The Anti-Vaccine Movement Meets Reality

In the worst way, of course:

In the ongoing skirmishes between public health officials and vaccine skeptics, I’m scoring this one for the pro-immunization forces. A Canadian woman who had declined to have her children immunized against pertussis, better known as whooping cough, has changed her position now that all seven of her children have come down with the disease.

Yes, Tara Hills was stuck in isolation at her Ottawa home for more than a week with her sick children and her regrets about refusing to vaccinate them against the highly contagious respiratory disease. Whooping cough, a bacterial infection, causes violent, uncontrollable coughing and is best known for the telltale sound victims make as they try to draw breath. Occasionally, it can be fatal, especially in infants less than a year old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Hills kids completed a course of antibiotics and were released from isolation Tuesday.

“I set out to prove that we were right,” Hills said in an interview with the Washington Post, “and in the process found out how wrong we were.”

And she risked her children’s lives in the process, which of course, is appalling beyond belief. The scary thing is that even this will not show other members of the anti-vaccine movement how wrong they are.

In related news, California has decided to be less insane:

California lawmakers approved a bill this week that would prevent most parents from opting out of vaccinations for their children enrolled in school, just months after the state was hit with the largest U.S. measles outbreak in decades.

Legislators endured an intense, nearly four-hour hearing ahead of the vote on Wednesday, with many people rising out of their seats and shouting over the lawmakers, The Sacramento Bee reported. The measure, which passed by 6-2, must go through several additional hearings before a potential vote on the state Senate floor.

The bill, which was drafted in response to recent outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough, eliminates the “personal beliefs” exemption that currently allows parents in California not to vaccinate their children before enrolling in public or private school.

Amazingly enough, some people actually tried to defeat this bill. I’m glad it passed, but obviously, the pro-vaccine movement still has a long way to go before it prevails over the forces of lunacy.

Recognizing the Reality of Climate Change

Jonathan Adler and Ronald Bailey are to be applauded for writing essays that work to convince the libertarian community that climate change is real and man-made. They argue that accepting the reality of man-made climate change does not mean that one is necessarily signing on to a particular set of policies, but on this point, I have to take issue. The best way to deal with man-made climate change is to institute a tax on carbon emissions that is revenue-neutral, and can go back to taxpayers in the form of a payroll tax refund. Back in 2007, I argued in favor of using the carbon tax and futures markets to settle the debate over whether the planet is warming. But that debate is indeed settled, and now, the carbon tax is needed in order to stop or reverse warming. And if we don’t act quickly enough, we will need to add geo-engineering to the list of policy options. Indeed, employing geo-engineering may already be necessary.

Quote of the Day

Clinton seems almost an afterthought, appearing at the end to tell viewers she is also ready to start “something new.” A new Web site and accompanying Facebook page feature old photos and a link to donate to the campaign.

The announcement — designed to be as low-key as anything involving Clinton can be — contains no overarching campaign theme. Nowhere does Clinton succinctly say why she wants to be president, or why she would be good at the job.

Anne Gearan. (Emphasis mine.) What a shock.

Get Ready for Hillary Clinton . . .

Because whether you support her or not, she is getting read to run for president. We are apparently going to have a small-ball campaign that is going to be designed to make us forget that Clinton picks up massive paychecks for speaking gigs, and claimed that she and her husband were almost broke when they left the White House–so broke that they could not initially afford their mortgages (note the plural of the word “mortgage”; if you are in a position where you are complaining about mortgages, you are actually doing rather well indeed).

Just to be clear about matters, if you are “Ready for Hillary,” that must mean that you are ready for a candidate who has a history of having been too scared to take a stand on the issues of the day:

A trove of papers released yesterday at the Clinton library shows that, even before homebrew e-mail servers were an option, Hillary Clinton’s operation had  mastered low-tech workarounds to avoid leaving a paper trail of her real-time views on controversial subjects.

Even though the First Lady maintained her own correspondence office, in at least once instance, her staffers punted an inquiry about her views on a timely controversial issue then dividing Democrats to her husband’s staff.

“We have received a few letters on the subject of same-sex marriage,” Alice J. Pushkar of the first lady’s staff wrote to Kyle M. Baker, on her husband’s side of the White House, on September 18, 1996. “I think that it would be more appropriate for a response to come from the President on this than the First Lady. Would it be possible to get a First Lady version of the P-323?”

Later that day, Baker’s office generated a form letter, which is among the hundreds of thousands of previously unreleased papers made public. “Thank you for contacting Hillary regarding marriages of couples of the same gender. She has asked me to respond on her behalf,” read the letter approved for Bill Clinton’s auto-pen signature. “In 1992, I stated my opposition to same-gender marriage, and recently, when the issue was raised in Congress, I said that if a bill consistent with my previously stated position reached my desk, I would sign it.”

A little more than 24 hours after that letter was prepared, Clinton did sign the Defense of Marriage Act, ignominiously doing so past midnight in an empty White House without any cameras present. In a contemporaneous signing statement, a belated effort to placate liberal supporters he knew abhorred the bill, Clinton expressed worry that it could serve to “provide an excuse for discrimination.”

A profile in courage, this ain’t. Indeed, when it comes to Clinton, no one seems to know what she stands for:

. . . For someone who has been on the national stage for a quarter-century, her beliefs are strangely hard to pin down. On foreign policy, she says she is neither a realist nor an idealist but an “idealistic realist”. In a recent memoir, she celebrates “the American model of free markets for free people”. Yet to a left-wing crowd, she says: “Don’t let anybody tell you, that, you know, it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.” (An aide later said she meant tax breaks for corporations.) Some candidates’ views can be inferred from the advisers they retain, but Mrs Clinton has hundreds, including luminaries from every Democratic faction. Charles Schumer, her former Senate colleague from New York, called her “the most opaque person you’ll ever meet in your life”.

