Obama’s Obsession with Reduction: A Prescription for a Weaker America

John R. Bolton |  Washington Times

The Obama administration recently has launched campaigns advocating its key arms-control initiatives. These public-relations offensives are to support a key treaty being finalized with Russia, the ratification of previously blocked treaties, and the advancement of more arms-control negotiations. Although hitherto overlooked in the media, President Obama’s arms-control priorities are major components of his upcoming foreign policy agenda.

Arms control’s complexities and dense jargon typically have limited its consideration to a cadre of high priests and priestesses, largely hidden from public view. This obscurity has been most unfortunate because the stakes involved in misguided arms-control policy are extraordinarily high. Precisely because of the stakes, the general public should be as fully informed and involved as in any other national security issue.

Much of arms-control theology rests on mistaken premises whose consequences can be highly detrimental to U.S. national security interests. There is real danger, for example, in negotiating numerical weapons ceilings, such as on numbers of nuclear warheads, unrelated to our real strategic needs. Mere numerical targets typically do not reflect the opposing sides’ differing global interests and obligations, their asymmetrical conventional military and intelligence capabilities or their varying economic strengths.

Undeterred by these caveats, however, Mr. Obama will announce imminently a treaty with Russia limiting strategic nuclear weapons. Administration statements (and press leaks) indicate that the new limits on warheads will be below those in the 2002 Treaty of Moscow. There, Russia and America agreed on ceilings of 1,700 to 2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads by 2012, with the clear understanding that U.S. warhead holdings would be near the top of that range. The Obama agreement’s new limits are said to be 1,500 to 1,675 warheads, meaning that we will face significant reductions–and well before 2012. Even if Russia falls to the bottom of the new range, its reductions will be small compared to ours.

But the positions of the United States and Russia are not parallel, and roughly equivalent warhead limits impair Washington far more than Moscow. America has global commitments to many allies, from NATO to the Pacific, protected by our nuclear umbrella. The range of threats and dangerous contingencies we face, such as from terrorists and rogue states like North Korea and Iran, is substantially greater and more challenging than what confronts Russia, which essentially has no allies to protect. Squeezing down U.S. force levels is therefore not only a prescription for making America weaker, but for making its allies less safe and less confident in our ability to protect them.

Moreover, the United States is far ahead of Russia in using advanced delivery systems (ballistic and cruise missiles and heavy bombers) to carry conventional payloads. This is a significant element of America’s capacity to meet its far-flung alliance commitments and other vital interests worldwide. Limiting the available numbers of delivery systems for conventional warheads, as the treaty apparently will do, is a massive retreat to outmoded arms-control “counting rules” that overwhelmingly will benefit Russia at the expense of America and its allies. It is as though President Obama’s advisers do not understand how harmful reducing delivery systems will be to the Pentagon’s strategy of increased reliance on conventional rather than nuclear warheads.

Perhaps even more disturbing are press reports that Moscow is still insisting on constraining U.S. missile-defense capabilities. The Obama administration’s seeming unwillingness to flatly reject such constraints represents a dramatic retreat from President George W. Bush’s unqualified determination to create national missile-defense capabilities. Mr. Bush’s decision to withdraw from the badly conceived, outdated Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 was a major step forward for America’s defense capabilities and the security of our civilian population. For Mr. Obama to retreat here, even in minor ways, would be a mistake of extraordinary magnitude. If he ultimately unveils a treaty that limits our missile-defense programs, however minutely, that alone would be more than sufficient reason to defeat it in the Senate, whatever its limits on warheads and delivery systems.

The impending U.S.-Russia treaty is only the start of the arms-control renaissance. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced last week, for example, that the administration will push to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was defeated in the Senate in 1999. It hasn’t gotten better with age. Multilateral negotiations over arms in outer space, fissile material production and conventional arms restrictions (which well could be an international effort to limit or proscribe the civilian ownership of guns) are all in line for presidential attention.

The Senate can and should examine each treaty on its individual merits. But the proper criterion for support must be whether any given agreement enhances America’s national security. This is no place for abstract and naive theories or numbers games at the expense of strategy.

The U.S. Gives Until It Hurts

John R. Bolton |  New York Post

America’s long-dominant role in international relief reflects both America’s innate compassion and its status as the world’s sole superpower. Time and time again, from tropical-storm devastation in Bangladesh, to the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami in Indonesia, to last month’s earthquake in Haiti, it is America that steps forward first to provide humanitarian relief. In particular, the US military has repeatedly brought to bear its enormous logistical capabilities, especially to lead the immediate response to both natural and man-made disasters.

And what distinguishes the United States even more from other countries is the consistently generous responses by millions of individual citizens, not waiting for their government to act, but contributing money, resources and their own time through churches, fraternal organizations and charities. We don’t do this because we have to, but because we want to. For good reason, therefore, we rightly view ourselves as well-motivated, effective and openhanded.

Many foreigners disagree. Just days after Haiti’s earthquake, France’s minister for international cooperation, Alain Joyandet, complained about the US effort, notably our military’s control of Haiti’s main airport. Joyandet said that “this is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti.” Fortunately, France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, whipped his minister back into line, just in time before Americans started reminding Paris of France’s colonial legacy in Haiti. Nonetheless, Europe, even after several weeks, is far from matching the US response.

Many people ask why, instead of the United States invariably taking on the burden of “first responder” to humanitarian disaster, the United Nations shouldn’t handle the job. Indeed, in the case of Haiti, there were approximately 9,000 UN uniformed peacekeepers already posted there, as well as almost 2,000 civilian UN personnel. Unfortunately, the UN’s performance over the years demonstrates it is not up to the task. In Haiti, even worse, scores of UN personnel died in the earthquake, including Hedi Annabi, the head of the overall UN mission in country.

The UN’s own internal disorganization has long made fast and effective responses almost impossible. Numerous independently governed and administered UN agencies and programs are involved in humanitarian relief efforts, and each marches to its own drummer. UNICEF cares for children and families; the World Health Organization looks after health, sanitation and medicines; the World Food Program distributes food supplies; and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees provides protection and assistance when political or natural disasters cause large numbers of people to cross national borders. The UN Development Program is supposed to be the overall country coordinator of the work of the many agencies involved, but that’s a nearly impossible task.

Then, of course, there’s the long, well-documented history of waste, fraud, corruption and incompetence in UN programs. In Haiti just last week, for example, UN peacekeeping troops from Uruguay were unable to manage the orderly distribution of food (donated from the US, of course) even directly in front of the Port-au-Prince’s now-leveled Presidential Palace. No criticisms, however, from Paris.

The UN system’s dysfunctional performance over the years culminated in dismay over the handling of refugees and displaced persons when Saddam Hussein renewed his persecution of Kurds and Shi’ites after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Major UN donor countries insisted on creating a new coordinating position, an Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, whose office became one more player to be coordinated. And outside the UN, the International Red Cross and scores of “non-governmental organizations,” often serve as the operating arms for UN agencies and national relief efforts. Rube Goldberg would be proud of this structure.

