12 January 2016

Too Soon for Reforming the Political System

What is the likelihood of success for President Obama's call in his 2016 State of the Union address for reform of the country's political system?  His appeal for easier voting processes (Internet voting?) and for elimination of state majority party control of voting district definition are going to be long, drawn-out affairs, if they are ever undertaken.  The status quo is much too advantageous to the parties in power to be sacrificed to a crusading lame-duck White House occupant. 

If President Obama wishes to insert his waning public infuence into the 2016 election in order to reform the political system, he'd better get started.  It is not likely that Hilary Clinton would join forces with him and threaten her establishment support; so Senator Bernie Sanders would have to be the vehicle for pushing these reforms, unless Obama were to wait until the election is over.  It's probably wisest not to confuse the Presidential Election campaign with such a transformative issue, anyway. 

Therefore, if the 2016 State of the Union address signals any Presidential policy for Obama's last year in office, it only says that he will fight to maintain what he believes to have been his legacies up to now--like preserving ObamaCare, re-establishing Cuba diplomatic relations, implementing the Iranian nuclear deal, and closing Guantanamo (?). 

02 January 2016

Obama’s Closing Strategy on Iran

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, showed that at least between them the common interest of their two countries was best served by ignoring the idle threat of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to develop a nuclear weapon and reaching a mutual accord that will return U.S.-Iran commercial relations to the limited openness that prevailed in 2005.  President Barack Obama has apparently decided temporarily to disregard Iran’s recent violation of international prohibitions on building ballistic missiles in order not to jeopardize implementation of the nuclear deal.  Together these steps are probably enough to considerably relax restraints on trade between the two countries without formal approval by either the U.S. Congress or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.  It is up to the electorate in each country, which ultimately is credited with having final say in these matters, to make these steps lasting.

07 August 2015

Conflict Later Isn’t Necessarily More Cataclysmic

David Brooks stated in his OpEd article in the August 7, 2015 NYT that the Iran nuclear deal only makes more likely a cataclysmic conflict between the Western powers and Iran in the future.  Wouldn’t a military confrontation with Iran today be just as cataclysmic?  If so, the alternative made possible by the deal is that that event would not have to take place for at least another ten years. The delay offers the prospect that something might change the attitude of the Iranian regime in the meantime. 

Given the history of popular rule in Persia over the millennia that prospect does seem to be unlikely.  Nevertheless, as long as we devote the vigilance that successful fulfillment of the accord demands from the U.S. and its allies, Iran should not have a stronger nuclear arsenal after the minimum ten-year delay than it has right now.   Therefore, conflict in ten years to prevent resumption of Iran’s nuclear build-up would not be any more difficult then than now, and our ability to combat a nuclear-armed foe should have improved during that period.

Life is like that.  Postponing the inevitable is the only rational choice, whether it be drought in California or cataclysmic conflict in the Middle East.


29 July 2015

Thinking Again on Iran

The outrageous essay by Melanie Sturm in the July 26, 2015 Steamboat Pilot & Today tries to discredit the recent sanctions-ending accord the U.S. and Western powers have negotiated with Iran by falsely accusing its leaders (the Ayatollahs) of genocide and comparing the agreement to famously exaggerated failures to win impossible concessions from the mad national leaders of Nazi Germany and isolated North Korea. 

Fighting a war with a neighboring country like Iraq or supporting a proxy battle by a politically sympathetic organization like Hezbollah in Lebanon do not constitute genocide.  All wars end up killing people.

It is not true that the Munich or Pyongyang Agreements led to war.  WWII was inevitable and the Kim Il Sung regime and its successors are only dangerous to their own people.  No harm was done by the agreements negotiated by Chamberlain and Clinton.  In fact, to the extent that their enemies believed that the British and Americans actually felt more at ease, those adversaries might have been lulled into rash actions that only contribute to ultimate defeat.

This may be the case with regard to the nuclear deal with Iran.  The terms of that agreement buy up to 10, 15 years or more before particular mass destruction weapons are added to Iran’s arsenal.  That’s better than the possibility of immediate proliferation.  Of course, it will require vigilant monitoring—but the words of one of Ms. Sturm’s heroes, Ronald Reagan, “Trust but Verify” apply to the nuclear deal with Iran as much as to any other diplomatic agreement.