None of this matters to Clinton supporters, who remain “Ready for Hillary,” no matter how mysterious her political and governing philosophy might be. But it ought to matter to the rest of us–as should all of the stumbling and bumbling that has so strongly defined the Clinton political operation.

And already, her campaign is having problems:

In both the Iowa counties that were her strongholds when she last ran to be Democratic candidate for president, as well as those where she did the worst, activists have expressed skepticism about her nascent campaign’s efforts so far. Although many who supported her in 2008 were still onboard, they said they had heard little from the Clinton camp.

Linda Nelson, chair of the Democratic Party in Pottawattamie County, a prosperous county in south-west Iowa that includes the city of Council Bluffs and was Clinton’s No2 county last time, said she had had one phone call from Clinton’s national campaign manager, Robby Mook, who reached out to her while driving across Iowa with Matt Paul, Clinton’s state director. She said Mook assured her that the Clinton campaign “will be all over the state and they will have an organization”.

That phone call was more than other key activists had received prior to the formal launch of Clinton’s campaign.

Connie Gronstal, a prominent Democratic activist in Pottawattamie County whose husband Mike is the majority leader in the Iowa state senate, considered the most powerful Democrat in the state, told the Guardian Clinton and her allies had not excelled keeping in touch.

She said: “I’ve gotten to know [vice-president and possible 2016 candidate] Joe Biden pretty well and he’s kept in touch. Some people are very good at that, and other people aren’t as good at that.”

Gronstal went on to note that “other people have either had the time or the inclination to keep those contacts and nurture them”. She said that was important because “it gave people the connection that someone still is there. I worked hard for this person and now I’m not hearing anything”.

Get ready for more of these kinds of stories. Back in 2008, we were told that Barack Obama’s ability to run a good campaign indicated that he also had the ability to run the country. That was never a cogent argument, but if you think otherwise, then explain how we can be confident in Hillary Clinton’s ability to run the country when her campaign administration abilities have been shown to be suspect.

So, Rand Paul Is Running for President . . .

And just in time for the start of his campaign, we have a report that his father, former congressman Ron Paul, has a think tank staffed with members who work as hard as they possibly can in order to make Vladimir Putin look good:

Numerous members of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity have spent years as professional spin-doctors for Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders of oppressive regimes, according to an analysis by the Washington Free Beacon.

The institute’s namesake, former congressman and failed presidential candidate Ron Paul, recently made headlines when he defended Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. “Actually he has some law on his side,” Paul said on Fox Business Channel’s “The Independents” last week.

Those comments follow the line taken by Paul’s think tank, which has served as a fount of pro-Russian talking points and conspiracy theories about the U.S. government’s and NATO’s role in Ukraine.

The executive director of RPI and several members of its executive board have long ties to pro-Kremlin outfits, including a public relations shop created to restore Russian President Putin’s global image.

Who actually wants a president of the United States whose influential father heads up a think tank that is made up of Putin apologists? Does anyone actually want to risk the possibility that said apologists will have access to the White House during a Paul presidency? And just out of curiosity, how many other cranks and lunatics are associated with the Pauls? Do they also get a shot at influencing policy in the event that Rand Paul becomes president?

Quote of the Day

Andrei Sakharov must be rolling in his grave.

The late Russian nuclear physicist was the most prominent dissident in the Soviet Union. For his warnings against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and in defense of basic civil rights, the Kremlin targeted him with vicious slander campaigns and forced him into internal exile. When Sakharov won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1975, Soviet authorities prevented him from traveling to Oslo; he sent his wife, Elena Bonner, to accept it. In honor of his memory, the European Parliament awards an eponymous prize to activists who embody the spirit of the late Russian human-rights campaigner.

So it was a bit odd to hear Edward Lozansky, president of the American University in Moscow, invoke Sakharov’s name when he called the 35th annual World Russia Forum to order last Thursday afternoon in a cavernous Senate hearing room. The first such confab transpired on May 21, 1981, in honor of Sakharov’s birthday, and at a time when U.S.-Russian relations were at a low point. Ronald Reagan had just entered office, the Soviets were ramping up their intervention in Afghanistan, and both sides were beginning to fight a proxy war in Angola. It was this rise in tensions that prompted Lozansky to inaugurate the forum as a means of fostering dialogue between the rival superpowers.

Whatever noble purpose the event might have served back in the heady days of the Cold War, however, it has since lost its luster. Today, the World Russia Forum is no more than a gathering of Kremlin apologists, conspiracy theorists, and other assorted nut jobs.

Jamie Kirchick. Of course, it ought to surprise precisely no one that Stephen Cohen and Katrina vanden Heuvel make appearances in Kirchick’s piece.

Jeb Bush Doesn’t Have an Aura of Inevitability. And that’s Fine.

Nicholas Confessore–who in the past, has written for non-right wing rags like Salon, Washington Monthly, and The American Prospect, and who therefore may not be the most unbiased soul in the world when it comes to writing about Republicans–co-authored this piece along with Maggie Haberman in which we are breathlessly informed that not all Republicans are backing a Jeb Bush candidacy for the presidency.

To which, my reply is as follows: Who bloody well cares?

First off, let’s correct some history:

It is a far cry, party officials, activists and donors said, from the early success of George W. Bush, Mr. Bush’s brother, in securing the 2000 Republican presidential nomination.

