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.

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.

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.

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.

Foreign Policy Question of the Day

Why don’t we talk about the chaos in Libya as much as we talk about the chaos in Iraq?

This time it was the guards from an Austrian-run gas facility in Libya’s Saharan southwest. They were shown beheaded in a series of images posted to social media on March 8. A few weeks earlier it had been 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian labourers, their throats slit, some murmuring prayers as they were slaughtered in the central coastal city of Sirte. A month before that it had been the storming of the five-star Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli in which nine were killed, including US and French nationals.

The message was clear: not only had the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the group known as Isis , expanded its network to lawless, warring Libya, it has managed to spread tentacles throughout the vast oil-rich desert nation.

“What else needs to happen to create alarm?” asks a senior official of the Italian government, among the countries most anxious about the emergence of Isis at the heart of its former colony. “All the signs are converging. We have to avoid what happened in Syria. We did not understand the dramatic nature of the problem and we woke up with the tables turned.”

The emergence of Isis has waylaid what was already a shaky western consensus on how to end the complicated Libyan civil war and further marred the 2011 toppling of Muammer Gaddafi, once a signature achievement for the British, French and US administrations. The severity of the problem — as well as domestic political constraints — has left a sense of powerlessness and drift that is only starting to be challenged. Libya is back on the agenda of world leaders. An EU summit on Thursday will discuss events in the country.

More here (subscription required). Could the reluctance to talk about the chaos in Libya have something to do with the fact that said chaos was caused by a war launched by a Democratic president? Writing for myself, I’m pretty sure that if George W. Bush–or any other Republican–had ousted Muammar Qaddafi, the news programs would have been flooded any and every zone on the planet–and some zones off-planet–in talking about how Libya had become Hell on Earth.

Anti-Semitism on Full Display in London

Behold:

A drunken mob of more than 20 thugs shouted “kill the Jews” as they stormed into a north London synagogue while young worshippers celebrated the end of the sabbath.

The anti-Semitic abuse was hurled by the group of men and women as they first beat up a young man outside before chasing him inside, breaking windows and attacking others.

Part of the chaotic incident in Stamford Hill was captured on video before the intruders were beaten back as the worshippers grabbed chairs to protect themselves.

Scotland Yard said six people – four men and two women – were later arrested on suspicion of public order offences and assault.

We are told a little later in the story that “synagogue elders . . . are convinced the attack was not religiously motivated and was merely a typical example of anti-social behaviour.” Strangely enough, of course, this “anti-social behaviour” did not involve attacks on churches or mosques or shopping centers or schools–though if it did, no one should feel better about things. It involved an attack on a synagogue, and shouts of “kill the Jews.” All of this sure seems anti-Semitic to me.

Just as a reminder, we were told in the past that “anti-Semitism scarcely exists in the West.” Are we still supposed to take that nonsensical claim seriously?

Obstructionists

I write this blog post to condemn and denounce a faction of Congress that seems bound and determined to prevent the passage and implementation of a host of Obama administration policy initiatives. It seems like on a regular basis, this particular faction–which of course is substantially represented in Congress–tries to throw a plethora of monkey wrenches into just about any Obama administration proposal. Frankly, the whole thing is unseemly and appalling; doesn’t this group of representatives and senators have anything better to do than to reflexively oppose the president and his policies?

The faction I am condemning and denouncing is, of course, the congressional Democratic caucus:

Congressional Republicans may be singularly focused on unraveling President Obama’s executive orders and actions, but when it comes to what is left of his viable policy agenda on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama’s biggest problems are now often with Democrats.

The administration’s most pressing goal, expansive trade legislation, is adamantly opposed by scores of Democrats in the House and Senate even as most Republicans support it. Mr. Obama’s formal request for congressional authorization to fight the Islamic State is deeply imperiled, in no small measure because Senate Democrats find it wanting.

The president’s dismissal of the role of Congress in approving any nuclear agreement with Iran was facing a potential veto override before Republicans scrambled the political dynamic by sending a letter directly to the Iranian leadership. But if international negotiators reach an accord this month, Democrats’ concerns are all but certain to roar back.

Efforts to change a national security program that sweeps up Americans’ phone call data and other records have also stalled over disagreements with Democrats, even though both parties seek changes to the program.