In a disaster’s immediate aftermath, the biggest problems are logistical: getting food, medicine, shelter and sanitation equipment rapidly to the affected areas, and the most important variables are time and distance. Delegating response to international organizations like the UN, rather than local groups, is a prescription for failure. For those countries that are too poor to have adequate disaster response capabilities, regional organizations like the African Union and ASEAN should be better prepared.

But make no mistake about it: the United States is the default humanitarian world leader because no alternatives are visible well into the future. Who else? The UN? The European Union? The “BRIC” countries–Brazil, Russia, India and China? Forget it. America will take the lead, and we will also take the criticism. Our only grim satisfaction will come if there is an American decline, as some believe inevitable, and many hope for. The rest of the world will miss us when we’re gone.

Google Didn’t Kowtow and Neither Should You

By John R. Bolton |  Wall Street Journal Asia

Google’s threat to withdraw from China has attracted considerable attention in business circles and the critical but arcane world of cyber warfare. But the unfolding story also has far broader implications for how U.S. businesses approach the Chinese market and for the U.S. government, which has often failed to vigorously assert U.S. political and economic interests. Far from being a retreat, Google’s move may represent an aggressive corporate step forward in insisting on reciprocal fair dealing.

Although there have been prior examples of corporations leaving China, Google’s is the most noteworthy potential precedent because of its global prominence. China’s apparent hacking into Google’s email system also raises broader questions about the country’s inadequate protection of intellectual property and what place the rule of law actually has among Chinese policy-making priorities, political as well as economic. Human rights, freedom of religion and ethnic discontent all cloud China’s reputation as a “responsible stakeholder” in world affairs.

Nonetheless, the lure of China’s market has quieted many complaints by foreign businesses loathe to provoke Beijing or cede such a potentially huge market to competitors, either domestic or foreign. Inevitably, the refrain is that “China will soon be the world’s largest economy,” and firms are simply expected to bite their tongues and plow ahead.

For years, U.S. administrations of both parties have held much the same view. Analysts and “experts” repeatedly advise not to “press too hard” on China on (a) currency manipulation; (b) North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program and proliferation generally; (c) domestic human-rights policy; (d) Tibet; or (e) [fill in the blank] because “China will not be pleased.” Of course, this is a prescription for doing nothing to change undesirable Chinese policies, and indeed implicitly encourages Beijing to continue them.

These widespread strategies of appeasement simply give China what it wants for free. Bringing China appropriately to diplomatic battle on any given issue can hardly be worse than surrendering without a fight, which has occurred all too often in recent years. If fear of retaliation over the immediate issue in dispute—or in a perhaps completely unrelated area—inhibits the U.S. from objecting to unsatisfactory Chinese policies, China will simply proceed to have its way. This analysis is not a criticism of China, which forthrightly does what it can get away with, but of limp-wristed American policy.

Take, for example, China’s massive store of U.S. government debt, the current all-purpose reason not to rouse the slumbering Chinese dragon. China’s holdings should not inhibit Washington from strongly asserting U.S. views, whether on North Korea, human rights or trade. If Beijing actually acts in a way that exacerbates the looming debt problem, it would only be making concrete what we already know, and should already be resolving on our own—which is that our growing public debt is unwise and unsustainable. China already runs its own considerable economic risks as a U.S. creditor. It may be China that is the paper tiger—but how will we know, if we never test it? (Ironically, the U.S. should be delighted that China worries about exploding U.S. government budget deficits and the risks of massive inflation. Too bad the Obama administration doesn’t have Beijing’s acuity, but perhaps China will save us from our own misdirection.)

China’s advocates make a critical mistake trying to justify the country’s aberrant commercial behavior. Businessman Tang Jun, for example, recently questioned Microsoft’s position against piracy of its intellectual property by telling the Washington Post that “in a lot of other countries that can work. But China is a very unique country.” Unique in saying that stealing intellectual property is the norm in China and must be accepted? Hardly an “open for business” sign or the reputation that any country, no matter how large its market, should want.

Supineness only convinces Beijing that a “take it or leave it” approach will work in more and more circumstances. Here, Google’s conduct in the immediate future is critical: If Google can negotiate satisfactory protections for its operations in China and decides to remain, then its hard line will have proven successful. But if Google cannot get essentially what it wants, and nonetheless remains in China, that will be the worst signal of all. Google must remember never to make threats unless the company is fully prepared to carry them out.

The U.S. government and American businesses should do what they naturally do elsewhere: defend their own interests vigorously. Make deals in or with China when they meet the tests of satisfying those interests, not out of generalized fear of retaliation or lack of cooperation from Beijing down the road. In reality, Beijing is more likely to respect a determined interlocutor, business or government, than a weak-willed one. It is incomprehensible that Americans have not appreciated and acted upon this lesson in recent years. Perhaps Google is about to educate us.

Obama’s Next Three Years

John R. Bolton |  Commentary

Where is Barack Obama’s foreign policy headed? In answering, one must accept a measure of humility. Predicting American policy makes more fools than sages. That goes double for foreign policy, as analysts must anticipate not only the actions of the United States but of foreign provocateurs as well.

In the case of Barack Obama, there is an additional caveat: the high-profile concerns that have monopolized his efforts abroad are seen by the president himself as little more than Bush-era loose ends, not the defining transactions of his own foreign policy. All new presidents encounter irritating constraints on their aspirations, but Obama is more irritated than most at having to endure any sense of continuity with his predecessor. His criticism of Bush continues unabated even as he fares no better in the same stubborn terrain.

Obama is not looking to build his foreign-policy legacy on top of disputes that predate his arrival. He is working to move past these, toward the day when he can implement his own foreign policy and national-security agendas. Accordingly, the best way to predict Obama’s foreign policy in the next three years lies not in examining how he deals with the accumulated baggage of Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East peace, and the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. Important as those are, they constitute what Obama has had to confront. We should ask instead what he will attempt to establish once he has become less encumbered by the inherited issues. Here, the record shows three critical characteristics.

First, Obama has no particular interest in foreign and national-security policy. That is not what he has spent his professional and political career, such as it is, doing, and it is not where his passions lie. There can be no question that the challenges of remaking America’s health-care, financial, and energy-production systems claim the bulk of Obama’s attention.

Second, Obama does not see the rest of the world as dangerous or threatening to America. He has made it clear by his actions as president that he does not want to engage in a “global war against terrorism.” The rising power of other nations, creeds, and ideologies, however unsavory, pose no grievous challenge to which the United States must rise. We are not at a Dean Acheson–style, post–World War II “present at the creation” moment. Therefore, Obama reasons, why behave in reactive, outmoded ways when there are many more interesting and pressing domestic projects to nurture?

Obama’s America need only be restrained, patient, and deferential. Take, for example, Obama’s November 2009 trip to China, during which the media highlighted how unyielding Beijing was, thus confirming their “rising China/declining America” conventional wisdom. In fact, it was more Obama’s submissiveness and less China’s assertiveness that made the difference on issue after issue: trade policy and Chinese currency manipulation; Taiwan; Beijing’s unwillingness to limit growth for the sake of global-warming theory; and Iranian and North Korean nuclear-weapons programs. Obama repeatedly came away empty-handed, even on blatantly cosmetic aspects of the visit: where he would speak, to whom, and how it would be broadcast.

