Monday, August 24, 2015

A traitor President

Every time you think it can’t get any worse, another gaping hole appears in the world powers’ dismal Swiss cheese of a deal on Iran’s rogue nuclear program.

From the get-go, it seemed intolerable that the negotiations with Iran did not require, as early conditions, that the regime acknowledge its previous illegal efforts toward producing a nuclear weapon. But the sad fact is Iran was not required to come clean.

From the get-go, it seemed intolerable that the negotiations did not require the Iranian leadership to halt its relentless incitement for the destruction of the United States and Israel. Yes, one has to negotiate with one’s enemies. But apart from being demeaning and lacking in all self-respect, it is also inefficient to negotiate with enemies who continue to seek your demise. And yet, even as the talks proceeded, and since they were concluded, the poisonous rhetoric — rhetoric with inevitable violent consequence — has continued unabated.

From the get-go, it seemed intolerable that the negotiations did not also require that Iran cease its encouragement, training and arming of terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. But Iran makes plain every day that its ongoing support for the “resistance” — as in, those who resist the notion of Israel continuing to exist — is not limited by the accord and will not cease.

As the deal itself took shape, it seemed intolerable that the US-led P5+1 powers had shifted from the imperative to neutralize and dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities and instead opted to content themselves with freezing and inspecting the Iranian program. But shift they did.

Even the Iranians plainly didn’t think they’d get away with a deal this ridiculous. It’s akin to having Bernie Madoff scrutinize his own business practices, or Tour de France cyclists conduct their own doping tests… except it has global life-and-death implications
As elements of the deal became public, it seemed intolerable and unthinkable that the regime would be allowed to continue its R&D on ever-faster centrifuges. Criticisms of this and other clauses were haughtily dismissed by senior Obama Administration officials as being premature and/or inaccurate. But the complaints and concerns proved all too justified.

When the deal was finalized, it seemed unthinkable that the negotiators had abandoned the demand for “anytime, anywhere” inspections of suspect facilities. But abandon that vital demand they most certainly did. Trying to understand the deliberately convoluted clauses of the accord that relate to inspections, one can only conclude that they empower the regime to maintain whatever secrecy it deems necessary at the military sites where it has pursued and will pursue work towards a nuclear arsenal.

After the deal became public, it seemed unthinkable that the flawed inspection clauses would be rendered still more problematic by related side deals that further neutralize effective inspection. But so it is proving. First, Iran indicated — and the US grudgingly acknowledged — that no American inspectors would be allowed into Iran. Then Iran asserted — and no denial has been forthcoming from the P5+1 — that it retains the right to veto any inspectors it doesn’t like the look of. Such assertions underline what has now become a depressingly familiar feature of the negotiation process: Iran’s descriptions of what has been agreed on have proven accurate; Western assurances, markedly less so.

Satellite image of the Parchin facility in April (photo credit: Institute for Science and International Security/AP)
Satellite image of the Parchin facility, April 2012. (AP/Institute for Science and International Security)

Which brings us to Wednesday’s Associated Press report that one of the side deals reached between Iran and the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency provides for Iran to carry out its own inspection work at the Parchin military facility where the IAEA has long alleged it experimented with high-explosive detonators for nuclear arms. The Iranians have been strenuously attempting to sanitize the site for years — which is bitterly amusing, since they evidently need not have bothered. Even the Iranians plainly didn’t think they’d get away with a deal this ridiculous. It’s akin to having Bernie Madoff scrutinize his own business practices, or Tour de France cyclists conduct their own doping tests… except it has global life-and-death implications.

And, again, the Obama administration would seem to have misrepresented what was agreed. It had indicated that the IAEA-Iran side deals were technical, unremarkable documents. While IAEA chief Yukiya Amano insisted Thursday that “the arrangements are technically sound and consistent with our long-established practices,” Olli Heinonen, who was in charge of the Iran probe as deputy IAEA director general from 2005 to 2010, told the AP on Wednesday he could recall no previous instance where a country being probed for nuclear wrongdoing was allowed to conduct its own investigation.

