Though South Africans can only legitimately claim "Madiba" as one of their own, Nelson Mandela was a widely loved figure whose death is being felt across the entire globe. Human beings of this sort are incredibly rare, and the accolades that will be heaped upon him for helping end the atrocious apartheid in South Africa will be fully deserved.
At the same time, we must not forget that Mr. Mandela was an imperfect human being. We should avoid the urge to deify him, as we have with other transformative world figures, such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Pope John Paul II -- not because they weren't great men, but simply because they were men.
For a substantial portion of his life, Mr. Mandela endorsed violence. The Jerusalem Post highlights this nefarious past:
Imagine a person who planned acts of sabotage and incited violence, resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians and damage to public property.
A man who embraced brutal dictators throughout the Third World, such as Libya’s Gaddafi and Cuba’s Castro, singing their praises and defending them publicly even as they trampled on the rights and lives of their own people.
A person who hugged Yasser Arafat at the height of the intifada, hailed Puerto Rican terrorists who shot US Congressmen, and penned a book entitled, How to be a good Communist.
Picture all this and, believe it or not, you will be staring at a portrait of Nelson Mandela.
Glossing over the failures of historical figures does nobody any favors. First, and most importantly, we cannot learn from history if we refuse to fully acknowledge it. Second, history is fluid; it is constantly being written and re-written as new facts emerge. For instance, both Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower were initially thought of as having presided over failed presidencies, but subsequent analyses rehabilitated their reputations. On the flip side, Christopher Columbus is widely regarded as a hero, but recently, his rather vicious side has garnered more attention. The constant need to revise the historical record would be less likely if we portrayed global leaders as who they truly are -- warts and all.
As we celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, let us therefore remember that he was a great man, but not a saint. In fact, not even saints are saints.
There's a certain strain of hawkish commentary that seeks to draw a connection between a particularly horrific event (or series of events) abroad to the theme of American global leadership. In this telling, global horrors are not simply an American policy failure on some specific level, but a grim preview of the consequence of a supposed American withdrawal from the world.
Jamie Kirchick offers up a fine example of this line of attack in the New York Daily News:
The chemical gassing of children, Chinese aggression against its neighbors and the proliferation of nuclear arms in the world's most volatile region. This is what the world looks like when America "leads from behind." Not a very nice place, is it?
I wonder what the world looked like in the past, under American leadership.
1. In China, there was a cultural revolution that killed almost 10 million people who joined the tens of millions more killed under the leadership of Mao Zedong following America's ascendency to global power after World War II.
2. Iran and Iraq fought a massive war that killed one million people, including children by chemical gas.
3. India and Pakistan fought four wars and both were a party to regional violence and intercommunal tensions that killed millions.
4. The number of countries with nuclear weapons grew from one to six in the most volatile regions of the world.
6. France fought a brutal war in Algeria and Indochina (Vietnam).
7. There was an anti-American revolution in Cuba (right in America's backyard!) and Iran.
8. The U.S. lost tens of thousands of soldiers in wars in Korea and Vietnam.
9. Just read this list.
This is what the world looks like when America leads from the front. Not a very nice place, is it?
Ukraine is a nation torn between two competing influences: the European Union and Vladimir Putin. Step by step, Ukraine has been slipping toward Russia's orbit. Recently, the pro-Putin president, Viktor Yanukovych, took a large step toward hitching his country's cart to Russia's horse (err, bear): The government has rejected a free trade agreement with the EU, sparking massive protests that drew some 300,000 angry protesters to the streets. Many of the protesters took over public areas, such as Independence Square and the Cabinet Ministry in the capital city, Kiev.
The animosity is understandable. Russia has a long, sordid history of meddling in Ukrainian affairs. In the early 1930s, the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, purposefully starved three to six million Ukrainians in what has since become known as the Holodomor. In 2004, Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-Westerner who waged a successful campaign to win Ukraine's presidency, survived dioxin poisoning -- many believe that the Kremlin was involved. Then, in 2009, a dispute led to Russia turning off its natural gas supply to Ukraine.
