AMERICAN TITANIC: Donald J. Trump in Command

Sailing through the Troubled Waters of Foreign Policy Dilemmas, Domestic Political Polarization and Cultural Clashes

The Iran Nuclear Agreement: A REALLY, REALLY BIG DEAL!

A big gamble too. Much at stake, especially for the Middle East. And a fait accompli it seems. The U.N. Security council just approved it, not surprising as their representatives, headed up by our own Secretary of State John Kerry, made the deal with Iran in Geneva.   Of course, congress will vote on it and might reject the deal, but if so, Obama will veto that and then congress will need a 2/3s majority vote to over ride the veto and I know of no one who predicts that likely to happen.

In retrospect, it seems the only way the deal’s detractors could have stopped the deal was to stop the negotiations.   If you recall, Republican Senator Tom Cotton tried to do just that last March when he took the unorthodox step of writing “an open letter to Iran’s clerical leaders, signed by 46 other Republican senators, warning that a future Congress or Republican president could revoke or alter an agreement.”   Nice try, but it did not derail the negotiation train.

The above quote comes from an article in the Washington Post Sunday describing Kerry’s defense of the deal.   I think it gives a good presentation of Kerry’s cornerstone position which emphasizes, like the president did, there is no real alternative to stopping Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon in the near future other than a military attack.  There is no question it is a gamble due to questions about verification limits and that Iran figures to be in a stronger position to build a bomb in 10 years when most of the restrictions are lifted.

Also, the deal allows their $350 billion dollar economy to be boosted by over $100 billion in funds that have been frozen internationally. Funds that can be used for nuclear and ballistic missile research in the interim, along with bolstering their terrorist efforts in various parts of the Middle East. As one critic puts it:   “…the most likely effect of his (Obama’s) engagement policy is not the implosion of the Islamic republic, but its perpetuation.”

Our allies in the region, Israel and various Arab states, fear this possibility.  And that fear might prompt a nuclear arms race in the region, something our state department is well aware of and trying to head off.

All of those are valid points and Kerry does not address all of them in the aforementioned article. Given the significance of this deal, I will continue to try to sort out the pros and cons in upcoming weeks as it will be a major issue debated upon in the election race.

For the moment, the foremost point on my mind was raised by the president several days ago in response to his critics: “What is your preferred alternative?”   The only one you are likely to hear about is that we should have scrapped negotiations and tightened the sanctions even further.  But that horse has left the barn.

As the security council vote of support indicates, our key partners in maintaining the sanctions want this deal, and can not be counted on to take it back.   They welcome reopening Iran economically, not stronger sanctions.

So, what I want to hear from a critic is some other possible course of action right now other than a military one.   If I find one that makes any sense, I’ll let you know.

No, Donald, not from you.

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China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and on and on.

I think often about China because it is, next to us, the world’s biggest player and our foremost frenemy as well (you know, friend and enemy).  But I never get around to China because there is always some attention grabbing distraction popping up like Putin’s bothersome games in Europe and the increasing Middle East conflagration.

Today illustrates the point, but before going there I at least want to point to Fareed Zakaria’s argument for why we should finally pivot our attention to China, something that the Obama administration has tried to do but never quite does because of problems elsewhere. I made a bit of a plug for Fareed’s Sunday morning show in my previous post.   His  take on the China pivot can be found here.

I can’t think much about pivoting right now because we, along with Sunni powers Saudi Arabia and Egypt have warships in the Arabian Sea placed to block an armed convoy from Iran heading towards the collapsed state of Yemen, the convoy suspected (like, you know damn well) of carrying arms to the Shia rebels in Yemen, who still seem to have the upper hand in that civil war despite an intensive bombing campaign by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations.

A confrontation may be brewing between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two nations who have been content to do battle in proxy states like Syria and now Yemen, but this matter in the Arabian Sea puts them face to face for a change, a disturbing situation.

