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“President Obama On Finding Openings”: An Incredibly Wise Grasp Of How History Works

After President Obama gave his speech about the Iran Nuclear Deal at American University, he met with ten journalists to discuss it further. I found this part of Max Fisher’s report to be fascinating.

Toward the end of our meeting with President Obama, one of us asked whether the Iran nuclear deal might change the future of that country’s poisonously anti-American politics, and Obama drifted from the technical and political details he’d otherwise focused on into something of a more reflective tone.

“I just don’t know,” he said, leaning back a bit in his chair for the first time since he’d arrived. “When Nixon went to China, Mao was still in power. He had no idea how that was going to play out.

“He didn’t know that Deng Xiaoping would suddenly come in and decide that it doesn’t matter what color the cat is as long as it catches mice, and the next thing you know you’ve got this state capitalism on the march,” Obama said, paraphrasing the famous aphorism by Mao’s successor that capitalistic policies were acceptable if they helped China. “You couldn’t anticipate that.”…

To hear him draw a connection between the nuclear deal and China’s transformation, then, was striking. It suggested that Obama, though he has repeatedly insisted he does not expect the character of Iran’s regime to change, does see it as a possibility, one potentially significant enough that it evokes, at least in his mind, President Nixon’s historic trip to China.

At the same time, the lesson Obama seemed to draw from the comparison was not that he, too, was on the verge of making history, but rather that transformations like China’s under Deng, opportunities like Nixon’s trip, can have both causes and consequences that are impossible to foresee. His role, he said, was to find “openings” for such moments.

That is an incredibly wise grasp of how history works – even for the most powerful person on the planet. It is a striking rebuke of much that we hear from would-be Republican leaders these days who presume that a President of the United States can control world events via military dominance. For those with some knowledge of history, it is especially important given that the discussion is taking place about a country where we tried that back in 1953 and paid the price for it via the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

It reminds me of comments President Obama has made in two other interviews with journalists. First of all, David Remnick.

“I think we are born into this world and inherit all the grudges and rivalries and hatreds and sins of the past,” he said. “But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and goodness of our forebears. And we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have.” The long view again. “But I think our decisions matter,” he went on. “And I think America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was President when he was President. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different. But I also think that, despite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”

In other words, one of the ways you find openings is to get your paragraph right.

Secondly, he said this in an interview with Tom Friedman.

What struck me most was what I’d call an “Obama doctrine” embedded in the president’s remarks. It emerged when I asked if there was a common denominator to his decisions to break free from longstanding United States policies isolating Burma, Cuba and now Iran. Obama said his view was that “engagement,” combined with meeting core strategic needs, could serve American interests vis-a-vis these three countries far better than endless sanctions and isolation. He added that America, with its overwhelming power, needs to have the self-confidence to take some calculated risks to open important new possibilities — like trying to forge a diplomatic deal with Iran that, while permitting it to keep some of its nuclear infrastructure, forestalls its ability to build a nuclear bomb for at least a decade, if not longer.

Openings are made possible when your self-confidence allows you to take calculated risks.

To sum up: Getting your paragraph right by staying true to your North Star, combined with the self-confidence to take calculated risks, creates openings that can lead to transformative change.

Decades from now we’ll be bearing the fruit of openings this President has made possible with that kind of wisdom.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 15, 2015

August 16, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran Nuclear Agreement, President Obama | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Bomb-Bomb-Bomb Iran”: The GOP Is The Party Of Warmongers; What Its Insane Overreaction To Obama’s Iran Deal Really Shows

Whenever an election season rolls around, we too often hear from trolls, contrarians and cynics who wrongfully announce that both political parties are exactly the same.

Wrong.

One party thinks women should make their own reproductive choices; the other does not. One party thinks LGBT Americans should enjoy equal protection under the law; the other does not. One party thinks higher taxes on the rich and lower taxes for everyone else is good for the economy; the other does not. One party thinks the climate crisis is real, is happening now, and is caused by human activity; the other thinks it’s a hoax while insisting that severe weather events are caused by abortion and gay marriage.

