Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 14, 2009

Next Time We’ll Pass Two Resolutions

This exchange from the White House briefing is informative:

Q: Won’t the North Koreans get the message that condemnations and requests for them to change actions are not exactly strong statements to make to a country that’s repeatedly defied, as you said, its obligations?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don’t — let me turn that question a little bit around, because I think there was some question about whether or not you could even get five members of a Security Council, or five of the permanent members of the Security Council to agree on a condemnation.  Yesterday, 15 countries unanimously stood up and spoke out about the launch.

Q: But it took almost two weeks to get there.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, you know, sometimes progress takes longer than a couple of days.  I think that — I know that you all had an interest in what the Security Council was going to do; at least you did several days ago.  I think it’s important to understand what the Security Council did.  And remember, this is not — this is asking the North Koreans to live up to the agreement that the North Koreans entered into. This is not some pie-in-the-sky thing that a group of countries has asked another to do.  This is the unanimous Security Council asking the North Koreans to live up to the obligations that it entered into in September of 2005, that we can seek a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Q: Yes, but one might reasonably wonder where the leverage is if every agreement they make, they eventually decide to break.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think part of the leverage is going back to, again, some doubt that many of you may have had in the moments or hours after the launch as to whether countries could act in concert, together, to condemn the launch.

I think there certainly was some doubt expressed for that, and I think the manner in which the Security Council came to this condemnation is extremely important.

You see we get leverage by passing resolutions — which by the way only require we get working on the sanctions which we’ve never really enforced. If the White House press pool can figure out we look ridiculous what must our enemies think?

This exchange from the White House briefing is informative:

Q: Won’t the North Koreans get the message that condemnations and requests for them to change actions are not exactly strong statements to make to a country that’s repeatedly defied, as you said, its obligations?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don’t — let me turn that question a little bit around, because I think there was some question about whether or not you could even get five members of a Security Council, or five of the permanent members of the Security Council to agree on a condemnation.  Yesterday, 15 countries unanimously stood up and spoke out about the launch.

Q: But it took almost two weeks to get there.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, you know, sometimes progress takes longer than a couple of days.  I think that — I know that you all had an interest in what the Security Council was going to do; at least you did several days ago.  I think it’s important to understand what the Security Council did.  And remember, this is not — this is asking the North Koreans to live up to the agreement that the North Koreans entered into. This is not some pie-in-the-sky thing that a group of countries has asked another to do.  This is the unanimous Security Council asking the North Koreans to live up to the obligations that it entered into in September of 2005, that we can seek a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Q: Yes, but one might reasonably wonder where the leverage is if every agreement they make, they eventually decide to break.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think part of the leverage is going back to, again, some doubt that many of you may have had in the moments or hours after the launch as to whether countries could act in concert, together, to condemn the launch.

I think there certainly was some doubt expressed for that, and I think the manner in which the Security Council came to this condemnation is extremely important.

You see we get leverage by passing resolutions — which by the way only require we get working on the sanctions which we’ve never really enforced. If the White House press pool can figure out we look ridiculous what must our enemies think?

Read Less

Commentary of the Day

Vail Beach, on Jennifer Rubin:

I am waiting for the mainstream press to finally cover the magical thinking that underlies “millions of green jobs,” most of them represented by organized labor.

It’s already quite apparent that GM is unlikely to be the employer.

Liberal LA voters turned down (albeit narrowly) a ballot measure that would have put the IBEW in charge of all solar power installations (via the public utility for LA, the DWP.)

The VC money backing some of the more innovative green businesses would dry up instantly if the subsidies on which many green businesses now depend would be predicated on unionization or Davis/Bacon. Card check would also wreck them.

I guess what this proves is the environmental activists who have been boosting a futuristic clean, green economy have no real idea how to bring it about. I think their idea is it can be “mandated.” That they can point their fingers and order a company to exist, with job slots available on day one that pay union scale, and a market that has been mandated to buy their products on day one. Pursuing such a fantasy will retard environmental progress, but they don’t realize it.

Vail Beach, on Jennifer Rubin:

I am waiting for the mainstream press to finally cover the magical thinking that underlies “millions of green jobs,” most of them represented by organized labor.

It’s already quite apparent that GM is unlikely to be the employer.

Liberal LA voters turned down (albeit narrowly) a ballot measure that would have put the IBEW in charge of all solar power installations (via the public utility for LA, the DWP.)

The VC money backing some of the more innovative green businesses would dry up instantly if the subsidies on which many green businesses now depend would be predicated on unionization or Davis/Bacon. Card check would also wreck them.

I guess what this proves is the environmental activists who have been boosting a futuristic clean, green economy have no real idea how to bring it about. I think their idea is it can be “mandated.” That they can point their fingers and order a company to exist, with job slots available on day one that pay union scale, and a market that has been mandated to buy their products on day one. Pursuing such a fantasy will retard environmental progress, but they don’t realize it.

Read Less

You Think the Members Know?

Politico reports on a very odd alliance:

Environmental groups are spending the congressional recess lobbying for two of the most controversial issues in Congress: the Employee Free Choice Act and a cap-and-trade system to regulate greenhouse gases.

The confluence of lightning-rod issues highlights an alliance between unions and environmental activists to promote green jobs as a solution to both declining union membership and global warming.

Many union members, whose dues are being used to fund this odd alliance, might be shocked to find out they were paying to hasten the demise of the industries employing them. The adverse effect in states like Ohio and Michigan, where union employees are already facing extreme economic hardship, has caused Democratic lawmakers from affected states to objected to and  stall cap-and-trade legislation.

It might be good for unions to make such a trade on the theory that they’ll make up the lost membership in industrial sectors by expanding elsewhere via card-check organizing. But for the affected workers in states where industries will now be hobbled by higher energy prices, this seems like a very bad deal. Nevertheless, it’s their dues that are going to pay for this.

Politico reports on a very odd alliance:

Environmental groups are spending the congressional recess lobbying for two of the most controversial issues in Congress: the Employee Free Choice Act and a cap-and-trade system to regulate greenhouse gases.

The confluence of lightning-rod issues highlights an alliance between unions and environmental activists to promote green jobs as a solution to both declining union membership and global warming.