Russia sees Ukraine as pivotal to its economic survival. Because Ukraine and Russia already have a free trade agreement, a new free trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU would likely allow European goods to make their way into Russia. That's something that worries Vladimir Putin. And history teaches us that when Mr. Putin is worried, people within his reach often turn up dead. So loyalty to Russia may not be the only thing on Mr. Yanukovych's mind. Even if dioxin or polonium-210 isn't on the table, punishing Ukraine with trade sanctions is.
But now, Mr. Yanukovych has something new to worry about: a possible revolution. As the Associated Press reports:
"Our plan is clear: It's not a demonstration, it's not a reaction. It's a revolution," said Yuriy Lutsenko, a former interior minister who is now an opposition leader.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov apparently agrees, saying that the protests have "all the signs of a coup d'etat." For its part, the parliament plans to hold a no-confidence vote in the near future, possibly on Tuesday. (UPDATE: the no-confidence vote was held on Tuesday and failed.)
The future of Ukraine is with the EU, not Russia. Demographically and economically, Russia's future is bleak. Mr. Putin remains in control largely through bribing enough Russians (using oil and natural gas money) to support his regime. This is not the sort of country upon which Ukraine should be staking its future. If it takes a popular uprising to bring about this realization, so be it.
Early signs indicate that Mr. Yanukovych may have gotten the message. On Monday, he called the European Commission, which responded that the free trade deal would not be renegotiated. Even Angela Merkel rebuked the Ukrainian president at a recent summit, at which she said, "Good to see you here, but we expected more."
So do the Ukrainian people.
It was inevitable that neoconservatives would greet the news of a negotiated settlement (even a mere interim one) with cries of appeasement and Munich. But let's all hand it to the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens who goes one better, claiming in what appears to be all sincerity that the six month accord negotiated in Geneva is actually worse than Munich. Take that.
Stephens has dug himself something of hole here, not least because he's more or less run out of hyperbolic road. What happens if the U.S. and Iran actually negotiate a conclusive settlement? It seems like that's the time to trot out the "worse than Munich" stuff ... keep the powder dry and all that.
But beyond the rhetorical dead-end, there's some utility in Stephens' rhetoric. It's something of a testable hypothesis. Here's what Stephens argues will happen as a result of this six month deal:
After Munich came the conquest of Czechoslovakia, the Nazi-Soviet pact and World War II. After Paris came the fall of Saigon and Phnom Penh and the humiliating exit from the embassy rooftop. After Geneva there will come a new, chaotic Mideast reality in which the United States will lose leverage over enemies and friends alike.
What will that look like? Iran will gradually shake free of sanctions and glide into a zone of nuclear ambiguity that will keep its adversaries guessing until it opts to make its capabilities known. Saudi Arabia will move swiftly to acquire a nuclear deterrent from its clients in Islamabad; Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal made that clear to the Journal last week when he indiscreetly discussed "the arrangement with Pakistan." Egypt is beginning to ponder a nuclear option of its own while drawing closer to a security alliance with Russia.
So we have three concrete predictions: 1. the Mideast will have a new "chaotic" reality; 2. Iran will "shake free" of sanctions; 3. Saudi Arabia will acquire a nuclear weapon.
I actually think Stephens might be right about the second prediction -- there's ample precedent here (Iraq, North Korea) and plenty of incentive for Iran to wiggle free. As for the third, it wouldn't be surprising either, though I think it's less likely. Still, we can only wait (anxiously) and see.
But it's the first prediction that's most significant and most easily dispensed with. The Mideast has been chaotic since, well, forever. It never seems to dawn on commentators complaining about the loss of U.S. leverage in the region that during the Reagan presidency (the one neocons pine for), one of the largest wars since the second World War was fought in the Middle East. That was chaos. U.S. leadership and regional influence under the sainted Reagan consisted of running interference for a dictator who neocons later concluded was the next Hitler while he used chemical weapons. The war ended in a stalemate with a million people dead and was followed by another invasion quickly thereafter that forced America to intervene.
Now Stephens would have us believe that this is the high water mark for American leadership in a region that was calm and pacified under Pax Americana. And, who knows, we may all look back from some future calamity and conclude it was. I hope not. But the relevant yard stick here is not the relative degree of chaos and misfortune in the Middle East but the extent to which such misfortune touches on U.S. security and the well-being of Americans. It seems dubious that this interim deal with Iran, which may well collapse anyway, has thrown those things sharply in jeopardy.
