Voters should blame Biden AND Trump for new Afghan terror risks

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This article was first published in the New York Post on April 29, 2023. Click Here to read the original article.

President Joe Biden’s announcement that he will seek a second term combined with Donald Trump’s surging effort to secure his third consecutive Republican nomination guarantee one thing for sure.

Their combined failures in Afghanistan, both the catastrophic strategic consequences of US and NATO withdrawal and the humiliating operational mishandling of the departure itself, should be key issues for their opponents in 2024’s campaign.

Trump’s view of his abilities as a great dealmaker is central to his case for being president.

He repeatedly emphasizes this inflated view of himself — and thereby his blindness to international realities — most recently by asserting he could resolve Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in 24 hours if he could just get Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a room together. Trump’s acolytes unfortunately accept his boasting at face value.

More knowledgeable observers understand that Trump’s views are fantasy.

They simply ignore what he says as “Trump being Trump,” missing, however, that the former president’s rhetoric is not just hot air.

His 24-hour mantra about Ukraine, for example, in fact shows he doesn’t grasp the complexities of that or almost any other national-security issue.
Trump proceeds on his often-stated belief that facts and subject-matter knowledge generally are unimportant compared to the personal relationships he can establish with foreign leaders, especially those who are America’s adversaries.

With Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, Trump claims that his interpersonal skills are such that he can separate these hard-headed authoritarians from their own national interests and achieve outcomes favorable to the United States.

Of course, the former president has little to no understanding of what America’s national interests are, basing his judgments instead on what is best for Donald J. Trump.

His unilateral diplomacy with the Taliban excluded the legitimate Afghan government Washington spent 20 years trying to nurture.
The widespread knowledge inside Afghanistan that Trump was negotiating solely with the terrorists convinced people that he was determined to withdraw no matter what the Taliban actually agreed to — he was merely seeking cover for departing unilaterally.

Biden is equally culpable. As newly inaugurated president, Biden had every right to reject Trump’s fatally flawed agreement, which the Taliban had already violated even before the ink was dry.

At a minimum, Biden could have taken more time to evaluate the deal and its implementation.

Indeed, Biden did order a short extension of the withdrawal of US and NATO forces and could have done much more.
The widespread perception that Biden agreed with Trump on exiting, heedless of the risks and costs not just to Afghanistan but to America, discredited and demoralized both Kabul’s civilian government and the Afghan National Army.

It was no surprise when both the government and its military collapsed so quickly. They knew they had no chance of survival over the long term, especially since neither US president thought seriously of holding the Taliban to its commitments and reversing the withdrawal in the absence of scrupulous Taliban compliance.

It was therefore entirely predictable that the Taliban’s return to power would produce a flood of foreign terrorist fighters back to Afghanistan’s remote and inhospitable territory, establishing bases from which they could plot new terrorist attacks worldwide.

Among the classified documents compromised in the still-growing “Discord” intelligence scandal are Pentagon analyses of ISIS-Khorasan activities in-country and evidence of the scope of, and preparations for, their possible global threats.

This is not the first time Biden administration officials have concluded terrorists were returning to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in significant numbers.

In public congressional testimony just months after the withdrawal (and subsequently), the Defense Department conceded that both al Qaeda and ISIS were rapidly recreating the capability to launch terrorist attacks from Afghanistan against America.

While the Taliban has now reportedly killed the ISIS leader responsible for the murderous attacks at Kabul’s airport during the chaotic withdrawal effort, ISIS remains formidable, as does al Qaeda, still closely linked to the Taliban.

In the potentially tragic case of a terrorist attack against the United States in the 18 months until the 2024 elections, Americans will know who to blame if Trump, Biden or both receive their respective parties’ nominations.

They have fully proven their incompetence in dealing with the Taliban.

We can only hope to avoid further proof in the form of additional US casualties. But if we don’t, our fellow citizens’ verdict will not be hard to predict.

Is Washington’s arms control theology finally on the verge of collapse? 

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Three freshly installed Republican House chairmen of key national security committees are raising potentially fatal issues for the New START arms-control treaty between the U.S. and Russia. In letters to Biden Cabinet officials, the chairmen ask whether Russia is in material breach of the agreement. Along with the administration’s failing, misguided effort to rejoin the flawed 2015 Iran nuclear deal, one could ask whether Washington’s arms control theology is finally verging on collapse. 

The House chairmen of the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence Committees (Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Michael Turner (R-Ohio), respectively) are men to be reckoned with. Although the Senate has constitutional power to ratify treaties, for the next two years, House Republicans can require extensive scrutiny of Russia’s New START performance.  

One of President Biden’s first official acts (and a badly mistaken one) was extending the treaty until Feb. 4, 2026, after America’s 2024 presidential election. With no end in sight to Russia’s war in Ukraine, the odds Moscow and Washington can agree on a successor deal under Biden diminish every day, further reason to ensure the White House fully describes Russia’s potential treaty violations. 

The House chairmen should also scrutinize White House efforts to make enough concessions to Tehran for Washington to revive the Iran nuclear deal. Despite administration assurances that Iran’s ongoing uprising against the ayatollahs has halted its diplomacy, the obsession to rejoin remains. 

New START has always been a bad deal. Its warhead limits and “counting rules” for attributing nuclear devices to delivery vehicles, Cold War-era methodologies, are outdated and ineffective. Moreover, New START’s ceilings, even in their day, failed to reflect the different status of Russia and the United States, as President George W. Bush’s 2002 Treaty of Moscow did, namely that Washington needs different upper limits than Moscow because it faces more threats than just a bipolar face-off with Russia.  

