Sunday, April 05, 2015

Sounding Off

In my efforts to cover the topics of the moment, sometimes I neglect to express my point of view with sufficient force or clarity, so this post will attempt to correct that.

Trust Not in Bibi
I was much too easy on Bibi when he came to the US to speak to the joint session of Congress.  Maybe I was just trying to be a good host.  Anyway, my main beef at the time was with the Republicans, who were interfering improperly with Israeli domestic politics.  I never thought anything Netanyahu was going to say was going to affect the outcome of the negotiations with Iran—certainly not with regard to President Obama’s stance, even less for the other participants (Iran, France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union).  And in fact it did not; maybe the pressure succeeded in moving the end of the agreement from 10 years to 15 years--that's all fantasyland, anyway; by 2030 many things are likely to have changed, in Iran, in the global nuclear proliferation framework, maybe even in Israel.  One can hope.

I do want to point out that Netanyahu’s last minute demagoguery in the Israeli campaign showed his true colors.  I have said it before:  When Netanyahu complained that the required negotiation partners were lacking for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, it was true.  He was unsuitable, and re­­­mains so.  I will give him credit:  his despicable, racist threats in the last minutes of the campaign succeeded in gaining him that little nudge he needed to be sure that it was to him that the Israeli President turned, as the head of the party with a clear lead in the number of Knesset seats.  Those 2-3 seats were basically gained at the expense of the far-right parties; however, for them it was perhaps an acceptable deal (maybe not for the 2-3 candidates who didn’t get seated).  With Netanyahu in control of the new government's coalition-building, those parties will be  included in the final coalition (at least most of them will be), while they probably would not have been invited in if the Livni/Herzog Zionist Front had ended up in the driver’s seat.   In that case it would probably have ended up being  a coalition of the parties across the center-left and center-right, which would have included Netanyahu’s Likud (needed to get the numbers), but in a lesser role.

I see the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has been suckered into echoing Netanyahu's line with regard to the anti-Semitic slant of some of the recent terroristic events in Europe in recent days.  As has often occurred in the past, his editors put a shock headline (“Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe“) on his more reasoned discussion, but I would suggest that, just as Netanyahu argues for more Jews in Israel for his narrow political objectives (countering the demographic decline in the percentage of first-generation Jewish immigrants, usually more likely to support his side), Europeans could counter that Israelis would do better to move to Europe and help balance the growth in Islamist numbers.  From the security point of view, I’m not sure Israel has the edge, either:  Western European governments are now highly sensitized toward protection of their Jewish minorities, and security has been stepped up noticeably. 

Final comment:  I hope the Israeli Arab alliance is not discouraged by the outcome of the Israeli elections.  What was clear from Netanyahu’s conquering stoop is that, united, the Israeli Arabs are a political force to be regarded—though not yet to be considered in forming governments.  If/when Netanyahu’s last term (surely) fails, the next round may favor a more forthright stance toward negotiation (if the failure is not in the form of massive violence, an intifada 3.0) and a switch in economic policy to the left.  That will be the time when the Israeli Arabs can make their growing presence felt and help bring about some sort of final agreement in Palestine.  Clearly, nothing will happen until then.

Give Peace a Chance
With regard to the draft agreement on nuclear power with Iran:  The world should rejoice, at least for a couple of days until the professional nitpickers start finding flaws.  Certainly, there will be some blemishes, and I would be underrating the Iranians' subtlety and watchful attention to the West were I to suggest that they will not exploit them. . They should then thank the paid negativistic natterers (thanks for the alliteration, Spiro Agnew speechwriter!) for pointing them out.  I think most of the nations involved will be earnest and sincere in following through on the terms of the agreement, while I would expect the Iranians to observe the letter of it, while pressing to relieve the sanctions sooner than the terms--yet to be finalized--will specify.
There will be a debate in the US Congress about relieving the sanctions, whenever that is supposed to happen, and I would not suppose the outcome will be favorable.  The point that should be clearly understood up front, however, is that refusing unilaterally to relieve them will be a pointless political charade:  if the rest of the world is not observing the sanctions, the US’ insistence on maintaining them will be relatively inconsequential (except to be a major pain in the ass for those institutions required to observe US law).   It’s something to make hardliners feel good when they have nothing to feel good about.  