Angela Merkel's party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), won the German parliamentary election on September 22 with an impressive 41.5% of the vote, a larger share than she won in 2005 or 2009. Unfortunately for Ms. Merkel, her party was unable to secure an outright majority of seats in parliament. Her former coalition partner, the center-right Free Democratic Party (FDP), failed to meet the 5% threshold to gain entry into parliament. As a result, she has been forced to negotiate with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).
The SPD, however, is playing hard-to-get. Though they got a comparatively puny 25.7% of the vote, The Economist reports that they are acting as if they won the election. Included in their long list of demands for forming a coalition government: implementation of a national minimum wage, rent control, and increasing pension benefits. The German Council of Economic Experts, often referred to as the "wise men," rejected all of these proposals as bad for the economy.
But the SPD is letting neither a bunch of economic eggheads nor dignity stand in the way of their populist agenda. They have openly flirted with the idea of forming a coalition with Die Linke, a far left-wing party with roots in communism and possible links to extremist activity. (Interestingly, the SPD has ruled out a coalition with "right-wing extremist" parties, but it has somehow rationalized partnering up with left-wing extremist ones.)
For her part, Ms. Merkel appears to be negotiating from a position of weakness rather than strength. She may be giving in to many of the SPD's demands, upsetting both her supporters and the business community in the process. This is puzzling. Pre-election polls overwhelmingly showed that Germans wanted Ms. Merkel to return as Chancellor, presiding over a grand left-right coalition as she had in 2005. The only thing preventing her from doing that is an obstructionist SPD.
German voters may very well punish such intransigence. Ms. Merkel ought to call for fresh elections.
It is commonly quipped that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It's particularly discouraging when the history that is being repeated happened merely six years ago. Yet, that's the situation in which the United Kingdom, led by conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, finds itself.
The Conservative Party, which is in an ideologically awkward coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, is facing tough reelection prospects. The latest poll aggregate, calculated by UK Polling Report, shows the center-left Labour Party leading the Conservatives 39 to 31 percent. The Liberal Democrats are polling at 10 percent, and the euroskeptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), which favors withdrawal from the European Union, garners 11 percent of the vote. This is deeply troublesome for David Cameron, as UKIP supporters are most likely disgruntled conservatives.
In what appears to be a desperate attempt to change his fortune, Mr. Cameron has endorsed a dubious policy: A "Help to Buy" scheme that allows prospective home buyers to put down a mere 5 percent on a mortgage. The idea is that "regular folks" cannot afford to buy homes because they are too expensive, so Mr. Cameron wants banks to offer very small down payments. In exchange, the UK government is willing to provide loan guarantees of up to £12 billion. In other words, Mr. Cameron wants to subsidize homes for people who otherwise can't afford them.
Does this all sound awfully, crazily, creepily familiar? It should. In 2007-08, the world was plunged into recession following a subprime mortgage crisis which kicked off a financial crisis that we are still dealing with today.
European Journal, a television program produced by Deutsche Welle, had an excellent report on the subject. (See video at the 6:41 mark.) The reporter interviewed Sam Bowman of the conservative Adam Smith Institute, who said, "I don't think there's anybody really in government who really thinks this is a good idea. If they do, then we should be terrified that they're running the country."
For his part, Labour leader Ed Miliband wants to freeze energy prices for 20 months. Over the last three years, energy prices have increased by 30 percent, partially as a result of policies implemented by previous Labour governments. Even worse, The Economist believes that a price freeze would actually backfire:
By saying that he plans to freeze prices in 2015, Mr Miliband risks freezing investment now and triggering a longer and deeper energy crunch from 2014. And that, in turn, would ultimately lead to higher prices—precisely what the Labour leader says he wants to avoid.
Right-wing and left-wing populism rarely makes for good policies, but it appears that appealing to the masses is just too tempting for most politicians. It's as if many of them slept through 2007.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) devotes enormous resources to internal stability, including rigorous monitoring and censoring of its media. Yet China is increasingly a global power and as a new report from the Center for International Media Assistance makes clear, their repressive media practices are increasingly aimed at international outlets covering China.
