Biden hurt America AND Israel in bashing Bibi’s judicial reforms

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This article was first published in The NY Post on July 30, 2023.  Click Here to read the original article.

For both America and Israel, President Joe Biden was wrong to intervene in the contentious debate over Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reforms.
Biden’s spokeswoman criticized Netanyahu, saying it was “unfortunate” he pushed change through Israel’s Knesset “with the slimmest possible majority.”
Biden was mistaken for several reasons.

First, his opinions will have no effect inside Israel, except perhaps hardening already deeply divided viewpoints even further, thereby impeding formation of the “consensus” he says he wants.

This is nothing but virtue signaling, aimed more at Biden’s own domestic constituency than anything else.

And if he had bothered to consider American history, he would know that many historically significant US statutes passed with narrow majorities.
Second, facts matter. Not to be picky, but the Knesset vote was not the “slimmest possible majority.”

Netanyahu’s government has 64 seats of 120, so 61 votes is the thinnest majority, assuming all members vote. Biden’s spokesperson claimed that Israel’s reforms were being pushed through by a government “with the slimmest possible majority.”

Given Israel’s incredibly divided electorate, reflected in multiple recent elections, a 64-vote majority is quite comfortable. Government must go on.

Third, if Biden were truly interested in the security of Israel’s democracy, he should have critiqued the tactics of reform opponents.

Armed-forces reservists, openly proclaiming they were acting as reservists, threatened not to report for their military duty if ordered should the legislation be enacted.

Israel’s judicial reform of its courts’ unchecked power is not as radical as activists would have you believe. This is explicitly undemocratic.

Certainly, in free societies, reservists in their civilian capacity can hold whatever opinions they like and speak, demonstrate and petition the government to advance those views.
Invoking their reserve military status to do so, however, is deeply illegitimate. The phrase “military coup” comes to mind.

While force of arms was not present here, Israel’s precarious place in a dangerous neighborhood means that threatening to withhold military force to defend the country is just as dangerous.

It is fatuous to say, as did some reservists, that they were not advancing political views, just concerns about the future of Israel’s democracy.

The mechanisms of government are the most important political questions of all, and the reservists, acting qua reservists, behaved undemocratically.

Fourth, Biden was disingenuous. While criticizing Netanyahu on a procedural issue, the president’s real focus was the proposed legislation’s substance.

The measure prohibits Israel’s courts from deploying the “reasonableness doctrine” to invalidate government decisions.

“Reasonableness” is a long-standing common-law standard for judging fault or liability in civil or criminal cases, but it is a far different proposition when judges purport to consider invalidating government actions.

At a government-policy level, whether considering executive actions or acts of legislation, “reasonableness” is an inherently nonjudicial standard, a matter of personal political opinion.

Executive officials and legislators are held accountable to their fellow citizens through elections because they necessarily assess the “reasonableness” of possible courses of action.

It is entirely inappropriate for unaccountable judges to make such decisions.
If judges think their personal views are superior, they should leave the courts and run for elective office.

Fifth, it is no answer to say that Knesset majorities need a check because Israel’s parliamentary system does not split legislative from executive power and does not have a written constitution.

Significant, only in recent decades have its courts wielded the “reasonableness doctrine” extensively, giving rise to the inference that when founded in 1948 and for years thereafter, no one anticipated the Supreme Court would assume its current role.

Netanyahu snubs Biden, limits power of Israeli courts despite protests
The real problem, another target of Netanyahu’s reforms, is the self-perpetuating nature of Israel’s Supreme Court.

How would Biden’s US supporters feel if, starting immediately, our Supreme Court picked its own successors?

That would be undemocratic, as Israel’s judicial-selection process is.

Jerusalem’s democratic deficit can be fixed in many ways, and it turns the definition of democracy upside down to argue that affording elected legislators a greater role is undemocratic.

Besides, Israel does have a constitution, an unwritten one, much like the United Kingdom.

Today, written constitutions around the world contain flowery language about citizens’ “rights” that mean absolutely nothing.

A written constitution would not inevitably be a panacea for Israeli divisions.

Clearly, the role of Israel’s judiciary in its vibrant democracy is contentious.
US officials who are real friends of Israel should contribute their thoughts quietly, behind the scenes.

Otherwise, Israeli officials may start commenting publicly on Hunter Biden’s plea deal.

Iran Exploits Biden’s Fecklessness

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Neglecting Gulf allies while trying to revive the nuclear deal is a recipe for regional instability.

This article was first published in The Wall Street Journal on June 6, 2023.  Click Here to read the original article.

Iran is steadily eviscerating the political and economic constraints the U.S. has marshalled against it. Tehran’s unprecedented coordination with the Beijing-Moscow axis has converged with President Biden’s apparent disdain for key Middle East allies, his obsession with reviving the 2015 nuclear deal and his lax sanctions enforcement. We now face geostrategic realignment and instability in the region as well as more terrorism and nuclear proliferation around the world.

Absent visible American resolve against Tehran’s nuclear program, the odds are increasing that, as Benjamin Netanyahu has always reserved as a last resort, Israel will act on its own. The White House response—suggesting closer U.S.-Israeli military cooperation—induces the queasy feeling that Mr. Biden is simply trying to get inside Israel’s decision-making loop to prevent an attack on Iran, not to aid it.

The alternative to force remains overthrowing the ayatollahs. Since Mahsa Amini’s murder in September 2022, opposition protests and renewed economic discontent have risen to potentially regime-threatening levels. Mr. Biden’s administration, however, has supported the dissidents with little but rhetoric. At a minimum, Washington must focus on the internal instability likely to unfold in Iran when Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 84, dies. The moment could arrive unexpectedly, providing Iran’s citizens an opportunity to topple the regime and end its international barbarity.

During Mr. Biden’s term, America’s resistance to Iran’s proliferation and terrorism has become ineffective. The president couldn’t have more thoroughly alarmed and alienated the Gulf Arab states and Israel if he had planned it. The White House convinced regional allies that Mr. Biden was effectively abandoning them and empowering their enemies by ignoring concerns about the failed nuclear deal and the effect of ending sanctions. He also crusaded against hydrocarbon fuels—the heart of Gulf Arab economies—and denounced Saudi Arabia as a pariah for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

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How Lies became Facts: The Tantura “Massacre” is back in the Spotlight 

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By Meyrav Wurmser, Ph.D.

In the democratic West, dates have become cultural battlegrounds.  The debate over whether the true founding of the United States was in 1776, as we have been taught for centuries, or 1619, as is the current revisionist vogue, betrays a deeper political message.  The date sets the purpose of the United States either as the beginning of the modern free world (1776) or as a system which’s very essence was the hidden perpetuation of slavery and oppression (1619). The advocates of focusing on the latter date have one purpose in mind: the delegitimization of the United States and its system of free enterprise. A similar debate has also emerged over Israel’s creation and is symbolized best by the current controversy surrounding the “massacre of Tantura” in1948 by Israeli forces. 


