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“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

“Iran And The Case For Realism”: The Choices We Face Are ‘Often Between Greater And Lesser Evils’

Foreign policy debates rarely get away from being reflections of domestic political conflicts, but they are also usually based on unstated assumptions and unacknowledged theories.

That’s true of the struggle over the Iran nuclear agreement, even if raw politics is playing an exceptionally large role. There are many indications that Republican Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Susan Collins (Maine) might in other circumstances be willing to back the accord. But they have to calculate the very high costs of breaking with their colleagues on an issue that has become a test of party loyalty.

There is also the unfortunate way in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has chosen to frame Congress’s vote as a pro- or anti-Israel proposition. Many staunch supporters of Israel may have specific criticisms of the inspection regime, but they also believe that the restraints on Iran’s nuclear program are real. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), for example, has said that U.S. negotiators “got an awful lot, particularly on the nuclear front.” And the “nuclear front,” after all, is the main point.

But the pressures on Cardin, who is still undecided, and several other Democrats to vote no anyway are enormous. A yes vote from Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, would be a true profiles-in-courage moment — and have a real influence on his wavering colleagues.

President Obama and his allies are right to say that the dangers of having the agreement blocked by Congress are much higher than the risks of trying to make it work. The notion that the United States could go back and renegotiate for something even tougher is laughable, because this is not simply a U.S.-Iran deal. It also involves allies who strongly back what’s on the table. Suggesting that the old sanctions on Iran could be restored is absurd for the same reason: Our partners would bridle if the United States disowned what it has agreed to already.

The administration’s core challenge to its critics is: “What is the alternative?” It is not a rhetorical question.

The counts at the moment suggest that Obama will win by getting at least enough votes to sustain a veto of legislation to scuttle the pact. He has a shot (Cardin’s decision could be key) of getting 41 senators to prevent a vote on an anti-deal measure altogether.

But once this episode is past us, the president, his congressional opponents and the regiment of presidential candidates owe the country a bigger discussion on how they see the United States’ role in the world. Obama in particular could profit from finally explaining what the elusive “Obama Doctrine” is and responding, at least indirectly, to criticisms of the sort that came his way Friday from Republican hopefuls Scott Walker and Marco Rubio.

There are many (I’m among them) who see Obama primarily as a foreign policy realist. Especially after our adventures in Iraq, realism looks a whole lot better than it once did. I say this as someone who still thinks that the United States needs to stand up for democratic values and human rights but who also sees military overreach as a grave danger to our interests and long-term strength. The principal defense of Obama’s stewardship rests on the idea that, despite some miscues, his realism about what military power can and can’t achieve has recalibrated the United States’ approach, moving it in the right direction.

A useful place to start this discussion is “The Realist Persuasion,” Richard K. Betts’s article in the 30th anniversary issue of the National Interest, realism’s premier intellectual outpost. Betts, a Columbia University scholar, argues that realists “focus more on results than on motives and are more attuned to how often good motives can produce tragic results.” While idealistic liberals and conservatives alike are often eager to “support the righteous and fight the villainous,” realists insist that the choices we face are “often between greater and lesser evils.”

“At the risk of overgeneralizing,” he writes, “one can say that idealists worry most about courage, realists about constraints; idealists focus on the benefits of resisting evil with force, realists on the costs.” On the whole, “realists recommend humility rather than hubris.”

For those of us whose heads are increasingly realist but whose hearts are still idealist, realism seems cold and morally inadequate. Yet the realists’ moral trump card is to ask whether squandering lives, treasure and power on impractical undertakings has anything to do with morality. Critics of realism confront the same question that opponents of the Iran deal face: “What is the alternative?”

 

By: E. J. Dionne Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 31, 2015

September 1, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP Candidates Are Pledging To Undo The Iran Nuclear Deal; Don’t Buy It”: Get’s Us Nothing, And Potentially Costs Us A Great Deal

Republicans have spent much of the last six years shaking their fists in impotent protest against the things that Barack Obama has done. That’s the way it is when you’re out of power: There are only so many tools at your disposal to undo what the president does, even if you control Congress. This dynamic also explains some of the restiveness in the Republican electorate, since their leaders have been telling them of all the ways they’ll fight Obama (like repealing the Affordable Care Act), only to be stifled at every turn.

And now it looks like they’re going to fail to stop the deal the United States and five other world powers negotiated with Iran to restrain its nuclear program. Since the agreement isn’t a treaty, it doesn’t require ratification; instead, Congress can try to pass a resolution to stop it, which President Obama would veto. A veto override would require two-thirds of the members of both chambers of Congress, and the deal’s opponents aren’t going to get that.

While there are still a few Democratic senators who have not made their positions known, the last few days have seen one after another come out in favor of the deal (with the exception of New Jersey’s Bob Menendez, to no one’s surprise). Republicans need 13 senators to join them in opposition to the deal, and so far they have only two. As of this writing, there are 13 Democrats who have yet to announce their position; unless 11 of them come out in opposition — which seems all but impossible — the deal will have enough supporters to stop a veto override. Furthermore, such an override would probably fail in the House anyway.

So what will happen then? When all the votes are cast and the deal’s critics come up short, the Republicans running for president will rush to the microphones to repeat what they’ve already said: that this is the worst deal in diplomatic history, that Barack Obama is Neville Chamberlain, that Israel is all but already consumed in a fiery nuclear blast, etc.

