Daniel Larison

The Nuclear Deal and Public Opinion

Fox News has released a poll on Iran that uses wildly misleading questions to get the desired results:

Voters overwhelmingly reject that deal: 84 percent — including 80 percent of Democrats — think it’s a bad idea to allow Iran to get nuclear weapons 10 years from now in return for agreeing it won’t obtain nukes before then.

That would be a lot more interesting and relevant if it had anything to do with the nuclear deal now being negotiated. If there is a final agreement, Iran’s nuclear program would be placed under significant limits, it would be closely monitored, and only after a decade would those limits start to be lifted. Of course, there could always been a future agreement that renews or extends the provisions of such a deal, but there is no question of “allowing” Iran to “get nukes” ten years from now when the deal would end. The NPT would still apply in ten years’ time, there would still be inspections, and Iran still wouldn’t be “allowed” to have nuclear weapons. The wording of the question is ridiculous: “Do you think it’s a good idea or a bad idea to allow Iran to get nuclear weapons 10 years from now in return for it agreeing that it won’t obtain nuclear weapons before then?” The pollster has egregiously misinformed the respondents with this question and framed the issue so incompetently (or dishonestly) that the responses are of no real value.

After all, Iran is still a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and the NPT prohibits the development of nuclear weapons. Unless Iran chooses to withdraw from the treaty or decides to violate its terms by building nuclear weapons, Iran isn’t going to “get nukes” then or at any time. I emphasize Iran’s membership in the NPT here because it is a basic piece of information about the nuclear issue, but it is one that most Americans apparently don’t know. According to one recent survey, 65% of Americans say that they hadn’t heard about Iran’s membership in the NPT. That isn’t entirely surprising, since much of the coverage of the nuclear issue has framed it in alarmist and irresponsible ways, but it is striking that the public has apparently been unaware of one of the most important pieces of information about Iran’s nuclear program. Imagine how much more supportive of a diplomatic solution the public might have been over all these years if this simple fact were more widely known.

The purpose of the current deal is to limit significantly Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons over the next decade and to make it much more difficult for Iran to try without alerting the world to what it is doing. Everything about the framing of the Fox News question is wrong (shocking, I know), but it makes it seem as if the public is overwhelmingly against the deal. The result from this garbage question is being touted by hard-liners as proof that Americans don’t accept the deal, but that isn’t true.

Much more accurate questions yield dramatically different results:

Negotiations over a proposed deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program are coming to a head while a new study finds a clear majority of Americans – 61 percent – support an agreement that would limit Iran’s enrichment capacity and impose additional intrusive inspections in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions. This included 61 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents.

The alternative option, being promoted by some members of Congress, calls for ending the current negotiations, and increasing sanctions in an effort to get Iran to stop all uranium enrichment. This approach was recommended by 36 percent.

When the public is presented with an accurate description of a possible diplomatic compromise that limits Iran’s nuclear program, there is broad support for it across party lines. Because hard-liners are dead-set against any deal, they are bound to celebrate any poll, no matter how worthless or misleading its questions, that finds “proof” that the public agrees with them. The reality is that most Americans are in favor of a compromise deal on the nuclear issue, and they don’t share the hard-liners’ rabid hostility to diplomacy with Iran.

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The Scottish Uprising

Alex Massie follows up his warning from last week with a comment on the latest polling from select seats in Scotland:

If the SNP can, as these figures suggest, enjoy a 28 percent swing in their favour in Gordon Brown’s former seat – the safest Labour bastion in Scotland – then, with the exception of Orkney and Shetland, they can win anywhere else. Everywhere else [italics in original]. In 2010, the SNP won just 14 percent of the vote in Kirkcaldy. Now they may win the seat. That’s an insurrection of historic proportions [bold mine-DL].

One might expect that the nationalists would benefit from the new loyalty of pro-independence voters, but the striking thing about the polling in Scotland is that the SNP is also winning over large numbers of ‘No’ voters as well. Some of these voters may be experiencing buyers’ remorse after voting independence down, but that doesn’t seem to be the entire story. There seems to be a widespread repudiation of all the leading parties that is taking place in every part of Scotland regardless of how they voted in the referendum. The SNP has benefited from the surge in pro-independence sentiment at the same time that it remains a useful vehicle to express unionist voters’ hostility to Westminster. After all, how better to convey contempt for the British political class than to vote for the party that wants to separate from them entirely? ‘Yes’ voters that broke with their unionist leaders in September aren’t going to come back support them in May, and even many of the people that backed the union can’t seem to bring themselves to vote for unionist MPs. This understandably alarms unionists for the reasons Massie has given before, but there doesn’t appear to be anything that they can do about it.

