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“Obama Has Plenty Of Reasons To Smile”: A Useful Reminder That There Is No Such Thing As The “Twilight” Of A Presidency

Attention has been focused on who becomes our next president, but meanwhile the incumbent is on quite a roll.

Throughout his tour of Alaska, President Obama looked full of his old swagger. He took a photo of Denali — the former Mount McKinley — through a window of Air Force One and shared it via Instagram. He used melting glaciers as a backdrop to talk about climate change, posed with small children and large fish, and became the first sitting president to venture north of the Arctic Circle.

He seemed to smile throughout the trip, and why not? The nuclear agreement that Secretary of State John F. Kerry negotiated with Iran is now safe from congressional meddling. U.S. economic growth for the second quarter was a healthy 3.7 percent. Unemployment has fallen to 5.1 percent, according to figures released Friday. Saudi King Salman — portrayed by Obama’s critics as peeved with the president — dropped by the White House on Friday for a chat, reportedly renting an entire luxury hotel for his entourage. And this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to arrive for what promises to be the most important state visit of the year.

Obama gives the impression of having rediscovered the joy of being president. Maybe he really needed that Martha’s Vineyard vacation. Or maybe he is beginning to see some of his long-term policies finally bearing fruit — and his legacy being cemented.

Watching him now is a useful reminder that there is no such thing as the “twilight” of a presidency. Until the day his successor takes office, Obama will be the leading actor on the biggest and most important stage in the world.

It is useful to recall that George W. Bush practically had one foot out the door when the financial system threatened to collapse in 2008. It was Bush and his advisers who put together a massive $700 billion bank bailout and managed to sell it to Congress. Bush signed the rescue bill into law on Oct. 3 — barely a month before his successor would be chosen.

The banks were saved, but nothing could stop the economy from falling into its worst slump since the Great Depression. I believe historians will conclude that one of Obama’s greatest accomplishments was bringing the economy back to real growth and something close to full employment — more slowly than Americans may have wished, perhaps, but steadily.

The Iran deal, in my view, is another remarkable achievement. Beyond the fact that it definitively keeps Tehran from building a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years, the agreement offers Iran’s leaders a path toward renewed membership in the community of nations. The mullahs may decide to remain defiant and isolated, but at least they now have a choice.

Obama’s White House has often been clumsy at inside-the-Beltway politics, but the handling of the Iran deal has been adroit. The drip-drip-drip of announcements from Democratic senators who favor the agreement has created a sense of momentum and inevitability. Now Obama knows that if Congress passes a measure rejecting the deal, he can veto it without fear of being overridden. The question, in fact, is whether a resolution of disapproval can even make it through the Senate. If Obama convinces 41 senators to filibuster the measure, it dies.

All is not sweetness and light, of course. The Syrian civil war is a humanitarian disaster of enormous and tragic proportions, as evidenced by the heartbreaking refugee crisis in Europe. I don’t believe there is anything the United States could have done to prevent the war, but all nations bear a responsibility to help ease the suffering. The fact that some nations refuse to do their share does not absolve us from doing ours.

Domestically, the good economic numbers ignore the fact that middle-class incomes remain stagnant. Even without healthy wage growth, an economic recovery feels better than a slump — but only in relative terms. One doesn’t hear people breaking into “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

All in all, though, it looks like a good time to be President Obama. The Affordable Care Act, as he had hoped, is by now so well-established that no Republican successor could easily eliminate it. Industries are already making plans to accommodate new restrictions on carbon emissions. Oh, and despite what you hear from all the Republican candidates, the border with Mexico is more secure than ever before.

Obama’s legacy will have a few blemishes. But he has good reason to smile.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2015

September 9, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Economy, Iran Nuclear Agreement | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Defiance Of The Right-Wing Opposition”: Iran Debate; Clinton Steps Up To Oppose The Demagogues

When Sarah Palin joins Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and a motley crew of crazies in Washington this week to rally against the Iran nuclear deal, the speeches are likely to reflect the incoherence of the opposition. None of these right-wing celebrities appears to comprehend its terms, how it was negotiated or – most important – why its failure would probably lead to yet another horrific war.

On that same day, as Cruz, Trump, and Palin blather on about their love of Israel, their hatred for Barack Obama, and their determination to “make America great again,” someone else will step up to support the agreement – someone whose diplomatic efforts laid the groundwork for successful negotiations with Tehran.

