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Hassan Rohani: Really NOT a Moderate

So, much of the media is making a fuss over the possibility that we might actually have an Iranian president who acknowledges the Holocaust and all of its horrors–including the horrors specifically visited on Jews. It’s amazing that we are still debating whether the Holocaust happened, and it is even more amazing still that there are those who are positively rejoicing at the possibility that Hassan Rohani may potentially be not quite as antediluvian as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but given all of the fatuous nonsense that we had to put up with during the Ahmadinejad presidency–including, but not limited to Holocaust denial–I suppose I can understand if people want to celebrate small victories.

Only, here’s the problem: We may not have even a small victory to celebrate. As Michael Moynihan writes, Rohani is not nearly as enlightened on the Holocaust as some might want to believe he is. Consider the following regarding a recent Rohani interview on CNN:

. . . Christiane Amanpour, an Iranian-Brit who apparently speaks Farsi, asked the inevitable question, the one that would uncover further evidence of moderation and counterbalance the sinister views of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who famously revealed himself to be an amateur scholar of the Second World War: Does the right honorable gentleman from Tehran believe the Holocaust actually happened? The translator, perhaps fearing that rendering every word would weaken the meaning, offered the following English rendering of Rouhani’s response: “I’ve said before that I am not a historian and that when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect on it. But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime that Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews is reprehensible and condemnable. Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn…”

A bit slippery, but surely an improvement over Ahmadinejad’s contention that Auschwitz was an elaborate hoax. But according to the Fars News Agency—which is just like a real news agency, except run by Iran’s psychopathic Revolutionary Guards—this wasn’t exactly what Rouhani said:

“I have said before that I am not a historian and historians should specify, state and explain the aspects of historical events, but generally we fully condemn any kind of crime committed against humanity throughout the history, including the crime committed by the Nazis both against the Jews and non-Jews, the same way that if today any crime is committed against any nation or any religion or any people or any belief, we condemn that crime and genocide. Therefore, what the Nazis did is condemned, (but) the aspects that you talk about, clarification of these aspects is a duty of the historians and researchers, I am not a history scholar.”

*The Wall Street Journal verified the broad strokes of the Fars News Agency translation (no one else bothered), and there are indeed subtle but substantial difference between these two versions. So to recap: CNN probably botched a Farsi translation and an official Iranian news agency rushed to its leader’s defense, lest the libel spread that he acknowledged the Holocaust as a real historical event.

But while Revolutionary Guards philologists are rather insistent that Rouhani never said “Holocaust,” condemned “whatever criminality [the Nazis] committed against the Jews,” or said the word “reprehensible,” all agree that he employed the old Holocaust deniers tricks of “questioning” the death toll, averring that many others groups were also victims, and claiming that a well-established historical fact requires further examination by “historians and researchers,” while repeatedly pointing out that he is “not a historian” (Ahmadinejad told NPR in 2010, that he was “not a historian” but that “we should allow researchers to examine all sorts of questions because it’s quite clear that when they do, they will reach different conclusions”). And even in CNN’s translation, Rouhani condemns unspecified “crimes,” while encouraging historians to “clarify” what actually happened.

Moynihan’s entirely justifiable conclusion is that Rohani, just like any other “skilled Holocaust denier,” “parses, dissects, and molests language, quibbling with the word ‘denial’—they typically acknowledge that many Jews died, but were victims of various typhus epidemics—and wondering why shadowy forces are hamstringing dissenting historians.” He tells us that there is little to no difference between Rohani on the one hand, and Holocaust-denying “historian” David Irving, who gets condemned by the New York Times, even though the Times claimed that Rohani was no Holocaust denier. To be sure, there are arguments back and forth over what Rohani really said, and you should read the whole of Moynihan’s piece to get a sense of those arguments, but it would appear that we have yet more evidence that Hassan Rohani may not be the moderate that many think he is.

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Russia Is Indeed Back . . .

. . . thanks in large part to diplomatic bungling by the Obama administration over Syria. Ariel Cohen points out that the ramifications of the administration’s errors go far beyond what will happen in Syria:

In what appears as yet another strategic blunder, Obama even elected to forego a binding UN Security Council resolution on Syrian disarmament under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows for enforcement, while Putin may hit the geopolitical jackpot.