Legally, the historical attachment of the Jewish people to the land of Israel — a preexisting, indeed more ancient claim than any other modern nation — and their resurrection in that land as a modern nation is the foundation for Israel’s legitimacy as enshrined in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the 1920 San Remo Conference and the 1922 League of nations Mandate for Palestine. The Jewish right to the land was thus not granted by the nations in the Mandate for Palestine – which still governs all legal aspects of the disposition of the land — but recognized as never having been broken for thousands of years.  The focus of this series of events, and the larger effort surrounding them, thus manifests the Zionist enterprise as an act of liberation and freedom. As such, nothing that transpired during Israel’s creation in 1948-9 during its War of Independence negates those legal aspects and changes Israel’s status from ancient nation resurrected to artificial nation built through colonialism.

And yet, there is a revisionist attempt to define Israel’s resurrection not as the return of an ancient nation, but a deliberate European colonial effort to disempower Arabs to establish a European bridgehead in the Middle East. The events of 1948 thus define a narrative of Israel’s illegitimacy. Revisionists provide an alternative recollection of events of 1948-9 – replete with such a level of mass expulsions, massacres, that they rise incontrovertibly to the level of a deliberate, ethnic cleansing campaign launched one-sidedly by European invaders (Jews). These vents, they argue, are in fact the more genuine expression of the character of the Zionist enterprise. The essence of Zionism is not liberation, but rather a genocidal and illegitimate effort focused on oppressing a native population. The original sins of Israel’s creation, thus, are not an aberration, but an inherent necessity in order to establish the primacy and victory of the colonial presence. This, 1948, not 1922, become the final word on its legitimacy and belie the modest and defensive claim of Zionism that it is just the return of a battered, massacred, and harassed indigenous people returning home to their only small corner on earth to live under their own sovereignty. 

Simply put, the battle of narratives over 1922 versus 1948 was symbolic of the larger debate over whether Israel’s creation is about oppressing Palestinians or liberating Jews.

Such an alternative narrative, of course, will need a historical narrative based exclusively on the sins of Israel’s creation in 1948 as a deliberate colonial venture focused on oppression rather than a narrative based on the foundations of Jewish history and the Zionist effort at nation building which culminating in the international decisions regulating the dissolution of the Ottoman empire which had controlled the area for a half-millennium and the liberation of the Jewish people. In the new narrative, 1948 was primarily, if not exclusively, about displacing and ethnically cleansing Arabs.

It is in this context – namely the effort to establish that the evils associated with Israel’s birth are so extensive that it proves the primary aim of Israel’s creation was primarily a colonial effort to disempower and displace Arabs, and not an act of resurrecting an ancient indigenous nation (Jews) — that the story of the “massacre of Tantura” emerges.

The “massacre of Tantura”

In 2022 the movie Tantura participated in the Utah Sundance Film Festival where it received high praises from both critics and audiences. The movie told the story of the battle of Tantura (today the area of Kibbutz Nachsholim and the ascended Dor beach) during Israel’s 1948 war of independence. According to the film, after conquering the village, the IDF’s Alexandroni Brigade soldiers massacred at least 40 (some argue 250) unarmed Arab civilians residing in Tantura.[1] Moreover, since this massacre was covered up, it invites suspicion that other similar incidents had also occurred in various other locations.  Indeed, these allegations darken Israel’s very creation and cover it a shroud of original sin.

The movie was produced by Adam Raz, a researcher at Akevot. According to NGO Monitor, Akevot, which is largely funded by the Swiss government, is dedicated to “breaking Israel’s founding narrative.”[2]  Fulfilling his institute’s mission, Raz described the film in an article by stating that “under the parking lot of one of the most familiar and beloved Israeli resort sites on the Mediterranean, lie the remains of the victims of one of the glaring massacres of the War of Independence.”[3]

Reviews of the movie praised it for unmasking the truth behind Israel’s so-called policy of “ethnic cleansing” at the time of its creation.[4]  These reviewers believed that this policy followed direct orders from Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, who developed in 1948 a plan for the ethnic cleansing of the Arab population from Israel known in Hebrew as “Tochnit Dalet” (plan D). In other words, it is all part of a colonial master plan whose primary aim was oppression and displacement of the Arabs.

It is an intriguing story, and makes dramatic film, but was there, in fact, such a massacre?  Apart from staying true to historical accuracy and setting the record straight, such a question also has a larger policy aim: if Israel is covering up this massacre, how many others did it cover up?

Critics of the film argue that no massacre at all took place in Tantura. A leading voice among those was historian Benny Morris who wrote about it in an article published in Ha’aretz.[5]  Morris was himself identified as a leader of the school of history that tried to write more critically of Israel’s founding, a pioneer among the revisionist “new historians.” And yet, in this article Morris called the Tantura massacre a “fraudulent myth.” He argued that it was a fabrication created by Palestinian and pro-Palestinian historians in order to tarnish Israel’s image both internally and internationally. It made no sense, he wrote, that no Palestinian villager ever mentioned the massacre or reported rape. He compared the Tantura movie to nother modern movie, Mohammed Bakri’s film “Jenin, Jenin.” Bakri’s film was about the city of Jenin in northern Samaria (West Bank), in which an ostensible massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in Jenin during the Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 was executed by the Israeli army as it entered the Palestinian Authority in major anti-terror operation after the Park Hotel massacre in Netanya by Palestinian terrorists. The problem with the Jenin, Jenin story was that the massacre of Jenin, in which ostensibly over 200 hundred Palestinians were killed, was spun of whole cloth; there was no massacre. The movie about the alleged Tantura massacre was likewise no more than a sophisticated act of “historical distortion,” claimed Morris.

In a lengthy interview with the Times of Israel the film’s director, Alon Schwartz, insisted that the criticism of his film resulted not from the evidence that it was based on a historic fabrication, but rather because it unmasked the ugly truth behind the creation of the state of Israel. The Israeli people, he argued, were taught to believe in a lie: that the establishment of their country was not at the expense of the Arab population. They were told that the territory of present-day Israel was almost completely desolate. That it was a land without a people that was suitable for a people without land. According to Schwarz, “it is time to bring the difficult history relating to Israel’s creation to light; to bust the country’s founding myths, as painful as it might be.”[6]

The origins of the Tantura story

To get to the bottom of the matter, one must journey back in time to the origin of the story — to the first study or report that supposedly established dispassionately and precisely examined the existence of the hitherto unknown massacre. Although the events (not always the backstory or reasons, but certainly the actual facts) in the 1948-9 War of Independence was well documented, including the massacre of Deir Yassin, there is no reference to a massacre in Tantura, the later reported magnitude of which surpasses even the most famous “massacre” of Deir Yassin – which has never been denied by the Israelis. There were no contemporary reports – Israeli or Arab or third party – about any such a massacre in Tantura in 1948. 