For the Bush family, inevitability is not what it used to be. “There hasn’t been a coalescing around him like there was for his brother in 1998 and 1999,” said Ed Martin, who led the Missouri Republican Party until February and is now president of the Eagle Forum, the conservative group founded by Phyllis Schlafly. “I just don’t have a sense among big donors and Republican leaders that this is Jeb’s to lose.”

I really don’t have much trouble recalling that John McCain put George W. Bush through his paces during the race for the Republican presidential nomination, so claims by Confessore and Haberman notwithstanding, there was no particular aura of “inevitability” surrounding George W. Bush back during the 2000 race. Bush was the favorite, and he won, but McCain put up a fight that won the respect of those who observed the 2000 contest.

And that last point leads to my next one: If Jeb Bush walks away with the Republican nomination with no opposition whatsoever, he may well rue it in the 2016 general election contest.

Primary and caucus opponents may be a pain in the gluteus of the eventual nominee, but their presence in the race can ultimately serve to be salubrious for the nominee. If Jeb Bush has to fight through significant opposition in order to win the Republican nomination, he will be forced to put together a sharper and tougher campaign, and he will also be forced to be a sharper and tougher candidate. That will stand him in good stead when it comes time for any general election fight with the Democratic nominee. By contrast, if Bush has little to no opposition, then he may assume that he can afford to be a lazy candidate with a lazy campaign, and he will pay for that assumption in November, 2016.

Is Jeb Bush working to make himself look as formidable as possible in the current shadow campaign? Absolutely. Is he working to intimidate potential competitors with a showing of strength? You bet. Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else should expect otherwise. But just because Bush might have to put up with tough competition does not make his candidacy a failure, and if he views the competition in the right way–as a process that might help him become a better candidate–he will benefit mightily from the competition. And so, for that matter will the Republican party and the country as a whole.

Still don’t believe me? Well, consider the fact that back in 2000, Al Gore put an early end to Bill Bradley’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination by winning both Iowa and New Hampshire. Bradley, at the end of the day, didn’t put up much of a fight. Maybe if he did, Gore would have been a better and more effective candidate. Maybe if Gore had been a better and more effective candidate, he would have won his home state of Tennessee. And if Gore had won his home state of Tennessee, he would have been the 43rd president of the United States, regardless of who won Florida. And as for the upcoming primary and caucus fight on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton currently has no real competition for the hearts and minds of Democratic voters–though that may change soon. How is she doing as a candidate, however? Don’t respond by saying “quite well, thank you,” because that’s just not right.


More on the Nuclear Deal with Iran

I like to think that I am a fair-minded fellow, so in the interests of fairness and presenting both sides on the Iran nuclear deal, here is Fred Kaplan telling us that the framework for a nuclear deal with Iran is really and that we should be very glad indeed to have it as we work towards a comprehensive negotiated settlement. Read the whole thing, but note that even Kaplan is forced to admit that there are ways in which the new framework leaves us with more questions than answers:

First, it’s not clear when the sanctions would be lifted. An official summary of the framework states, at one point, “Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.” Elsewhere, it says that all U.N. Security Council resolutions on Iran nuclear issues “will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns.”

But this leaves open the question of timing. Some of these “commitments” are to be carried out through the duration of the deal, yet certainly there’s no suggestion that the sanctions will remain in place for a decade. Are the relevant commitments those that involve the reduction or dismantlement of nuclear equipment? If so, will the sanctions be lifted in phases or all at once when the cuts and shutdowns are complete?

The framework also states that sanctions can be “snapped back” into place if, at any point, Iran violates any part of the deal. But as everyone knows, it’s much harder to reimpose sanctions than it is to lift them, especially at the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China (which signed on to the sanctions reluctantly and want to see them lifted as soon as possible) have veto power. So everything else about this deal has to be solid.

More analysis here and here. Of course, it is worth emphasizing that we have only achieved a framework for a deal, and that there is much more that needs to be done to achieve a comprehensive negotiated settlement regarding Iran’s nuclear capacity. The achievement of such a settlement is far from guaranteed. And in the meantime, there remain things to be worried about.

For one thing, the United States and Iran can’t seem to agree on what the deal actually is:

Negotiators at the nuclear talks in Switzerland emerged from marathon talks on Thursday with a surprisingly detailed outline of the agreement they now must work to finalize by the end of June.

But one problem is that there are two versions.

The only joint document issued publicly was a statement from Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, and Federica Mogherini, the European Union foreign policy chief, that was all of seven paragraphs.

The statement listed about a dozen “parameters” that are to guide the next three months of talks, including the commitment that Iran’s Natanz installation will be the only location at which uranium is enriched during the life of the agreement.

But the United States and Iran have also made public more detailed accounts of their agreements in Lausanne, and those accounts underscore their expectations for what the final accord should say.

A careful review shows that there is considerable overlap between the two accounts, but also some noteworthy differences — which have raised the question of whether the two sides are entirely on the same page, especially on the question of how quickly sanctions are to be removed. The American and Iranian statements also do not clarify some critical issues, such as precisely what sort of research Iran will be allowed to undertake on advanced centrifuges during the first 10 years of the accord.

More on the differences between the Iranian and American understandings of the framework here. See also this:

Missing, however, are details on when sanctions would be lifted based on Iran’s compliance with the deal. That is important because the sanctions have strangled Iran’s economy and brought the government to the negotiating table. Yet international leverage to enforce compliance dissipates as the sanctions are lifted.