Finally, New START’s verification provisions do not afford nearly the level of certainty necessary to satisfy U.S. concerns, given decades of cheating on similar agreements by Russia and other authoritarian states, which all have problems with the truth. 

In today’s world, New START is even more dangerous, which is why Biden’s 2021 decision to extend its terms for five years without any modifications leaves America in an ever-more-precarious position. 

Added to these pre-existing concerns, the questions raised by Chairmen McCaul, Rogers and Turner underscore legitimate concerns about the treaty even if Russia were fully compliant. 

The State Department has reportedly sent Congress a report that finds that Russian violated the treaty’s verification and consultation provisions, which State says are repairable. Desperate to save New START, the more serious violations of concern to the three chairmen are not addressed. Congressional oversight is clearly warranted. 

Even beyond the failures of New START itself and the prospect that Russia is violating it, the agreement is fatally outdated for additional reasons. Here, the three Republican chairmen and their Senate counterparts can do important work over the next two years to elaborate on these new issues and to prepare a successor administration to address the dangers ahead. 

First, the days of meaningful bilateral U.S.-Russian strategic weapons treaties have ended. During the Cold War, we lived in essentially a bipolar nuclear world, the arsenals of other nuclear states, legitimate or illegitimate, being insignificant for our purposes.  

Today, however, China is rapidly manufacturing and deploying nuclear warheads in significant numbers, likely approaching the New START limits applicable to Russia and the U.S. imminently. The U.S. simply cannot accept bilateral limits on its nuclear stockpiles or delivery systems when it will soon face two peer or near-peer nuclear adversaries, a dramatically dangerous new environment. 

Whether Moscow and Beijing combine against Washington, or we face one confrontation with the risk of another following, we are in a tri-polar nuclear world, and must plan and act accordingly. Thus far, China has flatly refused to engage in diplomacy, saying its current warhead stockpile is too low to join U.S.-Russia talks. Beijing is essentially asking for a pass until it comes close to our existing ceilings, and only then talk, an approach in which Russia has acquiesced. We should tell Moscow sooner rather than later that there will be no talks on extending or modifying New START until China sits at our negotiating table. 

Second, a basic New START flaw is its failure to limit tactical nuclear weapons, which Moscow possesses in far greater numbers than Washington. With Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening to use tactical strikes in Ukraine, there is no longer a serious argument to allow this issue to remain outside the overall nuclear-arms negotiations. If Russia disagrees, we should not resume talks, and should make our own plans at both the strategic and tactical levels accordingly. The potential for substantially broader coverage of nuclear warheads also raises new, difficult verification issues beyond the existing treaty’s failings. 

Third, New START fails to deal satisfactorily with new technologies that have matured since 2010, especially advanced hypersonic capabilities. Biden’s failure to address these new developments before extending the treaty in 2021 was a grave mistake, and it would be diplomatic malpractice to repeat it in discussing a successor deal. 

While we consider our post-New START options, we are also, hopefully, witnessing the last throes of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. For any number of compelling reasons, the White House should do far more to support the Iranian opposition and its struggle to overthrow the ayatollahs.  

One benefit of regime change in Tehran would likely be a new government that renounces the pursuit of nuclear weapons and opens the files of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and other actors in its nuclear-weapons program. We will undoubtedly learn far more about how the mullahs led western governments by the nose during the negotiation and implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal, and especially how Iran repeatedly violated it. This new information might even shake the faith of the arms-control priesthood, but at a minimum it would enlighten those determined to prevent nuclear proliferation. 

These are all issues for the 2024 campaign. Chairmen McCaul, Rogers and Turner have done the country a great service by getting us started. 

John Bolton was national security adviser to President Trump from 2018 to 2019, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006 and held senior State Department posts in 2001-2005 and 1985-1989. His most recent book is “The Room Where It Happened” (2020). He is the founder of John Bolton Super PAC, a political action committee supporting candidates who believe in a strong U.S. foreign policy. 

 Iran is stuck in Biden’s blind spot 

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By Ambassador John Bolton

This article first appeared in the Washington Post, on August 15th 2022. Click here to view the original article

John R. Bolton served as national security adviser under President Donald Trump and is the author of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” 

It has been somewhat surreal over the past few days, I admit, to be speaking publicly about Iran’s plot to assassinate me and many other American citizens on American soil. Fortunately, as an alumnus of the Reagan administration’s Justice Department, I have seen once again the diligent, enormously competent and courageous work of FBI agents and Justice Department attorneys who uncovered and pursued Iran’s murderous plots. 

And, thanks to President Biden, I again receive Secret Service protection, as I did when I served as national security adviser. 

However, what gives surrealism an entirely new meaning is that the Biden White House, faced with Iran’s broad campaign of anti-U.S. terrorism, amounting to an act of war, is still obsessively grinding along to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. 

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps efforts targeting me reached the point where the Justice Department filed criminal charges against Shahram Poursafi, unsealed last week. Interestingly, the charging documents’ narrative of Poursafi’s criminal conduct ends in late April, just as Secretary of State Antony Blinken first publicly admitted Iran’s threats to current and former American officials in congressional testimony. A significant number of former public servants are also in Iran’s sights, including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, former defense secretary Mark T. Esper and others not now appropriate to name, but whose peril has been widely reported. 

Nearly four months passed between Blinken’s public corroboration of Iran’s threat and the filing of criminal charges. The only reasonable explanation is that the president feared revealing the accusations would imperil his all-consuming goal of reviving the Iran nuclear deal. 

