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“The United States Is Not Omnipotent”: Republicans Need To Stop Childishly Pretending That American Power Is Limitless

When President Obama almost taunted critics of the Iranian nuclear deal by challenging them to describe their alternative, it was hardly a surprise that no detailed plans were forthcoming. Even the most hawkish Republican knows it would be politically disastrous to say that what we need is to launch another war in the Middle East. But there isn’t another readily available course for handling this situation if you reject what the administration negotiated.

Indeed, what infuriates Republicans as much as anything is that Obama took the country down diplomacy’s path — a path that accepts from the outset that compromise is inevitable.

More than ever, compromise seems outside the worldview of the GOP. You can see it in Congress, where the party’s base has elected more and more representatives who would rather have a noble, even disastrous failure than a partial success — if success means coming to an agreement with a president they despise. No matter how many times conservatives attempt to shut down the government and wind up with an ignominious defeat, they continue to believe that next time will be different — that Obama will surrender, and all their goals will be achieved.

You can see it in how hawkish Republicans have thought about Iran for years. Republicans were smitten by Benjamin Netanyahu’s fantasy vision of a “better deal” with Iran, which involved Iran ending its nuclear program, giving up support for Hezbollah and every other terrorist organization, becoming a force for peace in the region, and maybe also baking Netanyahu a delicious pie, all while asking for nothing in return. If you actually thought that was possible, then of course the deal that was negotiated looks like a capitulation. As Peter Beinart recently wrote, “When critics focus incessantly on the gap between the present deal and a perfect one, what they’re really doing is blaming Obama for the fact that the United States is not omnipotent.”

That fact is the assumption underlying diplomatic negotiation: If we were omnipotent, then we wouldn’t have to negotiate. We could just impose our will. Republicans find President Obama’s willingness to acknowledge that America is not omnipotent to be utterly maddening.

When you listen to them talk about foreign affairs, what comes through clearly is that they believe that if America is not omnipotent, this is merely a temporary situation that can be remedied with more military spending, a stiffening of the spine, and a Republican in the White House. There is no situation that cannot be resolved with precisely the outcome we want, if only we are sufficiently strong and tough. For instance, here’s how Mike Huckabee describes the world he would create if he were to become president:

“And here is what we have to do: America has to have the most formidable, fierce military in the history of mankind,” stated Huckabee.

“So when we have a threat, whether it is ISIS, Boko Haram, al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranians, whatever it is, we make it very clear that we plan to push back and destroy that threat to us. And we won’t take 10 years doing it, we hopefully won’t even take 10 months, it will be like a 10-day exercise, because the fierceness of our forces would mean that we can absolutely guarantee the outcome of this film. That’s how America needs to operate in the world of foreign affairs, and foreign policy.” [Huckabee, via BuzzFeed]

Since one of my rules for campaign coverage is to assume unless you have countervailing evidence that politicians are sincere in what they say, I’ll assume that Huckabee genuinely believes that a complex problem like ISIS could be solved in 10 days, if only we were fierce enough. While his opponents might not go quite that far, with the exception of Rand Paul they all believe that the reason there are unsolved problems in the world is that we haven’t been strong enough. They quote action movie lines and say that increasing the size of the military will give us the strength we need to bend every country and non-state actor to our will.

Huckabee may not realize this, but we already have the strongest military in the history of mankind. Could it be even stronger? Sure. We could shut down Social Security and use the money to double the size of the military (a plan I think more than a few Republicans would embrace). But even that military would confront some problems it couldn’t solve, because that’s just how the world is.

What may be most remarkable is that it was George W. Bush — who, you may remember, was not given to nuanced thinking, worrying about unintended consequences, or talk of compromise with “evildoers” — who brought us the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, Republicans say (though obviously not in so many words) that if only we could be more like Bush, our foreign policy would be an unending string of unequivocal triumphs, as every danger to ourselves or our friends evaporated before our terrifying might.

