Commentary Magazine


Topic: Brookings Institute

You Don’t Have to Be a Harvard Think Tank

In a significant paper at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Jeffrey White and Loring White discuss the results of war games on the Iranian nuclear program conducted by three think tanks — at Harvard, Tel Aviv University, and the Brookings Institute — all of which ended in defeats for the U.S. and Israel. The common results were:

  • The United States did not obtain meaningful cooperation from other countries.
  • Sanctions did not seem to work.
  • The United States was unwilling to use military force or support Israeli military action even after other measures failed.
  • U.S.-Israeli relations deteriorated dramatically.
  • Iran continued toward a nuclear weapons capability.

The paper concludes that the U.S. needs to “play” much differently in the coming months if it wants to avoid those results, and time “is running out.”

The signals sent by the State Department since the expiration of Obama’s “deadline” have only reinforced the sense that the administration has no Plan B. On January 12, the department spokesman emphasized that recourse to the “pressure track” would be “a very long process,” starting with discussions of “ideas that any of the [P-5+1] partners have on how we can get Iran to live up its international obligations.” The “discussions” have largely been phone calls, since the administration cannot get the Chinese to send their political director to a meeting.

On Friday, Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley announced that Under Secretary William Burns had a 90-minute conference call with his P-5+1 “counterparts” that discussed “both the pressure track and the negotiation track; discussed next steps in the process, both in terms of negotiation, took stock of the recent comments by Iran, but also continue to evaluate potential actions on the pressure track as well.” His statement produced this colloquy:

QUESTION: When you said counterparts, did that include the Chinese political director, or was it, in fact, the sous chef at the Embassy? (Laughter) …

QUESTION: Did they — I’m sorry if I missed it, but did they actually agree on any additional sanctions or language regarding –

MR. CROWLEY: That wasn’t the intent of the call. … It’s hard to characterize it other than they had a detailed discussion of where we are in the process and shared ideas on both tracks.

Discussions were supposed to have occurred long before this. On April 22, 2009, Hillary Clinton assured the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the administration was laying the groundwork for crippling sanctions if engagement failed:

BERMAN: … I can’t get away from the fact that Iran’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability keep going ahead, and — and that this engagement can’t be so-open-ended that we essentially pass the threshold that we’re seeking to avoid by virtue of the engagement. … Are we pursuing the — the default position, the — the leverage that I think will make the engagement more likely as we deal with key members of the international community and the Security Council?

CLINTON: … As the president said in his inaugural address, we’ll hold out our hand. They have to unclench their fist. But we are also laying the groundwork for the kind of very tough — I think you said crippling — sanctions that might be necessary in the event that our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful.

Nine months past Clinton’s assurance, two months past the “deadline,” it is apparent that no groundwork has been laid. The discussions are just beginning; it will be a “very long process”; the administration is unenthusiastic about pending legislation authorizing “crippling” sanctions.

You don’t have to be part of a Harvard think tank to see where this is headed.

In a significant paper at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Jeffrey White and Loring White discuss the results of war games on the Iranian nuclear program conducted by three think tanks — at Harvard, Tel Aviv University, and the Brookings Institute — all of which ended in defeats for the U.S. and Israel. The common results were:

  • The United States did not obtain meaningful cooperation from other countries.
  • Sanctions did not seem to work.
  • The United States was unwilling to use military force or support Israeli military action even after other measures failed.
  • U.S.-Israeli relations deteriorated dramatically.
  • Iran continued toward a nuclear weapons capability.

The paper concludes that the U.S. needs to “play” much differently in the coming months if it wants to avoid those results, and time “is running out.”

The signals sent by the State Department since the expiration of Obama’s “deadline” have only reinforced the sense that the administration has no Plan B. On January 12, the department spokesman emphasized that recourse to the “pressure track” would be “a very long process,” starting with discussions of “ideas that any of the [P-5+1] partners have on how we can get Iran to live up its international obligations.” The “discussions” have largely been phone calls, since the administration cannot get the Chinese to send their political director to a meeting.

On Friday, Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley announced that Under Secretary William Burns had a 90-minute conference call with his P-5+1 “counterparts” that discussed “both the pressure track and the negotiation track; discussed next steps in the process, both in terms of negotiation, took stock of the recent comments by Iran, but also continue to evaluate potential actions on the pressure track as well.” His statement produced this colloquy:

QUESTION: When you said counterparts, did that include the Chinese political director, or was it, in fact, the sous chef at the Embassy? (Laughter) …

QUESTION: Did they — I’m sorry if I missed it, but did they actually agree on any additional sanctions or language regarding –

MR. CROWLEY: That wasn’t the intent of the call. … It’s hard to characterize it other than they had a detailed discussion of where we are in the process and shared ideas on both tracks.