Massie concludes:

We’ve not seen anything like this, you know, since Sinn Fein won a landslide in the Irish portion of the 1918 election. And you will remember what happened after that.

There are still two months left before the general election, so it is possible that the results will not be as favorable to the SNP as polls suggest, but if they are it could well be the most significant political earthquake in British politics in a century.

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Summer Internship at TAC

The American Conservative is currently accepting applications for a summer editorial internship position. The deadline for applications is March 13. Here is the description of the position’s responsibilities and the requirements for the application:

Editorial Assistant responsibilities include:

Preparing pieces for the web, writing headlines, curating images

Contributing headlines and story ideas

Proofreading, editing

Conducting research

Managing TAC’s presence on social media platforms

Blogging for the web and writing for the print magazine

Devising strategies for audience development and engagement

Participating in team meetings

Clerical duties, such as answering the phone and handling the mail, are also involved.

All candidates should possess:

Eagerness to work tirelessly in a small but ambitious team

Superb writing and editing ability

Strong communication and organizational skills

Love of considered, lengthy journalism as well as an appreciation of horse-race politics

Excellent news/culture/opinion judgment

A background in intellectual conservatism and keen understanding of The American Conservative’s sensibility.

Interns will join our team in Washington, D.C., from May through August, and will receive a stipend. College students or recent graduates who would like to apply should compose responses to three of the questions or tasks below and send them, along with a résumé, to intern@theamericanconservative.com by March 13. We will review applications on a rolling basis.

Required: Write a short article (500 words) for our website offering a fresh perspective, original analysis, and a clear, evidence-based argument. Alternatively, you are welcome to submit a link to a blog post or article published elsewhere that would have been well-suited for publication in The American Conservative.

Propose three ideas for web articles (1-2 sentences each).

What are the two most interesting media accounts you follow on Twitter and why? (100 words max.)

How could we improve our coverage and analysis on the web? (100 words max.)

How could we improve our fundraising efforts on the web? (100 words max.)

Write two Facebook posts and two tweets about articles or blog posts that appear on our homepage today.

Which two contemporary writers have influenced your thinking the most? (100 words max.)

How would you describe The American Conservative reader? (100 words max.)

We also consider applications submitted through partner organizations including the Collegiate Network and the National Journalism Center. We’ll post more information about our fall 2015 internship in the coming months.

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What Rubio Doesn’t Know


Robert Merry takes Rubio to task for the confused talking points he used last week at CPAC:

And now we have the spectacle of Rubio demonstrating that in tossing off his speculations on what’s driving President Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East, he doesn’t know what he is talking about. He has shown himself to be intellectually callow.

Merry is referring here specifically to the odd argument Rubio used to try to criticize the administration’s handling of the war on ISIS and its negotiations with Iran at the same time, but there are other examples that support what he’s saying. Rubio’s errors aren’t limited to one bungled red-meat attack line delivered to a conference audience. He makes these errors fairly often in many different venues, but there is almost no one on the right interested in drawing attention to them. Rubio is credited with “expertise” on foreign policy issues in large part because he is willing to claim that he has it, and because he can recite hard-line talking points with conviction that is usually more than enough. Whether he is making self-serving claims to avoid responsibility for the consequences of the Libyan intervention that he strongly supported or desperately defending a bankrupt Cuba policy, Rubio’s hawkish instincts keep landing him on the wrong side of important issues. However, because he doesn’t break from the party on foreign policy, his “expertise” is automatically accepted by others in his party despite a record of bad policy judgments. His fellow hawks can’t fault Rubio for his errors without acknowledging their own.

It also helps that he can make false claims before audiences that don’t know any better and get away with it. His repeated insistence on the supposed importance of Shia apocalypticism in understanding Iranian regime behavior is one example of this. To someone who knows little or nothing about Shi’ism or Iran, Rubio’s confident declarations about the regime’s motivations may sound authoritative and compelling, but he is, in fact, spouting nonsense. It doesn’t take much scrutiny to find that Rubio “doesn’t know what he is talking about,” as Merry says, but in order for that discovery to take place someone has to bother to check the senator’s claims.

