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FOREIGN POLICY

Why Did President Trump Really Extend the Iran Nuclear Deal Again? His move is disappointing, but he may well withdraw from the deal when he has a new national-security team in place. By Fred Fleitz

Like many conservative Iran watchers, I was disappointed with President Trump’s decision last week to extend the controversial July 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran (the JCPOA) by waiving sanctions and giving Congress and European states a final chance to “fix” this agreement in 120 days. This decision was especially disappointing given the recent Iranian protests and that the president issued a similar ultimatum in October 2016.

However, there appear to be some undisclosed reasons for this decision that give me hope the president will kill this terrible agreement in the near future.

A Deeply Flawed and Dangerous Agreement

Critics of the JCPOA were hoping that President Trump would reimpose U.S. sanctions — which would essentially kill the Iran deal — because they believe he was exactly right when he said during the 2016 presidential campaign that the JCPOA is the worst deal ever negotiated.

To get this “legacy” nuclear agreement with Iran for President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other Obama-administration officials made any concession necessary to Tehran. This included allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium with over 5,000 centrifuges and to develop advanced centrifuges; to construct a plutonium-producing heavy-water reactor in Iran; to wipe clean a long list of unanswered questions about nuclear-weapons-related activity; and to agree to a deal with extremely weak verification provisions. There are credible reports of Iranian cheating on the agreement, including several accounts from German intelligence agencies.

It gets worse. The JCPOA lifted terrorism-related sanctions from Iranians and Iranian entities. Iran’s missile program — which is a nuclear-weapons-delivery system — was excluded from the deal because of a last-minute demand by Iran. Under a side deal, the United States secretly paid Iran $400 million in ransom to swap five innocent Americans imprisoned by Iran for the release by the U.S. of seven Iranian criminals and the removal of 14 other Iranians from an INTERPOL wanted list. According to a bombshell December 18, 2017, Politico story, “The Secret Backstory of How Obama Let Hezbollah off the Hook,” the Obama administration also blocked an investigation of drug trafficking by Hezbollah — Iran’s terrorist proxy — to secure the nuclear deal.

Politicizing Proliferation Policy by John R. Bolton

North Korea’s apparently rapid progress last year in both its nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs raises entirely legitimate concerns about U.S. intelligence capabilities. The New York Times recently reported that, as the Obama administration ended, intelligence-community analysts estimated that Pyongyang was over four years away from mastering the complex science and technology necessary to deliver thermonuclear weapons on targets within the continental United States.

Then, seemingly overnight, North Korea was igniting thermonuclear weapons and testing missiles that could hit the lower 48. The Times calls this an intelligence failure, certainly a serious matter. But the real reason was actually much worse.

Evidence in the Times report indicates that President Obama’s team dangerously politicized intelligence gathering and analysis, as senior officials strove to support their preconceived notions of the North’s true progress.

Throughout his presidency, Obama pursued a North Korea policy called “strategic patience,” which was in fact a synonym for doing nothing. As long as intelligence agencies assessed that Pyongyang’s threat was remote, conveniently fitting Obama’s predilection to do nothing, he could contend there was no basis for more robust measures against the North’s nuclear program.

Obama-era intelligence also conveniently painted a very similar picture about Iran, as Obama desperately sought a nuclear agreement later characterized as an achievement comparable to Obamacare in his first term. As with North Korea, if Iran’s program were not increasingly threatening, there was no danger, supposedly, from lengthy negotiations and an imperfect final agreement.

In both cases, however, the truth was much more malign, as North Korea is now demonstrating graphically. During the presidential transition, Obama blithely advised President-elect Trump that Pyongyang would be his most serious foreign challenge. How convenient that reality “changed” for the worst just after Obama departed the White House. Indeed, this “coincidence” is simply further evidence of how deeply his administration had politicized intelligence collection and analysis.

Did Obama Tip off Iran to Israeli Plan to Take Out World’s Premier Terrorist? A Kuwaiti paper reveals another monstrous Obama betrayal. Ari Lieberman

We thought the Obama administration could stoop no lower when it was revealed that the administration transferred $1.7 billion in untraceable cash to the Islamic Republic as ransom for the release of four Americans hostages they were holding. We were wrong. In its twilight weeks, the administration gave its consent to allow the Iranians to receive 116 metric tons of natural uranium from Russia as compensation for its export of tons of reactor coolant. According to experts familiar with the transaction, the uranium could be enriched to weapons-grade sufficient for the production of at least 10 nuclear bombs.

