September 14, 2015

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Charles Krauthammer writes on the Iran charade on capitol hill.

… As a matter of constitutional decency, the president should have submitted the deal to Congress first. And submitted it as a treaty. Which it obviously is. No international agreement in a generation matches this one in strategic significance and geopolitical gravity.

Obama did not submit it as a treaty because he knew he could never get the constitutionally required votes for ratification. He’s not close to getting two-thirds of the Senate. He’s not close to getting a simple majority. No wonder: In the latest Pew Research Center poll, the American people oppose the deal by a staggering 28-point margin.

To get around the Constitution, Obama negotiated a swindle that requires him to garner a mere one-third of one house of Congress. Indeed, on Thursday, with just 42 Senate supporters — remember, a treaty requires 67 — the Democrats filibustered and prevented, at least for now, the Senate from voting on the deal at all.

But Obama two months ago enshrined the deal as international law at the U.N. Why should we care about the congressional vote? In order to highlight the illegitimacy of Obama’s constitutional runaround and thus make it easier for a future president to overturn the deal, especially if Iran is found to be cheating.

As of now, however, it is done. Iran will be both unleashed — sanctions lifted, economy booming, with no treaty provisions regarding its growing regional aggression and support for terrorists — and welcomed as a good international citizen possessing a peaceful nuclear program. An astonishing trick. …



Henry R. Nau, international relations prof at George Washington University, shows in a long form essay in Commentary how “restraint” often leads to war; a war more horrible than the one that was initially avoided.

President Obama argues that his nuclear agreement with Iran means “every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off.” He says, moreover, that it sets the stage to “incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave.” It will be “a lot easier,” he predicts, “to check Iran’s nefarious activities, to push back against the other areas where they operate contrary to our interests or our allies’ interests if they don’t have the bomb.”

The approach is a signature feature of Obama’s foreign policy. He has counted on diplomacy in a whole host of other areas to reduce tensions and preempt military conflict. And this approach has failed him repeatedly.
He reset relations with Russia—and Moscow annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine. He launched a strategic partnership with China—and Beijing occupied and built military installations on disputed islands in the East and SouthChinaSeas. He extended an open hand to the Muslim world—and radical Islam erupted. Will the agreement with Iran be the next Obama initiative to invite more violence rather than less?

To judge by statements from the United States and Iran, and by the details of the deal itself, the answer is yes. …

… And so, as has often been the case in the past, an effort to avoid conflict may lead to far worse conflict down the road.

Why does violence escalate and war often follow? One line of argument says it’s the result of the United States’ acting too ambitiously and aggressively, as some believe it did in Iraq. Obama, among other critics, claimed that President George W. Bush pushed a worldwide freedom agenda and relied too heavily on military force to achieve it. Bush provoked terrorists and other rivals, and they pushed back, thus increasing conflict.

But another line of argument might be this: War happens when the United States is not ambitious or aggressive enough, and more aggressive nations respond by stepping up and attacking the interests of the United States and its allies because there is no one to prevent them from doing so. …

… Since its origins, America has thought about its approach to the world in three principled ways. Thomas Jefferson introduced the internationalist way, the ambition that America could not only change domestic politics from monarchy to republicanism but also world politics from war to peaceable trade and diplomacy. Alexander Hamilton championed the realist way, advocating national power, alliances, and territorial filibusters to defend the new nation’s western borders. And George Washington advocated the nationalist (in extreme form, isolationist) way, prioritizing independence and warning against both ambition and alliances in foreign affairs. 

These three approaches—internationalist, realist, and nationalist—became America’s standard foreign-policy traditions. The internationalist tradition, sometimes called liberal internationalism after the Democratic presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt who championed it, encourages the United States to believe it can tame international violence and spread democracy largely through multilateral diplomacy and economic interdependence, eventually replacing the balance of power with collective security that pools force and uses it as a last resort only with multilateral consent—the first Persian Gulf War being the prime example. … 

… It is time for a fourth approach. … … This approach would combine liberal internationalism’s commitment to spread democracy and make the world a better place with the instruments of realism to back up diplomacy with military force. But it would limit this combination of freedom and force by making the spread of freedom a priority only on the borders of existing free countries, primarily in Europe and Asia, not in “every nation and culture” worldwide. And it would tie military actions to diplomatic compromises that favor freedom—not to military victory followed by occupation and interminable nation-building. In the end, such restrained ambition—what we might call conservative internationalism—aims for a world in which nation-states remain separate, sovereign, and armed, and do not entrust vital national-security interests to international institutions—and yet, as democracy spreads, live side by side in peaceful competition under the democratic peace.