According to the report, Chinese officials both directly block independent reporting from overseas media or, more often, use "methods of control that subtly induce self-censorship or inspire media owners, advertisers and other international actors to take action on the CCP's behalf."
In fact, we saw possible evidence of this just this week when the New York Times reported that Bloomberg News had spiked several stories covering Chinese corruption out of deference to Chinese authorities (Bloomberg denies the story).
The Center for International Media Assistance's report notes that the CCP will forcibly prevent foreign journalists from accessing "sensitive locations" or interview subjects, intimidate their Chinese assistants and block or wage cyber-attacks on websites they rely on. Physical assaults against journalists and especially their sources by thugs or security forces have also become more violent.
You can read the entire report here.
John Vinocur describes Europe's mounting frustration with the Obama presidency and their lack of faith in his ability to achieve his goals. According to Vinocur, this frustration is especially acute when it comes to the negotations with Iran:
Last Thursday, just as negotiations with Iran picked up in Geneva, I heard doubts from a high-level European security official, somewhat akin to Saudi Arabia and Israel's concerns, about how much reality Mr. Obama wanted to deal with concerning Tehran's drive toward atomic weapons.
The main subject of an hour's conversation was whether Iran believed the U.S. and the West would attack if Tehran refused to dismantle its nuclear program. In relation to Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad holds on to power in increasing comfort, Mr. Obama had stated on American television in September, "My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn't draw a lesson that we haven't struck [Syria] to think we won't strike Iran.''
Referring at first to circumstances in January, when the Obama Administration pulled away from a plan to furnish military assistance to the Syrian rebels alongside France and Britain, the European official said, "it remains true that Iran doesn't believe the U.S. and the West will strike."...
Mr. Obama has also described a combination of "credible threat of force" and "rigorous diplomatic effort" as being able to lead to "a deal" with the Iranians. He accompanied this with an assurance that regime change in Iran is not an American goal.
The European official's view of this approach was negative. Rather, he said, to create adequate pressure on the Tehran leadership, "You have to challenge the Iranian homeland and the Islamic Republic as a unique world model."
Let's clarify this. By "you" this European official means: the American taxpayer and service personnel. With this in mind, it's pretty obvious why Europe is frustrated. They want to America to threaten Iran with force, while they sit on the sidelines. Since those would be American threats it would naturally become America's obligation -- not Europe's -- to follow through on them.
So too with Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, Israel. Much of the "frustration" we've been hearing about from America's Middle Eastern allies these days is the frustration of those who are unable to outsource their risky policy preferences to the United States. So yes, they're frustrated. It's hard and dangerous work to threaten to bomb a country. So much better to have Uncle Sam do it for them.
Lech Walesa (written "Lech Wałęsa" in Polish and pronounced "Lek Vah-WEHN-sah") rose to fame when Poland was still under communist rule. He co-founded the Solidarity trade union and helped bring about the downfall of communism in Poland. For his efforts, he was awarded both a Nobel Peace Prize and served as president of Poland from 1990 to 1995.
Walesa is less well-known for his witticisms (gaffes?). He has been known to drop Yogi Berra-like pearls of wisdom, leaving his audience rather puzzled, wondering if what he said was meant to be a joke.
Last month, at a gathering of Nobel laureates, he pleaded for the creation of a "secular Ten Commandments":
We need to agree on common values for all religions as soon as possible, a kind of secular Ten Commandments on which we will build the world of tomorrow.
The devout Catholic failed to elaborate.
In regard to homosexuality, Walesa once said:
Imagine if all people were like that. We wouldn't have any descendants.
And in 2013, in regard to gays serving in Parliament, he added:
Homosexuals should even sit behind a wall, and not somewhere at the front.
Walesa also has a unique insight on innovation:
I'm lazy. But it's the lazy people who invented the wheel and the bicycle because they didn't like walking or carrying things.
And finally, on his role in Polish politics:
The country needs political balance; the government is its left leg, the parliament is its right leg and I am in between.
Yogi Berra has some competition.
Over the past several weeks, we've had a very instructive lesson in how Washington's Middle East alliances work.