Many union members, whose dues are being used to fund this odd alliance, might be shocked to find out they were paying to hasten the demise of the industries employing them. The adverse effect in states like Ohio and Michigan, where union employees are already facing extreme economic hardship, has caused Democratic lawmakers from affected states to objected to and  stall cap-and-trade legislation.

It might be good for unions to make such a trade on the theory that they’ll make up the lost membership in industrial sectors by expanding elsewhere via card-check organizing. But for the affected workers in states where industries will now be hobbled by higher energy prices, this seems like a very bad deal. Nevertheless, it’s their dues that are going to pay for this.

Read Less

A Question for Robert Dreyfuss: How’s the Eurasian Landbridge Coming Along?

Over at his Nation magazine blog, Robert Dreyfuss, the former Middle East Editor of Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review, huffs and puffs over the U.S. government’s reaction to the problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia, as well as the media’s coverage of last week’s daring rescue, comparing it to such salacious celebrity scandals as the O.J. Simpson case and the Jon-Benet Ramsey murder mystery. Piracy on the high seas, Dreyfuss writes, is a “tempest-in-an-Indian Ocean-teapot.”

It’s hardly surprising that the national security correspondent for the Nation would react this way, seeing that the crisis resulted in a stunning victory for the American military and the death of three brigands.

But onto the more important question: is piracy off the Horn of Africa the problem that the media is cracking it up to be, or wildly overblown? In the past year alone, the Wall Street Journal reports, pirates have attacked 78 ships and hijacked 19. As I write this, nearly 300 people remain hostage to pirates. The Gulf of Aden, one of the main areas where pirates operate, is a major world shipping route where 20,000 ships and 7% of world oil shipments pass through it annually. To anyone concerned with the world energy markets, not to mention the rule of law on the high seas, piracy is a vitally important issue.

Nevertheless, one can understand how these facts would mean little to the reality-based folks over at the Nation, in particular, their LaRouchite national security reporter. On to more pressing matters, like urging a boycott of Seth Rogen movies and construction of the “Eurasian Landbridge.”

Over at his Nation magazine blog, Robert Dreyfuss, the former Middle East Editor of Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review, huffs and puffs over the U.S. government’s reaction to the problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia, as well as the media’s coverage of last week’s daring rescue, comparing it to such salacious celebrity scandals as the O.J. Simpson case and the Jon-Benet Ramsey murder mystery. Piracy on the high seas, Dreyfuss writes, is a “tempest-in-an-Indian Ocean-teapot.”

It’s hardly surprising that the national security correspondent for the Nation would react this way, seeing that the crisis resulted in a stunning victory for the American military and the death of three brigands.

But onto the more important question: is piracy off the Horn of Africa the problem that the media is cracking it up to be, or wildly overblown? In the past year alone, the Wall Street Journal reports, pirates have attacked 78 ships and hijacked 19. As I write this, nearly 300 people remain hostage to pirates. The Gulf of Aden, one of the main areas where pirates operate, is a major world shipping route where 20,000 ships and 7% of world oil shipments pass through it annually. To anyone concerned with the world energy markets, not to mention the rule of law on the high seas, piracy is a vitally important issue.

Nevertheless, one can understand how these facts would mean little to the reality-based folks over at the Nation, in particular, their LaRouchite national security reporter. On to more pressing matters, like urging a boycott of Seth Rogen movies and construction of the “Eurasian Landbridge.”

Read Less

Helping Their Friends

Although not highlighted in American media, this report from Japan’s Nikkei should disturb those who would like to help Iran save face with a “low level” nuclear program:

Several Western intelligence organizations are investigating whether a ship that recently travelled from North Korea to Iran had several dozen tons of enriched uranium hidden in its cargo, sources close to the matter said Wednesday.

The suspected move is seen by some intelligence officials as an effort to hide traces of the highly enriched uranium (HEU) program to develop nuclear weapons, which the U.S. believes North Korea is secretly pursuing.

If confirmed, North Korea’s transfer of the materials to Iran would only add to rising proliferation concerns, which have been stirred by the country’s launch of a long-range Taepodong 2 missile last week.

While Obama was offering apologies to the mullahs and extending his hand, Iran was busy helping North Korea, it seems:

According to one Western intelligence source, the ship in question left North Korea last December and travelled through the Indian Ocean. The cargo was then shipped to a location near Tehran.

Iran is conducting low-level enrichment for use in nuclear power plants under the surveillance of the International Atomic Energy Agency. “The bulk of the (transferred) materials appears to be medium-level enriched uranium,” the source said. “It could be further enriched to weapons grade in Iranian facilities.”

This sounds like the worst sort of nuclear proliferation — the very type the UN should be taking steps to stop. Oh, they did. But now we’ll talk directly to Iran and get it all straightened out. Meanwhile, no one should be fooled that Iran’s nuclear program can be “contained” technologically or geographically by offering abject apologies and granting them the chance to chat. We have been doing the latter for years, and we and our allies have gotten no results. Let’s see if that improves now that we have eviscerated whatever credibility the UN sanction regime had.

Although not highlighted in American media, this report from Japan’s Nikkei should disturb those who would like to help Iran save face with a “low level” nuclear program:

Several Western intelligence organizations are investigating whether a ship that recently travelled from North Korea to Iran had several dozen tons of enriched uranium hidden in its cargo, sources close to the matter said Wednesday.

The suspected move is seen by some intelligence officials as an effort to hide traces of the highly enriched uranium (HEU) program to develop nuclear weapons, which the U.S. believes North Korea is secretly pursuing.

If confirmed, North Korea’s transfer of the materials to Iran would only add to rising proliferation concerns, which have been stirred by the country’s launch of a long-range Taepodong 2 missile last week.

While Obama was offering apologies to the mullahs and extending his hand, Iran was busy helping North Korea, it seems:

According to one Western intelligence source, the ship in question left North Korea last December and travelled through the Indian Ocean. The cargo was then shipped to a location near Tehran.

