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“Obama Isn’t Done Being President”: He Promised To Play Through To The End Of The Fourth Quarter

Most of the time when President Obama is mentioned in a news article these days it is to talk about his legacy or note that he will be one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest assets on the campaign train over the next few months. All of that will change for a moment on Wednesday when he travels to Dallas to speak at the memorial services for the police officers who were killed in the attacks on Thursday night.

But in the meantime, he’s still busy being President. As I noted back in March, he set a far-reaching goal back in 2009 when he traveled to Prague.

So today I am announcing a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. We will set new standards, expand our cooperation with Russia, pursue new partnerships to lock down these sensitive materials.

Since then, the United States has hosted four Global Summits on Nuclear Security and the President affirmed the need to continue working on these issues during his visit to Hiroshima.

That is why we come to Hiroshima.

The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.

Obviously Obama intends to keep working on this one right up until the day his second term is over.

In recent weeks, the national security Cabinet members known as the Principals Committee held two meetings to review options for executive actions on nuclear policy. Many of the options on the table are controversial, but by design none of them require formal congressional approval. No final decisions have been made, but Obama is expected to weigh in personally soon…

Several U.S. officials briefed on the options told me they include declaring a “no first use” policy for the United States’ nuclear arsenal, which would be a landmark change in the country’s nuclear posture. Another option under consideration is seeking a U.N. Security Council resolution affirming a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons. This would be a way to enshrine the United States’ pledge not to test without having to seek unlikely Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The administration is also considering offering Russia a five-year extension of the New START treaty’s limits on deployed nuclear weapons, even though those limits don’t expire until 2021. This way, Obama could ensure that the next administration doesn’t let the treaty lapse. Some administration officials want to cancel or delay development of a new nuclear cruise missile, called the Long-Range Stand-Off weapon, because it is designed for a limited nuclear strike, a capability Obama doesn’t believe the United States needs. Some officials want to take most deployed nukes off of “hair trigger” alert.

The administration also wants to cut back long-term plans for modernizing the nation’s nuclear arsenal, which the Congressional Budget Office reports will cost about $350 billion over the next decade. Obama may establish a blue-ribbon panel of experts to examine the long-term budget for these efforts and find ways to scale it back.

After the 2014 midterm elections, President Obama promised to play through to the end of the fourth quarter. Don’t count him out just yet. He is obviously making good on that promise as well.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 11, 2016

July 12, 2016 Posted by | Hiroshima, Nuclear Weapons, President Obama | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Familiar, Reflexive Anti-Agreement Posture”: GOP Oppossiton, Not Because Of Provisions, But Because it’s A Deal With Iran

As observers around the world digest the details of the preliminary nuclear agreement with Iran, one of the striking aspects of the reactions is how pleasantly surprised some proponents are. There’s a large contingent of experts saying this morning, “I was ready to live with an unsatisfying deal, but this is a bigger win for America than I could have imagined.

Fred Kaplan, for example, said the framework “turns out to be far more detailed, quantitative, and restrictive than anyone had expected.” Max Fisher called the blueprint “astonishingly good,” adding that it’s “almost astoundingly favorable to the United States” and “far better than expected.”

It’s against this background that congressional Republicans screamed bloody murder. “Neville Chamberlain got a better deal from Adolf Hitler,” Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said in a statement.

Obviously, these are not the comments of someone who wants to be taken seriously by adults. Indeed, I can’t help but wonder how many GOP critics already had their furious press releases -pre-written, waiting for an agreement to be announced, so they could start whining before reading it.

But Jon Chait recently noticed the broader problem.

[T]he conservative case against the Iran deal is hard to take seriously because the right has made the same case against every major negotiation with an American adversary since World War II.

The right opposed every nonproliferation treaty with the Soviets. The right opposed Nixon going to China. The right condemned the SALT treaty and the START treaty.

As Peter Beinart explained a while back, Reagan and Clinton were both confronted with ugly Munich comparisons from far-right ideologues – many of whom are literally the same people furious with Obama for curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions now.

This is no small detail. In fact, it’s one of the more important aspects of the entire debate.

If some policymakers oppose literally any agreement, without regard for policy or principle, solely out of reflex, then their concerns must be dismissed out of hand. There’s ample room for a spirited debate on the merits, but for the discussion to have any integrity, it should be limited to those who take the disagreement itself seriously.

Their vitriol has no real meaning precisely because it’s unrelated to any evidence or facts.

The right opposes a deal with Iran, not because of the provisions included in the preliminary agreement, but because it’s a deal with Iran.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 3, 2015

April 6, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP, Iran | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Oh Please!”: Mitt Romney Pretends To Know Foreign Policy

Last May, Mitt Romney was reportedly “restless” and decided he would “re-emerge in ways that will “help shape national priorities.’” And the failed presidential candidate hasn’t stopped talking since.

