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“Congress Largely On The Sidelines For Paris Deal”: Mitch McConnell Is Powerless To Block Obama’s Climate Change Deal

One of the few times countries around the world have reached a climate change deal to cut global greenhouse gasses was the 1997 Kyoto treaty, which required binding cuts from industrialized nations. Top Republicans told the press it was “dead on arrival” and would never gain approval from the Senate. And that was, more or less, the end of Kyoto—other countries pointed to the U.S. never ratifying it as reason enough to ignore their own commitments.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has now pledged to kill the latest emerging global consensus to act on climate change. His strategy is to obstruct a deal at the next major conference in Paris at the end of the year. As Politico reported earlier this week, congressional Republicans have returned from their August recess with every intention of derailing a deal long before we get to December. An aide to McConnell is reaching out to foreign embassies to detail how the GOP-controlled Congress plans to stop President Obama’s climate plan from moving forward.

But this won’t be another Kyoto, because McConnell just isn’t a credible threat to the global negotiations. Well aware that Republicans have not changed their minds on UN climate treaties—and have in fact gone to a greater extreme—negotiators have put together a different kind of deal for a Paris conference at the end of the year, one that looks nothing like Kyoto. Republican obstinacy is so predictable, it’s already baked into the structure, politics, and messaging ahead of a deal in Paris.

At Paris, countries are responsible for putting forward their own emissions plans. Though it’s not clear what structure the final deal will take—including which elements are binding and which are not—the emissions cuts proposed at Paris probably won’t require Senate approval because they won’t be binding, as they were in Kyoto. Obama has pledged U.S. climate action through executive authority. (Of course, that also means that many of his pledges in Paris will rely on the commitment of his successor.)

McConnell’s strategy is clear: Send the world some very mixed messages on what the U.S. intends to do about its own greenhouse gas emissions. He’s emphasizing Republican plans to block the Clean Power Plan, a key part of Obama’s strategy to cut the U.S.’s carbon footprint by reducing emissions from electricity 32 percent by 2032. The GOP’s likely tool will be the Congressional Review Act, which requires only a majority vote to repeal a law—but it’s still subject to Obama’s veto, which makes repeal unlikely. The Senate may also take up a bill passed by the Environment and Public Works Committee that delays the Clean Power Plan until court challenges are resolved, a process that could take years and years—but though the Supreme Court could send the regulation back to the Environmental Protection Agency, defenders insist it is on sound legal ground. One tactic might work in the short term: Congress’s control over appropriations gives the GOP the ability to withhold the $3 billion Obama promised to the Green Climate Fund, an international fund to help poorer nations adapt to climate change. But it’s unlikely that alone would be enough to blow up broader negotiations.

Despite the largely hollow threats from McConnell, the Obama administration has been conducting its own outreach to large polluters like China to explain how the U.S. can deliver on its promises in good faith without Congress’ input—as long as a Democrat is in office, that is. In March, the U.S. submitted its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent by 2025 over 2005 levels. When negotiators ask State Department climate envoy Todd Stern about the “solidity of U.S. action,” he says he assures them that “the kind of regulation being put in place is not easily undone,” signaling that the White House is confident its Clean Power Plan and other EPA regulations can survive court battles and congressional opposition.

All this means mixed news for Paris: The bad news is that a single Republican is powerful enough to undo the deal—but not until long after December, and only if the GOP wins the White House in 2016. The good news, though, is this means Congress is largely on the sidelines for Paris and won’t make or break the negotiations. It won’t be Mitch McConnell who sinks a deal.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, September 9, 2015

September 10, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Mitch Mc Connell, Paris Climate Conference | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How Absurdly Wrong Neo-Cons Were”: To Defeat ISIS, Ignore Partisan Alarmists And Send Smart Diplomats

It is entirely appropriate that the appalling crimes of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which openly declares genocidal intentions, have inspired demands for forceful action to destroy the terrorist entity. Impatient politicians and belligerent pundits express frustration with President Obama because he isn’t bombing more sites or dispatching U.S. troops to Iraq or expanding the conflict into Syria — or just heeding their urgent advice, immediately.

Now any or all of those policies may eventually prove necessary, after careful consideration and consultation with America’s allies. But the president would be wiser to do nothing than to simply parrot the prescriptions of his neoconservative critics. And he would be wiser still to keep in mind that the past enthusiasms and errors of those critics are the underlying causes of the predicament that he and the civilized world confront today.

