Commentary Magazine


Topic: undersecretary

Flotsam and Jetsam

A “primer in rotten politics”: Assemblyman Vito Lopez is captured on videotape “threatening a group of old ladies during an effort to consolidate power as Kings County kingmaker.”

A chilling thought: Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes (who gets his Iraq info from Google) tells us that the Obami will make sure Iran’s nuclear intentions are peaceful before another fruitless round of engagement. “Just when will Iran have to demonstrate the peaceful intent of its nuclear program? After they build the bomb as a check on Israeli aggression, perhaps? And anyway, Ben Rhodes is not a national security adviser, or rather, would not be in any universe that made sense. He was Obama’s top foreign-policy speechwriter and was then made a Deputy National Security adviser … for Communications. I suppose it’s possible that he’s not only writing speeches but also dictating foreign policy, in which case it’s time I take my suicide pills.”

A dopey suggestion from Bill Clinton on the Ground Zero mosque: “Much or even most of the controversy … could have been avoided, and perhaps still can be, if the people who want to build the center were to simply say, ‘We are dedicating this center to all the Muslims who were killed on 9/11.’” Because Muslims should dedicate things only to Muslims, you see.

And a noxious analysis by the ex-president of the problem with Russian immigrants in Israel. Maybe he’s competing with Jimmy Carter for the ex-president limelight.

An exercise in self-delusion: Nate Silver says the generic polls don’t really mean that a debacle is ahead for the Democrats.

Another result of “reform” Obama-style: drug companies may hike prices to offset the ObamaCare drug discount. It was supposed to fill “the doughnut hole.” Instead, it may worsen the health-care inflation problem.

A 10-point plan for reducing unemployment: “If we truly want to create jobs, it is not enough to simply berate business to create them. We must address the dynamics that keep businesses from offering jobs and that keep people from accepting jobs. We can use policy to create jobs — we just have to care enough about the jobless to make creating jobs a political priority.”

A sign of a weak president and Senate minority leader: “In the face of a promised filibuster by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Democrats could not convince a single GOP senator to cross over and provide the 60th vote needed to begin debate on a defense spending bill containing the repeal measure. The vote to open debate failed, 56-43, with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) joining all Republicans in opposing taking up the bill.”

An undersecretary of something’s bailiwick? No, the sort of mini-issue Hillary lives for: “She told the Clinton Global Initiative forum that the public-private clean stoves plan, dubbed ‘Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves,’ would seek to install the new, 25-dollar units by 2020.”

A “primer in rotten politics”: Assemblyman Vito Lopez is captured on videotape “threatening a group of old ladies during an effort to consolidate power as Kings County kingmaker.”

A chilling thought: Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes (who gets his Iraq info from Google) tells us that the Obami will make sure Iran’s nuclear intentions are peaceful before another fruitless round of engagement. “Just when will Iran have to demonstrate the peaceful intent of its nuclear program? After they build the bomb as a check on Israeli aggression, perhaps? And anyway, Ben Rhodes is not a national security adviser, or rather, would not be in any universe that made sense. He was Obama’s top foreign-policy speechwriter and was then made a Deputy National Security adviser … for Communications. I suppose it’s possible that he’s not only writing speeches but also dictating foreign policy, in which case it’s time I take my suicide pills.”

A dopey suggestion from Bill Clinton on the Ground Zero mosque: “Much or even most of the controversy … could have been avoided, and perhaps still can be, if the people who want to build the center were to simply say, ‘We are dedicating this center to all the Muslims who were killed on 9/11.’” Because Muslims should dedicate things only to Muslims, you see.

And a noxious analysis by the ex-president of the problem with Russian immigrants in Israel. Maybe he’s competing with Jimmy Carter for the ex-president limelight.

An exercise in self-delusion: Nate Silver says the generic polls don’t really mean that a debacle is ahead for the Democrats.

Another result of “reform” Obama-style: drug companies may hike prices to offset the ObamaCare drug discount. It was supposed to fill “the doughnut hole.” Instead, it may worsen the health-care inflation problem.

A 10-point plan for reducing unemployment: “If we truly want to create jobs, it is not enough to simply berate business to create them. We must address the dynamics that keep businesses from offering jobs and that keep people from accepting jobs. We can use policy to create jobs — we just have to care enough about the jobless to make creating jobs a political priority.”

A sign of a weak president and Senate minority leader: “In the face of a promised filibuster by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Democrats could not convince a single GOP senator to cross over and provide the 60th vote needed to begin debate on a defense spending bill containing the repeal measure. The vote to open debate failed, 56-43, with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) joining all Republicans in opposing taking up the bill.”

An undersecretary of something’s bailiwick? No, the sort of mini-issue Hillary lives for: “She told the Clinton Global Initiative forum that the public-private clean stoves plan, dubbed ‘Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves,’ would seek to install the new, 25-dollar units by 2020.”