It’s an inspiring vision, one in which perfect outcomes are not only possible but relatively easy to obtain. It’s also an outlook more appropriate for children who have no experience to learn from, than for a party asking to be given control of the world’s last superpower.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, July 20, 2015

July 22, 2015 Posted by | Iran Nuclear Agreement, U. S. Military, War Hawks | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Negotiating A Good Iran Deal”: Negotiators Are On The Right Track To Resolve The Iranian Nuclear Crisis Peacefully

The United States, its international partners, and Iran will soon likely reach a final agreement to limit Tehran’s nuclear program. Judging by the framework reached in April in Lausanne, Switzerland, the finalized deal will not only greatly enhance American and regional security by preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon, it will also eliminate a source of great tension between the U.S. and Iran — freeing America’s hand to deal with other undesirable Iranian behavior.

Yet you can be sure that war hawks will be screaming “bad deal” — insisting on a better one.

What they mean by “better deal” is one in which Iran completely capitulates, gives up its entire nuclear program and changes its bad behavior on a wide range of issues outside the scope of the nuclear program, all without the United States having to give up much in return.

But that’s not really how negotiating works. Successful deals involve give and take. Most of the time, all parties walk away with something they like and something they don’t.

Don’t just take my word for it. Some of those closest to the negotiations agree. “[W]e do not live in a perfect world, and the ‘better deal’ proposed by the critics of the Lausanne framework is a fantasy,” said Phillip Gordon, who, until recently worked on the Iran issue in the White House and is now a senior fellow and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Those arguing for a better deal also believe that if only the United States increased sanctions on Iran, Iran would agree to even better terms. But, as former National Security Adviser to President Clinton, Sandy Berger wrote recently, more sanctions would not have their intended impact. Instead, they “would mystify and alarm the rest of the world, isolating and weakening us. Such sanctions would crumble under their own weight — amounting to, as Shakespeare said, “Sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Former national intelligence officer and Middle East expert, Paul Pillar, agrees. “[T]here is nothing in the Iranians’ record to suggest that at some level of economic pain they would cry uncle and capitulate to hardline demands,” he wrote earlier this year. “If this were possible, it would have happened by now after many years of debilitating sanctions.”

While the “better deal” crowd may continue to crow, the reality is that there is an overwhelming consensus among the nuclear and security expert community that the Lausanne Framework is a good deal, a deal that the six powers can be confident will prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. “When implemented,” a statement from 30 leading nuclear nonproliferation specialists reads, the agreement “will put in place an effective, verifiable, enforceable, long-term plan to guard against the possibility of a new nuclear-armed state in the Middle East.”

And it’s not just the experts: Numerous polls show that a majority of Americans support the framework. Moreover, a recent survey done in conjunction with pro-Israel group, J Street, found that 59 percent of American Jews support the framework; a result that can perhaps mitigate concerns that U.S. Jews feel the deal could be bad for Israel. The poll also found that a 78 percent of American Jews support the agreement when additional details of the deal are provided.

It’s rare to have such a large consensus on any particular issue these days. But it’s no fluke that the White House, many in Congress, experts and the American people support diplomacy with Iran over war and will support a good final nuclear deal. I am hopeful that Missouri’s Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt are part of that mix of support.

It is difficult to dispute that Iran is led by a dictatorial regime that oppresses its people, supports terror and wreaks havoc in the region. It is for these reasons that we should prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon and ink a good final agreement that is done on our own terms.

It appears that the six international powers and Iran will get past the finish line, but as the saying goes, “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” President Obama has repeatedly stated that he prefers no deal to a bad deal. Fortunately, the negotiators are on the right track to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis peacefully, allowing all sides to walk away knowing that what they’re getting is better than they’re giving up.