Third, Obama’s vision is embedded in a carapace of naive internationalism, a very comfortable fit when national security is neither that interesting nor that important. Obama is the first president since December 7, 1941, to espouse a determinedly unassertive global role for the United States, one ironically verging on an essentially neo-isolationist view of America. Obama’s December 1 announcement of troop increases in Afghanistan is not to the contrary, since he proclaimed the beginning of withdrawal in virtually the same breath. Afghanistan, like Iraq, is the very paradigm of legacy issues Obama does not want to confront. Failures such as his Middle East peace process and dealing with Iran and North Korea have simply led to resignation and inattention.

However, Obama’s is not your grandfather’s isolationism. He focuses not on America’s virtues but on why it is ordinary (thus explaining why, as I have written elsewhere, he is firmly “post-American”). It is America’s ordinariness that should enjoin it from imposing its will upon other nations. Obama is our first sitting president to express this sentiment. In April, he articulated this point with absolute clarity. Asked if he believed in American exceptionalism, the president responded, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” In other words, “No.”

In this vein, the boundless naïveté in the president’s UN speeches abundantly demonstrate  Woodrow Wilson’s patrimony. In September, he said to the UN General Assembly:

It is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009–more than at any point in human history–the interests of nations and peoples are shared. . . . In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group or people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold.

In 1916, Wilson said that “the interests of all nations are also our own,” and later advocated “peace without victory.” He said, “There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace” founded on “the moral force of the public opinion of the world.” If you removed the dates from these two sets of comments, most people would have to guess which was Obama’s and which was Wilson’s.

Through these prisms–Obama’s focus on domestic issues, his belief in the absence of major international threats, and his fascination with multilateralism for its own sake–we can project forward the president’s foreign policy. Conveniently for Obama, pushing his priorities will involve international negotiations where presidential authority is virtually exclusive. That does not mean, of course, that he can determine the final outcome where congressional action such as Senate treaty ratification is required, but Obama and his negotiators will be able to dominate in crafting the agreements themselves. Three policy areas loom large and will allow Obama to showcase, in various combinations, the three core characteristics of his worldview.

The first policy on the table will almost certainly be American arms reduction, achieved through budget decisions and arms-control agreements, both bilateral agreements with Russia and multilateral pacts with other nations. At a time of profligate federal spending, only the Department of Defense’s budget is constrained. With economic stimulus all the rage, Obama has rejected enlarging the standing military; decided against increasing defense procurement to replenish the weapons and other equipment consumed by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and stalled progress on critical high-tech military systems. These expenditures (and others) are central to future power-projection capabilities, and all would result in tangible assets and greater policy options, in contrast with the pathetic “shovel-ready” programs of the actual stimulus. This disparity is not accidental.

Even worse, both Obama’s Prague speech on a nuclear-weapons-free world and the first U.S. Nuclear Posture Review since 2001, heavily determined by the White House, point toward unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United States, whatever the success of international negotiations. The president believes strongly, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, that lowering U.S. nuclear capabilities toward zero will induce would-be proliferators around the world–Iran and North Korea take note–to give up their own nuclear-weapons programs. This is what Obama means by “strengthening” the regime established by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and what Gordon Brown has already proposed in giving up one of Great Britain’s four nuclear-missile submarines.

On several occasions in 2009, Obama and Russian President Medvedev announced agreements on future dramatic cuts in both nations’ nuclear arsenals and strategic delivery systems. Obama has already unilaterally reduced U.S. efforts in the missile-defense field, and there is every prospect of returning to some version of an antiballistic missile treaty. The Russians, of course, are delighted to agree to these reductions. For even if the international price of oil were again to rise dramatically, Russia would remain incapable of sustaining its nuclear forces anywhere near U.S. levels. “Mutual and balanced” reductions thus commit Russia merely to their most optimistic projections of their own capabilities and serve essentially to restrain the United States. In fact, “equal” levels severely and disproportionately disadvantage the United States because of our obligations to provide nuclear umbrellas for NATO, Japan, and others. Russia has no comparable need.

Multilaterally, Obama has been even more activist, enshrining his objectives in Security Council Resolution 1887 (indeed, even chairing the council session that adopted it) and convening a global summit on “nuclear security” in 2010. Obama has promised U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (which was actually defeated by majority vote in the Senate in 1999). He has pledged to renew negotiations for a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty as well as a treaty for the prevention of an arms race in space. He favors creating and strengthening so-called nuclear-free zones around the world and has urged all states not already party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to join as non-nuclear-weapons states, meaning that Israel, Pakistan, and India would have to give up their nuclear weapons (which won’t happen in any of their cases). Finally, Secretary of State Clinton promised active U.S. involvement in drafting an Arms Trade Treaty for conventional weapons, which is a thinly disguised route to achieve domestic gun-control objectives long blocked in the normal legislative process.

All these objectives will meet fierce domestic opposition in the Senate and elsewhere. But make no mistake; Obama knows where he wants to go and is working hard to get there.

Obama’s second leading policy concern is international agreement on global warming. This is not the place to re-debate global warming, but the climate-change True Believers clearly see little appeal in anything less than statist, command-and-control direction of global behavior. Obama’s efforts will draw the U.S. more fully into this fold.

Political reality may have doomed the possibility of a full-up treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol in 2009, but that setback has not dimmed Obama’s multilateral enthusiasm. Environmentalists have focused blame for the absence of a legally binding treaty on the United States, as Congress is unable to enact cap-and-trade in Obamamania’s first year. In response, Obama will likely move more aggressively in multilateral negotiations to create a successor to Kyoto despite congressional inaction. In so doing, he will be following a now familiar strategy for American leftists, which is to internationalize problems on which they cannot make progress domestically. They have attempted in recent decades, with varying degrees of success, to do so on a host of issues: gun control, the death penalty, abortion, and the “rights of the child” among them.

The strategy is to reach agreement with like-minded leaders of other countries, whose governments are likely to be far to the Left of America’s political center of gravity. Then, treaty or other international agreement in hand, activists return to the Senate to announce that the rest of the world is determined to do “X” and that America cannot allow itself to be “isolated” along with Somalia, Burma, China, or other assorted holdouts. Thus, on global warming, Obama will likely focus on international approaches to reach his goals, perhaps using executive agreements rather than treaties to bypass the Senate and domestic political roadblocks. Similarly, he will increase efforts to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty, which global-warming activists are touting as a backdoor to increasing environmental regulation.

Third–both enabling and following from the first two foreign-policy imperatives–“global governance” and “international law” will become growth industries under Obama. To the UN Security Council, Obama said, “The world must stand together. And we must demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced.” This dovetails nicely with the sentiments of the incoming president of the European Union, former Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, who made clear in his November 19 acceptance speech that “2009 is also the first year of global governance with the establishment of the G-20 in the middle of the financial crisis. The climate conference in Copenhagen is another step toward the global management of our planet.” As our post-American President Obama well knows, the European Union is a continuing font of ideas on global governance, always eager to share its own form of bureaucratic control and accompanying “democratic deficit” worldwide. Now the new European president has a rapt pupil in the Oval Office and acolytes scattered throughout Washington’s foreign-policy establishment.

