Will Jewish Democrats Sink the Iran Deal?


shutterstock_197638877“Seven Jewish Lawmakers Could Tilt the Scales on Iran Deal,” headlines The Times of Israel. The members — Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Steven Israel, Rep. Eliot Engel, Rep. Adam Schiff, Rep. Nita Lowey, Sen. Ben Cardin, and Rep. Ted Deutch – are all Democrats. They must choose between loyalty to their party’s president, and concern about what the deal portends for Israeli and American security.

There are long and short answers to the question: “Why are Jews liberal?” The long answer traces back to the Enlightenment in Europe when parties of the right were monarchist and anti-Semitic, while parties of the left favored pluralism and religious freedom. I don’t buy the long argument. Tsar Alexander III, who instigated pogroms against the Jews, is long dead. So is Napoleon, who liberated them. In the meantime, Jews have suffered under communists, who proved just as cruel as the monarchists.

Jewish liberals often explain that their views spring from Jewish tradition, which admonishes the Jewish people to engage in “tikkun olam” or “healing the world.” I’m skeptical. Tikkun Olam is traditionally understood as adhering faithfully to the commandments (keeping kosher, visiting the sick, and observing the Sabbath, for example), the better to prepare the world for the messianic age. Many of those who brandish the Hebrew phrase today have commandeered it to bolster support for same sex marriage, government-run health care, and the rest of the progressive agenda — an interpretation that would, to quote the immortal words of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, “cross a rabbi’s eyes.”

Seeking: Polish Election Expert


250px-Krakau_MarktSo, a lovely Polish guy works as a housekeeper in a building near mine. We make small talk whenever we run into each other. He’s busting his hump to support his family, enterprising, always cheerful, exactly the kind of immigrant the French fear because he’s willing to work for non-union wages. We bonded immediately over our shared views of communism and Putin. (“What is wrong with you guys? He’s KGB!”)

I ran into him today, and as usual we chatted a bit about the recent perturbation on the Métro — construction work, apparently — and his family, and about how amazing it is that everyone in France goes on vacation for the entire month of August. Then as usual we lamented the state of the world, and as usual griped about Putin. I asked him how people in Poland were feeling about things. He shook his head. There’s a problem in Poland, he said. The elections are coming up, and he doesn’t at all like the looks of the opposition party, which he suspects will win. The incumbant party isn’t perfect, he said, but at least they understand you can’t just make money out of nothing.

Now, usually I can fake my way through any casual conversation about politics, but fact is — I was stumped. I’ve been paying no attention to what’s happening in Poland. None. I have no idea who the main parties or political figures are.

Notes on Turkey, the Kurds, Incirlik, and ISIS


11705352_1005341582823689_7540684201876452080_nI’ve refrained from writing much about this past week’s news for a number of reasons. The first is that I’ve been deeply depressed about it, which doesn’t make for sober analysis. The second is that there are many elements of this story I don’t yet understand. I’ve been hesitant to make a categorical judgment about many of the rumors I’ve been hearing from Turkey, since I’m not there to evaluate any of them myself. The third is that there are so many aspects of this I do understand that I’m tempted to write too much, drowning everyone here in detail that’s essential — yet failing to convey the essence. The fourth, as one (good) journalist in Turkey put it on Twitter, is “[redacted’s] just too complicated. Moving too quick.”

I’m also aware how difficult it is to write about this in a way that makes sense. I remember studying the Spanish Civil War as an undergraduate and feeling so overwhelmed by the number of acronyms that I decided my exam strategy would be to play the odds, skip the Spanish Civil War, and instead master every other topic that might come up on the Modern European History finals. To this day, I could tell you all about Béla Kun, but my knowledge of the Spanish Civil War remains limited to what I learned from reading Homage to Catalonia.

So I’m not going to try to write a definitive update. I’ll just direct you to three articles, open the floor to discussion, and try to answer questions, although I may not know the answers. I’ve extracted key quotes from the articles, but if you read them in full, they’ll make more sense — not least because all these beastly acronyms refer to things that are, in fact, very different.

The Case Against Obama: Why John Yoo is Wrong


Benedict ArnoldJohn Yoo argues that Obama’s executive action on Iran does not violate the law: 

Today, conservatives disagree with President Obama’s use of these constitutional reservoirs of power to reach for the mirage of a rapprochement with Iran. But those same powers have served presidents from Lincoln, who invoked broad executive power to fight the Civil War and free the slaves, to FDR, who brought the nation into the war against the Axis powers, to Truman and Reagan, who, respectively, oversaw the Cold War at its beginning and toward its end. The next president will need those powers again when he or she quickly turns policy toward Iran in the opposite direction.

