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“Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard” Meet

As tempting as it is to make light of that tawdry president-and-the-porn-star affair, the more important story on Thursday was President Donald Trump accepting an invitation for a face-to-face sit-down with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. The talks will concern such such weighty matters at North Korea’s lately impressive nuclear weapons program and the 68-year-old war the has never officially ceased on the Korean peninsula, and involve two of the flightiest figures on the world stage.
In the nerve-wracking lead-up to the negotiations Trump had taken to calling Kim “Little Rocket Man” and “tweeting” taunts about his height and weight, with a better command of the English language and a more subtle wit Kim had retorted by calling Trump a dotard, both had exchanged threats to utterly annihilate the other’s country, and the introductions should be awkward. The opening position that Trump has vowed not budge from is that North Korea never forswear its nuclear ambitions, Kim is holding just as fast to his country’s bedrock position that it will never do so, so the rest of it will also probably prove complicated.
Still, it’s a hopeful development, if you’re the hopeful sort. The past 68 years of carefully calibrated diplomacy by Republican and Democratic administrations alike haven’t solved the increasingly worse problem on the Korean peninsula, so a first-ever face-to-face meeting between the North Korean and American heads of state might be worth a try. “To jaw-jaw is always better than war-war,” as the great Winston Churchill famously said, and an international negotiation attended by such serious fellows as Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson might prove more useful than the recent “twitter” wars of schoolyard taunts. Trump’s opening position is quite sound, his administration has successfully imposed international economic sanctions that are having an apparent effect on North Korean’s thinking, and the past 68 years of Republican and Democratic administrations have bequeathed him some hefty military leverage as well.
Still, if you’re not the hopeful types it raises the unsettling question of what could go wrong. Kim is pretty much the madman that Trump portrays, but he’s got rational if self-interested reasons for his own unwavering position, and his conventional weaponry’s constant proximity to South Korea’s capital and most populous and friendship with formidable neighbor China also give him some significant leverage. He’s also got a point, alas, about Trump being something of a dotard.
Trump  comes into the negotiations from a somewhat weaker political position, as Kim is an absolute dictator who can have have any critics quieted, while Trump, to his apparent disappointment, is not. Trump has to deal with brouhahas about porn stars and steel tariffs and his son-in-law and “dreamers” and that “Russia thing” and his desultory opinion polls and whatever he last “tweeted” about, so for now he needs a big win in the media more than does Kim. If a big win turns out to be a 69th straight year without a nuclear conflagration we’ll take it, and Trump might as well, but there’s no telling with this guy. We’re reassured by some of the remaining non-son-law and very serious fellows remaining in Trump’s administration, but the face-to-face is tentatively scheduled for early May and given the recent turnover there’s no telling how many of them will still be around.
In any case, we’ll hope for the best, even though we’re not really the hopeful type.

— Bud Norman

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The Exponential Complexities of the Middle East