Iran’s malign efforts, however, do not stop with public officials. Consider naturalized American citizen Masih Alinejad, an advocate for women’s rights in Iran. Just weeks ago, an Iranian agent armed with an AK-47 arrived at her Brooklyn home, intending, in the FBI’s view, to kill her. On Friday, Salman Rushdie, long an Iranian target, was grievously wounded by an assailant immediately lauded by Hasan Nasrallah, leader of Iran’s terrorist surrogate Hezbollah, as “a Lebanese champion” who had “implemented” the “honorable fatwa” promulgated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Agence France-Presse reported that pro-regime Iranian media hailed the attack, and quoted Mohammad Marandi, an adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiators, tweeting, “I won’t be shedding tears for a writer who spouts endless hatred and contempt for Muslims and Islam,” while implying the attack was a U.S. false-flag operation. 

The assassination attempts on Alinejad and Rushdie might or might not be coincidental. Along with the extensive list of present and former government officials at risk, however, this is no small matter, except apparently to the Biden administration. We face a concerted threat to America itself, not unconnected threats to random individuals. Iran does not fear U.S. deterrence. 

Accordingly, continued pursuit of the nuclear deal signals U.S. weakness worldwide. Russia has invaded Ukraine; suppose the Kremlin was now trying to murder Americans, as in 2018 when it attacked defectors in Britain with chemical weapons? Would Biden still hope for climate change negotiations with Vladimir Putin, as John F. Kerry suggested before the invasion? Or, given China’s threat to Taiwan, would we still conduct trade negotiations if clandestine Beijing agents were similarly engaged? Too many Americans are already threatened with death on American soil by a foreign government. It’s time for Biden to reject business as usual. 

In recent weeks, the White House has nonetheless heedlessly, zealously continued its policy of capitulation, reportedly making further concessions to Tehran. These include whitewashing long-standing Iranian obstruction of International Atomic Energy Agency efforts to pursue necessary investigations, and weakening the scope and effectiveness of U.S. sanctions against the very Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that is attempting multiple assassinations. 

How to explain this manic quest for the Holy Grail of reviving the 2015 deal? Analytically, Biden is compartmentalizing Iran’s nuclear program in one silo and its terrorist activities in another, treating them as separable and unrelated. He is engaging in the classic diplomatic fallacy of “mirror-imaging,” believing his adversaries see the world the same way he does, sealed off into separate compartments. 

The reality in Tehran is precisely the opposite. The ayatollahs’ malevolence is comprehensive, with nuclear weapons, assassination and terrorism all elements in their full spectrum of capabilities. By failing to grasp the wider scope of Iran’s menace, and plainly failing to deter it, Biden’s dangerous effort to resurrect the nuclear deal is threatening America’s larger interests. Substantive arguments against the 2015 agreement and the concessions Biden has made over nearly 19 months in office should already suffice to bury the deal, but the broader threat Iran now raises should be the final nail in its coffin. 

Biden’s bizarre policy of “nuclear deal über alles” reflects an instinct for the capillary when it comes to Washington-Tehran relations. Iran’s nuclear program is only a symptom of the real problem: the regime itself. That is what the United States must focus on ending. 

How to Stiffen Europe’s Resolve After the Iran Nuclear Deal

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Israel and its Arab friends should visit the Continent’s capitals and deliver a message about the danger.

This article first appeared in the Wall Street Journal on July 20th, 2022. Click here to view the original article.

President Biden admitted last week that his long-suffering efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal were finally nearing their end: “We’re waiting for their response. When that will come, I’m not certain. But we’re not going to wait forever.” Of course, we’ve been hearing this since December 2021, even from the Europeans, the deal’s most devoted acolytes.

The cascade of White House concessions during the negotiations, Iran’s additional time to advance its nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs, and the loosening enforcement of U.S. sanctions, have considerably emboldened Tehran’s ayatollahs. While the current ambiguity is far from their ideal, they may well accept living with it indefinitely.

That should not, however, satisfy Washington. Instead, the U.S. should fashion diplomatic strategies to align the original deal’s other Western parties (France, Germany and the U.K.) with Israel and the Arab states most threatened by Iran. For two decades, America’s Middle Eastern and European allies have taken opposing views on how best to prevent Iran from obtaining deliverable nuclear weapons. This divide has sometimes been public, sometimes not, and preferred policies have shifted, but the Europeans have generally stressed negotiation while the regional allies have taken a tougher approach. Unsurprisingly, with the two most concerned groupings of American allies in disagreement, Iran has been able to traverse the disarray, coming ever closer to producing deliverable nuclear weapons. Fixing this problem is a top priority.

Since negotiations have failed repeatedly, Mr. Biden’s main diplomatic goal must be cajoling Europeans into adopting a harder economic and political stance, and accepting that clandestine military actions [BY WHOM?] against Iran’s [YES?] nuclear program have already begun. Even harsher measures may be necessary. If the Europeans share America’s view that a nuclear-capable Iran is unacceptable, they should be prepared to act on that belief.

An initial diplomatic step would be to have those most immediately endangered by Iran, both from its nuclear aspirations and as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, take the lead with our European friends. One could imagine a delegation of, say, Israeli, Bahraini and Emirati foreign ministers visiting their European counterparts to urge a united front against Iran. What an impressive display that would make in Paris, Berlin and London. The tour could include Tallin and Warsaw to symbolize for other Europeans the dangers of living near hostile neighbors.

This joint Arab-Israeli flying squad would bring compelling arguments beyond the global threat of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. The White House has revealed that Iran is near to selling several hundred “attack-capable” drones to Russia, almost certainly to use in Ukraine. Sending drones to Russia is in keeping with Iran’s policy of supplying Yemen’s Houthi rebels with drones and missiles, which are often used to target civilian Saudi and Emirati airports and oil infrastructure.