That would be Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former Secretary of State and leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Scheduling a major speech on the Iran deal for the same day as the Washington event, Clinton is plainly determined to display her mastery of its details as well as her defiance of the right-wing opposition.

But this speech — which could become one of the best moments in public life — will also prove just how far she has come since the last time she ran for president.

That’s because Iran was the subject of one of the most troubling moments in her 2008 campaign, when she promised to “totally obliterate” that country (and presumably its 70 million-plus population) if the mullahs ever attacked Israel with a nuclear weapon. Having uttered that genocidal threat in response to a provocative question, she reiterated the same bluster a few days later on ABC News’ This Week.

“I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran [if they attack Israel with nuclear weapons]. And I want them to understand that. … I think we have to be very clear about what we would do,” she told host George Stephanopoulos.

At the time, in early May 2008, it wasn’t clear why the Iranians needed to “understand” any such ultimatum, since our own intelligence showed that they neither had nuclear weapons nor were likely to possess such weapons any time soon – and that the Israeli military was (and is) fully capable of nuclear retaliation. Clinton’s harsh rhetoric seemed to be aimed more directly at Obama, her primary opponent, whose aim of negotiating with traditional enemies like Tehran she had denounced as “naïve.”

Those who expected better from her pointed to her Mideast advisors, who advocated an opening to Iran, and to her own previous remarks about the imperative of talking with “bad people” as a sign of strength, not weakness. But at that moment, she seemed to echo John McCain and the “bomb Iran” chorus among the Republicans.

Much has changed since 2008, of course – including the leadership of the Iranian government. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the aggressive Holocaust denier who held the Iranian presidency back then, gave way in 2013 to Hassan Rouhani, a reformer who wants to end his country’s international isolation. Thanks in part to Clinton’s work as Secretary of State, a powerful and unprecedented international alliance enforced real sanctions that finally pushed Iran into serious negotiations. And since those negotiations began, Rouhani’s government has heeded the required limitations on its nuclear activities.

Perhaps Clinton hasn’t changed. After all, she has always believed that diplomacy, aid, and other aspects of American power are just as fundamental to our security as military force. But she has found a balance and a voice that are more vital than ever in a contest against irresponsible politicians, whose demagogy points us again toward war.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, September 8, 2015

September 9, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Effects Could Be Lasting”: The Collateral Damage From The Iran Nuclear Deal

Often in war, attacks on intended targets can result in collateral damage. The Washington-Jerusalem clash over the Iran nuclear agreement is a case in point. The fallout is producing casualties among both supporters and opponents of the deal that can only gladden the hearts of mullahs in Tehran.

Congressional votes on the nuclear accord are still days away, but now is the time to focus on the damage that’s being done. Left unchecked, the effects could be lasting.

Witness evidence compiled by the New York Times:

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who opposes the deal, was lampooned on the Daily Kos Web site as a traitorous rodent.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), who also opposed the nuclear deal, said she has “been accused of being treacherous, treasonous, even disloyal to the United States.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who announced his support for the deal, was called, on his Facebook page, “a kapo: a Jew who collaborated with Nazis in the World War II death camps. One writer said Nadler had ‘blood on his hands.’ Another said he had ‘facilitated Obama’s holocaust,’ ” the Times’s Jonathan Weisman and Alexander Burns reported.

And it’s not just a matter of an apparent divide among American Jews or the gulf between major Jewish organizations opposing the Iran deal and the deal’s Jewish supporters. The collateral damage falls across religious and racial lines. As a deal supporter, I know.

In response to a recent column in which I cited senior House Democrat and Congressional Black Caucus member James E. Clyburn’s (S.C.) criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu taking an end-run around the White House to flay the nuclear deal before a Republican-led Congress, I received this e-mail from a reader using the pseudonym “visitingthisplace”: “Black Jewish relations have always been a two way street. The Jews gave money to black causes, marched and died for civil rights, and in return, the black [sic] looted and burned the Jewish businesses to the ground. . . . In spite of your education and your opportunities, you are still just another anti-Semitic street nigger.”

But it’s more than a case of ugly words and insults.

This public battle over the Iran deal is putting a strain on relationships not just among Israel’s supporters in the United States but also between the two governments.