The story of Tantura first gained prominence in 2000, after a Masters’ degree candidate at the University of Haifa, Teddy (Theodore) Katz, whose research was awarded the high grade of 97, told a reporter about his main findings. Katz’s thesis asserted that on May 22-23, during the 1948 war of independence, the Israeli Defense Forces had killed between 200-250 unarmed inhabitants of the Arab fishing village of Tantura. According to the thesis, this killing was in cold blood and occurred after the village surrendered. The findings were astonishing. No massacre had previously been recorded in Tantura; indeed, no massacre of such magnitude had been recorded in all of Israel’s history. 

The reporter published an account of the Tantura massacre in the leading Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv on January 21, 2000. Appalled veterans of the Alexandroni Brigade, the unit that had taken the village, sued Katz for libel, denying his account and asserting he had fabricated evidence. In contrast, leading figures in the Israeli peace camp made Katz’s defense their fund-raising cause du jour. The trial took place in Tel Aviv in December 2000. After two days’ cross-examination in court, Katz admitted he had fabricated the evidence of his thesis, and that the interviews upon which he claimed to base his findings never in fact happened, He agreed to sign a statement that nullified his research. In the statement, Katz admitted that “after checking and re-checking the evidence it is clear to me now, beyond any doubt, that there is no basis whatsoever for the allegation that the Alexandroni Brigade, or any other fighting unit of the Jewish forces, committed killing of people in Tantura after the village surrendered.” 

Katz had to sign this statement after the trial abundantly exposing the flimsiness or nonexistence of his evidence. To cite just a few examples, Katz quoted a surviving Arab villager, Abu Fahmi ‘Ali Daqnash, as saying that: “While this was happening soldiers with Bren machine guns walked on both sides and occasionally fired, therein killing and wounding [captured] adult males.” According to Katz, Abu Fahmi also said “they gathered all the inhabitants in the square, lined them up facing the wall and murdered them in cold blood. Some 95 persons were murdered. I wrote down their names.” But, as Benny Morris pointed out in his review of the case, none of this appears in the recording.[7]  Furthermore, even when Katz reportedly pressed the witness by saying in the recording, “clearly people were shot after they surrendered,” Abu Fahmi said “we did not see them killing after we raised our hands.”  Katz quoted another villager, Abu Riyaj Muhammad Hatzadiyah, as saying, “I know that they shot young people after the fighting and that there was a big slaughter in the village, even after everyone surrendered and stopped fighting.” No such statement appeared in either Katz’s recordings or his notes. Katz claimed that the witnesses made these statements after the batteries of his recording device ran out.

In the wake of this case, and after Katz’ admitted he had fabricated evidence, the University of Haifa suspended Katz’s degree, inviting him to revise his thesis.

Katz’s academic adviser was Dr. Ilan Pappé, one of the leading voices in a group of extreme far-left Israeli scholars who rose to prominence in the 1990’s and become known as post-Zionist. This group produced scholarly works that were critical of Israel and meant to delegitimize Zionism. The problem they faced was the lack of raw evidence from which to make the case that Zionism was an illegitimate political cause. For them Teddy Katz’s thesis provided the missing proof. 

Despite signing the statement in court, twelve hours later Katz formally retracted it and sought to continue the trial. When the judge refused, he appealed to the district’s high court, but the appeal was dismissed without a hearing. The prosecutor proceeded to urge Haifa University to strip Katz of his degree, whereupon the university set up two committees, one to check the accuracy of Katz’s research and the other to investigate whether his work had been properly supervised.

The first committee found that Katz had “gravely and severely” falsified testimony in 14 different places in his thesis. Nevertheless, Katz’s mentor and close associate, leading post-Zionist historian Ilan Pappe, continued to defend him. In an article in the Spring 2001 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies, Pappe insisted that Katz’s conclusions were correct, even if his facts may not have been. Katz’s research was valuable regardless, Pappe wrote, since historical research need not be based on facts. In other words, the idea of “an approximate truth” of a narrative – a “truth” admittedly based not on facts but fiction – trumps the actual historical record based on facts. Katz, Pappe argued, had understood the “murkiness” of the memories of participants many years after traumatic events, but he “was not interested in fine details.” Pappe insisted that Katz simply wished to see the overall picture, “leaving behind, perhaps forever, certainties about exact chronology and names and precise numbers.” The real story, Pappe contended, was that Israeli forces had indeed massacred a large number of Arab civilians in Tantura—as was typical of the Israeli policy of “ethnic cleansing” in Palestine in 1948. Katz, according to Pappé, only wished to uncover the “pain and suffering” experienced by people in the midst of war. Pappe compared Katz’s work to the recording of the testimony of Jewish Holocaust survivors. Just as researchers used personal narratives to document the traumas of the Holocaust, so too Katz use testimony from Palestinians to reconstruct the “horrors” of the 1948 Nakba, or “disaster,” as Palestinians call it. The jist of the story was correct, even though the individual tales might not have been true. Pappe construes the uproar over the Tantura case as a byproduct of the failure of the peace process: hardening attitudes in Israel have silenced the nation’s conscience. Pappe maintains that “poor” Katz’s problem was simply his timing. Had his work been completed in the optimistic days of the Oslo process, public and academic reactions would have been entirely different. 

Far from being a mere accident of timing, the Tantura affair exposed a problem of genuine gravity in Israeli historiography: Post-Zionist historians willingly accepted admitted falsehoods as historical evidence. Not only in political discussion but even in scholarship, truth has become relative. Everyone has his own “narrative.” The line between subjective and objective, between fact and fiction, has been blurred, if not obliterated all together.

Overtime, the story of Tantura, which was once a matter of academic debate, has acquired a life of its own.  As it turned into an inseparable part of the Palestinian national story it’s murky – or even clearly fabricated — origins have been overlooked and turned into ironclad facts. A massacre that until recently the Palestinians were unaware of is now a core element of their national narrative. Israel has to face the “evidence” that challenges the morality of its cause. Being made into a movie could carry that basic falsification a step further into the consciousness of the world. 

 Conclusions: What is going on?

The battle over Israel’s legitimacy, of which this story of the great “massacre of Tantura” is a chapter, is part of the overall war in the West waged by the progressive camp to impugn the moral foundations of the west as a civilization advancing freedom.  