A Russian fighter jet was shot down Tuesday over Syrian air space by an American-armed Turkmen militia group on orders from the Turkish government, further complicating what was already the most confusing conflict in the history of war. The situation will require the most wily and nimble and resolute response by America’s leadership, so we expect that things are about to become even more complicated.
The Turkmen are ethnic Turks living in Syria but loyal to Turkey, which is at odds with the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, whose efforts to remain in power through a long and bloody and confusingly multi-sided civil war have been much aided by the Russians, which is presumably why the Turkmen shot down the Russian fighter jet even though it had reportedly left Turkish air space after a brief and apparently uneventful incursion. Turkey is for some reason or another a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, despite Prime Minister Recep Erdogan leading the country toward a more radically Islamic state, and Erdogan retains a “special friendship” with the Obama administration, probably because of Turkey’s increased radicalization, and the administration is also at odds with Assad, who has crossed “red lines” that changed the president’s calculus and now “has to go” to and is constantly subjected to similarly tough talk from the administration, but unlike the good old days of the Cold War it is no longer so simple as that. Another one of the many sides in the Syrian civil war is the Islamic State, which the administration insists is neither Islamic nor a state even though it has some pretty specific Koranic verses to explain what it’s doing in the Indiana-sized territory it now controls in former parts of Syria and Iraq, and at the moment they’re a bigger pain in the global posterior than even the Assad regime. Pretty much everyone at least claims to be opposed to the Islamic State, including Assad, whose sincerity on this matter is not to be doubted, and Russia, whose warplanes have been effectively targeting the Islamic State rather than the Turkmen and the other American-backed anti-Assad forces ever since the terror group shot down one of its jetliners, and the Assad regime’s sponsors in Iran, who as always are complicating matters further yet.
Which doesn’t begin to suggest the geo-political complexities, much less the domestic political implications, which together are exponential. The Syrian civil war has sent millions of refugees from all over the region into Europe and North America, with opportunist asylum seekers far from the conflict joining the flood, and the inevitable populist backlashes are brewing on both continents. The Islamic State’s terrorism has struck in Turkey and Lebanon as well as the heart of France, and Belgium seems to have been spared so far only by a complete lockdown of its capital city, and the groups threats against several countries including the United States can no longer be dismissed as the bluster of a “jayvee team” of terrorism, and there’s worldwide discontent and increased military action by formerly pacifist countries about that as well. Joining forces with Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies could quickly solve the Islamic State problem, but all those non-Islamic State sides would still be fighting a Syrian civil war and the refugee problem would continue and the rest of the Muslim world’s problems, such as the Yemen civil war that’s largely kept Saudi Arabia from asserting any Sunni power against the Shia Iranians and Alawite Assad in all this mess, or the Palestinians’ “stabbing intifada” against the Israelis, which has largely been overlooked amongst all the other complexities, so it seems unlikely that any country will have the region’s infectious woes solved by its next election.
One can only hope that the utter ineptitude of the current administration leading up to this sorry state of affairs will be well considered in this country’s next election, and that perhaps some correction will be made even before then. All that talk of Assad having to go and red lines being set and moderate forces being trained and air strikes being ordered was always accompanied by assurances of no American boots on the ground and little in the way of action, which emboldened Assad and his allies to use the red-lined tactics that sent the millions of refugees fleeing the region and the thousand of inspired western jihadists flooding into the region to fight for the Islamic State, and a similarly clumsy and irresolute response to Russia’s revanchism in Ukraine seems to have emboldened that country to fly over NATO airspace with impunity. In this case they seem to have made a miscalculation, failing to account for the fact that Turkmen militias armed with American weaponry don’t particularly care what American foreign policy prefers, and that despite its “special relationship” with American neither does Turkey, but once again they didn’t underestimate American resolve. The Iranians, who have been ratcheting up the “death to America” ever since they might or might not have agreed to America’s utter capitulation to its nuclear weapons program, which is eventually going to complicate things to a point that the current mess seems like the good old days, likely figures that it can maintain its puppet Assad regime and leave enough Islamic State to bedevil the infidel west and proceed with its master plan for the battle of Armageddon.
We’ll freely admit that we see no way out of this, but what worries us is that the administration won’t. Instead they insist that our policies have contained the Islamic State, that the refugees should welcomed with certainty that none will import the pathologies of the regions they are fleeing, that Russia’s seemingly expanding influence is a sign of its weakness, that all those “death to America” chants in Iran shouldn’t scuttle the deal we might or might have cut capitulating to their nuclear weapons program, and that climate change is still America’s greatest foreign policy challenge. There are reports that the American jets flying over Islamic State-controlled areas are at last dropping their bombs on the convoys of stolen oil that finance their operation, and that there are a few Americans boots actually on the ground helping to guide the missiles, and the administration did acknowledge Turkey’s right to defend its airspace, and we even read that we’re arming the Kurds, who seem to be among the more reasonable tiles in the vast and vibrant multi-cultural mosaic that is the war-torn Middle East, even though the administration denies it so as not to offend our special friends in increasingly radicalized Turkey, which has its own internal Kurdish problems, which is another one of those complexities, so perhaps there is some wising up going in the administration.
The most immediate concern is that an official if unaccountable NATO member has shot down a Russian fighter jet, and that the world will at long last come to the same ending as “Doctor Strangelove,” but we expect it will prove more complicated than that. We can easily imagine President Barack Obama sounding very much likely President Merkin Muffly as he apologizes to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and although we despite Putin’s nakedly expansionist national ambitions we credit him with the shrewdness to be satisfied with a few carpet bombings of the offending areas and the west’s abject appeasement. This doesn’t seem like something we’ll be going into toe-to-toe nuclear combat with the Russkies over, as Slim Pickens might have said, but one never knows. Our only surety, alas, is that the whole wide world is now one very sticky wicket.

