Critics accuse admin of 'delivering a dressed-up Chanukah present to the regime'
The Biden administration quietly waived sanctions on Iran to allow the hardline regime to sell electricity to Iraq, according to a non-public notification obtained by the Washington Free Beacon that was provided to Congress just as nuclear talks between the United States and Tehran resumed this week.
The timing of the waiver notification—which was signed Nov. 19 but not transmitted to Congress until Nov. 29, the day nuclear negotiations resumed—has prompted accusations the Biden administration is offering concessions to Tehran to generate goodwill as talks aimed at securing a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal restart following a months-long standoff.
During the several-month pause, Tehran increased its nuclear program, including the enrichment of uranium and installation of advanced nuclear centrifuges. One senior congressional source familiar with the matter said the delay in transmitting the waiver to Congress indicates the administration is sensitive to the optics of waving sanctions just as negotiations resume.
Richard Goldberg, the former director for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction on Trump’s White House National Security Council, told the Washington Free Beacon that the latest electricity waiver amounts to a “dressed-up Chanukah present to” Iran.
“This is just another unfortunate example of projecting weakness and deference at a time when the U.S. needs to build leverage and project strength,” said Goldberg, who is now a senior adviser to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank. “If the waiver was going to be renewed for Iraq relations, it should have been messaged and announced well before arrival in Vienna. It just screams desperation.”
Iran insists the United States unwind all economic sanctions that were imposed by the Trump administration, a demand the Biden administration says it is willing to make good on. The E3—Germany, the United Kingdom, and France—said on Friday, however, that Iran’s demands are “not serious,” according to reports. “Iran is backtracking on almost all of the difficult compromises reached in months of tough negotiations and is demanding substantial changes to the text,” E3 diplomats were quoted as saying in Axios.
The sanctions waiver gives Iran another 120 days to sell electricity to Iraq without facing penalties, an arrangement that has generated income for the hardline regime. The Trump administration had limited the waiver’s time frame in an effort to wind down these sales, but the Biden administration renewed it for the maximum period of 120 days.
The State Department says it attempted to “deliver the classified portion on Tuesday and Wednesday, November 23 and 24, but due to the closure of congressional offices in connection to the Thanksgiving holiday were not able to identify appropriate recipients.” Due to this delay, Congress did not receive the information until Monday.
The State Department maintains in the waiver that Iranian electricity sales to Iraq remain “in the national security interest of the United States.” Iraq’s failure to reduce its reliance on Iranian electricity necessitated the United States to waive sanctions to enable these sales, according to the waiver.
“In light of the considerations detailed in the classified annex to this report, the secretary determined this waiver is in the national security interest of the United States, and vital to the national security of the United States, with respect to Iraq, and certifies that this jurisdiction faced exceptional circumstances preventing it from significantly reducing its purchases of petroleum and petroleum products from Iran,” according to the waiver, which is signed by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. “Iraq continues to be a critical partner in the region, and its continued concrete political and economic cooperation is expected as a result of this waiver.”
A State Department spokesman, speaking only on background, confirmed the waiver was issued and said that it is meant to help ensure Iraq can generate energy. The spokesman would not comment on the timing of the waiver, or if it was part of an effort to ease nuclear negotiations with Iran.
“The secretary has renewed the sanctions waiver for Iraq to engage in financial transactions related to the import of electricity from Iran,” the spokesman said. “The waiver ensures that Iraq is able to meet its short-term energy needs while it takes steps to reduce its dependence on Iranian energy imports.” The waiver was granted “at the secretary [of state’s] discretion.”
As the first week of talks come to a close, Iran and the United States appear to be at an impasse.
Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Twitter on Friday that “a good deal is within reach if the West shows goodwill.” This includes the removal of all sanctions and other measures aimed at keeping Iran from completing construction on a functional nuclear weapon.
Iran is enriching uranium, the key component in an atomic bomb, to levels surpassing 20 percent purity, which is barred under the current terms of the nuclear accord. Reports this week indicate that Iran is taking steps to enrich uranium to 90 percent purity, which is weapons-grade fuel.
United Against Nuclear Iran, a watchdog group, said on Friday that Tehran is committing nuclear extortion as the West entertains its demands at the negotiating table in Vienna.
“The Biden administration has asserted that the U.S. will not allow Iran to use this round of talks as cover to accelerate its nuclear program. Iran is showing, however, that it needs no pretext to continue on its path to a nuclear weapons capability. It is speeding in that direction today,” UANI CEO Mark D. Wallace, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement. “The leaders of the international community choose not to see what is plainly evident. The JCPOA—in recognizing Iran’s right to enrich uranium—provided the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with the option to resort to the nuclear extortion it is carrying out now.”
