George W. Bush did that lame-duck-presidency thing well. By the middle of his second term no one believed he could get a damned thing done. His second term opened with his big surprise – it was time to privatize Social Security – time to make it a system where people would be required to invest their retirement funds themselves, in the stock market. Get the government out of it. Investments in the right stocks and bonds is far better than an insurance policy that pays you a small but steady annuity if you live long enough – maybe not entirely safe, but you’d get a whole lot more money betting on the market. It would be fun. It would be exciting. And that went nowhere. People seemed to like the idea of a safe, steady income, no matter how meager. Bush didn’t get his legacy, as the man who privatized Social Security and finally reversed the legacy of FDR and got America back to free-market principles. Bush wouldn’t be that consequential – and his two wars were dragging on forever, with nothing to show for it but our dead and maimed soldiers, and in August 2005, there was Hurricane Katrina, which showed he and his administration had no clue how to handle a major disaster. Too many people died. There were those bodies floating in the water. Cuba even offered us aid – which the Bush folks refused. In the 2006 midterms, Democrats took back both houses of Congress. Then the economy collapsed. By late 2008, a few months before the presidential election, the worldwide banking system was a few days away from shutting down. Congress had to throw seven hundred billion dollars at it, or the world would end. Not one of the Republicans running for anything that year asked George Bush to drop by and say a word about him. John McCain and Sarah Palin never mentioned him at all. He pretty much hid anyway. And that is how you do the lame-duck-presidency thing. Everything goes wrong. You shrug. You’re just marking time anyway.
Barack didn’t get the memo. His last two years have befuddled Republicans. The Supreme Court, which they had counted on as their own, ruled once again that Obamacare was just fine, legally, and that no state could ban gay marriage, as gays had a legal right to marry, just like everyone else. Then the Confederate flag came down in South Carolina, and it’s coming down everywhere. They lost their proud symbol of sticking it to big government – the one in Washington. Or was that flag about a proud heritage? It doesn’t matter now, and now we’re establishing full diplomatic relations with Cuba – and no one is upset about that, not even most of the Cuban-Americans in Miami. The silence and the embargo had been a stupid idea in the first place. Obama chose his last two years to end that nonsense, although the Republicans in Congress can refuse to lift at least the core elements of the original embargo. They have that power, but if they use it they’ll look stupid. Obama started his last two years by outflanking them on that.
Obama is building a damned legacy – he wasn’t supposed to do that – and now, when Obama is supposed to be fading into the woodwork, there’s this:
Iran and a group of six nations led by the United States reached a historic accord on Tuesday to significantly limit Tehran’s nuclear ability for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions.
The deal culminates 20 months of negotiations on an agreement that President Obama had long sought as the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency. Whether it portends a new relationship between the United States and Iran – after decades of coups, hostage-taking, terrorism and sanctions – remains a bigger question.
But this is a done deal and he wants the Republicans to know that:
Mr. Obama, in an early morning appearance at the White House that was broadcast live in Iran, began what promised to be an arduous effort to sell the deal to Congress and the American public, saying the agreement is “not built on trust – it is built on verification.”
He made it abundantly clear he would fight to preserve the deal from critics in Congress who are beginning a 60-day review, declaring, “I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.”
He knows they don’t have the votes to override his veto. They can go pound sand, but of course there was this:
Almost as soon as the agreement was announced, to cheers in Vienna and on the streets of Tehran, its harshest critics said it would ultimately empower Iran rather than limit its capability. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called it a “historic mistake” that would create a “terrorist nuclear superpower.”
That’s not quite so:
A review of the 109-page text of the agreement, which includes five annexes, showed that the United States preserved – and in some cases extended – the nuclear restrictions it sketched out with Iran in early April in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Yet, it left open areas that are sure to raise fierce objections in Congress. It preserves Iran’s ability to produce as much nuclear fuel as it wishes after year 15 of the agreement, and allows it to conduct research on advanced centrifuges after the eighth year. Moreover, the Iranians won the eventual lifting of an embargo on the import and export of conventional arms and ballistic missiles – a step the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, warned about just last week.
No, this doesn’t shut down everything forever, which the Republicans had said was the whole point in even talking to these folks. There was that big day in March – the day the real leader of the free world came to the United States to address our Congress, to upbraid and shame the young and hopelessly naïve president of that now equally hopeless country – invited to do so by the few remaining Real Americans. That would be the Republicans of course. Everything had been arranged. The leader of the free world was invited to come, and to set things straight, behind that hopelessly naïve president’s back. There was need to tell him what was up – and those few remaining Real Americans would thus show the rest of the other whining and useless Americans, who voted the wrong way, twice, what a real leader does, or at least what a real leader says. That seemed to be the general idea. After this, no one would ever vote for a Democrat again, not even for dogcatcher. The big guy would show Americans the mistake they had made, twice. All they needed was a hook, and they had one. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced what he called a “bad deal” being negotiated with Iran – because a better deal could be had – with more sanctions and more severe sanctions. The only acceptable deal would be Iran having nothing nuclear in their country, and a complete new foreign policy – full recognition of Israel and no support of any group or government we didn’t like, and a better attitude – no more of this Allah-talk. Otherwise, we walk.