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U.S. Chooses International Consensus over Israel

Eli Lake reports on the document that the U.S. signed off on last Friday at the Non-Proliferation Treaty conference:

The final document of the monthlong review conference calls on Israel to join the treaty, a move that would require Israel to disclose and then give up its undeclared nuclear arsenal. The document does not, however, make mention of Iran’s failure to comply with the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency to stop the enrichment of uranium.

Because these diplomatic documents require a consensus of all nations at the conference, the United States, like any other NPT signatory, had an effective veto over the measure.

Understandably, Bibi is not pleased and issued a statement blasting the document. (“It singles out Israel, the Middle East’s only true democracy and the only country threatened with annihilation. … Yet the terrorist regime in Iran, which is racing to develop nuclear weapons and which openly threatens to wipe Israel off the map, is not even mentioned in the resolution.”) So where was the United States, which the administration keeps telling American Jews is there to stand up for Israel in international bodies? Apparently Obama simply caved:

The U.S. delegation, led by Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, initially opposed singling out Israel. A senior State Department official told The Times, “We did fight hard to get that language out of the final document.”

Not all that hard, however.

Now, Obama has apparently told Bibi that the secret understanding that has existed between the U.S. and Israel remains in effect.  (“In exchange for Israel not publicly disclosing its nuclear weapons, the United States does not pressure Israel to join the NPT and shields Israel from pressure to join the treaty.”) But by allowing the document to single out Israel, the U.S. has revealed its priorities — again. A Republican staffer tells Lake that “this is the first time a U.S. administration has placed a greater priority on getting a consensus NPT review conference document than on America’s traditional role as protecting Israel’s nuclear ambiguity.”

Bibi will have his time to raise this in his meeting with Obama. And once again, we wonder, where are the Jewish pro-Israel groups? It seems they have ceased to object to much of anything this administration does. So long as the administration doesn’t insult Bibi in public, mouths some platitudes, and continues the kabuki dance of pursuing sanctions (albeit totally ineffective ones), they remain mum.

Eli Lake reports on the document that the U.S. signed off on last Friday at the Non-Proliferation Treaty conference:

The final document of the monthlong review conference calls on Israel to join the treaty, a move that would require Israel to disclose and then give up its undeclared nuclear arsenal. The document does not, however, make mention of Iran’s failure to comply with the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency to stop the enrichment of uranium.

Because these diplomatic documents require a consensus of all nations at the conference, the United States, like any other NPT signatory, had an effective veto over the measure.

Understandably, Bibi is not pleased and issued a statement blasting the document. (“It singles out Israel, the Middle East’s only true democracy and the only country threatened with annihilation. … Yet the terrorist regime in Iran, which is racing to develop nuclear weapons and which openly threatens to wipe Israel off the map, is not even mentioned in the resolution.”) So where was the United States, which the administration keeps telling American Jews is there to stand up for Israel in international bodies? Apparently Obama simply caved:

The U.S. delegation, led by Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, initially opposed singling out Israel. A senior State Department official told The Times, “We did fight hard to get that language out of the final document.”

Not all that hard, however.

Now, Obama has apparently told Bibi that the secret understanding that has existed between the U.S. and Israel remains in effect.  (“In exchange for Israel not publicly disclosing its nuclear weapons, the United States does not pressure Israel to join the NPT and shields Israel from pressure to join the treaty.”) But by allowing the document to single out Israel, the U.S. has revealed its priorities — again. A Republican staffer tells Lake that “this is the first time a U.S. administration has placed a greater priority on getting a consensus NPT review conference document than on America’s traditional role as protecting Israel’s nuclear ambiguity.”

Bibi will have his time to raise this in his meeting with Obama. And once again, we wonder, where are the Jewish pro-Israel groups? It seems they have ceased to object to much of anything this administration does. So long as the administration doesn’t insult Bibi in public, mouths some platitudes, and continues the kabuki dance of pursuing sanctions (albeit totally ineffective ones), they remain mum.

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Linkage Has Officially Jumped the Shark

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration is in talks with Egypt, aimed at making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. This is a little like the drunk searching for his keys under the street lamp because it’s the only place where there is light. If the administration wants to prevent proliferation and/or an arms race in the region, there is only one place on which it needs to focus its attention: Iran.

But since the administration refuses to turn up the heat on the regime, it has gotten nowhere in confronting the actual nuclear threat in the Middle East. So, instead, it is inventing a new threat and dealing with that one. In this case, we’re back to the laughable idea that the United States can extract good behavior from bad regimes by setting an inspiring example of self-abnegation, especially one in which we refuse to show any “favoritism” to our allies.

But perhaps the richest part of this new gambit is the administration’s belief — but of course — that even this far-flung ambition depends on the success of the peace process.