This approach was favored by Presidents Truman and Reagan, the presidents who initiated and won the Cold War. … 

… Here is how this conservative internationalist approach might work to confront contemporary challenges. 

First, the United States would remain the champion of freedom in the world. … 

… fading of freedom matters. Authoritarian regimes are the primary source of violence in the world. With dictators such as Vladimir Putin in Russia and Xi Jinping in China, these regimes eliminate opponents at home and seize territory abroad. As they increase their influence, they make the world a more unstable place. Neighboring states take note and recalibrate. Hungary becomes friendlier with Moscow, Turkey drifts away from Israel and NATO, South Korea becomes more dependent on China, and Iraq turns to partnership with Iran. 

Freedom withers as it quietly accommodates oppression. To hunker down now, to go into a defensive crouch and give up the battle of advancing freedom abroad is simply the same as waiting for the world to deteriorate again and for the next war to come. So it has always been. … 

… Russia reneges on its nonproliferation commitment not to attack Ukraine, which gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994, because it values the annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of eastern Ukraine more than it values Ukrainian independence. China drags its feet on carbon emissions and ending North Korea’s nuclear program because it prioritizes domestic economic growth and the survival of an autocratic regime in North Korea.

Russia and China use the UN to restrain human rights, not to facilitate them. Multilateral diplomacy supports the rule of law, but the real question is whose law. Repeated compromises with authoritarian states in international institutions can advance laws that just as easily restrict freedom as promote it. 

To have serious negotiations with authoritarian countries, therefore, the United States needs to arm its diplomacy. It needs to bring military leverage to bear before and during negotiations, not just after negotiations fail. If America waits to use military power only after negotiations fail, nondemocratic states will simply negotiate until they have achieved their objectives by force outside of negotiations. … 

… President Obama practices “unarmed” diplomacy. Take his negotiations with Iran. He initiated talks with Tehran while cutting defense budgets and removing U.S. troops from Iraq. Then, with overall defense budgets declining, he “pivoted” U.S. naval assets from the Mediterranean to the Pacific. The economic sanctions levied on Iran were not backed up by a credible threat to use force if Iran did not stop its nuclear program. Instead, Iran saw a president who had lost control of his defense budget through a mindless sequestration process, was eager to exit Iraq, and was more concerned about the American defense posture in the Pacific than in the Mediterranean. 

Nor did Obama do much to counter Iranian aggression outside negotiations. He refused to support a Syrian opposition while Iran doubled down on its support of Syria’s dictator. He failed to counter Iran’s increased influence in Iraq when he bungled the negotiations over the Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Iraq, largely because the Shiite government in Baghdad saw Tehran as a better partner for the future than Washington. Most recently, in Yemen, Iran-backed rebels seized the government, to which Obama responded by withdrawing American special-operations forces and ending the drone program against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that Obama once touted as a model national-security program. 

Most damaging of all, Obama stoked a bitter feud with America’s principal democratic ally in the region, Israel. … 

… Across the board, Obama’s diplomacy lacks muscle. Even Secretary of State John Kerry agrees. “Remember,” he testified, “sanctions did not stop Iran’s nuclear program from growing steadily. They already have what they want. They got it ten years ago or more.” This is a crippling indictment that the negotiations were not about stopping the Iranian nuclear program but about accepting it. 

None of this means that the only option left was, or is, to invade Iran. That’s a red herring. But it would have been possible to be tougher and more patient and to lead rather than to follow allies, as Reagan did in the case of the Soviet Union. Make it costlier and costlier for Iran to sustain its aggressive foreign policies and let the low price of oil undermine the hardliners in Tehran, the way it did the hardliners in the Soviet Union after 1985.
The road back to a better configuration of forces on the ground in the Middle East that might support peaceful agreements will take some time. The costs of an unarmed diplomacy are never visible immediately. They compound over time. And Obama’s policies of excessive restraint may have sown the seeds of violence for years to come. …

… The Iran deal is the final codification of Obama’s foreign-policy vision. He expects diplomacy to reduce military violence and change domestic regime behavior. But without the backing of military arms and the objective of expanding freedom, diplomacy with despots is a path to war, not peace. President Obama’s initiatives with Moscow and Beijing have resulted in more hostility, not less. And his Iran initiative is likely to produce the same. …


A thinking edition of Pickings requires some high brow cartoons.