Iran is conducting low-level enrichment for use in nuclear power plants under the surveillance of the International Atomic Energy Agency. “The bulk of the (transferred) materials appears to be medium-level enriched uranium,” the source said. “It could be further enriched to weapons grade in Iranian facilities.”

This sounds like the worst sort of nuclear proliferation — the very type the UN should be taking steps to stop. Oh, they did. But now we’ll talk directly to Iran and get it all straightened out. Meanwhile, no one should be fooled that Iran’s nuclear program can be “contained” technologically or geographically by offering abject apologies and granting them the chance to chat. We have been doing the latter for years, and we and our allies have gotten no results. Let’s see if that improves now that we have eviscerated whatever credibility the UN sanction regime had.

Read Less

Inside Bibi’s Campaign

Haaretz today offers a fascinating interview with two of Netanyahu’s key campaign strategists, Israel Bachar and Kalman Gayer. It’s really worth a read — especially the part about how they overcame Netanyahu’s  reputation as unreliable, dishonest, and mercurial. “In our research,” Gayer says, “focusing on which characteristics lead people to prefer one candidate over another, we found that Tzipi [Livni] had an advantage over Bibi: Her credibility was stronger. By far. As was her judgment.” So instead, they focused on the two areas in which voters felt far better about him than about Tzipi Livni: Security and the economy. The campaign’s key slogan, “Strong on Security. Strong on Economics,” was the product of their research. Read on.

Haaretz today offers a fascinating interview with two of Netanyahu’s key campaign strategists, Israel Bachar and Kalman Gayer. It’s really worth a read — especially the part about how they overcame Netanyahu’s  reputation as unreliable, dishonest, and mercurial. “In our research,” Gayer says, “focusing on which characteristics lead people to prefer one candidate over another, we found that Tzipi [Livni] had an advantage over Bibi: Her credibility was stronger. By far. As was her judgment.” So instead, they focused on the two areas in which voters felt far better about him than about Tzipi Livni: Security and the economy. The campaign’s key slogan, “Strong on Security. Strong on Economics,” was the product of their research. Read on.

Read Less

Re: Pirate Blowback

Abe, you are in fine company. A law professor is fed up with all this good and evil hooey:

First, I’m thrilled that Captain Richard Phillips was rescued safely from this ordeal. But it’s dispiriting to see this very complicated issue immediately transformed into material for America’s insatiable and childish desire to render all events into allegories about evil and heroes. . .The hijacking of this ship is an opportunity to learn more about the very volatile and complicated events unfolding in Somalia (which most Americans couldn’t find on a map and know for only two things — famine, and the brutal murder of 18 U.S. soldiers in 1992 by Somali ganglords). What has caused this proliferation of piracy off Somalia? How are these pirates crews funded in arms, boats, and apparently quite good information about the precise location of and in many instances, valuable cargo aboard, merchant vessels passing through the Indian Ocean. What is America’s relationship with the Somalia ruling forces, and what pressure and/or support can we bring to bear to positively transform the chaotic governance of that country? What regional forces can come to bear to help stabilize conditions in Somalia and to ensure safe passage for merchant vessels?

Really, their self-esteem has probably been irreparably harmed by all those yo-ho-ho jokes and parrot gags. But the dear professor really gets steamed by heroes — and even worse, celebration of heroes:

Unfortunately these complex questions are unlikely to be explored over the next week. Instead, yellow ribbons, American flags, the ubiquitous People magazine cover of the crew, and Larry King interviews with the families back home will likely constitute the full extent of coverage for this event for most Americans. Capt. Phillips will become the new Capt. Sully, and we’ll know little more about events in the region, or the economics of merchant shipping than we did two weeks ago.

But I take it People magazine covers, Larry King interviews, and American flags (on lapel pins) to celebrate Barack Obama are okay. It is just military heroes and physical bravery that are objectionable. It is all very complex, you see, so who’s to say the pirates aren’t justified in taking people by force and holding them hostage for millions in ransom? A mate has to make a living, right? And let’s say we come to the conclusion that poverty causes piracy. What then? Foreign aid for pirates, I imagine. It boggles the mind.

I have no idea what type of law this woman teaches. Let’s hope it isn’t maritime law.

Abe, you are in fine company. A law professor is fed up with all this good and evil hooey:

First, I’m thrilled that Captain Richard Phillips was rescued safely from this ordeal. But it’s dispiriting to see this very complicated issue immediately transformed into material for America’s insatiable and childish desire to render all events into allegories about evil and heroes. . .The hijacking of this ship is an opportunity to learn more about the very volatile and complicated events unfolding in Somalia (which most Americans couldn’t find on a map and know for only two things — famine, and the brutal murder of 18 U.S. soldiers in 1992 by Somali ganglords). What has caused this proliferation of piracy off Somalia? How are these pirates crews funded in arms, boats, and apparently quite good information about the precise location of and in many instances, valuable cargo aboard, merchant vessels passing through the Indian Ocean. What is America’s relationship with the Somalia ruling forces, and what pressure and/or support can we bring to bear to positively transform the chaotic governance of that country? What regional forces can come to bear to help stabilize conditions in Somalia and to ensure safe passage for merchant vessels?

Really, their self-esteem has probably been irreparably harmed by all those yo-ho-ho jokes and parrot gags. But the dear professor really gets steamed by heroes — and even worse, celebration of heroes:

Unfortunately these complex questions are unlikely to be explored over the next week. Instead, yellow ribbons, American flags, the ubiquitous People magazine cover of the crew, and Larry King interviews with the families back home will likely constitute the full extent of coverage for this event for most Americans. Capt. Phillips will become the new Capt. Sully, and we’ll know little more about events in the region, or the economics of merchant shipping than we did two weeks ago.

But I take it People magazine covers, Larry King interviews, and American flags (on lapel pins) to celebrate Barack Obama are okay. It is just military heroes and physical bravery that are objectionable. It is all very complex, you see, so who’s to say the pirates aren’t justified in taking people by force and holding them hostage for millions in ransom? A mate has to make a living, right? And let’s say we come to the conclusion that poverty causes piracy. What then? Foreign aid for pirates, I imagine. It boggles the mind.

I have no idea what type of law this woman teaches. Let’s hope it isn’t maritime law.

