Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 13, 2009

Synchronicity, Tehran-style

Two factors in the timing of Iran’s new offer of negotiations have been largely ignored in the U.S. media. These factors have substantial explanatory value. One is an Iranian-sponsored initiative of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) nations to obtain a new UN ban on military strikes against nuclear facilities. The other is the ongoing internal dissent in Iran, which is expected to crescendo on Friday, September 19, with a mass demonstration by reform supporters.

Iran has been working the NAM proposal for some time now, and with official support from more than 100 NAM members, it intends to submit it to the IAEA, as the UN’s cognizant body, when the IAEA’s membership convenes for a general conference on September 14. (The NAM letter of support submitted to the IAEA is here.) Tehran’s official protestations aside, the proposal is an obvious bid to trigger a UN showdown—pitting NAM nations against the U.S., UK, and France on the Security Council—over any strike on Iranian nuclear facilities by Israel or the United States. The offer of negotiations from Iran is timed to present the appearance of a cooperative attitude as IAEA takes up the strike-ban initiative.

Meanwhile, Iran’s reformers continue to protest the June election and the regime’s handling of its aftermath, from Basiji brutality to the show trials and torture decried by dissenters and Western pundits. Michael Ledeen reports that all references to opposition leaders Mousavi and Karoubi were banned in the Iranian press as of September 12, a Soviet-style measure that seems thus far to be performing contrary to the spirit of its intention, if not the letter. Scheduled on September 19, “Qods (Jerusalem) Day” is a “monster demonstration” against the regime by reform supporters, which observers expect to represent a decisive, showdown-level event.

September is thus a big month for Tehran’s mullahs. The regime would like to retrieve the political initiative, internally as well as abroad, with a string of diplomatic successes: blunting the West’s strategic focus on Iran’s nuclear program with a new round of negotiations; getting IAEA to endorse the strike-ban proposal; and showcasing Ahmadinejad’s visit to the UN General Assembly this month with, as Emanuele points out, an impression of Iranian initiative and global leadership. The timing of Tehran’s offer of negotiations is neither random nor, as Jennifer drily observes, a response to toughness from the Obama administration. It is part of a comprehensive strategy.

The objective of the strategy remains the same: developing nuclear weapons with which to wield deterrent power and hold Israel and other American allies at risk in the Middle East. Iran wants to negotiate today because that is the best means of forestalling action (including tougher sanctions) against its nuclear program, an interim goal that all Iran’s policies are oriented to. We can assume Netanyahu and Russia’s leadership had their discussion last Monday with full understanding of that reality. We may wonder, however, if that understanding extends to Obama, his advisers, and the U.S. State Department.

Two factors in the timing of Iran’s new offer of negotiations have been largely ignored in the U.S. media. These factors have substantial explanatory value. One is an Iranian-sponsored initiative of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) nations to obtain a new UN ban on military strikes against nuclear facilities. The other is the ongoing internal dissent in Iran, which is expected to crescendo on Friday, September 19, with a mass demonstration by reform supporters.

Iran has been working the NAM proposal for some time now, and with official support from more than 100 NAM members, it intends to submit it to the IAEA, as the UN’s cognizant body, when the IAEA’s membership convenes for a general conference on September 14. (The NAM letter of support submitted to the IAEA is here.) Tehran’s official protestations aside, the proposal is an obvious bid to trigger a UN showdown—pitting NAM nations against the U.S., UK, and France on the Security Council—over any strike on Iranian nuclear facilities by Israel or the United States. The offer of negotiations from Iran is timed to present the appearance of a cooperative attitude as IAEA takes up the strike-ban initiative.

Meanwhile, Iran’s reformers continue to protest the June election and the regime’s handling of its aftermath, from Basiji brutality to the show trials and torture decried by dissenters and Western pundits. Michael Ledeen reports that all references to opposition leaders Mousavi and Karoubi were banned in the Iranian press as of September 12, a Soviet-style measure that seems thus far to be performing contrary to the spirit of its intention, if not the letter. Scheduled on September 19, “Qods (Jerusalem) Day” is a “monster demonstration” against the regime by reform supporters, which observers expect to represent a decisive, showdown-level event.