A determined Iran, desperate to sell its oil on the open market again, could meet the terms necessary to gain significant sanctions relief in just two or three years, says Jofi Joseph, a former director for non-proliferation in Obama’s National Security Council.

“The Iranians certainly want sanctions removed as fast as possible,” Joseph said. Once the international sanctions are suspended, they become very difficult to restore, he said. Russia, China and many European Union countries are keen on resuming trade with oil-rich Iran, whose 81 million people are hungry for Western and Chinese products.

Omri Ceren, an analyst at The Israel Project, a strong critic of the agreement, said the lack of specificity on when the sanctions would be lifted already is creating conflicting statements between the White House and Iran on the timing.

Another problematic omission, Joseph and others say, is how Iran will explain evidence uncovered by U.N. inspectors that it worked toward developing nuclear weapons in the past, something it has consistently denied.

The evidence was a key rationale for U.N. sanctions, but the framework agreement does not say whether the sanctions would be lifted before Iran addresses the issue. It’s also unclear how the IAEA inspectors will look for any remaining covert nuclear facilities without such an accounting, Joseph said.

The White House description doesn’t clearly address whether Iran’s military sites would be included in inspections, something the Iranian government has flatly ruled out. “If there’s a covert program” at those sites, “the (U.N. inspectors) won’t be able to inspect them,” said Michael Rubin, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.

 And more discussion from Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz:

A White House less desperate to make a deal would consider how easily nuclear agreements with bad actors are circumvented. Charles Duelfer has written a trenchant account in Politico of how Saddam Hussein tied the United Nations Security Council and its nuclear inspectors into knots in the 1990s, rendering them incapable of ascertaining the truth about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

The inspections regime in Iran envisioned by the Obama administration will not even come close to the intrusiveness of the failed inspections in Iraq. Worse, once sanctions are lifted and billions of dollars of Iranian trade starts to flow again to European and Asian companies, the U.S. likely will be dealing with a U.N. even more politically divided, and more incapable of action, than in the days of Saddam and the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003.

In an effort to circumvent possible congressional disapproval of his deal-making, Mr. Obama is voluntarily surrendering control of the implementation and verification of any agreement to the Security Council, where American leadership and influence are weak. The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, a decent little outfit of underpaid and underfunded bureaucrats and inspectors, can do good work when the Security Council is unified. The IAEA’s utility plummets when the council is divided.

The nuclear deal with Iran will now obviously go through without the clerical regime having to answer all of the questions that the IAEA still has about the “possible military dimensions,” or PMDs, of Iran’s nuclear program. It is perverse to think that the IAEA, having been successfully thwarted by Iran in the past, can now serve as a safeguard against future Iranian cheating.

The president’s much-hyped “snap-back” economic sanctions, now the only coercive instrument Mr. Obama has against Iranian noncompliance, will also surely fall victim to the Security Council’s politics and human greed. Already the Russians are resisting any snap-back provision that will neutralize their rogue-regime-protecting veto.

So there is, in fact, quite a lot about the new framework that should leave the rest of us concerned. About the best thing the framework has going for it is that it is not a comprehensive deal. But any comprehensive deal that fails to address the many deficiencies in the framework is no deal at all.

We Are Not Out of the Economic Woods Yet

For a while, recently, it looked as though the U.S. economy could create something on the order of 250,000 jobs per month, which got economic analysts thinking and hoping that at long last, the United States had turned the employment corner and would soon reach full employment–or something resembling full employment, at any rate.

Those hopes took a serious hit, recently:

The sputtering U.S. economy created just 126,000 jobs in March as bad weather, weak consumer spending and flailing corporate profits resulted in the worst report since December 2013.

Economists expected nonfarm payrolls to rise 245,000 in March, with the unemployment rate holding steady at 5.5 percent, according to Reuters. February’s numbers were revised lower to 264,000 from the initially reported 295,000, while January’s number fell from 239,000 to 201,000.

The total fell well short of the 269,000 average over the past year and was the first time in 14 months that the number dropped below 200,000.

About the only good news in the recent jobs report was that “[a] separate gauge that includes those who have stopped looking for work as well those employed part-time for economic reasons—the underemployed—edged lower from 11 percent to 10.9 percent.” But the news is still fairly bad, all around.

So, it really isn’t a good time to think of raising interest rates, and the Federal Reserve should banish such thoughts for the time being. The American economy has come a long way from the dark days of the Great Recession, but we still have much further to go before we can legitimately worry that an overheating economy might lead to inflation and the need to increase rates.

Incidentally, recall that in the 2012 presidential election, the Obama campaign told us that if they were given another four years, they would finally get the hang of this economy thing, and we would have smooth sailing on the jobs and economy front. This talk, of course, vastly overstates the influence that an American president usually has on the economy and the employment picture, but notwithstanding that fact, the Obama administration has actually done rather little to bring about smooth economic sailing. To the extent that any governmental institution has prevented a bad situation from getting worse, it has been the Federal Reserve; the actions of Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen have been laudable-verging-on-heroic, and history will remember that fact. But Team Obama itself has done rather little to improve our economic lot.

I know, I know; it should surprise precisely no one to find out that we have yet more broken campaign promises on our hands. Still, I thought that fact is worth mentioning.

If an Anti-Terrorism Strategy Doesn’t Work, the Obama Administration Will Endorse It

To wit:

President Obama has cited the battle against al-Shabab militants in Somalia as a model of success for his relatively low-investment, light-footprint approach to counterterrorism.

By some measures, it has paid dividends. U.S. drones have killed several of the Islamist group’s leaders, including two top planners in just the past month, a senior administration official said Friday. African Union troops backed by the United States have forced al-Shabab fighters to flee huge swaths of territory.