“We’ve made a proposal to them that goes beyond what the US has been willing to do before,” one [administration] official reportedly said. Others added that progress would have to be made on the Israeli-Palestinian track before such an agreement could be made.

“We are concerned that the conditions are not right unless all members of the region participate, which would be unlikely unless there is a comprehensive peace plan which is accepted,” the Wall Street Journal quoted Ellen Tauscher, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, as saying.

Perhaps this week we’ll learn that the administration cannot deal with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico unless Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks commence immediately, or that cap-and-trade is doomed until there is a Palestinian state, or that the election crisis in Iraq, and Sunni-Shia tensions generally, will remain unresolved so long as Jewish housing projects move forward in Jerusalem. Or perhaps what’s really going on here is that the administration is simply inventing forums in which Israel can be isolated and castigated. All Obama is accomplishing through this increasingly bizarre obsession is guaranteeing himself more failure.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration is in talks with Egypt, aimed at making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. This is a little like the drunk searching for his keys under the street lamp because it’s the only place where there is light. If the administration wants to prevent proliferation and/or an arms race in the region, there is only one place on which it needs to focus its attention: Iran.

But since the administration refuses to turn up the heat on the regime, it has gotten nowhere in confronting the actual nuclear threat in the Middle East. So, instead, it is inventing a new threat and dealing with that one. In this case, we’re back to the laughable idea that the United States can extract good behavior from bad regimes by setting an inspiring example of self-abnegation, especially one in which we refuse to show any “favoritism” to our allies.

But perhaps the richest part of this new gambit is the administration’s belief — but of course — that even this far-flung ambition depends on the success of the peace process.

“We’ve made a proposal to them that goes beyond what the US has been willing to do before,” one [administration] official reportedly said. Others added that progress would have to be made on the Israeli-Palestinian track before such an agreement could be made.

“We are concerned that the conditions are not right unless all members of the region participate, which would be unlikely unless there is a comprehensive peace plan which is accepted,” the Wall Street Journal quoted Ellen Tauscher, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, as saying.

Perhaps this week we’ll learn that the administration cannot deal with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico unless Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks commence immediately, or that cap-and-trade is doomed until there is a Palestinian state, or that the election crisis in Iraq, and Sunni-Shia tensions generally, will remain unresolved so long as Jewish housing projects move forward in Jerusalem. Or perhaps what’s really going on here is that the administration is simply inventing forums in which Israel can be isolated and castigated. All Obama is accomplishing through this increasingly bizarre obsession is guaranteeing himself more failure.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Cleaning up Undersecretary Michele Flournoy’s mess (“Military force is an option of last resort. It’s off the table for now”), a Pentagon spokesman: “We are not taking any options off the table as we pursue the pressure and engagement tracks. … The president always has at his disposal a full array of options, including use of the military … It is clearly not our preferred course of action but it has never been, nor is it now, off the table.” Never underestimate how incompetent this crew is.

Is the Goldman Sachs case a big mess? “The testimony of a former Paulson & Co official could undercut the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud case against Goldman Sachs, CNBC has learned. The former Paulson lieutenant, Paolo Pellegrini, testified that he told ACA Management, the main investor in a Goldman mortgage-securities transaction, that Paulson intended to bet against—or short—the portfolio of mortgages ACA was assembling. If true, the testimony would contradict the SEC’s claim that ACA did not know Paulson was hoping the mortgage securities would fail and weaken charges that Goldman misled investors by not informing ACA of Paulson’s position.”

Did the White House mess with the SEC? “President Barack Obama is brushing off suggestions that the White House influenced the timing of fraud charges against Goldman Sachs. In an interview set to air Wednesday on CNBC, Obama said the White House had nothing to do with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to file fraud charges Friday against Goldman Sachs.” It was just a grand coincidence, I suppose.

Too messy for Blanche Lincoln: “Sen. Blanche Lincoln, under fire for keeping a $4,500 contribution from Goldman Sachs’s political action committee, has canceled a fundraising lunch with Goldman executives that was scheduled for Monday and would have netted many times that amount for the Arkansas Senator’s reelection campaign.”

Lots of people think the country is a mess: “Sixty-one percent (61%) of all voters now say the nation is heading down the wrong track, down slightly from last week but just one point above the lowest level of pessimism measured since last October.”

Robert Gates is in charge of keeping the messes to a minimum: “That new administration’s rapidly getting old, but Gates continues to serve, struggling to limit the damage done to our national defense. Recently, he fought to keep our new nuclear-giveaway treaty with Russia within tolerable bounds. That treaty’s bad — but without Gates it would have been worse. Now we know that he was also pushing on Iran. Last week, somebody (not Gates) leaked a January memo the SecDef sent to the White House. The message? We need to prepare for all contingencies regarding Iran. Now.”

The ongoing Massa ethics mess: “The top members on the House ethics committee interviewed Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday afternoon – just hours after the ethics panel created a special subcommittee to investigate sexual harassment allegations surrounding former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).”