During the Cold War, the U.S. sought allies to advance American interests -- the containment of Soviet power and continued access to oil. Today, however, the equation is being turned on its head: American power is expected to advance the interests of its allies.
Exhibit A: Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis are in the midst of a Diva-like temper tantrum over the fact that the U.S. won't take a more active role in overthrowing Assad. Given the very clear American interest in not getting sucked into another Iraq-style nation building quagmire, you would think the U.S. reaction to the Saudis would range along the lines of a polite apology to the diplomatic equivalent of a middle finger.
You would be wrong:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday tried to reassure America's Arab friends that the United States will not allow them to be attacked "from outside," in an apparent warning to Iran.
He specifically mentioned Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt as nations, alongside unspecified "others," that the U.S. will defend. Those others likely would include Israel, the strongest U.S. ally in the region.
"The United States will be there for the defense of our friends and our allies," Kerry told reporters in Cairo. "We will not allow those countries to be attacked from outside. We will stand with them."
The U.S. has already waged a war to defend Saudi Arabia from an external predator and has showered its regional clients with more than enough weapons to handle most conceivable contingencies. And yet, it's the U.S. that's expected to reassure its "friends" that if push came to shove we'd send our sons and daughters to die for their regimes.
Thanks to a combination of new energy resources and advances in alternative technologies, the Saudis have arguably passed the apex of their geopolitical relevance. It's frankly perverse that Washington is the one groveling to stay in their good graces and not vice versa.
Less than one-in-five residents of Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy say they have confidence in their governments, according to a new poll from Gallup.
Not surprisingly, confidence has been on an almost unbroken downward spiral since the global financial crisis put the screws to the Eurozone economy.
Further, fewer than one-in-four people in Southern Europe approve of their political leadership with Greece registering a lowly 14 percent approval followed by Portugal and Spain tied at 20 percent. Italy's leadership did the best... at 24 percent approval.
"Guten Tag. It's the NSA."
In 2010, a Russian spy ring was caught in the United States. It made big news, mostly because one of the spies, Anna Chapman, looked like this -- confirming in the minds of hopeful young males all over the world that James Bond films are not mere fiction, but depictions of reality. The American media had a good laugh over the situation, amused by Russia's quaint Cold War mentality.
The Obama administration, correctly, didn't make much of a fuss over it. Ms. Chapman and her cohorts were quickly deported back to Russia. Why did the administration take this approach? Because we've got American spies in Russia, too. Actually, the U.S. has spies everywhere, and we use technology to spy on everybody, including our friends. And our friends spy on us, too.
Don't take just our word for it. Here's what former head of French intelligence Bernard Squarcini had to say:
“The French intelligence services know full well that all countries, whether or not they are allies in the fight against terrorism, spy on each other all the time,” he said.
“The Americans spy on French commercial and industrial interests, and we do the same to them because it’s in the national interest to protect our companies.”
That's why the latest kerfluffle over how America (allegedly) tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone is a bit curious. If the French openly confess to spying on America, then Germany is spying on us, too -- whether or not they're willing to admit it. So why the hypocrisy? Why are Germans so critical of America when their intelligence agency is doing the same thing?
In Germany's case, the answer may have to do with their recent past. The Germans have nasty memories of the "Stasi," the secret police of former East Germany, who extensively spied on its own citizens.
But Germans aren't the only ones who are angry. Other Europeans, including the French, expressed outrage. Why? The answer appears to be one of scale: America's surveillance program is larger and better than everybody else's.
The BBC reports:
"Every country has weapons for spying, but most have the equivalent of a howitzer," says James Bamford, who has written extensively on the National Security Agency. "In terms of eavesdropping, the US has a nuclear weapon."
Perhaps tapping Ms. Merkel's phone -- if the U.S. actually did that -- was a step too far in Europeans' eyes. Maybe they are correct. Americans would probably be upset if they knew President Obama's cell phone was being tapped by German intelligence.
At the same time, however, Europe's complaints ring hollow. If they admit to spying, then the disagreement isn't over diplomatic protocol, but technological ability. Europeans are simply upset that the U.S. is far better at spying than they are. That's like complaining about "bullying" after your high school football team gets beat 91-0.