But this week’s massacre of 148 people at Garissa University College, the deadliest terrorist attack on Kenyan soil in two decades, demonstrates the limits of the administration’s approach and the difficulty of producing lasting victories over resilient enemies.

Only last fall, Obama was touting his counterterrorism strategy in the region as one that “we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

The collapse of the American-backed government in Yemen forced the Pentagon last month to pull its Special Operations forces from the country. The chaos in Yemen and the absence of an effective partner has essentially halted U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda’s affiliate there.

“But Pejman,” I hear you cry, “does this mean that any time we fight a terrorist group, we have to do it with boots on the ground?” Certainly not. At the same time, the light-footprint model has its limitations, and it is high time those limitations were acknowledged. Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems bound and determined to apply the same anti-terrorism template over and over (and over) again, and declare success . . . right before a cataclysmic event or series of events that lays bare the shortcomings of the administration’s approach.

And some people wonder why I think that this administration’s foreign and national security policy has gone off the rails.

The Tentative Nuclear Deal with Iran

It is just that–tentative. The details of the deal have to be worked out later, and the parties to the talks have given themselves until June 30 to do so. (One wonders whether they will stick to that timeline.) The outlines of the deal can be read here. Note that there is absolutely no provision whatsoever in the deal to limit or control the production of ballistic missiles; indeed, sanctions for ballistic missile production remain in place, as Iran has apparently not done anything to alleviate the concerns of the international community regarding that issue.

This report is of concern:

Negotiators working on a nuclear accord with Iran are discussing a secret annex that would contain detailed commitments by both sides, diplomats from three countries involved said, as talks entered their final hours.

The negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, which stretched into a diplomatic marathon amid missed deadlines and all-night sessions, appeared set to end with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini expected at a 7 p.m. press conference.

The goal of the diplomacy is an agreement to end the 12-year standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, restricting its atomic work and easing the sanctions that have isolated its economy and slashed exports of oil. But with consensus on key issues elusive, diplomats have scaled back expectations of what they can achieve this week. Another three months are envisaged to reach a detailed final accord.

If the six powers negotiating with Iran reach accord on major principles, a general public statement will be released while specific commitments will be enshrined in a confidential annex, according to officials from a European nation, Russia and a third country, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks.

Such a document would help U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to persuade Congressional skeptics that tangible progress had been made, while Iranian leaders would also have something to show to domestic hardliners, the diplomats said.

I can appreciate the need for negotiations to remain secret, but if we have some kind of tentative deal, then we ought to know what the details are of that deal. It is not right that the United States should be able to spin the deal one way, while the Iranians are able to spin the deal another way, and the rest of the world is left in the dark as to who is right simply because the details of the deal are contained in a “secret annex.” If “trust us, we negotiated a good deal and you don’t need to worry your pretty little heads about the details” is the line of the day, then all of us have reason to worry.

This analysis should worry us as well:

THE “KEY parameters” for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program released Thursday fall well short of the goals originally set by the Obama administration. None of Iran’s nuclear facilities — including the Fordow center buried under a mountain — will be closed. Not one of the country’s 19,000 centrifuges will be dismantled. Tehran’s existing stockpile of enriched uranium will be “reduced” but not necessarily shipped out of the country. In effect, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, though some of it will be mothballed for 10 years. When the accord lapses, the Islamic republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state.

That’s a long way from the standard set by President Obama in 2012 when he declared that “the deal we’ll accept” with Iran “is that they end their nuclear program” and “abide by the U.N. resolutions that have been in place.” Those resolutions call for Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium. Instead, under the agreement announced Thursday, enrichment will continue with 5,000 centrifuges for a decade, and all restraints on it will end in 15 years.

I’d like to think that my skepticism concerning this deal is unwarranted. But while there are many who are celebrating today’s agreement, there is much about it that will–and should–give us pause.

When in a Hole, Hillary Clinton Keeps Digging

The putative next president of the United States continues to do her best to convince us that she has no business being president:

  • Remember how Clinton told us that she couldn’t use both a e-mail address for work and a private e-mail address for personal correspondence because carrying two smartphones would be too cumbersome? Turns out that Clinton carried both a BlackBerry and an iPad. Just to emphasize, this news “comes despite [Clinton’s] explanation earlier this month that she used only a personal email address on a server run from her Chappaqua, New York, residence so she would have to carry only one device.” So, we were lied to on this front.
  • Apparently, Clinton maintained some kind of off-the-books intelligence network. One of the amateur spies working for Clinton–the noted pro-Clinton hack, Sidney Blumenthal–may have violated federal law with his e-mails.
  • According to the State Department, it has in its possession only four e-mails from Clinton regarding drone strikes and surveillance programs, “and those notes have little to do with either subject.” It is inconceivable that Clinton only wrote four e-mails on these subjects, and it would be nice if the other e-mails could be recovered, but . . . well . . . Clinton potentially made that impossible, didn’t she?
  • There are now 13 words that you can no longer use to refer to Hillary Clinton, lest you be outed as a sexist. These words include: “polarizing, calculating, disingenuous, insincere, ambitious, inevitable, entitled, over confident, secretive, will do anything to win, represents the past,” and “out of touch.” Two points: (1) This is a whole lot more than 13 words. (2) There is nothing whatsoever “sexist” about them. Of course, I’m sure that Clinton-backers are aware of the second point, and it is a sign of just how truly rattled they must be concerning their candidate’s public bumbling and fumbling that they would put forth the entirely silly notion that we are forbidden from using entirely non-sexist words in the English language to describe her thus-far disastrous campaign for the presidency.

