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“A Triumph For Presidential Leadership”: Pundits; Obama’s Too Mean To Iran Deal Critics

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus, to her credit, supports the international nuclear agreement with Iran. In her new column, however, she criticizes President Obama anyway, not over the substance of his foreign policy, but for not being nice enough to the diplomatic deal’s opponents.

Obama once understood, even celebrated, this gray zone of difficult policy choices. He was a man who took pains to recognize and validate the legitimate concerns of those on the opposite side of nearly any complex debate.

The new Obama, hardened and embittered – the one on display in his American University speech last week and in the follow-up spate of interviews – has close to zero tolerance for those who reach contrary conclusions.

In fairness to the columnist, Marcus goes on to make substantive suggestions about how best to argue in support of the deal, and she concedes “Obama’s exasperation is understandable.” Her broader point seems to be that she wants to see the deal presented in the most effective way possible, but Marcus nevertheless chides the president for his tone and unwillingness to “accommodate” his foes.

She’s not alone. After the president noted that the American right and the Iranian hardliners find themselves on the same side of this fight, other pundits, including National Journal’s Ron Fournier, raised related concerns about Obama being harsh.

That’s a shame – there are constructive ways to look at the debate over U.S. policy towards Iran, but hand-wringing over presidential tone seems misplaced.

Let’s not miss the forest for the trees. President Obama and his team defied long odds, assembled an unlikely international coalition, and struck a historic deal. By most fair measures, this is one of the great diplomatic accomplishments of this generation.

For all the incessant whining from the “Why Won’t Obama Lead?” crowd, this was a triumph for presidential leadership, positioning Obama as one of the most effective and accomplished leaders on the international stage.

To watch this unfold and complain that Obama is simply too mean towards those who hope to kill the deal and derail American foreign policy seems to miss the point.

What’s more, let’s also not lose sight of these detractors’ case. Some of the deal’s critics have compared Obama to Hitler. Others have accused the White House of being a state-sponsor of terrorism. Many of the agreement’s foes in Congress clearly haven’t read the deal – they decided in advance that any agreement would be unacceptable, regardless of merit – and many more have approached the entire policy debate “with vagueness, deception and hysteria.”

Slate’s William Saletan attended the recent congressional hearings on the policy and came away “dismayed” at what opponents of the deal had to offer. Republicans, he concluded, seem “utterly unprepared to govern,” presenting little more than “dishonesty,” “incomprehension,” and an “inability to cope with the challenges of a multilateral world.”

To Marcus’ point, it’s fair to say that the president is not “taking pains to recognize and validate the legitimate concerns of those on the opposite side.” I suppose it’s possible Obama could invest more energy in telling Americans that his critics, when they’re not comparing him to Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, or both, are well-intentioned rivals.

But at this stage of the debate, there should be a greater emphasis on sound policy judgments and accurate, substantive assessments. I’m less concerned with whether Obama is being nice to his critics and more concerned with whether he’s correct.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, August 14, 2015

August 15, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Pundits | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Huckabee And His Multiple Holocausts”: Pretending To Believe Your Political Opponents Are The Heirs Of Hitler

I’ve been observing for a good long while now that the sunny, optimistic Mike Huckabee of the 2008 presidential campaign cycle is way long gone, replaced by an angry and paranoid culture warrior who thinks of himself as leading a revolt of Real Americans against the decadent coasts–you know, the Sarah Palin lane over there on the far Right of the bowling alley.

But the dude’s really outdoing himself at the moment, making a complicated diplomatic initiative as simple as a gas chamber during an interview with the Breitbartians:

This president’s foreign policy is the most feckless in American history. It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven. This is the most idiotic thing, this Iran deal. It should be rejected by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and by the American people. I read the whole deal. We gave away the whole store. It’s got to be stopped.

Whoa!

Huck’s very proud of his solidarity with Israel, a country he’s visited many times. But this time his zeal for the people destined to kick off the End of Times earned him a rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League, which polices inappropriate Holocaust analogies that cheapen memories of the real thing.

So why would he Go There?

Political analyst Barack Obama had this to say all the way over in Ethiopia (per ABC’s Arlette Saenz):

On his first day in Ethiopia, President Obama waded into the 2016 presidential campaign, criticizing Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee for suggesting the president is trying to push Israelis to the “door of the oven” with Iran nuclear deal.

“The particular comments of Mr. Huckabee are I think part of just a general pattern we’ve seen … that would be considered ridiculous if it weren’t so sad,” the president said in a news conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“Maybe this is just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines but it’s not the kind of leadership that’s needed for America right now,” the president added.