Discussions were supposed to have occurred long before this. On April 22, 2009, Hillary Clinton assured the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the administration was laying the groundwork for crippling sanctions if engagement failed:

BERMAN: … I can’t get away from the fact that Iran’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability keep going ahead, and — and that this engagement can’t be so-open-ended that we essentially pass the threshold that we’re seeking to avoid by virtue of the engagement. … Are we pursuing the — the default position, the — the leverage that I think will make the engagement more likely as we deal with key members of the international community and the Security Council?

CLINTON: … As the president said in his inaugural address, we’ll hold out our hand. They have to unclench their fist. But we are also laying the groundwork for the kind of very tough — I think you said crippling — sanctions that might be necessary in the event that our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful.

Nine months past Clinton’s assurance, two months past the “deadline,” it is apparent that no groundwork has been laid. The discussions are just beginning; it will be a “very long process”; the administration is unenthusiastic about pending legislation authorizing “crippling” sanctions.

You don’t have to be part of a Harvard think tank to see where this is headed.

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Populist Politics, Economic Panic

Obama imagines that political stratagems have no real-world consequences. On Afghanistan he threw a bone to the Left by imposing a deadline on the withdrawal of troops, not quite appreciating the unnerving effect it would have on allies and the resulting muddling of his policy message. On the economy in December Obama went to the Brookings Institute to say he understood that the private sector is where the jobs are. But now he is on a populist binge and that too has real-world consequences:

Wall Street tumbled for a third day on Friday as a three-day slide pushed the markets down almost 5 percent. For the Dow, Friday was the lowest close since early November. For a second day, shares declined on concerns about President Obama’s proposal for tighter restrictions on the activity of banks as the markets finished the week with a three-day losing streak. . .

Quincy M. Krosby, a markets strategist at Prudential Financial, said investors were also weighing news that Ben S. Bernanke’s confirmation for a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve faced growing opposition.
“What they’re sensing is this has taken on a political visceral momentum,” Ms. Krosby said. “They makes them hesitant about the future of the banking system.”

Pundits debate whether Obama’s new populist red meat will “work” — that is, allow him to recover his political footing. But if he unnerves the markets and spooks investors, he’ll be in further trouble. After all, he might insist that the economy is all George W. Bush’s fault, but fewer and fewer voters are buying that. And if his own policies — spending with abandon, pursuing a junk-a-thon stimulus plan, spending a year on the job-killing ObamaCare and cap-and-trade, and now frightening the financial markets – have paralyzed employers, then he surely is accountable for those results.

Even within the political realm, his populist jag is costly and self-defeating. Playing to the firebrand anti-business crowd has arguably inflamed opposition to his own Fed nominee and put Bernanke’s reappointment at risk. The “populist brushfire that has burned through Democratic fortunes this week [which] threatened Friday to claim Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke” has been fanned by none other than Obama himself.

That too will reflect on Obama, for it is his nominee after all. The resulting uncertainty that would follow Bernanke’s rejection will likely beget a new round of handwringing from investors.

This, of course, is what happens when everything is a matter of politics. At some point you have to get the policy right. Having failed to do that, Obama is only making things worse with yet another political gambit. He — and the country — will suffer the consequences.

Obama imagines that political stratagems have no real-world consequences. On Afghanistan he threw a bone to the Left by imposing a deadline on the withdrawal of troops, not quite appreciating the unnerving effect it would have on allies and the resulting muddling of his policy message. On the economy in December Obama went to the Brookings Institute to say he understood that the private sector is where the jobs are. But now he is on a populist binge and that too has real-world consequences:

Wall Street tumbled for a third day on Friday as a three-day slide pushed the markets down almost 5 percent. For the Dow, Friday was the lowest close since early November. For a second day, shares declined on concerns about President Obama’s proposal for tighter restrictions on the activity of banks as the markets finished the week with a three-day losing streak. . .

Quincy M. Krosby, a markets strategist at Prudential Financial, said investors were also weighing news that Ben S. Bernanke’s confirmation for a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve faced growing opposition.
“What they’re sensing is this has taken on a political visceral momentum,” Ms. Krosby said. “They makes them hesitant about the future of the banking system.”

Pundits debate whether Obama’s new populist red meat will “work” — that is, allow him to recover his political footing. But if he unnerves the markets and spooks investors, he’ll be in further trouble. After all, he might insist that the economy is all George W. Bush’s fault, but fewer and fewer voters are buying that. And if his own policies — spending with abandon, pursuing a junk-a-thon stimulus plan, spending a year on the job-killing ObamaCare and cap-and-trade, and now frightening the financial markets – have paralyzed employers, then he surely is accountable for those results.