We could do this all day. But the most salient contrast came on Tuesday with the announcement that the P5+1 nations finalized an agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program. Going back to our party contrasts, one party is seeking at least 15 years of continued peace, while the other party wants to kill the deal, then perhaps, depending on their mood, proceed to “bomb-bomb-bomb” Iran, sparking a war not just between the U.S. and Iran, but involving the entire region, including Russia. Simply put: World War III. And that’s not just my forecast, it’s also the forecast of experts like former Bush-era CIA director Michael Hayden and Meir Dagan, the former head of the Israeli Mossad.

Possibly the most ludicrous reaction from the Republican field came from Lindsey Graham:

“If the initial reports regarding the details of this deal hold true, there’s no way as president of the United States I would honor this deal,” Graham told Bloomberg. “It’s incredibly dangerous for our national security, and it’s akin to declaring war on Sunni Arabs and Israel by the P5+1 because it ensures their primary antagonist Iran will become a nuclear power and allows them to rearm conventionally.”

Discontinuing Iran’s nuclear weapons program is like declaring war on Israel? The projection here is insane. Furthermore, I wonder how Israel would fare if we were to bomb Iran and deliberately collapse the region.

The second most ludicrous reaction came from Jeb Bush:

The nuclear agreement announced by the Obama Administration today is a dangerous, deeply flawed, and short sighted deal.
A comprehensive agreement should require Iran to verifiably abandon – not simply delay – its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. […] This isn’t diplomacy—it is appeasement.

That word—”appeasement”—keeps coming up, so let’s take a second to establish some basics. While it’s true that the deal doesn’t eliminate Iran’s nuclear program, as David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times, the deal “is a start,” and a necessary one.

Sanger reports:

Senior officials of two countries who barely spoke with each other for more than three decades have spent the past 20 months locked in hotel rooms, arguing about centrifuges but also learning how each perceives the other. Many who have jousted with Iran over the past decade see few better alternatives.

“The reality is that it is a painful agreement to make, but also necessary and wise,” said R. Nicholas Burns, who drafted the first sanctions against Iran, passed in the United Nations Security Council in 2006 and 2007, when he was undersecretary of state for policy. “And we might think of it as just the end of the beginning of a long struggle to contain Iran. There will be other dramas ahead.”

Negotiations necessarily require compromise, a fact that the Republican field would well consider before they spout off hardline bromides. (Also, perhaps Jeb should’ve double-checked the history of our effort to negotiate a settlement. If he did so, he’d discover that the U.S. first reached out to Iran in 2002 when his brother was president. Oops.)

 

By: Bob Cesca, Salon, July 15, 2015

July 16, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Nuclear Weapons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hey, GOP: Give Peace With Iran A Chance”: There’s No Reason To Listen To The Warmongers Who Always Get This Stuff Wrong

I’m not an expert on these things, so I don’t know what I think of the Iran deal yet. Some people I know who are certainly pro-deal and know something about all this found the agreed-upon framework to be more detailed than they expected, so that’s good. But there are many more details to be worked out and many rivers to cross.

But you know who else I bet isn’t an expert on these matters? Scott Walker. And I’d invite the Wisconsin governor to join me in withholding judgment until we’ve had the chance to study the fine print and ask experts what it all might mean, but I suspect that would be pretty futile. Greg Sargent on Thursday afternoon picked up on  a revealing comment Walker made to, who else, a right-wing talk radio host. The host, Charlie Sykes, actually asked Walker a skeptical question. They get so discombobulated when someone who’s supposed to be on the team asks a real question. And look at what Walker said:

SYKES: You have said that you would cancel any Iranian deal the Obama administration makes. Now would you cancel that even if our trading partners did not want to reimpose the sanctions?

WALKER: Absolutely. If I ultimately choose to run, and if I’m honored to be elected by the people of this country, I will pull back on that on January 20, 2017, because the last thing—not just for the region but for this world—we need is a nuclear-armed Iran.