Read Less

Lessons in Persistence

Smart power strikes out again:

North Korea announced on Tuesday it would quit six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and restart its atomic weapons programme in protest at the UN’s condemnation of its rocket launch.

The communist nation said Security Council discussion of the launch, which it insists sent a satellite into orbit, was “an unbearable insult” to its people.

Analysts described the Pyongyang statement as unusually strong.

Well, maybe that’s because Washington has been unusually weak. Bad actors don’t sit around waiting for hopeful American presidents to give them an opportunity to be good. They wait for naïve American presidents to give them an opportunity to be worse. The Carter years provide a serial study in just this kind of exploitation. From Latin and Central America to Southeast Asia and Africa, regime after regime used American “openness” to advance an anti-American agenda. It was Jimmy Carter himself who promised to give North Korea two light-water reactors in exchange for assurances on non-proliferation.

The Kim regime and the leadership in Tehran are impervious to all modes of persuasion save American unpredictability. And that’s the very first thing the Obama administration forfeited. Days before North Korea undertook its proscribed rocket launch, Hillary Clinton let Pyongyang know the U.S. would not attempt to shoot the Taepodong-2 down. That’s the moment we gave North Korea carte blanche. In his video greeting to Iran, Obama told the mullahs that the American agenda “will not be advanced by threats,” which, in the context of Iran, was the same as saying the American agenda will not be advanced, period.

We’re giving away the store and the president has the audacity to call it “persistence.” When North Korea and Iran broadcast their intransigence, the Obama administration folds at the speed of light.

If Barack Obama is such an admirer of persistence, he must be enraptured over Kim Jong Il and the Khomeinists of Tehran. They’ve persisted in pushing their rogue agendas on the world for decades. As the planet passed through the Cold War, the post-Cold War, into the War on Terror and beyond, they stuck to their horrific visions with nothing but American power to keep them in check. Now, with the new American president, payday has finally come.

Smart power strikes out again:

North Korea announced on Tuesday it would quit six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and restart its atomic weapons programme in protest at the UN’s condemnation of its rocket launch.

The communist nation said Security Council discussion of the launch, which it insists sent a satellite into orbit, was “an unbearable insult” to its people.

Analysts described the Pyongyang statement as unusually strong.

Well, maybe that’s because Washington has been unusually weak. Bad actors don’t sit around waiting for hopeful American presidents to give them an opportunity to be good. They wait for naïve American presidents to give them an opportunity to be worse. The Carter years provide a serial study in just this kind of exploitation. From Latin and Central America to Southeast Asia and Africa, regime after regime used American “openness” to advance an anti-American agenda. It was Jimmy Carter himself who promised to give North Korea two light-water reactors in exchange for assurances on non-proliferation.

The Kim regime and the leadership in Tehran are impervious to all modes of persuasion save American unpredictability. And that’s the very first thing the Obama administration forfeited. Days before North Korea undertook its proscribed rocket launch, Hillary Clinton let Pyongyang know the U.S. would not attempt to shoot the Taepodong-2 down. That’s the moment we gave North Korea carte blanche. In his video greeting to Iran, Obama told the mullahs that the American agenda “will not be advanced by threats,” which, in the context of Iran, was the same as saying the American agenda will not be advanced, period.

We’re giving away the store and the president has the audacity to call it “persistence.” When North Korea and Iran broadcast their intransigence, the Obama administration folds at the speed of light.

If Barack Obama is such an admirer of persistence, he must be enraptured over Kim Jong Il and the Khomeinists of Tehran. They’ve persisted in pushing their rogue agendas on the world for decades. As the planet passed through the Cold War, the post-Cold War, into the War on Terror and beyond, they stuck to their horrific visions with nothing but American power to keep them in check. Now, with the new American president, payday has finally come.

Read Less

Olmert Can’t Stay Out of Headlines

Nobody wants to be in the position of having to judge whether Ehud Olmert is telling the truth about his cancer treatments. Yet he seems intent on putting us there. Less than a week after Netanyahu replaced him as Prime Minister, he suddenly was petitioning for delays in his criminal hearings due to treatment for the prostate cancer that was diagnosed a few years ago and which, quite frankly, has completely disappeared from Israeli public consciousness. Attorney General Menni Mazuz was unimpressed and refused to delay the hearings, but an appeal to the Supreme Court got Olmert his delay.

Now we get word that he is scheduled to speak in Kazakhstan just a few days after his hearing was to be held. Maybe the press is overdoing it, or maybe he is adding perjury to his long list of crimes. Either way, he still does not seem able to get off the stage.

Nobody wants to be in the position of having to judge whether Ehud Olmert is telling the truth about his cancer treatments. Yet he seems intent on putting us there. Less than a week after Netanyahu replaced him as Prime Minister, he suddenly was petitioning for delays in his criminal hearings due to treatment for the prostate cancer that was diagnosed a few years ago and which, quite frankly, has completely disappeared from Israeli public consciousness. Attorney General Menni Mazuz was unimpressed and refused to delay the hearings, but an appeal to the Supreme Court got Olmert his delay.

Now we get word that he is scheduled to speak in Kazakhstan just a few days after his hearing was to be held. Maybe the press is overdoing it, or maybe he is adding perjury to his long list of crimes. Either way, he still does not seem able to get off the stage.

Read Less

Obama Opens Cuba . . . to Some

Yesterday the Obama administration announced that it would allow Cuban-Americans to visit and send money to their relatives in Cuba with greater frequency, thereby loosening restrictions that have been in place since the early 1960s. Of course, how one interprets this development largely depends on one’s theory of international affairs. For example, realists will support a softer stance toward Cuba, noting that the U.S. has relations with many unsavory states, and that Cuba no longer poses a threat to U.S. interests.

Meanwhile, neoliberals will agree that changing U.S. policy toward Cuba is long overdue, but argue that opening Cuba to American investment, tourists, and imports will challenge its Communist ways and catalyze the fall of the Castro regime. Alternatively, many neoconservatives — and particularly anti-Castro activists within the Cuban-American community — will see the administration’s announcement as rewarding Havana without receiving any assurances from the regime on improving its miserable human rights record.