Iran’s oil sales to China, evading U.S. sanctions weakened under Mr. Biden, have also increased dramatically. By contrast, the Bahraini and Emirati foreign ministers, on behalf of the hydrocarbon-producing Gulf Arabs, can be part of Europe’s solution to its catastrophic mistake of becoming overly dependent on Russian exports.

The traveling foreign ministers could also emphasize that the original deal never delivered the increased visibility into Iran’s nuclear program the world was promised. Instead, Tehran has ignored both its 2015 commitments and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Europe’s leaders, strong U.N. adherents, should be deeply disturbed by International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi’s criticisms of Iranian obstructionism. The IAEA board of governors agreed overwhelmingly in June to censure Iran’s noncompliance, with only Russia and China voting against.

The diplomatic mission can also stress that Tehran’s intransigence over nonnuclear issues ultimately torpedoed revival of the 2015 agreement. Demanding that Washington de-list Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization is completely unrelated to nuclear issues. Of course, the IRGC has threatened terrorism in Europe, such as the foiled 2018 attack on an opposition rally in Paris. Incredibly, Belgian legislators are now considering releasing the Iranian “diplomat” convicted of this bomb plot; perhaps Brussels should be the Middle Eastern flying squad’s first stop. Moreover, albeit under the flawed “universal jurisdiction” concept, Sweden recently convicted Iranian agents for prison murders shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution [WHAT’S THE CONNECTION??].

And, as for potentially using force against Iran’s nuclear efforts, who better than Israel’s current prime minister, Yair Lapid, to deliver the message? As he said during Mr. Biden’s visit: “The only way to stop them is to put a credible military threat on the table.” The Europeans should hear that from Mr. Lapid directly, one-on-one, in their capitals.

America’s counter-proliferation diplomacy on Iran will need to be much more extensive, accompanied by far-tougher economic sanctions and assistance to legitimate opposition groups to overthrow the ayatollahs. A joint Israeli-Arab, foreign-minister traveling team would be a good start.

Mr. Bolton is author of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” He served as the president’s national security adviser, 2018-19, and ambassador to the United Nations, 2005-06.

‘Degrade and Destroy’ Review: Illusions and the War on ISIS

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A history of the struggle to defeat Islamic State in Iraq casts a cold light on America’s strategic decisions in the region. 

This article first appeared in the Wall Street Journal on June 10th 2022. Click here to view the original article.

In what may be the final volume of a tetralogy covering U.S. activity in and around Iraq over the past three decades, Michael Gordon’s “Degrade and Destroy” combines Washington decision-making with battlefield reporting in ways that few other writers can manage. This account of America’s war against the Islamic State is Mr. Gordon’s first without co-author Bernard Trainor, who died in 2018, but it equals its forerunners in quality. While daily press reporting strains to draw overbroad conclusions from insufficient data, Mr. Gordon maximizes history and minimizes judgments. He presents his analysis, of course, but it’s always moored in reality.  

“Degrade and Destroy” is bracketed by two colossal presidential mistakes a decade apart: Barack Obama’s 2011 decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq and Joe Biden’s 2021 decision to do likewise in Afghanistan. They are proof, if proof were needed, of what Winston Churchill called “the confirmed unteachability of mankind.” 

The unteachability starts with Mr. Obama, who told Mr. Gordon in 2007 that his personal engagement with Iran and Syria, coupled with America’s withdrawal from the region, would mean that “all these parties have an interest in figuring out: How do we adjust in a way that stabilizes the situation.” Mr. Gordon sees this view as “more of a projection of Washington’s hopes than a reflection of the hard realities in the region.” Mr. Obama’s words expressed his visceral opinion that America’s presence was the real problem—not the region’s long-standing animosities. 

Mr. Obama confidently announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011, saying that “the tide of war is receding.” Unhappily, no one told ISIS, which launched its war shortly thereafter, or Iran, which had never given up its war against the U.S. Mr. Obama remained unteachable asserting in 2014 that if Iran would “operate in a responsible fashion”—that is, if the regime would stop funding terrorists, stirring sectarian discontent and developing nuclear weapons—we might begin to “see an equilibrium developing between” Sunni and Shia. That same year he said “it’s time to turn the page” on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, adding arrogantly: “This is how wars end in the 21st century.” In 2017, he called on U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia “to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace” with Iran. 

Mr. Obama’s deeply flawed views shaped policy toward the ISIS threat even as he tried to conceal his intentions. Thus in 2011, while advisers urged keeping at least a small U.S. force in Iraq, Mr. Obama insisted that extending the existing status of forces agreement, or SOFA, be approved by Iraq’s parliament—a political impossibility. He then used the inevitable failure to necessitate total withdrawal. Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thought the White House was just going through the motions. “It was pretty obvious to me that their [troop] number was zero,” Mr. Mullen said of the administration. Retaining U.S. forces in Iraq would have given Washington “an earlier heads-up” on ISIS’s rise, as Mr. Gordon puts it, perhaps averting the subsequent war against the caliphate or at least reducing its scope. When things went wrong after the withdrawal, Mr. Obama fell to “blaming the military for chaos that had unfolded following . . . the decision to exit Iraq.” 

When ISIS seized Mosul in 2014, not only did Mr. Obama “have a new crisis on his hands,” Mr. Gordon explains, “but his paradigm for ending the ‘forever wars’ had collapsed.” America was coming back to Iraq. Such was Mr. Obama’s plasticity, however, that returning U.S. troops were protected by a SOFA not approved by Iraq’s parliament—precisely what he had rejected in 2011. His administration hoped that “the media would not ask too many questions.” 