Moreover, the accord recognizes the fact that in today’s world it is futile to seek a commitment from a totally foreign culture, like the Shia Muslim regime that currently governs Iran, to accept the same goals that the West (even including Russia) has set for itself.  The West can no longer ignore other civilizations in calculating the common welfare.  Technology has made all ideologies compelling.  Until the people of Iran change the rule of their country to a system that is more consistent with the values of the West, we will have to accept that Iran does not want to “rejoin the civilized world.”  Its value system defines the world in which it wishes to exist very differently.

16 February 2015

The Tahrir Square Revolution--Always Just a Dream

Like henpecked husbands, the Egyptian people have never had the
self-confidence to believe they could effectively govern
themselves. Under millenia of authoritarian rule, Egyptians
have yet to gain the enlightenment that leads Western nations
still to overthrow their oppressors.

In the new book reviewed in the February 15, 2015 New York Times,
"Once Upon a Revolution," Thanassis Cambanis is said to disparage
Western media for believing that social media would inspire
Egyptians to adopt a democratic state system. While the
communications technology accessed through IPhones and the
Internet provides the tools for mobilization of popular political
will, it cannot convince the Egyptian public that the military
does not continue to be the only efficient organizational
instrument in the country. Submission has long been the default
posture in Egyptian society, whether pharaonic, Christian, or

It's not beyond one's imagination that a fair and equitable
authoritarian regime can exist in a kind place like Egypt, if the
tools provided by modern technology are used by its well-educated
and prosperous citizens to monitor it and corrall it with
periodic riots and demonstrations. That is a costly and painful
way to bring political self-determination to the general public;
but it may be the only model that works in some Islamic societies.

30 December 2014

Honoring Wounded Warriors 

Brave men and women. All of them. Wasn’t it a waste to have paid them to risk their lives in a futile attempt to bring liberal democracy to the ersatz nation state of Iraq? More than that, it was probably a sin.

Created by the victors of WW1 out of remnants of the defeated Ottoman Empire as a reward to an Arab prince, Iraq has never had a genuine raison d’etre. Surely, it was not a good candidate for adoption of a European style of government. And yet, skilled manipulators of public sentiment were able to convince public policy-makers in the U.S. and the United Nations that removal of a ruthless dictator from power would lead to enlightened reordering of a hodgepodge society of ethnicities that couldn’t be kept peaceful in the absence of a forceful police state.

We in the U.S. took advantage of the readiness (if not economic desperation) of our all-volunteer armed forces to upset an autocrat. The world might be a better place without him, but no advance regard was given to the unfortunate consequences, including unleashed religious unrest and, most touchingly, physical and psychological war casualties.

Now indeed we owe a great debt to those who paid with their lives and livelihoods for our failure to avoid a senseless military adventure. After all, our country had sustained a painful attack on 9/11 and we felt we just had to do something about it. But the obligation which we must fulfill is not thanks for undertaking our battle for freedom; it is rather begging absolution of our guilt for stupidly spending our wealth and blood on a misguided war effort.

Of course, we should already have paid for the disabilities caused by this mistake, particularly if the scandalous Veterans Administration screw-up is resolved. Our guilt for so sheepishly allowing our government to lead us into war cannot be expiated with money to causes like the Wounded Warriors Project. It will only be escaped when we collectively insist on more clear-eyed public policy.

23 September 2014

World Nuclear Self-Destruction Is One Risk That Can Simply Be Averted 

The news article by William Broad and David Sanger in the September 22, 2014 NYT, “U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms,” shows how inexhaustible is the fantasy that we need everlasting one-upmanship when it comes to weapons-building in anticipation of threats to national security. Eleanor Roosevelt got it right seventy years ago at the dawn of the atomic age that things would never be the same now that this new method of mass destruction had been used (cf. Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts shown the previous week on PBS). Perhaps she was under an illusion to think that the world’s self-immolation was never inevitable anyway.

Whether as a result of radioactive fallout, global warming, environmental pollution, overpopulation, stateless terrorism, or another consequence of the human condition, life on Earth will surely not continue as long as the planet itself is allowed to survive by the physical laws of the universe. The best we can do is to extend our reign on its surface for as long as possible. Ending the danger of blowing it up with the products of our ingenuity is probably the simplest, least costly and most immediate measure we can take to eradicate one of those threats to our existence. How can we justify enhancing the deadliness of our nuclear arsenal when the use of even our current inefficient one will undeniably make all else irrelevant?

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