The only countries that agreed not to spy on each other are part of the "Five Eyes" alliance -- U.S., UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
But, we're probably spying on each other, anyway.
(Photo: Reuters via Der Spiegel)
Matthew Levitt recounts Iran's history of terror sponsorship:
Thirty years ago today, on Oct. 23, 1983, a delivery van filled with 18,000 pounds of explosives slammed into the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. Seconds later, another car bomb hit a French military building four miles away. A total of 241 American and 58 French soldiers lost their lives, all members of the Multi-National Forces in Lebanon.
The attack on the Marine barracks was not only the single-largest nonnuclear explosion since World War II, it was also the deadliest terrorist attack against Americans up to that time. [Emphasis mine.]
Was the Marine barracks attack, heinous as it unquestionably was, really "terrorism"? By definition, the barracks housed military service members, not civilians.
If attacks on military targets stationed overseas in a war zone constitute terrorism, then the word essentially has no meaning. Worse, America would then be guilty of terrorism on a scale that is orders of magnitude more severe than anything Iran has done, given the number of military targets the U.S. has blown up since 1983.
Angela Merkel's monumental victory on election night wasn't quite big enough to allow her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party to govern on its own. The party won 311 seats, just five seats shy of an outright majority. As a result, Ms. Merkel must negotiate with other parties to form a coalition government.
In 2005, the last time Merkel's CDU was forced into an ideologically awkward "grand coalition" with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), a government was formed after six weeks of negotiations. This time, the CDU has already conducted two rounds of talks with the SPD, followed by failed talks with the center-left Green Party. Now, the SPD is back for Round 3.
But they come bearing a list of demands.
According to Reuters, included in the SPD's list of ten "non-negotiable" demands is "a minimum wage of 8.50 euros per hour, equal pay for men and women, greater investment in infrastructure and education, and a common strategy to boost euro zone growth and employment." They also want "equal pensions for seniors in the former West and East Germany, the ability to have dual citizenship, and measures to make it easier to combine work with family life."
Of all these demands, implementing a national minimum wage will be the trickiest. Merkel is in favor of something resembling the current system, in which sector-specific minimum wages are negotiated between employers and unions. Additionally, German economists are opposed, warning that a national minimum wage of €8.50 will cost jobs, particularly in former East Germany.
The SPD claims that it is not afraid of calling for new elections if they are unable to form a government with the CDU.
However, given Ms. Merkel's personal popularity and the German people's desire to see a CDU-SPD grand coalition, that may not be a very smart gamble. One could easily see Merkel winning an outright majority if Germans were forced to vote again.
What Marco Rubio doesn't get about negotiations with Iran.
Senator Marco Rubio has some ideas about how to "negotiate" with Iran:
And so the bottom line in any negotiations should be clear: the only way sanctions on Iran will be lifted or suspended is if they agree to completely abandon any capability for enrichment or reprocessing. Iran has a right to a peaceful civilian nuclear energy program, but it does not have the right to enrich or reprocess.
Holding this line is especially important in light of Iran's repeated and blatant disregard of its international obligations. Even a limited enrichment program and possession of sensitive reprocessing technologies is unacceptable because it would keep the path to nuclear weapons open. In fact, until Iran agrees to abandon enrichment and reprocessing, Congress should move to implement a new round of additional sanctions without delay.
As Daniel Larison notes, the Iranians have repeatedly insisted that forsaking domestic enrichment is a non-starter. So what Rubio is actually insisting on is not a negotiated settlement, but Iranian capitulation. How likely is it that Iran will knuckle under to Rubio's demands?
According to Gallup, a majority of Iranians (56 percent) approve of a nuclear program for non-military use while only 34 percent support a militarized nuclear program (41 percent oppose). Gallup did not wade into the specifics of whether Iranians would be willing to forgo domestic enrichment for a non-military nuclear program, so it's possible there is some wiggle room on this question. Still, some form of indigenous nuclear program is popular in Iran even after the costs of that program to Iranian standards of living has risen.
There's another questionable assertion in Rubio's op-ed:
The main reason why Iran's leaders are making noises about negotiating with the world now is because, over the last few years, the United States and the European Union have imposed significant sanctions on Iran. Those sanctions are starting to hurt the regime.