We have a golden opportunity to begin our departure from the Middle East
Federalist columnist Willis L. Krumholz, speaking for Middle America in an insightful article, asks, “The Fundamental Question is: Why is America Still in the Middle East?” (The Federalist Daily Briefing, January 6, 2020). His answer is; America’s newfound oil independence eliminates America’s interest in the Middle East. So, it is time to leave the Middle East.
American involvement in the Middle East formally began in 1928 with the Red Line Agreement, essentially splitting access to the oil properties of the northern Middle East (principally Iraq) between France, the United Kingdom and the United States. In 1933, the USA entered into an agreement with Saudi Arabia to form ARAMCO, a joint venture to exploit that country’s newly discovered oil fields. America’s relationship with Iran was solidified by the CIA-aided 1953 coup d’état which established the Shah of Iran as the country’s ruler. The Shah was overthrown by the current leadership of Iran in 1978, leading to the sacking of the American embassy and holding of American diplomats hostage until 1980. This was the first overtly anti-American incident in what became a long series of assaults against American interests in the Middle East, culminating in the 2001 attacks.
The 21st century wars between the Americans and Islamic terrorists which followed 2001 are familiar to most Americans.
The major stake that all Western countries have had in the Middle East for the past century has been the need for oil which has powered the economic and technological advances that became the foundation of Western civilization. Control of that resource has been a critical, life-or-death priority for these countries.
That control has been very expensive in the 21st century. Total casualties through 2018 including civilians are estimated at 500,000. US casualties alone were 7820 (including contractors and civilians) (Source: Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University, November 2018). The financial costs of these wars are estimated at $6.4 trillion – nearly 1/4 of our national debt (Krumholtz, ibid.).
This equation has undergone a radical change in the past five years with the result that the USA is now energy independent The USA has become in fact the largest energy exporting nation in the world, thanks to technological developments in the energy industry, especially rediscovery and refinement of fracking. The USA no longer needs Middle Eastern oil. The motivation which has fueled our involvement in Middle Eastern affairs since 1928 has evaporated!
Our remaining interests seem to be 1) safeguarding the security of Israel — a moral rather than a strategic obligation, and 2) the denuclearization of a very recalcitrant Iran. We have NO remaining strategic interest in Iraq. That being the case, when last week’s vote by the Iraqi parliament to prohibit the presence of foreign soldiers in their country was concluded, our answer should be “GOODBYE IRAQ!” This is a gold-plated opportunity for us to pack our soldiers and our ordinance and leave this god-forsaken country to its own devices.
Why on earth should we abandon the country where we have invested so much blood and treasure to free them from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein? In order to understand the actual peril of our continued involvement in the Middle East, it is necessary to recall that the underlying reality of the region is the war between the two dominant sects of Islam: the Sunnis and the Shia. This war had been going on for 1400 years. The course of events which has driven US policy over time has put America on the side of the Sunnis, largely because we were expelled from Iran, the leading Shia nation, and accepted by the leading Sunni country, Saudi Arabia.
We have supported the Sunnis even to the extent of recently organizing a formal alliance between the several Sunni nations and equipping and fighting their wars, especially in Iraq, Syria, and earlier in Lebanon. Since Iraq is predominantly Shia (60-70%), they will never be happy with our Sunni allies. They want us to leave. If we don’t want to get drawn into their thousand-year war with the Sunnis, we should get out while we can.
As Krumholz reminds us, Iran is bordered in the north by Afghanistan and the south by Iraq, both occupied by Americans. They are surrounded, and they will not give up as long as that situation exists. It is definitely not in our national interest to find ourselves leading the Sunnis in their ongoing war with the Shia.
What about our leverage to denuclearize crazy Iran? Today’s weaponry allows long-range warfare, as our recent sorties against Syrian and Iraqi targets has demonstrated. As long as we retain that capability, whether by land bases or sea, we have the needed leverage to protect our interests. Our withdrawal of ground troops will have to be gradual in any case, and our negotiations can be paced accordingly.
Some critics might worry that this withdrawal at this time would be interpreted by Iran and the world as the triumph of Iran in the current contest of wills. The simple explanation would be that America has always proclaimed and actually sought peace, not conquest, of iran and Iraq as well. This gesture is a concrete proof of our intentions, We will maintain our long range strike capacity and our economic sanctions as long as Iran poses a nuclear threat and we will follow up on the President’s call on NATO to take a more active part in this policy, but our motivations are truly peace and prosperity for all nations.
So, what about Israel? This is a somewhat different challenge. For the most part, our Mediterranean fleet can (and has) provided much of the needed cover. For out-of-range options, coordination with the Israelis themselves should provide the answers.