That mess widens: “The FBI is investigating the case of former Rep. Eric Massa, accused by his onetime male staff members of sexual harassment.”

Cleaning up Undersecretary Michele Flournoy’s mess (“Military force is an option of last resort. It’s off the table for now”), a Pentagon spokesman: “We are not taking any options off the table as we pursue the pressure and engagement tracks. … The president always has at his disposal a full array of options, including use of the military … It is clearly not our preferred course of action but it has never been, nor is it now, off the table.” Never underestimate how incompetent this crew is.

Is the Goldman Sachs case a big mess? “The testimony of a former Paulson & Co official could undercut the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud case against Goldman Sachs, CNBC has learned. The former Paulson lieutenant, Paolo Pellegrini, testified that he told ACA Management, the main investor in a Goldman mortgage-securities transaction, that Paulson intended to bet against—or short—the portfolio of mortgages ACA was assembling. If true, the testimony would contradict the SEC’s claim that ACA did not know Paulson was hoping the mortgage securities would fail and weaken charges that Goldman misled investors by not informing ACA of Paulson’s position.”

Did the White House mess with the SEC? “President Barack Obama is brushing off suggestions that the White House influenced the timing of fraud charges against Goldman Sachs. In an interview set to air Wednesday on CNBC, Obama said the White House had nothing to do with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to file fraud charges Friday against Goldman Sachs.” It was just a grand coincidence, I suppose.

Too messy for Blanche Lincoln: “Sen. Blanche Lincoln, under fire for keeping a $4,500 contribution from Goldman Sachs’s political action committee, has canceled a fundraising lunch with Goldman executives that was scheduled for Monday and would have netted many times that amount for the Arkansas Senator’s reelection campaign.”

Lots of people think the country is a mess: “Sixty-one percent (61%) of all voters now say the nation is heading down the wrong track, down slightly from last week but just one point above the lowest level of pessimism measured since last October.”

Robert Gates is in charge of keeping the messes to a minimum: “That new administration’s rapidly getting old, but Gates continues to serve, struggling to limit the damage done to our national defense. Recently, he fought to keep our new nuclear-giveaway treaty with Russia within tolerable bounds. That treaty’s bad — but without Gates it would have been worse. Now we know that he was also pushing on Iran. Last week, somebody (not Gates) leaked a January memo the SecDef sent to the White House. The message? We need to prepare for all contingencies regarding Iran. Now.”

The ongoing Massa ethics mess: “The top members on the House ethics committee interviewed Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday afternoon – just hours after the ethics panel created a special subcommittee to investigate sexual harassment allegations surrounding former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).”

That mess widens: “The FBI is investigating the case of former Rep. Eric Massa, accused by his onetime male staff members of sexual harassment.”

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Ahmed Chalabi, Redux

Ahmed Chalabi (remember him?) is back in the news. He is the power behind the de-Baathification Commission, which is wreaking havoc with Iraqi politics by disqualifying secular candidates for supposed Baathist ties. As General Ray Odierno has said, Chalabi and his protégé, Ali Faisal al-Lami, appear to be acting at the behest of the Iranians:

The two Iraqi politicians “clearly are influenced by Iran,” General Odierno said. “We have direct intelligence that tells us that.” He said the two men had several meetings in Iran, including sessions with an Iranian who is on the United States terrorist watch list.

Real Clear World’s Compass blogger Greg Scoblete has responded with a non sequitur headlined “Paging Douglas Feith”:

Many neoconservatives are demanding that the U.S. throw its full weight behind the Iranians in their pursuit of freedom. On the surface, this is obviously a noble idea, but it’s worth remembering that the very people making confident predictions about the predilections of the Iranian people were duped by an Iranian stooge.

In turn Feith, the former Undersecretary of Defense, has weighed in to deny “that Pentagon officials aimed to favor or ‘anoint’ Chalabi as the leader of Iraq after Saddam” or that they were duped by Chalabi before the war.

I think Feith is right on the narrow technical points (the U.S. did not try to install Chalabi as Iraq’s leader and the U.S. intelligence community did not buy all the intel he was peddling) but wrong on the larger issue. There is no doubt that Chalabi had a significant impact on the Washington debate prior to the invasion of Iraq: he was a leading lobbyist for the view that Saddam could be replaced by a democratic regime with minimal American investment of blood and treasure. Like other exiles (and some American experts), he vastly exaggerated the influence of secular technocrats and vastly underplayed the power of tribal and religious forces. This view was adopted by the Bush administration and helps to account for the major American blunders of 2003-2004, which were essentially based on the premise that Iraqi society could regenerate itself after Saddam’s downfall.