We are dragged in because at this time the President must think he needs to show Sunni nations that just because he’s working on a nuclear arms agreement with Iran (with negotiations beginning again this very day), that they should know we are friends with them not Iran.  He is holding a gathering of their leaders, or their representatives, in May to stress this point and assure these Sunni nations that we have their backs, so as to discourage them from starting their own nuclear arms programs.

This is a very tricky dance and of course Vladimir P. is happy to stir up the pot (don’t you love mixed metaphors) by having representatives at the nuclear negotiations who seem of help while also just signing a deal selling sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, arguing that he has confidence in Iran’s willingness to make a deal, meanwhile pulling in about a billion bucks for a faltering Russian economy and providing Iran with greater air cover if this house of cards nuclear deal collapses.  Vladimir, what a card.

Hard to concentrate on China with all of this going on, not to mention the sad story of Libyans fleeing what has become their hell hole of a nation, with about 1000 recently dying at sea trying to reach Italy.

At least we have our Presidential race to amuse us, what with Queen Hillary impersonating Where’s Waldo in her bus trip to Iowa, she the fox and news people trying to catch a glimpse, the hounds. And now in New Hampshire, where she is being warmly greeted by questions tied to a new book titled:  Clinton Cash :  The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary.   And of course, this reminds people that she deleted all those “personal” emails, making it tough to put these attacks to rest.  On her plus side, she’s had years of practice fending off attacks and my money would be on her if she winds up on Survivor some day.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, there are around 20 candidates all primarily basing their campaigns at the moment on attacking the queen, which is all fun and games for them, but the real fun for most of us will come when they start slicing into each other.   After all there will be only one seat left in this roller derby version of musical chairs, and as we go along flying elbows will become the order of the day.

One of these days i will write about China.

A Plug for Fareed Zakaria GPS (Global Public Square)

Soon today Hillary Clinton is supposed to announce her candidacy for president.  Whoopty Doo!   Who besides a relative handful of political news junkies cares?  Like there has been a shred of doubt in recent months.   The p-junkies are excited because they love to dissect the candidates, like football draft analysts, coming up with ticklers like Jeb Bush, the supposed leader in the Republican half of the race, prompts no enthusiasm in focus groups in New Hampshire….or Rand Paul is too thin skinned to do well under the stress of campaigning or the surprising amount of money (31 million) Ted Cruz has scraped together already.

My long shot Republican candidate is Ohio governor John Kasich, but he hasn’t even declared, so no use wasting any thought on him right now, either.  I just want to establish early credit for making the pick if by some miracle he jumps up in the Republican primaries.

That’s enough for now on the presidential race.   Barring something startling, I doubt I will comment upon the race again for months.

That was a roundabout way to making a plug for Fareed Zakaria’s show called Global Public Square on CNN on Sunday’s at 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time.  It is my favorite political news show because it puts events in perspective, which I generally find lacking in most political chat shows.  And it takes on worldly important topics instead of dwelling on our American media preoccupations with campaign analysis, shootings (often racially related), graphic disasters or the abuse of some group’s “individual rights”.  I record the show and often watch it in segments during the week.

This morning Fareed kicked off with his perspective on the Iran Nuclear deal.   Similar to the presidential election, I don’t want to spend much time analyzing that issue until things sort themselves out more in the next couple of months.  But Fareed puts the deal in perspective, something which may help as pros and cons of the “deal” are aired in weeks to come (what will be the deal, if there is one, is unknowable at this point).

You should be able to find the video segment here.  And a written version is available here.

When it Comes to Tom Cotton Kathleen Parker Says it All

In case you don’t know, Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist who describes herself as “mostly to the right of center”, but I think of her as mostly right on the mark in her columns.   I find this is especially true in yesterday’s piece:  Tom Cotton’s grandstand play.

…..which of course is about the letter the freshman senator spear headed and 46 fellow Republican senators signed alerting Iranian leaders that any deal on Iran’s nuclear program was susceptible to be changed once Obama leaves the White House, as if these guys, several of whom have doctorates from American universities, needed to be informed of the basics of American government.