 

By: Stacey Newman, Missouri State Representative, The Blog, The Huffington Post, July 5, 2015

July 7, 2015 Posted by | Iran, Nuclear Weapons, War Hawks | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Distracting From The Proper Focus Of The Debate”: Drone Strikes Aren’t Any More Immoral Than Manned Airstrikes

While I am a reliable and often radical progressive in most respects, I must admit that there are some shibboleths of the left that make me scratch my head. The most important of these is the insistence that we can somehow go back to the economy of the 1960s but without all the prejudice (we can’t, nor should we really want to), but there are a few others as well.

One of those is the forceful antipathy to drone strikes. Opposition to drones has found its place among a myriad other neo-Luddite positions on the left, ranging from certain aspects of anti-GMO thought to the anti-vax movement to the anti-automation movement. In most of these cases, legitimate opposition (say, concern about Monsanto’s corporate control over seed production) bleeds into anti-science fearmongering (the belief that “frankenfoods” will somehow give us cancer.)

In the case of drones, there is a legitimate antipathy against interventionist airstrikes that all too often have unacceptable collateral damage–or hit the wrong targets entirely. There’s a fair case to be made that no matter how many terrorists we may be killing with the strikes, we’re doing more harm than good by creating more furious people and eventually more terrorists and anti-American governments. And there’s also a Constitutional case to be made when airstrikes hit American citizens without judicial process.

But somehow these fully legitimate grievances have fallen behind a less reasonable concern over “killer robots” and drones. Polling shows that Americans approve the drone strikes overall, so progressives have a tough hill to climb to force opposition on any account. That difficult road makes finding an effective and credible argument all the more important.

The opposition to using drones for airstrikes seems to boil down mostly to two arguments:

1) It’s easier and less psychologically difficult for a drone operator to pull the kill trigger than a manned plane pilot; and

2) The ability to conduct strikes without putting American lives at risk makes it easier for politicians to order the strikes.

There’s precious little evidence for the first argument. For human empathy to trigger a pacifist response, soldiers generally need to view their targets at reasonably close range. Even a simple mask seriously reduces empathy-based trigger withholding. Pilots at airstrike height don’t get close enough to trigger the effect, or to realize when a mistake is potentially being made. Drone operators tend to see pretty much the same visuals as a pilot does, and they undergo the same psychological guilt and aftereffects. And in any case, failure to pull the trigger would violate a direct order and lead to a court martial.

As to the second argument, it’s fairly callous as well as deeply unpopular and unpatriotic to use the potential for dead American pilots as leverage against hawkish politicians. It strains ethical credibility. It’s also a moot point as developed nations increasingly move toward robotic armies not only in the air but on the ground as well. As with the workforce, nation-states have every incentive to achieve their national interests at minimal risk of their service members’ lives and will inevitably do so no matter how progressive activists feel about it.

And while that may scare some people, neither national leaders nor their citizens are going to cry many tears if bad guys ranging from the next Bin Laden to rhino poachers can be dissuaded or neutralized with greater efficiency and zero risk. It’s simply inevitable.

The key argument isn’t the technology being used to make the strikes, but whether the strikes themselves are necessary. The technology will be used and developed whether we like it or not–and in many cases it will be a force for good. It just means we need to be ever more vigilant about how and in what circumstances we use it.

Marshaling Luddite arguments that hint at a desire to put Americans in harm’s way in order to constrain political choices is not only wildly ineffective at moving public opinion away from callous airstrikes, it will distract the proper focus of the debate while marginalizing progressive foreign policy in the process.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 2, 2015

May 3, 2015 Posted by | Drones, Progressives, War Hawks | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“To The Permanent War Caucus, It’s Always 1938”: When The Hitler Card Won’t Do, Play The Chamberlain Card

If he accomplished nothing else during his presidency, Barack Obama has surely earned a place in the Bad Political Analogies Hall of Fame. According to savants on Fox News and right-wing editorial pages, Obama is both Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who capitulated to Nazi territorial demands in 1938.

That is, to the more fervid exponents of the Sore Loser Party, President Obama is both a psychotic dictator and a spineless appeaser of tyrants.