If you thought that the administration’s betrayal of America’s security could go no further, you were wrong. Last month Politico, not known as a bastion of conservatism, published a bombshell 50-page exposé detailing the Obama administration’s efforts to delay, hinder and ultimately shut down a highly successful DEA operation – codenamed Project Cassandra – aimed at tracking and thwarting Hezbollah drug trafficking, arms trafficking and money laundering schemes. As a result, Hezbollah continued to import drugs into the United States, continued to provide anti-U.S. insurgents with deadly EFPs and continued to launder drug money to the tune of billions.

If you thought that was the end of the story, you were wrong. It seems that with each passing day, another layer of deceit and betrayal committed by the Obama administration is uncovered. The latest Obama scandal involves a reported effort by the administration to thwart an Israeli operation to liquidate Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani.

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported that three years ago, Israel was on the verge of liquidating Soleimani near Damascus but the Obama administration tipped off Teheran of Israel’s plans. Soleimani is no ordinary general. He is arguably the world’s premier terrorist and is commander of Iran’s Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, responsible for its overseas mischief-making. Where there is drugs, misery and conflict, it’s a sure bet that Soleimani and his Quds Force are involved.

Trump Threatens to Deal Another Blow to the Palestinian Cause By cutting off hundreds of millions in American aid to the Palestinian Authority, the president could radically alter the Middle East. By Victor Davis Hanson

President Trump set off another Twitter firestorm last week when he hinted that he may be considering cutting off hundreds of millions of dollars in annual U.S. aid to the Palestinians. Trump was angered over Palestinian unwillingness to engage in peace talks with Israel after the Trump administration announced the move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Given that the U.S. channels its Palestinian aid through third-party United Nations organizations, it’s unclear how much money Trump is talking about it. But in total it may exceed $700 million per year, according to reports.

A decade ago, the U.S. row with the Palestinian Authority would have been major news. But not now.

Why?

The entire Middle East has radically changed — and along with it the role and image of the Palestinians.

First, the U.S. is now one of the largest producers of fossil-fuel energy in the world. America is immune from the sort of Arab oil embargo that in 1973–74 paralyzed the U.S. economy as punishment for American support of Israel. Even Israel, thanks to new offshore oil and natural-gas discoveries, is self-sufficient in energy and immune from Arab cutoffs.

Second, the Middle East is split into all sorts of factions. Iran seeks to spread radical Shiite theocracy throughout Iraq and Syria and into the Persian Gulf states — and is the greatest supporter of Palestinian armed resistance. The so-called “moderate” Sunni autocracies despise Iran. Understandably, most Arab countries fear the specter of a nuclear Iran far more than they do the reality of a democratic and nuclear Israel.

A third player — radical Islamic terrorism — has turned against the Arab status quo as well as the West. Because Palestinian organizations such as Hamas had flirted with Iran and its appendages (such as the terrorists of Hezbollah), they have become less useful to the Arab establishment. The terrorist bloodlettings perpetrated by groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have discredited terror as a legitimate means to an end in the eyes of the Arab world, despite previous support for Palestinian terrorists.

Third, the world itself may have passed the Palestinian issue by.

Did Team Obama Warn Iranian Terror Commander about Israeli Assassination Attempt? By Debra Heine

A Kuwaiti newspaper reported last week that Washington gave Israel the green light to assassinate terror mastermind Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force which has been designated a terrorist organization.

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens pointed out a disturbing detail in the story that has long been rumored but has gone largely unreported in the American press:
Bret Stephens
✔ @BretStephensNYT
The story here, Kuwaiti-sourced, is that Obama team tipped Tehran to an Israeli attempt to assassinate Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general who has the blood of hundreds of American troops in his hand. What says @brhodes? https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.832387 …

According to the report, Israel was “on the verge” of assassinating Soleimani three years ago near Damascus, but the Obama administration warned Iranian leadership of the plan, effectively quashing the operation. The incident reportedly “sparked a sharp disagreement between the Israeli and American security and intelligence apparatuses regarding the issue.”

Stephens tagged former Obama deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes in his tweet, but it was ignored until Obama’s former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor saw it on Wednesday: CONTINUE AT SITE

The U.N. Agency That Keeps Palestinians From Prospering The administration’s freeze on funds for Unrwa is a first step in breaking the Mideast stalemate. By Alex Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky

Frustrated by Palestinian intransigence, the Trump administration has reportedly frozen $125 million of the American contribution to the internationally funded welfare agency for Palestinian “refugees,” the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

Mr. Trump had expressed his irritation with the agency, known by the acronym Unrwa, in a characteristic tweet, noting that the U.S. provides “HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year” and gets “no appreciation or respect” from Palestinians. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., echoed the sentiment, saying the U.S. would use funding as leverage “until the Palestinians are agreeing to come back to the negotiation table.”