In many respects, the renunciation of “torture” in interrogating captured terrorists, the commitment to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and the criminal trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other defendants in U.S. courts are about making sure that “international law is not an empty promise.” These steps are, perilously, also decisions about retreating from a war paradigm to a law-enforcement paradigm in dealing with terrorism. But it was not coincidental that Obama’s first applause line in the General Assembly came when he referred to renouncing “torture” and shutting down Gitmo.

There is much more global governance in the works. The Obama administration sought and won re-election to the new UN Human Rights Council, a body that the Bush administration voted against creating in 2006 and that it subsequently refused to join. The new council has proved itself just as antithetical to American interests as was its predecessor, the UN Human Rights Commission, but mentioning yet another reversal of Bush policy won Obama a further round of applause in the General Assembly.

There will undoubtedly be more such applause to come. Secretary Clinton has committed to ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Whatever the pros and cons of these agreements, the larger question is how much “law” the Obama administration is prepared to make outside the ever growing U.S. Code we already possess. To Obama’s internationalist sensibility, the offense, of course, is that laws “made in the U.S.A.” by freely elected representatives of our own citizenry are too “exceptional” and too “parochial” to hold weight in this interconnected world. Mere “municipal” laws, as international-law scholars refer to them, don’t pass John Kerry’s “global test” of legitimacy for American foreign policy. President Obama clearly wants to fix that problem.

Secretary Clinton opined, in Nairobi last summer, that it was “a great regret but it is a fact we are not yet a signatory” to the Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court. So it was no surprise when the State Department confirmed on November 16 that the United States will now participate as an observer in meetings of the court’s members. Observer status is manifestly a step toward the administration’s ill-disguised ultimate objective of re-signing the Rome Statute, ratifying it, and becoming a full member of the court. Obviously, all these and other steps have implications not only for the United States but also for close allies like Israel, which were protected by earlier U.S. opposition.

Barack Obama’s blueprint for the United States spells trouble for American autonomy, self-governance, and defense, all key elements of national sovereignty. His undisguised indifference to repeated diminutions of that sovereignty is entirely consistent with the views of his European admirers, who, at their level, would like to see their nation-states dissolve into the European Union. In the end, however, the United States is exceptional and will not melt into any larger or global union; it will simply become less able to protect itself and its constitutional decision-making system. That is clearly where our first post-American president’s policies will take us.

President Obama Didn’t Impress Asia

John R. Bolton |  Wall Street Journal

Barack Obama’s first visit to Asia since his inauguration was one of the most disappointing trips by any U.S. president to the region in decades, especially given media-generated expectations that “Obamamania” would make it yet another triumphal progression. It was a journey of startlingly few concrete accomplishments, demonstrable proof that neither personal popularity nor media deference really means much in the hard world of international affairs.

The contrast between Asia’s reception for Obama and Europe’s is significant. Although considered a global phenomenon, Obamamania’s real center is Europe. There, Mr. Obama reigns as a “post-American” president, a multilateralist carbon copy of a European social democrat. Asians operate under no such illusions, notwithstanding the “Oba-Mao” T shirts briefly on sale in China. Whatever Mr. Obama’s allure in Europe, Asian leaders want to know what he means for peace and security in their region. On that score, opinion poll ratings mean little.

What the president lacked in popular adulation, however, he more than made up for in self-adulation. In Asia, he labeled himself “America’s first Pacific president,” ignoring over a century of contrary evidence. The Pacific has been important to America since the Empress of China became the first trading ship from the newly independent country to reach the Far East in 1784. Theodore Roosevelt created a new Pacific country (Panama) and started construction on the Panama Canal to ensure that America’s navy could move rapidly from its traditional Atlantic bases to meet Pacific challenges. William Howard Taft did not merely live on Pacific islands as a boy, like Obama, but actually governed several thousand of them as Governor-General of the Philippines in 1901-1903. Dwight Eisenhower served in Manila from 1935 to 1939, and five other presidents wore their country’s uniform in the Pacific theater during World War II—two of whom, John F. Kennedy and George H.W. Bush, very nearly perished in the effort.

But it was on matters of substance where Mr. Obama’s trip truly was a disappointment. On economics, the president displayed the Democratic Party’s ambivalence toward free trade, even in an economic downtown, motivated by fear of labor-union opposition. On environmental and climate change issues, China, entirely predictably, reaffirmed its refusal to agree to carbon-emission limitations, and Mr. Obama had to concede in Singapore that the entire effort to craft a binding, post-Kyoto international agreement in Copenhagen had come to a complete halt.

On U.S. national security, Mr. Obama came away from Beijing empty-handed in his efforts to constrain both the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs, meaning that instability in the Middle East and East Asia will surely grow. In Japan, Mr. Obama discussed contentious issues like U.S. forces based on Okinawa, but did not seem in his public comments to understand what he and the new Japanese government had agreed to. Ironically, his warmest reception, despite his free-trade ambivalence, was in South Korea, where President Lee Myung-bak has reversed a decade-long pattern by taking a harder line on North Korea than Washington.

Overall, President Obama surely suffered his worst setbacks in Beijing, on trade and economics, on climate change, and on security issues. CNN analyst David Gergen, no conservative himself, compared Mr. Obama’s China meetings to Kennedy’s disastrous 1961 encounter with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, a clear indicator of how poorly the Obama visit was seen at home. The perception that Mr. Obama is weak has already begun to emerge even in Europe, for example with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, and if it emerges in Asia as well, Obama and the U.S. will suffer gravely.

Many media analysts attributed the lack of significant agreements in Beijing to the “rising China, declining America” hypothesis, which suits their ideological proclivities. But any objective analysis would show that it was much more Mr. Obama’s submissiveness and much less a new Chinese assertiveness that made the difference. Mr. Obama simply seems unable or unwilling to defend U.S. interests strongly and effectively, either because he feels them unworthy of defense, or because he is untroubled by their diminution.

Of course, most Americans believe they elect presidents who will vigorously represent their global interests, rather than electing Platonic guardians who defend them only when they comport with his grander vision of a just world. Foreign leaders, whether friends or adversaries, expect the same. If, by contrast, Mr. Obama continues to behave as a “post-American” president, China and others will know exactly how to take advantage of him.

This Is No Time to Kowtow to China

John R. Bolton |  Globe and Mail

Barack Obama approaches his first official trip to China with his Asia policy unclear. Much depends on his view of China’s future and what he thinks America’s priorities should be.

Too many Americans, particularly business leaders, see China as a monolithic economic power, inexorably growing until its aggregate economy shortly surpasses America’s. China’s large U.S. debt holdings, its substantial foreign currency reserves and trade surpluses, its population size and its rapacious global search for raw materials, combined with the long-standing (if usually unfulfilled) allure of its domestic market, all have their impact in the United States.

