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There’s more than one way to trick an American

Concerns about Kushner should remind us that Obama staffers were exploited by Iran, without having had the presidential son-in-law’s complicated financial woes.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump with senior White House adviser Jared Kushner at the start of a meeting in Jerusalem on May 22, 2017. Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump with senior White House adviser Jared Kushner at the start of a meeting in Jerusalem on May 22, 2017. Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Is anyone really surprised that foreign nations think Jared Kushner is an easy mark?

The presidential son-in-law and senior adviser was stripped of his “top secret” security clearance this week amid reports that four foreign nations, including Israel, discussed ways to exploit his weaknesses. Kushner has run afoul of National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster for not following proper procedures for foreign contacts.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump with White House adviser Jared Kushner at the start of a meeting in Jerusalem on May 22, 2017. Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO.

The assumption among Kushner critics has always been that—over and above any ethical concerns about conflicts of interest—the complicated financial dealings of his family business and that of his wife’s family have made it difficult to trust him with the nation’s secrets. Yet it’s not clear whether the problem with Kushner is about the FBI’s difficulty in unraveling his real estate company’s connections or his apparent cluelessness in dealing with U.S. allies and adversaries. White House leakers also told The Washington Post that Kushner was “naïve and being tricked” when speaking to foreign officials, many of whom were quite clear that they preferred talking to the wealthy day-school graduate over more experienced U.S. staffers.

That’s troubling, but it also ought to sound more than a little familiar. If naïveté and being easily tricked are the standards by which we’re judging those who work on foreign policy in the White House, then maybe the FBI should have been just as diligent about removing security clearances in the Obama White House and State Department.

While this is no excuse for Kushner’s dilemma, the most prominent example of Americans being played for suckers by a foreign power is back in the news this week. That’s because of European efforts to convince President Donald Trump to stick with the Iran nuclear deal. America’s allies are desperate to keep a frustrated president from re-imposing sanctions on Tehran and thereby blowing up an accord that they still hope to profit from. Their strategy is to convince Trump that they are serious about correcting the fatal flaws in the agreement with Iran and, as The New York Times reports, want him to go along with a plan to start negotiations on a follow-up document that would supplement the original pact.

In theory, a new agreement would end the sunset clauses that ensures Iran will get a weapon after the deal expires within a decade; institute rigorous inspections of Iranian military bases that are currently exempt from scrutiny; and halt the missile program. That would certainly be a great idea. But it’s more likely that the Europeans are merely prevaricating. They hope to trap Trump and his team in a diplomatic dead end, instead of taking decisive action that would compel the Europeans, as well as China and Russia, to re-institute tough sanctions on Iran or face being shut out of transactions with U.S. businesses.

We don’t know how well Trump will handle this challenge, or if Kushner’s alleged weaknesses will play any part in the outcome. But we do know that the United States—and, by extension, Israel, moderate Arab nations and the rest of the world that has good reason to fear Iran’s growing power and likely acquisition of a nuclear weapon—is in this fix because of a group of Americans every bit as, if not more, gullible as Jared Kushner.

During his second term, Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discarded every one of the West’s demands, one by one, simply because the Iranians kept saying no.

No one had to blackmail Kerry or anyone else in the administration to give in to Iran’s demands that they be allowed, despite U.N. resolutions to the contrary, to enrich uranium. No one had to entice Obama with potential business deals to cause him to break his 2012 campaign promise that Iran would be forced to give up its nuclear program—and then sign a deal that essentially guaranteed that the nation would get a nuclear weapon (with which they could potentially make good on their pledge to obliterate Israel).

This is also relevant because this week, former Obama staffers launched a new foreign-policy group called National Security Action to oppose what they consider to be Trump’s “reckless” actions, such as his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which have, in their opinion, made America less safe.

At the head of this group is none other than Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security advisor, and former Hillary Clinton staffer Jake Sullivan.

Rhodes was a principle architect of the Iran deal. He was also behind the president’s humiliating “red line” retreat in Syria that helped lead to a human-rights catastrophe in that country, as well as a situation in which Iran now has military bases there—further endangering Israel and fueling fears of a new war in the Middle East.

Anyone can make mistakes, but if, as Kushner’s critics point out, experience should be a requirement for those representing the United States, it’s important to note that Trump’s senior adviser was more familiar with foreign policy due to his business career than Rhodes was before he was entrusted with the nation’s fate (his prior jobs were as a campaign flunky, speechwriter and failed novelist).

That’s something to remember when Rhodes and his pals are trotted out to critique Trump’s people as they seek to reassemble the same media “echo chamber” they built to help fool Americans about Iran.

America might be better off if Jared goes back to buying buildings. Still, recent history shows that there’s more than one way to trick an American into giving away the store to genocidal tyrants. It didn’t take a business conflict or inexperience to endanger the world. All it took was inexperience, topped off with hubris.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — The Jewish News Service. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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