This didn’t go well for Republicans. They told us to listen to this guy from Israel, not our own president, a man the American people had elected twice – and they hadn’t even told our president they had asked the guy from Israel to come and speak. They didn’t like America much. They preferred Israel – the folks who should really be running things here – or something. That offended a lot of people. A lot of us don’t think of ourselves as Israelis first and Americans second.
Others pointed out that if we didn’t get full capitulation and submission from Iran, and we did walk, the Iranians would then just build their nukes anyway. Then, if we wanted those gone, that would mean war. Netanyahu, who really couldn’t believe Iran would suddenly change everything about what they believe and who they are, down to the core, was, in effect, calling for war – and we’d have to fight that war for him. That didn’t sit well with some folk – and to make things even worse, Senator Tom Cotton had sent a letter, cosigned by forty-six other Republican senators, to the folks in Iran, telling them that they didn’t understand how our government really works – the president has no really power in these matters. The Senate does. The president is just a minor functionary. That didn’t go well either – the word “traitors” came up a lot.
That’s the sour context here, and now the same tedious arguments resume. David Horovitz in the Times of Israel – 16 reasons nuke deal is an Iranian victory and a Western catastrophe – and Scott Johnson at Power Line – Munich for our time – and Michael Kennedy with The Suicide of the West – The Iran negotiator waving goodbye to western civilization – and so on and so forth.
Paul Waldman is not impressed:
Scott Walker said it “will be remembered as one of America’s worst diplomatic failures.” Jeb Bush called it “dangerous, deeply flawed, and short-sighted.” Marco Rubio said it “undermines our national security.” And as usual, Lindsey Graham wins the award for the most unhinged conclusions: the deal is “akin to declaring war on Sunni Arabs and Israel,” he told Bloomberg News. He also said: “You’ve created a possible death sentence for Israel.”
Let them rant:
Most of the Republican presidential candidates have pledged in the past not to honor the deal if they reach the White House. But here’s the truth: they will. So this is one more Obama administration achievement you can add to the list of things that Republicans rage at, insist their presidential candidates pledge to undo, and will one day (if they ever regain the White House) be appalled to find that a president from their party won’t actually be able to roll back.
In the short term, Congressional Republicans are highly unlikely to be able to stop this deal, because doing so would require passing a bill that imposes new sanctions or prevents Obama from lifting existing ones. Obama has already promised to veto such a bill, meaning Republicans would need to muster a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress to override a veto. No doubt speaking for his colleagues, uber-hawk Tom Cotton said: “The American people will repudiate this deal and I believe Congress will kill the deal.” But a Washington Post poll at the end of March found that Americans supported a deal like this one by a margin of 59 to 31 percent, so he’s probably wrong on both counts.
And the next president isn’t going to abandon this deal either:
Such an action would involve two parts: re-imposing sanctions and walking away from inspections. But there’s no reason to think that the other world powers that agreed to this deal would go along with either one, particularly if the new arrangement is operating as it was intended. Don’t forget that this isn’t a deal between Iran and the United States; it’s a deal between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, and Europe. The reason the current sanctions regime has crippled the Iran’s economy is that it was imposed not just by the United States but also by the United Nations, the European Union, and many other individual countries. So if we re-imposed sanctions but those other countries didn’t, Iran would be left with plenty of trading partners.
That means that if President Walker/Bush/Rubio/Trump walked away from the deal, it wouldn’t actually hurt Iran that much. But it would mean saying that America is no longer interested in keeping tabs on Iran’s nuclear program – we’re going to pull out our inspectors, and as far as we’re concerned they can do what they like.
That’s a plan so stupid that it’s hard to imagine even the current GOP presidential candidates carrying it out.
Waldman has only two questions for all these Republicans who oppose this deal:
First, what’s your alternative? And second, can you explain exactly how your alternative would prevent Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon? Policy choices don’t exist in a vacuum. Whenever we say that one course of action is problematic, we’re saying that another course would be better. As far as I can tell (though it isn’t easy to figure out since they’re so vague on this question), the Republican position is that we should have walked away from these negotiations and just… wait. Then after some undetermined period, Iran would come crawling back and give us everything we could ever want, without the need for any negotiations at all.
No one in his or her right mind actually believes that would happen, of course. And if conservatives are right that Iran is hell-bent on getting a nuclear weapon, if the entire deal actually fell apart, there would be no reason for them not to ramp up their nuclear program with all deliberate speed. At which point, Republicans would say we have no choice but to launch military action. So the people who brought you the Iraq War would be sending us into another war in the Middle East, which would no doubt turn out just as splendidly.