In Case You Have Forgotten, Harry Reid Was the Worst Senate Majority Leader in History

Behold yet more proof, as though additional proof were actually needed. As Ashe Schow accurately notes, “in Reid’s world, it is perfectly acceptable to make a defamatory charge against an opponent to damage his campaign.”

Chris Cillizza:

Where to begin?

How about with the fact that this all-means-justify-the-ends logic — assuming the end is your desired one — is absolutely toxic for politics and, more importantly, democracy.  (Worth noting: Reid is far from the only one who practices this sort of thinking; it’s the rule rather than the exception in political Washington, where winning — no matter the cost — is the only goal that matters.) If you can lie — or, at a minimum, mislead based on scant information or rumor — then anything is justified in pursuit of winning. This sort of “the winners make the rules” approach is part of the broader partisan problem facing Washington and the polarization afflicting the nation more broadly.  There is no trust between the two parties because they believe — and have some real justification for believing — that the other side will say and do literally anything to win.

Think about Reid’s statement in another context. I have two little kids.  What if I told my son, who has just started playing soccer, that his only aim was to win the game — no matter how he accomplished that goal.  After all, it’s not cheating unless someone can prove it, right?

Would anyone think that was either (a) good parenting or (b) broadly beneficial for society? No.  That is the same logic Reid is applying here, but because we are all inured to the horribleness that is modern political strategy, people barely bat an eye. No, politics ain’t beanbag. I get that. But allowing elected officials to say anything they want about people running for office — and requiring zero proof in order to report those claims — seems to be a bridge too far. And to defend that behavior by saying, “Well, we won, didn’t we?” feels like the junior high school logic that shouldn’t be employed by the men and women trusted with representing us in Washington — or anywhere else.

I would note that while other politicians adhere to “this all-means-justify-the-ends logic,” few are as brazen about it.

I have argued it before, and will argue it again: Harry Reid is a McCarthyite, and I measure my words very carefully when I write that. I’ll add that there were plenty of political hacks, pundits and bloggers who willingly and eagerly swallowed Reid’s horses*** because they believed that it would harm the Romney campaign. These hacks, pundits and bloggers all knew or should have known that Reid was lying, but that didn’t bother them. I would expect them all to be ashamed of themselves, but–and again, I measure my words very carefully when I write this–I am sure that none of them have the decency to feel shame.

Oh, and from the folks who tell us that they gave us Change We Can Believe In:

During Wednesday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Josh Earnest fielded a question from a CNN reporter if the president had any comment on what Reid had said.

Earnest said he had not had a chance to speak to the president about the comments.

Earnest continued, saying that the relationship that the president and Reid had will go down in history as a remarkably productive relationship.

When asked if the Earnest would take the time to call out Reid’s conduct as unbecoming, he said he had no plans to.

“Not for something that’s three years old,” said Earnest.

Since when is there a statute of limitations on condemning McCarthyite tactics? More to the point, why wasn’t anyone associated with the Obama campaign–from the president on down–decent or honest enough to denounce these lies and the liar who spewed them back in 2012?

Waiting for a Nuclear Godot

I am not one of the people advocating war with Iran in order to eliminate Iran’s ability to manufacture a nuclear arsenal. I don’t believe that military action is feasible at this point without a large scale invasion and an Iraq-style takeover of the country, which would bring even larger headaches for the occupation forces. That having been written, I’d like to know precisely what the Obama administration thinks will change if negotiators hang around in Switzerland and continue to press for a nuclear deal. There has been no give from the Iranian delegation regarding the remaining stumbling blocks to a deal; if anything, there has been retrenchment on Iran’s part that will only serve to sabotage hopes for a workable deal. The March 31 deadline for the completion of a deal represents yet another allegedly firm Obama administration negotiating stance that got tossed to the side once the administration’s bluff was called. If members of the international community have not yet learned that they should not take the administration’s red lines seriously, then they frankly have not been paying attention.

There is no one in firm control of American foreign policy. The design and implementation of policy is a complete and tangled mess. Allies no longer trust us and adversaries simply do not take us seriously; it’s not for nothing that the Saudis are now freelancing in the realm of foreign affairs, convinced that they cannot trust the United States to lead, or to support those who are willing to lead in America’s stead.

In 2008, candidate Obama promised us a smart foreign policy if only we would be enlightened enough to elect him to the presidency. In 2012, President Obama assured us that we were getting a smart foreign policy, and that we would continue to get one if only we would be enlightened enough to re-elect him. Political promises get broken often. Few have been broken as dramatically.

An Update on Russian Belligerence

The Vladimir Putin regime does not allow any grass to grow under its feet. There may be plenty of problems in the world, but the Putin regime–ever industrious–never hesitates to try to add to them.

We have, for example, a purported threat by the Russians to use “nuclear force”  in order “to defend its annexation of Crimea.” Additionally, the Russians “warned that the ‘same conditions’ that prompted it to take military action in Ukraine exist in the three Baltic states, all members of Nato.” To be sure, there is no source cited for this threat–British newspapers are famous for passing off anonymous claims that somehow fail to materialize or get picked up by other news outlets–so, it is entirely possible that this is badly-sourced nonsense. The concern, however, is that this alleged bluster is of a piece with other actions on the part of the Putin regime that serve to make the planet nervous:

From his command post burrowed deep into a mountain of quartz and slate north of the Arctic Circle, the 54-year-old commander of the Norwegian military’s operations headquarters watches time flowing backward, pushed into reverse by surging Russian military activity redolent of East-West sparring during the Cold War.