(I am indebted for this insight to Washington, D.C., attorney Mike Godwin, promulgator of “Godwin’s Law,” which holds that the first person to play the Hitler card in a political argument automatically loses.)

I’m thinking the law also needs a Chamberlain corollary, because the Permanent War Caucus on the Republican right accuses every American president who negotiates an arms pact with our putative enemies of weakening national security. Always and with no known exceptions.

President Nixon got compared to Neville Chamberlain for his (strategically brilliant) opening to China, as well as for the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) with the Soviet Union.

In 1988, something called the Conservative Caucus, Inc. took out full-page newspaper ads arguing that “appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as in 1938.” The ad mocked President Reagan with Chamberlain’s iconic umbrella, and compared Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev to Hitler.

In 1989, of course, the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR imploded.

Jonathan Chait sums up the right’s paradoxical case against Obama, weakling dictator: “He is naive in the face of evil, desperate for agreement, more willing to help his enemies than his friends. The problem is that conservatives have made this same diagnosis of every American president for 70 years…Their analysis of the Iran negotiations is not an analysis at all, but an impulse.”

Despite the fact that Tehran made concessions most observers thought were impossible, the right hates this deal because they hate all deals. Today, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his U.S. supporters, such as the forever-wrong William Kristol, describe Iran’s leaders as the new Führer. The apocalyptic enemy before that was the Tehran regime’s bitter enemy, Saddam Hussein.

Anyway, we all know how invading Iraq worked out.

Iran is five times Iraq’s size, has three times its population, and has extremely forbidding terrain.

No matter. To the Permanent War Caucus, it’s always 1938 and blitzkrieg is eternally threatened. Netanyahu has been predicting Iran’s imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons for almost 20 years now — although the Wile E. Coyote bomb cartoon is a relatively recent touch.

Israel, of course, has a nuclear arsenal of its own.

But what really makes the Hitler/Chamberlain comparison so foolish isn’t simply that it’s a cliché. It’s that it completely misrepresents the power balance between the U.S., its allies, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, and militarily weak, politically and strategically isolated Iran.

In 1938, Nazi Germany had the strongest military in the world. (Indeed, there’s a revisionist school that holds Neville Chamberlain was wise to postpone an inevitable war while Britain re-armed.)

Shiite Iran, by contrast, can scarcely project power much beyond its borders, and is threatened by traditional enemies on all sides. Examine a map of the Middle East. Tehran is almost 1,000 miles from Jerusalem. Ethnically and linguistically distinct, the Persians are surrounded by hostile Sunni Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, which repress their own Shiite minorities, and are fanatically opposed to the Ayatollahs.

Almost unknown in this country, U.S. client Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion of Iran — complete with nerve gas attacks on the Persians and Kurds –remains a bitter memory. ISIS terrorists are massacring Shiites by the thousands in Iraq and Syria. For that matter, check out the U.S. military bases ringing the Persian Gulf, along with omnipresent, nuclear-armed aircraft carriers and submarines.

One needn’t have a particle of sympathy for Iran’s odious theocratic government to see that we’ve got them totally outgunned and surrounded. Economic sanctions engineered by the Obama administration have really hurt. So yes, if they thought they could trust us, it would be very much in Tehran’s interest to make a deal and stick to it — putting the nuclear temptation aside in favor of what amounts to anti-invasion insurance.

But can we trust them?

President Obama explained his thinking to the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman: “We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing…people don’t seem to understand.”

“[W]ith respect to Iran…a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”

If you’re really strong, in other words, act strong.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, April 15, 2015

April 16, 2015 Posted by | Iran, Middle East, War Hawks | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why Is The GOP So Angry At Everything These Days?”: Fevered Lunatics Whose Principal Policy Option Is To Fight Rather Than Talk

At the end of a week when many paused to reflect during Passover and Easter ceremonies, a question with no real answer seemed to crash into our culture with all the subtlety of a marching band in a funeral parlor: Why do so many Republicans seem so angry all the time at so much around us?

