At least someone was listening

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Sometimes when I do a radio segment, like the one on the Trump administration’s Iran policy this morning on the local drive-time news/talk station, I wonder what the audience is thinking about my comments.

Now I know, at least in one instance.

Below is the text of the email I received about an hour after my segment was over. I am reprinting it in its entirety (minus the emoji). My motivation comes from a comment by a former student who listened to the segment from the Republic of Georgia where he now lives and works, who suggested that maybe my blunt assessment might get some of the station’s conservative listeners to rethink their position.

images-9Fat chance.

The email is not particularly scathing, nor is it in any way offensive. But it is a window into the way that I suspect a lot of Trump supporters view his policies, how they see the world, and what they believe motivates his critics. (For the record, I support neither socialism in America nor the establishment of a one-world order communistic government.)

Anyway, here’s how this listener reacted:

I heard you on the radio this morning sir. I just want to say you couldn’t of been more wrong except for one thing. President Trump decided not to retaliate. You agreed with that, and so did I. But probably for different reasons. The Democrats set him up and tried to get him to strike, Which would appear reckless under the conditions. You said the president backed himself into a corner. I don’t think so. So far what he is doing is right on the money. You said it was wrong to get rid of the deal that Obama and John Kerry made. I disagree. Our Intel told us that they never stoped producing enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. Our Intel told us that they were still supplying money and weapons to terrorist groups around the world. Till this day Kerry and Obama continue to work against the United States committing tyranny with regards to Iran. It would be best for the world if that regime was dismantled and replaced with a democracy. My guess is you want socialism for America or a one world order communistic type system for the United States. We the people are not going to let that happen. We are going to hold the deep state accountable for all the crimes they have committed. MAGA TRUMP 2020

Here’s a quick recap of the points I made that this listener took issue with:

  • The Iran nuclear agreement that the US walked out on in May 2018 was actually working and Iran was abiding by its restrictions.
  • The best course forward would be for the US to return to that agreement rather than continuing to pursue a policy of saber-rattling and sanctions that has failed to deliver for the last 40 years.
  • The additional sanctions against Iran announced yesterday by the White House will have no meaningful impact on Iranian policy.
  • Trump was right to cancel the military strike that he had previously ordered.
  • But, by taking such an aggressive line with Iran, Trump has backed himself into a corner.
  • If another US drone is shot down, which is entirely possible, Trump, given his tough talk, will find it very difficult if not impossible to avoid retaliatory military action.
  • This kind of escalation runs very real risks of getting out of hand, dragging both countries and the region down a path that no-one whose name isn’t John Bolton wants to tread.

If you’re hanging around a radio or a livestream tomorrow morning, you can catch me talking about Iran again on Detroit’s public radio station, WDET 101.9FM. I’ll be a guest on the Detroit Today show with Stephen Henderson. The show starts at 9 am with rebroadcast at 7 pm.

Seven things (revisited)

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Almost exactly a year ago (July 9, 2015 to be precise), I posted a little piece called “Seven things I want to believe.” These weren’t predictions, per se, more like short observations, hopes, and expectations.

Even so, I thought it was worth it to look back and see how these panned out. In case you don’t want to read any further, here’s the short take:

I got some right (Clinton-Sanders and the Iran nuclear deal), I got some incredibly wrong (Trump and the Grateful Dead), some partly right but wrong in tragic ways (Confederate flag and dialogue on race, ISIS sympathizers and domestic terrorism), and one (Han Solo origin pic) where it’s too soon to tell but the signs are promising.

On to the original list, with an update for each.

1) Republican voters are not so completely alienated from the political process that they will actually cast their ballots for Donald Trump.

Wow, did I get that one wrong. It’s some comfort knowing that virtually everyone else got it wrong too, but still. Come next week the billionaire (maybe) blowhard (definitely) with authoritarian tendencies will officially go from presumptive to official Republican nominee for the White House. Who saw that coming a year ago? I sure didn’t.

2) The chances of reaching a deal with Iran on its nuclear ambitions are better than 50/50.

This one did pan out, despite intense political opposition in Congress. But in the end, Iran agreed to terms, it’s nuclear weapons program has been almost completely dismantled, most economic sanctions have been lifted, and the way is clear for the country to re-enter the international community.

It also represents an impressive diplomatic victory for Obama’s legacy which will make the US safer and the region more stable. Assuming some psycho blowhard doesn’t become the next president and tear the thing up.

3) Removing the Confederate battle flag from the lawn of the South Carolina statehouse will be the start of a meaningful national dialogue on race.

We’re having dialogue, that’s for sure. But black men are still dying at the hands of police, protests are still roiling American cities in ways reminiscent of the late 1960s, and racial politics still seem paralyzed. And we still have Rudy Giuliani.

4) The Grateful Dead are done.

Dear God, they’re actually on tour. Well, at least the creaky remnants.

5) Bernie Sanders will force Hillary Clinton to actually compete for the Democratic nomination.

Nailed this one. Not only did Clinton have to compete, she had to compete all the way into June before locking up the nomination. Sanders has dragged his feet on endorsing Clinton for the last month, trying to use every last ounce of the influence he won during the primaries to try to push her and the Democratic Party as far to the progressive left as possible.

And it has worked. Clinton has embraced a number of the proposals he championed, like a $15 national minimum wage and free (public) college education. Tomorrow Sanders and Clinton hit the campaign trail together.

6) FBI arrests of supposed ISIS sympathizers actually foiled July 4th terror plots.

Who knows if they did or didn’t. Doesn’t really matter, I suppose. After all, we still got San Bernardino and Orlando. Given the nature of domestic terrorism and patterns of radicalization, we would be foolish to assume that those will be the last.

7) The Han Solo origin movie will be awesome.