If the disarmament initiative succeeds, Obama will “owe” Putin. America will be enticed to forget quickly the damage caused by the NSA and CIA defector Edward Snowden, who received asylum in Russia. America will remain mum as a Russian court has sentenced anticorruption crusader and whistleblower Alexei Navalny. Moscow is rife with rumors about preparations for the third trial of jailed oil tycoon and political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky. It is equally unlikely that Russia’s ambitious plans to expand the Eurasian Union to include Armenia and Ukraine into the Customs Union will meet a vigorous U.S. response.

Obama may not realize that Putin, a former KGB recruiting officer, seems to have played him like a violin. Putin has demonstrated that he is capable of stopping the world’s only superpower from using force—making him “the go to” man, to whom many on the U.S. blacklist will run to seek protection.

Putin will also have demonstrated that Russia, despite being seven times smaller than the U.S. economically, and weaker militarily, is capable of gaining impressive geopolitical results even when dealt a poor hand. As the military operation against Assad is postponed, Putin has increased the chances of the pro-Iranian regime’s survival, and possibly ensured the continued presence of a modest Russian naval facility in Tartus.

Moscow also has a growing interest in a Shia strategic belt extending from Lebanon via Syria and Iraq to Iran, as it prevents Sunni radicals from flooding into the North Caucasus and Central Asia—Russia’s soft underbelly.

Moscow also sent a signal that a U.S. military operation against the Iranian nuclear program may not happen—without the UN Security Council—i.e., the Kremlin’s—sanction. And that sanction will not be forthcoming.

Not bad for a week’s work.

Recall (again) that one of the reasons given for re-electing the president in 2012 was that he is supposedly a much better geopolitical chess player than that bumbler, Mitt Romney, who had the effrontery to tell us that Russia’s interests don’t exactly line up with our own. How is that argument looking now?

Health Care Policy Chaos

We were assured by Nancy Pelosi that we would have to pass health care reform in order to find out what was in it. We did, and most of the revelations about the details of the bill have been disquieting, to say the least. But at the very least, we’re no longer information-starved, right?

Alas, wrong:

Alabamians hoping to find health insurance through a new federally developed insurance marketplace won’t get any details before October, when the insurance options are scheduled to go online.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports it is working on completing the list of health insurance plans that will be made public Oct. 1, when people can begin signing up for coverage that will start Jan. 1. That gives the uninsured a three-month window to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for individuals to have health insurance by Jan. 1 or face penalties at tax time in April.

“It’s frustrating that we are not going to be able to get a preview,” said Jim Carnes, spokesman for Alabama Arise, a Montgomery-based organization that addresses issues affecting Alabama’s poor. Because of that, Carnes predicts a slow start to people signing up.

I am betting that Alabamians are not alone in wondering what is in store for them. Meanwhile, yet another news item telling us that the health insurance exchanges are not ready for prime time. And another unwelcome wrinkle in the law reminds us just how poorly constructed it is:

A “family glitch” in the 2010 health care law threatens to cost some families thousands of dollars in health insurance costs and leave up to 500,000 children without coverage, insurance and health care analysts say.

That’s unless Congress fixes the problem, which seems unlikely given the House’s latest move Friday to strip funding from the Affordable Care Act.

Congress defined “affordable” as 9.5% or less of an employee’s household income, mostly to make sure people did not leave their workplace plans for subsidized coverage through the exchanges. But the “error” was that it only applies to the employee — and not his or her family. So, if an employer offers a woman affordable insurance, but doesn’t provide it for her family, they cannot get subsidized help through the state health exchanges.

That can make a huge difference; the Kaiser Family Foundation said an average plan for an individual is about $5,600, but it goes up to $15,700 for families. Most employers help out with those costs, but not all.

“We saw this two-and-a-half years ago and thought, ‘Has anyone else noticed this?'” said Kosali Simon, a professor of public affairs at Indiana University who specializes in health economics. “Everyone said, ‘No, no. You must be wrong.’ But we weren’t, and that’s going to leave a lot of people out.”

The issue has recently received attention, especially after former president Bill Clinton highlighted it in a recent speech.

“The family glitch is definitely a drafting error that Congress made that needs to be fixed,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. “But that seems unlikely.”

New rules state that those families will not be penalized for not purchasing coverage, but the point of the law was to make coverage affordable for families.

Jonathan Adler offers apt commentary: “It’s almost as if no one carefully read the bill that was passed. After all, this is hardly the only instance in which the text of the statute does something different than what the supporters had hoped.”

Deeds. Not Words. Deeds.

Ray Takeyh is right on the money when he reminds us what we should expect from Hassan Rohani before we go around calling him “a reformer”:

Rouhani’s attempt to refashion Iran’s image and temper its rhetoric should be welcomed. After eight years of Ahmadinejad provocations that often unhinged the international community, a degree of self-restraint is admirable. However, judge Tehran by its conduct and not its words.