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Iran Hawks and Arms Control Agreements

Fred Kaplan points out one of the many flaws in Netanyahu’s speech today:

This is a legitimate concern, but consider the following: First, a lot can happen in 10 years. (Take a look back at the most recent three or four 10-year periods.) Second, almost every arms-control accord ever negotiated has an expiration date [bold mine-DL]. Third—and this is key—the horrible things that Netanyahu foresees 10 years down the road, if the deal is signed, might happen—by his own logic, would happen—in the next two or three years if the talks fail.

To understand Kaplan’s second point, one need only think back a few years to the debate over New START. That arms reduction treaty was designed to replace the then-expired START and to continue the reduction of the both states’ strategic arsenals. New START itself was set to expire in ten years’ time. So it is quite normal for such agreements to have expiration dates. That can make it easier to reach an agreement, since none of the interested parties is making a permanent commitment, and it leaves open the possibility of renewing or extending the agreement–or ending it–depending on how well the agreement that has worked up until that point. There is no reason to assume that a nuclear deal with Iran couldn’t be similarly extended or renewed a decade from now. Those that are most alarmed by Iran’s nuclear program ought to be jumping at the chance to limit that program for that length of time, but as usual all that Iran hawks can see is that the deal falls short of their impossible, maximalist standards.

At one point in his speech, Netanyahu made a crack about how the deal currently being negotiated would be a “farewell to arms control,” but the truth is that it is the opponents of the deal that have no use for arms control or the agreements that make it possible.

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Depriving Netanyahu of His Raison D’Être

Paul Pillar comments on Netanyahu’s speech and cites a recent op-ed by Avner Cohen, whom Pillar describes as someone who “probably knows more than anyone outside the Israeli government about the Israeli program and the strategic thinking underlying it.” Cohen wrote:

Despite its flaws, the proposed agreement is far from bad for Israel—the only nuclear power in the Middle East—but it is very bad for Netanyahu. The agreement offers Israel almost a generation, or even more if it succeeds, in which Netanyahu won’t be able to sow fear about Iran as an existential danger. It would leave Netanyahu as a leader whose raison d’être has been taken away from him.

This touches on what seems to be one of the real sticking points for die-hard opponents of the negotiations with Iran. It is not that they fear a “bad deal” that will lead to an undesirable outcome, but rather they fear any deal that deprives them of a ready-made enemy that can be used for fear-mongering and alarmist warnings in the future. Resolving the nuclear issue peacefully is in the interests of all countries involved, but it is not at all useful to hard-liners that thrive on increasing tensions between states. Reducing tensions and reducing a potential threat do not appeal to those that rely on threat inflation to win and retain political influence.

Cohen calls the proposed deal a “reasonable compromise,” and that is another reason why hard-liners are so allergic to it. A compromise necessarily means that all parties to a deal get something from it, and none of them gives up everything. The standard hard-liner position on Iran’s nuclear program for some time has been that Iran has to give up practically everything in its program in exchange for very little. That has always obviously been a non-starter with the Iranians, and so any deal that could be made was always going to leave Iran with more than maximalists in the U.S. and Israel could accept. That’s not an argument against the terms of an achievable deal. It is an indictment of the maximalists’ unreasonable demands and expectations.

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The Disgraceful Spectacle in Congress

There was nothing interesting in the content of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress this morning. One remarkable thing about the event was how shamelessly the prime minister repeated one dishonest or tendentious claim after another. He held up an utterly unrealistic “much better deal” that Iran would never agree to as the only alternative, and he absurdly claimed that the deal currently being negotiated would “pave” the way to an Iranian nuclear weapon. The “much better deal” that he insisted on isn’t remotely possible, and the only reason to insist on it is to try to kill off the best chance of reaching an agreement. Netanyahu nonsensically warned about an unrestricted Iranian nuclear program ten years from now at the same time that he was agitating for the rejection of the only deal that could restrict the program. Needless to say, Netanyahu’s record of false predictions and warnings about Iran’s nuclear program makes him an especially unreliable source of information. The fact that his obnoxious performance was received so warmly in Congress today is not surprising, but it is nonetheless deeply discouraging for anyone interested in peace or foreign policy restraint.