On both sides of the aisle, the current conventional wisdom is that opponents of this abysmally negotiated, dangerous accord have the votes to reject it next month but not to overcome a presidential veto.

What has hamstrung key anguished Democrats thus far has been the “what if?” question — as in, what if we do defy our own president and vote with the Republicans to override the veto? Yes, it’s a lousy, lousy deal — which cements a vicious regime in power, gives it vast funding to foster terrorism and regional chaos, and paves its path to the bomb with a mixture of inadequate oversight, absurdly legitimized ongoing nuclear work and sunset clauses. But what happens if we strike it down? Does the rest of the world just ignore us and proceed with it anyhow? Would it constitute a pointless act of protest that could doom our careers? Would Iran get its sanctions relief anyway? Is there any prospect of a more competent deal being negotiated?

Good questions, not all easy to answer.

But one question can be answered with increasing confidence: Is this, as President Obama claims, the best possible deal?

Yes, indeed, it is. The best possible deal for the Iranians.

They continue enriching. They maintain their R&D to enable a speedier breakout to the bomb when they so choose. They can keep the inspectors at bay. They never have to come clean on past nuclear weapons work. They can continue missile development. They get their sanctions relief. Their coffers are swelled. The prospect of the regime being ousted by domestic reformers, already small, is reduced still further; they can now throw money at any domestic problems. They can merrily orchestrate terrorism and intimidate regional foes.

Truly, it is the best deal Iran could possibly have imagined — to an extent that becomes clearer to the rest of us with each passing day. You don’t have to be a war-monger or a lobbyist to see that. You just have to read the small print, to listen to the leadership in Tehran, and to watch developments in our bloody region. And don’t forget, there’s a second IAEA-Iran side deal whose details have yet to come to light.

That “what if” question is a tough one, indeed. What if we vote against? What if we defy the president?

But there’s another side to that question, which those anguished, responsible Democratic legislators must also ask themselves: What if we let this bad joke of a deal go through?



The war on Donald Trump is not a policy war

It's a culture war, where no rational argument is entered into

There are plenty of good reasons to take issue with Donald Trump’s politics. On immigration, he’s restrictive and anti-freedom. On the unravelling of the Middle East, he’s gun-totingly interventionist. If this is how the real-estate-magnate-turned-reality-TV-star, and now Republican presidential candidate, promises to ‘make America great again’, he deserves a political rebuttal.

But no political rebuttal has been forthcoming. There have been ripostes, of course, and hair-referencing takedowns and wives-citing putdowns. But nothing that has tackled Trump’s views as political views. And that’s because this is public debate at a time when personality politics trumps political argument, an era in which the Culture Wars have supplanted anything approaching a battle of ideas. As a result, what’s being attacked in Trump’s case, what’s being debated, are not his political views, but his cultural attitudes. So it’s not a question of what Trump would do about immigration; it’s a question of how he feels about migrants. It’s not a question of Trump’s abortion policy; it’s a question of how he views women. It’s not a question of his energy policies; it’s a question of his sceptical attitude towards manmade global warming. And so on and so on. Today, a politician’s views remain significant, not because of what they reveal about his or her political, public intent, but because of what they say about him or her as a person. Treated as cultural attitudes, a politician’s views are a marker of his or her virtue, a test of his or her eligibility for public life.

This is politics as culture war, a campaign waged by virtue-signalling, sin-seeking politicos. So, as Trump steams ahead of his rivals in the race for the Republican nomination – he’s more than 10 per cent ahead of Ben Carson, his nearest challenger – opponents beyond the GOP have attempted to label-and-shame him out of existence. He’s a bigot, we’re told. And a racist, a sexist, and a homophobe. Whatever progress is, Trump is on the wrong side of it. He is the walking, talking, combed-over embodiment of the wrong sort of person, the sort of person with the sort of attitudes who shouldn’t be allowed to speak so loudly and so frequently in public. And this is where it gets darker: his views are treated not as ideas to be debated, but as an index of his bad character, of his inappropriateness for political life, an indication that he ought to be shunned. Which is exactly what has happened as a raft of businesses and broadcasters has severed ties with Trump.