It is not enough for Rouhani to condemn the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Is he prepared to withdraw the Revolutionary Guard contingents that have done much to buttress Assad’s brutality?

It is not sufficient for Rouhani to speak of transparency; he must curb Iran’s troublesome nuclear activities and comply with the U.N. Security Council resolutions.

And it is not enough for Rouhani to speak of a tolerant society unless he is prepared to free his many former comrades and colleagues who are languishing in prisons under false charges.

Rouhani’s reliability has to be measured by his actions, not by his speeches or tweets.

There are many out there who are willing to believe that Rohani is a reformer based solely on cosmetic gestures and somewhat more mild rhetoric–especially when compared to Ahmadinejad. These people might very well be setting themselves up for a major disappointment

Your Quantum Physics Mindbender of the Day

Behold:

Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality.

“This is completely new and very much simpler than anything that has been done before,” said Andrew Hodges, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University who has been following the work.

The revelation that particle interactions, the most basic events in nature, may be consequences of geometry significantly advances a decades-long effort to reformulate quantum field theory, the body of laws describing elementary particles and their interactions. Interactions that were previously calculated with mathematical formulas thousands of terms long can now be described by computing the volume of the corresponding jewel-like “amplituhedron,” which yields an equivalent one-term expression.

“The degree of efficiency is mind-boggling,” said Jacob Bourjaily, a theoretical physicist at Harvard University and one of the researchers who developed the new idea. “You can easily do, on paper, computations that were infeasible even with a computer before.”

The new geometric version of quantum field theory could also facilitate the search for a theory of quantum gravity that would seamlessly connect the large- and small-scale pictures of the universe. Attempts thus far to incorporate gravity into the laws of physics at the quantum scale have run up against nonsensical infinities and deep paradoxes. The amplituhedron, or a similar geometric object, could help by removing two deeply rooted principles of physics: locality and unitarity.

Thus far, Sean Carroll has not told me what I should think of this finding. But perhaps he will sometime soon.

This Must Be the Economy We Are Told Is Getting Better All the Time

Imagine how much we would be hearing about this story if a Republican were currently president:

It’s almost 6 p.m. on a Friday and the tables near the bar at The Hamilton in downtown Washington are getting crowded. That means waitress Victoria Honard is busy.

Honard, 22, who graduated from Syracuse University in May, works about 25 hours a week at the restaurant while looking for a job related to public policy. She moved to Washington four days after graduation with the hope of finding a position at a think tank or policy-related organization, she said, and has applied to about 20 prospective employers.

“The response has been minimal,” said Honard, whose degree focused on education, health and human services. “There are two ways of looking at it. I could be extremely frustrated and be bitter, or I can make the most of it, and I’m trying to take the latter approach.”

Unemployment data appear to reflect big advances for women. The jobless rate in August for females 20 years and older was 6.3 percent, the lowest since December 2008, compared with 7.1 percent for men. As recently as January, the rate was 7.3 percent for both genders, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The downside is that the gains have been largely in lower-paying industries such as waitresses, in-home health care, food preparation and housekeeping. About 60 percent of the increase in employment for women from 2009 to 2012 was in jobs that pay less than $10.10 an hour, compared with 20 percent for men, according to a study by the National Women’s Law Center using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And to think that once upon a time, people got into a tizzy because Mitt Romney refered to “binders full of women.”

More Astonishingly Good Obamacare-Related News

Or, you know, not.

I know what the Obama administration’s response to these kinds of stories is. “Nothing to see here, move along.” I guess I am just wondering how many more delays, false starts, and implementation problems are supposed to plague the Affordable (ha!) Health Care Act before the media finally starts asking tough questions about the workability of the legislation.

I Am Sure that This Is a Sign of a Thriving Society

Everything is going just fine in Venezuela. What could make anyone think otherwise?

Oh.

A Venezuelan state agency on Friday ordered the temporary takeover of a factory that produces toilet paper in what it called an effort to ensure consistent supplies after embarrassing shortages earlier this year.

Critics of President Nicolas Maduro say the nagging shortages of products ranging from bathroom tissue to milk are a sign his socialist government’s rigid price and currency controls are failing. They have also used the situation to poke fun at his administration on social media networks.

A national agency called Sundecop, which enforces price controls, said in a statement it would occupy one of the factories belonging to paper producer Manpa for 15 days, adding that National Guard troops would “safeguard” the facility.