September is thus a big month for Tehran’s mullahs. The regime would like to retrieve the political initiative, internally as well as abroad, with a string of diplomatic successes: blunting the West’s strategic focus on Iran’s nuclear program with a new round of negotiations; getting IAEA to endorse the strike-ban proposal; and showcasing Ahmadinejad’s visit to the UN General Assembly this month with, as Emanuele points out, an impression of Iranian initiative and global leadership. The timing of Tehran’s offer of negotiations is neither random nor, as Jennifer drily observes, a response to toughness from the Obama administration. It is part of a comprehensive strategy.

The objective of the strategy remains the same: developing nuclear weapons with which to wield deterrent power and hold Israel and other American allies at risk in the Middle East. Iran wants to negotiate today because that is the best means of forestalling action (including tougher sanctions) against its nuclear program, an interim goal that all Iran’s policies are oriented to. We can assume Netanyahu and Russia’s leadership had their discussion last Monday with full understanding of that reality. We may wonder, however, if that understanding extends to Obama, his advisers, and the U.S. State Department.

Read Less

Smart Power in Honduras

The Associated Press reports that the Honduran government disclosed yesterday the identity of the officials whose visas have been revoked by the United States as part of Washington’s continuing pressure to reinstate former president Manuel Zelaya, namely, the successor president and 17 other officials:

Interim President Roberto Micheletti said losing his diplomatic and tourist visas would not weaken his rejection of the return of Zelaya. . . .

The move “changes nothing because I am not willing to take back what has happened in Honduras,” he said on Radio station HRN.

Washington on Friday revoked the diplomatic and tourist visas for 14 Supreme Court judges, the armed forces chief, the foreign relations secretary and Honduras’ attorney general, presidential spokeswoman Marcia de Villeda said Saturday.

The revocation of the visas for the 14 Supreme Court judges is a nice touch. In the future, even a unanimous Supreme Court faced with a violation of the country’s constitution will think twice before engaging in a “judicial coup.”

The Associated Press reports that the Honduran government disclosed yesterday the identity of the officials whose visas have been revoked by the United States as part of Washington’s continuing pressure to reinstate former president Manuel Zelaya, namely, the successor president and 17 other officials:

Interim President Roberto Micheletti said losing his diplomatic and tourist visas would not weaken his rejection of the return of Zelaya. . . .

The move “changes nothing because I am not willing to take back what has happened in Honduras,” he said on Radio station HRN.

Washington on Friday revoked the diplomatic and tourist visas for 14 Supreme Court judges, the armed forces chief, the foreign relations secretary and Honduras’ attorney general, presidential spokeswoman Marcia de Villeda said Saturday.

The revocation of the visas for the 14 Supreme Court judges is a nice touch. In the future, even a unanimous Supreme Court faced with a violation of the country’s constitution will think twice before engaging in a “judicial coup.”

Read Less

Waiting for Godot. . . er. . .Obama

You can sense the Washington Post editors’ growing irritation with Obama. With arms crossed and feet tapping, they want to know when he’s going to get to the hard part: figuring out how to achieve his lofty goal of universal health-care coverage, or at least expanded coverage, without breaking the bank. They write:

When politicians start talking about paying for programs by cutting “waste and abuse,” you should get nervous. When they don’t provide specifics—and when the amounts under discussion are in the hundreds of billions of dollars—you should get even more nervous.

And they then nervously proceed to list the unanswered questions that boil down to one: how’s he going to pay for it? They aren’t impressed, nor should they be, with the promise to cut out “waste, fraud and abuse.” We’ve heard that before. Moreover, one bureaucrat’s “waste” may be a hip replacement for an 80-year-old. They remind us:

The president has staked out two principles with admirable firmness: Health reform must not add to the federal deficit, and it must slow the rate of health cost inflation. Now he needs to support the detailed measures that will fulfill both pledges.