The other remarkable thing was the embarrassing, rapturous response of the assembled members in the audience. Except for extremely rare occasions when an American president has enjoyed stratospheric approval ratings, I cannot recall such a loud, overwrought response from members of a Congress to a visiting speaker. The audience this morning enthusiastically cheered on the sabotage of a major U.S. diplomatic initiative, the undermining of an important U.S. policy goal, and the blatant meddling of a foreign leader in our domestic politics. It is one of the more disgraceful things I’ve seen an assembly of American political leaders do, and that is really saying something.

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The Stunt and the Dysfunctional U.S.-Israel Relationship

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Richard Cohen warns about another “existential threat” to Israel that doesn’t exist:

Iran may or may not be the existential threat to Israel that Netanyahu insists it is. But a lessening of U.S. support for Israel certainly would be [bold mine-DL]. With an indifferent America, Israel would become a lonely, frightening place.

That’s almost certainly not true. If it is true that America doesn’t need Israel, as Cohen acknowledges, it is equally true that Israel doesn’t really need America. Whether it became a “lonely, frightening place” or not would depend for the most part on how it chose to govern itself and how it chose to behave in relation to its neighbors. That is up to Israelis to decide, and none of that has been foreordained. If it didn’t have the U.S. as a patron, Israel would likely be just as secure because of its great conventional and nuclear superiority in the region, but it might just be less intransigent and heavy-handed in its dealings with surrounding peoples because it would know that there would be no superpower guaranteed to bail it out in a jam. (If anyone thinks that decades of U.S. enabling of Israeli behavior have helped to restrain it in any way, I have a bridge to sell you.)

At the very least, less reflexive support from Washington would help to remind the client government that it can’t take U.S. backing for granted, and so it would therefore probably be more careful to cultivate a good relationship with the U.S. That would involve paying more attention to American preferences and not going to such lengths to undermine American policies. That would make for something of a more normal relationship between the two governments.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is much chance that today’s spectacle will make U.S. support for Israel any less reflexive, nor will it cause future Israeli governments to believe that U.S. backing can’t be taken for granted. All indications are that the administration is making a point of papering over this dispute and doing what it can to keep the damage to a bare minimum. Despite the unprecedented and outrageous behavior from Netanyahu today, the relationship seems likely to remain just as remarkably dysfunctional and lopsided as it has been for decades. That is undesirable for both countries, but then a relationship this unhealthy was never going to be improved so quickly thanks to one leader’s political stunt.

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Walker’s “Existential Threat” Alarmism About the Nuclear Deal

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Scott Walker has a dubious plan to repair “ruptured” U.S.-Israel relations:

We must not allow this relationship to deteriorate any further. So what do we do? First, the president and his advisers must treat the prime minister of a longstanding ally with the respect that he deserves and stop playing politics. The second step is for the United States and Israel to work out parameters of a comprehensive nuclear agreement that are acceptable to both sides [bold mine-DL].

Most of Walker’s argument is boilerplate hawkish rhetoric about Iran and Israel, but his proposal here is exceptional in explicitly calling for the U.S. to let Israel set the terms of our diplomacy and treating Israel as if it were a party to the negotiations with Iran. While Israel may have its own interest in the outcome of the talks, it has no role in “working out parameters” of any agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. It would be preferable if Israel’s government welcomed a nuclear deal that imposes significant limits on Iran’s nuclear program, but the U.S. doesn’t need an endorsement from one of its regional clients to pursue its own diplomacy as it sees fit. We already know that Iran wouldn’t agree to any deal that is acceptable to the current Israeli government, so the result of Walker’s suggestion would be to blow up the negotiations, and that is presumably what he would like to see happen.

Earlier in the op-ed, Walker goes into full alarmist mode:

Such a deal presents an existential threat to Israel.

There is no merit to this view. If Iran’s nuclear program poses some future potential threat, it is nonetheless a manageable one. A deal that significantly limits Iran’s program reduces that manageable threat still further. It would be absurd to say that an Iranian nuclear weapon poses an existential threat to Israel, so it is even more ridiculous to say that a nuclear deal that helps to prevent the acquisition of such a weapon poses the same kind of threat.