Mr. Gordon makes quite clear how much of Mr. Obama’s 2011-14 blindness stemmed from his focus on Iran, specifically negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal. His anti-ISIS strategy was directly tied to Iraqi Shia militia groups under Tehran’s control, resulting in close encounters with the likes of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, now deceased. Mr. Obama repeatedly accepted risks that benefitted Iran, or he probed for closer coordination or joint action with the regime and its surrogates, blissfully unaware that Iran was already fighting the next, post-ISIS war against the U.S. and its allies to establish dominance across the Middle East. Mr. Obama was determined that degrading ISIS would not disturb closer relations with Iran. Mr. Biden follows this illusion today, seeking to revive the Iran nuclear deal. 

Mr. Obama focused on public opinion rather than strategy and leadership, “the tail wagging the dog,” as Mr. Gordon and Bernard Trainor previously described it. (Mr. Biden does the same now.) Mr. Gordon writes that the pattern was persistent: “The White House was not trying to wage a war as much as manage one.” Mr. Obama invariably justified his actions “in the narrowest possible terms” or, fearing a negative public reaction, tried to reassure Americans “that the military’s intervention would be virtually cost-free.” The November 2015 terrorist attack on the Bataclan theater in Paris chilled Mr. Obama because it shredded his foundational misperception that ISIS was a “jayvee” terrorist group, not as threatening as core al Qaeda. He worried that further attacks would reaffirm the idea that the threat of terrorism persisted and that it would imperil his domestic agenda.  

Mr. Obama’s reaction was the antithesis of leadership and exhibited disdain for his fellow citizens. When the threat is sufficiently grave, and the leader candid and persuasive, Americans rise to the occasion. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy to say that they are tired of “forever wars” when their leaders never explain the threats and justify the necessary responses in the first place. Mr. Obama achieved the opposite of his stated intentions, not only failing to “end the endless wars” but working overtime to lull voters into the misapprehension that there were no longer real threats in the Middle East.  

Donald Trump elaborated Mr. Obama’s mistake. Mr. Biden compounded the errors of both in Afghanistan, saying that “we’ve turned the page,” even though his appointees later explained that America would soon again be under threat of terrorist attacks launched from Afghan territory. 

Whether Mr. Gordon will have a fifth volume to write may depend on whether Mr. Biden revives the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Since 1991, U.S. military interventions in the Middle East have reversed Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait; overthrown Saddam Hussein, thereby terminating his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and attacks on neighbors; eliminated the ISIS territorial caliphate and degraded but did not destroy ISIS itself; protected Israel and our Arab allies; crushed the Taliban in Afghanistan and decimated al Qaeda, until we gratuitously allowed their return to power and Afghan sanctuaries; and had a decidedly mixed and incomplete record on countering Iran’s manifold threats.  

We could have done better, but it’s good to remember U.S. accomplishments—as Mr. Gordon has done here and elsewhere—if for no other reason than to prepare ourselves to deal with a growing list of threats around the world. The lesson of the Obama years, in any case, appears clear: Constantly underestimating both our adversaries and the capacity of the American people to rise to their own defense is a losing proposition.  

Mr. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, served as national security adviser from April 2018 to September 2019. 

Will new evidence force Biden to admit that the Iran nuclear deal is dead?

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This article appeared in The Hill on May 31st 2022. Click here to view the original article.

The Biden administration remains unable or unwilling to admit failure in its humiliating pursuit of America rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Nonetheless, dramatic news coverage may force its hand. The Wall Street Journal reported exclusively last week that:

“Iran secured access to secret United Nations atomic agency reports almost two decades ago and circulated the documents among top officials who prepared cover stories and falsified a record to conceal suspected past work on nuclear weapons…”

The Journal described how it had reviewed copies of these International Atomic Energy Agency (“IAEA”) documents and others seized by Israel in a daring 2018 intelligence raid against a Tehran warehouse. The full extent of Israel’s haul in that dramatic operation is still not public, but everything revealed to date has proven accurate.

The news story emerged simultaneously with Senate testimony by Biden’s special representative for Iran, Robert Malley, so questioning at the hearing was inevitably limited. This latest revelation about Iran’s denial and deception efforts, however, undoubtedly presages more to come. 

Until the ramifications of the Journal’s story are further researched and thoroughly considered, the administration has no warrant to proceed any further in attempting to rejoin the nuclear deal. We still need to ascertain, for example, what else Tehran may have seen, and how long it benefitted from this unprecedented access, perhaps even to the present day.

Despite understandable gaps in the Journal story, the implications are volcanic. Iran has long invested considerable time and effort to deceive IAEA officials and inspectors, conceal or destroy critical information and generally obstruct the agency’s investigations. Thus, having any sensitive internal IAEA information would be of incalculable value to Tehran. As the article made clear, Iran would obviously benefit greatly by having advance notice of the lines of inquiry the IAEA was pursuing and the questions it wished to ask.

Early warning would have provided Iran sufficient, perhaps ample, opportunity to concoct a cover story and specific responses, get all relevant nuclear personnel prepared in line with the denial strategy and orchestrate a determined deception effort against the agency. In particular, Iran has consistently denied it ever had a nuclear-weapons program, and its concealment efforts could be greatly enhanced just knowing what the IAEA suspected. 

The evident success of Iran’s disinformation campaign underscores another critical point: The IAEA is simply not capable of verifying compliance with agreements such as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or other arms-control arrangements without full and unqualified cooperation by all parties involved.