Understandably, the hope is that China will be a “responsible stakeholder,” which would befit a major global economic power. Where many err, however, is in transforming this hope to current reality and believing, therefore, that propitiating China will ensure it acts responsibly. Thus, neither the Bush nor Obama administrations have pressed China enough to do what it can uniquely do to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Moreover, Mr. Obama has been unwilling to oppose China even on so basic an issue as the U.S. dollar’s remaining the world’s reserve currency. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, flying to Beijing, famously announced that China’s human-rights record would not impede broader dialogue. Her remark may or may not have been wise, but one can at least ask whether Washington shouldn’t have got something back for throwing human rights under the bus.

Pre-emptive concessions rarely convince another important power that the United States is serious about asserting and defending its own vital interests. Nor is the reflexive inclination of some analysts to resolve essentially all Asia-related policies with Beijing, rather than balancing China by relying on traditional U.S. allies. But, more fundamentally, the model of China on which the deferential, Sino-centric policies of the past several administrations have been based is badly flawed.

We cannot know China’s future course, disturbing but for the reality that China itself does not confidently know its way ahead. The paradigm of continued economic growth, a straight line from Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, is one possible future, but far from the only one.

Rather than just the past few decades, look at China’s previous century: the collapse of the last imperial dynasty, the rise and repeated fall of the Republic of China, internal chaos among belligerent warlords, invasion and subjugation by Japan, civil war between Communists and Nationalists, Mao’s dictatorship–which brought two of world history’s greatest tragedies, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution–and then the 1989 repression at Tiananmen Square, just for starters. This is a hundred years of radical discontinuity, and straight-lining that century rather than just the most recent decades predicts a very different future.

We also cannot ignore that the Communist Party remains China’s dominant political force, and that the People’s Liberation Army is the party’s hardest of hard cores. China is upgrading and expanding its strategic nuclear missile capabilities and its air force, implicitly threatening Japan and other Asian countries–and which should be of growing concern to the United States itself.

China is modernizing its huge but technologically immature ground forces, and rapidly building blue-water naval capabilities that could undermine U.S. pre-eminence in the western Pacific for the first time since the Second World War. No wonder China’s neighbours are worried, and worried also about the Obama administration’s response.

And China’s internal situation is far from rosy. The “one child per family” policy has left tens of millions of Chinese men with no realistic prospect of marriage, ever. China’s creatively derived economic statistics conceal huge unseen armies of unemployed, both in coastal cities and deep in the interior, with only remote job prospects. These and other factors portend potentially enormous social and political instability.

An effective U.S. Asia policy, therefore, should not assume an economically omnipotent China or ignore or understate the still-critical role of close allies such as Japan. Nor should we shrink from imposing intense pressure on issues important to the United States, such as North Korea’s nuclear threat or substantial trade barriers and internal rule-of-law problems China poses on issues such as intellectual property. If we simply assume it is too risky to be firm with China, Beijing wins by default, and American interests suffer.

China is frailer internally than its propaganda admits, and other Asian nations are far from ecstatic about a rising China and a declining America. We need a U.S. policy that does not uniformly defer to China but that asserts U.S. interests unapologetically. China would respect such an approach, because it appreciates how great powers routinely treat each other on vital national interests. The question for Barack Obama is whether he understands that it is not a strong American policy that could provoke China, but a weak one.

Iran Outlook: Grim

John R. Bolton |  National Review

The week of September 21 was supposed to be multilateralism on parade for President Obama: attending the Climate Summit, addressing the U.N. General Assembly, chairing the Security Council, and celebrating a new international economic order with the G-20. Until Friday, everything went according to Obama’s script: grandiose speeches, paper declarations and resolutions, and, most important, the huzzahs of foreign leaders and America’s media.

But on Friday, the shadow fell. Obama scrambled to hold a previously unscheduled press conference with British prime minister Gordon Brown and French president Nicolas Sarkozy, at which they announced that Iran had constructed a uranium-enrichment facility near Qom, the Shiite holy city. Housed in deeply buried chambers on a former missile base of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the site had been officially disclosed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by Iran that Monday, making it inevitable that word would leak out soon. (Iran risibly claims that the Qom facility is for civilian purposes only.)

The president was obviously displeased with Iran’s contumacious behavior, and perhaps more displeased with the timing of his forced public disclosure of it, coming just before an October 1 meeting in Geneva between Iran and the Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany (the “Perm Five plus one”). This session, the first since summer 2008, and the first in which a U.S. representative would actively “engage” with Iran, had been intended to showcase Obama’s multilateral bona fides. Now, however, Iran had threatened the carefully constructed mirage of negotiations with inconvenient reality.

According to administration background briefings, Obama was first informed about the Qom site during the transition following his election. Thus, all his pronouncements about the virtues of negotiation with Iran and other rogue states–the inaugural address, the Cairo speech, and countless others, including those of U.N. Week–were delivered with the knowledge that Iran was telling lies about its nuclear program. We shall soon see whether Obama’s ability to hold two contradictory thoughts simultaneously is evidence of mental agility or of an excessively tenuous acquaintance with reality.

The administration’s spin, dutifully amplified by the media, was that revealing the Qom enrichment facility was yet another Obama triumph, since it put more diplomatic pressure on Iran just before the Geneva meeting. Adhering to this logic requires believing that progressing toward a nuclear-weapons capability actually harms Iran, by increasing the risk of economic sanctions. If Iran tests a nuclear device, that will really put pressure on Iran, and incinerating Tel Aviv will presumably make the pressure for sanctions unstoppable. As Plutarch quoted Pyrrhus as saying upon his defeat of the Romans at Asculum, “One more such victory and we are lost.”

Sad to say, Obama’s Iran policy is not much different from that of George W. Bush in his second term. Relying on multilateral negotiations (the Perm Five-plus-one mechanism), resorting to sanctions (three Security Council resolutions), and shying away from the use of force are all attributes inherited directly from Bush. Bush’s policy failed to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and Obama’s will fail no less, leading to an Iran with nuclear weapons.

The issue now, however, is not this bipartisan history of failure, but what to do next. The Qom disclosure only highlights just how limited, risky, and unattractive are the four basic options: allow Iran to become a nuclear power; use diplomacy and sanctions to try to avert that outcome; remove the regime in Tehran and install one that renounces nuclear weapons; or use preemptive military force to break Iran’s nuclear program. Let us consider them in turn.

OPTION 1 The easiest course, which Obama may well be on without explicitly admitting it, is to permit Iran to become a nuclear-weapons power. Many believe that a nuclear Iran will not constitute a significant threat, and that it can be contained and deterred, as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. This analogy is fundamentally flawed. First, who in his right mind would willingly return to the days of mutual assured destruction, especially when the Tehran end of the equation is staffed by religious fanatics who prize the hereafter more than life on earth? It may not have been a virtue, but at least the Communists believed they went around only once. (A Kenny Chesney song sums up the predominant U.S. view: “Everybody want to go to Heaven / But nobody want to go now.”) Moreover, we increasingly appreciate that Cold War deterrence was not all that stable, and therefore just how lucky we were to last 40 years without civilization-ending nuclear exchanges. That Iran in the near future will have a much more limited offensive-weapons capability than the Soviet Union did in its prime is no solace. Iran’s asymmetric threat will not comfort those in cities that will have been obliterated by its “limited” arsenal.