Still, this debate is likely to obscure another important point: that by affording new travel and financial rights in Cuba to Cuban-Americans exclusively, the Obama administration is violating Fifth Amendment‘s guarantee of due process, which has been interpreted as extending the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” to the federal government. (Or, simply put, the administration’s new Cuba policy discriminates unconstitutionally against Americans who are not of Cuban origin.)  In this vein, precedent requires the administration to demonstrate a “compelling government interest” in distinguishing between people based on national origin. Yet whether our primary interest is to use the embargo as leverage for promoting reform in Cuba or, alternatively, to relax the embargo as part of an anything-but-Bush “new strategy” — Obama has spoken in favor of both principles — it is not clear how distinguishing between Cuban and non-Cuban Americans is necessary, as per the requirement of case law.

In short, no matter where one stands on the future of U.S.-Cuban relations, the administration should be guided by one constitutional principle: that all Americans — regardless of national origin — should face equal rights or restrictions to trade and travel in Cuba. (Or, to put it in a more interesting way, I should be allowed to enjoy Cuban cigars — or be denied them — just as much as any other American citizen.)

Yesterday the Obama administration announced that it would allow Cuban-Americans to visit and send money to their relatives in Cuba with greater frequency, thereby loosening restrictions that have been in place since the early 1960s. Of course, how one interprets this development largely depends on one’s theory of international affairs. For example, realists will support a softer stance toward Cuba, noting that the U.S. has relations with many unsavory states, and that Cuba no longer poses a threat to U.S. interests.

Meanwhile, neoliberals will agree that changing U.S. policy toward Cuba is long overdue, but argue that opening Cuba to American investment, tourists, and imports will challenge its Communist ways and catalyze the fall of the Castro regime. Alternatively, many neoconservatives — and particularly anti-Castro activists within the Cuban-American community — will see the administration’s announcement as rewarding Havana without receiving any assurances from the regime on improving its miserable human rights record.

Still, this debate is likely to obscure another important point: that by affording new travel and financial rights in Cuba to Cuban-Americans exclusively, the Obama administration is violating Fifth Amendment‘s guarantee of due process, which has been interpreted as extending the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” to the federal government. (Or, simply put, the administration’s new Cuba policy discriminates unconstitutionally against Americans who are not of Cuban origin.)  In this vein, precedent requires the administration to demonstrate a “compelling government interest” in distinguishing between people based on national origin. Yet whether our primary interest is to use the embargo as leverage for promoting reform in Cuba or, alternatively, to relax the embargo as part of an anything-but-Bush “new strategy” — Obama has spoken in favor of both principles — it is not clear how distinguishing between Cuban and non-Cuban Americans is necessary, as per the requirement of case law.

In short, no matter where one stands on the future of U.S.-Cuban relations, the administration should be guided by one constitutional principle: that all Americans — regardless of national origin — should face equal rights or restrictions to trade and travel in Cuba. (Or, to put it in a more interesting way, I should be allowed to enjoy Cuban cigars — or be denied them — just as much as any other American citizen.)

Read Less

Re: Iran Profilerates, We Disarm

Jennifer, you rightfully takes issue with the new negotiating position the Obama administration and its European allies will take on Iran, namely dropping the demand that Iran suspend enrichment. What is remarkable about the way the Times reports the story, is that it attributes the insistence on enrichment suspension to the Bush administration:

That would be a sharp break from the approach taken by the Bush administration, which had demanded that Iran halt its enrichment activities, at least briefly to initiate negotiations.

This is not a Bush administration demand — it is the demand of five successive Security Council Resolutions approved between July 2006 and September 2008, in which not the U.S. administration of George W. Bush, but the UN Security Council, unanimously, asked Iran to suspend enrichment or face sanctions. And let’s recall why Iran was deferred to the Security Council in the first place. It was declared to be in non-compliance with its Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations by Mohammed El Baradei’s IAEA in late 2005; and it decided to bring an end to enrichment suspension, which it had agreed to as a result of negotiations with the EU-3 in 2004.

The EU-3 had asked Iran to suspend enrichment. Iran briefly complied. It then retracted its decision. It was soundly criticized and condemned for doing so. It was deferred to the Security Council, which requested immediate suspension. So how is this exactly a Bush administration demand? The truth is that the U.S. and its allies, having supported two successive incentive proposals (June 2006 and 2008) to Iran that Iran rejected, are now willing to renege on UN Security Council Resolutions — not on Bush’s past foreign policy.

Jennifer, you rightfully takes issue with the new negotiating position the Obama administration and its European allies will take on Iran, namely dropping the demand that Iran suspend enrichment. What is remarkable about the way the Times reports the story, is that it attributes the insistence on enrichment suspension to the Bush administration:

That would be a sharp break from the approach taken by the Bush administration, which had demanded that Iran halt its enrichment activities, at least briefly to initiate negotiations.

This is not a Bush administration demand — it is the demand of five successive Security Council Resolutions approved between July 2006 and September 2008, in which not the U.S. administration of George W. Bush, but the UN Security Council, unanimously, asked Iran to suspend enrichment or face sanctions. And let’s recall why Iran was deferred to the Security Council in the first place. It was declared to be in non-compliance with its Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations by Mohammed El Baradei’s IAEA in late 2005; and it decided to bring an end to enrichment suspension, which it had agreed to as a result of negotiations with the EU-3 in 2004.

The EU-3 had asked Iran to suspend enrichment. Iran briefly complied. It then retracted its decision. It was soundly criticized and condemned for doing so. It was deferred to the Security Council, which requested immediate suspension. So how is this exactly a Bush administration demand? The truth is that the U.S. and its allies, having supported two successive incentive proposals (June 2006 and 2008) to Iran that Iran rejected, are now willing to renege on UN Security Council Resolutions — not on Bush’s past foreign policy.

Read Less

Iran Profilerates, We Disarm

The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration and its European allies are preparing proposals that would shift strategy toward Iran by dropping a longstanding American insistence that Tehran rapidly shut down nuclear facilities during the early phases of negotiations over its atomic program, according to officials involved in the discussions.