“I am what you could call a seasoned Cold Warrior,” the commander, Lt. Gen. Morten Haga Lunde, said, speaking in an underground complex built to withstand a nuclear blast. As a result, he added, he is not too alarmed by increased Russian military activity along NATO’s northern flank.

“It is more or less the same as when I started,” said General Lunde, who began his career tracking Soviet warplanes as a Norwegian Air Force navigator in the early 1980s.

After a long hiatus following the December 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, when Moscow grounded its strategic bombers for lack of fuel, spare parts and will to project power, President Vladimir V. Putin’s newly assertive Russia “is back to normal behavior,” General Lunde said.

Last year, Norway intercepted 74 Russian warplanes off its coast, 27 percent more than in 2013, scrambling F-16 fighters from a military air base in Bodo to monitor and photograph them. This is far fewer than the hundreds of Soviet planes Norway tracked off its coast at the height of the Cold War. However, last year’s total was a drastic increase from the 11 Russian warplanes Norway spotted 10 years earlier.

In Norway, a country that takes pride in championing peace — witnessed in its brokering of pacts between Israelis and Palestinians and its awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize — what General Lunde called the “new old normal” has come as a jolt. It has set off debate over military spending and highlighted how quickly Mr. Putin has shredded the certainties of the post-Cold War era.

I am pleased that General Lunde is taking all of this is stride, but we may be forgiven for being more than a little concerned that the Russians are doing their best to act more and more like their Soviet predecessors with each passing day. One hopes that the Putin regime understands and appreciates the dangers associated with this behavior–dangers that include the accidental ignition of a brand new war in Europe–but then, once upon a time, we were also hopeful that the Putin regime would understand and appreciate the dangers associated with annexing Crimea and fomenting unrest in Ukraine. And look how hopes were dashed.

You know, it really would have been nice for President Obama to talk about all of this with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg when the latter was in Washington. Alas . . .

The Decline and Fall of American Foreign Policy

American foreign policy is–to put matters bluntly–in free-fall. The United States is significantly less able to influence events around the world, it is not trusted or respected by allies, and it has undermined its negotiating position with Iran in the nuclear talks by making it abundantly clear that it is desperate for a deal. If you care about the state of American foreign policy, you should be very scared right now.

Let’s start with the recently concluded Israeli elections. Benjamin Netanyahu won, and that made the Obama administration mad. So the administration decided to work to delegitimize Netanyahu’s election by denigrating him at every turn, and openly speculating about reconsidering the American-Israeli relationship–to the point where the Obama administration stated that it may not be as willing as it was in the past to veto anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations Security Council. But if the intent of the administration’s anti-Netanyahu campaign was to get Israelis to rethink their support of their prime minister, the campaign may have failed:

Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, is hardly an advocate for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Eiland called on Mr. Netanyahu to cancel his speech to Congress this month, and he has criticized the prime minister’s strategy for fighting both the Iranian nuclear threat and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In last week’s election, he cast a ballot for someone else.

But in the days since, he and many other Israelis have been astonished by the unrelenting White House criticism that has helped sink relations between Washington and Jerusalem to a nadir not seen for more than 25 years. Even some who mainly blame Mr. Netanyahu for antagonizing President Obama over the last six years now see the scales flipped.

“Everybody understands this is part of the political campaign,” Mr. Eiland said of Mr. Netanyahu’s pre-election comments promising that a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch. “To try and say: ‘I caught you; I heard you say something. Since that’s what you said, I’m going to make a reassessment,’ it sounds like, ‘Well, I have been waiting until you make such a mistake, and now I’m going to exploit it.’ ”

[. . .]

Israeli analysts are now suggesting that Mr. Obama and his aides might be overplaying their hand, inviting a backlash of sympathy for Mr. Netanyahu, and that they may not have clearly defined what they expected to gain diplomatically by continuing to pressure the Israeli leader.

The president’s harsh words have been deemed by some to be patronizing and disrespectful not only to Mr. Netanyahu but also to the voters who rewarded his uncompromising stances with a resounding mandate for a fourth term.

Recall that in 2008, Senator Barack Obama–and his supporters–said that an Obama administration would not do what the Bush administration supposedly did; enrage and alienate American allies. Now look at what is happening with the American-Israeli relationship.To be sure, Netanyahu’s comments about the prospects for a Palestinian state and his stated concern on election day that Arabs were going to the polls “in droves” and endangering his government did not help matters, but the Obama administration has taken the anti-Netanyahu campaign too far, and the backlash has set in. Netanyahu now looks like he is championing Israel against the Goliathesque United States, and the administration looks positively churlish on the world stage.

Speaking of alienating allies, the president of the United States apparently can’t be bothered to meet with the Secretary General of NATO when the latter is in Washington, and indeed, has never met Jens Stoltenberg, even though the latter requested a meeting with the president well in advance of his visit. This is, to say the least, incomprehensible. If the president had met with Stoltenberg, the two would actually have a lot to talk about–especially with all that is going on between Russia and Ukraine these days. Sometimes, one wonders whether the Obama administration has simply checked out mentally, when it comes to foreign policy.

Currently, the Middle East is going to the infernal regions in a remarkably ugly hand basket. There is a civil war raging in Yemen, and the consequences of that war are quite significant:

What began as a peaceful struggle to unseat a Yemeni strongman four years ago and then mutated into civil strife now risks spiraling into a full-blown war between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran over a country that lies at the choke point of one of the world’s major oil supply routes.

