Sunday, February 22, 2015

Give 'em hell, Barry! Part III

Back in August of 2008, I argued that President Obama should recall the election of 1948, and run against a “do-nothing, good for nothing” Congress in his campaign for re-election.  See, here and here.

Once again, I am urging the President to emulate the predecessor known for plain-speaking.

First, an example of how President Truman earned that reputation.

Truman didn’t much care for a review of his daughter’s singing performance that appeared in the Washington Post on December 6, 1950. The music critic Paul Hume described Miss Truman as “extremely attractive,” but went on to state “Miss Truman cannot sing very well.”

The president jotted off a note to Mr. Hume: 
“Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”
All of this comes to mind because the President who has made a career of being “the least aggrieved black man in America,” has just had to endure a mean-spirited attack from the one of whom Joe Biden once said, “The only three things he mentions in a sentence—a noun and a verb and 9/11.” 

Republicans are not exactly distancing themselves from Rudy Guiliani.

The White House responded to Guiliani’s despicable comments. Press Secretary Josh Earnest dealt out the most genteel smack-down ever uttered without using the words “Bless his heart.” Said he:
"It's sad to see when somebody who has attained a certain level of public stature -- and even admiration -- tarnishes that legacy so thoroughly. The truth is, I don't take any joy or vindication or satisfaction from that.
"I think really the only thing that I feel, is I feel sorry for Rudy Giuliani today." 
Now, I have been saying that Guiliani was a complete fraud since May of 2007, as you can see here.  A couple of months later, Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice, joined me in calling “Bullshit!” on Guiliani’s self-promoting narrative. 

Nowadays, Wayne Barrett is with the NY Daily News, and he is obviously still disgusted by Rudy Guiliani, this time attacking Rudy’s pathological family relations.

Why can’t the President do the same? He might be accused of picking the low-hanging fruit, but considering the pass that Guiliani has enjoyed, it’s time someone mentioned some of the things that Barrett brought up. They say it is a rule of politics that you don’t want to punch down, but when you are at the top of the heap, what else is there to do?

It will be hard to top Truman’s directness. Still, the President is liberated from having to run for office again and someone has to mention the fact that when Guiliani attacked the President’s upbringing he crossed into forbidden territory. To get the ball rolling, let me suggest an opening gambit:
“Mr. Guiliani has attacked me, which is part of his shtick. That’s fine, because when I signed up for a lifetime of public service to the country I love, I knew full well that there would be guttersnipes along the way that would put hatred of me over their professed love of country. But I didn’t sign up for an attack on my mama. That’s not acceptable coming from a lying son-of-a-bitch like the worthless Guiliani.”
Fill in the rest, Mr. President…

“   and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Making history with Iran

The U.S. and Iran may be on the verge of making a historic deal on nukes. The possible compromise was revealed ahead of the next negotiating round on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference that starts Friday. Will it be historically good, or historically bad?

First, let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. Reagan famously said of the Soviet empire that one must, “Trust but verify.” It’s a Russian proverb, Доверяй, но проверяй (doveryai, no proveryai) and the Gipper used it to great effect in negotiating arms reductions with Gorbachev, or so they say.

Some people also say that we are in a “Trust but verify” situation with Iran. This is completely false. Trust must play no part in our dealings with Iran. They absolutely cannot be trusted to comply with any treaty obligations. The only thing they can be trusted to be is true to their nature. You can trust that they are an atavistic, apocalyptic, totalitarian theocracy, determined to destroy Israel, and that they have financed terror operations against Jewish targets in Argentina, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere.

As for their nuclear ambitions, trust that the Iranians will pursue weapons before, during and after these negotiations. The question on the table is whether or not sufficient obstacles can be placed in the way of an Iranian bomb. And by sufficient, I mean, sufficient to be certain that they won’t get a bomb that can be used in any way, including as a threat, or to arm a proxy.

The plan being floated about is that Iran will keep 10,000 centrifuges. That’s a lot – enough to build a bomb. However, the idea is that Iran will have to export all of its production, and there will be an inspection and regulation regime to regulate the inputs and outputs to prevent Iran from getting the capacity to build a bomb. Finally, the centrifuges will be modified to limit how much nuclear fuel produced. I haven’t heard that the grade of the uranium produced is subject to controls under the proposed agreement, but my gut tells me that it is.

This might be a good outcome but only if Iranian compliance can be verified. Can the U.N. International Atomic Agency be trusted with the responsibility of verifying Iranian compliance, as contemplated in the compromise? I trust the Iranians to try to skirt the regulations, avoid the inspections, and get away with breaching the agreement. And then what?

War is the obvious option. The problem is that it takes time it takes to recognize a breach of the agreement. And then it takes more time to act on that knowledge, even in the case of unilateral military action under the command of the Commander-in-chief. What if, in that time, Iran gets a nuke? Depending on the outcome of the negotiations, Iran might be as little as one month and as much as a year from having a nuclear bomb under the terms of the compromise.

The work-around for this little problem is that, at least in theory, the U.S can act upon less than certain knowledge. Maybe there is no will to go to war, but in the past, the U.S. has used sanctions to coerce Iran to behave better. The main sanction that the U.S. can impose is in the area of banking. By freezing bank accounts, the U.S. can more or less freeze the Iranian economy. As we shall see, this is a mixed blessing.

Before we dismiss the rumored agreement out of hand, we need also to see what else is rolled into it. Will Iran commit to no longer funding Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the PLO (or, rather, it’s successor, the PA) and other terrorists around the world? What about a promise to stop its mischief in Iraq? All of this would be good, but there’s a rub.

How would we enforce these collateral deals? Obviously, war is not an option because if it were, we would have gone to war a long time ago. Recall that the proposed deal depends upon Iran exporting all of its nuclear fuel. If, by a series of sanctions, we can prevent Iran from participating in international trade, that leaves them with no money, no food, and an excess of nuclear fuel. That’s not good. In other words, the problem is that the nuclear deal may reduce our leverage in non-nuclear arenas.

The devil is in the details. How certain can we be that we will be able to detect Iranian cheating when it occurs? How much time will we have to react once we detect evidence that Iran is cheating? What will be our options, once we confirm cheating? Without these details we won’t know if this is a historically good deal or the opposite.

We can be certain that this deal is not good enough for the Israelis, if for no other reason than that the current PM will go to any lengths to embarrass our President, especially if he thinks it will advance his chances of re-election. Bibi giving his hechsher to a deal negotiated by President Obama is not in the cards. I am concerned that this is the attitude of Republicans, especially the fundamentalist wing of the party. What a shame it would be if a good deal is scrapped for this reason. As has been said, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

There’s talk that the deal is not likely to be good enough for France. And I must confess that I was disappointed when I heard the number 10,000 both because it is a large number, and because it does not reflect any movement by the Iranians. I am a big supporter of Obama, but I need to be persuaded that this is both a good deal, and the best deal we could get. I guess, I trust Obama, but I want to verify.

In the last analysis, any deal with Iran must include the condition that a breach means a “shock and awe” style attack on the mullahs. And that has to be the outcome if no deal is reached, too. And that’s why I am not in favor of provisional sanctions.

Stay tuned.