Notwithstanding the agency’s inability to fulfill the responsibilities the 2015 nuclear deal entrusts to it, the Biden administration still argues that the IAEA is able to detect Iranian violations. The Journal report proves the precise opposite. The deal’s already weak verification provisions were always doomed to fail, but this new evidence puts the case beyond reasonable doubt. For the White House to continue asserting the contrary borders on perjury.

The IAEA does good and important work, but assigning it tasks it is inherently unable to accomplish gravely impairs its credibility. It is not an intelligence agency. Intelligence flows to the IAEA, not the reverse. Its “breakthroughs” typically come when member governments provide information which the agency uses to confront rogue states. America’s real insurance is not international monitoring of would-be proliferators but its own intelligence capabilities.

Even so, IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi should immediately launch a wide-ranging forensic investigation into what happened, who was responsible, how much damage was done and what the IAEA can do to prevent a re-occurrence. One person with much to account for is Mohammed ElBaradei, Grossi’s predecessor in the early 2000s, when these breaches of IAEA security apparently began. ElBaradei’s tilt toward Iran was fully evident throughout his tenure at the IAEA. Given the stakes involved for America and its closest Middle East allies, Congress should also conduct its own bipartisan investigation. 

Meanwhile, Iran’s dogged pursuit of deliverable nuclear weapons continues. Since his inauguration, Biden has ignored increasingly significant Iranian violations of U.S. sanctions, particularly trading in oil and related products with China and Venezuela. There is no longer a “maximum pressure” campaign, although indeed even that effort couldn’t stop Iran’s program. Weakening sanctions enforcement, however, especially under the guise of alleviating global oil shortages caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, make it harder for other nations to maintain strict compliance.

The White House should reverse course immediately before more damage is done. We must also acknowledge that current U.S. sanctions-enforcement machinery is inadequate. Considerable improvement is required before we can honestly speak of “maximum pressure” campaigns. Having a tough-sounding slogan does not equal an effective policy.

Most importantly, Biden must admit that the Iran nuclear deal is dead and cannot be resurrected. Only by acknowledging reality can we and our European allies begin developing a new policy with some chance of achieving our common goal of stopping Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons. 

In fact, Tehran’s Islamic revolutionary government will never give up the goal of achieving nuclear weapons, which is one more reason among many why it needs to be replaced, sooner rather than later. Either that, or we and others will have to increase the military actions needed to reduce Iran’s nuclear and related efforts to ashes. Israel, in fact, created a few more ashes last week.

Surveying the rubble of the 2015 deal, and the damage it has inflicted on every nation threatened by Iran and other aspiring proliferators, we have much more to learn and improve. Unless a nation makes a strategic decision to abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons, no acceptable deal exists.

The Iran nuclear agreement or the prospect of one with North Korea is worth nothing unless Tehran and Pyongyang truly believe they are better off ceasing their nuclear-weapons programs than continuing them. Once that is understood, the U.S. path is clear. As Winston Churchill said in 1934 in an analogous context, “[i]t is the greatest possible mistake to mix up disarmament with peace. When you have peace, you will have disarmament.”

John Bolton was national security adviser to President Trump from 2018 to 2019, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006 and held senior State Department posts in 2001-2005 and 1985-1989. His most recent book is “The Room Where It Happened” (2020). He is the founder of John Bolton Super PAC, a political action committee supporting candidates who believe in a strong U.S. foreign policy.

Why the Senate should insist Biden submit his dangerous Iran nuclear deal to a vote

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This article appeared in The Washington Post on March 22nd, 2022. Click here to view the original article.

John R. Bolton served as national security adviser under President Donald Trump and is the author of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.”

Blind faith, laced with willful ignorance, seasoned by arrogance, is not a formula for success, as the Biden administration will soon discover. After a year of humiliating American concessions — including preemptive sanctions relief — to the planet’s most egregious terrorist state, the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is rising from the dead. This appeasement will delight Iran, encourage North Korea, gratify China and Russia, appall Israel and our Arab allies, and endanger the United States and the world.

Throughout the negotiations, few administration officials knew key details, and outsiders only broad outlines. This secrecy wouldn’t have been to deny adversaries sensitive information, since Iran knew what President Biden’s team proposed to surrender, but to keep its full extent from the U.S. public. Fear of an incandescent political reaction against the agreement was well-grounded; it will erupt shortly, with the announcement of a deal reportedly imminent. At that moment, the Senate must assert its constitutional rights on treaty-making.

The original 2015 deal was fatally flawed. It ignored clear evidence Iran has always lied about its nuclear-weapons goals, buttressed later by overwhelming data from Israel’s stunning 2018 raid on Tehran. It fantasized away Iran’s continuing strategic intention to obtain nuclear weapons, a deathblow to any real chance to eliminate nuclear-proliferation threats. Pre-deal negotiations never established a baseline of Iran’s prior weaponization efforts, and its verification provisions have been repeatedly exposed as inadequate.

Also, far from ignoring Iran’s continuing terrorist and conventional military threats, the original deal empowered them by unfreezing assets and undoing sanctions inhibiting Iran’s Revolutionary Guard capabilities.

Most dangerously, Iran received better treatment than U.S. friends and allies, who must typically renounce uranium enrichment to receive licenses of American technology for civil purposes. By allowing Iran to enrich uranium to reactor-grade levels, it is plain physics that Iran was thereby enabled to do 70 percent of the work required to enrich to weapons-grade levels.

Assertions about reducing “breakout time” for Iran were childishly inadequate, only pretending that the United States possessed critical information about the actual numbers and sophistication of Iran’s centrifuge cascades. Beyond these flaws, of course, were Iran’s repeated violations, exacerbating the deal’s deficiencies.