Instead, the Congressional critics of the prospects of a peaceful resolution should look at the deal as a win-win opportunity for them:  if Iran fails to live up to its agreement, or even if their compliance is dodgy, Saddam Hussein-style, there would be a legitimate basis for punitive action.  Though the agreement is limited in its scope, the negotiations' progress also presents a political opportunity for a big victory in the region, if it strengthens the hand of the wing more open to reforms, currently headed by Iran's elected President Rouhani.  That can only happen if the US acts in good faith with its allies, negotiating partners, and respects its promises to Iran. I don't expect such good sense, though, expecting instead the reflexive opposition to anything originated by the Obama Administration.

Campaign 2016:  Act I, Scene 2   
Although I have remained pretty strict in my observance of my “no new political contributions in 2015” rule—trying to do my little part to reduce the PAC arms race while I can—I cannot remain totally silent about the 2016 campaign, which is starting to impose itself.  I am in the “Almost Ready for Hillary” camp, where I expect to remain for the rest of the year.  I am not in favor of a serious challenge to her candidacy on the Democratic side.  Maybe a silly one, like ex-Governor O’Malley’s attempt to gain some recognition for the future, or a Bernie Sanders issue-oriented Jesse Jackson-type candidacy, which will at least give Hillary some practice expressing her points of view, but will not require any serious expenditure of energy or money.

With regard to Democrats’ preparations for the other races, I am heartily in favor of some counterforce development to start winning back statehouses—it’s early, but 2020 will be here before we know it, and there is a long, long way to go.  Gaining control of the House seems an impossible dream now, but it could become a possible one if the Republicans continue on their path toward obsolescence (see the disastrous Religious Freedom law passed in Indiana)—and what is going to stop them from voluntary self-destruction?  Therefore, I am giving (a small amount) to the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) each month, to help them prepare their warchest.  Ben Ray Lujan is the Chairman, he is my Congressman, and I respect his judgment and his political integrity.  I am not going to repeat my disastrous attempt to cherry-pick Congressional races to support.  With regard to the Senate, I think it’s looking good, for the most part:  I am very excited by the apparent decision by Russ Feingold to challenge Ron Johnson to a rematch in Wisconsin, and I disagree with you party pros who are reluctant to get behind Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania:  that seat is a must-win, and he is the best man for the job, even if he makes you uncomfortable sometimes.  Illinois is shaping up as an interesting, also essential, contest:  Mark Kirk is vulnerable,  but his mix of chosen nuggets of red meat for the right-wing and careful selection of socially responsible positions to avoid turning off the independents will require a strong opponent and turnout to defeat him:  Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth could be the right kind of Democratic candidate. 

I was asked recently by a DNC email to vote for the scariest Republican presidential candidate.  After voting, I was disappointed not to see any results, I hope they release some.  My vote is for Scott Walker:  he is a lamebrained tool who has been propped up as a new face, but to me (living in a neighboring state) that face is familiar, disgusting and scary.  Contrary to what some may say, he is not popular in Wisconsin (he narrowly defeated two weak opponents), he has not accomplished anything (except for some right-wing posturing anti-union measures), his state’s economy is weak, and (as some have recognized) he is extremely limited in his understanding of national, let alone international, issues.  Since the elections of Ronald Raygun, Richard Nixon and Dubya, I no longer have any interest in the “the worse, the better” argument for the Republican nomination process—one should never assume that any Republican nominee, no matter how unqualified, hypocritical, or offensive, cannot be elected.  Therefore, it is better to oppose the worst potential Presidents and mildly favor the better ones. 

With regard to other likely Republican candidates, I could be wrong, but I don’t think I need to waste ammo on the likes of Rick Perry, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, George Pataki, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Lindsay Graham, or Marco Rubio.  With regard to this last one, he’s setting himself up for some future ambition, and will retreat back to Florida to run for re-election when he fails to win any of the primaries in early 2016.  Ted Cruz is certainly worthy of fervent opposition, if and when it looks as though he could become the clear favorite of the right-wing nutjobs who make up such a large percentage of the Republican primary voting base; in the meantime I am mostly amused by the awkward stances of Obama-birthers with regard to the validity of his qualification to run (mind you, I do not question it myself).   

