It seems like a century ago, and it sort of was – spending the last two years of the last century running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive plant in London, Ontario. That place is long gone. General Motors decided to get out of that business. They do cars and trucks, not trains. They sold the operation to Caterpillar, and Caterpillar ran the operation into the ground. They decided to cut costs, but there were no real costs to cut – and you don’t cut the salaries of union workers in half in Canada. They have real labor unions up there, without any of that Jimmy Hoffa thug-stuff. There were good, sensible union contracts in place. General Motors had had no problem with those contacts, so there was trouble. Caterpillar told those folks that if they wouldn’t work for half-pay they’d close the place, but Caterpillar was going to close the place anyway. The whole thing was a bit of a charade. Caterpillar stripped the place of the physical assets they needed and went back to doing what they do, making construction equipment, not trains. If anyone asked, the problem was labor unions – greedy workers making it impossible for honest and heroic businessmen to stay in business. Americans know that. Americans know that labor unions are evil. They always ruin everything. The Canadians don’t know that. Americans puzzle them – but that locomotive plant is empty now.
Those two years were instructive. There are a lot of fine bars and restaurants on Richmond Street. There was a lot of discussion of just what Americans were thinking. Canadians had national healthcare, a single-payer system, pretty much Medicare for all, and it worked just fine. Why did the Americans have a market-based for-profit pay-up-or-die system, with private insurance companies that skimmed fifteen percent off the top to administer it all? And why did we have a system where you got your health insurance through your employer? How were they supposed to make money if they had to pay for employees’ health insurance, along with the cost of making whatever product they made? General Motors and Ford and Chrysler built hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks each year at massive plants all over Ontario – they still do. The labor costs are a bit higher, but there are no healthcare costs at all. Didn’t that say something? Didn’t Americans know that every Ford Crown Victoria police cruiser in America had been built at the Ford plant in Saint Thomas, Ontario, Canada – on the other side of the lake from Cleveland? Canadians had watched our debates about healthcare, from Ronald Reagan screaming in the sixties about how Lyndon Johnson’s Medicare would be the end of freedom, and of America, with bemusement. What were we thinking? There was no good answer to that.
And what was this thing with Cuba? At the time there were probably six tobacconists on Richmond Street where you could buy Cuban cigars, from Cuba. They weren’t all that special but they were the real thing – and we had that trade and travel embargo with Cuba. We’d make the Cuban economy collapse, and the outraged Cubans would toss Fidel Castro out on his ear – but the Canadians traded with Cuba, and more than a few vacationed there. The weather is generally better in Havana than in Toronto. Brits vacationed there. The French vacationed there. Swedes vacationed there. Everyone traded with them – but we didn’t.
The Canadians got it. The Cuban exile groups in Florida were important to the Republican Party, and the Republicans wanted those votes – but unilateral sanctions are rather pointless in the real world. Cuba simply traded with others. Fidel Castro took over Cuba at the end of the Eisenhower administration. He’s outlasted every president since. Now his younger brother runs the place, and what do we have to show for it? We cut off diplomatic relations with them fifty-four years ago. What did that prove? We hate everything they stand for, but we hate everything China and Russia stand for too, and we talk to them. China builds our cell phones and General Motors and Ford and Chrysler sell them lots of cars. We’re turning them capitalist. What is this thing with Cuba?
Well, at least that’s over:
Secretary of State John Kerry came to Cuba on Friday and raised the American flag above the U.S. Embassy for the first time in 54 years.
“Thank you for joining us at this truly historic moment as we prepare to raise the flag … symbolizing the restoration of diplomatic relations after 54 years,” Kerry said at the ceremony, addressing the crowd in both English and Spanish.
Kerry’s visit marks the symbolic end of one of the last vestiges of the Cold War. But signs of mistrust linger, and beyond the pomp and circumstance lies a long road back from more than half a century of diplomatic animosity.
On Thursday, Cuban state media put out an article in the name of Fidel Castro, writing on the occasion of his 89th birthday, in which he made no reference to the historic resumption of U.S.-Cuba relations but instead waxed on about the damage the American embargo has caused Cuba and the anniversary of the United States dropping an atomic bomb on Japan.
It’s not all sweetness and light, but we’ll talk with each other now. As for the trade embargo, Congress may not lift that – the Republicans are hopping mad about this – but there’s this:
Most Americans, especially Democrats, approve of the U.S.’ restored relations with Cuba – a process further solidified Friday when Secretary of State John Kerry presided over the raising of the American flag at the newly reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana.
According to the Pew Research Center, however, Americans are less confident that Cuba will move toward a democratic form of government, which Kerry stressed as an important shift in his speech during the ceremony.
No one expects miracles, but that’s not the point:
Seventy-three percent of Americans are in favor of re-established relations between the two countries, which is impressive considering that just five years ago, not even 30 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of Cuba, according to Gallup polling.