As specifics emerge about the renewed agreement, the picture will inexorably worsen. One particularly menacing aspect is the concept of “inherent guarantees” reported by Reuters in February. Tehran demanded assurances that no future U.S. president would withdraw from the deal, a concession that would be both unconstitutional and potentially suicidal. Instead, Reuters reported, Iran was placated by U.S. assurance of “inherent guarantees,” a chilling phrase on which the coming debate could turn.

To the extent that Biden attempts to constrain his successors, to Iran’s benefit, he risks his presidency. Handcuffing future presidents to Iran’s advantage would be unprecedented, and dangerously so, in the history of American treaty-making. This is not simply a disagreement about the merits of one aspect of the deal, or the deal itself, but about how much a myopic White House is willing to endanger the United States simply to finalize a deal. If Biden is serious about preventing a nuclear Iran, the threat of another U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal provides a powerful, entirely credible deterrent of Iranian temptations to once again subvert the deal.

With the new deal essentially done, constitutional issues also arise in deciding its proper status. Under any coherent reading of the Constitution’s Article II treaty clause, Biden should submit this measure to the Senate as a proposed treaty to see if “two-thirds of the Senators present concur.”

The Senate has watched and even enabled the erosion of its ratification power for decades, but nothing will stop or reverse that erosion unless senators decide to fight for the Framers’ intentions. The Iran nuclear agreement, especially in light of the “inherent guarantees” issue, is the perfect target to vindicate the Senate’s constitutional responsibilities.

By not sending the deal to the Senate, Biden would flout its treaty role. If that happens, the Senate should use its constitutional power to withhold advice and consent on all presidential nominees, both executive and judicial, until Biden changes his mind.

Such a move by the Senate would focus attention on substantive flaws in the resurrected nuclear deal and their dangers for future presidents and the country generally. Article II’s supermajority requirement for treaty-making reflects the Framers’ firm belief that treaties are exceptional steps for the United States, very different from ordinary legislation.

The tone of this debate need not be partisan, although in today’s Washington that is far from likely. The Senate may be 50-50, but Republicans should seize the moment; perhaps there is at least one Democrat who cares enough about the treaty clause to force the administration to send over the Iran nuclear deal for a vote. This is a matter of statesmanship, not politics.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East: The Biden administration’s strategy is causing real problems

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This article appeared in New York Daily News on March 8th, 2022. Click here to view the original article.

Ukraine’s ongoing tragedy is now having dangerous ramifications in the Middle East, fueled by significant Biden administration policy failures. The United Arab Emirates, normally a staunch American ally, abstained recently on a UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s invasion. The reason: President Biden declined to relist Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who had repeatedly attacked civilian targets in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as a foreign terrorist organization. Biden had earlier removed the Houthis, Iran’s surrogates in Yemen’s civil war, from the list, purportedly to mitigate Yemen’s sustained humanitarian crisis.

The UAE pressed to reverse Biden’s delisting after early February Houthi attacks on civilian targets in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, but the White House failed to act.

When Biden pressured the UAE, now a non-permanent Security Council member, to support his anti-Russia resolution, the UAE abstained instead. Embarrassing Biden reversals also include initially waiving, and now supporting, sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline, which may have encouraged Moscow’s aggression.

Bumbling the Houthi threat reflects Biden’s profound misperceptions about what constitutes a serious menace to Middle East and global peace and security. Houthi strikes against civilian targets and threats to international shipping in the critical Bab-el-Mandeb Strait are, unfortunately, nothing new. Using missiles and drones, Houthi attacks increased markedly since mid-2019, along with increased Shia militia attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq. These dangers would not exist without Iranian weapons shipments, training, targeting and logistics.

Because of the Yemen civil war’s complex politics, deeply-rooted underlying causes and resistance to solution, outsiders often focus on the hardships the conflict has caused. While severe and enduring, these hardships hardly explain the conflict’s causes or who is culpable. Instead, pre-existing hostility toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE, unrelated to Yemen, have colored outside judgments. The Houthis played the “victim card,” and sympathetic Westerners were duped.

Biden announced he was ending American support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen in hopes of ending the conflict, although that military support ad already been considerably reduced. Nonetheless, the Houthis continued their military efforts without evincing any real interest in resolving the conflict.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, Iran has largely escaped condemnation for meddling in Yemen, and for using the war to establish strategic positions literally in the backyards of its Arab enemies. Eliminating Tehran’s support to the Houthis would help end Yemen’s fratricide, and, equally importantly, end threats to commercial airports, oil infrastructure and other targets where innocent civilians live and work. Major airports are not far from urban population centers, and the reckless use of highly destructive weapons could easily cause mass-casualty events.
The Iran-Houthi alliance is almost entirely terrorist in its aims and methods. From its birth, Iran’s regime was a state sponsor of terrorism, so designated by Ronald Reagan in 1984. The Trump administration named the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Tehran’s external military arm, to the foreign terrorists’ list in 2019. Iran’s ayatollahs have consistently pursued terrorism, from seizing U.S. hostages in 1979 to aiding Hamas, Hezbollah and Iraqi militias, and threatening Americans worldwide.

Even so, the Biden administration is still begging Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, an agreement fatally flawed from the outset, and getting worse with age.