Alternatively, shouting about ovens is the sort of thing you’d expect from a candidate nervous about making the Fox News debate 10-candidate cutoff, which will be executed a week from tomorrow. At the moment, though, Huck is in a comfortable 5th place in the RCP polling averages. Maybe Huckabee’s trying to drown out and help shove off the stage some more endangered rivals for the Christian Right vote like Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry.

Or just maybe Huckabee really is an example of why the ADL needs to keep up its thankless task of warning pols away from Holocaust analogies. After all, Huck is a veteran of the Legalized Abortion Is a Holocaust meme, repeated most notably during his David Lane-faciliated tour of Europe and the Holy Land last year, designed to train conservative pastors and pols in how to emulate Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan in fighting the infernal forces of secularism and defending Greater Israel:

If you felt something incredibly powerful at Auschwitz and Birkenau over the 11 million killed worldwide and the 1.5 million killed on those grounds, cannot we feel something extraordinary about 55 million murdered in our own country in the wombs of their mothers?

So Huck sees Holocausts in every direction, all facilitated by the same Secular Socialist Evil Ones. And it’s a bit hard to stay off the hate train when you believe–or just pretend to believe–your political opponents are the heirs of Hitler.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 27, 2015

July 28, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Holocaust, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Barack Obama Is Not Neville Chamberlain”: Have The Iranians Emerged Stronger From Lausanne? No

Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we have secured a long-lasting peace with Iran, or that Tehran’s deeply troubling bad behavior in the Middle East will be modified.

We all know the framework nuclear agreement between six world powers and Iran is far from perfect — when you’re sitting at the table with the Russians, Chinese, French, and Iranians, how could it be? — but it has bought something quite valuable: time. And now, the underlying, fundamental question — does the deal dampen the prospect of war itself? — must be answered, ever so cautiously, yes.

Predictably, hawkish critics have been quick to accuse President Obama over the last several months (before the agreement was even reached) of selling out Israel with these Iran negotiations, with comparisons writ large to Neville Chamberlain, the feckless British prime minister who threw the Sudetenland (a portion of sovereign Czechoslovakia) to the wolves to appease Hitler in 1938 (the French were in on the sellout as well). It is “peace in our time,” Chamberlain proclaimed, waving a piece of paper to prove it.

But wolves are always hungry. Six months after the Munich deal, Hitler gobbled up the rest of Czechoslovakia as well — before rolling into Poland six months after that. The second World War was on, and Chamberlain would go down in history as a naif, a coward, or both.

Unprepared and anxious to avoid war, British and French demands during the Czech crisis were directed not at the source of the problem — Hitler — but at his intended victim, the Czechs. The Germans were never asked to disarm or even scale back their growing military machine. The true appeasement of Munich was the feeding of the wolf with the naive belief that it would not wish to feed again.

Hitler emerged from Munich stronger, having won everything he desired and giving up nothing to Chamberlain. Have the Iranians emerged stronger from Lausanne? No.

Iran is giving up 68 percent of its nuclear centrifuges for at least a decade. Tehran has agreed to not enrich uranium beyond 3.67 percent purity — enough to produce electricity but nowhere near the level needed for nuclear weapons — for 15 years. Its current stockpile of low-enriched uranium —10,000 kiliograms — will be cut 97 percent. The once-secret enrichment plant at Fordo — discovered by American intelligence in 2009 — will be converted to a “research center.” A heavy water reactor at Arak — theoretically capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium — will be redesigned and rebuilt to prevent this.

Can Iran be trusted to actually do all this? Not on your life. For more than a quarter-century, Iran has lied about and hidden virtually every part of its nuclear program from the rest of the world. It has threatened to destroy Israel. To this day, it continues to support terror groups like Hezbollah and murderous regimes like Syria. Iran has since 1984 been considered by the U.S. to be a state sponsor of terrorism.

This is why as part of the Lausanne framework, the U.S. and its allies have demanded regular and intrusive access for international inspectors — not just of Iran’s nuclear facilities, but of their supply chains. And it’s why the sanctions that have crippled a broad swath of the Iranian economy will remain in place and be lifted gradually and only when the U.S. and others are satisfied that their demands are being met. Beyond this intrusive on-ground presence, U.S. ELINT (electronic intelligence gathering) and other measures will be stepped up to provide extra layers of scrutiny.

The WWII appeasement comparisons lobbed by Obama’s critics would only be remotely accurate if Chamberlain and France’s Édouard Daladier told Hitler in 1938 that he needed to dismantle two-thirds of the Wehrmacht to prove his intentions benign, or that Allied inspectors must be allowed into German armament factories in the Ruhr to ensure no further production of Panzers.