This approach is unprecedented. The U.S. is Unrwa’s largest single donor, contributing more than $360 million of the agency’s annual $1.25 billion budget. Historically, U.S. support to Unrwa has been untouchable despite the agency’s role keeping Palestinians in social stasis, providing health, education and welfare services while undermining resettlement efforts and fomenting rejectionism—thereby perpetuating the Palestinians’ “refugee” status for decades.

The Trump administration is not the only factor militating for change. The titanic crisis created by the Syrian civil war, which has produced millions of actual refugees (along with half a million civilian deaths), puts the Palestinian issue in a new and dramatically diminished light. Unrwa’s own mismanagement—such as reports that the agency has dramatically overcounted the Palestinians it serves in Lebanon—also makes the status quo more difficult to sustain.

The U.S. supported Unrwa for decades largely because it did not wish the Palestinian issue to threaten other policy imperatives. During the Cold War, that meant containing communism and maintaining the flow of oil from Arab states. Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. policy has revolved around containing the Arab-Israeli conflict in order to prevent regional conflagration and preventing nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, especially Iran.

American diplomatic support for a Palestinian state began in these contexts but was routed through the Oslo process and the Palestinian Authority, which has deliberately failed to create stable foundations for a functioning state. The Trump administration’s Middle East policy is not yet formally wedded to any existing diplomatic process, whether with Iran or in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. While stability is a long-term American political goal, shifting funds from Unrwa and addressing other refugee crises has become likelier than at any time in the past 60 years.

So how can the Trump administration move forward regarding Unrwa? The first step needs to be a clear presidential policy statement on the question, made with the support of key congressional leaders: Unrwa has outlived its usefulness; the Palestinians are not “refugees” but are entitled to citizenship in the countries where they’ve lived for decades, and the Palestinian Authority must assume its responsibilities toward it own population.

Trump Should Kill the Iran Nuclear Deal, for the Dissidents and Protesters It endangers global security and bolsters a brutal theocratic regime. Fred Fleitz

President Trump will make some important decisions this month that could not only end the controversial 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran but also convey America’s support for Iranian protesters and hasten the overthrow of Iran’s ruling mullahs. By January 12, Mr. Trump must decide whether to renew a waiver of sanctions lifted by the Iran deal—i.e., the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. The law requires him to make such a determination every 120 days. By January 15, the president must decide whether he will continue to “decertify” to Congress Iran’s compliance with the agreement.

When President Trump decertified the JCPOA to Congress in October, it looked like he was on track to withdraw from the deal if Congress did not use a 60-day window to pass legislation to toughen or “fix” it. However, even though Congress failed to act, Trump is now being pressured to extend the agreement, as its supporters claim that any action he might take to kill it would play into the hands of Iran’s ruling mullahs.

This approach is wrong. It would sustain a fraudulent agreement that has endangered global security and bolstered a brutal theocratic regime.

None of President Obama’s promises about the JCPOA — that it would keep Iran one year away from a nuclear weapon, improve U.S.–Iran relations, and bring Iran into the community of nations — have been borne out. Instead, the deal has emboldened Iran’s ruling mullahs to continue the nation’s international isolation, as Tehran spends billions of dollars on expensive belligerent activities, money that was made available to it through sanctions relief and that it could have spent to shore up the civilian economy.

There are many reports that the agreement did not appreciably slow Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran continues to make progress toward making nuclear-weapons fuel, as it is allowed under the deal to enrich uranium with over 5,000 centrifuges and to develop advanced centrifuges. The head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization said in August 2017 that Iran would be able to resume production of 20 percent enriched uranium, which can be quickly converted to weapons-grade uranium — within five days if the JCPOA is revoked.

There are credible reports, including several from German intelligence agencies, that Iran is cheating on the agreement. Senators Ted Cruz (R., Texas), Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), and Tom Perdue (R., Ga.) raised concerns about Iranian noncompliance and cheating in a July 2017 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. I also note that Tzvi Kahn, an analyst for Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, penned a brilliant op-ed for The Hill last October, debunking claims by JCPOA defenders that the IAEA has fully certified Iran’s compliance with the agreement.

The Iranian people were supposed to benefit from the Iran deal’s sanctions relief, but this didn’t happen. Instead, Iran’s ruling mullahs wasted billions of dollars in sanctions relief on the military and meddling in regional disputes. Iran’s 2016–17 military budget reportedly increased by 90 percent. In April 2017, Rouhani claimed that it had grown by 145 percent.

No foreign aid to Palestinians – a US interest! Yoram Ettinger

President Trump should cut/suspend/terminate foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA, since they have undermined US values and national security interests, by abusing US foreign aid to promote hate-education and terrorism.