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Why Walker Keeps Stumbling

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Eliana Johnson comments on Scott Walker’s early stumbles on the national stage:

With everybody eager to be impressed, Walker’s performance nationally, unlike his performance in Wisconsin, is inconsistent.

The “inconsistency” of this performance comes from his lack of preparation on national and international issues. So far, Walker has not done much to remedy that lack of preparation, and donors are beginning to notice this. That would normally be ignored or minimized at this stage in the nomination contest. However, Walker has been built up so quickly (and prematurely) into a “first-tier” candidate that he is being taken far more seriously than another politician with a comparable background would be. He is also coming under much greater scrutiny earlier than usual because his name has already shot to the top of many polls. Normally, a relatively obscure governor from a medium-sized state would struggle to be noticed in the scrum of a nomination contest. Walker is unusual in that he already possesses a national profile that greatly exceeds his readiness to be a candidate at the national level, and for that reason he has been disappointing donors that expect far too much of him.

He is getting the attention and criticism that a front-runner would receive, but he doesn’t yet have the staff or policy briefings that such a candidate would use to cope with these things. Walker’s problem is that he imagines that he is still just testing the waters, but his performance is being judged as if he were already a declared candidate. Other would-be 2016 candidates might say things just as silly as what Walker has said on foreign policy, but he is being judged more harshly by many more people inside the party for his statements because he has been elevated to the top group of candidates despite the fact he hasn’t yet earned his place there.

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Netanyahu’s Stunt and the Iran Hawks

Quin Hillyer is excited about Netanyahu’s stunt tomorrow:

The leader of the free world will be addressing Congress on Tuesday. The American president is doing everything possible to undermine him.

It might seem odd that American hawks would be so enamored of a foreign head of government, but so long as that leader is a hawk and shares the same inflated views of foreign threats that they do it no longer matters that he is advocating on behalf of the interests of another state. Besides, when they have made such a habit of conflating the interests of our country and his, it probably never even occurs to them that they are cheering on a foreign leader at the expense of the interests of their own country. I’m sure Iran hawks believe Netanyahu speaks for them, since he is going to repeat their exaggerated, false warnings about a non-existent “existential threat” verbatim.

Like Netanyahu, our Iran hawks have generally wanted these negotiations to fail, and they have become increasingly worried that they won’t. Like him, they are desperate to derail diplomacy. That would wreck the best chance of resolving the nuclear issue and make another conflict more likely, but it wouldn’t involve making a deal. Any deal that could possibly be struck will necessarily involve a compromise that Iran hawks can’t stomach because it doesn’t include the total capitulation of the other side. Netanyahu is indeed the tribune of such hard-line, reckless, and ideological people. They are welcome to him.

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Walker’s Reagan Nostalgia and Foreign Policy

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Following up on his silly foreign policy remarks earlier this week, Scott Walker made another statement that was no better:

Walker contended that “the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime” was then-President Ronald Reagan’s move to bust a 1981 strike of air traffic controllers, firing some 11,000 of them.

“It sent a message not only across America, it sent a message around the world,” Walker said. America’s allies and foes alike became convinced that Reagan was serious enough to take action and that “we weren’t to be messed with,” he said.

Walker has said something like this before when he claimed that there were “documents” that proved that this had influenced the way that the Soviets viewed Reagan. That wasn’t true, but that didn’t discourage Walker from using this line again. It’s a ridiculous claim on its face, but a few things need to be said about it anyway.

Even if one grants that Reagan’s decision to fire the striking workers had some effect on the way he was perceived by other governments, it is just painfully ignorant to call a purely domestic decision the “most significant foreign policy decision” of the last five decades. There have to be numerous examples of far more significant policy decisions from Reagan’s presidency alone, to say nothing of the decisions made by other presidents during that time. Walker thinks he’s making a clever point about displaying “toughness,” but just keeps drawing attention to the fact that he has nothing substantive to say about foreign policy. He insists on using the crutch of Reagan nostalgia, but he can’t even cite examples from Reagan’s real foreign policy record to make his point.

If Walker believes what he’s saying, he is endorsing an absurdly extreme version of the “credibility” argument. He not only wants us to think that this display of “toughness” made other states take Reagan more “seriously,” but that a purely domestic decision had such far-reaching international consequences that it was the most significant foreign policy decision made in almost half a century. If this was supposed to allay concerns that Walker isn’t prepared to be president, it didn’t work. Indeed, it is becoming very difficult to take anything Walker says on foreign policy seriously.

