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Iran, Nukes, and the Parameters of a Robust Debate

There’s still no agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear weapons program, just “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” for an agreement, and the Iranians don’t agree that they’ve even agreed to that, but the president assures us this is progress toward peace in our time.
The “JCPOA,” which will soon be one of those must-know acronyms, does seem to have progressed from the administration’s opening bargaining positions but not toward anything that’s likely to result in peace. Even the sympathetic editorialists of The Washington Post concedes that “Obama’s Iran deal falls far short of his own goals,” noting that the heavily fortified Fordow plant and the rest of Iran’s nuclear centers will remain open, not one of the country’s 19,000 centuries will stop spinning, and that “when the accord lapses the Islamic republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state.” This was enough for the Iranian negotiator Javad Zarif to boast of the concessions he had forced, assuring his countrymen that “We will continue enriching, we will continue research and development,” but he later tweeted that the president was lying about whether the sanctions against Iran would end with reliable verification of their compliance to even such a generous agreement or immediately upon it’s signing. Much more negotiation seems likely, although the president seems eager to have it wrapped up before the Republicans in Congress can scuttle the deal with a sanctions bill and public pressure can force enough Democrats aboard to override a promised veto, but thus far the Iranians don’t seem very agreeable to anything that would actually end their nuclear weapons program.
The president said in a Thursday news conference that he will “welcome a robust debate in the weeks and months to come,” but he also set some parameters for that debate. He argued that the only three options are whatever capitulating deal the negotiations might yield, war, or return to the sanctions. He claimed that his most prominent foreign critics were itching for a war, saying that “It’s no secret that the Israeli Prime Minister and I disagree about whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue,” and dismissed the sanctions idea as a plan to “hope for the best.” So the “robust debate” will be between bloodthirsty Jews and starry-eyed dreamers and our very pragmatic president.
If the eventual agreement results in an Iranian nuclear bomb, which seems entirely possible if not likely, we’ll be siding with the bloodthirsty Jews and the starry-eyed dreamers. Even the president admitted in his news conference that it was economic sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiation table, and anyone else might notice that since the sanctions were eased the Iranians’ negotiating positions have hardened, and a bit more of those sanctions might force the kind of widespread revolt among the Iranian people that the president declined to back in ’09, and some further diplomatic and economic isolation and a military coalition promising a viable threat might further encourage some necessary regime change, and as risky as that might be it that doesn’t seem so hopeful as that “JCPOA.” We don’t desire war, nor do we believe that anyone in Israel or among our other nervous Middle East allies would prefer to it to a tenable peace, but if the Iranians are as insistent on war as they’ve acted during these negotiations it might as well come before they get a nuclear weapon rather than after.
The negotiations are expected to continue through June, and there might not be any agreement at all, unless the administration gives in to all of Iran’s demands, which likely include at least one of the Kardashian sisters before it’s all over, and even then the agreement could easily be nullified by a new president. We note the Iranians are sticking to their position that “the destruction of Israel is non-negotiatiable,” which probably won’t be a deal-breaker for the administration, and that they expect the Saudi Arabian government’s U.S.-backed war against Iranian-backed terrorist rebels in Yemen “will, God willingly, have no result other than Saddam’s fate for the aggressors and the U.S. that is the direct sponsor of this crime,” but surely some accommodation can be reached on that as well. Still, there seems to be a lot of talking left even within the Parameters for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and even within the far more constrained parameters of that robust debate the president says he’ll welcome.