Even more devastating to the “contain and deter” theory is the inevitability that Iran will not be the only state in the region to acquire nuclear weapons. Other Middle Eastern states will conclude (if they haven’t already) that they must acquire them too, in response to Iran’s efforts. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey are all likely candidates, and Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi may well decide that his 2003 decision to give up his program was ill-advised and get back in the game. Others in the region could follow.

Thus, in the not-too-distant future, the Middle East could have half a dozen or more states with small nuclear arsenals, each calculating the advantages of striking first against its potential adversaries to prevent them from doing the same. If deterrence during the Cold War’s bipolar standoff was problematic, imagine the multiplayer chess required to avoid nuclear exchanges in such a Middle East, along with the likelihood that nuclear technology will pass into the hands of global terrorists.

Allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons is manifestly the least desirable outcome of all.

OPTION 2 Pursuing diplomacy and impotent sanctions was Bush’s policy and is now Obama’s. The only material difference is that Obama has even less reason than Bush had to believe that diplomacy may yet work. Iran’s credibility after its rigged June 12 presidential election and the news about Qom is, yet again, in shreds everywhere–except the White House, where the public evidence of Obama’s first eight months shows not the slightest diminution of his near-religious faith in diplomacy. Thus, the outcome of his efforts will be the same as Option 1, although few will say so.

Within the diplomatic approach, there is one hidden trap for the credulous: that Washington will accept the existence of an Iranian uranium-enrichment program as long as it is (supposedly) monitored by the IAEA under clear Iranian commitments that the program is (supposedly) entirely peaceful. One can easily envision Obama describing such an outcome as a triumph for his diplomacy, even though in fact it is exactly where we are today, and would inevitably lead to precisely the result we are trying to avoid. Any resolution that leaves Iran’s current regime with control over the entire nuclear fuel cycle is simply a face-saving way of accepting Option 1. Given Iran’s fulsome 20-year history of denial and deception, there is simply no doubt that its efforts toward building nuclear weapons would continue. If the Qom revelation does anything, it should convince us that Iran’s commitments are worthless.

Accordingly, while the October 1 Perm Five-plus-one meeting in Geneva could be an important pivot point, it is highly unlikely in fact to be so. One possible outcome would simply be renewed negotiations, while Iran’s progress toward deliverable nuclear weapons continues essentially unimpeded. In Pittsburgh, President Sarkozy said Iran had until December to change its ways, or “sanctions will have to be taken.” Unfortunately, however, Obama’s “deadlines” for meaningful Iranian action have been no firmer than Bush’s, and several have already slipped. Time is a precious asset for proliferators, and Iran has used it to great advantage over these last seven years.

Moreover, as the Iran case demonstrates, diplomats rarely devise exit strategies in case their negotiations fail. Those who ask, “What do we lose by talking to Iran?” miss the point that negotiation, like all human activity, has costs as well as benefits, and that here the balance lies with Iran. If we adopt talk as our strategy, Iranians smoother than Ahmadinejad–not more moderate, just smoother–will come to Geneva prepared to negotiate about everything, including their nuclear program. President Obama and the Europeans will swoon, and Russia and China will smile contentedly as a panorama of months, maybe years, of further negotiations stretches before them.

If, on the other hand, Iran’s posture on October 1 is more belligerent–and Ahmadinejad’s initial reaction after Pittsburgh certainly foreshadowed that tack–then Iran will effectively be calling Obama’s bluff, daring him to seek stricter sanctions. Here the critical test is not whether more “sanctions” (multilaterally through the Security Council, or less so through the European Union and others) can be imposed. It is virtually certain that they will be, despite the noticeable lack of enthusiasm by Russian president Dmitri Medvedev at Pittsburgh, and China’s silence. The test is rather whether whatever plan is agreed upon actually dissuades Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons. And here sanctions are almost certain to fail.

Consider what Medvedev actually said after Obama’s press conference, rather than the White House gloss on what he said: “I do not believe sanctions are the best way to achieve results. Sanctions were used on a number of occasions against Iran, but we have doubts about the results. . . . I think we should continue to promote positive incentives for Iran and at the same time push it to make all its programs transparent and open. Should we fail in that case, we’ll consider other options.” “Promote positive incentives for Iran”? “Consider other options”? This is what Obama got from Russia for giving up the Polish and Czech missile-defense sites?

At best, further U.N. sanctions will be only marginally tighter than those previously adopted, which have manifestly failed to dissuade Iran from its nuclear objective. Without Security Council action, sanctions by a “coalition of the willing” will be widely (and profitably) evaded.

Gasoline imports are a supposed area of vulnerability, but Iran has already taken steps to mitigate the effects of a proposed ban on exporting refined petroleum products to Iran by increasing its refining capabilities, reducing consumer subsidies that inflate demand, and preparing to shift to natural gas, which it has in considerable quantity and can refine domestically. Similarly, proposals to preclude writing insurance or reinsurance on Iranian shipping might make commerce more difficult, but are insufficiently direct to have a timely effect. Moreover, negotiating and implementing sanctions takes time, and since time works to Iran’s advantage, we move inevitably closer to Option 1. In truth, since the diplomacy/sanctions approach is Obama’s declared policy, we already know the end of the story: Iran with nuclear weapons.

OPTION 3 The most durable solution would be regime change in Iran that entirely sweeps away the Islamic Revolution of 1979–not just Ahmadinejad, but the whole crew of Ayatollah Khomeini’s successors. Iran’s people are ready for this, as the regime is highly unpopular for many reasons. First, the mullahs have mismanaged the economy for 30 years, and dissatisfaction is intense and widespread. Second, the two-thirds of Iran’s population that is under 30 is well-educated and aware of the world outside Iran; they know they could have a radically different kind of life under a different government. Third, ethnic Persians make up only half the total population, and the numerous other groups (including Arabs, Baluchis, Azeris, Kurds, and Turkmen) are deeply discontented. Obviously, these fissures do not align exactly, but they are severe enough that the Islamic Revolution would not survive long without military force behind it.

The spontaneous protests that broke out across Iran following the fraudulent June 12 presidential election demonstrated both the extent of the opposition and the possibilities for regime change. Unfortunately, the post-June 12 results also reflect a tragic missed opportunity to topple the regime, and the difficulty of regaining that chance. Had the Bush administration taken more than a few trifling steps to aid the opposition, the post-June 12 protests might well have brought a new Iranian government. Apart from White House rhetoric, however, Bush’s eight years differed little in hard operational terms from Obama’s eight months, meaning that Iran’s protesters were basically on their own. Moreover, political power inside Iran is shifting away from clerical leaders and toward the IRGC, moving from a theological autocracy toward military control. The balance of power rests with those holding guns. The regime’s willingness to use force and political coercion against dissidents will be greater than it was before June 12, thus making it even harder to get rid of.