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Jindal and Rubio’s Confused Talking Points

Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio both seem to think they have discovered a clever way to attack the administration on its handling of the war on ISIS and the negotiations with Iran–by inexplicably linking the two. Here is Jindal:

What I worry about is that this president’s hesitancy in going all the way and defeating ISIS may be linked — I can’t prove that, I suspect that from his actions, his rhetoric —may be linked to his overarching desire to get a deal with Iran.

And Rubio said something similar:

Speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland, Rubio told radio and TV host Sean Hannity that “if we wanted to defeat them militarily, we could do it. [Obama] doesn’t want to upset Iran.”

Referring to the United States’ ongoing negotiations with Iran to contain that country’s nuclear program, Rubio continued, “In [Obama’s] mind, this deal with Iran is going to be the Obamacare of the second term, and he doesn’t want them sending military to the region because they think the region belongs to them.”

As others have noted already, this criticism makes absolutely no sense. If Obama didn’t want to “upset” Iran, he would probably be committing the U.S. to do far more against ISIS, since the Iranians loathe ISIS and have been fighting them in Iraq. If ISIS were defeated, it would deprive Iran of a hated regional enemy, so they would hardly be “upset” by this outcome. Jindal’s suspicions don’t seem to be founded on anything except a political need to find fault with whatever the administration is doing overseas. In their desire to attack Obama’s policies on two different issues, Jindal and Rubio have made a complete botch of things by trying to force the criticisms together in a clumsy, ham-fisted way. Perhaps they thought they needed to play to their audience and treat ISIS and Iran as if they both belonged to an undifferentiated Islamist blob, or perhaps they don’t want to acknowledge that the U.S. is currently fighting Iran’s enemies. Or maybe neither of them has the slightest idea what he’s talking about. Whatever the reason for their errors, Jindal and Rubio are so confused about these things that conservatives shouldn’t be looking to them for guidance on foreign policy.

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The Week’s Most Interesting Reads

There is no better deal coming on the nuclear issue. Paul Pillar explains why completing the current negotiations is the best available option.

The MEK’s friends in Congress. Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton report on the cult’s relationship with members of Congress, including New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez and former Sen. Robert Torricelli.

The awful CPAC “debate” on war. Matt Welch describes the hard-line views of the CPAC panel on foreign policy.

Libya as a U.N. protectorate? Steven Metz considers whether it is possible to make Libya a protectorate of the U.N.

Biases in world news coverage. Matthew Baum and Yuri Zhukov review the evidence on how news coverage of foreign rebellions differs around the world.

Most experts agree: arming Ukraine is a terrible idea. Foreign Affairs asks its contributors about sending weapons to Ukraine.

Don’t count on Russian sensitivity to casualties. Simon Saradzhyan reviews the data on Russian public opinion and war and argues that inflicting more casualties on Russian forces is unlikely to sour most Russians on the intervention in Ukraine.

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Brooks’ Lousy Ideas on Iran

Surprising no one, David Brooks is opposed to any realistic nuclear deal with Iran:

If the Iranian leaders believe what they say [bold mine-DL], then United States policy should be exactly the opposite of the one now being pursued. Instead of embracing and enriching Iran, sanctions should be toughened to further isolate and weaken it. Instead of accepting a nuclear capacity, eliminating that capacity should be restored as the centerpiece of American policy. Instead of a condominium with Iran that offends traditional allies like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, the U.S. should build a regional strategy around strengthening relations with those historic pillars.

Brooks is very wrong about this for a few reasons. He takes for granted that it is only the regime’s confrontational and hostile rhetoric that should be taken seriously, and that these are the only beliefs of theirs that matter, so he already discounts anything that Iranian leaders say that doesn’t mesh with his view of them as “apocalyptically motivated, paranoid and dogmatically anti-American.” So when Iranian leaders say for the umpteenth time that they aren’t pursuing nuclear weapons, when they say that their nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes only, or when they say that the use of nuclear weapons is forbidden, Brooks assumes that they don’t believe what they say and thinks that we should ignore it. He takes it as a given that what they say in these instances is irrelevant, because he is confident that he knows what they really believe. This must be what “epistemological modesty” in action looks like.