And why would we bless Iran’s continued nuclear efforts, giving them the stamp of legitimacy, while we talk and talk and talk? Well, because Iran wouldn’t stop what they were doing:

European officials said there was general agreement that Iran would not accept the kind of immediate shutdown of its facilities that the Bush administration had demanded.

So we entirely capitulate, permit what has not previously been permitted and edge ever closer to accepting the inevitable:

 ”Mr. Obama has little choice but to accept the reality that Iran has ‘built 5,500 centrifuges,’ nearly enough to make two weapons’ worth of uranium each year. ‘You have to design an approach that is sensitive to Iran’s pride,’ said Dr. ElBaradei, who has long argued in favor of allowing Iran to continue with a small, face-saving capacity to enrich nuclear fuel, under strict inspection. “

But what if they, you know, don’t want just a small, face-saving capacity? Well, I suppose we’ll have to give in then too. And last week’s talk about nuclear nonproliferation? Ah, that applies only to us. The most visible, dangerous and immediate example of proliferation now gets a free pass from the U.S.

There is a fly-in-the-ointment. Israel may decide its existence is threatened and take military action. Then we’d recoil in horror — shocked, just shocked — that another country would seek to stop the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions when all they wanted was a little respect. Israel becomes the world’s pariah and we benefit from its actions. Welcome to the world of American retreat and abdication. Feel safer?

The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration and its European allies are preparing proposals that would shift strategy toward Iran by dropping a longstanding American insistence that Tehran rapidly shut down nuclear facilities during the early phases of negotiations over its atomic program, according to officials involved in the discussions.

And why would we bless Iran’s continued nuclear efforts, giving them the stamp of legitimacy, while we talk and talk and talk? Well, because Iran wouldn’t stop what they were doing:

European officials said there was general agreement that Iran would not accept the kind of immediate shutdown of its facilities that the Bush administration had demanded.

So we entirely capitulate, permit what has not previously been permitted and edge ever closer to accepting the inevitable:

 ”Mr. Obama has little choice but to accept the reality that Iran has ‘built 5,500 centrifuges,’ nearly enough to make two weapons’ worth of uranium each year. ‘You have to design an approach that is sensitive to Iran’s pride,’ said Dr. ElBaradei, who has long argued in favor of allowing Iran to continue with a small, face-saving capacity to enrich nuclear fuel, under strict inspection. “

But what if they, you know, don’t want just a small, face-saving capacity? Well, I suppose we’ll have to give in then too. And last week’s talk about nuclear nonproliferation? Ah, that applies only to us. The most visible, dangerous and immediate example of proliferation now gets a free pass from the U.S.

There is a fly-in-the-ointment. Israel may decide its existence is threatened and take military action. Then we’d recoil in horror — shocked, just shocked — that another country would seek to stop the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions when all they wanted was a little respect. Israel becomes the world’s pariah and we benefit from its actions. Welcome to the world of American retreat and abdication. Feel safer?

Read Less

The UN’s Disintegration in Lebanon

Poland is withdrawing its troops from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the U.S. is pressuring other European contributors to the mission to send additional soldiers to Afghanistan, and Israeli defense officials are worried the multinational force north of the border might collapse entirely. Israelis, however, aren’t the ones who should worry. South Lebanon’s Christians stand to lose the most if that happens.

“If UNIFIL leaves, we’re going with them,” a young Lebanese man told me in the village of Rmeich in February this year. “Everyone is frightened about what might happen.” Rmeich is a Maronite Christian enclave near the Israeli border. Along with the adjacent Maronite village of Ein Ebel, it is surrounded by Shia cities, towns, and villages where support for Hezbollah runs deep. “There are many Hezbollah people near here,” the man continued. “They wear civilian clothes. They used to come into our town with guns and harass us before the [July 2006] war, but not anymore thanks to UNIFIL.”

UNFIL was created in 1978 to help the Lebanese government restore its sovereignty over the area after it was taken over by Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization and used as a base for guerrilla and terrorist attacks against Israel. The force was bolstered by thousands of mostly European soldiers after the war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 and given a similar mandate. Hezbollah controlled the border area after Israeli soldiers withdrew from the “security belt” in South Lebanon in 2000. War was all but inevitable under those circumstances. So in addition to bringing the Lebanese Army and government back to the border where they might prevent another war outbreak, UNIFIL was supposed to prevent Hezbollah from replenishing its partially depleted stock of rockets and missiles through smuggling roads over the land border with Syria. In this, UNIFIL failed. Almost all analysts say Hezbollah has a larger arsenal now than it did before the 2006 war even started.

Read More

Poland is withdrawing its troops from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the U.S. is pressuring other European contributors to the mission to send additional soldiers to Afghanistan, and Israeli defense officials are worried the multinational force north of the border might collapse entirely. Israelis, however, aren’t the ones who should worry. South Lebanon’s Christians stand to lose the most if that happens.

“If UNIFIL leaves, we’re going with them,” a young Lebanese man told me in the village of Rmeich in February this year. “Everyone is frightened about what might happen.” Rmeich is a Maronite Christian enclave near the Israeli border. Along with the adjacent Maronite village of Ein Ebel, it is surrounded by Shia cities, towns, and villages where support for Hezbollah runs deep. “There are many Hezbollah people near here,” the man continued. “They wear civilian clothes. They used to come into our town with guns and harass us before the [July 2006] war, but not anymore thanks to UNIFIL.”

UNFIL was created in 1978 to help the Lebanese government restore its sovereignty over the area after it was taken over by Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization and used as a base for guerrilla and terrorist attacks against Israel. The force was bolstered by thousands of mostly European soldiers after the war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 and given a similar mandate. Hezbollah controlled the border area after Israeli soldiers withdrew from the “security belt” in South Lebanon in 2000. War was all but inevitable under those circumstances. So in addition to bringing the Lebanese Army and government back to the border where they might prevent another war outbreak, UNIFIL was supposed to prevent Hezbollah from replenishing its partially depleted stock of rockets and missiles through smuggling roads over the land border with Syria. In this, UNIFIL failed. Almost all analysts say Hezbollah has a larger arsenal now than it did before the 2006 war even started.