By “our trading partners,” Sykes means chiefly England, France, and Germany—the other countries (along with Russia and China) involved in the Switzerland negotiations. This is a major point of disagreement between liberals and conservatives, because conservatives say that we should have walked away from the Lausanne table and regrouped with our trading partners and imposed even tougher sanctions to bring Iran more quickly to its knees. Liberals contend, as President Obama did during his Rose Garden announcement of the deal, that these partners don’t want to maintain sanctions, and that if we’d walked away, it would have been the sanctions regime that that would have cracked, not Iran.

So Sykes was saying here to Walker: If the sanctions collapse, which will leave Iran on stronger economic footing and take out of our hands the one club over them we have—even at the risk of that happening, you’d cancel a deal? And Walker said yes. Not “depends on the deal.” Just “absolutely.”

The man is not in the realm of evidence here. He is in the realm of dogma, and dogma is all we’re going to get from these people. As I’m writing these words, we have yet to see the statements from most of the GOP presidential contenders, but gaming out what they’re going to say is hardly history’s greatest guessing game. Marco Rubio did come out of the gate pretty fast with a statement whose money line referred to “this attempt to spin diplomatic failure as a success.” You remember him: the same Rubio who doesn’t know that Iran and ISIS are enemies.

I once thought there would be a chance that Rand Paul might say something more interesting. He’s “dark,” his press office says, until after Easter, so we’re apparently not getting anything out of him now. But no matter. Whatever his past interesting heterodoxies on foreign policy, he now knows he just has to bash Obama and say what the rest of them are saying, and so in all likelihood he will.

Thus, one interesting question for the coming weeks: Will there be one Republican, just one, either among the candidates or in the Congress, who will actually step forward to say something like, “You know, now that I’ve read this and talked to experts, I’ve concluded that it’s worth giving this a shot?” One? You probably laughed at the naiveté of the question. I admit it does sound naive, but this shouldn’t allow us to lose sight of the fact that it’s tragic that things have come to this point, that we simply accept in such a ho-hum way that the Republicans are going to oppose anything with Obama’s name on it, not just when it comes to tax policy and such, but matters of war and peace.

This seems a most apt time to remember some aspects of the neoconservative track record that they’d rather the rest of us forget. North Korea is one, remember that one? The Hermit Kingdom started working on a nuclear program in earnest in the 1980s. In 1993, the North Koreans threatened to withdraw from the nonproliferation treaty. Diplomacy then commenced under Bill Clinton, leading to the 1994 Agreed Framework. The Framework had a checkered history—mostly because (cough cough) hardliners in Congress repeatedly refused to let the United States live up to its side of the agreement—but the long and short of it was that in the 1990s, North Korea didn’t aggressively pursue a nuclearization program.

Then came the neocons, and Dubya, and the axis of evil business, and soon enough North Korea was enriching uranium like there was no tomorrow. Remember the test bombs it was launching about a decade ago out toward Japan? All that started because Pyongyang took Bush at his belligerent word. Today it’s estimated that North Korea has enough separated plutonium for six to eight bombs. We rattle our saber, it makes smaller countries want to go nuclear. It’s really not very complicated.

Far from weakening North Korea, the neocon posture strengthened it. And speaking of strengthening, what about Iran? It’s the neocons’ war in Iraq that gave Iraq to Iran. They strengthened Iran. And if they get their way they’re going to do it again, if and when they manage to kill this deal and then Iran says OK, the hell with you, we’re building the bomb as fast as we can.

I’m not all yippee, Nobel Peace Prize for Kerry about this deal. I expressed my reservations the other day, and they remain. The administration deserves credit on one level just for getting this far—negotiations like these are amazingly hard. But we’re still only across midfield here.

Even so, if it’s hard to decide what precisely to be for, it’s laughably easy to figure out what to be against: reflexive and dogmatic opposition undertaken for the purposes of making sure you get your anti-Obama ticket stamped that will hasten the day either that a) Iran gets the bomb or b) we start a war to prevent that. Maybe it’s a little cliched to say give peace a chance, but thanks to the neoconservatives, we’ve given war plenty of chance, and all it’s done is strengthened Tehran and given us ISIS. Will these people ever look in the mirror?

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 3, 2015

April 3, 2015 Posted by | Iran, Neo-Cons, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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