The Houthis and their top leaders are also terrorists, as their behavior both inside Yemen and regionally amply demonstrates. As with the IRGC, the only legitimate complaint is that the U.S. government didn’t designate them as a foreign terrorist organization earlier. The designation expressly provided ways to ensure it did not impede delivery of humanitarian assistance to Yemeni civilians, UN protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

Accordingly, while Yemen’s conflict remains complex and difficult, and not easily solvable, Iran’s presence is totally self-interested. It is not about Yemen, but about Iran’s efforts to achieve regional and religious hegemony through its own terrorism, assistance to terrorist groups and its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

Unless and until Americans understand this reality, grave humanitarian challenges in Yemen will persist, and gullible Westerners will still believe they can make a viable agreement with Iran to limit its determined quest for nuclear weapons. But even if Houthis are returned to the foreign terrorist organization list, it is unclear the Biden administration understands these larger points.

Bolton is a former U.S. ambassador to the UN and former national security adviser.

Biden is losing contest of wills with Iran over nukes

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This article appeared in The Hill on December 12, 2021. Click here to view the original article.

Finally, the last whimper seems at hand for President Biden’s effort to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. Inherently flawed, with grievously inadequate verification provisions, and now overtaken by events, the deal’s demise comes not a moment too soon.

We face two closely related, urgent questions: Why has America failed to stop Iran’s nuclear-weapons program? And, with time running out, how does Washington avoid final defeat?

Biden’s advisers, sensing their Holy Grail is unattainable, blame America’s 2018 withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), thereby signaling their continuing cluelessness that the deal itself was mistaken, not the withdrawal. The JCPOA was riddled with flaws, but one original sin doomed the entire enterprise to failure. If Biden acknowledged this reality, we might be able to craft a new, broadly agreed U.S. policy. If not, get ready for “Groundhog Day”-style failure.

That central error was allowing Iran any uranium enrichment capability, a bright red line until the Obama administration. In seven resolutions from 2006 to 2010, the United Nations’ Security Council demanded that Iran halt all uranium enrichment, the physical work necessary to raise the concentration of uranium’s fissile isotope, U235, to increasingly higher levels relative to non-fissile U238. (In natural uranium, U235 occurs 0.7 percent of the time, while U238 is 99.3 percent.)

Earlier negotiators, following the Security Council’s resolutions, rejected all Iranian demands to continue enrichment activity. During 2012, however, President Obama bent his knee; the U.S. ultimately accepted Iran’s continued uranium enrichment to reactor-grade levels (3-to-5 percent of U235) if Tehran would stop enrichment to 20 percent (allegedly needed to fuel an aging research reactor). This concession rested on fundamental misperceptions of what varying enrichment levels mean. Obama’s negotiators feared that 20 percent enrichment was too close to weapons-grade levels (typically, 90 percent U235), but asserted that limiting Iran to reactor-grade enrichment would minimize the risks of “breaking out” to nuclear weapons.

This was a critical mistake, one we must not repeat in a post-JCPOA world. Enriching “merely” to reactor-grade levels accomplishes 70 percent of the work required to reach weapons-grade uranium. Enriching from reactor-grade to 20 percent U235 means completing roughly 20 percent of the remaining work to reach weapons-grade levels, by definition, therefore, closer to the danger point.

Far more important, however, and obvious except to Obama’s negotiators, is that 70 percent of the work is greater than 20 percent. If Iran were forbidden to undertake the first 70 percent (i.e., to reactor-grade levels), the subsequent 20 percent would be irrelevant, as would be any higher U235 percentages.

Obama’s negotiators were blind to this point. They thus won a small negotiating victory but lost the diplomatic war. By allowing reactor-grade enrichment, Obama ensured Tehran would always be just baby steps from weapons-grade capabilities, a lethal concession. His negotiators were wholly wrong, moreover, in believing that reactor-grade levels (specifically, 3.5 percent in the JCPOA) were far enough from weapons-grade that monitoring and constraints on production and stockpiling would permit an effective international response before Iran could break out to actual weapons.

But any possibility of restraining Iran by agreement requires effective verification, which the JCPOA never supplied, demonstrated by Iran’s restrictions on International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring. Equally important, the additional time needed to reach weapons-grade levels from 3.5 percent rather than 20 percent enrichment is a matter of weeks, and depends more on the number of centrifuges spinning than the variance between these starting points. Moreover, in negotiating the JCPOA, Obama abandoned efforts to ascertain the “prior military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program, contrary to French and other public statements about needing to do just that.

Iran got what it wanted: No real disclosure of its prior military programs, later revealed by a daring Israeli intelligence raid; no effective verification of its JCPOA compliance; and, the jewel in the crown, license to do 70 percent of the work toward weapons-grade uranium.

Looking ahead, Iran will flatly reject any deal not embodying these three points, among others. The inescapable conclusion is that Tehran is so determined to get nuclear weapons, and so practiced in deceit and deception, that the regime cannot be allowed even “peaceful” nuclear programs.

For decades, U.S. presidents have proclaimed it “unacceptable” for Iran to have nuclear weapons. They said the same about North Korea. They largely failed with North Korea, and are poised to fail with Iran, too. Economic sanctions, without more, have failed — and China in particular is poised to buy all the oil Iran can sell, and either veto or ignore future Security Council sanctions.

If a nuclear Iran is truly unacceptable, the only paths open are regime change in Tehran and military/intelligence measures rendering Iran’s nuclear programs harmless. Accordingly, and very late in the day, Washington must decide who will win this contest of wills. Tehran is ahead. Over to you, Mr. President.

John Bolton was national security adviser to President Trump from 2018 to 2019, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006 and held senior State Department posts in 2001-2005 and 1985-1989. His most recent book is “The Room Where It Happened” (2020). He is the founder of John Bolton Super PAC, a political action committee supporting candidates who believe in a strong U.S. foreign policy.