UNIFIL gets little credit for helping South Lebanon’s Christians, and that’s too bad. But the force gets far more credit than it deserves for keeping Hezbollah in check. UNIFIL’s presence is something of a problem because it appears the “international community” is doing something constructive to prevent the next war when it actually isn’t. Neither are the Israel Defense Forces, the Lebanese Army, or anyone else.

Some Lebanese officers are still loyal to Damascus. They were never purged from the armed forces after occupying Syrian soldiers and intelligence agents were forced to withdraw in the wake of the massive demonstration in downtown Beirut on March 14, 2005. “Sometimes we see things we don’t understand,” another resident of Rmeich told me recently. “Huge covered-up trucks get through the army checkpoints, and they’re not even stopped. When I go through in my open car, I have to pull over.”

The impotence of the UN mission is embedded right in its name. It’s supposed to be an “interim” force. That’s what the “I” in UNIFIL stands for. Yet it was sent to Lebanon in 1978. The “interim” has lasted for more than three decades. The PLO no longer exists in South Lebanon, but Hezbollah was built up from nothing in the exact same place while UNIFIL stood idly by. UNIFIL looks like it might prevent the next war if you squint hard enough, but it’s little more than a convenient fiction for those who prefer to cross their fingers and hope for the best. Only if it collapses will a more robust solution be possible.

I met American-Israeli military historian Michael Oren for the first time under fire on the Israeli side of the border while Hezbollah fired Katyusha rockets into burning Israeli cities in August of 2006. He said in order for UNIFIL to be effective it had to be authorized under a UN Chapter 7 resolution, like the NATO force in Kosovo, rather than the watered-down Chapter 6. “It needs to be a combat force in Lebanon,” he said, “not a peacekeeping force.”

He’s right about that, but no government in the world wants to send its soldiers into combat in South Lebanon. So Lebanon is left with a weak force that still can’t do much more than protect Christian islands in a vast sea of Hezbollah. The Israelis won’t have much more to worry about if UNIFIL goes. The people of Rmeich and Ein Ebel, however, have one more reason to bite their nails and consider a move to Beirut.

Read Less

But They Don’t Want To Run Up Their Credit Cards

This is one of the more interesting pieces of economic data floating around:

Thirty-eight percent of those receiving a refund said they intend to spend at least part of it, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released Monday. But the spending appears to be mostly on basic needs: 17 percent said they would use the money for everyday needs such as food and clothing, up from 7 percent a year ago.

The survey found that 54 percent of those receiving refunds said they planned to pay off credit card, utility, housing and other bills. That compares with 35 percent who said the same thing a year ago.

Beyond tax refunds this suggests that much of Obama’s Keynesian stimulus activity is misguided. The mini-tax rebate (“Making Work Pay” — which is perhaps the most oddly titled tax measure ever) is, like the tax rebates, just as likely to go toward paying down consumer debt as it is to fuel more spending.

Maybe it took a big scary recession to get Americans to rediscover savings and get their personal balance sheets in order. In the long term, that may be the healthiest and smartest course for both individuals and the country as a whole. In the short term, it complicates the whole Keynesian scheme of “creating demand.” Sometimes people can’t be forced to spend, no matter how desperately their government tries.

This is one of the more interesting pieces of economic data floating around:

Thirty-eight percent of those receiving a refund said they intend to spend at least part of it, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released Monday. But the spending appears to be mostly on basic needs: 17 percent said they would use the money for everyday needs such as food and clothing, up from 7 percent a year ago.

The survey found that 54 percent of those receiving refunds said they planned to pay off credit card, utility, housing and other bills. That compares with 35 percent who said the same thing a year ago.

Beyond tax refunds this suggests that much of Obama’s Keynesian stimulus activity is misguided. The mini-tax rebate (“Making Work Pay” — which is perhaps the most oddly titled tax measure ever) is, like the tax rebates, just as likely to go toward paying down consumer debt as it is to fuel more spending.

Maybe it took a big scary recession to get Americans to rediscover savings and get their personal balance sheets in order. In the long term, that may be the healthiest and smartest course for both individuals and the country as a whole. In the short term, it complicates the whole Keynesian scheme of “creating demand.” Sometimes people can’t be forced to spend, no matter how desperately their government tries.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

No joke — Al Franken is declared the winner by the three-judge panel. Unless the state supreme court reverses and sides with Norm Coleman’s contention that thousands of absentee ballots were improperly excluded there will be enormous pressure on Coleman to pack it in. And rightfully so.

Eugene Robinson whacks the Congressional Black Caucus for failing to notice that “Cuba is hardly the paradise of racial harmony and equality it pretends to be” : “Even without meeting with any of the well-known black dissidents on the island, the visitors from Washington could have observed that the workforce in Cuba’s burgeoning tourism industry — arguably the most privileged class, since waiters and cab drivers receive tips in hard currency, which allows them a standard of living far beyond what is possible with Cuban pesos and government rations — is disproportionately white. Members of the Black Caucus are, quite properly, quick to notice such insults and disparities at home. Maybe they were too busy looking into Fidel’s eyes. ” Bravo.

A weekend show for Chuck Todd seems a better use of his talents than his main gig as White House correspondent. And I agree that if he gets some practice Todd would be an ideal replacement after NBC comes to its senses and concedes that David Gregory was miscast as Meet The Press host.

Moving Guantanamo detainees to Virginia for trial? That’ll help push Virginia back in the “Red” column. So it likely won’t happen.

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell rakes in $2.2M and has more cash on hand ($3.5M) than any of his rivals (in a contribution quarter in which he could not, as attorney general, raise money for nearly a month). If Terry McAuliffe, Clinton moneyman extraordinaire, is the Democratic nominee McDonnell will need to squirrel away every dime he can.

Sen. Olympia Snowe is not so game on public health insurance. She echoes, at least for now, John McCain’s call for more competition among private plans.