One can only speculate as to why Romney refuses to quietly, graciously step aside, but it appears he takes a certain satisfaction from bashing the president who defeated him, as often as possible, on as many topics as possible.

Today, the former one-term governor with no foreign policy experience decided to try his hand at condemning President Obama’s policy towards Ukraine and Russia, writing a Wall Street Journal op-ed, complaining about “failed leadership.”

When protests in Ukraine grew and violence ensued, it was surely evident to people in the intelligence community – and to the White House – that President Putin might try to take advantage of the situation to capture Crimea, or more.

Wrong. U.S. intelligence officials didn’t think Putin would try to take Crimea. For that matter, Russian officials didn’t think so, either. It wasn’t a smart strategic move, which made it that much less predictable.

That was the time to talk with our global allies about punishments and sanctions, to secure their solidarity, and to communicate these to the Russian president. These steps, plus assurances that we would not exclude Russia from its base in Sevastopol or threaten its influence in Kiev, might have dissuaded him from invasion.

That’s wrong, too. Daniel Larison’s take rings true: “The U.S. was in no position to reassure Moscow that it would not lose influence in Kiev, since the Kremlin assumed that the U.S. and EU were actively seeking to reduce its influence by encouraging Yanukovych’s overthrow. Romney thinks that the U.S. could have headed off the crisis by threatening Russia with punishment for things it had not yet done, but that ignores [the fact] that Russia has behaved the way that it has because it already thought that Western interference in Ukraine was too great.”

The time for securing the status-of-forces signatures from leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan was before we announced in 2011 our troop-withdrawal timeline, not after it. In negotiations, you get something when the person across the table wants something from you, not after you have already given it away.

That’s wrong, too. Romney fails to acknowledge that neither Iraq nor Afghanistan were prepared to negotiate over a long-term U.S. troop presence beyond 2014 back in 2011. (He also fails to acknowledge that he personally endorsed a troop-withdrawal timeline in 2008 – three years before 2011.)

It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office.

That’s wrong, too. The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project documents countries that have a more favorable opinion of the United States now than when President Obama was first inaugurated, and more importantly, the same study shows an even larger list of countries that respect the U.S. more than when Bush/Cheney brought our international reputation down to alarming depths.

Taken together, Romney’s op-ed doesn’t amount to much. But what’s especially odd is that the failed candidate is even trying.

Foreign policy has never been a signature issue for the Massachusetts Republican, and when he tried to broach the subject, Romney generally failed. Indeed, looking back at 2012, let’s not forget that Romney’s own advisers said “they have engaged with him so little on issues of national security that they are uncertain what camp he would fall into, and are uncertain themselves about how he would govern.”

On the Middle East peace process, Romney said he intended to ”kick the ball down the field and hope” that someone else figures something out. His handling of the crisis in Libya “revealed him as completely craven.” On Iran, Romney and his aides couldn’t even agree on one policy position. On Afghanistan, Romney occasionally forgot about the war.

Remember the time Romney “fled down a hallway and escaped up an escalator” to avoid a reporter asking his position on the NATO mission in Libya? Or how about the time he said there are “insurgents” in Iran? Or when he flip-flopped on Iraq? Or when he looked ridiculous during the incident involving Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng?

Perhaps my personal favorite was when Romney tried to trash the New START nuclear treaty in an op-ed, but flubbed every relevant detail, prompting Fred Kaplan to respond, “In 35 years of following debates over nuclear arms control, I have never seen anything quite as shabby, misleading and – let’s not mince words – thoroughly ignorant as Mitt Romney’s attack on the New START treaty.”

Thomas Friedman noted shortly before the election, “For the first time in a long, long time, a Democrat is running for president and has the clear advantage on national security policy.” Part of this, the columnist argued, is that Mitt Romney acts “as if he learned his foreign policy at the International House of Pancakes.”

So why is this guy writing WSJ op-eds as if he’s a credible voice on international affairs?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 19, 2014

March 20, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Mitt Romney | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Putin’s Aggression Is Not America’s Fault!”: Yes, Pundits Are Arguing That We’re To Blame

One of the biggest flaws with the neoconservative view of the world is the idea that the United States almost always has within its power the ability to affect change. It isn’t merely that the United States should try to promote democracy or maintain an empire; it’s the idea that doing what it pleases, ably, is within the realm of possibility.

An ostensibly converse but ironically similar view comes from many on the left. Muslim extremism? The result of American foreign policy. Warmongering world leaders? Well, they feel hemmed in by the United States. This mindset, which is echoed by a number of realist scholars, has arisen most recently because of President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Crimea. Several realists want us to understand the actions of Putin through the prism of the United States. For these thinkers, as with their neocon opponents, everything is always, in the end, about us.