But I also believe Greg Scoblete is wrong: First place, the Green movement in Iran is not a figment of some exile’s imagination. Second, simply because Chalabi is now an Iranian stooge does not mean he was one in 2003. My read is that he is an opportunist, out to grab power for himself, who will make use of whatever allies he finds helpful. Prior to the invasion of Iraq and immediately afterward, Chalabi, no doubt, hoped that his American backers would enthrone him. When this didn’t happen, when in fact the U.S. authorities turned against him, he sought backing in another quarter and struck an unsavory alliance with Muqtada al-Sadr and his sponsors in the Quds Force.

The bottom line is that Chalabi now exercises a pernicious influence in Iraq and the U.S. should work with other Iraqi political factions to minimize his impact and try to roll back his electoral disqualifications. And those of us who ever had a kind word for him (myself included) should eat their words.

Ahmed Chalabi (remember him?) is back in the news. He is the power behind the de-Baathification Commission, which is wreaking havoc with Iraqi politics by disqualifying secular candidates for supposed Baathist ties. As General Ray Odierno has said, Chalabi and his protégé, Ali Faisal al-Lami, appear to be acting at the behest of the Iranians:

The two Iraqi politicians “clearly are influenced by Iran,” General Odierno said. “We have direct intelligence that tells us that.” He said the two men had several meetings in Iran, including sessions with an Iranian who is on the United States terrorist watch list.

Real Clear World’s Compass blogger Greg Scoblete has responded with a non sequitur headlined “Paging Douglas Feith”:

Many neoconservatives are demanding that the U.S. throw its full weight behind the Iranians in their pursuit of freedom. On the surface, this is obviously a noble idea, but it’s worth remembering that the very people making confident predictions about the predilections of the Iranian people were duped by an Iranian stooge.

In turn Feith, the former Undersecretary of Defense, has weighed in to deny “that Pentagon officials aimed to favor or ‘anoint’ Chalabi as the leader of Iraq after Saddam” or that they were duped by Chalabi before the war.

I think Feith is right on the narrow technical points (the U.S. did not try to install Chalabi as Iraq’s leader and the U.S. intelligence community did not buy all the intel he was peddling) but wrong on the larger issue. There is no doubt that Chalabi had a significant impact on the Washington debate prior to the invasion of Iraq: he was a leading lobbyist for the view that Saddam could be replaced by a democratic regime with minimal American investment of blood and treasure. Like other exiles (and some American experts), he vastly exaggerated the influence of secular technocrats and vastly underplayed the power of tribal and religious forces. This view was adopted by the Bush administration and helps to account for the major American blunders of 2003-2004, which were essentially based on the premise that Iraqi society could regenerate itself after Saddam’s downfall.

But I also believe Greg Scoblete is wrong: First place, the Green movement in Iran is not a figment of some exile’s imagination. Second, simply because Chalabi is now an Iranian stooge does not mean he was one in 2003. My read is that he is an opportunist, out to grab power for himself, who will make use of whatever allies he finds helpful. Prior to the invasion of Iraq and immediately afterward, Chalabi, no doubt, hoped that his American backers would enthrone him. When this didn’t happen, when in fact the U.S. authorities turned against him, he sought backing in another quarter and struck an unsavory alliance with Muqtada al-Sadr and his sponsors in the Quds Force.

The bottom line is that Chalabi now exercises a pernicious influence in Iraq and the U.S. should work with other Iraqi political factions to minimize his impact and try to roll back his electoral disqualifications. And those of us who ever had a kind word for him (myself included) should eat their words.

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How Obama Can Win in Copenhagen

Barack Obama has a golden opportunity next week at Copenhagen in the form of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. If by the end of the conference Obama settles with New Delhi the details to implement the agreement, he will win on three crucial issues: (1) he will please business, (2) he will substantively contribute to international environmentalist efforts, and (3) he will reinforce American friendship with India at a time when the relationship has been strained.

Both India and the United States have applauded the agreement since its passage by both countries’ lawmakers last year, but details to address security, nonproliferation, and liability concerns have kept anything from actually happening on the ground.

The climate-change debate has often pitted economic interests against environmental ones, as the upset in Australia this week has shown. Here’s a chance for Obama to show that the two can be reconciled. The U.S.-India Business Council has said that the agreement will create a $150 billion business for civilian nuclear technologies over the next 30 years. The council’s president predicted the agreement will create up to 27,000 “high-quality” jobs in the United States over the next 10 years. Obama has acknowledged that the agreement increases American exports to India. And the CEO of General Electric has noted that the agreement “opens up prospects for U.S. companies to supply potentially billions of dollars worth of reactor technology, fuel and other services to India.”