These revisionist arguments echo the ideas of the founder of the Italian Communist Party, Antonio Gramsci, and his concept of “cultural hegemony.” Progressive thought holds that Western narratives are deliberately constructed around so encompassing a body of myths and so pervasive a structure of institutions that they become the received wisdom and obscure an underlying condition of perpetuated oppression. Gramsci argued that codes of morality are constructed by dictatorial elites in order to create norms that uphold, validate and deepen the systemic oppression inherent to the capitalist system. Even the concepts of logic, truth and facts – the foundations of Western rational debate – are dismissed as forms of such hidden systems of oppression designed to contain debate into a repressive and misleading straitjacket. As such, the idea of “approximate truth” – where narratives trump factual records of history – become valid to legitimize a cause or perspective even when the facts would suggest otherwise because facts are themselves forms of repression.

The story of Tantura – or rather the myth of Tantura – is thus part of this larger assault on Western foundations. It is neither a historical work, a documentary, or even a docu-drama that took some license. It is the intentional obfuscation of fact and fiction in an attempt to use the device of the “approximate truth” – something factually wrong but nonetheless representing some sort of truth — to actually undermine truth and rewrite the historical narrative of Israel.  It is an attempt through fiction cropped as fact to paint Israel’s creation in such a dark palette that it is exposed as a historic evil born of colonial desire to suppress the Arab and Muslim people rather than as an attempt to correct the historical wrong of the exile of the Jewish people and instead to deliver them finally their liberation and sovereignty after two millennia.

[1] For the various estimates of the number of the victims see: the correspondence between Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, John Kimchi and Erskine Barton Childers published in the Spectator between May and August 1961 and reprinted by the Journal of Palestine Studies  in 1988.

[2] Jewish News Syndicate, November 25, 2022.

[3] Ha’aretz, January 22, 2022

[4] See, for example, Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2022; Variety Magazine, January 31, 2022 and Jewish Currents, November 3, 2022.)

[5] Ha’aretz on October 7, 2022.

[6] “Tantura Director: Israelis have been lied to for years about alleged 1948 massacre,”Times of Israel, January 27, 2022.

[7] Benny Morris, “The Tantura ‘Massacre’ Affair, The Jerusalem Report, February 4, 2004.

‘Confronting Saddam Hussein’ Review: ‘Bush’s War,’ or America’s?

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The president was not eager for war, but he and his advisers had to ponder the risks of leaving Saddam in power in a post-9/11 era.

This article was first published in The Wall Street Journal on February 21, 2023. Click Here to read the original article.

‘I happen to be one that thinks that one way or another Saddam has got to go, and it is likely to be required to have U.S. force to have him go, and the question is how to do it, in my view, not if to do it.” Thus spake then-Sen. Joe Biden on Feb. 5, 2002. He was not alone. The 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, calling for America “to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein,” passed the Senate by unanimous consent and the House by 360-38. In October 2002, the Senate authorized force to overthrow Saddam by 77-23, and the House by 296-133. In March 2003, when the war began, 72% of Americans supported President George W. Bush’s decision; his approval-disapproval rating was 71%-25%.

Today, supporters of “Bush’s war” aren’t exactly thick on the ground. Opinions on his administration’s policies have so hardened that dispassionate discussion is nearly impossible. Melvyn Leffler’s “Confronting Saddam Hussein,” however, assesses the decision to attack, and its immediate aftermath, in a calm, reasoned and persuasive fashion.

One book cannot resolve the debate over a decadelong event involving so many decisions and phases: Mr. Bush’s 2003 invasion; Saddam Hussein’s overthrow; the long, painful transition to Iraqi rule; Mr. Bush’s 2007 troop surge; Barack Obama’s 2011 withdrawal; and Mr. Obama’s 2014 return. But Mr. Leffler’s account does refute several dishonest criticisms of Mr. Bush’s decisions, while also exposing mistakes that remain inexplicable 20 years later. This is no small feat.

Mr. Leffler, who teaches history at the University of Virginia, demonstrates that Mr. Bush was not eager for war. His advisers did not lead him by the nose. They were not obsessed with linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11. They did not lie about Saddam having or seeking weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs. Their objectives did not include spreading democracy at the tip of a bayonet. To do real research, and then present the results evenhandedly amid the prevailing rancor of U.S. academic and political discourse, is an achievement for which Mr. Leffler will doubtless be rewarded with abuse.

I do disagree, however, with significant aspects of Mr. Leffler’s analysis. He concludes that Mr. Bush’s failures stemmed from “too much fear, too much power, too much hubris—and insufficient prudence.” Given the enormous public support for the war, Mr. Leffler says these errors “were the nation’s failures, the failures of the American people—not all, but many,” an assertion that will profoundly irritate Mr. Bush’s harshest critics, who assign him full culpability.

Thucydides wrote that Nicias, hoping to reverse the Athenians’ decision to attack Syracuse, warned at length about the burdens and risks of such a campaign. Instead, the Athenians, “far from having their enthusiasm for the voyage destroyed by the burdensomeness of the preparations, became more eager for it than ever.” If both Athenian and American democracies lack prudence, does Mr. Leffler agree with Bertolt Brecht’s sardonic suggestion that East Germany’s government, having lost its citizens’ confidence, should have “Dissolved the people and / Elected another”? If nearly everyone gets it wrong in a democracy, Mr. Leffler’s admonitions to decision-makers are essentially useless.

While Bush 43’s father would undoubtedly endorse calls for more “prudence,” is that really more than merely a talisman for national-security decision-makers? Academics should recall Dwight Eisenhower’s handwritten draft statement, hastily written for use if the D-Day invasion had failed. Eisenhower stood ready to take full responsibility for defeat. “My decision to attack at this time and place,” he wrote, “was based upon the best information available.” The same was true for Mr. Bush and his administration. What else could they, or anyone else, base their decisions on?

Data, correct or incorrect, do not dictate supreme command decisions. They emerge from weighing imponderables and uncertainties, upon which reasonable people can disagree. British and American officials weren’t the only people who believed prewar that Saddam had or intended to reacquire nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. David Kay and Charles Duelfer, leaders of the Iraq Survey Group, concurred after their postwar investigations that removing the dictator was a good thing, and that he intended, after sanctions were lifted, to resume pursuing WMDs, notwithstanding momentary, diversionary, tactical ploys. Tellingly, Mr. Duelfer wrote that “virtually” no senior Iraqi leader “believed that Saddam had forsaken WMDs forever.”
Mr. Leffler describes at length the administration’s deep apprehensions about Iraq or the terrorists it armed using WMDs against the U.S. and its allies, and about the accuracy of their own information and assumptions about that threat. He does not, however, adequately assess the varying propensities of political leaders to accept risk. Some critics, then believing the potential for such attacks to be low, displayed a higher tolerance for that risk. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and the anthrax scare weeks later (and unresolved to this day), Bush officials’ tolerance for such risk was close to zero.