Mitt Romney explains why the binding arbitration provision of card check legislation is as bad or worse than taking away the secret ballot. As to why the anti-card check forces fight on after the battle has been won, I have been wondering about that too — and why Big Labor pretends that card check is still viable. I think the real answer is that the anti-card check forces are attempting to embarrass their opponents and to make a pro-Big Labor compromise that much harder to obtain. (Meanwhile, Romney is making headway as the the go-to Republican on economic/business issues, which likely alarms any potential opponents for 2012.)

Two pretty startling facts: 1) “Americans will pay more in taxes than they will spend on food, clothing and housing combined,” and 2) “The only previous years when taxes and deficit spending comprised a similarly large share of national income were 1944 and 1945, at the peak of World War II.”

You’d think people would be marching in the streets. Oh, they may be — or at least meeting in lots of parks.

Perhaps the government should keep this in mind while meddling in the car business: “Consumers who buy minicars to economize on fuel are making a big tradeoff when it comes to safety in collisions, according to an insurance group that slammed three minimodels into midsize ones in tests.”

Megan McArdle shares my puzzlement over how exactly a “quick bankruptcy” for GM is supposed to work. I think everyone is discovering why we have bankruptcy courts — to reach apolitical resolutions about how to reorganize (or liquidate) insolvent companies. Unfortunately, in the meantime we dumped tens of billions of taxpayer dollars into GM.

Goldman Sachs want to get out from under the government’s thumb and pay back TARP funds. Will the government let them? And consider the competitive disadvantage which those firms remaining under TARP control face as each of their competitors escapes. If you are a star employee with a choice to work for a TARP or a non-TARP firm which would you choose?

How’s all that multilateralism going? “Yesterday’s U.N. statement lacks even the legally binding nature of a resolution. It is a promise by the 15 members of the Security Council to enforce sanctions they have already pledged to enforce but so far haven’t, in the name of getting the North to agree to abide by promises it has already made but hasn’t kept. This time, no doubt, everyone really, really means it. . . With this wrist slap for Kim, the Obama Administration has now had its first experience with the limits of the U.N. as the enforcer of global order and nonproliferation. It won’t be the last. See Darfur (feckless denunciation of), and Iran, which just announced it has 7,000 nuclear centrifuges and counting.” Perhaps if we apologize again for causing a global recession and dropping the atomic bomb that will do the trick.

No joke — Al Franken is declared the winner by the three-judge panel. Unless the state supreme court reverses and sides with Norm Coleman’s contention that thousands of absentee ballots were improperly excluded there will be enormous pressure on Coleman to pack it in. And rightfully so.

Eugene Robinson whacks the Congressional Black Caucus for failing to notice that “Cuba is hardly the paradise of racial harmony and equality it pretends to be” : “Even without meeting with any of the well-known black dissidents on the island, the visitors from Washington could have observed that the workforce in Cuba’s burgeoning tourism industry — arguably the most privileged class, since waiters and cab drivers receive tips in hard currency, which allows them a standard of living far beyond what is possible with Cuban pesos and government rations — is disproportionately white. Members of the Black Caucus are, quite properly, quick to notice such insults and disparities at home. Maybe they were too busy looking into Fidel’s eyes. ” Bravo.

A weekend show for Chuck Todd seems a better use of his talents than his main gig as White House correspondent. And I agree that if he gets some practice Todd would be an ideal replacement after NBC comes to its senses and concedes that David Gregory was miscast as Meet The Press host.

Moving Guantanamo detainees to Virginia for trial? That’ll help push Virginia back in the “Red” column. So it likely won’t happen.

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell rakes in $2.2M and has more cash on hand ($3.5M) than any of his rivals (in a contribution quarter in which he could not, as attorney general, raise money for nearly a month). If Terry McAuliffe, Clinton moneyman extraordinaire, is the Democratic nominee McDonnell will need to squirrel away every dime he can.

Sen. Olympia Snowe is not so game on public health insurance. She echoes, at least for now, John McCain’s call for more competition among private plans.

Mitt Romney explains why the binding arbitration provision of card check legislation is as bad or worse than taking away the secret ballot. As to why the anti-card check forces fight on after the battle has been won, I have been wondering about that too — and why Big Labor pretends that card check is still viable. I think the real answer is that the anti-card check forces are attempting to embarrass their opponents and to make a pro-Big Labor compromise that much harder to obtain. (Meanwhile, Romney is making headway as the the go-to Republican on economic/business issues, which likely alarms any potential opponents for 2012.)

Two pretty startling facts: 1) “Americans will pay more in taxes than they will spend on food, clothing and housing combined,” and 2) “The only previous years when taxes and deficit spending comprised a similarly large share of national income were 1944 and 1945, at the peak of World War II.”

You’d think people would be marching in the streets. Oh, they may be — or at least meeting in lots of parks.

Perhaps the government should keep this in mind while meddling in the car business: “Consumers who buy minicars to economize on fuel are making a big tradeoff when it comes to safety in collisions, according to an insurance group that slammed three minimodels into midsize ones in tests.”

Megan McArdle shares my puzzlement over how exactly a “quick bankruptcy” for GM is supposed to work. I think everyone is discovering why we have bankruptcy courts — to reach apolitical resolutions about how to reorganize (or liquidate) insolvent companies. Unfortunately, in the meantime we dumped tens of billions of taxpayer dollars into GM.

Goldman Sachs want to get out from under the government’s thumb and pay back TARP funds. Will the government let them? And consider the competitive disadvantage which those firms remaining under TARP control face as each of their competitors escapes. If you are a star employee with a choice to work for a TARP or a non-TARP firm which would you choose?

How’s all that multilateralism going? “Yesterday’s U.N. statement lacks even the legally binding nature of a resolution. It is a promise by the 15 members of the Security Council to enforce sanctions they have already pledged to enforce but so far haven’t, in the name of getting the North to agree to abide by promises it has already made but hasn’t kept. This time, no doubt, everyone really, really means it. . . With this wrist slap for Kim, the Obama Administration has now had its first experience with the limits of the U.N. as the enforcer of global order and nonproliferation. It won’t be the last. See Darfur (feckless denunciation of), and Iran, which just announced it has 7,000 nuclear centrifuges and counting.” Perhaps if we apologize again for causing a global recession and dropping the atomic bomb that will do the trick.

Read Less