That leaves this:
At the moment Republicans can’t articulate their own alternative, because it sure seems like that alternative is another war. But if they’re fortunate enough to win the White House next year, they’re likely to find that walking away from this deal is a lot less attractive than it seemed when they were trying to win over Republican primary voters.
Still, they do persist:
“This ‘deal’ will only embolden Iran,” said House Speaker John Boehner. It “appears to further the flawed elements of April’s interim agreement,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And even Bob Corker was critical: “I begin from a place of deep skepticism that the deal actually meets the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Kevin Drum is having none of it:
So here’s the thing: Not a single one of these comments suggests why the deal is such a bad one. It just is. We’re left with two possibilities:
1. All of these guys have read the agreement, and they have specific criticisms but just don’t feel like sharing those with us.
2. They haven’t read the agreement and have no real idea what’s in it, but oppose it anyway.
I’m going with Door #2. Anyone want to take the other side of that bet?
And by the way, in the interest of fairness you could say pretty much the same thing about a lot of liberals, who seem to be jubilant about the deal but haven’t really explained exactly what’s so great about it. Maybe all of us could stand to take a deep breath and spend some time letting experts examine the deal language before taking maximal positions on it.
In the meantime, it looks like a decent agreement to me after a first look at the deal outline – certainly better than doing nothing and letting Iran build a bomb whenever it wants, anyway. But I’ll wait to see what nuclear experts have to say before I go any further. A few days won’t kill me.
But he does go on to note that spokesman for Hillary Clinton said the Iran deal was “a really good first step” – but “at the same time, she also is going to read it” – and the National Review’s Patrick Brennan the said this:
Yes, it’s a long agreement, only released to the public early this morning, but that has stopped almost no one on earth from forming an opinion of whether they think it is a good or bad deal by this afternoon. The questions at hand are complicated, but not that complicated. As with the trade debate (until the very last minute), Hillary Clinton isn’t deliberating, she’s obfuscating.
So there you have it. Everyone else formed an opinion instantly without bothering to read the actual agreement, so what the hell is up with Hillary? She should be ashamed of herself for showing an interest in anything other than affinity outrage (or glee). Reading is for appeasers.
This is going to be a tedious business. You know the drill:
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
It’s like that. What’s the question here? The question is what Obama is up to here, and Matt Duss answers that:
“I don’t want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.” That was Senator Barack Obama, speaking about Iraq in a 2008 primary debate. For a candidate who had seen his own campaign surge on the strength of his opposition to the Iraq war, it was a near-perfect distillation of the change he hoped to bring to America’s foreign policy discussion, long dominated by hawkish views that were shattering against the bloody reality of Iraq’s civil war.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama started – and won – a hugely significant debate about the proper uses of U.S. power. His declaration that he would not be afraid to talk to America’s enemies brought accusations of naiveté from both his Republican adversary John McCain and Democratic primary opponent Hillary Clinton, who would go on to begin implementing that same policy toward Iran as Obama’s first Secretary of State.
Ending that mindset has proven a difficult task. The idea that military force is decisive in a way that diplomacy is not remains a very attractive one, especially for politicians looking for cheap ways to appear tough.
But now it’s legacy-time:
The historic nuclear deal announced Tuesday in Vienna between the U.S. and its P5+1 partners and Iran demonstrates an alternative vision of the use of American power. It shows that our security and the security of our partners can be effectively advanced through multilateral diplomacy, and proves once again the importance of U.S. global leadership in addressing shared problems. Specifically, it achieves the central goal of blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon by dramatically reducing its capacity to produce nuclear fuel (something which continued to expand even under tight international sanctions), and by putting Iran’s entire nuclear infrastructure under the most intensive inspections regime in history.
As a result of the deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency will have eyes on Iran’s nuclear program at every level: mining, procurement, production, enrichment, etc. Not only does this deep visibility create a deterrent to cheating, but it also means that, when the intensive inspection period expires years from now, the IAEA will possess far more detailed information and understanding of Iran’s program than any other in the world.
And by demonstrating to the Iranian regime that a positive change in its behavior can produce benefits, the deal could empower more moderate elements within Iran calling for broader reforms. This is one reason why the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has supported this diplomacy all along, and hailed the agreement this morning as “a victory of diplomacy and peace,” and why Iran’s hawks remain hostile to any agreement, a position they’ve long shared with U.S. hardliners. …
Frankly, if there were any justice, we would be seeing an outbreak of “Support Our Diplomats” bumper stickers. Americans rightly honor those who defend our security with military strength, and it’s time to accord the same to those who do it through effective and painstaking diplomacy.
That’s not going to happen – but Duss has a point. And he’s onto something. Obama seems to be thinking big. The idea that military force is decisive in a way that diplomacy is not is the idea that is under attack here, and this is an attempt to disprove that idea. This is a demonstration project. It’s going well. And forget the lame-duck stuff. Obama didn’t get that memo. But none of this will make the tedious arguments about our weakness and the end of the world as we know it any less tedious. They’ll be more tedious now – because now they’re not true. We’ll just have to live with that.