Obama, German Chancellor Merkel, French President Hollande (whose position on Iran has been toughest of all) and Britain’s outgoing Prime Minister Cameron know better. “Distrust but verify” is the phrase you hear in the West Wing — better than Reagan’s “trust but verify,” which he used with a far bigger and more dangerous enemy, the Soviet Union, back in the 1980s.

Is Obama Neville Chamberlain because he hasn’t insisted on the complete fantasy of total disarmament from Iran? Of course not. Iran isn’t a vanquished power, like Germany or Japan in 1945, when we had total command of the strategic situation and could dictate terms to a T. Diplomacy and arms reduction is a process of gradualism, with each side — wary and distrusting — cautiously taking interim steps and searching for common ground. The last four decades of relations between Washington and Moscow — frosty, warmer, and now frosty again — have been defined by competition, distrust, misunderstandings, and a series of gradual arms reductions pacts.

Has Obama sold out Israel as Chamberlain did Czechoslovakia? Of course not. Obama has stepped up funding of Iron Dome, the missile defense system that saved lives during last year’s war with Hamas. He quietly gave Benjamin Netanyahu bunker buster bombs — a request rejected by the Bush administration out of fear that Israel was sending U.S. military technology to China. “Even some of the hawks from the George W. Bush administration grudgingly give Obama credit for behind-the-scenes progress,” says former Reagan foreign policy advisor Elliott Abrams. And Ehud Barak — Netanyahu’s former defense minister and a former prime minister himself, tells CNN, “I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security is more than anything that I can remember in the past.”

Some sellout.

No one says this deal is perfect. And given Iran’s history of lying and cheating, no one says we’ve achieved “peace in our time.” But if Iran cheats, as Obama said last week in the Rose Garden, “the world will know it. If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it…with this deal, Iran will face more inspections than any other country in the world.” Hardly an expression of confidence in the mullahs’ true intentions.

And hardly a betrayal of our good friends in Israel.

 

By: Paul Brandus, The Week, April 6, 2015

April 7, 2015 Posted by | Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, Iran | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Great National ‘Franksgiving’ Uproar”: Imagine The Reaction If Obama Used An Executive Order To Change Date Of A Major Holiday

The story of Franklin Roosevelt moving Thanksgiving is probably pretty well known, but with the holiday coming up tomorrow, and with the ongoing debate about executive powers apparently fresh on the political world’s mind, it’s probably worth a trip down memory lane.

Historically, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the final Thursday of November. But in 1939, with the nation still dealing with the effects of the Great Depression and the unemployment rate above 15%, there was a small problem with the calendar: Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 30.

This may not sound especially important, but for businesses relying on holiday sales, this was a threat to bottom lines – it shortened the number of shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Business owners, pointing to the weak economy, demanded action.

And FDR delivered, issuing an executive order that moved the official date of Thanksgiving up a week, from Nov. 30 to Nov. 23. As Andrew Prokop explained, this really didn’t go over well.

What may have seemed like a wonkish, technocratic, good-government policy clashed with what turned out to be deeply-ingrained feelings among many Americans about when Thanksgiving should be celebrated. The Associated Press story announcing the move said Roosevelt “was shattering another precedent,” and quoted a town official of Plymouth, Massachusetts saying the traditional date was “sacred.” […]

Republicans pounced, and used the move to portray Roosevelt as a power-mad tyrant. In an early example of Godwin’s Law, FDR’s recent presidential opponent Alf Landon said Roosevelt sprung his decision on “an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.” Senator Styles Bridges of New Hampshire suggested that while Roosevelt was at it, he should abolish winter.

One Republican mayor labeled the new date “Franksgiving.” Extending the protest further, roughly half the states chose to honor the old date rather than the new one.

The date then bounced around for a couple of years, until Congress eventually passed a new law, moving the date from the final Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday in November.

So, FDR and businesses owners scored a partial win, at least insofar as the Nov. 30 problem is concerned.

The thing I like about this story now is its contemporary salience: President Obama, for example, is not the first Democratic president that Republicans compared to Hitler.

Plus, try to imagine the reaction if Obama used an executive order to change the date of a major holiday without congressional approval. If his critics go berserk when he uses prosecutorial discretion on immigration, Republicans might very well faint if Thanksgiving moved to create more shopping days.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 27, 2014

November 27, 2014 Posted by | Executive Orders, FDR, Thanksgiving | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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