The bottom line is that America’s most basic responsibility is the strategic deployment of our forces in areas of national interest only. The lives and futures of these troops are not to be squandered recklessly on misbegotten missionary adventures of nation-building to “spread democracy’” especially to countries whose entire history and culture demonstrates their lack of receptivity to our doctrine, emancipating as it has been for us.
In Bertolt Brecht’s drama, The Good Person Of Sechwan, the Gods are looking for a kindhearted individual. Their search almost ends in failure. Finally, they meet the prostitute, Shen Te. Judging her to be kind and magnanimous, they give her a large sum of money. Shen Te decides to open a tobacco shop. The news about her good fortune spreads like wildfire throughout the town. In no time, people invade her shop and pillage it. In order to avoid going bankrupt and for the sake of remaining a good person, Shen Te invents an uncle, Shui Ta, who possesses the toughness of a seasoned businessman. Shui Ta stops the bleeding by employing capitalist methods and principles. Naturally, the townspeople miss Shen Te. They accuse Shui Ta of murdering her. In court, Shen Te proves that she and Shui Ta are the same person. The moral of the story is that whoever wants to do good in a bad world must be ready to get tough. Continue reading
by Kelly Cobiella, Yuka Tachibana, and Ben Adams • NBC
The grandmother lifted her face to heaven and let out a high wail.
“I pray for this hell to end,” the 64-year-old said before crumpling onto the floor of her hut.
Kimy Hassan Sayfo’s daughters and granddaughters have been held captive by ISIS. Two daughters recently escaped but extremist fighters have kept her young granddaughters “for themselves,” she said.
Her story echoes those of countless others across this vast tent city full of Yazidis, a tiny and ancient religious minority reviled and persecuted by ISIS. Continue reading
Just three years ago, President Obama famously ridiculed GOP opponent Mitt Romney’s statement that Russia remained America’s main geopolitical foe by taunting: “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”
Four years before that, Obama stood at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate to declare that once he became president, all people would join him around a global campfire, hold hands and put an end to the world’s evils and miseries.
Well, seven years into Obama’s presidency, the promised worldwide Kumbaya is instead global chaos — caused in large measure by his willful retreat from America’s position of leadership. Continue reading
For the Obama administration, there’s always a surprise when it comes to the Middle East. Having pulled out of Iraq before Iraq was ready, they were taken unawares by the Islamic State’s rise. Now Russia’s strategic moves to be the big dog on the block in the Mideast have thrown them for another loop.
Russia has forged an alliance with Syria, Iran and Iraq to share intelligence to destroy the Islamic State — without inviting the U.S. The pact has a powerful moral rationale, given the monstrosity of the enemy and the U.S. lack of will to fight. But it also will permanently extend Russian power in the region, something that Russia had under the USSR but that is also a longstanding imperial ambition dating back to the days of Vlad the Great. Continue reading
Iran, Russia, Syria, Iraq form joint war room
by Adam Kredo • Washington Free Beacon
A senior Iranian military leader warned this weekend that “all U.S. military bases in the Middle East are within the range of” Iran’s missiles and emphasized that the Islamic Republic will continue to break international bans on the construction of ballistic missiles.
Much of this missile work, like the details of Iran’s advanced arsenal, remains secret, according to Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force. Continue reading
by Caroline Glick • RealClearPolitics
The US has striven to achieve peaceable relations between the states of the Middle East for nearly 70 years. Yet today, US government is disparaging the burgeoning strategic ties between the Sunni Arab states and Israel.
In a briefing to a delegation of visiting Israeli diplomatic correspondents in Washington last week, a senior Obama administration official sneered that the only noticeable shift in Israel-Arab relations in recent years is that the current Egyptian government has been coordinating security issues “more closely” with Jerusalem than the previous one did.
“But we have yet to see that change materialize in the Gulf.”
If this is how the US views the state of Israel’s relations with the Arabs, then Israel should consider canceling its intelligence cooperation with the US. Because apparently, the Americans haven’t a clue what is happening in the Middle East.
First of all, to characterize the transformation of Israeli-Egyptian relations as a mere question of “more closely” coordinating on security issues is to vastly trivialize what has happened over the past two years. Continue reading
By Shawn Macomber • Lawfare Tyranny
Via the Kurdish media network Rudaw:
Commemorating the Day of International Criminal Justice, Halabja civil society organizations, authorities, civil society activists and victims of chemical weapons renewed their call in a joint statement demanding Iraq ratify the Rome Statute and join the International Criminal Court.