But in their frustration at the president’s vacuity, the Post editors overlook a key problem. There isn’t a way to do the things he has promised (avoid adding to the deficit and slow down health-cost inflation) with the sort of government-run system Obama is wedded to. You can’t do it unless you massively ration care, which, if we have learned anything in the past month, is not going to be an easy sell to the public. If you want to try to do these things, you can’t get there through a government-centric plan. What may get there is expanding the health-care insurance market, spurring individual health-insurance purchases, and real tort reform.

So it is not as if Obama is holding out on us or has some super-duper solution tucked in Larry Summers’s filing cabinet. The answer is that there isn’t any answer. Obama will either have to lie about the financial ramifications of the plan he is pushing and run roughshod over the CBO and private analysts, or he’ll have to try another sort of health-care reform. If his speech this past week is any guide, I’m betting he’ll lie.

You can sense the Washington Post editors’ growing irritation with Obama. With arms crossed and feet tapping, they want to know when he’s going to get to the hard part: figuring out how to achieve his lofty goal of universal health-care coverage, or at least expanded coverage, without breaking the bank. They write:

When politicians start talking about paying for programs by cutting “waste and abuse,” you should get nervous. When they don’t provide specifics—and when the amounts under discussion are in the hundreds of billions of dollars—you should get even more nervous.

And they then nervously proceed to list the unanswered questions that boil down to one: how’s he going to pay for it? They aren’t impressed, nor should they be, with the promise to cut out “waste, fraud and abuse.” We’ve heard that before. Moreover, one bureaucrat’s “waste” may be a hip replacement for an 80-year-old. They remind us:

The president has staked out two principles with admirable firmness: Health reform must not add to the federal deficit, and it must slow the rate of health cost inflation. Now he needs to support the detailed measures that will fulfill both pledges.

But in their frustration at the president’s vacuity, the Post editors overlook a key problem. There isn’t a way to do the things he has promised (avoid adding to the deficit and slow down health-cost inflation) with the sort of government-run system Obama is wedded to. You can’t do it unless you massively ration care, which, if we have learned anything in the past month, is not going to be an easy sell to the public. If you want to try to do these things, you can’t get there through a government-centric plan. What may get there is expanding the health-care insurance market, spurring individual health-insurance purchases, and real tort reform.

So it is not as if Obama is holding out on us or has some super-duper solution tucked in Larry Summers’s filing cabinet. The answer is that there isn’t any answer. Obama will either have to lie about the financial ramifications of the plan he is pushing and run roughshod over the CBO and private analysts, or he’ll have to try another sort of health-care reform. If his speech this past week is any guide, I’m betting he’ll lie.

Read Less

But What’s in It?

The Washington Post asked a symposium of political gurus and consultants whether “the plan President Obama outlined to Congress can pass.” Not one of them answered that query. They talked about how swell a speech it was or how important health care is or what the polls say. That’s not what the Post asked. But in fairness to the participants, it is a trick question. The president didn’t outline a plan. And what he did include—the public option—has been written off even by most lawmakers on his side of the aisle.

So we are back to pabulum. We must keep “the needs of patients at the center of every discussion.” Well, yes, that’s a good thing. The president has taken “ownership” of the bill—except he confessed (and got a big laugh) that “there remain some details to be worked out.” And another symposium contributor now said that “he has to take full charge of the process.” Hmm. So he took ownership, but he’s not in charge? All these voices bear an uncanny resemblance to those of schoolchildren delivering book reports on books they haven’t read or don’t understand. What is in the plan, and will it pass? No one seemed to know.

Tony Fratto was one of the few participants who made any sense:

President Obama had a chance to clear up confusion in the minds of Americans who have been following the health-care debate, and to lead—by truly proposing a middle path that would garner bipartisan votes.

As it turned out, he accomplished neither goal, and we appear to be no further along in achieving comprehensive bipartisan legislation than we were before Wednesday’s speech.

While the president was his usual eloquent self in passionately describing the problem, the speech did almost nothing to clear up confusion over the key points of contention: fiscal cost, taxes, Medicare cuts and the proper role of government.

[. . .]

It’s staggering to me that at this late stage in the debate, few Americans and only marginally more policymakers, members of Congress and journalists can accurately describe what exactly the president’s plan is, let alone how it would be paid for, its impact on the budget or its impact on the delivery of health services in the United States.