— Bud Norman

Yet Another Deadline

Today is the deadline for reaching a nuclear deal with the Iranians, and by all accounts there won’t be any deal, but of course there will always be another deadline. By this point so many deadlines have passed and so many new ones have been set that it’s hard to see the point of going on, but hope apparently springs eternal at the State Department.
There doesn’t seem to have been much progress made over the past several deadlines, at least from the point of view of anyone who would prefer that the mad mullahs of Iran don’t get their hands on a nuclear weapon. After more than seven years of the Obama administration offering an open hand to the virulently anti-American and anti-semitic and longing-for-the-Armmageddon regime, and more than two years of sitting down at a Viennese negotiating table with them, they’re still insisting that no inspections of their military facilities be allowed and that all of the economic sanctions that forced them to that Viennese negotiating table cease the moment the deal is signed and not when it has been verified that there isn’t any nuclear shenanigans going on that those military facilities. Some “unnamed senior U.S. official” has acknowledged that America doesn’t allow foreign inspections of its military sites, and similarly unnamed U.S. officials have long sounded willing to go along with the sanctions demands, but even our French negotiating partners are balking at that while the Iranians seem eager to learn what further concessions they might extract from an American president who is clearly eager to make any sort of deal.
Our guess is that the Iranians are holding out for a deal that will require America to provide them with a sizable nuclear arsenal, along with the needed inter-continental ballistic missiles that can deliver them to Tel Aviv and Riyadh and Paris and any other locales that offend their religious sensibilities, along with the global positioning system coordinates needed to land them there, and that the final sticking point that requires yet another deadline will be whether New York City and Los Angeles and Wichita are also included in the bargain. New York City and Los Angeles are full of reliably Democratic voters, so that would be the sort of sticking point that would require a couple more deadlines to be set, but we expect that some unnamed senior U.S. official or another will find something in America’s sinful past and current policies that makes it unfair to object to the nuclear annihilation of such as reliably Republican town as Wichita.
The president’s foreign policy legacy is at stake, after all, and almost any deal that’s cooked up can somehow been portrayed by the obeisant press as some sort of triumph, so surely that’s worth another two or three or four or however many deadlines are required to get there.