Which of the two camps was the more prudent? What would be history’s judgment had America hesitated, and suffered another devastating terrorist attack? That no such attack occurred says more about the merits of overthrowing Saddam than anything else.

Mr. Leffler ends his analysis in the immediate postwar period, which he is entitled to do. He is mercilessly critical of failures in the weeks and months after Saddam’s overthrow, which demonstrated not inadequate planning (Mr. Leffler’s view) but the existence of too many plans that were never effectively reconciled. Nonetheless, Mr. Leffler echoes many of Mr. Bush’s critics by implicitly assuming that actions during that time flowed inexorably from the foundational decision to invade. He is wrong about that.

Even so, “Confronting Saddam Hussein” is an important work. It should inspire more scholarship and less rhetoric on America’s Second Persian Gulf War.

NATO’s Electoral Message for Erdoğan 

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The alliance ought to put Ankara’s membership on the chopping block if the Turkish president meddles in the upcoming contests. 

This article was first published in the Wall Street Journal on January 16th, 2023. Click Here to read the original article.

With Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the helm, Turkey is again “the sick man of Europe,” albeit for reasons different from those that inspired the original 19th-century epithet. Mr. Erdoğan’s performance has consistently been divisive and dangerous. His belligerent regional policies have been similarly perilous, from subverting key elements of Turkey’s post-Ottoman secular constitution to repeatedly compromising its financial system and economic stability. Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but it isn’t acting like an ally. 

Yet there’s a chance he can be stopped, if the West takes bold action to help ensure his domestic opposition gets a fair shake in upcoming presidential elections. To do so, the alliance ought to put Ankara’s membership on the chopping block. Considering expulsion now will allow for the alliance to debate the pros and cons of its membership and emphasize—both to Turkish voters and NATO members—the high stakes of the coming election. 

Turkish voters will have a chance to take their country back in June, or May if Mr. Erdoğan manipulates the polling schedule. Opposition candidates stand a real chance. They won key municipal elections in 2019, in cities including Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. This was despite Mr. Erdoğan’s efforts to corrupt the electoral process by using prosecutions to cripple the opposition and filing trumped-up charges against its leaders, including the Istanbul mayor he tried so hard to defeat. 

There are troubling signs of similar behavior this time around. Mr. Erdoğan and his allies are accusing the opposition of disloyalty to Turkey and harassing the few independent media that remain in the country. Mr. Erdoğan is likely to pile on additional measures against Turkey’s Kurds, such as defunding one of its main political parties, and arrest followers of the dissident cleric Fethullah Gülen on specious terrorism charges. 

The West can prevent this outcome by putting a spotlight on Mr. Erdoğan’s duplicity by encouraging increased international monitoring and media reporting of the Turkish elections. NATO, likewise, can make clear that Turkey’s failure to conduct free and fair elections would be the final trigger in deciding whether to revoke its NATO membership. The alliance’s founding charter doesn’t provide for expulsion or suspension, but the international-law principle of rebus sic stantibus—“as things now stand”—provides more than ample basis to do so. NATO’s governing body, the North Atlantic Council, would have plenary authority to take the necessary measures to protect its institutional security. 

No country is entitled to participate in the alliance, and Mr. Erdoğan hasn’t been behaving like an ally. His worst offense in recent years was purchasing Russia’s sophisticated S-400 air-defense system in December 2017. That decision was incompatible with existing NATO defense measures and compromised America’s F-35 stealth technology, thereby threatening the security of NATO allies and Middle Eastern partners. 

President Trump should have promptly imposed strict sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, but his affinity for Mr. Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin prevailed. Sanctions weren’t announced until Dec. 14, 2020—after Turkey had accepted delivery and begun testing the S-400s, and after Mr. Trump had lost re-election. Congress barred Turkey from F-35 production and sales in 2018-19, but Mr. Trump’s delays in approving sanctions sent mixed signals, further encouraging Mr. Erdoğan’s intransigence. 

Other aspects of Mr. Erdoğan’s foreign policy are equally treacherous. He holds “neo-Ottoman” aspirations of regaining Turkey’s influence in Middle Eastern affairs. These drove his effort to establish Turkish hegemony over northern Syria amid the country’s civil war. Expressed at times in direct threats to insert Turkish forces where potentially dangerous contact with U.S. and U.S.-led coalition forces was likely, Ankara endangered American efforts to defeat ISIS’ territorial caliphate, prevent its resurgence and keep Islamist prisoners incarcerated inside Syria. During the lengthy post-Arab Spring regional wars, Mr. Erdoğan has blackmailed Europe by enabling refugee flows through Turkey into neighboring countries, all while meddling in the anarchy that prevails across Syria. His consistent antagonism toward Israel similarly reflects his broader hegemonic designs in the Middle East. 

While Mr. Erdoğan won plaudits for providing Ukraine with drones after Russia’s February 2022 invasion, the move was more a publicity stunt to advertise his drone program and shouldn’t obscure his continuing threats elsewhere. Perhaps the most visible of these is his scheme to obstruct NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, extorting measures to assist his anti-Kurdish crusade and suppress dissent inside Turkey and the Turkish diaspora. This thuggish treatment of the two applicants—whose admission is supported by the entire alliance except Hungary—is classic Erdoğan behavior. The White House is apparently conditioning sales of F-16s to Turkey on supporting Finnish and Swedish accession, but congressional opposition to the sales is strong, reflecting widespread U.S. discontent with Turkey’s obstructionism. 

Turkish and outside observers agree that Mr. Erdoğan will be defeated in the election if the process is free and fair and the opposition stays sufficiently united to wage an effective campaign. It will be much harder for him to subvert the vote if NATO brings international attention to his efforts with the threat of expulsion. And if Mr. Erdoğan manages to steal the presidential and legislative elections, NATO can no longer afford to ignore the damage he has inflicted on the alliance and its members. 

Seriously considering Turkey’s expulsion or the suspension of its membership is obviously a grave business. But things will only get worse if the alliance fails to confront Mr. Erdoğan’s poisonous behavior. 

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. 

 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.

Jordan: Stumbling into an Abyss 

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Part II: Reactions to Jordan’s incitement 

By David Wurmser 

In part one of this essay, I described the harsh and increasingly hostile anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric recently employed by Amman, but also its attempts to champion the Palestinian cause and wrest sovereignty from Israel on the Temple Mount, if not all holy sites in Jerusalem into a some sort of “Vatican-like” status.  I also outlined the accompanying geopolitical shifts that echo Russian and Non-Aligned Movement narratives.  