The undeniable reality is that there would be no ISIS (and no crisis) if the dubious neoconservative desire to invade Iraq had been duly ignored in 2003.

A jihadi movement capable of winning support from oppressed Sunni Muslims in that ravaged country arose directly from the violent overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the installation, under American auspices, of a sectarian Shiite regime. Not only was that regime unwilling to unite Iraqis into a democratic order, but its political allegiance pointed toward Iran rather than the United States.

For anyone who listened to neoconservative “experts” such as William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, these ruinous developments would have come as a wicked surprise. Soon after the U.S. invasion, after all, Kristol had assured us that religious and ethnic divisions among Iraqis would present no significant problems whatsoever. “There’s been a certain amount of pop sociology in America,” he told National Public Radio in April 2003, “that the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq’s always been very secular.”

And the weapons of mass destruction were just around the corner, and the war would pay for itself with Iraqi oil, and the Iranians would rise up next to throw off the mullahs, while the entire Mideast underwent a miraculous transformation under the benign influence of the Bush doctrine, and blah, blah, blah…

By this point, it seems obvious to nearly everyone just how absurdly wrong all those predictions were. Just as salient, however, is that the Iraq war – and the failure of diplomacy that it represents – was the culmination of an enormous squandered opportunity, whose harmful consequences continue today. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the world rallied around the United States, from Europe to Asia; even the Iranians volunteered to help us defeat Al Qaeda.

Instead of assembling an international coalition to confront Islamist extremism – with diplomacy, technology, information, and humanitarian assistance as well as military force – the Bush administration moved against Iraq. By doing so, it alienated nearly all of our allies, forfeited the world’s sympathy, wasted thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, all to create a divided, failed state that now incubates terror.

So when someone like Kristol urges the president to bomb first and think later, as he did recently, the only sane response is bitter laughter. We need sober diplomacy and smart strategy, which President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have vowed to pursue when the United States takes over the leadership of the UN Security Council this month. And we need the patience to muster at last the broad, invincible alliance we could have led against Al Qaeda from the beginning.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, September 2, 2014

September 4, 2014 Posted by | Middle East, Neo-Cons, War Hawks | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blinded By The Right: Unwavering Support For Israel Hurts Wider U.S. Interests In The Middle East.

In 2003, Democrats upset about President George W. Bush’s plans to invade Iraq invited French President Jacques Chirac, an opponent of the war, to address a joint meeting of Congress. It was blatant political play, an attempt by the opposition to work with a foreign leader in offering a counterargument to the president’s invasion plans and limit his ability to carry though with his decision to go to war in the Middle East. Chirac was feted across Washington by liberal think tanks and pro-French lobbying groups as American politicians and Democratic activists fell over themselves to be identified with a strong anti-war leader.

This, of course, did not happen. The idea that Congress would openly side with a foreign leader against the president of the United States seems too far-fetched to believe. Remarkably, however, something not dissimilar happened in Washington Tuesday, May 24, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to a joint meeting of Congress (a speech interrupted more than 25 times by a rapturous standing ovation). While these types of congressional addresses are rare, this particular event is even a bit more unusual: The speech’s intention — with the full assistance and backing of the Republican leadership in Congress and implicit support of Democrats — was to give Netanyahu a public forum to offer a rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s recent proposals for moving forward with the Arab-Israeli peace process.

As the New York Times reported last week, the invitation was initially requested by Netanyahu of the GOP leadership before the president’s Middle East speech plans had even been formalized: It was “widely interpreted as an attempt to get out in front of Mr. Obama, by presenting an Israeli peace proposal that, while short of what the Palestinians want, would box in the president.” In turn, Obama’s May 19 speech was scheduled purposely so that the president could get out ahead of Bibi’s remarks.

It’s one thing for Republicans to oppose the president’s position on Arab-Israeli peace. In the hours after Obama’s Middle East speech, Republican presidential contenders like Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney did just that, arguing that the president had proverbially thrown Israel “under the bus.” (Never mind that Obama simply reiterated long-standing U.S. policy toward the Arab-Israeli peace process.) They were joined — in a bipartisan manner — by prominent Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in offering pushback on the president’s words.

It is certainly appropriate for members of Congress to disagree with the president’s foreign-policy agenda. But it’s something else altogether to be appearing to work in concert with the leader of another country in trying to put the president on the defensive –and seeking to score a partisan political advantage in the process. By openly siding with Netanyahu against Obama and making Arab-Israeli peace a partisan issue, Republicans in Congress are at serious risk of crossing a dangerous line and in the process undermining U.S. interests in the Middle East.