This is not to suggest the regime’s popularity has increased. To the contrary, the regime is even more unpopular than it was before June 12, but the chances of a “velvet revolution” in the foreseeable future are remote. But however long and difficult the struggle may be, America should press for regime change, overtly and covertly, while taking care not to taint the people we seek to enable by making them look like tools of Uncle Sam. Overthrowing the Islamic Revolution is the most likely way to obtain a government that permanently renounces nuclear weapons, which would be the best outcome. Almost certainly, however, regime change will not happen before Iran’s current rulers acquire such weapons–and once that happens, it may be too late, both within Iran and for the Middle East and the rest of the world.

OPTION 4 That leads, by process of elimination if nothing else, to the preemptive use of military force against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. No one argues that a successful strike would end the Iran problem, but that is not the point. Destroying key aspects of Iran’s program (such as the Esfahan uranium-conversion plant, the Natanz uranium-enrichment facility, the Arak heavy-water complex, and the Bushehr reactor) would buy time. Between two and five years is a reasonable estimate, and that is close to eternity, because during that period time would be on our side rather than on the proliferator’s.

President Obama is all but certain not to use force, so any decision regarding this option now rests with Israel alone. The revelation of the Qom site, and the risk that Iran has even more covert nuclear-related sites, may mean that the military option is already no longer viable: Destroying the known elements of Iran’s program will be risky and difficult enough, but the prospect of more unknown sites means that targeted military force cannot be relied upon to completely break Iran’s control over the nuclear fuel cycle. Israel would thus incur all the downsides of the attack without achieving its main goal.

Even if circumstances are not so parlous, Israel must now calculate that it has less time to act than it had before intelligence agencies confirmed Qom as a uranium-enrichment facility, meaning a strike may well happen within the next six months. A later attack is not precluded, and there is no red line beyond which it is unthinkable; nonetheless, every day that passes lowers Israel’s prospects for success, as Iran continues to protect and disperse its program, and as it acquires ever-stronger air defenses. While much has been speculated, pro and con, about the feasibility of an Israeli strike, one thing is certain: The Israelis have believed, at least until now, that they can succeed, and they will make the ultimate decision, one way or the other–not armchair pundits with incomplete information.

Many contend that the potential consequences of a preemptive strike are too horrible to contemplate, but such concerns are unlikely to deter Israel, since the result of not striking could well be a second Holocaust. The choice is not between the world as it stands today and the world after an Israeli attack; the choice is between the world after the attack and a world where Iran has nuclear weapons. That puts the oft-expressed fear of a spike in oil prices in context, at least for Israelis. Nor are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s promises of a “defense umbrella” reassuring. At its time of maximum peril, the Jewish state is not going to rely on the goodwill of anyone, friend or foe.

In any event, Iran is highly unlikely to retaliate in a way that could prompt a direct confrontation with the U.S. military (such as attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz or increasing terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens in Iraq or elsewhere), or that would paralyze its own economy (such as suspending oil exports). Iran’s most likely response would be to unleash rocket attacks against Israel through its proxy armies, Hezbollah and Hamas. This prospect certainly complicates Israel’s decision-making on whether to strike Iran. (Direct Iranian missile or air attacks against Israel are unlikely, since Israel might well respond with nuclear weapons.)

One important consideration that is often ignored: However much they might publicly protest, nearby Arab states would privately welcome an Israeli attack. These governments fear Iran’s nuclear program as much as Israel does, but they are powerless to stop it. If Israel does the job, they are in a perfect place: Iran’s nuclear program will be badly damaged, and they will have another opportunity to criticize Israel. This also explains why Arabs will not interdict Israeli overflights to and from Iran. Moreover, within Iran, not everyone will necessarily rally behind the government, especially given post-June 12 developments. Effective public diplomacy could make clear that the target is the mullahs’ weapons program, not the Iranian people, and might even provide new impetus for regime change.

With so many risks of failure and retaliation, the use of military force is hardly attractive to Israel or anyone else. Even so, the consequences of a nuclear Iran could be far more devastating. Israel has not hesitated to strike preemptively before, starting with the Six-Day War of 1967, and including the destruction of the Osirak reactor outside Baghdad in 1981 and the North Korean reactor in Syria in September 2007. Don’t bet on passivity now.

Iran’s nuclear-weapons program has cast a shadow over its region and the world for years. That kind of regime, with those kinds of weapons, is a continuing mortal threat to America’s friends and allies, and to international peace and security. Under President Bush, we had a chance to confront Iran’s challenge, but backed away from it. Under President Obama, we have a leader who doesn’t understand the magnitude of the threat, who flinches at unpleasant choices regarding force, and who believes that reductions of America’s own nuclear arsenal will persuade the IRGC to give up theirs. If Iran achieves its nuclear objectives, we will have only ourselves to blame.


Iran’s Big Victory in Geneva

John R. Bolton |  Wall Street Journal

The most widely touted outcome of last week’s Geneva talks with Iran was the “agreement in principle” to send approximately one nuclear-weapon’s worth of Iran’s low enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia for enrichment to 19.75% and fabrication into fuel rods for Tehran’s research reactor. President Barack Obama says the deal represents progress, a significant confidence-building measure.

In fact, the agreement constitutes another in the long string of Iranian negotiating victories over the West. Any momentum toward stricter sanctions has been dissipated, and Iran’s fraudulent, repressive regime again hobnobs with the U.N. Security Council’s permanent members. Consider the following problems:

• Is there a deal or isn’t there? Diplomacy’s three slipperiest words are “agreement in principle.” Iran’s Ambassador to Britain exclaimed after the talks in Geneva, “No, no!” when asked if his country had agreed to ship LEU to Russia; it had “not been discussed yet.” An unnamed Iranian official said that the Geneva deal “is just based on principles. We have not agreed on any amount or any numbers.” Bargaining over the deal’s specifics could stretch out indefinitely.

Other issues include whether Iran will have “observers” at Russian enrichment facilities. If so, what new technologies might those observers glean? And, since Tehran’s reactor is purportedly for medical purposes, will Mr. Obama deny what Iran pretends to need to refuel it in 2010?

• The “agreement” undercuts Security Council resolutions forbidding Iranian uranium enrichment. No U.S. president has been more enamored of international law and the Security Council than Mr. Obama. Yet here he is undermining the foundation of the multilateral campaign against Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. In Resolution 1696, adopted July 31, 2006, the Security Council required Iran to “suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development.” Uranium enriched thereafter–the overwhelming bulk of Iran’s admitted LEU–thus violates 1696 and later sanctions resolutions. Moreover, considering Iran’s utter lack of credibility, we have no idea whether its declared LEU constitutes anything near its entire stockpile.

