, “no deal is better than a bad deal.” Now unnamed administration officials are selling the line that “the alternative to not having a deal is losing inspections, and an Iran ever-closer to having the fissile material to manufacture a weapon.” In other words, virtually any deal is better than no deal.

In March 2012, Mr. Obama insisted “my policy is not containment, my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.” He has said as much on some 20 other occasions. But the deal being contemplated now, with a sunset provision that will ultimately give Iran the right to enrich in whatever quantities and to whatever levels it wants, is neither prevention nor containment.

It’s facilitation.

Obama’s opposition to Iran’s nuclear program has a lot in common with Obama’s opposition to gay marriage. It is so yesterday, and yesterday it was so phony.

The “prebranding” of Hillary Clinton

The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton used a personal email account — and only a personal email account — to send emails in connection with government business while she was Secretary of State. According to the Times:

Mrs. Clinton did not have a government email address during her four-year tenure at the State Department. Her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.

Clinton therefore appears to have violated federal regulations. Says the Times:

Regulations from the National Archives and Records Administration at the time required that any emails sent or received from personal accounts be preserved as part of the agency’s records. But Mrs. Clinton and her aides failed to do so.

It was not until two months ago, nearly two years after Clinton had resigned from the State Department, that her aides, in response to a new State Department effort to comply with federal record-keeping practices, reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her personal emails and decided which ones to turn over to the State Department. They eventually turned over 55,000 pages of emails.

Only the Clinton aides know how many emails involving official business they did not turn over. And even these aides probably don’t know whether or to what extent Clinton’s emails previously were purged.

There are good reasons why, except in special circumstances, the Secretary of State shouldn’t conduct public business on a private email account. One reason is to ensure the preservation of records.

Such records are of general historical interest. In addition, they may be of interest in connection with specific investigations such as, say, the Benghazi investigation. In fact, the existence of Clinton’s personal email account was discovered by the House committee that, under the leadership of Trey Gowdy, is investigating this matter.

State Department business shouldn’t be conducted by personal email for the additional reason that personal emails are not secure. But Hillary Clinton, who always saw her job at State as a stepping stone to the White House, placed her political ambition above considerations of national security.

Will this story hurt Clinton? Michael Schmidt, who broke it for The Times, seems to think so:

The revelation about the private email account echoes longstanding criticisms directed at both the former secretary and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, for a lack of transparency and inclination toward secrecy.

Schmidt contrasts Clinton’s secrecy to the transparency of one of her rivals for the presidency:

Others who, like Mrs. Clinton, are eyeing a candidacy for the White House are stressing a very different approach. Jeb Bush, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, released a trove of emails in December from his eight years as governor of Florida.

These aren’t wonderful times for Hillary Clinton, what with Schmidt’s private email account story and revelations about about the dealings of the Clinton Foundation. While Hillary Clinton’s marketers strain to “rebrand” her, reality seems intent on “prebranding” her.

Barack Obama, the answer to Ayatollah Khamenei’s prayers

Ray Takeyh, who served in the Obama administration focusing on Iran, has an illuminating piece on how Iran’s “Supreme Leader” is “patiently negotiating his way to a bomb.” Absent military intervention, Ayatollah Khamenei was always going to pursue his nuclear bomb. But it now looks like he will be able to pursue it in the most advantageous manner possible — with American cooperation.

Takeyh explains:

After years of defiance, Khamenei seems to appreciate that his most advantageous path to nuclear arms is through an agreement. To continue to build up his atomic infrastructure without the protective umbrella of an agreement exposes Iran to economic sanctions and the possibility of military retribution. . . .

Unlike many of his Western interlocutors, Khamenei appreciates that his regime rests on shaky foundations and that the legitimacy of the Islamic revolution has long been forfeited. The task at hand was to find a way to forge ahead with a nuclear program while safeguarding the regime and its ideological verities.

It was a daunting task as long as the West viewed Khamenei’s negotiating position — an agreement of limited duration during which Iran could construct a vast nuclear infrastructure in exchange for a leaky inspection regime — with great skepticism. But then, along came President Obama, and the Ayatollah’s prayers were answered:

Washington conceded to Iran’s enrichment at home and agreed that eventually that enrichment capacity could be industrialized. The marathon negotiations since have seen Iran attempt to whittle down the remaining restrictions, while the United States tries to reclaim its battered red lines.

For Khamenei, the most important concession that his negotiators have won is the idea of a sunset clause. Upon the expiration of that clause, there would be no legal limits on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. If the Islamic Republic wants to construct hundreds of thousands of sophisticated centrifuges, build numerous heavy-water reactors and sprinkle its mountains with enrichment installations, the Western powers will have no recourse.

What happens then?

Once Iran achieves that threshold nuclear status, there is no verification regime that is guaranteed to detect a sprint to a bomb. An industrial-size nuclear state has too many atomic resources, too many plants and too many scientists to be reliably restrained.

Khamenei. . .can also be assured that technical violations of his commitments would not be firmly opposed. Once a deal is transacted, the most essential sanctions against Iran will evaporate. . .And as far as the use of force is concerned, the United States has negotiated arms-control compacts for at least five decades and has never used force to punish a state that has incrementally violated its treaty obligations.

As the reaction to North Korea’s atomic provocations shows, the international community typically deals with such infractions through endless mediation. Once an agreement is signed, too many nations become invested in its perpetuation to risk a rupture.

Takeyh concludes that “Iran’s achievements today are a tribute to the genius of an unassuming midlevel cleric” who has “routinely entered negotiations with the weakest hand and emerged in the strongest position.” But Iran’s achievements are just as much a tribute to the egomania of a pretentious U.S. president who entered negotiations with the strongest hand and refused to play his best cards because he considered himself above the game, and imagined that there is bigger contest only he is able to perceive.

Netanyahu’s moment, part 4

Obama national security adviser Susan Rice spoke at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington this evening. In the video below, Rice frankly avows the Obama administration’s support for Iran’s “domestic enrichment capacity” and pursuit of “peaceful nuclear energy.”

We are advised that we have to define deviancy down in the name of realism: “We cannot let a totally unachievable ideal stand in the way of a good deal.” Translation: Unfortunately: “a good deal” looms on the horizon. It promises peace for our time.

The sardonic response of the AIPAC crowd to Rice’s articulation of the rejected alternatives seems to me more in tune with the mood of the American people than the double talk of Ms. Rice, but we are in very bad hands. Rice’s speech sets the stage for Netanyahu’s appearance before Congress tomorrow morning, to be carried live on C-SPAN 2 and FOX News Channel.

Obama’s opposition to Iran’s nuclear program has a lot in common with Obama’s opposition to gay marriage. It is so yesterday, and yesterday it was so phony.

Via Brendan Bordelon/NR.