Americans seem to be turning Canadian. Not talking with the Cuban government was stupid. We can’t change their minds by pouting. And if we lift the embargo and trade with them we can turn them into capitalists, as we did with the Chinese. They can make stuff for us. We can sell them a few Buicks. They can sell us those cigars, even if sometimes a cigar is only a cigar. Then we put a Starbucks on every corner. That’ll work. The unilateral sanctions certainly didn’t work. A number of Canadians mentioned that seventeen years ago.
That seems to be a hard lesson to learn. We’re not the only ones in the world. Really, we aren’t, and that’s playing out now with Iran. After all, Hillary Clinton recently let it rip:
Hillary Rodham Clinton made her most forceful defense yet of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran on Monday, saying that “all bets are off” if Congress were to reject the deal and warning of the potential impact to America’s standing in the world.
“The Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese, they’re going to say, ‘We stuck with the Americans. We agreed with the Americans. We hammered out this agreement. I guess their president can’t make foreign policy,'” Clinton said at a campaign stop in Manchester. “That’s a very bad signal to send in a quickly moving and oftentimes dangerous world.”
As Republicans warn that the deal could pave Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon, Clinton noted how Iran was able to advance its program during the last Republican administration.
“When George W. Bush was president the Iranians mastered the nuclear fuel cycle,” she said. “They also build covert facilities and stocked them with centrifuges, and they were spinning away trying to get enough highly enriched uranium to be able to, if they so choose, to move toward a weapon. That’s what we inherited.”
She was secretary of state. She knew:
“I went to work immediately to persuade China and Russia and other powers to join with us with international sanctions, passed by the U.N. It was really hard to make the case to the Chinese and the Russians, but we did,” she said.
Clinton also said that if elected president, she will form a new coalition to target Iran’s other destabilizing activities. The Obama administration has criticized Iran for its support of terrorist groups and record on human rights.
“We have a lot of other challenges posed by Iran. But personally as your future president, I’d rather be dealing with those challenges knowing that we have slowed down and put a lid on their nuclear weapons programs,” she said.
There was no way to go it alone, but then there’s Chuck Schumer:
Though Schumer was also largely expected to oppose the deal, as the powerful Jewish lawmaker from New York has a strong constituency that is against it, his detailed and public announcement on the eve of the first Republican debate last Thursday caught some Democrats off guard. They had expected Schumer to wait until much closer to a vote on the bill when lawmakers return in September to make his opposition official. On Monday, Schumer made his first public remarks since the announcement, calling it one of the hardest decisions he’s wrestled with.
He explained that in a lengthy statement – we could get a better deal. China and Russia and the others might not agree, but so what? We can go it alone. We have to.
It’s not like this guy doesn’t matter:
Schumer was chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2005 to 2009, in which post he oversaw a total of 14 Democratic gains in the Senate in the 2006 and 2008 elections. He is the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, behind Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, elected Vice Chairman of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate in 2006. In November 2010, he was also chosen to hold the additional role of chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee starting at the opening of the 112th Congress.
In 2015, Minority Leader Harry Reid, who is retiring after the 2016 elections, endorsed Schumer to succeed him as Leader. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin endorsed Schumer for the post, as well, almost ensuring he will succeed Reid as Senate Democratic Leader in January 2017.
He’s a big gun, but there’s also this:
Schumer’s propensity for publicity is the subject of a running joke among many commentators. He has been described as an “incorrigible publicity hound”. Bob Dole once quipped that “the most dangerous place in Washington is between Charles Schumer and a television camera”, while Barack Obama joked that Schumer brought along the press to a banquet as his “loved ones”. … In his role as Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies for the Second inauguration of Barack Obama, Schumer played a key role in organizing the event, gave the opening speech and served as the master of ceremonies. A photograph of a smiling Schumer peering from behind Malia Obama as Barack Obama took the oath of office went viral and became a meme.
Some of that may be at play here, but in an open letter to Schumer, Fareed Zakaria has a few questions for him:
You argue that the inspections are not “anywhere, anytime” and have a 24-day delay that is “troubling.” But all of Iran’s known nuclear facilities are subject to anywhere, anytime monitoring. And for new, suspicious sites, as nuclear expert Jeffrey Lewis points out, “what opponents of the deal have done is add up all the time limits and claim that inspections will occur only after a 24-day pause. This is simply not true. Should the U.S. intelligence community catch the Iranians red-handed, it might be that the Iranians would drag things out as long as possible. But in such a case, the game would be over.”
In that scenario Sen. Schumer, you argue that the sanctions snapback provisions are cumbersome. We must have read different documents. The one I’m looking at contains the first mechanism for the automatic reimposition of sanctions ever created, to my knowledge. And they can be triggered by Washington unilaterally. Peter Feaver, a former aide to President George W. Bush, and sanctions expert Eric Lorber, in expressing skepticism about the deal, admit that “we are hard-pressed to come up with other examples when the U.N. Security Council has voted to disenfranchise future U.N. Security Councils and create legally binding decisions on the say-so of a single member.”
And there’s this:
You argue that the United States might prefer to restore sanctions in part and that other countries might not go along with this. But the fact that Washington could unilaterally snap back all U.N. sanctions is surely extraordinary leverage that it could use to get other countries to agree to a partial reimposition of sanctions.