In this second installment, I will examine the reactions in the West and in Israel to this turn of events, which essentially break down into three types: 

  • Those whose patience is stressed to the limit with Jordan at such a sensitive moment and who advocate ignoring Amman’s demands when they are perceived to come at such an expense of Israeli interests that they threaten the essence of Israeli continued control over either Jerusalem or critical areas of Judea and Samaria. 
  • Those who argue that Jordan is acting over the top unjustifiably, but that the larger interests and continued cooperation between Israel and Jordan remain so important that very narrow Israeli interests save but a few truly vital ones should transcend the imperative of maintaining the peace treaty and trying to keep Israeli-Jordanian relations on an even keel. 
  • Those who argue that Israel has only itself to blame and that Jordan is simply reacting to Israel’s failure to satiate Palestinian demands, thereby “weakening” the Palestinian Authority(PA) which puts Amman in an impossible position wherein they have no choice other than to champion the PA. 

In other words, should the reaction be to reject, excuse (but not necessarily accept), or appease Jordan’s demands? 

Reject Amman’s demands 

In 1967, Shai Agnon, as he received the Nobel Prize for literature, ascended the podium in Oslo, Norway and spoke: 

“I tell you who I am. From the midst of a historical catastrophe, when Titus the King of Rome put Jerusalem to the sword and exiled Israel from its land, born I was in one of the cities of the Diaspora.  Mourning was every moment.  But I imagined myself as one who himself was born in Jerusalem.  In dreams, and in night visions, I saw myself standing with my Levite brothers in the Temple, as I sing with them songs of David, King of Israel.  On account of Jerusalem, I have written everything that G-d has given me in my heart and in my pen to write.”1  

In this, the great writer was no innovator, but a link in a long chain, from singing on the rivers of Babylon in the Bible, to the haunting song (“Jerusalem of Gold”) of Naomi Shemer, sung by Shuli Nathan, on the terrifying eve of the Six Day War, when Israel’s rapid victory was still in the future and the very real prospect of another catastrophic destruction of the Jewish people was descending.   

It was a tradition of hope, moored to the mystical attachment to Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall or whatever other name it carried, that focused on that one place, the one site on the globe, that allowed every Jew personally to look beyond the moment of hopelessness to redemption.   

As Rabbi Soloveichik has noted, the irreconcilable mourning over the loss of Jerusalem two millennia ago, mixed with the uncompromising, indeed unquestioned hope driven by the certainty of return (reinforced by the idea that the destruction and exile followed by redemption and return had happened once before 2500 years ago), animated each generation of Jews to not only push on and survive but to harbor an impossible sense of hope and optimism.  As Soloveichik noted, this quite possibly could be seen by a modern psychiatrist as a form of insanity, but it was what drove every Jew in his darkest moments to persevere.2   

The essence was perhaps best expressed not through the words of the lofty intellectual, but through the eyes of a simple 19-year old Jewish teenager who grew up in a community isolated for millennia in Ethiopia which had left Israel in the first exile and had not even heard yet of the destruction of the Temple by Titus and the Roman legions. For her, as she plodded her way with the rest of her community on foot over a thousand miles in a march through the desert which many never survived led by Israeli agents to a collection point where quietly at night they were spirited out to Israel, their desperate journey was not driven by some modern idea of self-determination, but by a primordial cry of the soul. As she said, translated and cited by Rabbi Soloveichik: 

“Until the age of 19, I grew up in a world in which the Beit Hamiqdash – the Holy Temple in Jerusalem – actually existed. I grew up hearing about the Kohanim – Holy Priests – and how they worked in the Temple. I fell asleep listening to the stories about the halo hovering over Jerusalem…We prayed and performed customs that expressed our yearning for Zion. We struggle to keep going despite the terrible conditions…because of our goal to reach Jerusalem of Gold, and after so many generations to stand at the gates of the Holy Temple.”3 

Although there are some Israelis, like Amos Oz, who scoff at this spiritual attachment, the vast majority of Israelis – indeed Jews — believe the idea of return to Jerusalem itself – and by that was meant the Temple Mount, not some modern suburb – both spiritual and concrete was the irrepressible force upholding the beleaguered soul of the Jewish people.  The epicenter of Jewish existence and survival is, thus, the Temple Mount.  

In this context, Jordan’s statements in recent crises denigrating the right of the Jewish people to have any presence or standing on the Temple Mount, obliterating verbally any connection of the Jewish people to that site, strikes not only an emotive and painful chord among many Jews, but is deeply offensive and deserves an angry response.  To many, thus, no modern power, monarch or idea or even superpower stands strongly enough to compete with four thousand years of Jewish history, belief, survival, hope, imagination, attachment – and ultimately essence — to the place because compromise on this is a betrayal of the legacy of about two hundred generations and an action tantamount to suicide.  As poet Uri Zvi Greenberg (1896-1981) wrote: “Whoever rules the Temple Mount, rules the Land of Israel.” 

Indeed, even the annual flag march through Jerusalem and its gates, while described almost universally in the Western press as a modern, indeed very recent jingoist provocation, is in fact an evolution of a ritual of longing conducted for perhaps a thousand years.  As Talmudic scholar, Jeffrey Woolf of Bar Ilan University noted: 

“There is a very long-standing tradition for hundreds of years, perhaps for millennia, of walking around and encountering the various gates of Jerusalem and expressing one’s love for Jerusalem.  People would come from all over the world on pilgrimage, walk and say prayers at every single gate.  And they would [similarly] walk around the gates of the Temple Mount.”4 

And thus, if forced to choose between continued peace with Jordan and the convenience – or even survival — of King Abdallah, many, indeed most Israelis see it as obvious that they, as the roughly two hundred generations before, really can only choose their attachment to Jerusalem over their own or the Jordanian King’s convenience.  

The answer of Prime Minister Bennett — though leading a left-leaning coalition with an Arab party in it (led by Mansour Abbas) and another Arab Party (Ayman Oudeh) outside it providing the buffer votes to allow it to continue – can only be understood in this context.  Accusing Jordan of “backing those who resort to violence,”5 Bennett said also: 

“There is no change or new evolution in the status on the Temple Mount – Israel’s sovereignty is preserved.  All decisions on the Temple Mount will be made by the government of Israel from the context of our sovereignty, freedom of religion and security, and not as a result of pressures from foreign powers or political forces.”6 

The last phrase is a direct rebuke of Jordan’s demands.  Nor was this just PM Bennett. Even Israel’s left-leaning foreign minister, Yair Lapid, was reportedly so angered by the fact that the Jordanian government was seen as fueling rather than calming the tensions, that he considered a much sharper response and course of action against Jordan during the heat of the unrest in April.7 

In essence, as one political commentator epitomized, the thought is growing in Israel that: 

“Beware King Abdullah’s scheming in and around Jerusalem. The Hashemite Kingdom may be an important partner for Israel in maintaining stability along Israel’s longest border, and an ally in the fight against Iranian hegemonic ambitions…But Abdullah today is proving to be a foe in the struggle over Jerusalem, willing to employ historical falsifications, radical rhetoric, and shameless diplomatic guile to undermine Israeli rights at the holiest place on earth to the Jewish people.  And he takes on this task with hands that are not at all clean.”8 

In other words, the more Jordan sides with the Palestinians against Israel, especially on the issue of the Temple Mount, the less use, and thus tolerance, there is among many Israelis of the King’s demands. 