Not only does the agreement please business; it also allows India a way to cut carbon emissions. Nuclear power, vastly underused in India, does not let off carbon dioxide, which has long been seen as the leading culprit in global warming. Worst for carbon emissions is coal — which now accounts for more than half of India’s energy. Some estimates even say India could avoid 130 million tons of carbon dioxide per year by switching from coal power to nuclear power — a substantial savings. “For comparison, the full range of emission cuts planned by the European Union under the Kyoto Protocol will total just 200 million tons per year,” wrote David G. Victor in 2006. Demand for energy in India will only grow as it develops. By simply implementing an agreement already approved, Obama can take credit for a significant role in India’s energy future.

Nailing down the details of the agreement accomplishes both economic and environmental goals while also reinforcing good relations with India. And relations with India under Obama have already endured one misstep. New Delhi bristled at a portion of the November U.S.-China Joint Statement that implied greater meddling from Beijing in Indo-Pakistani relations, especially offensive considering the recent border tensions between China and India.

But since its passage under the Bush administration, the nuclear-energy agreement has been hailed as a monumental diplomatic reset. It was the first time the U.S. engaged in nuclear cooperation with New Delhi since India’s first test of a nuclear bomb, in 1974. The former nonproliferation policies toward India did nothing to deter the pursuit of nuclear weapons or lessen Indo-Pakistani tensions. Instead, they isolated India, a crucial country in the region. Both the United States and India have recently emphasized how they are “natural partners,” not least of all because they are both democratic regimes. This agreement is crucial to India’s perception of its relations with the U.S.; in fact, in 2005, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “India has made this the central issue in the new partnership developing between our countries.” By settling the details of the agreement, Obama would show the Indians good faith and prove that they are a priority.

The negotiations over specific details have taken a long time, partly because of justifiable security concerns. But much more procrastination will send the wrong message to India. On the other hand, next week is a prime opportunity for Obama to act on an American promise and also address environmental and economic communities. If he’s wise, he won’t squander it.

Barack Obama has a golden opportunity next week at Copenhagen in the form of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. If by the end of the conference Obama settles with New Delhi the details to implement the agreement, he will win on three crucial issues: (1) he will please business, (2) he will substantively contribute to international environmentalist efforts, and (3) he will reinforce American friendship with India at a time when the relationship has been strained.

Both India and the United States have applauded the agreement since its passage by both countries’ lawmakers last year, but details to address security, nonproliferation, and liability concerns have kept anything from actually happening on the ground.

The climate-change debate has often pitted economic interests against environmental ones, as the upset in Australia this week has shown. Here’s a chance for Obama to show that the two can be reconciled. The U.S.-India Business Council has said that the agreement will create a $150 billion business for civilian nuclear technologies over the next 30 years. The council’s president predicted the agreement will create up to 27,000 “high-quality” jobs in the United States over the next 10 years. Obama has acknowledged that the agreement increases American exports to India. And the CEO of General Electric has noted that the agreement “opens up prospects for U.S. companies to supply potentially billions of dollars worth of reactor technology, fuel and other services to India.”

Not only does the agreement please business; it also allows India a way to cut carbon emissions. Nuclear power, vastly underused in India, does not let off carbon dioxide, which has long been seen as the leading culprit in global warming. Worst for carbon emissions is coal — which now accounts for more than half of India’s energy. Some estimates even say India could avoid 130 million tons of carbon dioxide per year by switching from coal power to nuclear power — a substantial savings. “For comparison, the full range of emission cuts planned by the European Union under the Kyoto Protocol will total just 200 million tons per year,” wrote David G. Victor in 2006. Demand for energy in India will only grow as it develops. By simply implementing an agreement already approved, Obama can take credit for a significant role in India’s energy future.

Nailing down the details of the agreement accomplishes both economic and environmental goals while also reinforcing good relations with India. And relations with India under Obama have already endured one misstep. New Delhi bristled at a portion of the November U.S.-China Joint Statement that implied greater meddling from Beijing in Indo-Pakistani relations, especially offensive considering the recent border tensions between China and India.

But since its passage under the Bush administration, the nuclear-energy agreement has been hailed as a monumental diplomatic reset. It was the first time the U.S. engaged in nuclear cooperation with New Delhi since India’s first test of a nuclear bomb, in 1974. The former nonproliferation policies toward India did nothing to deter the pursuit of nuclear weapons or lessen Indo-Pakistani tensions. Instead, they isolated India, a crucial country in the region. Both the United States and India have recently emphasized how they are “natural partners,” not least of all because they are both democratic regimes. This agreement is crucial to India’s perception of its relations with the U.S.; in fact, in 2005, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “India has made this the central issue in the new partnership developing between our countries.” By settling the details of the agreement, Obama would show the Indians good faith and prove that they are a priority.

The negotiations over specific details have taken a long time, partly because of justifiable security concerns. But much more procrastination will send the wrong message to India. On the other hand, next week is a prime opportunity for Obama to act on an American promise and also address environmental and economic communities. If he’s wise, he won’t squander it.