— Bud Norman

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Gaining From a Bad Deal

Good policy is good politics, according to an old saying, and like most old sayings it is often but not always true. The congressional Republican’s cowardly capitulation to a “clean” debt ceiling deal on Wednesday might prove one of the frequent exceptions to the rule.
No real Republican would argue that the deal isn’t disastrously bad policy. The legislation basically hands a blank check to the most profligate president in history, guaranteeing the nation’s debt will rise to a staggering $17.2 trillion just after November’s mid-term elections, and achieves nothing in the way of much needed spending cuts or any other curbs on a government rapidly and clumsily expanding into every niche of American life. Although the party leadership and the minority of Republican congressman who followed them argue will that the deal guarantees the full faith and credit of the federal government, an increasingly restive conservative base will not be convinced that adding yet another $512 billion dollars of debt over the next few months is the most fiscally responsible course of action.
Nor can the Republicans point to any immediate political advantages gained from the deal. Indeed, the more prominent media are gleefully quoting the Democrats’ gloating that the deal represents a total defeat for the Republicans in general and their more rock-ribbed Tea Party constituents in particular. House Speaker John Boehner, whose hold on the house speakership grows more tenuous with each passing offense to the party’s most essential voters, couldn’t even win the inclusion of an amendment to rescind some previous unpopular budget cuts to veterans’ benefits that the Democrats probably could have been shamed into accepting. As the most outspoken opponent of the deal and the only Republican to attempt a filibuster Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was rewarded for his noble efforts by some of the most sneeringly disdainful press coverage of his already controversial career, and if the party leadership and its timid followers expected to be lauded by the pundits for their non-partisan willingness to compromise they have been sorely disappointed.
On the other hand, at least the Republicans aren’t being pilloried for their strident partisanship and stubborn refusal to compromise. That’s what happened every other time the Republicans tried to use the debt ceiling as leverage for sensible reforms and essential spending restraint, with the damage done to the party’s popularity evident in all the subsequent opinion polls, and we will generously assume that the Republican leadership was merely trying to avoid yet another hit. Those talk radio hosts shrieking “damn the opinion polls, full steam ahead” are quite right to argue the public should be grateful for the Republicans’ efforts, that government shutdowns are a minor inconvenience at worst and a welcome break from bureaucratic meddling at best, that a federal default would not occur in any case, and that the eventual consequences of all that debt far outweigh any damage done by a protracted political squabble, but they are wrong to assume that an electoral majority of the country can be made to understand any of it.
A crucial percentage of voters pay too little attention to politics to hear these arguments, and even if the arguments were to somehow sneak into the news accounts that occasionally interrupt the average uninformed American’s day he would likely be unmoved. Government shutdowns always sound scary when the news anchors say it, the laws and constitutional requirements precluding default are as a confounding as the economic concepts involved, and the public has become inured to warnings about it since the Democrats started squawking about it back in the Reagan days. When the debt it called due and the inevitable economic calamity occurs it will be big news, but at the moment the weather is a far more pressing matter for the average American.
Unless the bottom falls out before November, the Republicans’ cowardly capitulation could provide them with a slight advantage in the mid-term elections. By that time the deal will be largely forgotten even by the talk radio hosts, who are already shrieking less loudly than after other Republican leadership outrages, and the majority of Republican congressman who opposed the deal will be able to remind their conservative voters that they at least voted “no.” The Democrats won’t have another unpopular showdown to blame on the Republicans, and they’ll still be remembered as the party that promised you could keep your health care plan if you liked it and then cancelled the policy and forced you to pay more money for one covering things you don’t want or need. To the extent that America’s dire fiscal situation is an election issue, even the most cowardly capitulators in the party can claim that they were forced to bankrupt the country by the Democrats.

— Bud Norman

What They’re Thinking, If Anything

All the talk on conservative talk radio lately has been about immigration reform, and mostly it concerns an expected capitulation on some sort of euphemized amnesty by the Republican congressional leadership. The most discussed issue, of course, is about what in the world the Republican congressional leadership is thinking.
Although the expected capitulation is not yet a done deal, and some reliable sources are reporting that cooler heads in the Republican caucus might yet prevail, there is ample reason for concern. Enough Senate Republicans have already gone wobbly to help pass a bill so awful that it has been endorsed by President Barack Obama, several prominent House Republicans have been making worrisome pronouncements in recent months, and last week the party’s leaders issued a statement of principles on the immigration issue that strikes the more rock-ribbed rank-and-file of the GOP as insufficiently principled. Given the leadership’s spotty track record of acting according to its constituents’ will, conservatives can be forgiven for already cussing the as-yet-unannounced deal.
Also understandable is the confusion about what could possibly cause the leadership to act so stupidly. Perhaps they have a sincere belief that a path to citizenship for the industrious undocumented workers who have been forced to live in the shadows as they have contributed so much to our country is the best and fairest economic policy for America, but sincere beliefs are a far-fetched explanation for any politician’s actions, and especially so if it is a self-proclaimed Republican sincerely believing that flooding an already depressed labor market with millions more unskilled laborers flouting the law is either fair or good for the economy. Politics is usually a plausible reason for a politician’s actions, but in this case the leadership’s reported stand would provide the opposition with millions of additional voters while further enraging its own base of support. With neither of these usual explanations at hand, many conservatives have sought to explain the Republican leadership’s inexplicable behavior with strange theories that it’s all part of a plan to limit the party’s widely expected gains in the upcoming mid-term elections and thereby set up a more favorable political climate in the 2016 presidential race or some similarly convoluted scheme.
A more likely explanation is that the leadership is more concerned with the potential donations of the party’s big business wing that is eager for a wage-depressing flood of cheap new labor, but even if that is the case they’re still making the wrong political calculations. After running a series of exceedingly immigrant-friendly presidential candidates who lost the Latino vote by landslide margins it should be clear that the party won’t benefit from further immigration any time soon, and the costs of the full-scale conservative revolt that a capitulation will provoke cannot be paid by any amount of corporate donations. The expense of fending off primary challenges against every single Republican who goes along with this nonsense will eat up most of the money, and when disgruntled conservatives stay home in the general elections the price will be higher yet.
Should the Republicans stand fast against any sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants it would likely bolster their chances in the mid-terms and several elections beyond. Much of the opposition to unfettered immigration comes from such traditional Democratic voting blocs as African-Americans, low-wage workers, and union members, and although it’s unlikely any of them could be persuaded to vote for a Republican the issue could keep many of them at home and safely away from the polls. Even the big business wing of the party might be persuaded to continue contributing the big bucks against a party that wants to flood the market with cheap unskilled labor but simultaneously make it more expensive with a rise in the minimum wage, and the Republicans could truly make the compelling claim that they are a party of competitive free market capitalism and not crony corporatism.