In the next weeks, conservatives will have ample opportunity to persuade the American people against the Iran deal on its merits. Presidential candidates will explain the steps they will take to undo the damage that Obama has inflicted on our national security. But they will make a serious mistake if they seek the short-term political end of defeating the Iran deal by crippling the Presidency’s long-term powers to defend the nation.

Obama Finishing Plan to Close Guantanamo


gitmo1Obama promised in 2008 that, if elected, he would close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay as soon as he arrived at the White House. Of course, once elected, he learned that was much easier promised than done. Relocating inmates in the states was wildly unpopular with voters and nervous legislators, while few other countries would take the hardened jihadis.

Over his second term, President Obama has gotten much more comfortable governing via executive order. He pens a memo, tells his agencies to proceed accordingly, and hopes the courts don’t interfere too much. Republicans in Congress whine for a half-day, then get back to work passing whatever legislation Obama needs rubber-stamped that week.

Guess what, America: Obama’s going to close GITMO if it’s the last thing he does… and it just might be.

What Should We Say to Democratic Congressmen about Iran?


demophoneCongress will have a recess period before it votes on the Vienna Agreement with Iran via the Corker bill. Anyone who has both Republican senators and a Republican representative will almost certainly have no need to convince them to vote against the agreement.

All the action is, therefore, with the Democrats. It was Milton Friedman who said that the secret of good government is “making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing.” That is precisely the task at hand over the next seven weeks.

I’m a spectator because I live in a state with two Republican senators and my representative is a member of the Republican leadership. No need to worry about how they will vote!

How Should America Prioritize Threats to its Security?


Mark N. Katz, writing in the National Interest, put this in a simple but important way:

In formulating its defense policy, the United States has to face four separate security challenges simultaneously: China, Russia, Iran, and Sunni jihadism. This is very different from the Cold War era when, although America faced security problems in many parts of the globe, there was one overarching challenge that it confronted throughout the world: the Soviet Union.

Why the Iran Deal Won’t Work


The announcement hammered out between Western powers and Iran last week is, in all likelihood, doomed for failure, not least because of a number of unjustifiable assumptions that undergird the deal. As I argue in my new column for Defining Ideas:

The first problem with the deal is that it gives Iran an undeserved respectability that comes simply from being allowed to sign a significant international agreement.

Is Iran Rational?


Seyyed_Ali_KhameneiThough it is as old as the debate about the Iranian nuclear program itself, the question now seems more apt than ever. The usual phrasing is whether Iran is truly bent on destruction or on the verge of becoming a modern-day Soviet Union, i.e., a nuclear power that can be deterred by mutually assured destruction (leave aside whether you believe the current or potential future occupants of the White House would, in fact, respond in such a fashion). On the one hand are people who point out that, though the Soviets were power-hungry totalitarians, they wanted to live and knew that using nukes was a suicide pact. On the other, you have people who argue that Iran isn’t rational in that way, and would be happy for martyrdom — or, more likely, the martyrdom of their ordinary citizens — for the cause of Islam, the Caliphate, and the return of the Twelfth Imam.

I have gone back and forth between the two sides myself, but a thought occurred to me today: Iran wouldn’t be the first instance in the modern era of an “ideological regime” driven to irrational action by nutty ideas. Thankfully, the last such regime — the Third Reich — existed in the pre-nuclear age.

I know people hold their breath when Nazis are mentioned, but please hear me out. Hitler was an ideologue, committed to racist and anti-Semitic ideas. If you look at the military history of WWII, you see that, even as the war turned against the Germans, they continued — indeed escalated — their effort to exterminate European Jewry, diverting trains, personnel, and materials away from the war to do so. The murder of slave laborers also meant an ever-diminishing ability to produce munitions and other war necessities. This was totally irrational from a military or a survival standpoint (I can’t be certain, but I imagine no high-ranking Nazi official believed that he’d get out alive if the war ended in defeat; either he would be killed in the effort, or condemned to death for his actions). Even within the war itself, Hitler was often irrational, invading the USSR out of hatred for Bolshevism and then throwing more and more soldiers into the maw after the cause had turned hopelessly against him.

The Weekend International News Agenda


What follows are stories from around the world that caught my eye this morning. I’m listing them, with an extract or a comment or two, in case anyone missed them. I haven’t offered any analysis: I’ll leave that to you, and I hope good posts on the Member Feed result from it.

I was inspired to do this by a comment MikeHs left yesterday in a thread about France’s position on the nuclear deal. He linked to a story in Breitbart headlined, “There was a significant terrorist attack in France this week and the mainstream media hasn’t even bothered telling you.” I searched the international press and saw that indeed, while that story had been widely reported around the world — from Sydney to Tahiti — it really didn’t catch the attention of the US media.