My goodness, what’s next? Claims from the Democrats that the president is not a natural-born citizen of the United States?

Social Media: Not the Place to Go for Sober-Headed Legal Analysis

There has been a lot of debate about the letter sent by 47 Republican senators to the Iranian regime regarding the negotiations over nuclear energy use–likely for weapons–by Iran. I happen to think that sending the letter was a bad idea; foreign policy has been found to be the province of the executive branch, with a few exceptions, and I generally don’t like it when people of either party freelance in opposition to any White House when it comes to foreign policy–even if I disapprove of the White House’s foreign policy.

But while it is one thing to disapprove of the letter, it is another thing to sign on to two of the sillier claims that have polluted social media over the past day or so. Those claims are as follows:

  1. By sending out the letter, Republican senators “committed treason.”
  2. By sending out the letter, Republican senators committed a Logan Act violation.

Let’s take this nonsense in turn.

First, the treason claim. Art. III, Sec. 3 of the Constitution of the United States defines treason as follows:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

The Republican senators are not “levying war” against the United States. Also, they are not “adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” Thus: No treason. This is a remarkably easy call, but you wouldn’t know it from reading all of the self-proclaimed lawyers pontificating on Facebook and Twitter.

Now, the Logan Act claim. First of all, the claim is defeated by the Speech or Debate Clause, which can be found in Art. I, Sec. 6, and which states the following in pertinent part:

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the treasury of the United States. They shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.

“But Pejman,” I hear you cry, “the letter doesn’t constitute ‘speech or debate in either House’!” Well, actually, it likely does, my fine-feathered friends. I give you Gravel v. United States, in which the Supreme Court stated that a written communication may be considered protected by the Speech or Debate Clause if it is:

an integral part of the deliberative and communicative processes by which Members participate in committee and House proceedings with respect to the consideration and passage or rejection of proposed legislation or with respect to other matters which the Constitution places within the jurisdiction of either House.

Senators will likely be able to claim that the letter to Iran relates to “the consideration and passage or rejection of proposed legislation” in the event that any nuclear deal with Iran is presented as a treaty, or in the event that enabling legislation is needed to pass any executive agreement. Certainly, as foreign policy oversight–including, but not limited to advice and consent given to treaties–is placed in the Senate, the senators will also be able to claim that the letter relates to “other matters which the Constitution places within the jurisdiction of either House.”

Even if the Speech or Debate Clause were not found to apply, the Logan Act would likely not be found to have been violated in this case. As Steve Vladeck points out, the legal justification for a violation of the Logan Act is just not there.

So much, then, for the absurd contention that 47 Republican senators are going to prison, or might be convicted of the capital crime of treason. Let’s note a few other things in addition:

  1. A whole bunch of non-Republicans chortled when the foreign minister of Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif, allegedly schooled the 47 Republican senators on international law. In fact, Zarif didn’t know what he was talking about.
  2. As we continue to peruse Jack Goldsmith’s excellent post, note that back when Joe Biden was a senator, he demanded that a nuclear arms reduction agreement with Russia be approved via the treaty process. Now, we are supposed to believe that treaties are bad, and that executive agreements are the way to go. Why? Because the president is a Democrat and the Senate is controlled by Republicans. What a shock.
  3. Let’s remember all of the times when Republican presidents had their foreign policy positions undermined by Democratic freelancers. They include (a) the “Dear Commandante” letter to Daniel Ortega (see also this);(b) Nancy Pelosi visiting Syria; (c) Jimmy Carter writing to leaders of other governments on the Security Council in order to frustrate attempts by the George H.W. Bush administration to obtain a resolution authorizing the use of force to liberate Kuwait from Iraq; and (d) Edward Kennedy asking the Soviets to help Democrats defeat Ronald Reagan in 1984(!) in exchange for Kennedy “lend[ing]” the Soviets “a hand” in dealing with Reagan. None of the people yelling and screaming about treason and Logan Act violations over the past day or so ever said one word about these attempts to undermine White House prerogatives when it comes to foreign policy. Wonder why?