President Trump should follow in the footsteps of effective and moral law-enforcement and homeland security authorities, who sustain and intensify their pursuit of criminals and terrorists, in defiance of the latter’s threats to escalate rogue operations. Western national leaders and police chiefs who succumb to – rather than defy and uproot – threats by rogue and criminal elements betray their constituents.

Suspending/ending foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA would reflect a decision to avoid – rather than repeat – failed policies by previous US Presidents, which provided a financial tailwind to Palestinian terrorism and hate-education, thus undermining US interests, including the pursuit of peace.

If implemented, President Trump’s policy may trigger short-term aggravation of violence, but would bolster the long-term US posture of deterrence and homeland security, by delivering a lucid message of determination to combat – rather than appease – terrorism.
A realistic worldview should be aware that there is no free lunch….

If implemented, Trump’s policy may reflect the realization that funding and tolerating terror-oriented regimes (just like indulging crime-lords) does not transform them into democratic and law-abiding regimes, but adds fuel to the fire of hate-education, veneration of suicide-bombers, financial support of terrorists’ families and overall violence.

US Freezes $125 Million Funds for Palestinian Refugees: Report

The United States has frozen $125 million in funding for a UN agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees, Axios news site reported on Friday, citing three unidentified Western diplomats.https://www.algemeiner.com/2018/01/05/us-freezes-125-million-funds-for-palestinian-refugees-report/

The diplomats said funding, a third of the annual US donation to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, was supposed to be delivered by Jan. 1 but was frozen until the administration of US President Donald Trump finishes its review of US aid to the Palestinian Authority, Axios reported.

The Great Experiment We’ve gone from hard left, under Obama, to hard right, under Trump. Judge the ideologies by their results. By Victor Davis Hanson

Most new administrations do not really completely overturn their predecessors’ policies to enact often-promised ideologically driven change.

The 18-year span of Harry Truman to Dwight Eisenhower to John F. Kennedy was mostly a continuum from center-left to center-right, back to center-left. Kennedy was probably as hawkish and as much of a tax cutter as was Eisenhower.

The seven years of Jerry Ford to Jimmy Carter were a similar transition — or even the twelve years of George H. W. Bush to Bill Clinton. The deck chairs changed, but the ship sailed in mostly the same manner to mostly the same direction.

Even the supposed great divide of 1981 did not mean that Jimmy Carter had been as left-wing as Ronald Reagan was right-wing. Carter’s fight against inflation and renewed defense build-up was continued in part by Reagan. George W. Bush was not as markedly right-wing as Barack Obama was clearly left-wing. In sum, there have rarely been back-to-back complete reversals in presidential agendas.

From Hard Progressive to Hard Conservative Ideology
Whatever Donald J. Trump’s political past and vociferous present, his first year of governance is most certainly as hard conservative as Barack Obama’s eight years were hard progressive. We are watching a rare experiment in political governance play out, as we go, in back-to-back fashion, from one pole to its opposite.

From January 2009 to January 2016 (especially when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress until January 2011), Barack Obama implemented the most progressive agenda since Franklin Roosevelt, to whom his supporters logically compared their new president.

Obama was a genuine man of the Left, determined to move his party with him and “fundamentally transform” the country. His own skepticism about America’s past, its current values, and its future trajectories resonated on the world stage. Third-way Clintonism all but disappeared. The Democratic party was reborn in Obama’s leftist image. Even candidate Hillary Clinton all but renounced her husband’s now caricatured centrism.

Among Obama’s signature foreign policies were “lead from behind” in Libya; quietude during the Iranian anti-theocratic protests; strategic patience with North Korea; the multifaceted and often clandestine efforts to swing the Iran deal; the Russian “reset”; realignment away from Israel, Egypt, and the Gulf monarchies; and rapprochement with Cuba, Venezuela, and the South American Communist and socialist states.

All reflected his own larger visions of European Union and American progressivism as models for transnational world governance. A global council of Davos-like elites would best adjudicate climate-change crises, the excesses of capitalism, dangerous nationalism, the parochial and outdated restrictions on migration and immigration, and the lingering but still pernicious legacies of Western imperialism and colonialism.

“Crises” such as the spreading ISIS caliphate, a nuclear North Korea with intercontinental missiles, an expanding Iranian-Shite-Hezbollah–Middle East crescent, a new greater East Asia prosperity sphere led by China that builds bases in the Spratly Islands, and a failed reset with Russia would more or less work themselves out on their own, given that all these dangers ultimately had their geneses in Western pathologies. Be better Western leaders, Obama intoned, and the Other would react accordingly and thus positively.