The fundamental issues have not been resolved, because the president either doesn’t know how to resolve them or fears that his solutions will be rebuffed. The result is a sort of charade in which Washington pundits and Obama supporters pretend we are now on a glide path to health-care reform, while the specifics of the plan are entirely absent. That, after all, is where we have been for the past eight months. But don’t tell the Obama spin squad—they loved that speech.

The Washington Post asked a symposium of political gurus and consultants whether “the plan President Obama outlined to Congress can pass.” Not one of them answered that query. They talked about how swell a speech it was or how important health care is or what the polls say. That’s not what the Post asked. But in fairness to the participants, it is a trick question. The president didn’t outline a plan. And what he did include—the public option—has been written off even by most lawmakers on his side of the aisle.

So we are back to pabulum. We must keep “the needs of patients at the center of every discussion.” Well, yes, that’s a good thing. The president has taken “ownership” of the bill—except he confessed (and got a big laugh) that “there remain some details to be worked out.” And another symposium contributor now said that “he has to take full charge of the process.” Hmm. So he took ownership, but he’s not in charge? All these voices bear an uncanny resemblance to those of schoolchildren delivering book reports on books they haven’t read or don’t understand. What is in the plan, and will it pass? No one seemed to know.

Tony Fratto was one of the few participants who made any sense:

President Obama had a chance to clear up confusion in the minds of Americans who have been following the health-care debate, and to lead—by truly proposing a middle path that would garner bipartisan votes.

As it turned out, he accomplished neither goal, and we appear to be no further along in achieving comprehensive bipartisan legislation than we were before Wednesday’s speech.

While the president was his usual eloquent self in passionately describing the problem, the speech did almost nothing to clear up confusion over the key points of contention: fiscal cost, taxes, Medicare cuts and the proper role of government.

[. . .]

It’s staggering to me that at this late stage in the debate, few Americans and only marginally more policymakers, members of Congress and journalists can accurately describe what exactly the president’s plan is, let alone how it would be paid for, its impact on the budget or its impact on the delivery of health services in the United States.

The fundamental issues have not been resolved, because the president either doesn’t know how to resolve them or fears that his solutions will be rebuffed. The result is a sort of charade in which Washington pundits and Obama supporters pretend we are now on a glide path to health-care reform, while the specifics of the plan are entirely absent. That, after all, is where we have been for the past eight months. But don’t tell the Obama spin squad—they loved that speech.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Completing (or could there be more?) its streak of capitulations to rogue nuclear-wannabe states, the Obama administration has agreed to direct talks with North Korea. The welcome mat it is now out: lob missiles, declare your nuclear ambitions, snatch Americans, and your reward is direct, one-on-one talks with the Obama team.

And the White House is expecting “concrete action” from Iran. Honest. Soon. Or at the end of the year. Or whenever. Isn’t that what the September 15 deadline was all about? Not anymore.

Back in the real world: “Iran said on Saturday it would not back down in its nuclear row with the West, a day after the United States said it would accept Tehran’s offer of wide-ranging talks with six world powers.’We cannot have any compromise with respect to the Iranian nation’s inalienable right,’ Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference, in language Iranian officials normally use to refer to its nuclear program.” Iran’s response, we are told by the U.S., was “nonresponsive,” so naturally the U.S. will immediately commence talks. If this appears to you to be unintelligible and embarrassing, you are not alone.

I am certain the president’s press secretary will declare they didn’t see a thing from the White House: “Thousands of people marched to the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, carrying signs with slogans such as ‘Obamacare makes me sick’ as they protested the president’s health-care plan and what they say is out-of-control spending. The line of protesters spread across Pennsylvania Avenue for blocks, all the way to the capitol, according to the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. People were chanting ‘enough, enough’ and ‘We the People.’ Others yelled ‘You lie, you lie!’ and ‘Pelosi has to go,’ referring to California congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.”

Actually, the march drew 1 or 2 million, depending on which crowd estimate you like.

And they cleaned up after themselves.

Grover Norquist: “Obama and ACORN fancy they are the community organizers. They should drop by and see what real outrage and real community organizing—without taxpayer subsidies or paid union staff in purple T-shirts—looks like.”