Venezuelan Humor Has Turned Mordant, which Means that the Venezuelan Political Landscape Could Be Ripe for Change

Nicolás Maduro had better be worried. Jokes like this one have become popular:

An Englishman and a Frenchman are at a museum, admiring a Renaissance work depicting Adam, Eve, and the apple in Eden. The Briton observes that Adam sharing the apple with his wife shows a particularly British propriety. The Frenchman, unconvinced, counters that the pair’s obvious comfort with their nudity clearly marks them as French. A passing Venezuelan, overhearing, remarks candidly, “Sorry to intrude, caballeros, but these are obviously Venezuelans: they have nothing to wear, practically nothing to eat, and they are allegedly in Paradise.”

Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez, the writer of the linked piece, reminds us that many of these jokes have a Warsaw Pact provenance. We all know what happened to the Warsaw Pact, don’t we? Of course, there is no guarantee that a revolution in Venezuela is on the horizon, but jokes like the ones that Lansberg-Rodríguez highlights are born from massive political discontent:

. . . Venezuelans’ patience with the system does appear to be rubbed raw. With the country’s economic model seemingly continuing its inexorable disintegration, pro-government media have tried to placate the populace with think pieces purporting to explain why waiting in line is actually good for you, and have lauded the state’s creation of a new Vice Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness, but the results have been underwhelming. According to a survey conducted in December by the polling firm Datanálisis, eighty-six per cent of Venezuelans currently think that the country is off track, and only twenty-three per cent approve of Maduro. Meanwhile, YouTube videos showing barren shelves, people stampeding for scarce products, and angry outbursts from those in line (particularly when the well-connected attempt to skip ahead) circulate widely, even beyond the opposition’s traditional middle-class base. It has long been an exasperated mantra among critics of the revolutionary regime that Venezuelans should stop laughing at their misfortunes and actually do something about them. From jokes to polls, there are signs that this motion is taking place.

Why Would We Want the Headaches of a Clinton Presidency?

Oh, look; an ethical lapse associated with the Clintons. And it’s a doozy.

The Clinton Foundation accepted millions of dollars from seven foreign governments during Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, including one donation that violated its ethics agreement with the Obama administration, foundation officials disclosed Wednesday.

Most of the contributions were possible because of exceptions written into the foundation’s 2008 agreement, which included limits on foreign-government donations.

The agreement, reached before Clinton’s nomination amid concerns that countries could use foundation donations to gain favor with a Clinton-led State Department, allowed governments that had previously donated money to continue making contributions at similar levels.

The new disclosures, provided in response to questions from The Washington Post, make clear that the 2008 agreement did not prohibit foreign countries with interests before the U.S. government from giving money to the charity closely linked to the secretary of state.

In one instance, foundation officials acknowledged they should have sought approval in 2010 from the State Department ethics office, as required by the agreement for new government donors, before accepting a $500,000 donation from the Algerian government.

Anyone really surprised by any of this? Of course, even in instances when foreign government donations did not violate the ethics agreement, money was very likely being given in order to ensure that the foreign government in question would be able to get access to the State Department. Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state created any number of conflicts of interest, and those conflicts of interest would only magnify if she becomes president; the Clinton Foundation will continue to accept donations, after all. Are we really comfortable with having a president whose relationship with foreign governments was–and could be–so ethically complicated?

And of course, no story about the Clintons would be complete without a reminder of Clintonian hypocrisy:

Hillary Clinton emerged from her undisclosed location Tuesday to reportedly earn $300,000 speaking to a group in Silicon Valley, where she couldn’t resist praising actress Patricia Arquette’s Oscar night exhortation for equal pay. It’s especially staggering in light of reporting out the day before showing that Clinton paid women less than men while serving in the U.S. Senate.

It’s one thing when Hollywood stars dripping in couture get up on their soap boxes and make political statements at awards ceremonies, but quite another when an all but announced presidential candidate earning more for a speech than most Americans will in several years trumpets wage equality, when it already exists and she knows it.

Did she pay men more for the same work in her Senate office? Probably not, but she’s not answering the hypocrisy raised by the report published by the Free Beacon on Monday. The article reveals Clinton’s own U.S. Senate staff had a wage gap on average of $15,708.33 between male and female staffers. Clinton, according to the analysis of Senate expenditure filings, paid women 72 cents to every dollar that men on her staff were paid. That doesn’t seem to bother her — she just needs a campaign message and the gender wage gap seems real convenient. It’s not the no-brainer Democrats make it out to be, but that won’t stop Clinton from using it.