— Bud Norman

Break a Leg, John

We have tried our best to resist adding insult to Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent injury, despite how invitingly ridiculous it is for a 71-year-old diplomat to break his leg on a bicycle ride and how very silly he looked in that sissified Tour de France outfit he was wearing, but reading about his extravagant return home makes the temptation overwhelming.
It’s the sort of thing the American press is politely incurious about, but the cheekier Fleet Street fellows at Britain’s Daily Mail had the admirable lese majeste  to report that Kerry was helicoptered from the hospital where he received initial treatment to the Geneva airport and then flown to Boston for further care on a massive C-17 military transport plane intended for deploying up to 100 troops to war zones. A full medical team accompanied Kerry on his bike ride, the care he received at the Geneva hospital was by his own account first-rate, that full medical team also flew along with him on the plane ride home, presumably with plenty of room to administer whatever additional medical magic a broken leg might require along the way, one can expect that the attention currently being paid in that Boston hospital will surpass what the typical Obamacare health plan provides, and a broken leg, even such a spindly one as Kerry’s, isn’t really that big of a deal, so we expect he will soon be up and limping about and back at the hard work of letting Iran’s mad mullahs acquire a nuclear weapon and railing about those dastardly Republicans’ niggardly budget cuts. We suppose it’s our patriotic duty and Christian obligation to hope so, and we’ll  try to do our best in that regard as well, but still, everything about it seems gallingly excessive.
Most organizations finding themselves $18 trillion in debt would start looking over their employees’ expense account reports with a meticulously stingy eye, but the federal government is apparently an exception to this rule. We clearly remember how a major national newspaper chain once scrutinized every turnpike toll and other slight line item from our occasional trips to Topeka to cover some stupefyingly boring legislative hearing, even in the cash-flush days before the internet, and how the shrinking profit margins of the modern age eventually subjected even the executive editors and publishers to the same corporate parsimony, so we are amused to think of the apoplexy that would have resulted down in accounting if we’d ever handed over the kind of bill that Kerry will turn in from his bike ride. One can reasonably argue that a Secretary of State, even such a spindly one as Kerry, deserves greater consideration than any ink-stained scribe, or even executive editors and publishers and other white-collar big-wigs, but the difference between a personal C-17 and a coach seat on a crowded commercial flight, complete with the indignities that an average wheelchair-bound executive would surely endure at the security gate, seems shockingly wide. Kerry is a prominent member of the party that is constantly going on about economic inequality and carbon footprints, and claiming to be the champions of the common coach-flying folk, so surely the public has a right to expect something slightly less ostentatious and expensive.
As long as we’re succumbing to the temptation to gripe about that, we might as well further note how ridiculous it is for a 71-year-old diplomat to break his leg on a bicycle ride, and how very silly Kerry looked in that sissified Tour de France outfit he was wearing. The now-famous ride was along a stretch of the Tour de France route, with Kerry in his pretentious gear and pedaling some expensive-looking bicycle, with not only his medical team and security detail and unaccountably large entourage along but also a throng of American and European media eager to seize the photo opportunity to show Kerry as a still robust and macho Secretary of State, and although he was on a flat and straight and short bit of the Alps, peddling along at a 71-year-old’s leisurely pace, the ensuing riot of adoring photographers and attentive medical care and watchful security and unaccountable hangers-on caused him to crash and break one of the legs that the cameras had already embarrassingly captured as spindly and covered with a spandex layer of a sissified Tour de France outfit. Despite our patriotic duty and Christian obligations, we find this high comedy, except for the part about how this spindly and sissified and extravagantly silly guy is in charge of America’s foreign policy.

— Bud Norman

Putting the Corker on the Iran Deal

This deal that the Obama administration has been negotiating with the Iranians regarding their nuclear weapons is looking just awful, but there doesn’t seem to be much that anyone can do about it. The Constitution, which requires that two-thirds of the Senate ratify a treaty, doesn’t seem to offer much hope. The Corker-Menendez Bill, which will allow Congress some say in the matter if it can garner a two-thirds majority to override a veto, seems unlikely to do any better.
Still, we’re grateful to Tennessee’s Republican Sen. Bob Corker and New Jersey’s Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez for introducing the bill. It’s nice to see the legislative branch standing up for some meager portion of what once was its constitutional authority, the Iranians might feel obliged to offer a few concessions if they know that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry aren’t the only Americans they have to deal with, and it provides an opportunity to express the general American public’s skepticism about the “framework” of a deal that’s been announced. The public skepticism is sufficiently widespread that the Corker-Mendendiez Bill passed the Senate’s foreign relations committee by a 19-0 vote and a veto-proof margin seem assured in both chambers of Congress, prompting such headlines as The New York Times’ “Obama Yields, Allowing Congress Say on Iran Nuclear Deal” and Reuters’ “In setback, Obama concedes Congress role on Iran,” and we’re always delighted to see such words as “yields,” “setback,” and “concedes” in any sentence that also includes Obama.
Corker did agree to a couple of face-saving amendments that allowed the Obama administration to claim victory even as it yielded and conceded to the setback, and permitted The Washington Post’s headline writers to describe it as “Congress and White House strike on Iran legislation” and the paper’s pluck reporters to explain it as a “compromise with the White House that allows President Obama to avoid possible legislative disapproval of the pact before it can be completed.” Even the very skeptical writers at Commentary were asking “Did Obama Win By Losing on Corker Deal?,” and some smart analysts were worrying that it will all wind up with enough Democrats being able to stick with the president and still assure their constituents that they tried to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons under the cockamamie deal the president struck, which seems a valid concern the way the president keeps getting away with doing as he wishes regardless of what the Constitution, Congress, or the American public think.
And yet still, we are grateful to the eponymous authors of the Corker-Menendez Bill, and to those veto-proof majorities in both chambers that supported their work. Even the White House and its allies at The Washington Post don’t have the public relations centrifuges to spin away the fact that the bi-partisan consensus of Congress represents America’s wariness of the deal that is being cooked up, and raises the hope that some restraint on executive authority is still possible, and that maybe even America won’t wind up conceding to Iran’s apocalyptic nuclear ambitions, and for now that’s about the best we can hope for.