Excusing and indulging Jordan 

There are many analysts, unrivaled in their understanding of Jordan, who countenance patience with Amman, especially in the context of these internal threats. This line of thinking is perhaps closest to the traditional way in which Israeli-Jordanian relations have been understood since the 1960s, or possible even earlier. 

At its core is the belief that Jordan serves several critical strategic functions: 

  • It helps Israel manage the Palestinian population and helps obstruct the rise of radical militia that could challenge both Israel and the Hashemite King. 
  • It provides a stable eastern border. 
  • It prevents the dangerous politics of the Persian Gulf access to Israel’s center (as for example Syria has failed to do regarding Israel’s north). 
  • It provides a cooperative structure to Israel to manage and administer sensitive Islamic sites and assets in Jerusalem.   

The difficulty of Jordan’s position, its inability to digest instability emerging from the Palestinian issue and its serving as a buffer against other very aggressive and dangerous regional forces and nations, is both well understood and considered.  As such, there is quite a bit of elasticity in understanding, indeed tolerance, in this camp that Amman is unwillingly forced to take actions and make statements at Israel’s expense.  While such statements may grate many Israelis, they argue, one must consider the cause and the alternative. Indulging Amman’s rhetoric is a small price to pay for a continued, stable and highly strategic partner across the Jordan River. 

The best formulation of this argument came from Robert Satloff, whose long years of refining his expertise on Jordan demand serious consideration: 

“…Despite – or perhaps because of – the much more open royal embrace of Israel than in years past, …popular opinion – such as it is – was looking for an excuse to lash out.  This is manifested in the 82 out of 109 MPs chomping at the bit to score a political point by urging [the] government to expel the Israeli ambassador, an act which could have triggered terrible downward spiral in this vital relationship. In this moment came the provocative comments by the Jordanian PM … not unreasonably interpreted as celebrating those actions of the Palestinians bent on stroking tensions and promoting confrontation.  Problematic as his words may have been, my assessment is counter-intuitive – i.e., that his remarks were designed to get ahead of the parliamentary mob in an effort to defuse that explosive moment and ultimately protect the fundamentals of the Jordan-Israel relationship.”9 

This is probably the most astute and accurate analysis of what is motivating the Jordanian leadership, none of whom have ever shown any particular penchant for wanton Israel-bashing. In the context of this outlook, one is hard pressed not to feel some sympathy for the Jordanian leadership in navigating its despair.  

The security and diplomatic establishments in Israel, as well as some Jewish journals also advocate such a response, which is indeed very close to the traditional half-century paradigm of Israeli-Jordanian relations (long predating the codification in the 1994 peace treaty) and the spirit behind the strategic and security cooperation clauses of the peace treaty.  

So, it was little surprise that just before the violence during Ramadan broke out, but after the wave of terror against Israel began, a series of high-level Israeli leaders traveled in a concentrated effort to Amman to enlist Jordan’s help in calming the situation, as has always been done to good effect until recently.  One Israeli paper on March 30 noted the bewildering pace of Israeli travel to Amman in this context: 

“Israel has pushed closer to Jordan in a massive effort to prevent an outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence next month that could destabilize both countries. President Isaac Herzog is set to make the first-ever “public and official” visit to Jordan, either by himself or by any of his predecessors since the country’s founding in 1948, …[to] discuss “deepening Israeli-Jordanian relations, maintaining regional stability with an emphasis on the upcoming holiday period, strengthening peace and normalization, and the many latent opportunities in relations between Israel, Jordan and the wider region … Herzog will meet with Abdullah in his palace, just one day after Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited and a week after Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev was in Jordan to meet with the country’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi. Both countries understand that should security ties fail, not only will the king face instability at home, but the Jordanian street violence could spill over the border to Israel.”10 

So as to put emphasis on this point, the Russian withdrawal from Syria resulting from Russia’s redirecting its efforts as a result of the Ukraine war has left a vacuum which is being filled by Iran, placing the IRGC and other Iranian terrorists not only closer to Israel’s border, but also along Jordan’s border.  In the last weeks, this presence has begun to turn into terrorist operations against Jordan, about which King Abdallah said:  

“We want everybody to be part of a new Middle East and to move forward, but we do have security challenges. We’re seeing border attacks on a regular basis and we know who’s behind that… Unfortunately we’re looking at maybe an escalation of problems on our borders,”11 

The King later was more specific: 

 “That vacuum [left by the Russians] will be filled by the Iranians and their proxies..”12 

Jordan’s role as a buffer to the Persian Gulf state system remains a vital Israeli as well as Saudi and US concern. 

The violence in Jerusalem, and Jordan’s apparent encouragement of it, in the weeks following the rapid succession of visits by President Herzog, Defense Minister Gantz and Internal Security Minister Bar-Lev have placed the paradigm informing this effort under great stress.  And to be sure, those who argue that Jordan should be indulged do not deny that Jordan is behaving inappropriately and provocatively, nor do they necessarily embrace the idea of Israel’s conceding to Jordan on Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount.  They simply argue that Israel must not give in to frustration and should instead keep its eye on the larger picture. Is the assertion of Israeli pique and the insistence on the application of its rights fully, they ask, worth jeopardizing the peace treaty, if not even Jordan’s survival, in the larger geo-strategic context?  And is not Israel’s power and societal strength so solid that it can digest this indulgence?  

As such, the conclusion is to counsel Israel to exercise strategic patience and work through the “noise,” to just digest the rhetoric or react moderately with measured response, and to some extent tred lightly in engaging in any further actions that could enflame the circumstance. 

This argument is essentially an appeal to uphold the paradigm of Israeli-Jordanian relations reigning for the last six decades at least. 

Appeasing and leveraging Jordan’s demands 

Those far less sympathetic to Israel seek to exploit Jordan’s weakness and despair, and the threat of collapse, as leverage to further pressure Israel into concessions on the Palestinian track.  Sadly, at this point, it is likely the US government under the Biden administration falls into this category.   