You further say that “after 15 years of relief from sanctions, Iran would be stronger financially and better able to advance a robust nuclear program.” Let’s be clear. Iran is going to get sanctions relief no matter what. The international sanctions against Iran were put in place by other countries solely to get to a nuclear deal. None would go along with extending the sanctions, given that Iran has produced what they all regard as an acceptable agreement.
Foreign Policy magazine reported on an extraordinary meeting this month, when top diplomats from the other five great powers involved in the deal met with senators to urge them to support it. The British and Russian envoys explained that if the deal was rejected, the sanctions would “unravel.”
In short, sir, what are you thinking, or as they say in the street, what are you smoking? And that’s just two items from a long list:
Rejecting this deal would produce an Iran that ramps up its nuclear program, without inspections or constraints, with sanctions unraveling and a United States that is humiliated and isolated in the world. You cannot want this.
Let’s see – sanctions unraveling and a United States that is humiliated and isolated in the world? Isn’t that what we just tried to fix with Cuba?
Josh Marshall goes even further:
As you may know, in the midst of last week’s Fox-GOP-Trump debate, Schumer leaked the news that he planned to vote against the deal when it comes before the Senate for review. There are a few things to say about the manner of the leak. As the Senator himself would no doubt agree, no one is more adept, experienced, or desirous of press attention than Schumer. The timing was no accident. It seemed aimed at creating as little splash as possible. Given his status as a prominent, senior, and outspokenly pro-Israel Senator from New York, there is only so much that he could do to limit the impact and reaction. But this was clearly an attempt to do so. And it did get buried to some degree in the Trump Debate/GOP Meltdown/Blood Drama. Schumer has also said that since this is his position, he will of course lobby others to follow his lead. But he has done so not altogether convincingly. Take all this together and I think it is possible that Schumer believes this to be a free vote for him personally – that he can vote in opposition, either knowing that it will pass (sustain a presidential veto) or at least that he won’t be blamed for it going down.
He made his waves, but this time there’s a price to pay:
Just after Schumer’s announcement, James Fallows said that it was one thing for Schumer to vote this way himself but if he lifts a finger to lobby other senators against the deal, he should be disqualified from becoming the next Senate Majority/Minority Leader, an office he very much wishes to fill.
I would take it a step further. I think Schumer should be disqualified on the basis of this decision alone. In fact, I would personally find it difficult to ever vote for Schumer again as my Senator, though I doubt he’ll lose much sleep over that since he is amazingly entrenched as New York’s senior senator. I say all this with some regret since I’ve always liked Schumer.
But don’t get the wrong idea:
I should make clear that I see fidelity to a President of one’s own party – even on an issue central to his presidency – as a non-issue in this case. The issue is that this agreement is a matter of grave importance. And Schumer’s position is wrong. Indeed, what makes it an issue for me is that it is more than wrong. His stated arguments are simply nonsensical and obviously tendentious. In this case, Schumer’s ample brain power stands as an indictment against him. There are plenty of senators who are voting against this deal because of a combination of bellicosity and partisan fervor. And there are a good number of them who either cannot or do not care to apply a real logical analysis of the question at hand. Let’s put that more bluntly, they’re either lazy or dumb. And of course this general point applies to senators on both sides of the aisle.
But Schumer is neither lazy nor dumb. And that’s why his decision is really unforgivable.
And Marshall has his own bill of particulars, including this:
He notes that the deal only makes sense if you believe that Iran will become more moderate and less belligerent under the deal. Again, a bad faith argument.
I think there are actually good reasons to think the consequences of the deal may lead to that outcome. To at least grant that this is a possibility one need only look at the fact that the Iranian reformers we allegedly love are all for it and the hardliners in the regime are all against it. But the deal is actually more important if you have the most dire read of the regime and its future. If you do think the worst, is it better to put in place what is unquestionably the most rigorous inspections and surveillance regime ever devised or leave the Iranians entirely free to start building nuclear weapons immediately? The answer to this question is so blindingly obvious it really ends the debate.
And there’s this:
But what about keeping sanctions on or tightening them and demanding a better deal?
Again, Schumer’s smarts indicts him. The sanctions have worked because the global powers have all backed them. Those powers backed them to force a deal something like this. They will not continue sanctions or tighten them when the goal of the sanctions, in their view, has already been met. This is not 1960 or even 1980. Sanctions by the U.S. alone won’t do it.
And there is no better deal:
Unless one’s definition of a good or perfect deal is one where you get everything you want, entirely on your own terms, this judgment is wrong. The way to evaluate a deal is whether you get the things you need and whether you made the most efficient use of the pressure and power you had to bring to bear. On these terms, it’s a pretty good deal.
That sounds suspiciously Canadian, and by extension, reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba also seems the most efficient use of the pressure and power that we, at the moment, have to bring to bear. Going it alone wasn’t cutting it. Unilateralism is a pipe dream. Try cigars.