“In order to stop future genocides or stop the repetition of past genocides, the Iraqi government, to reassure the people of Kurdistan, must sign the Rome Statute and become a member of the International Criminal Court,” the statement read.
After decade upon decade of watching the innocent suffer and die in Iraq, this grasping hope is painfully understandable.
Alas, does anyone seriously think the Kurds or any other oppressed minority within Iraq will be “reassured” by the supposed umbrella of protection offered by an institution which after more than a decade and $1 billion dollars has precisely two convictions of obscure African warlords? Are we to believe a wannabe Saddam or ISIS will tremble at the thought of facing an organization the mostly issues self-aggrandizing press releases and lectures the world on why it will not apologize for its failures?
No. The ICC is chasing atrocities not deterring them, as is readily apparent to anyone not already in the tank for the Court.
In response to the recent awful-yet-sadly predictable video of Islamic State fighters destroying irreplaceable ancient artifacts in Mosul, the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has come up with a brilliant plan — refer members of the apocalyptic cult to the International Criminal Court!
“We are expecting some reaction from the International Criminal Court,” Irina Bokova told reporters in Paris. “It’s very important because it will mobilize a big part of the international community.”
To which one might reply, “Mobilize how?”
By Charles Krauthammer • The Washington Post
His secretary of defense says, “The world is exploding all over.” His attorney general says that the threat of terror “keeps me up at night.” The world bears them out. On Tuesday, American hostage Kayla Mueller is confirmed dead. On Wednesday, the U.S. evacuates its embassy in Yemen, a country cited by President Obama last September as an American success in fighting terrorism.
Yet Obama’s reaction to, shall we say, turmoil abroad has been one of alarming lassitude and passivity. Continue reading
by Peter Huessy
In 2012, Robert Kaplan wrote in the “The Revenge of Geography” that countries of the “Heartland” and “Rimland”, stretching from North Korea southward through South Asia and into the Middle East were locked into a “deathly geographical embrace of overlapping missile ranges” as they seek to bolster their military capability by building long range rockets capable of coercing, terrorizing or blackmailing their neighbors. [ (1) “Kaplan Elevates the Place” by Alan Cate, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, on September 18, 2012.]
In the past year, we have seen Hamas, an agent of Iran, try a new kind of diplomacy, if you will, while launching over 4500 rockets at Israel. [ (2) “The hidden intelligence agendas behind Hamas’ 1,000-rocket barrage”, July 14, 2014 DEBKAfile, Exclusive Report.] Continue reading
Public support for the president’s foreign policy is waning—and he’s losing Democratic lawmakers
by William A. Galston • Wall Street Journal
In March my Brookings colleague Robert Kagan memorably observed that President Obama was giving the American people the foreign policy they wanted—and they didn’t much like it. Overseas events have only deepened public concern. A Pew Research Center survey released Aug. 28 found that only 35% of people approve of the president’s handling of the crises in Iraq and Ukraine. Only 15% think we play a more important and powerful role in the world than we did a decade ago, compared with 48% who think our role is less important. And 65% believe that we live in a world more dangerous than it was a few years ago.
The Pew study also finds compelling evidence that Americans are beginning to change their minds about what they want. The share of those who think the U.S. does too much in the world has fallen to only 39% today, from 51% in November, while the share who thinks it does too little has nearly doubled, to 31% from 17%. In the early months of the Obama presidency, only 38% thought the president was “not tough enough” on national security; today, 54% believe that—a figure that includes more than one third of all Democrats. Continue reading
by Rich Lowry • Politico Magazine
What this means, he hasn’t spelled out in great specificity. Presumably fewer beheadings. A slower pace of Western recruiting. Fewer genocidal threats against embattled minorities. A downgrading of the caliphate to a mini-state, or merely a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq.
The evil of ISIL has stirred nearly everyone around President Obama to ringing statements of resolve. Vice President Joe Biden says, “We will follow them to the gates of hell.” Secretary of State John Kerry tweets, “ISIL must be destroyed/will be crushed.” Continue reading
On Sunday, Massoud Barzani, President of Iraqi Kurdistan, called on the international community to provide arms directly to the Kurdish Regional Government to enable it to combat the barbarically brutal Islamic State. Iraq’s Kurds are pro-American. They govern their territory effectively and peaceably, and they are among the most tolerant people in the Muslim Middle East—qualities demonstrated anew, as they provide refuge to the hundreds of thousands who have fled the advances of the Islamic State and who include members of Iraq’s ancient Christian and Yazidi communities, as well as Shi’ite, and even Sunni, Arabs. Arming the Kurds would seem to have been an obvious step long ago, but President Obama insisted on routing U.S. arms through Baghdad and did not change U.S. policy, until after Barzani’s public appeal. Continue reading