This behavior follows a concerning pattern. Last November, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, after a meeting with Netanyahu, suggested that a Republican Congress would serve as a check on the Obama administration when it came to Israel policy (a position he later sought to walk back). In the fall of 2009, Cantor criticized the Obama administration for its rebuke of the Israeli government over the eviction of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Most surprising of all, the attack was lodged from Jerusalem, where Cantor was heading a 25-person GOP delegation — an unusual violation of the unspoken rule that members of Congress should refrain from criticizing the U.S. government while on foreign soil. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee took a similar position this February while traveling in Israel. He called the Obama administration’s opposition to Israeli settlements (a position long held by Democratic and Republican presidents) equivalent to “racism” and “apartheid.”

Last week, as Netanyahu lectured Obama at a frosty White House news conference and issued statements on what he “expected to hear” from the president about his commitment to Israeli security, Republican lawmakers barely batted an eye at behavior that by any other foreign leader would spark outrage from their caucus — and instead aimed their attacks at Obama.

This seems at pace with the GOP’s default position on Israel. This February, writing in the pages of National Review, Romney stated that “Israel must now contend with the fact that its principal backer in the world, the United States, is seeking to ingratiate itself with Arab opinion at its expense.” It’s a view that no doubt would have been met with astonishment in Arab capitals, where America’s image remains largely negative. One can’t help but wonder whether the tail isn’t wagging the dog — after all, is there a reason that the United States shouldn’t seek to ingratiate itself with Arab public opinion? There is an implicit assumption here that no matter what Israel says or does the United States must continue to be blindly supportive — an odd stance for an American politician to take, particularly when Israel’s actions occasionally run counter to larger U.S. interests.

Although one cannot ignore the fact that strongly held empathy for Israel is, in part, motivating this position, there is of course a healthy dose of domestic politicking at work. Democrats have long relied on Jewish support — both electorally and financially. Republicans, though less reliant on Jewish voters, have successfully made support for Israel a litmus test for Democrats to prove their national security mettle. Moreover, with strong backing for Israel among the party’s conservative base, defending Israeli behavior has become a surefire way for Republicans to politically cater to social conservatives and evangelical voters. In fact, Israel probably enjoys more clear-cut support for its policies among social conservatives than it does among American Jews! (And Netanyahu, in particular, didn’t just fall into this love fest: He has long supported and helped spearhead the alliance between the Israeli right wing and American religious conservatives.)

All this is a very far cry from George H.W. Bush’s open conflict with Israel and the American Jewish community in 1991 over loan guarantees for Israeli settlements. That the perception continues to exist that Bush’s aggressive stance cost him severely in the 1992 presidential election no doubt haunts the Republican Party — and any American politician inclined to put public pressure on Israeli leaders.

But ultimately there is more than politics at stake here. At a critical moment in the political transformation of the Middle East, America’s steadfast and unyielding support for Israel — underwritten by both parties in Congress — risks undermining America’s long-term interests in the region. Last year, Gen. David Petraeus commented in congressional testimony that “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples [in the region].” His statement provoked controversy in Washington, but ask any seasoned Middle East observer and you’d be hard-pressed to find one who disagrees with the general’s assessment. It is not Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya which is the greatest source of anti-American attitudes in the Arab world — it is the continued lack of resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the view of many in the region that the United States has its thumb on the scale in favor of Israel.

None of this is to suggest that Washington should turn its back on the Jewish state. But this is also a time when a more evenhanded position on the conflict is desperately needed — particularly as the United States will need to deal with a new government in Cairo that will likely be less supportive of Israel, a wave of unsteady democratic reforms spreading across the Mideast, and a U.N. General Assembly that appears ready to endorse Palestinian statehood this fall. These events will have serious repercussions not just for Israel but for U.S. policy in the region. Obama at least seems to realize this fact and has — albeit tepidly — challenged a recalcitrant Israel to get serious about peace. Yet Congress seems intent on restraining his leverage, effectively holding U.S. actions hostage to the whims of partisan politics — and in the process working in concert with a foreign leader to do it. At some point, it raises the legitimate question of who is looking out not for Israel’s interests, but America’s.

By: MIchael A. Cohen, Foreign Policy, May 24, 2011

May 26, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, Foreign Governments, Foreign Policy, GOP, Government, Middle East, Politics, President Obama, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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