— Bud Norman

National Insecurity

President Barack Obama delivered a lengthy address on national security issues Thursday, and we are left feeling rather insecure.
There were a few lines in the speech calculated to curry favor with conservatives, including a nostalgic paean to the “long twilight struggle of the Cold War” that actually sounded pleased with the outcome, a much overdue acknowledgement that the Fort Hood shootings were an act of terrorism rather than “workplace violence,” and a humble admission that there are some crazy people out there who are eager to kill Americans even if Barack Hussein Obama is the president, but otherwise it was clearly intended to mollify the left. Much of the speech was devoted to same sneering criticism of the George W. Bush administration that used to wow the crowds back in the ’08 election, as well as some dishonest preening about how he has differed from his predecessor, such as laughable claim that he has “expanded our consultations with Congress,” and the headline-making announcements that he once again hopes to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, will be cutting back on his aggressive use of targeted strikes by armed drones, and has declared something akin to victory in the war against Islamist terrorism and will be winding it all down because “That’s what our democracy demands.”
Less clear is why the president feels the left needs mollification, given that it has thus far been willing to go along with anything he does. There has been some grumbling about the more robust aspects of Obama’s foreign policy at the furthest fringes of the left, such as the founder of the Code Pink group of peaceniks who interrupted the speech with some characteristically rude heckling, prompting the president to assure her that she would be quite satisfied with what he had to say once the speech proceeded, but they are an infinitesimal constituency and cannot be mollified by anything short of complete capitulation to America’s enemies. Perhaps the president simply wanted to talk about something other than scandals swirling around his administration, although he did end up mentioning the Justice Department’s scandalous probe of several organizations because of its putative ties to national security leaks and there was a desperate attempt to blame the Benghazi fiasco on budget problems.
Most lefties who manage to slog through the speech will be pleased with it, we suspect, but anyone a notch or two to the right of Code Pink will find a great deal to argue with. Obama once again asserted that the Guantanamo Bay detention center is provokes such outrage among Muslim moderates that it is causing more terrorism than it prevents, but he did not explain why incinerating a terrorist with a missile from a drone is less offensive to Islamist sensibilities nor did he answer any of the questions about what to do with the detainees that have kept the center open since he signed an executive order to close it way back in ’09. Obama’s schizophrenic indictment and defense of his own drone policy wasn’t convincing, either as an indictment or a defense, and because of his high-minded aversion to detaining or interrogating terror suspect it raised the question of what, if anything, he will be doing instead. He called for an increase in foreign aid, perhaps to further enrich the treasuries of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and similar emerging theocracies, but he was not specific.
Most worrisome was the part about how “This war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.” The terrorists who are intent on striking at America see their efforts as just the latest skirmish in a war against the infidels that has raged since Muhammad launched his first jihad more than 1,400 years ago, but they are notoriously indifferent to history’s advice and at this point it seems unlikely they will end it just because that is what our democracy demands. There is always a way for one side of war to end it unilaterally, an old technique called surrender, and we hope that is not what the president has it mind.

— Bud Norman