Let me cut to the chase with this snippet from Parker’s piece:

“….  ol’ Tom Cotton, who is actually the youngest senator, is wasting no time establishing himself as a party leader. Rounding up other Republican signatories, Cotton launched a bunker-buster smack in the middle of the negotiations. But to what avail?

Iran quickly dismissed the letter as “propaganda.” Democrats were forced into a partisan corner. Even the seven heroic Republicans who declined to sign the letter have been undermined as they fix their sights on a longer-term strategy to derail a bad deal.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who did not sign the letter, has sponsored what he hoped would be a veto-proof bill requiring congressional approval of any deal with Iran. But for it to be veto-proof, he needs Democrats.

Nice going, guys”.

To me that is the fundamental point of the column, but she makes other good ones as well, so give the whole column a glance.  It’s not long and she writes so well.

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The Iran Nuclear Agreement: A Tentative Thankfullness

Goin' to Iran

Goin’ to Iran (Photo credit: Örlygur Hnefill)

With Thanksgiving tomorrow, I have been wracking my fraying brain for something to really be thankful for in regards to our national politics.  For example, there still seems a pulse in congressional negotiations over immigration reform, but not enough throbbing to feel a heartfelt thanks.   Not yet.

Half of me is thankful for the procedural rules change forced by the Democrat majority in the Senate which allows presidential appointments (except for Supreme Court judges) to be decided by 51 votes, not 60, releasing the stranglehold of the filibuster that the Republicans have placed on so many of President Obama’s appointments while setting new records in obstruction.

However, the other half is unnerved by the likelihood that this will give the winning side in whatever Senates are to come the power to pack the lower courts with judges even more ideologically extreme than they are now.  Also, after making this change, a future Senate could decide that the Supreme Court nominees would also be selected by a simple majority, allowing extremists on the right and left to be given life long terms…  Whoa, Nellie!   And we think we are polarized now?

Let’s save that to think about until after turkey day.

On the brighter side, I am thankful that we are drawing down our troops to low levels in Afghanistan, and perhaps no levels at all if the enigmatic  potentate, titled-president there, Hamid Karsai, continues to make demands we cannot accept, such as the prerogative to try our troops in Afghan courts (a demand made by Iraq that prompted the withdrawal of all of our troops from there).  But even if we leave a few thousand in country, ostensibly to train Afghanies and make strikes on nests of Al Kaida, who knows what support the central government can maintain once we are largely gone?

Might Al Kaida reestablish itself there?  Yesterday I heard that Karsai might be hoping that if we leave he can make a deal with the Taliban.  Though seemingly unlikely, who knows?   Let’s leave that riddle for after Thanksgiving, too.

That wasn’t so much brighter after all.  Was it.  I do continue to be thankful that progress is being made in the destruction of the killer chemicals in Syria, but always the “but-er”, even if that succeeds, which would be great, the civil war remains hot and  deadly with over 100,000 already dead and Assad’s strongest opposition seeming to stem from radical Muslim groups, who we wouldn’t want to prevail.

Meanwhile, in coming to terms with Assad, we have reduced pressure on changing the government because of its role in maintaining the chemical destruction program.   We’d like Assad gone, but not quite yet.

So, when it comes to giving thanks in terms of national issues, the best I can come up with is the agreement last week regarding Iran’s nuclear program.  Not that I’m all that thankful yet, given its limitations and the slippery nature of Iran’s government/religious nexus, and the friction level raised with our allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.  However, six months of further negotiations while essentially holding Iran’s nuclear program in momentary check seems good to me.  At least it seems better than any other alternatives I’ve heard mentioned. (*1)

And, though akin to a T-Day  dinner featuring processed turkey, I’m thankful for that.

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(*1).  By the way, while the deal is open to criticism from various angles, anyone who suggests there is an analogy between this deal and the one made with Hitler at Munich in 1938, is cherry picking facts to suit their purposes and leaving out key differences.   In short, they are being dishonest as Eugene Robinson suggests in this piece in the Washington Post.

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