Even within the political realm, his populist jag is costly and self-defeating. Playing to the firebrand anti-business crowd has arguably inflamed opposition to his own Fed nominee and put Bernanke’s reappointment at risk. The “populist brushfire that has burned through Democratic fortunes this week [which] threatened Friday to claim Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke” has been fanned by none other than Obama himself.

That too will reflect on Obama, for it is his nominee after all. The resulting uncertainty that would follow Bernanke’s rejection will likely beget a new round of handwringing from investors.

This, of course, is what happens when everything is a matter of politics. At some point you have to get the policy right. Having failed to do that, Obama is only making things worse with yet another political gambit. He — and the country — will suffer the consequences.

Read Less

Thanks, Mr. President

The first year of the Obama administration has been a demonstration of the unworkability of the Left’s domestic agenda. In this regard, Obama has done an immense favor to the conservative movement, which was wheezing ideologically and declining politically just a year ago.

The Obami have proved once again that Keynesian spending schemes don’t “create” jobs. Their ultra-Leftist agenda has fanned the public’s intolerance for massive government spending. And by pushing government-centric reform, they have seen a substantial majority coalesce in opposition to a takeover of health care. Obama has been reduced to pleading at the Brookings Institute for tax cuts, albeit tiny ones, and arguing that he really does understand where the jobs come from. (“Job creation will ultimately depend on the real job creators: businesses across America.”) He hasn’t given up on his big-government power grabs on carbon emissions or on health care yet, but he’s gone a long way to demonstrating how unpopular those ideas are and how inept at job and wealth creation the federal government is.

Moreover, Obama has few excuses. Democrats have been in control of all the levers of power and enjoy a compliant media. Yet still, even in a recession that they convinced themselves would discredit free-market capitalism, they were unable to convince the public, let alone governing majorities in the House and Senate, of the wisdom of the Left’s agenda. Card check? Nope. Cap-and-trade? Not unless the EPA can blackmail Congress. A government takeover of health care? Not unless Harry Reid hypnotizes 59 of his colleagues. We’ve gotten to December and virtually none of the Left’s agenda has been enacted. Who’d have imagined it?

The poll numbers in survey after survey reflect a sea change in public opinion away from the Democrats and their liberal agenda. Conservative critiques of the Obama agenda are resonating with independent voters, and a deep skepticism about government’s ability to micromanage complex problems, from carbon emissions to health care, has set in. That’s a remarkable achievement, something that left to their own devices, conservatives may not have been able to achieve on their own.

Obama may still get some version of health-care “reform,” and as the economy revives, however sluggishly, he may recover lost ground with wary independent voters. But along the way, he will have proved that his undiluted ultra-liberal agenda turned out to be economically unsuccessful and politically unpopular. He has in that regard been a boon to the conservative movement.

The first year of the Obama administration has been a demonstration of the unworkability of the Left’s domestic agenda. In this regard, Obama has done an immense favor to the conservative movement, which was wheezing ideologically and declining politically just a year ago.

The Obami have proved once again that Keynesian spending schemes don’t “create” jobs. Their ultra-Leftist agenda has fanned the public’s intolerance for massive government spending. And by pushing government-centric reform, they have seen a substantial majority coalesce in opposition to a takeover of health care. Obama has been reduced to pleading at the Brookings Institute for tax cuts, albeit tiny ones, and arguing that he really does understand where the jobs come from. (“Job creation will ultimately depend on the real job creators: businesses across America.”) He hasn’t given up on his big-government power grabs on carbon emissions or on health care yet, but he’s gone a long way to demonstrating how unpopular those ideas are and how inept at job and wealth creation the federal government is.

Moreover, Obama has few excuses. Democrats have been in control of all the levers of power and enjoy a compliant media. Yet still, even in a recession that they convinced themselves would discredit free-market capitalism, they were unable to convince the public, let alone governing majorities in the House and Senate, of the wisdom of the Left’s agenda. Card check? Nope. Cap-and-trade? Not unless the EPA can blackmail Congress. A government takeover of health care? Not unless Harry Reid hypnotizes 59 of his colleagues. We’ve gotten to December and virtually none of the Left’s agenda has been enacted. Who’d have imagined it?

The poll numbers in survey after survey reflect a sea change in public opinion away from the Democrats and their liberal agenda. Conservative critiques of the Obama agenda are resonating with independent voters, and a deep skepticism about government’s ability to micromanage complex problems, from carbon emissions to health care, has set in. That’s a remarkable achievement, something that left to their own devices, conservatives may not have been able to achieve on their own.

Obama may still get some version of health-care “reform,” and as the economy revives, however sluggishly, he may recover lost ground with wary independent voters. But along the way, he will have proved that his undiluted ultra-liberal agenda turned out to be economically unsuccessful and politically unpopular. He has in that regard been a boon to the conservative movement.

Read Less