“The action in the producer of toilet paper, sanitary napkins and disposable diapers responds to the state’s obligation to ensure a steady supply of basic goods for the people,” Sundecop said, adding it had observed “the violation of the right” to access such products.

Further commentary really isn’t needed, is it?

Hassan Rohani Is No Moderate

To wit. Of course, one does not have to be a “historian” to know that the Holocaust occurred anymore than one has to be a physician to know that the appendix is not responsible for higher cognitive functions. And of course, it should surprise precisely no one to see that the standard language used to denounce Israel remains in use.

Perhaps President Obama could write a letter to Rohani, reminding him that if one wants to be taken seriously as a moderate, one actually has to act like a moderate. And perhaps, we ought to put aside for the moment all of this talk about a thaw in relations between Iran and the rest of the world.

Oh, and don’t say that you weren’t warned that Rohani is no moderate.

Devastating Criticism for the Obama Administration on Syria

From two of the administration’s former defense secretaries, and from its former acting director of Central Intelligence:

President Obama’s first two defense secretaries publicly questioned the administration’s handling of the Syrian crisis on Tuesday night and expressed skepticism about whether Russia can broker a deal to remove Syria’s chemical weapons.

In a joint appearance in Dallas, both former Pentagon chiefs, Robert M. Gates and Leon E. Panetta, were critical of Mr. Obama for asking Congress to authorize the use of force against Syria in retaliation over its use of chemical weapons. But they disagreed on whether military action would be an effective response. Mr. Gates said Mr. Obama’s proposed military strike was a mistake, while Mr. Panetta said it was a mistake not to carry out an attack.

“My bottom line is that I believe that to blow a bunch of stuff up over a couple days, to underscore or validate a point or a principle, is not a strategy,” Mr. Gates said during a forum at Southern Methodist University. “If we launch a military attack, in the eyes of a lot of people we become the villain instead of Assad,” he added, referring to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

Mr. Gates, the only cabinet member from the administration of George W. Bush whom Mr. Obama asked to stay, said missile strikes on Syria “would be throwing gasoline on a very complex fire in the Middle East.”

[. . .]

Mr. Panetta, also speaking at the forum, said the president should have kept his word after he had pledged action if Syria used chemical weapons.

“When the president of the United States draws a red line, the credibility of this country is dependent on him backing up his word,” Mr. Panetta said.

“Once the president came to that conclusion, then he should have directed limited action, going after Assad, to make very clear to the world that when we draw a line and we give our word,” then “we back it up,” Mr. Panetta said.

[. . .]

Another former high-ranking Obama administration official, Michael J. Morell, who recently retired as the deputy director of the C.I.A., also expressed skepticism about the negotiations brokered by Russia.

“I think this is the Syrians playing for time,” Mr. Morell told Foreign Policy magazine in an interview published Tuesday on its Web site. “I do not believe that they would seriously consider giving up their chemical weapons.”

Mr. Gates said he doubted whether President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was sincere in his efforts to broker a deal, and said he was skeptical that the Syrian government would disarm. He said it was absurd that Syria needed days or weeks to identify the location and size of its chemical weapons arsenal, and he suggested that the timetable should be an ultimatum of 48 hours.

When asked whether the West should trust Mr. Putin, Mr. Gates said, “Are you kidding me?”

Obviously, I am with Gates on whether military action should have been threatened or taken over Syria, but Panetta’s point is not without merit; the Obama administration looks non-credible for having backed down–especially given the entirely appropriate skepticism expressed for the Putin plan. It would have been nice if the administration had reached out to Gates, Panetta and Morell prior to signing on to the Russian plan–and it would have been nice if John Kerry had not given the Russians an opening to begin with by being clumsy enough to answer a hypothetical question. Too bad that no one from the administration saw fit to engage Gates, Panetta or Morell in the discussion.

Speaking of the difference between former and current Obama administration officials, are those who championed the confirmation of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary still glad that he is in the cabinet, given his endorsement of the awful Russian plan and his disagreement with Gates, Panetta and Morell (a disagreement the New York Times story linked above references)?