You know, we can do better than Hillary Clinton when it comes to choosing our next president. The question is whether we as a nation will decide to do better.

Quote of the Day

A journalist decided to test how safe the streets of Paris are for Jews – by wearing a religious skullcap and filming the public’s reaction using a hidden camera.

Zvika Klein, a reporter for Jewish news outlet NRG, silently walked in the city for ten hours wearing a kippah – also known as a yarmulke – on his head and a tzitzit (knotted ritual tassels).

And the shocking hidden camera footage shows antisemitism is rife in the French capital as he is seen harassed and intimidated.

As he wanders around neighbourhoods wearing the garments associated with the Jewish faith, he is spat at, threatened and even called a ‘dog’.  

[. . .]

In an article accompanying the video, he said tourist attractions were ‘relatively calm’ – ‘but the further from them we walked, the more anxious I became over the hateful stares, the belligerent remarks, and the hostile body language,’ he wrote.

Boys shouted ‘Viva Palestine’ and as he passes a group of youths, one remarks: ‘I’m joking, the dog will not eat you’.

Fingers were pointed at him in a cafe – and moments later, thugs awaited him on a street corner, he adds.

A little boy was shocked at his appearance in his neighbourhood, he reports. ‘What is he doing here Mommy?’ he asked. ‘Doesn’t he know he will be killed?’

Khaleda Rahman. But I am confused; I could have sworn that people have said that “anti-Semitism scarcely exists in the West.”

Jeb Bush’s Foreign Policy Fluency

Edward Luce finds much to like in Jeb Bush’s recent speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs:

Jeb Bush knows George W Bush, he was raised with George W Bush and can safely declare that he is no George W Bush. That — in a manner of speaking — was the message the former governor of Florida wanted to convey in Chicago. Billed as his first foreign policy speech since he chose “to actively explore” a presidential bid, Mr Bush has doubtless garnered the “I am my own man” headlines he sought. Yet people listening to the detail of his address had already drawn that conclusion for themselves. The older brother was all hat and no cattle, as one saying had it. On the evidence from Chicago, the younger Bush has plenty of cattle — but is not so big on the hat.

Their personalities could hardly be more different. In his first campaign in 2000, George W famously was unable to name the leaders of several foreign governments — Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf among them. George W happily wore his ignorance on his sleeve. Jeb Bush, on the other hand, is a fluent wonk. Mr Bush corrected one questioner about the general failure of the Arab Spring — “not Tunisia,” he said, “Tunisia is doing OK.” When asked about the decline of the nation state in today’s Middle East, Mr Bush skipped back to 1915 as the birth of the modern Arab nation state (when the Ottoman Empire began to collapse). Asked about the risks of Iran acquiring a ready-made nuclear weapon, Mr Bush gave a brief summary of A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani freelance nuclear salesman, who was arrested in 2002. Asked about how to tackle poverty on Chicago’s south side, phrases such as “stickiness at the top end and the bottom end” of the income scale tripped off Mr Bush’s tongue.

I’d be delighted to have a president who actually knows what he is talking about when it comes to foreign affairs and national security policy. Luce does critique Jeb Bush for not having the retail campaigning skills of his brother. To be sure, in order to win an election, one has to actually be a good campaigner, and to the extent that Jeb Bush is not a good campaigner, he needs to do something really quick in order to augment his campaigning skills. There is no getting around that.

But it would be kind of nice if the voters tried to meet him halfway on this issue. We currently have a president who is a very good campaigner, and whose foreign and national security policies have been quite disappointing; we are, after all, talking about sending troops back into Iraq in order to combat the ISIL threat because Barack Obama hastily promised to remove all troops from Iraq and hastily delivered on that hastily considered promise. Jeb Bush many need to be a better campaigner, but more importantly, America needs a better president and this American, for one, is willing to have a president who can actually do the job and who shows familiarity and fluency with the issues, even if the president in question may not be the world’s greatest glad-hander.

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