— Bud Norman

Let’s Make a Deal

The Obama administration’s deal with Iran is not only looking worse and worse with every Iranian pronouncement, it’s looking less and less like a deal at all. On Thursday the Ayatollah Khamenei delivered a speech and some official “tweets” saying that the White House is lying with “devilish intent” about what has been agreed upon, and insisted that no foreigners will ever be allowed in his country’s military sites to verify that it isn’t building a nuclear weapon, which suggests that the negotiations aren’t going so well as the administration has claimed.
Khamenei is the undisputed “Supreme Leader” of Iran, and the Obama administration’s lengthy correspondence with him shows that it also doesn’t dispute the fact, so his words can be taken as the official Iranian position. The official American position is still that the Iranians have graciously consented to international inspections to verify that the oil-rich country is only spinning its centrifuges and enriching its uranium and continuing its intercontinental ballistic missile systems strictly for peaceful energy purposes, and although we hate to think that an American president might be lying, much less with “devilish intent,” the speech and the “tweets” at least suggest a significant degree of misunderstanding between the two sides.
Perhaps the administration will concede to these latest demands, just as it has conceded to almost everything else Iran has demanded, and we don’t expect that even Iran’s insistence that “Israel’s destruction is non-negotiable” will prove much of a sticking point for the administration, but any deal on these terms will be a hard sell even to Democrats who are worried about their future electoral prospects. Some congressmen in the administration’s party are already balking about the relatively favorable terms the administration has described, and we’d like to think it’s also because they’re also genuinely worried about how such a deal might endanger the chances of world peace, and there’s already speculation that the administration is claiming they Iranians have made more concessions than they’re admitting to in order to stave off veto-proof sanctions bill, but we’d hate to be so cynical as to suggest that.
Still, Khamenei’s supreme leadership is so undisputed that he doesn’t have to worry about any pesky congressmen or public opinion, and even though we’re not convinced of his honesty he doesn’t seem to have any reason to lie about his position. We’re quite convinced he’s lying about what will be going on in those military sites he won’t inspectors to visit, as otherwise he wouldn’t have any reason to bar the inspectors, so our best guess is that Iran winds up with nuclear weapons with or without a deal. The official American administration position remains that the only alternative to any deal it might come up with is war, a prospect we do not relish, but we’re more and more inclined to think it might be better done with before Iran gets it nuclear weapon rather than after. Sometimes a lousy deal is the best deal that can be had, and when dealing with the likes of the Iranians and their devilish intentions it’s best to prepare for the worst.