This one is too soon to call. But based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the trailers for the upcoming Rogue One, I am more than cautiously optimistic.

Hell, I’m downright giddy.

Saint Ronald vs. the GOP

saint ronaldI’m not sure what it says about my mental state, but Ronald Reagan has been on my mind lately.

It’s probably because he keeps coming up as I teach my course on US foreign policy this semester. And he keeps coming up in a way that continually makes me scratch my head when I think about the contrast between his views, specifically on foreign policy, and those of today’s Republican Party standard bearers.

Now I’m at it again. In class this afternoon we’ll be discussing a case study on the history of the fraught negotiations between the US and Iran over the later’s nuclear ambitions and programs. Part of that discussion will revolve around the suspicion with which America typically views any negotiations with a hostile foreign power.

Writing in World Affairs back in 2010, Frank Logevall and Kenneth Osgood connect this to “The Ghost of Munich,” the reflexive charges of naive appeasement that are levied against any president who dares to engage diplomatically with a potentially dangerous rival:

‘Munich’ and ‘appeasement’ have been among the dirtiest words in American politics, synonymous with naivete and weakness, and signifying a craven willingness to barter away the nation’s vital interests for empty promises.

These words retain their power, they argue, because of electoral considerations:

An abiding faith in the Munich analogy became one of the few things that was truly bipartisan in postwar American politics. In the years that followed Chamberlain’s fateful trip to Bavaria, Democrats and Republicans alike displayed a common understanding of the dangers of appeasement, and a common belief in the political value of using the Munich analogy to undermine the other party.

The problem with this, they argue, is that success in foreign policy has typically come to presidents who had the courage to push back against the analogy and engage diplomatically with rivals and hostile powers, while those who bowed to its demand for unyielding strength and toughness often failed, and in spectacular, tragic ways. Like Vietnam. And Iraq.

Enter today’s GOP, and Sen. Ted Cruz’s assessment of the agreement then being negotiated with Iran:

I believe we are hearing echoes of history. I believe we are at a moment like Munich in 1938.

Or this from Jeb Bush:

This isn’t diplomacy – it is appeasement.

And from Marco Rubio:

President Obama has consistently negotiated from a position of weakness, giving concession after concession …

But what about Saint Ronald? Well, he came to see the value in negotiations, even with an adversary like the Soviet Union, whose strategic doctrine, like our own, assumed the utter annihilation of of its chief rival as the end goal:

I don’t take too seriously the statement of positions in advance of negotiations. Everyone wants to preserve their position at their highest price before negotiations, and for them to do otherwise is to give away something they might not have to give away once the negotiations start.

And:

You’re unlikely to get all you want; you’ll probably get more of what you want if you don’t issue ultimatums and leave your adversary room to maneuver; you shouldn’t back your adversary into a corner, embarrass him, or humiliate him; and sometimes, the easiest way to get things done is for the top people to do them alone and in private.

If you’d have asked me 20 years ago if I could ever see myself lauding Reagan in either the classroom or in writing, I would have called you crazy. But then I hadn’t yet encountered today’s Republicans.

Iran deal: Now even more official (with an update)

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With four more Senate Democrats announcing their support for the Iran nuclear deal yesterday, Republicans will not have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster of their resolution disapproving the agreement.  Not that objections from Congress would have made much of a difference in any course:

For all the drama leading up to this week’s debate, the other five world powers who helped negotiate the agreement — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — have made clear they have no desire to return to the bargaining table, and are likely to ease sanctions against Iran and put the agreement in place regardless of the view ultimately expressed by Congress.

Of course none of this stops the political posturing either in Congress (not that the lack of congressional GOP buy-in for any of Obama’s foreign policy initiatives really matters much) or from amongst the ranks of presidential contenders.

Just as Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton (well, front-runner everywhere but New Hampshire …) announced her support for the deal this morning, opponents were making plans for a rally at the Capitol later today featuring such foreign policy heavyweights as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Sarah Palin, and Glenn Beck.

Luckily Dick Cheney has resurfaced to offer a fresh alternative to diplomacy, a new Mideast war, backed up by a master class in how not to learn from the past.

“[T]here are lessons from the past on which we can draw,” Cheney declared. He then cited Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor; the Gulf War, in which the U.S. destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program; the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which Cheney said convinced Libya to abandon its nuclear program; and Israel’s 2007 attack on a nuclear reactor in Syria. “In each of these cases,” Cheney argued, “it was either military action or the credible threat of military action that persuaded these rogue regimes to abandon their weapons programs. Iran will not be convinced to abandon its program peacefully unless it knows it will face military action if it refuses to do so.”

Of course Cheney fails to articulate how to make threats of military action — like the ones Obama has already made — any more credible without actually going to war. Nor does he manage to explain how such threats failed to stop the Iranians from advancing to the edge of nuclear capability under his watch.

Perhaps he’ll show up at the rally today to spell it all out for us slow learners.


Update

We may never find out if those 42 Senate Democrats really support the deal now that conservative Republicans in the House have blocked a vote in that chamber. Reuters reports this afternoon:

A rebellion by conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives on Wednesday delayed the first congressional vote on the nuclear agreement with Iran and raised the possibility that lawmakers might never vote on a resolution disapproving of the pact.

The House was supposed to vote on a procedural motion to begin debate on Wednesday, but it was put off after some Republicans said they wanted to push President Barack Obama to provide more information about the deal.

The rebel Republicans, led by Representative Peter Roskam, said the Obama administration had not provided all the information about the deal required under the IranNuclear Review Act. They said it includes “secret side deals” about inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities that have not been fully revealed.

The White House dismissed that suggestion.

“If Congress does not vote, this agreement goes into effect. It’s as simple as that,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

For the life of me I can’t figure out what the Republican game is here.