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Obama’s India Blunder

When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the White House next week, Obama and his administration would do well to employ their much-practiced skills at making nice. New Delhi rightly fears outside meddling after this week’s U.S.-China Joint Statement, which contained a sentence widely interpreted as an affront to India:

The two sides [China and the United States] welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.

The Joint Statement’s timing was particularly bad considering the recent India-China border dilemma. Both countries have reportedly increased troop presence near the blurry border, and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Indian territory that is still claimed by China did little to improve the relationship. China has emphasized that its “more pronounced” territorial issue is its border dispute with India. So New Delhi has good reason to be nervous about Chinese prying at Washington’s behest.

A spokesman from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs quickly commented on the Joint Statement, stating that “a third country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary” regarding India-Pakistan relations.

Already, both China and the United States are trying to downplay the significance of the Joint Statement reference.

China’s Foreign Ministry denied that a discussion took place between Obama and Chinese heads of state about U.S.-India nuclear cooperation, and its statement emphasized Beijing’s support of regional stability. The spokesperson added that China “values its friendly cooperation with” India and Pakistan and “hopes to see relations between the two continue … improve and grow.”

But India can hardly be blamed for frustration at the Obama administration’s mixed message. Yesterday, Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said the United States welcomes China’s participation in stabilizing the India-Pakistan region. But he also added, “We have always said, in terms of Indo-Pakistan relations, that’s really up to India and Pakistan to decide how and when and the scope of that.” Also yesterday, William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, declared that better relations with China do not necessarily come at the cost of India.

One can only hope that the ill-considered phrasing of the Joint Statement won’t hinder next week’s discussions. No doubt Obama will want Prime Minister Singh’s support on nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and security in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention climate change. That Singh is the first head of state to visit the Obama White House in itself highlights the importance of Indian cooperation. If the mix-up is merely linguistic, it can be overcome. But if the lack of clarity lies within Obama’s foreign policy itself, expect a rocky summit. Obama’s diplomacy and eloquence will be tested as he attempts to please both India and China.

When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the White House next week, Obama and his administration would do well to employ their much-practiced skills at making nice. New Delhi rightly fears outside meddling after this week’s U.S.-China Joint Statement, which contained a sentence widely interpreted as an affront to India:

The two sides [China and the United States] welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.

The Joint Statement’s timing was particularly bad considering the recent India-China border dilemma. Both countries have reportedly increased troop presence near the blurry border, and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Indian territory that is still claimed by China did little to improve the relationship. China has emphasized that its “more pronounced” territorial issue is its border dispute with India. So New Delhi has good reason to be nervous about Chinese prying at Washington’s behest.

A spokesman from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs quickly commented on the Joint Statement, stating that “a third country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary” regarding India-Pakistan relations.

Already, both China and the United States are trying to downplay the significance of the Joint Statement reference.

China’s Foreign Ministry denied that a discussion took place between Obama and Chinese heads of state about U.S.-India nuclear cooperation, and its statement emphasized Beijing’s support of regional stability. The spokesperson added that China “values its friendly cooperation with” India and Pakistan and “hopes to see relations between the two continue … improve and grow.”

But India can hardly be blamed for frustration at the Obama administration’s mixed message. Yesterday, Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said the United States welcomes China’s participation in stabilizing the India-Pakistan region. But he also added, “We have always said, in terms of Indo-Pakistan relations, that’s really up to India and Pakistan to decide how and when and the scope of that.” Also yesterday, William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, declared that better relations with China do not necessarily come at the cost of India.

One can only hope that the ill-considered phrasing of the Joint Statement won’t hinder next week’s discussions. No doubt Obama will want Prime Minister Singh’s support on nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and security in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention climate change. That Singh is the first head of state to visit the Obama White House in itself highlights the importance of Indian cooperation. If the mix-up is merely linguistic, it can be overcome. But if the lack of clarity lies within Obama’s foreign policy itself, expect a rocky summit. Obama’s diplomacy and eloquence will be tested as he attempts to please both India and China.

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The Big Rock Candy Security Council

If they were familiar with American music, the mullahs would be humming the lyrics to Harry McClintock’s Big Rock Candy Mountain:

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains all the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth and the hens lay soft boiled eggs
The farmer’s trees are full of fruit and the barns are full of hay
Oh, I’m bound to go where there ain’t no snow
Where the rain don’t fall and the wind don’t blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains the jails are made of tin
And you can walk right out again as soon as you are in

As the Washington Post reported yesterday,

The United States and five other major powers agreed yesterday on a new draft U.N. resolution on Iran, but the compromise incorporates weakened language that calls only for “vigilance” or “monitoring” of financial and military institutions without most of the tough economic sanctions sought by the Bush administration…

To break an eight-month deadlock, the Bush administration accepted a plan that includes largely voluntary monitoring of transactions involving two banks, and calls for restraints on export credits, cargo traffic and business involving individuals or institutions linked to proliferation. The toughest restriction is a travel ban on key officials, the European officials said.