With negotiators chasing a Tuesday deadline for the framework of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, it seems unlikely that Iran would immediately respond militarily to this week’s Saudi airstrikes in Yemen, analysts say.

But the confrontation has added a new layer of unpredictability — and confusion — to the many, multidimensional conflicts that have turned large swaths of the Middle East into war zones over the past four years, analysts say.

The United States is aligned alongside Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and against them in Yemen. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, who have joined in the Saudi offensive in Yemen, are bombing factions in Libya backed by Turkey and Qatar, who also support the Saudi offensive in Yemen. The Syrian conflict has been fueled by competition among all regional powers to outmaneuver one another on battlefields far from home.

Not since the 1960s — and perhaps going back even further — has there been a time when so many Arab states and factions were engaged in so many wars, in quite such confusing configurations, said Frederic Wehrey of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“It’s so dangerous,” he said.

The Iranians are backing the Zaydi Shi’ite Houthi insurgency in Yemen, which is helping to destabilize an already fragile region. While the United States is not pleased about that, the Obama administration may not be able to pressure Iran all that much because to do so might jeopardize any nuclear deal with Iran (more on the administration’s dealings with Iran later). So other Arab countries have stepped into the void left by the United States to counteract the Houthi insurgency. The Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, believes that a “united Arab force” should counteract “regional security threats” like the one in Yemen. The conflict in Yemen runs the risk of turning into a larger proxy war between Arabs and Iranians. Eventually, American dithering in Yemen–and the deleterious consequences of American inaction–could force the Obama administration to take a firm stand against Iran, but if that happens, any hope for a viable and acceptable deal regarding Iran’s nuclear program could go out the window.

It is worth noting that the Obama administration cited Yemen as a model for how to do counterterrorism right. Even as Yemen continued to descend into utter chaos, the administration insisted that all was going according to plan. It takes a lot to get the folks at Vox to (a) inveigh against the Obama administration; and (b) write accurate pieces, but the Obama administration has apparently done the impossible by forcing Vox to come out with a clear-eyed article detailing just how bad the Obama administration has been when it comes to handling the crisis in Yemen.

And then, there are the negotiations with Iran over the country’s nuclear program. As mentioned above, the United States is positively desperate for a deal, and the Iranians know it, which helps give Iran the upper hand in negotiations. American diplomacy regarding the issue has apparently yielded the condition that Iran “would run no more than 6,000 centrifuges at its main enrichment site for at least 10 years, with slowly easing restrictions over the next five years on that program and others Tehran could use to make a bomb.” That hardly sounds like Iran has been permanently denied nuclear weapons. As the two sides may not reach a nuclear deal by the self-imposed deadline of . . . well . . . today, the talks may extend until June. The longer the talks are extended, the more time Iran has to work on producing a nuclear weapon. Knowing that they have the United States and its allies over a barrel, the Iranians have retreated from a key concession, stating that “they are no longer willing to ship their atomic fuel out of the country.” This, of course, serves to undermine efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The American negotiating stance in the Iran talks has hardly inspired confidence among American allies. Between the Obama administration’s handling of the Iran talks and its response to the crisis in Yemen, the Saudis have been alienated, and have decided that it is better for them to act alone than to wait for the Obama administration to adopt and implement a coherent policy addressing the nuclear buildup in Iran and the Yemeni civil war. This is, of course, a remarkable slap in the face for the United States:

“Taking matters into our own hands is the name of the game today,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist and former adviser to the government. “A deal will open up the Saudi appetite and the Turkish appetite for more nuclear programs. But for the time being Saudi Arabia is moving ahead with its operations to pull the carpet out from underneath the Iranians in our region.”

With the approach of a self-imposed Tuesday night deadline for the framework of a nuclear deal between Iran and the Western powers, the talks themselves are already changing the dynamics of regional politics.

The proposed deal would trade relief from economic sanctions on Iran for insurance against the risk that Iran might rapidly develop a nuclear bomb. But many Arab analysts and diplomats say that security against the nuclear risk may come at the cost of worsening ongoing conflicts around the Middle East as Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Muslim allies push back against what they see as efforts by Shiite-led Iran to impose its influence — often on sectarian battle lines.

[. . .]

“The Americans seem nonchalant about this, like, ‘This is your sectarian problem, you deal with it,’ ” Mr. Khashoggi said. “So the Saudis went ahead with this Yemen operation.”

[. . .]

“There is a disbelief in the Arab world that these negotiations are only about the nuclear file, and a frequent complaint here is that we are kept in the dark, we are not consulted,” said Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo. “The U.S. is much less trusted as an ally, as an insurance policy towards the security threats facing the governments in the region, and so those governments decide to act on their own.”

Again, recall that this alienation of allies and loss of American prestige was not supposed to happen, now that the big, bad George W. Bush administration is no longer in office and the Obama administration is. But here we are. Incidentally, now that there is a very real danger that Iran will have a nuclear arsenal, the Saudis have stated that they too may work to obtain nuclear weapons. Thus, an arms race begins in the region. I suppose that I might feel a little better if the Obama administration decided to be as tough on Iran as France is. But I’m not betting that this is going to happen.

It is, of course, possible for American foreign policy to recover from the wounds that have been inflicted upon it by Obama administration mismanagement. But it will take a lot for American prestige and influence to rebound, and for the United States to become a major and respected player again in world affairs. As things currently stand, the Obama administration seems content to oversee ongoing foreign policy/national security catastrophes playing out in various regions of the world. If you aren’t having sleepless nights over the state of American foreign policy, you are either not paying attention, or you are pleased by the loss of American power and influence throughout the world.

UPDATE: Cross-posted.


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