If there’s been any disagreement between the candidates, it’s only in how fast they want to tear up the deal. For instance, Scott Walker says he’d do it on “day one” of his presidency, and even suggested he might launch a military strike on Iran to boot. Marco Rubio has said something similar, that he would “quickly reimpose sanctions,” which means tossing out the deal. Jeb Bush suggested that he’d at least hire his cabinet and check in with allies before figuring out what to do next, which is what passes for thoughtfulness in GOP circles these days.

What none of them have grappled with is what happens afterward. It’s possible that the other signatories to the agreement, including Germany, China, and Russia, will say that whatever President Trump thinks, they’ll hold up their end. If Iran agrees, then it might be subject to renewed U.S. sanctions, but the reason the current sanctions regime has been so effective is that the U.N. and so many other nations have participated in cutting Iran out of the world economy; sanctions by the U.S. alone would not have nearly the same impact.

On the other hand, if the agreement falls apart when we pull out — which is what Republicans would obviously prefer — then we return to the status quo, with Iran free to pursue nuclear weapons if it wishes without any inspections at all.

If the past is any indication, I don’t expect Republicans to find the time to discuss what would actually happen if they got their wish, since they’ll be too busy throwing Munich analogies around. But let’s assume that the deal doesn’t get shot down in Congress, and it begins to take effect. A year from now, what will the GOP nominee say about the deal? What if it seems to be working — the sanctions have begun to be unwound, inspections are proceeding, and there’s no indication yet that Iran is secretly trying to create nuclear weapons. What then? Will that nominee say, “I don’t care if it looks like it’s working, Bibi Netanyahu once showed me a picture of a cartoon bomb, so I’m still going to walk away from this agreement”?

Maybe. But the truth is that the next president abandoning this agreement has about as much likelihood of happening as Donald Trump’s plan to convince Mexico to pay for a 2000-mile wall between our two countries. It’s the kind of thing a candidate says when he wants to sound tough, but it’s not the kind of thing a president — even if it’s one of these guys — actually does. It would get us virtually nothing, and potentially cost us a great deal.

Think about that when you see the candidates shouting at the cameras after Congress fails to stop the agreement, pledging to do their utmost to destroy it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, August 21, 2015

August 23, 2015 Posted by | Congress, GOP Presidential Candidates, Iran Nuclear Agreement | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“The Pipeline To Nowhere”: A Monument To Wasting Colossal Sums Of Money On Dirty-Energy Infrastructure

When Maria van der Hoeven summed up the 20-year outlook for global energy investment in London last year, she identified a couple of daunting challenges.

The amount of money required by 2035 is a staggering $48 trillion, the International Energy Agency chief and former Dutch economy minister said. And it’s not clear how many of those trillions of dollars will power climate-friendly options.

“Will policymakers succeed in steering investment towards a cleaner, more secure energy system — or are we locking in technologies and patterns of consumption that store up trouble for the future?” she asked.

There’s no better example of what van der Hoeven meant by “storing up trouble for the future” than the Keystone XL pipeline.

After years of being flustered by President Barack Obama’s procrastination, the pipeline’s conservative backers in Congress are trying to force him to green-light this conduit for some of the world’s dirtiest, most expensive, and most dangerous oil.

The House recently voted in favor of building the 1,200-mile pipeline for the 10th time. The Senate is poised to approve it too. Although dozens of Democrats are siding with Republicans in favor of this boondoggle, those lawmakers lack the votes, so far, to override the veto Obama has threatened.

Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican and a leading Keystone XL proponent, has turned into a broken record touting what he calls “vital energy infrastructure legislation.”

Despite their similar names and obsession with all things energy, Hoeven and van der Hoeven are polar opposites. She’s a leading player in the effort to wean the world off its dependence on oil, gas, and coal. He’s a “drill, baby, drill” type.

There are many good arguments against the $8 billion pipeline on environmental and labor grounds. People like 350.org founder Bill McKibben and groups like Media Matters need no help explaining them.

Here’s another reason why the pipeline shouldn’t be built: It’s a waste of money.

First, plunging oil prices matter. A lot. They’ve sunk below $47 a barrel, losing more than half their value since last June. Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi declared a few weeks ago that he doesn’t care whether oil goes as low as $20 a barrel, a 16-year low. It just might.

By some estimates, a barrel of oil must fetch at least $95 for profits to be extracted from Canada’s tar sands. It’s impossible to say when prices will rebound to that level or if companies will give up on that oil patch, leaving the Keystone XL without much (if any) heavy crude to move.

Ultimately, there could be no oil to haul from Alberta to Louisiana to be refined — or not, if the U.S. scraps its ban on exporting crude — and then shipped to, say, China.

More importantly, tar sands oil production may stop within a few years even if it does prove profitable. You see, global climate talks are heading in a direction that’s likely to result in countries and companies leaving large amounts of oil, gas, and coal in the ground.

A new study published in the journal Nature spelled out where and what kind of fossil fuels would need to be left unexploited. Its authors predict that virtually all Canadian tar sands oil production will stop by 2020.

If it’s built by then, there’d be nothing for the Keystone XL to transport. As a pipeline to nowhere, it would become a monument to wasting colossal sums of money on dirty-energy infrastructure.

John Hoeven should listen to Maria van der Hoeven. If he did, he’d realize the benefits of losing this political battle.

 

By: Emily Schwartz Greco, Columnist and Managing Editor of OtherWords; The National Memo, January 16, 2015

January 17, 2015 Posted by | Big Oil, Climate Change, Keystone XL | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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