By endorsing Iran’s use of its illegitimately enriched uranium, Mr. Obama weakens his argument that Iran must comply with its “international obligations.” Indeed, the Geneva deal undercuts Mr. Obama’s proposal to withhold more sanctions if Iran does not enhance its nuclear program by allowing Iran to argue that continued enrichment for all peaceful purposes should be permissible. Now Iran will oppose new sanctions and argue for repealing existing restrictions. Every other aspiring proliferator is watching how violating Security Council resolutions not only carries no penalty but provides a shortcut to international redemption.

• Raising Iran’s LEU to higher enrichment levels is a step backwards. Two-thirds of the work to get 90% enriched uranium, the most efficient weapons grade, is accomplished when U235 isotope levels in natural uranium are enriched to Iran’s current level of approximately 3%-5%. Further enrichment of Iran’s LEU to 19.75% is a significant step in the wrong direction. This is barely under the 20% definition of weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium (HEU). Ironically, Resolution 1887, adopted while Mr. Obama presided over the Security Council last week, calls for converting HEU-based reactors like Iran’s to LEU fuel precisely to lower such proliferation risks. We should be converting the Tehran reactor, not refueling it at 19.75% enrichment.

After Geneva, the administration misleadingly stated that once fashioned into fuel rods, the uranium involved could not be enriched further. This is flatly untrue. The 19.75% enriched uranium could be reconverted into uranium hexafluoride gas and quickly enriched to 90%. Iran could also “burn” its uranium fuel (including the Russian LEU available for the Bushehr reactor) and then chemically extract plutonium from the spent fuel to produce nuclear weapons.

The more sophisticated Iran’s nuclear skills become, the more paths it has to manufacture nuclear weapons. The research-reactor bait-and-switch demonstrates convincingly why it cannot be trusted with fissile material under any peaceful guise. Proceeding otherwise would be winking at two decades of Iranian deception, which, unfortunately, Mr. Obama seems perfectly prepared to do.

The president also said last week that international access to the Qom nuclear site must occur within two weeks, but an administration spokesman retreated the next day, saying there was no “hard and fast deadline,” and “we don’t have like a drop-dead date.” Of course, neither does Iran. Once again, Washington has entered the morass of negotiations with Tehran, giving Iran precious time to refine and expand its nuclear program. We are now even further from eliminating Iran’s threat than before Geneva.

Seven Questions for John Bolton

John R. Bolton |  Economist

John R. Bolton has worked for several Republican administrations. Most recently, under George W. Bush, he served as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security from 2001 to 2005, then as America’s permanent representative to the UN from 2005 to 2006. That last post came by way of a recess appointment, with Democrats (and some Republicans) blocking his confirmation in the Senate. Yet Mr. Bolton has been a critic of both Republican and Democratic presidents. After leaving his post at the UN, he criticized Mr. Bush for deviating from his first-term foreign-policy goals. He has criticised Barack Obama for his “naive and dangerous approach to dealing with the hard men who run pariah states.” Mr. Bolton is currently a senior fellow at AEI. This week The Economist asked him some questions about Iran, Israel, the UN, and Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

Economist: What do you think of the Obama administration’s acceptance of Iran’s offer to hold broad talks on security issues?

Mr. Bolton: Iran is not going to be talked out of its nuclear-weapons programme. The EU-3 have been negotiating with Iran for close to seven years, the net effect of which is that Iran is now seven years closer to a deliverable nuclear-weapons capability. Time is an asset that works in favour of would-be nuclear proliferators, and negotiations give them that asset for free, allowing proliferators to make progress under the cover of “diplomatic efforts to resolve the problem”. In fact, the negotiations not only don’t solve the problem, they contribute to making it worse.

Economist: Would you be willing to trade a security guarantee (a guarantee that America will not try to change the regime in Iran) for the verifiable dismantling of Iran’s nuclear-weapons programme?

Mr. Bolton: We should try to change the regime in Iran. It is a threat to all of its neighbours–Arab as well as Israeli–and a threat to international peace and security more broadly. Iran has been pursuing nuclear weapons clandestinely for 20 years or more. To protect and conceal their program, they have lied in the past, are lying now and will lie in the future. Even if, say, Barack Obama were prepared to give a security guarantee, the regime in Tehran would never agree to the extremely intrusive verification regime that would be necessary.

Economist: If you were advising Barack Obama, what advice would you give him on dealing with Iran? Would you suggest the use of force?

Mr. Bolton: I think he has shown so far he is impervious to realistic advice on Iran. The Iranians sleep safer at night knowing that the Carter administration’s ideological descendants now govern in Washington.

Economist: What role, if any, do you see the United Nations playing in the disputes over Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear-weapons programmes?

Mr. Bolton: The Security Council’s sanctions against Iran and North Korea have been and almost certainly will continue to be of marginal value. Just as the Security Council was largely irrelevant to the great struggle of the last half of the twentieth century–freedom against Communism–so too it is largely on the sidelines in our contemporary struggles against international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Economist: You are a proponent of reform at the UN, and you served as permanent representative when Ban Ki-moon was selected as secretary-general. Do you think Mr Ban has made any progress in cleaning up the institution?

Mr. Bolton: Minimal progress as far as I can see.

Economist: As the Obama administration pushes for renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, do you think the administration is right to demand a total freeze on settlement building in the West Bank?

Mr. Bolton: No. I think the administration’s position puts the cart before the horse. The issue of boundaries and settlements should be issues for negotiation, not a precondition to negotiations.

Economist: What parts of Mr Obama’s foreign policy, if any, have you been impressed with?

Mr. Bolton: I think the administration’s emphasis on Pakistan, and the risks of that regime’s nuclear-weapons arsenal falling into the hands of radicals and religious extremists is extremely important, as is the understanding that what happens to the Taliban in Afghanistan figures importantly in what happens in Pakistan.

The Key to Changing the United Nations System

John R. Bolton |  ConUNdrum

This foreword appears in ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives, edited by Brett D. Schaefer.

There has perhaps been more commentary in the United States that is critical of the United Nations in recent years than in any comparable period.  There are many reasons for the growth of this criticism:  the Security Council’s failure to take its own resolutions seriously in case after case, especially in the face of Saddam Hussein’s defiance; the Oil-for-Food scandal; the endless efforts in one policy area after another to “norm” the United States into compliance with a liberal agenda that could not achieve a majority within our own democratic system; and international officials who seem to think that U.N. member governments work for them and not the other way around.

Whatever the reasons, and they are many, the growing criticism has legitimately raised the attendant question:  what do you plan to do about it?  This volume is a significant step toward answering that question, covering as it does the broadest range of U.N. activities.  The succeeding chapters are rich with ideas and suggestions for “change,” the political flavor of the day, thus in themselves giving the lie to the idea that there is no alternative to the United Nations as we know it.

This foreword attempts to set the stage for the creative analyses and proposals that follow by briefly describing the sad, and largely unsuccessful, history of U.N. reform efforts in the past thirty years and by then explaining revolutionary change that might actually produce a different result:  moving toward voluntary funding of the U.N. and its activities.  In addition, it provides complementary information about the culture of the U.N. organization and its member states that any subsequent American reform efforts, in whatever substantive policy area, will have to take into account.  The high-minded won’t like reading these pages, but it will do them a world of good.