A good example is Jack F. Matlock Jr.’s piece in The Washington Post. According to Matlock, a former ambassador to the Soviet Union, Putin’s actions can be explained by the way a bullying United States has treated Russia. Specifically, Matlock writes, America made Russia feel like the “loser” of the Cold War after that war ended. Here is Matlock:

President Bill Clinton supported NATO’s bombing of Serbia without U.N. Security Council approval and the expansion of NATO to include former Warsaw Pact countries. Those moves seemed to violate the understanding that the United States would not take advantage of the Soviet retreat from Eastern Europe.

Matlock appears to be arguing that Russian anger over U.S. action in Kosovo was the result of America acting in Russia’s sphere of influence. But would Russia have felt the same if we had supported Serbia, Russia’s ally? Almost certainly not; Russia was upset that we took the opposite side in that conflict. Moreover, it’s slightly bizarre to say that we should have left Kosovo to Slobodan Milosevic just to maintain our high standing in Russian public opinion polls.

Matlock mentions the United Nations in the above quote, and he brings it up again when he notes that America’s catastrophic war with Iraq did not have U.N. approval. As touching as it is to view Putin as a great proponent of internationalism who was outraged by American breaches of the law, I think it’s probably fruitful to look elsewhere for clues to his behavior. Matlock himself quickly turns to NATO expansion, which certainly does seem to have had some impact on Russian attitudes towards the United States. As Matlock writes:

When terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, [Putin] was the first foreign leader to call and offer support…What did he get in return? Some meaningless praise from President George W. Bush, who then delivered the diplomatic equivalent of swift kicks to the groin: further expansion of NATO in the Baltics and the Balkans, and plans for American bases there; withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; invasion of Iraq without U.N. Security Council approval; overt participation in the “color revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan; and then, probing some of the firmest red lines any Russian leader would draw, talk of taking Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.

Whatever one wants to say about the intelligence or wisdom of American foreign policy—and the policies above were probably at best a mixed bag—it is bizarre to say that Putin was so angry we might try to offer Ukraine NATO protection from Russia that he…invaded Ukraine. Isn’t there something rather ironic about Putin being so angry by our concern over something that he goes and does the thing we are concerned about? It’s all part of the same mindset that sees the behavior of other countries as literally reactionary: We act, they react. (It is also worth noting that in 2008 NATO denied Membership Action Plan (MAP) status to both Ukraine and Georgia. Somehow this didn’t mollify Putin.)

Moreover, reading Matlock’s account you would think that Russian policy at home and abroad—Putin has cracked down heavily on dissent at home—was determined entirely by the United States. It is awfully solipsistic to look at the world this way.

Matlock has more trouble with the Obama administration. He writes:

President Obama famously attempted a “reset” of relations with Russia, with some success: The New START treaty was an important achievement, and there was increased quiet cooperation on a number of regional issues. But then Congress’s penchant for minding other people’s business when it cannot cope with its own began to take its toll. The Magnitsky Act, which singled out Russia for human rights violations as if there were none of comparable gravity elsewhere, infuriated Russia’s rulers and confirmed with the broader public the image of the United States as an implacable enemy.

No doubt the Magnitsky Act did infuriate the Kremlin, but Putin’s aggressiveness abroad and undemocratic tendencies at home were visible well before it passed, which severely weakens Matlock’s argument. (Direct retaliatory steps against the United States, like banning American adoptions, were certainly connected to the Act, but that doesn’t mean Putin’s entire worldview is shaped by American actions.)

These same tendencies appear in n+1‘s editorial on the Ukraine crisis. “What role has the American intellectual community played in this saga, if any?” the editorial asks. “Certainly we failed to prevent it.” I didn’t realize that the American intellectual community had the power to stop foreign dictators from invading other countries. They continue:

We have indulged ourselves in a bacchanalia of anti-Putinism, shading over into anti-Russianism. We turned Pussy Riot into mass media stars. We wrote endless articles (and books) about how Putin was a mystery man, a terrible man, a KGB ghoul who lived under your bed….It’s hard to know how much of what gets written in various places leads to American policies in actual fact. Does it matter what’s in the Nation? What about the New York Review of Books? The New Yorker? It’s impossible to say. And the media or publishing game has its own rules, irrespective of politics. Evil Putin is just going to get more airtime than Complicated Putin or Putin Who is Running a Country in a Complex Geopolitical Situation.

Whatever one thinks of this analysis, the most striking thing about it is the power it imparts to Americans. Putin is the leader of a foreign country. The idea that what’s written in American magazines leads to American policymakers making policy that in turn enrages Putin that in turn aids and abets his thirst for aggression is, again, almost laughably solipsistic.

American policy toward Russia going all the way back to the First World War has often been shortsighted or worse. But when thinking about how to respond—or not respond—to Russia’s actions today, it’s probably best to stop viewing those actions as the direct result of American foreign policy.

 

By: Isaac Chotiner, The New Republic, March 17, 2014

March 19, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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