It has made it more difficult for them to export terrorism around the world. [Emphasis added.]
It's unquestionably true that sanctions have put the hurt on Iran, but it is absolutely not true that sanctions have thwarted Iran's ability to "export terrorism." In fact, we have rather clear evidence from the Washington Institute's Matthew Levitt that sanctions and the covert campaign of sabotage and assassination that the U.S. and Israel have unleashed on Iran have fueled the Islamic Republic's recent acts of international terrorism.
From the attempt on the Saudi ambassador's life in the U.S. to attacks in Bulgaria and thwarted attacks elsewhere, there is a fairly strong correlation between the increase in "pressure" on Iran and the increase in Iranian retaliation around the world.
Fans of the incredibly popular series of computer games called Civilization will recall the strange acts of diplomacy in the early iterations of the game. For instance, whenever a rival civilization joined the nuclear club, it would always mention that fact at the beginning of any negotiation. This would result in rather awkward situations, such as Gandhi casually mentioning that he's packing some serious heat.
Diplomacy in subsequent editions became more sophisticated and realistic, but even this primitive form of diplomacy carries a hint of truth about modern international relations: countries seek nuclear weapons not necessarily because they plan to use them, but because they believe it gives them leverage.
That's why all the worry over Iran's nuclear program, mostly from neoconservatives, is largely misplaced. The consensus in the foreign policy community is that Iran is an aggressive, rational actor. Unlike al-Qaeda or other terrorists, they aren't suicidal. The Persians want power and influence, particularly in the Middle East, and nuclear weapons are a means to achieve that end. As Barry Rubin writes for the Jerusalem Post:
[Iran's] basic goal was and is to be as powerful a regional hegemon as possible - including control over Syria and Lebanon. It would like to take leadership of all Muslims in the area...
Nuclear weapons are thus for Iran primarily a defensive shield enabling it to carry out conventional aggression with impunity.
This is also why "Rouhanimania," overly optimistic enthusiasm about Iran's new president, is also misplaced. Like former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr. Rouhani also wants Iran to be a powerful country, and he very likely believes that nuclear weapons are an appropriate avenue to achieve that end. Therefore, the only real difference between Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Ahmadinejad is that the former has a thicker beard and friendlier rhetoric. Iran's regional ambitions, however, haven't changed much.
Besides, even if Mr. Rouhani sincerely doesn't want nuclear weapons, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (despite his alleged fatwa) probably does. And, as we learned recently, Mr. Rouhani appears not to even have the authority to shake President Obama's hand.
One is left to wonder how much power, if any, Mr. Rouhani actually possesses.
Regardless of the answer to that question, one thing is definitely clear: Mr. Rouhani will be taken far more seriously if his words are backed with nuclear weapons.
This is the only deal Iran will accept. But will Israel take it?
Stephen Walt gets to the heart of it:
...[A]ny deal that Tehran will accept is still going to leave it with the ability to produce a bomb if it ever decides it needs to; we are mostly going to be negotiating over the length of time it would take them to do so and thus how much warning we are likely to get.
It's not clear yet whether the U.S. is willing to live with such a deal. Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice said late last month that any Iran deal would not include domestic uranium enrichment (though Iran would be allowed to import enriched uranium for electrical generation). Still, it's conceivable that if a deal were in sight, the Obama administration and its European partners would relent and agree to Iranian enrichment under international inspections. (Lithuania's foreign minister has said as much.)
What's less clear is how Israel would respond to any deal that allows Iran to retain domestic uranium enrichment. Prime Minister Netanyahu's government has repeatedly insisted that Iran can have no such capability but would Netanyahu be willing to rupture a U.S. deal with a military strike? It's one thing to complain publicly about an American policy, quite another to literally blow it up.
Bewildered and concerned. That's the general reaction to the shutdown of the world's most powerful government. In a spot-on editorial last week, USA Today wrote:
When Congress proves incapable of even its most basic functions — keeping the government running and paying its bills — it undermines the American brand abroad, and with it the nation's ability to be the shining beacon to which others look.
Correct. Indeed, publications all over the world are expressing similar sentiments.