It’s almost as if Trump is failing the political and media elite’s personality test. To his every public utterance, his myriad antagonists respond with an open-mouthed ‘I can’t believe you think that’. There was his opening anti-immigration gambit in June, when he said that Mexico was ‘sending people [over the border] that have lots of problems… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.’ To this, one commentator shouted ‘hate crime’, and another retorted that ‘this whole business with Trump being a flaming bigot won’t just go away. He’s Donald Trump – he doesn’t stop talking.’ And, of course, there was his flip tweet that Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle was responsible for what he perceived as her tough questioning during the first GOP presidential debate. To this, countless critics denounced his chauvinism, his bigotry, his ‘gross history of misogyny’. ‘Trump lacks the emotional or intellectual character to be our nation’s next leader’, concluded one such commentary.

It’s a chilling move. Trump is being deemed unfit for public life because he holds the wrong sort of attitudes. That is how Trump appears to the other side in the Culture Wars, the liberal, climate-change-aware, gay-marriage-supporting side, the side that, as its dominant political and cultural position shows, is winning the Culture Wars. To them, Trump appears wrong, and not just wrong, but incomprehensibly, automatically wrong. His attitudes are on the PC equivalent of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum - their wrongness is clear for the right-thinking congregation to see. Hence the proliferation of listicles that don’t even bother making an argument against Trump, preferring instead just to regurgitate what he said as if his wrongness is self-evident (which to his culture-war opponents, it is): ‘The most egregious statements made by Donald Trump’; ‘Eight of the sleaziest things Donald Trump has said’; ‘Trump confidently says more colossally stupid things’; ‘Here’s all the sexist things that Donald Trump has ever said’. No wonder one columnist concluded that ‘by being on the opposite side of [Trump] you win the argument by default’.

But what makes the carnival of anti-Trump smugness even more destructive to public debate is the way Trump’s wrongness is conjured up as a way of dismissing and shunning those who support him. They are racist bigots, with a penchant for casual misogyny, too. They don’t have political views; they have backward attitudes. They don’t have ideas; they have prejudices. One columnist wrote of a pick-up driver displaying the confederate flag (‘a symbol of hate and racism’) on his truck: ‘I didn’t ask who he supported in the primary, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he favoured Donald Trump, based on his recent surge in the polls and outspoken bigotry.’ Another concluded that support for Trump ‘is about the Republican Party and its very dark soul when it comes to immigration… [Trump supporters] see [a champion] in Trump, a Mussolini with a comb-over, who is now as much admired for the enemies he’s making as for his inflammatory statements on immigration.’ The UK-based Economist simply called Trump ‘a poor-man’s idea of a rich man’.

These aren’t political arguments; they’re cultural judgements. They’re judgements on the type of person Trump is, on his attitudes, complete with the obligatory epithets ‘racist’, ‘sexist’ and ‘homophobic’. And, deeper still, they’re judgements on the type of person who supports Trump, the supposedly racist, sexist and homophobic.

This personalised form of politics, this culture war against those with unspeakable attitudes, impoverishes political debate. It suggests that only the right sort of people ought to be allowed to participate, those, that is, who have passed the cultural litmus test, those who support gay marriage, who profess their feminism, who pity migrants’ plight. And in doing so, it not only narrows debate, it spurs on those excluded, those who fail the litmus test, to embrace outrage. The Donald, then, is as much a product of the stifling climate of political conformity as he is its brash opponent.



Poor Pebbles

Pebbles Hooper (@PebblesHooper) is another victim of the culture wars.  She is a fashionable young New Zealand woman who unwisely but quite insightfully made an unsympathetic comment about some stupid behaviour by a Maori family.  She lost her job as a columnist at a NZ newspaper over it.  On her Twitter site she now lists herself as follows: "Contributing fashion editor at Remix Magazine. Illustrator. Satan"

Good to see she has not lost her sense of humor.  She is herself a quarter Chinese.  Her Facebook site is here


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

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