Who else? –I don’t think we have to worry about Mike Pence anymore.  John Kasich is a formidable VP candidate but is insufficiently rabid for Republican primary foodfights.  Yes, Jeb Bush is the most reasonable candidate the Republicans have;  my point of view is to let the sharks have at him for now—he should be weakened, not killed—while I look somewhat anxiously to see if the possible third-party candidates (which I consider extremely likely if the major parties offer up Clinton v. Bush) will hurt or help the Democrats’ chances.   I am relatively unconcerned by the possibility of a candidacy for Rand Paul or Mike Huckabee; it’s not that I agree with the pundits that it is unlikely that either could win the nomination, it is my feeling that they have some live brain cells and would govern pragmatically, with a relatively light touch, if they were in fact elected. 

The Real Hard Case
It's easy to share the outrage at the excesses of groups like Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, ISIS, or this week, Al-Shabaab with its massacre of Christian college students in Kenya. I am about as tempted as others to buy into radical violent approaches (I've seen "Bomb Them Even Further into the Stone Age",  "Keep Calm and Bomb Everyone"); certainly many of those have forfeited their natural right to continued existence, and those who submit to their domination should be aware that ignominious death in the form of faceless violence (drones, cruise missiles), at the angered hands of offended world opinion, is their most likely destiny.

Rather than offering such short-term prescriptions, though, we should consider what the desired endgame for the peoples of the region should be, and then how can we possibly move toward that kind of outcome.  Political role models for the Arabs and the lands of Central and East Africa are few--the options seem to be limited to tyranny, either the secular or fanatical varieties, or chaos (which provides safe haven for the extremists).  Turkey and Indonesia provide examples of successful democratic governments in Muslim-dominated electorates, but neither is Arab or African (and Turkey's Erdogan has been veering toward Putinesque maneuvers to retain control in recent years). Algeria and Tunisia have both managed to integrate Islamist forces into existing secular elitist governments, perhaps a model Egypt could move toward, once the restored military power has convinced itself that it has suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood challenge. 

There is no consistent trend in recent events:  Yemen descends toward chaos, Northeast Nigeria (shamed by the success against Boko Haram of neighboring nations' forces) emerges from it.  ISIS is in retreat in Syria and Iraq.  My own  feeling is that there is no stable solution to the problems of those two countries, as currently constituted; they need either to be broken up--something no one dares consider--or some sort of weak federation, with autonomous areas under weakened (and Balkanized) cosmopolitan capitals in Damascus and Baghdad--something like the formula which evolved after decades of disaster in Lebanon and Beirut. 


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Chin Shih Tang said...

So, Marco Rubio has come out and announced and made a big splash. Some are even anointing him the prospective nominee. I feel this is excessively premature; like Walker, he has to prove he can handle the stress of a campaign without constantly tripping over his tongue.
I may have been wrong, though, about his intentions if he doesn't get the nomination: he looks like a very viable VP candidate for most other potential nominees. (The one exception would probably be Jeb Bush, who is both constitutionally prohibited from having a running mate from the same state, and who is probably PO'd at Rubio for daring to challenge him. Bush is supposed to be his original political "mentor".)

The big fallacy with Rubio is that he will help with the Hispanic vote. He has turned his back on the majority of Hispanics and abandoned his earlier pro-immigration stance (at least for the duration of the primary campaign). What he would, presumably, help with is the Cuban population in Florida, which is not of minor value as a contribution from a VP candidate. Even if his old-school views viz. the Castros are out-of-date (like most of his other positions), no doubt even some of the younger Cubans would appreciate his candidacy and the possibility he could represent Gen X--which is longing to be recognized.

Chin Shih Tang said...

Amazingly enough I did not even consider the possible candidacy of the eventual winner of the 2016 election. I have to chalk that up to my lacking sufficient imagination.