— Bud Norman

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

Lies, Damned Lies, and Polls

We’re not so cynical we would ever doubt a pollster, but we’re always suspicious of the folks who write their headlines. Consider the case of the latest numbers from The Washington Post and ABC News, which are neatly summarized as “Poll: Clear majority supports nuclear deal with Iran.”
One will momentarily assume that the “deal with Iran” the “clear majority supports” is the one currently being negotiated in Switzerland, which is probably what the headline writer intended, but on an another moment’s reflection one will realize that no one yet knows what that deal will look like. The lead paragraph is slightly more helpful, noting that “By a nearly 2 to 1 margin, Americans support the notion of striking a deal with Iran that restrict’s the nation’s nuclear program in exchange for loosening sanctions,” but it still implies that the deal being negotiated in Iran will look like that, and there is reason to doubt it.
In the very next paragraph, even the Post’s reporters acknowledge that the survey “also finds few Americans are hopeful that such an agreement will be effective. Nearly six in 10 say they are not confident that a deal will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons …” Apparently a large portion of the “clear majority” that supports a “nuclear deal with Iran” does so despite a belief that it won’t prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, or oppose the deal that is being concocted but felt obliged to endorse the theoretical deal that they don’t think is likely, but in either case it makes public support for the administration’s dealings less enthusiastic than the headline suggests.
Still, the Washington Post grimly warns that 47 percent of Republicans also supported that hypothetical deal where everything works out fine and that “the split contrasts with Republican lawmakers’ widespread backing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech deriding the potential deal in early March before a joint session of lawmakers.” Those recalcitrant Republicans will be heartened by the next paragraph, though, where the Washington Post is obliged to admired that “Popular sentiment among Republicans is more in line with GOP lawmakers on the issue of whether Congress should be required to authorize any deal with Iran.” Citing a Pew Research Center survey, the reporters note that 62 percent of the public — not just Republicans — believe Congress should have final say on the matter.
As we write this the deal is still be negotiated, and there might not be a deal at all, and of course it remains to be seen if the reliably untrustworthy Iran government will abide by anything that is agreed to, and the Secretary of State is saying it all depends on what Allah is willing, but we share the widespread skepticism that it will work out quite the like deal that the “clear majority” supports. We’ll eagerly await the polling on the deal that actually transpires, and expect that even The Washington Post will have a hard time making it seem supportive of the administration. The poll taken just after Iran announces that it has a bomb will probably even be worse, but maybe by that time there will be a Republican administration to take the blame.

— Bud Norman

Revising the Foreign Policy Theory

As improbable as it might seem in retrospect, the theory underlying the Obama foreign policy when it was unveiled during the 2008 presidential campaign was that because of the candidate’s African heritage, Arabic middle name, Muslim schooling, and Messianic persona, “The day I am inaugurated, not only will the country look at itself differently, the world will look at America differently.” Throw in some silver-tongued and culturally relativist rhetoric, a bit of “daylight” between Israel and America, and other assurances that America had abandoned its past racist and imperialist bellicosity, we were assured, and the past millennia-and-a-half of unpleasant would cease. This fanciful notion had an understandable appeal to a war-weary country, but after seven years it requires a bit of revision.
The promised withdrawal from the hated war in Iraq has ceded control of a third of the country to the barbaric Islamic State, with the rest of the country increasingly reliant on the support of Iran, which has lately been backing a successful revolt against the American-backed government in Yemen, which the administration continues to cite as a model of its anti-terrorism strategy, complicating the administration’s efforts to capitulate to all of Iran’s demands in its negotiations over that country’s nuclear weapons program, which has already prompted Saudi Arabia to join a nuclear arms race in this volatile region. The Syrian civil war continues to rage despite the use of chlorine gas by the Syrian dictatorship, which once again crosses the president’s declared “red line,” which was supposed to have been settled through “re-set” relations with Russians, who continue to occupy large chunks of Ukraine and seem ready to grab more land. Libya continues its descent into chaos since being bombed into anarchy by a coalition “led from behind” by America, Afghanistan anxiously awaits the results of another American withdrawal, and Iran continues its reach into Lebanon and Jordan. There’s by now enough daylight between Israel and America to fill an Alaskan summer, enough to have scuttled any chance of a promised peace agreement with the Palestinians, yet our negotiating partners in Iran continue to chant “Death to America” and the rest of the Muslim doesn’t seem any more friendly.
Such a conspicuous gap between between what was promised and what has occurred requires some explanation, even for the most credulous press, so the reporters at Politico dug deep into their rolodexes and found some ambitious unnamed officials who were willing to give it a try. Someone described as a “Senior State Department official” went so far as to say that “If there’s one lesson this administration has learned, from President Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech through the Arab Spring, it’s that when it comes to this region, nothing happens in a linear way — and precious little is about us, which is a hard reality to accept.” We are heartened to hear that the administration has learned something over the past six years, and can appreciate how hard it must have been to accept that not everything that happens in the Middle East is about us, given their previous deep-seated beliefs that all the pathologies of the Middle East are entirely America’s fault, but we’re not reassured the right lessons have been learned.
The administration still seems intent on whatever bargain the Iranians might agree to, with a recent Iranian defector saying “the U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf,” although all the linear and non-linear ways that might turn out are catastrophic. Its apologists continue to blame the blame the policies of the previous administration, and by extension the previous 200 years of American foreign that sought to protect the country’s interests, even as they insist it is no longer about us. There is retreat on one front, drone strikes on another, and alliances that seem to mean little in terms of useful support on yet another. There is little reason to believe the administration understands that while events are always beyond America’s control they are rarely beyond its influence, that the more strident passages of the Koran and the Hadith have something to do with conflicts that have been ongoing since long before the founding of the American public, or that the relatively tiny population of Jews in the relatively tiny country of Israel aren’t somehow responsible for the whole mess.
One promise kept has been that the world now sees America differently. The world now sees us as an untrustworthy friend and harmless enemy. Perhaps America also sees itself differently, too, but we hope not.