Nothing demonstrates the solidarity of the free world like a travel ban, I’ve always said. The most hilarious comment on the sanctions came from one of our own diplomats:

“This will come as a rude shock to the Iranians,” departing Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said in an interview. “They had been predicting that the Security Council was no longer unified enough to pass a third resolution, and they were wrong. The council will pass this resolution in several weeks, and it will add to the international pressure on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment.”

I’ll see you all this coming fall, in the big rock candy mountains.

If they were familiar with American music, the mullahs would be humming the lyrics to Harry McClintock’s Big Rock Candy Mountain:

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains all the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth and the hens lay soft boiled eggs
The farmer’s trees are full of fruit and the barns are full of hay
Oh, I’m bound to go where there ain’t no snow
Where the rain don’t fall and the wind don’t blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains the jails are made of tin
And you can walk right out again as soon as you are in

As the Washington Post reported yesterday,

The United States and five other major powers agreed yesterday on a new draft U.N. resolution on Iran, but the compromise incorporates weakened language that calls only for “vigilance” or “monitoring” of financial and military institutions without most of the tough economic sanctions sought by the Bush administration…

To break an eight-month deadlock, the Bush administration accepted a plan that includes largely voluntary monitoring of transactions involving two banks, and calls for restraints on export credits, cargo traffic and business involving individuals or institutions linked to proliferation. The toughest restriction is a travel ban on key officials, the European officials said.

Nothing demonstrates the solidarity of the free world like a travel ban, I’ve always said. The most hilarious comment on the sanctions came from one of our own diplomats:

“This will come as a rude shock to the Iranians,” departing Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said in an interview. “They had been predicting that the Security Council was no longer unified enough to pass a third resolution, and they were wrong. The council will pass this resolution in several weeks, and it will add to the international pressure on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment.”

I’ll see you all this coming fall, in the big rock candy mountains.

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An American Defense Policy

Everyone in Washington claims to favor bipartisanship. The difficulty occurs when someone actually tries to practice it. This instantly and inevitably triggers sniping from partisans.

For a small but telling example, see this Washington Times article (previously linked to on contentions) about the selection of John Hamre to chair the Defense Policy Board, a prestigious but powerless group of senior statesmen who advise the Secretary of Defense on various issues. The board used to be headed by Richard Perle, who became a lightning rod for the administration’s detractors. Now Robert M. Gates has selected Hamre, a quintessential technocrat who is currently president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and who, during the Clinton administration, served as comptroller of the Pentagon and Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Read More

Everyone in Washington claims to favor bipartisanship. The difficulty occurs when someone actually tries to practice it. This instantly and inevitably triggers sniping from partisans.

For a small but telling example, see this Washington Times article (previously linked to on contentions) about the selection of John Hamre to chair the Defense Policy Board, a prestigious but powerless group of senior statesmen who advise the Secretary of Defense on various issues. The board used to be headed by Richard Perle, who became a lightning rod for the administration’s detractors. Now Robert M. Gates has selected Hamre, a quintessential technocrat who is currently president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and who, during the Clinton administration, served as comptroller of the Pentagon and Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Hamre is a well-respected figure known for his solidly centrist views and not someone, you would think, who would excite much partisan passion—especially when appointed to nothing more than an advisory position. Yet Bill Gertz of the Washington Times manages to dredge up toxic quotations from anonymous detractors:

“With or without his approval, President Bush’s team has apparently begun the transition to the third Clinton administration,” said one official, in reference to the possible election of Hillary Rodham Clinton next year. “We can see now that with the possible exception of the President himself, their hearts and minds just never were into governing as Republicans.”

“This begs the question of whether the Secretary agrees with the Hamre-Clinton policies, like gays in the military, Draconian defense cuts, women in combat, and environmental friendliness,” said a defense official.

The Hamre-Clinton policies? Give me break. What are these dreaded policies anyway? Are conservatives supposed to be opposed to “environmental friendliness”? Women are already in combat, and it hasn’t been an issue. Gays are also becoming more accepted within the military. As for “Draconian defense cuts,” they were instigated by the administration of Bush Senior following the end of the Cold War.

Whatever you make think of these policies, they are not determined by second- or third-level Pentagon officials; they come right from the top. To blame or credit Hamre for these initiatives is akin to blaming or crediting former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith for launching the Iraq War—a canard spread only by crackpots.

Give it a rest, guys.

Hamre is exactly the kind of centrist Democrat to whom the Bush administration should have been reaching out from the start. I realize it’s a myth that “politics stops at the water’s edge”—but it’s a nice myth and one that policymakers on both sides would do well to cultivate. And that means cultivating figures from the other side of the aisle.

We shouldn’t have a Republican or Democratic defense policy. We need an American policy.

Read Less




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