James Capretta: “On Wednesday, the president described a health-care plan that doesn’t exist. There is no proposal in Congress or offered by the president which would lower costs for households, businesses, and the government, and the president doesn’t have a magic solution which will ‘bend the cost curve’ with painless efficiency gains. What is clear is that the bills under consideration in Congress would impose massive new hidden costs on low and moderate wage households—the very people the president and his allies say they want to help. And that’s a fact, not an assertion.”

If cap-and-trade legislation can’t get Russ Feingold’s support, I think it’s safe to say it isn’t going anywhere. Feingold’s not interested in a bill that “rips off Wisconsin.”

If you need a break from politics, savor this from former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson on the joys of motherhood and the lump in the throat when the first born goes off to college.

Even Eleanor Clift can spot the problem: “The greatest weakness for Obama is how to pay for the proposals that he outlined. His assertion that much of the cost could be covered by squeezing money out of Medicare and Medicaid will be challenged by reputable economists. . . . The taxes written into the various House bills by leaders far more liberal than what the Senate can accommodate will probably fall by the wayside, leaving the last word to the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Max Baucus, on how to pay for what finally emerges.”

Completing (or could there be more?) its streak of capitulations to rogue nuclear-wannabe states, the Obama administration has agreed to direct talks with North Korea. The welcome mat it is now out: lob missiles, declare your nuclear ambitions, snatch Americans, and your reward is direct, one-on-one talks with the Obama team.

And the White House is expecting “concrete action” from Iran. Honest. Soon. Or at the end of the year. Or whenever. Isn’t that what the September 15 deadline was all about? Not anymore.

Back in the real world: “Iran said on Saturday it would not back down in its nuclear row with the West, a day after the United States said it would accept Tehran’s offer of wide-ranging talks with six world powers.’We cannot have any compromise with respect to the Iranian nation’s inalienable right,’ Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference, in language Iranian officials normally use to refer to its nuclear program.” Iran’s response, we are told by the U.S., was “nonresponsive,” so naturally the U.S. will immediately commence talks. If this appears to you to be unintelligible and embarrassing, you are not alone.

I am certain the president’s press secretary will declare they didn’t see a thing from the White House: “Thousands of people marched to the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, carrying signs with slogans such as ‘Obamacare makes me sick’ as they protested the president’s health-care plan and what they say is out-of-control spending. The line of protesters spread across Pennsylvania Avenue for blocks, all the way to the capitol, according to the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. People were chanting ‘enough, enough’ and ‘We the People.’ Others yelled ‘You lie, you lie!’ and ‘Pelosi has to go,’ referring to California congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.”

Actually, the march drew 1 or 2 million, depending on which crowd estimate you like.

And they cleaned up after themselves.

Grover Norquist: “Obama and ACORN fancy they are the community organizers. They should drop by and see what real outrage and real community organizing—without taxpayer subsidies or paid union staff in purple T-shirts—looks like.”

James Capretta: “On Wednesday, the president described a health-care plan that doesn’t exist. There is no proposal in Congress or offered by the president which would lower costs for households, businesses, and the government, and the president doesn’t have a magic solution which will ‘bend the cost curve’ with painless efficiency gains. What is clear is that the bills under consideration in Congress would impose massive new hidden costs on low and moderate wage households—the very people the president and his allies say they want to help. And that’s a fact, not an assertion.”

If cap-and-trade legislation can’t get Russ Feingold’s support, I think it’s safe to say it isn’t going anywhere. Feingold’s not interested in a bill that “rips off Wisconsin.”

If you need a break from politics, savor this from former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson on the joys of motherhood and the lump in the throat when the first born goes off to college.

Even Eleanor Clift can spot the problem: “The greatest weakness for Obama is how to pay for the proposals that he outlined. His assertion that much of the cost could be covered by squeezing money out of Medicare and Medicaid will be challenged by reputable economists. . . . The taxes written into the various House bills by leaders far more liberal than what the Senate can accommodate will probably fall by the wayside, leaving the last word to the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Max Baucus, on how to pay for what finally emerges.”

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.