France and the Iranian Nuclear Deal


2013-11-24T041744Z_559600050_GM1E9BO0XZ501_RTRMADP_3_IRAN-NUCLEAR-DEALFrance’s agreement to the deal reached between Iran and P5+1 represents a change in position. The endless talks temporarily collapsed, in November 2013, when French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius denounced Iran’s position as “a fool’s deal.” They were widely applauded by those opposed to the deal as clear-sighted and brave; they were impugned by those in favor of a deal as short-sighted and corrupt. This was typical of the latter kind of analysis:

… And what happened to some degree over the summer was that Prince Bandar and other Saudi officials began trolling through Europe, trying to figure out if they could pull away some of the countries of Europe in favor of the Saudi position, and essentially the Israeli position, on issues like Syria and Iran. They seem to have had great success with the French, who, of course, have a serious economic problem. They have been struggling trying to get out of this recession. They’ve had a recent credit downgrade. They’ve had high unemployment. And so when the Saudis began to flash some of their petrodollars around, it was certainly something of interest to the French. And the Saudis have recently been signing up contracts with the French for military assistance. There’s a one-and-a-half billion dollar plan for the French to help refurbish some of the Saudi Navy. And you’ve had other Gulf states making other deals with France in terms of buying their equipment, especially their military equipment. So what you’ve got here is the French having a very clear economic incentive to help the Saudis and the Israelis as much as possible.

I expect the commentary will quickly reverse itself: Those who support the deal will now applaud France for taking a brave risk for peace; those against the deal will explain French behavior in terms of the same logic. French firms have been making that kind of analysis easy by openly salivating at the the thought of the business prospects should sanctions be lifted:

Obama: Witting or Witless?


obamairanI was elected to end wars, not start them. – Barack Obama

The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it. – George Orwell

 A question has hung in the air since Barack Obama first moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and began his “fundamental transformation” of this country: Did he intend harm or was he merely so blinded by ideology that he could not see the damage his policies were creating? The Iran deal provides an answer.

Meanwhile in Japan…


1072px-Flag_of_JSDF.svgFrom today’s New York Times, the world continues to be… interesting:

TOKYO — The lower house of Japan’s Parliament passed legislation on Thursday that would give the country’s military limited powers to fight in foreign conflicts. […] The bills represent a break from the strictly defensive stance maintained by Japan in the decades since the war, under which it would fight only if directly attacked. Critics, including a majority of Japanese constitutional specialists, say the legislation violates the country’s postwar charter, which renounces war.


Understanding Obama’s Strategy


I am attempting to understand Obama’s position on Iran.  What I write below is what I think Obama and his cohorts think they are doing. I am trying to write from their perspective, so it will be sympathetic.

Obama’s Grand Strategy:
The real problem in the world is Sunni extremism.  ISIS, al-Qaeda, and all their affiliates are Sunni. Iran is the natural enemy of Sunni extremism, and is thus the natural ally of the United States. Sure, the Iranians have killed many Americans, but that is because America threatened Iran’s interests in the region. Iran’s true ambitions have always been regional. If America shows a willingness to see Iran succeed regionally and to become a protector of Shia everywhere in the region, they will no longer see the need to be hostile to the United States. An opportunity exists to cultivate Iran as an ally and make Iran a proxy in the America’s war on Sunni terror networks.

Between a Rock and a Saud Place


Few international relationships are more susceptible to criticism than that between the United States and Saudi Arabia. One is the leader of the free world.  The other is antithetical to even the most basic human rights, let alone religious freedom or gender equality.  Saudi Arabia is the most influential Sharia state in existence, a mantle recently challenged by its Shia semblable, Iran.

The Saudi regime has successfully played a highly cynical game since at least the beginnings of the Cold War. After decades of conquest, Ibn Saud unified the modern (the word goes down hard) nation-state of Saudi Arabia in 1932. As stewards of the hijaz and rulers of one of the most conservative populaces in the world, it was incumbent on the Saudis to show their bona fides as good Wahabists. In the ensuing decades, they entrenched a medieval legal system and permeated all aspects of civil society with fundamentalist apparatchiks of the state.

The Libertarian Podcast, with Richard Epstein: “The Iran Deal”


Is President Obama out of his mind? That’s more or less the question that animates this installment of The Libertarian podcast.

In addition to considering the security implications of our diplomatic agreement with Iran, Professor Epstein also digs into the convoluted legal structure: How is it that President Obama can essentially invert the traditional treaty power so that it’s a heavier lift for Congress to reject the deal than for the president to get it passed? And do challenges to that innovation have a chance in court? Find out by listening below or by subscribing to The Libertarian via iTunes or your favorite podcast app.