In contrast to the argument made by those who are sympathetic to Israel who believe it is precisely Israeli strength that unlocks the potential for peace and allows Israel latitude of action,13 the Obama administration and indeed President Obama himself – the intellectual forerunner of the current administration – appears to have reversed that concept into policy a decade ago (August 2014) and argued that the central obstacle to peace is Israel’s failure to be more flexible, which is in essence a result of Israel’s immense power and consolidation which tempers its eagerness for peace.14  In other words, Israel is too strong to want peace.   

Thus, the path to peace would necessitate some weakening of Israel not as a consequence of, but as a prerequisite for, achieving peace.   

For this community of policymakers and opinion-setters, the exploitation of Jordan’s despair and the benefits provided by Israel’s central seven-decade long interest in maintaining Jordan’s survival and in a state of peace are highly useful assets into which to tap and to leverage to force Jerusalem to concede.   

As such, the answer of this latter crowd is to demand rather than suggest Israel’s indulgence of Jordan’s hostility, as well as to cede sovereignty in part or in whole.  In fact, Jordan’s hostility ultimately is understood as being a result of Israel’s failure to advance an attainable peace because of its intransigence and ultimately lack of interest in peace. In other words the message to Israel is: “It’s your fault anyway, so deal with it.” Leveraging Amman’s despair to weaken Israel both advances peace, and through that, shores up the Jordanian regime. 

In this context, it was no surprise that the White House issued a statement on April 25, 2022, that essentially sided entirely with Jordan and abandoned any pretense of support or sympathy with Israel’s situation regarding its frustration with Jordan, let alone the issue of the Temple Mount.  Issued after the harshest volleys of statements from Jordan by Prime Minister Kasawneh and Foreign Minister Safadi, the White House issued the following formal communique: 

“Jordan is a critical ally and force for stability in the Middle East, and the President confirmed unwavering U.S. support for Jordan and His Majesty’s leadership… The President affirmed his strong support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and cited the need to preserve the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The President also recognized the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s crucial role as the custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. The leaders discussed the political and economic benefits of further regional integration in infrastructure, energy, water, and climate projects, with Jordan a critical hub for such cooperation and investment.”15 

Apart from completely ignoring Jordan’s role in fanning the flames of tension in the preceding weeks, the communique represents a shift in policy in many aspects and is a loaded statement full of coded language: 

  • It recognizes Jordan as the custodian of the Muslim Holy places in Jerusalem.  Jordan was never “the custodian” of the holy places under any agreement.  Under the peace agreement, Israel is committed to giving preferential consideration to Jordanian — as opposed to other nations’ – concerns, and in this context, gives Jordan a special status in helping Israel administer the sites, but no more. Israel never agreed with Jordan in any document to cede its ultimate sovereign control over the Temple Mount. 
  • The US now recognizes the Temple Mount as a whole as a Muslim Holy site, not just the al-Aqsa mosque.  While Israel has allowed the Waqf a role there until now, the whole area was formally never was considered a Muslim holy site other than the al-Aqsa mosque itself. 
  • The “historic status quo” to which the President says the US now supports was never a term or concept until now.  Indeed, the term status quo refers to the situation as it was between 1967 to now, although that has constantly evolved, mostly to the detriment of Jews and Christians. Jordan has seized on this term “historic status quo” and then proceeds to define it in its recent policy paper in the context of the deterioration of Muslim rights since the 1852 circumstance, namely full Muslim sovereignty and control over ALL holy sites.  This concept was reinforced at the end of April by the foreign minister of Jordan, when he called Israel’s presence there illegal and ownership over the Temple Mount as being exclusively Palestinian. 
  • The White House called Jordan helpful in calming rhetoric and preventing provocations. This is an outright inversion of truth. Jordan has not been helpful at all, and in fact, it has been one of the lead inciters over the last months. Indeed, its prime minister praised rioters, condemned Israeli Arabs who work with Israeli authorities, and encouraged more rioting attacks on Israelis in Jerusalem.  One does not need to humiliate Jordan in such a communique by criticizing King Abdallah during his visit, but praising Jordan as a partner in fighting and calming the raging rhetoric is inverted and — since the situation is highly charged (in good part because of Jordan’s rhetoric) and such incitement has led to dozens of dead Israelis thus far — itself incendiary. 
  • And finally, in a completely new jab at Israel, Jordan has for several years been insisting that the resources of the entire Palestinian-Israeli-Jordanian area — including the water of the Sea of Galilee — be shared as a moral obligation. As such when Israel gives Israeli resources to Jordan under an agreement (such as sending large amounts of its precious water from the Sea of Galilee), Jordan regards it more as a payment of an owed debt or obligation by Israel rather than a willing concession. Since Jordan’s new policy sees itself now as the champion of the Palestinians and their advocate and strategic partner against Israel, Jordan also sees itself at the center of authority to properly manage the allocation of Cis-Jordanian (Israel and the Palestinian Authority) and Trans-Jordanian (Jordan) resources, and has thus arrogated to itself the controlling role of being the central hub, rather than Israel (which isn’t mentioned in this capacity), for distributing all of the resources of the area. Astonishingly, the US signed off on this concept in the last sentences of this communique. 

On each point, the US echoed Jordan’s positions and distanced from Israel, ignored Israel’s interests and even showed little if any concession to Israel’s sovereignty. 

Beyond these three basic outlooks, there are several other lines of thought emerging on Jordan. In particular, one should take note of an idea appearing in one of the leading periodicals published in the United States identified with the left side of the Democratic party, which outright called on Jordan to reoccupy the West Bank and make it part of Jordan.16  It is rather surprising that this argument is being made by some closely identified with Jordan since ultimately, it opens the Pandora’s box of the identity of Jordan, which is not only a Hashemite monarchy, but a state anchored to the tribal structures of the Hejaz (more on this in part III).  And while those advocating this reversion to the pre-1967 situation look nostalgically on King Abdallah I’s embracing such a policy in 1950, the author conveniently ignores that Abdallah I’s moves cost him his life and nearly cost his son his throne a few years later. 

At any rate, the basic question behind all these types of responses boil down to one core question: should Israel stand firm on its rights and accept come what may in Jordan, or should it defer its rights and stomach these provocations for the greater good of Jordan’s internal stability and external peacefulness?  

Parts three and four of this essay will examine what the nature of the Hashemite Kingdom is in its essence, what stresses it faces to survive, and how understanding those dynamics could lead to a different, “fourth option” — or perhaps better described as a “scenario” since both the power and propriety of Israel’s or the US’s assuming they can shape Jordan’s future is far more limited than what is often assumed in Jerusalem or Washington at this point. 

‘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.