And the discord comes at a time when what’s needed most is consensus, as President Obama said last week, on how to “enhance Israeli security in a very troubled neighborhood.”

Admittedly, it’s hard to make an effective pitch for an end to the acrimony, since, as the late comedian Flip Wilson used to say, “Folks are so touchy these days.” But reconciliation is essential. When the dust settles, there will be a nuclear accord.

That outcome was nailed down this week when the president secured enough votes in the Senate to sustain a veto of a Republican attempt to derail the agreement.

The question that needs pondering, especially in Israel, is “What’s next?” Netanyahu evidently missed Ralph Waldo Emerson’s admonition, “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.”

The prime minister took the undiplomatic step of going over the head of a sitting president to a Republican Congress with the intention of delivering a death blow to that president’s internationally negotiated nuclear accord — and missed.

Political offense of that scale is particularly open to penalty. But Obama is bigger than that.

The “what next” question has urgency. Blocking Iran’s path to nuclear weapons for at least 10 years will not halt its aggressive intentions in the Middle East. Iran will still support proxies to destabilize opposing regimes in the region. It will continue to pose a threat to Israel. “Death to America” remains the slogan of choice at Iranian rallies.

In recognition of that grim reality, this week in Philadelphia, Secretary of State John F. Kerry outlined steps the United States will take to bolster the security of Israel and the United States’ Gulf state allies: $3 billion for Israel’s missile defense programs; enhanced funding for next-generation missile defense systems; a $1.89 billion munitions supply package; tunnel detection and mapping technologies; and giving Israel first dibs on the U.S.-made next generation F-35 fighter aircraft coming off the line next year.

Kerry said there also would be increased arms shipments and new security deals with Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

But there are breaches to be repaired.

Israel can take a step toward that end by unhitching its fate to a Republican Party blinded by anti-Obama mania. Israel needs to be a bipartisan issue in Washington.

Another positive step Israel can take? Foster a rapprochement between opposing U.S. pro-Israel camps.

The collateral damage resulting from Israel’s kerfuffle with the Obama administration may have been unintended, but it was not incidental. Never is in a war of words.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2015

 

September 8, 2015 Posted by | Iran Nuclear Agreement, Israel, United States of America | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Bibi’s Bad Gamble”: Like A Compulsive Gambler In One Of Sheldon Adelson’s Casinos, He Can’t Stop

We’re still in some suspense about the exact margin, and more importantly, whether Barack Obama will or will not have to use his veto pen. But the Iran Nuclear Deal is now quasi-certain to survive congressional review. Or we could put it another way and say that Benjamin Netanyahu’s reckless gamble in intervening in U.S. partisan politics to fight the deal has failed. As usual, writing at the Prospect, Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg has the most lucid analysis:

Forget the convoluted theories about how Netanyahu expected to lose but intends to game defeat for political advantage. He fought because he expected to stop the deal, which was a mistake, and because he thought that sinking the agreement would be good for Israel, which is a bigger mistake.

This isn’t rational. Netanyahu’s preference has been a military strike, but even his close circle of political partners balked at that, according to Ehud Barak, who spent several years as Netanyahu’s defense minister. It’s not rational to prefer an offensive that might slow the Iranian arms program for two or three years and reject an agreement because, in your view, it will “only” delay the program 10 or 15 years.

Nor is it rational to be the leader of Israel, a country known to possess a serious nuclear arsenal, yet compare yourself to the Jews who faced Nazi Germany.

Gorenberg points out that one of Bibi’s supposed assets has been his understanding of the United States. No longer, it seems.

Netanyahu’s imagined America is one in which Mitt Romney was sure to win in 2012, as can be seen from the prime minister’s behavior back then. Like the Republicans to whom he is close, he treats Obama’s presidency as a historical glitch. Like many Jewish Republicans, he expects American Jews to place Israel at the top of their voting priorities, to agree with his policies, and to wake up at last to the need to vote Republican. After all, that’s how the American Jews he knows best see things. To these misreadings, add his irrepressible impulse to jump into American politics.

And so Netanyahu has seriously alienated both Democrats–who are tired of being called anti-semites for insisting on a U.S. foreign policy that is independent of Israel’s–and American Jews–who stubbornly refuse to follow Bibi’s instructions to join a Republican Coalition cheek-by-jowl with Christian Nationalists and climate change deniers–in a losing cause. Heck of a job, Bibi.