Larry Summers Will Not Be Chairman of the Federal Reserve

I am late to this, but as those who have been covering the horserace for the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve already know, Larry Summers has taken himself out of the running. Sarah Binder makes some good points regarding the rise and fall of Summers’ prospects as a candidate for the chairmanship. You should read her entire post, but the following especially caught my eye:

  • The White House allowed the Summers nomination to twist in the wind publicly for too long, and by not actually nominating Summers, the White House “left his opponents in control of the confirmation contest.” Assuming that the conventional wisdom is true and that the president wanted Summers all along, this is an especially cruel way to treat someone who was a member of the Obama administration, and who was the president’s first choice for the position of chairman of the Federal Reserve.
  • Quite obviously, this is a big win for the liberal wing of the Democratic party, which took the lead in sinking the Summers nomination.
  • I agree with Binder that Federal Reserve nominations will become a whole lot less acrimonious when the economy finally starts humming along.

Paradoxically, of course, those who worked to sink the Summers nomination in order to get the president to nominate Janet Yellen instead might have done her candidacy some harm as well. The president may not like being seen as capitulating to the demands of the liberal wing of his party; it would make him look weak, after all. I think that Yellen is the frontrunner now, but it would not surprise me if Barack Obama chose a different candidate in order to signal to liberals that he cannot be pushed around.

Edward Luce argues that Summers and Yellen were not as far apart on the issues as Summers’ opponents liked to claim that they were. Of course, policy similarities and differences are in the eye of the beholder to a very large extent, but this is worth noting nonetheless.

Thomas Friedman Could Not Be Reached for Comment

Link:

The Chinese government has intensified its crackdown on the internet, describing online criticism of the ruling Communist party as illegal and airing a televised confession from one of the country’s most popular online commentators.

An article in Monday’s edition of the influential party journal “Seeking Truth” described online criticism of the party and government as “defamation”, while Chinese-American investor and internet personality Charles Xue appeared on state television in handcuffs on Sunday to praise new legislation that in effect criminalises online dissent.

The moves are part of a wider campaign launched in recent weeks by newly installed President Xi Jinping to stifle calls for political reform in China and assert control over the country’s unruly internet.

Mr Xue, who boasts 12m followers on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo, was arrested in August for allegedly hiring prostitutes for group sex sessions, but most analysts and even senior officials say his arrest was intended as a warning to other prominent internet personalities.

There was no mention of the prostitute allegations in a 10-minute segment aired on China Central Television on Sunday, during which a chastened Mr Xue described how he had contributed to an “illegal and immoral” atmosphere on the Chinese internet.

“I felt like the emperor of the internet,” Mr Xue said when describing the thrill of speaking directly to more than 12m followers. “How do you think that felt? Awesome.”

The shackled Mr Xue also praised a legal interpretation issued by China’s judicial authorities last week, which allows people to be prosecuted for defamation or “spreading online rumours” if their posts are viewed by more than 5,000 internet users or forwarded more than 500 times.

Our Remarkably Unfabulous Middle East Policy

One of the best–and most depressing–analyses that I have seen regarding the recent Russian-American deal on Syria:

The United States and Russia have now averted U.S. military action against the Syrian regime for Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Is the agreement reached by Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov on September 9 a diplomatic triumph for the Obama administration, or was it, as retired British ambassador Charles Crawford called it, “the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began?”

While perhaps not as bad as Ambassador Crawford suggests, we agree that the outcome is one of the worst defeats for U.S. foreign policy in decades. We write as two scholars and former national-security practitioners who agree on almost nothing else regarding Syria: one is a traditional realist who opposed military action against Assad, and the other is a recent arrival in the camp of the post-Cold War liberal internationalists who supported striking the Syrian regime. We come not only from diverging views but also from different academic disciplines (history and political science), and while both of us have served in positions relevant to American foreign and security policy, we speak on our own behalf, especially since we ourselves are otherwise so deeply divided about U.S. intervention overseas.

We share, however, a background in the study of Russia, and it is here that we find the outcome of the Syrian crisis to be so disastrous. For nearly seven decades, American efforts in the Middle East have been based on a bipartisan consensus—one of the few to be found in U.S. foreign policy—aimed at limiting Moscow’s influence in that region. This is a core interest of American foreign policy: it reflects the strategic importance of the region to us and to our allies, as well as the historical reality Russia has continually sought clients there who would oppose both Western interests and ideals. In less than a week, an unguarded utterance by a U.S. Secretary of State has undone those efforts. Not only is Moscow now Washington’s peer in the Middle East, but the United States has effectively outsourced any further management of security problems in the region to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

A halfway competent United States Congress, interested in doing its job, would call hearings and call out Secretary Kerry and others in the administration–including the president himself–for undermining a key American foreign policy interest. Oh, and perhaps newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post should come out with editorials demanding the resignations of people like Secretary Kerry, and anyone else who sold President Obama on the idea that accepting increased Russian influence in the Middle East is a good thing.

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