— Bud Norman

A Bad Deal Back in the News

The American public’s memory is short, and until Wednesday it had likely forgotten the name of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
He was briefly a celebrity last year when he was released from Taliban captivity in exchange for five high-ranking terrorists being held at the Guantanamo Bay in a deal brokered by President Barack Obama, complete with a Rose Garden news conference featuring Bergdahl’s teary-eyed parents and assurances from the White House that the freed prisoner had “served his country with honor and distinction.” There was a brief controversy about it, given that the five high-ranking terrorists were certain to return to their murderous ways, the teary-eyed father’s remarks in English and Arabic and Pashto at the news conference revealed he was a Taliban-sympathizing nut, and the soldiers who served with Bergdahl were telling anyone who would listen that he was a deserter and collaborator, and the Government Accountability determined the president’s deal had violated federal law, but it soon passed.
Until Wednesday, when the Army announced that Bergdahl would be court-martialed on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Even Bergdahl’s brief celebrity is enough to interest the media in a trial, so we can expect extended coverage of the evidence brought against him, and one can only hope that it will rekindle some of the public outrage that attended his release. Five high-ranking terrorists were released for him, a trade that looks even worse as the tide of war continues to not recede, Bergdahl’s Taliban-sympathizing nut of a father will likely become an annoying presence on the nation’s newscasts, and the president’s tendency to go beyond the traditional legal restraints on executive power has continued to prove troublesome, so perhaps the outrage will be even greater this time around. Should one of those five released high-ranking terrorists be able to claim credit for notably deadly attack Americans might grow greater yet, although the scant coverage of the terrorism committed by other prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay suggests it will have to be something spectacular.
There’s no getting those terrorists back, and little hope of persuading the current administration to capture and incarcerate any more of them, but the public outrage might do some good. The Bergdahl trade was one of several briefly outraging stories over the past many years that have steadily eroded the president’s support on foreign policy, and the public’s discontent has emboldened members of both in Congress in to resist the president’s effort to negotiate a deal with Iran regarding its nuclear weapons program. So far the administration has declined to offer any details about what they’re offering, asking that the public trust its good intentions and expertise, but it’s hard to trust anyone who would swap five high-ranking terrorists for a deserter to make a deal with the likes of the Iranian government.
Much of the media will be looking for something else to talk about other than nuclear bombs and what might happen if Iran gets some, and the Bergdahl story could prove a distraction, and there will certainly be some stories about the poor young man caught in George W. Bush’s war who reached out to the enemy, but it won’t help with the president’s public relations efforts.

— Bud Norman