The fury of some like Ted Cruz is understandable. It’s fueled by his massive ego and outsized ambition along with his personal belief that he is so smart and the rest of us are so pedestrian that he can manipulate opinion to win the Republican nomination for president with the support of the mentally ill wing of his party.

“A real president,” Cruz the bombardier said last week, “would stand up and say on the world stage: Under no circumstances will Iran be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran will either stop or we will stop them.”

Then there is the minor league Cruz, the tough talking, totally in-over-his-head governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, who is running to crack down on the salaries of teachers, cops and firefighters everywhere. Oh, he’ll also teach Iran a good lesson by throwing any deal out the window no matter what other countries might think. Imagine Scotty informing Angela Merkel of his decision while he wears his Cheese-Head Hat.

There are so many others too. There’s the kid who started the pen pal club with the ayatollah, Tom Cotton. There’s the mental midget from Illinois, Mark Kirk, who went right to the basement for his best thought on Iran, claiming that England got a better deal from Hitler than the U.S. got from Teheran. Kirk, not a history major.

But my personal favorite? In this corner, from Baltimore, wearing the costume of a true warrior, locked and loaded and ready to roll, the former Ambassador to the United Nations, John “Bombs Away” Bolton. He took to the Op-Ed page of The New York Times to declare war on Iran. After all, why waste time!

“The inconvenient truth is that only military action…” Field Marshall Bolton wrote, “can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.”

Bolton, of course, is one of the Mensa members who told George W. Bush that it would be swell to go to war in Iraq. Twelve years later things are really going well there.

At least Bolton knows war on a firsthand basis. At age 18 he was in South Vietnam where…OH, I’M SORRY…MY MISTAKE…that was another Bolton. That was Dennis Bolton from Bedford, Indiana, born two weeks before John Bolton was born in Baltimore in November 1948. Two different young men with two different tales to tell.

Dennis Bolton went to Vietnam. John Bolton who went to Yale. Dennis Bolton was killed near DaNang on April 19, 1967 where he served with the Marines while John Bolton finished his freshman year at New Haven.

In 1967, Bedford had a population of about 13,000. It’s a nice small town where Gene Hackman could have filmed Hoosiers, one of the great sports films ever. Ten young men from Bedford were killed in Vietnam.

Indiana, of course, is the state where Mike Pence and Republicans in the state legislature spent the week clowning it up over their lost fight to make it harder for some Americans simply to be happy. Make no mistake about it, their war was against same-sex marriage and they suffered a TKO when the country turned against them in the snap of a finger, an overnight knockout delivered with stunning speed. But I digress.

In 1967, Baltimore had a population of about 930,000. It’s a tough town with a lot of different neighborhoods, some dangerous, many working class, where Barry Levinson hadn’t made Diner yet and HBO hadn’t given us the gift that is The Wire. Four hundred and seventeen residents of Baltimore were killed in Vietnam.

Dennis Bolton’s name is on the wall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. John Bolton’s name was on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times as well as on the lips of some angry, fevered lunatics whose principal policy option is to fight rather than talk.

Obviously, Bolton never made it to Vietnam. He joined the Maryland National Guard to avoid going to Vietnam and, hey, good for him. At least he served.

Of course, he blamed his absence from combat on the politics of the time. On liberals like Ted Kennedy and others, claiming they had already lost the war by the time he was ready to take on the North Vietnamese Army. I guess that explains the itch, the unfulfilled need, the frustration that guys like Bolton have lived with across the decades.

And today, “Bombs Away” Bolton still has a strong desire to light it up. And according to some pundits he’s even considering a run for president. Obviously his platform will remain as unchanged as his thinking: Different time, different dangers, different countries but same selfish solution: Send someone else’s kids to fight and die while Bolton and others play with a lit fuse in a world more dangerous than dynamite.

 

By: Mike Barnicle, The Daily Beast, April 5, 2015

April 6, 2015 Posted by | Iran, John Bolton, War Hawks | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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