The British weekly magazine, The Economist, wrote:
AS MIDNIGHT on September 30th approached, everybody on Capitol Hill blamed everybody else for the imminent shutdown of America’s government. To a wondering world, the recriminations missed the point. When you are brawling on the edge of a cliff, the big question is not “Who is right?”, but “What the hell are you doing on the edge of a cliff?”
Similarly, the German publication Der Spiegel opined:
Many Germans have found it hard to understand American lawmakers' inability to resolve their budget disagreements in time to prevent a shutdown of all nonessential government services, which went into effect at midnight on Monday night. "What Washington currently offers up is a spectacle, but one in which the spectators feel more like crying," writes the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Our friendly neighbors to the north echoed some of the more practical concerns that many people all over the world are having. According to Maclean's:
Every single time the American economy faces some kind of crisis, people in Canada get nervous. Any risk south of the border threatens our own economic good fortune.
Most interesting -- and unexpected -- is China's reaction. Although Chinese media is expressing concern over America's ability to repay its debts, the tone has not been one of mockery, as we might expect. Instead, as Foreign Policy explains:
Americans would be forgiven for assuming that observers in China, whose government is not averse to showcasing U.S. government failures to burnish the ruling Communist Party's image, are watching all this and indulging in schadenfreude. Instead, both China's state-run and private-but-state-supervised mainstream media outlets have thus far reacted with restraint.
The article goes on to detail the reactions of various Chinese citizens. Many of them do not think a government shutdown reflects poorly on democracy. Some even believe that the fact mass chaos didn't follow the government shutdown speaks to the strength of the United States as a nation.
One thing is clear: Any Americans planning to do some international travel in the near future should be prepared to answer some questions.
"Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive!" beamed a triumphant Vice President Joe Biden, as he was campaigning for re-election in 2012. President Obama agreed, often reciting that "Al-Qaeda is on the run."
Well, not exactly. A phenomenal must-read analysis by The Economist explains:
From Somalia to Syria, al-Qaeda franchises and jihadist fellow travellers now control more territory, and can call on more fighters, than at any time since Osama bin Laden created the organisation 25 years ago.
They also have a map of Al-Qaeda & Friends.
Do yourself a favor and read the entire piece.
(Image: The Economist)
The results are in: Angela Merkel will remain
queen chancellor of Germany for another four years. Not only did she win, but she won big. Her party received 41.5% of the vote, a bigger share than it received in 2005 (35.2%) or 2009 (33.8%). And this happened at a time when Europe has been tossing most of its bums incumbents to the curb. (See Nicolas Sarkozy, Silvio Berlusconi and Gordon Brown.) So why did Germans decide to stick by their Mutti ("Mommy")?
Before the election, The Economist had a briefing on Angela Merkel, and it nicely answers that question.
1. Ms. Merkel is seen as a safe bet. By imposing austerity and reform on the profligate peripheral countries, such as Greece, she is perceived as having handled the euro crisis well. However, she hasn't been perfect. Far from it. The Eurozone is still in serious trouble, and Ms. Merkel has blocked major necessary reforms, such as joint eurobonds. The Eurozone's survival is no guarantee, but Germans trust her instinct for caution.
2. Other parties don't offer a compelling reason to vote for them. Ms. Merkel has a habit of poaching ideas from other parties. The Green Party is (unscientifically) opposed to nuclear power. After the disaster at Fukushima, Ms. Merkel -- who has a PhD in quantum chemistry and really ought to know better -- decided to shut down the country's nuclear power plants. It was a cunning political move; in one fell swoop, she largely eliminated the major reason to vote Green.
3. Germans know she is the most powerful person in Europe. Actually, according to Forbes, she's the 2nd most powerful person in the world. A new leader, while still being powerful, will not have the same clout as Ms. Merkel.
4. Germans are (more or less) pleased with the status quo. The German economy is doing quite well. However, that is not guaranteed to continue indefinitely: It is facing a major demographic crisis in the not-too-distant future, and the country needs to implement some domestic reforms. So far, Ms. Merkel hasn't done so. Despite being seen overseas as the second coming of the Iron Lady, the Germans perceive her as something of a wet noodle.
One of America's great adages is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It appears that sentiment dominated the German election.
(Source: The Economist)