But as Gorenberg concludes in a savage but apt comparison, Netanyahu can’t seem to help himself:

Making a toast to the Jewish New Year at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem Thursday, the prime minister insisted that “the overwhelming majority of the American people” agree with him. Those aren’t the words of someone trying to cut his losses. Like a compulsive gambler in one of Sheldon Adelson’s casinos, he can’t stop.

 

By; Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, September 4, 2015

September 5, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Outcome On The Democratic Side Is Notable”: In An Unusual Development, Congressional Dems Display Admirable Backbone

This morning, Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced that she will be voting in favor of the Iran nuclear deal, making her the 34th supporter. That means that a move to override any veto of the bill opposing the deal will fail. In fact, it may not even get to an override vote; there are 10 Democrats remaining who have not made their position clear, and if seven of them side with the administration, the bill won’t get the 60 votes it needs to overcome a filibuster.

While you might explain this outcome in purely partisan terms — the Republicans all oppose the deal because it’s Barack Obama’s, and nearly all the Democrats stand behind their party’s leader — the outcome on the Democratic side is still notable, because it represents a triumph over the kind of attack before which Democrats have so often run frightened in the past.

If you’re too young to remember the time before the Iraq War turned into a disaster, you may not realize the state of constant fear Democrats used to live in when it came to national security. Particularly since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Republicans were always ready to ridicule them as being “soft” — soft on defense, soft on the communists, soft on anything involving foreign threats. After 9/11, this attack went into a higher gear, as did Democrats’ fear that any show of softness would instantly be met with, “Why are you on the terrorists’ side?” and “Why don’t you support our troops?”

That’s why it was widely understood among Democrats in 2002 that no one with any national ambitions could vote against the Iraq War when the drums were beating so loudly. With only one exception (Florida’s Bob Graham), all the Senate Democrats who would run for president in 2004 or 2008 voted Yea, including Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and John Kerry. Everyone assumed that was the only safe vote to take. And when Kerry became the party’s nominee in 2004, he centered his entire campaign on the story of his service in Vietnam, on the theory that a couple of chicken hawks like George Bush and Dick Cheney would never attack the patriotism of a war hero (that theory proved to be mistaken).

The failure of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars enabled Democrats to feel that they didn’t have to constantly bend over backward to show that they’re tough, when toughness is what cost the country so much in recent years. But the Iran debate put that belief to the test. That’s because for Democrats, there really is some risk in supporting this deal.

If the agreement proves to be a failure — let’s say that Iran manages to conduct a nuclear weapons program in secret, then announces to the world that they have a nuclear weapon — it will indeed be front-page news, and the Democrats who supported the deal might suffer grave political consequences. So in order to vote yes, they had to look seriously at the deal and its alternatives, and accept some long term political peril.

By contrast, there probably is less long term risk for Republicans in opposing the deal.

It’s true that if the deal does achieve its goals, it will be added to a list of things on which Republicans were spectacularly wrong, but which led them to change their opinions not a whit. The Iraq War didn’t have an appreciable impact on their views about the wisdom of starting new military engagements in the Middle East. Nor did their failed predictions about Bill Clinton’s tax-increasing 1993 budget (they all said it would cause a “job-killing recession” and every one of them voted against it) and George Bush’s tax cuts (they said the cuts would lead to an explosion of economic growth) alter their views on what effect tax increases have on the economy.

But if the deal works as intended, what will be the outcome be? Iran without nuclear weapons, of course, but that is a state of being rather than an event. There will be no blaring headlines saying, “Iran Still Has No Nukes — Dems Proven Right!” Five or ten years from now, Republicans will continue to argue that the deal was dreadful, even if Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been contained.

My guess is that now that the practical fight over this deal is essentially over, Republicans won’t bother to keep arguing about it too much. In the primaries, the presidential candidates will throw in a perfunctory line or two in their speeches about how awful it is, how they’ll tear it up on their first day in office, and how it shows that Democrats are weak. But with the deal now facing the lengthy task of implementation and no substantive victory possible for them, they won’t see much to be gained in harping on it. But they’ll probably continue to believe that calling Democrats weak on national security is tremendously effective, even if the Democrats themselves aren’t as afraid of that attack as they used to be.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, September 2, 2015

 

September 3, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Iran Nuclear Agreement, National Security | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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