From The Wall Street Journal:
Why did Vladimir Putin thumb his nose at the U.S. in the Snowden affair? Because he could.
By Josef Joffe
‘We are extremely disappointed,” the White House press secretary said after Moscow granted asylum to fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden. A nice understatement. Washington is now looking at the greatest counterintelligence failure since the Rosenbergs betrayed nuclear know-how to Stalin some 60 years ago. Now the Russians have Mr. Snowden’s hard disks to unearth more U.S. secrets than could be stolen by a battalion of spies.
President Vladimir Putin has it in his hands to endlessly embarrass the U.S. by releasing choice bits and pieces from the Snowden trove, or to threaten to do so to keep Washington on its best behavior. After this slap, “extremely disappointed” is the diplomatic equivalent of pouting—unbecoming to a great power.
Why did Mr. Putin decide to thumb his nose at the U.S. after playing cat-and-mouse for six weeks? Easy—because he could. He has taken the measure of Barack Obama, concluding that there isn’t much there there, to paraphrase the president on the State Department’s emails about Benghazi.
More at the link. Mr Joffe continues to say that President Putin has been looking, somewhat incredulously, at Mr Obama’s performance as our President and as a global leader, and determined that there’s just not a whole lot of leadership there.
Also from the Journal:
U.S., European Officials Say Tehran Could Start Making Weapons-Grade Plutonium by Next Summer
By Jay Solomon
WASHINGTON—Iran could begin producing weapons-grade plutonium by next summer, U.S. and European officials believe, using a different nuclear technology that would be easier for foreign countries to attack.
Major nuclear sites in Iran. Click to enlarge.
The second path to potentially producing a nuclear weapon could complicate international efforts to negotiate with Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, who was sworn in Sunday in Tehran. It also heightens the possibility of an Israeli strike, said U.S. and European officials.
Until now, U.S. and Western governments had been focused primarily on Iran’s vast program to enrich uranium, one path to creating the fissile materials needed for nuclear weapons. Now, the West is increasingly concerned Iran also could use the development of a heavy water nuclear reactor to produce plutonium for a bomb. A heavy-water reactor is an easier target to hit than the underground facilities that house Iran’s uranium-enrichment facilities.
More at the link. But in the first cited article, Mr Joffe noted that both Moscow and Tehran have noticed that President Obama has virtually taken the military option off the table concerning Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and now it appears that Iran may be moving toward producing weapons grade material at facilities which are more vulnerable to a military attack. If the United States is unwilling, in the end, to take the only actions which will stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program regardless of Iranian compliance, that leaves only Israel . . . and Israel might not have quite the power to destroy the facilities necessary.
And, let’s be realistic here: Prime Minister Netanyahu would not ask the Obama Administration for any help at all in such a strike, because the Israelis are concerned, are rightly concerned, that the milquetoasts in the Obama Administration would tell the Iranians that the Israelis were coming. Israel would have to keep such a strike completely secret not only from their enemies, but from the nation which is supposed to be its strongest ally as well.
If Iran is moving its weapons grade fissile material program to a more vulnerable facility, it is, as Mr Joffe said concerning Vladimir Putin’s actions, because they can.
In March of 2012, former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA), then campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, said that if President Obama was re-elected, Iran would build nuclear weapons. Well, we re-elected President Obama, and it looks like he is doing everything he can to make Mr Romney’s prediction come true.
Mr Joffe concludes by comparing our 44th President’s learning curve with that of our 39th, and finds it wanting. Considering what a disastrous foreign policy President Jimmy Carter was, that’s a pretty damning statement. By his third year in office, President Carter had, to his own expressed regret, learned that there were real bad guys out there, foreign leaders who didn’t care in the least for human rights or some new tone on the part of our government, foreign leaders who would do exactly as they wanted, regardless of whether such was nice or polite by Western standards. After 4½ years in office, President Obama still hasn’t learned that lesson . . . or just plain doesn’t care.
It is the latter that your Editor finds more likely to be true. There is a strong element in the American left which is ashamed of the United States’ vast power, economically and militarily, and is loath to use it. Oh, they want all of the benefits of American economic power, because they want the fruits of our prosperity, but they are embarrassed by it as well, because it is, well, it’s just so unfairly obtained. The fact that we do radical things like produce energy by burning oil and gas and coal bother them tremendously — though not as much as nuclear power does — and they want regulations which would reduce our wealth if we continue to use fossil fuel derived energy. As for our military power, many of our friends on the left see it is an imperialist force, something just wrong to use, and many are embarrassed by our power and think that we really ought to be weaker than we are.
For President Obama, a strong economy is the best thing he can have, but his economic policies have been so bad, and his regulatory edicts so economically counter-productive that he either doesn’t understand that his policies will make us poorer, or he wants to make us less wealthy. Real concerns about Iran developing nuclear weapons appear to pale in comparison to the urge by so many in the American left to make the world more equal by making the United States less exceptional.
It requires a belief in American exceptionalism — a belief which your Editor holds — to state that the United States has a right to say what other countries may or may not do. It requires a belief in American exceptionalsm for the United States to say that no, Iran will not be allowed to have atomic weapons. President Obama is willing, sort of, to make that statement, but he has proved himself to be quite unwilling to use our most exceptional power to back up that statement; when he, in effect, took military action off the table when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, he was saying, inter alia, that it is better for Iran to gain nuclear weapons than it is for us to use force to prevent that.