The policy recommendations are no better. Brooks wants to “toughen” sanctions on Iran. That’s a lousy idea. Yes, the U.S. could impose additional sanctions in an attempt to “isolate” Iran, but good luck getting cooperation from many of the other states that do business with Iran. Some of these states may have been willing to reduce their dealings with Iran for a limited time, but they aren’t going to be interested in taking a harder line with Iran now that there seems to be an opening for a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue. Further “toughening” sanctions will wreck international support for pressuring Iran, and Iran will become less isolated rather than more. Insisting on the eliminating of Iran’s “nuclear capacity” will likewise receive little or no international support, since very few governments in the world accept the idea that Iran should not be permitted to have a nuclear program. Iran will certainly never agree to such terms. So making the elimination of Iran’s nuclear program the “centerpiece of American policy” is to doom that policy to failure or it means putting the U.S. on a path to war with Iran. Brooks’ maximalism is extremely foolish, and ought to be rejected.

If Brooks doesn’t want to offend “traditional allies,” one wonders why he would be so adamantly against agreeing to a deal that three of our oldest and most important allies in Europe are helping to negotiate. Since France, Britain, and Germany are actually allies of the U.S., and the “traditional allies” Brooks cites are just frequently troublesome clients, shouldn’t we be more concerned to cooperate with the former even if it happens to annoy some of the latter? While there may be some states in the region that would welcome the breakdown of talks and renewed U.S.-Iranian hostility, there are many more important allies and major powers around the world that would strongly prefer that the nuclear issue be resolved through these negotiations. Why should the U.S. ignore all of that to cater to the unreasonable preferences of a handful of regional clients?

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Iran Hawks’ Phony Concern for Nonproliferation

Charles Krauthammer makes a number of absurd claims in his latest column. This was the funniest:

Such an agreement also means the end of nonproliferation. When a rogue state defies the world, continues illegal enrichment and then gets the world to bless an eventual unrestricted industrial-level enrichment program, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is dead.

One may reasonably question the sincerity of any hard-line opponent of negotiations with Iran when it comes to support for nonproliferation. If they had their way, the P5+1 would have insisted on such impossible conditions that the interim agreement would have never been reached and Iran’s nuclear program would be under fewer constraints than it is today. Instead of a ten-year deal that limits Iran’s nuclear program over the next decade, there would have been no limits at all. Because they want a deal with conditions that Iran would never accept, the hard-liners prefer an Iranian nuclear program that faces no real scrutiny and has no restrictions placed upon it. Iran hawks feign concern with proliferation while doing all that they can to create incentives for it.

The absurdity of Krauthammer’s complaint is made all the more clear by the fact that multiple states that are not party to the NPT have acquired nuclear weapons in the past, and the U.S. is now on good terms with all of them. Israel, India, and Pakistan are not members of the nonproliferation regime, they have fairly large nuclear arsenals, and yet the NPT remains in force. Indeed, it is because Iran belongs to the NPT that its nuclear program is placed under so much international scrutiny. In spite of the obvious spread of nuclear weapons that has taken place, the proliferation in states that don’t belong to the NPT hasn’t killed off the NPT. Almost all states around the world are signatories, and they adhere to its provisions. Even if one state that belongs to the NPT violates the terms of the treaty, that doesn’t make the treaty any less successful in discouraging nuclear proliferation everywhere else. The best way to ensure that Iran continues to adhere to the terms of the NPT is to press ahead with the negotiations and to reach a final deal. Failing to do this won’t limit Iran’s nuclear program, but it will take away the best chance the U.S. and the other members of the P5+1 have to resolve this matter peacefully.

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Walker’s Silly Foreign Policy Remarks at CPAC

Speaking at CPAC, Scott Walker must have thought he was being very clever when he said this:

If I can take on 100,000 protestors, I can do the same across the world.

This is a very silly thing to say, but unfortunately I think Walker was saying this in earnest. There really is no comparing facing down domestic political opposition with addressing challenges and threats from overseas, but Walker’s national political identity is wrapped up with his battle with public sector unions and so every other issue that he talks about ends up being linked back to that. It doesn’t follow at all that an ability to overcome one’s own democratic political opponents in a budget dispute translates into the knowledge or ability to handle threats to the U.S. Michael Brendan Dougherty had this to say about what Walker said:


Instead of offering reassurance that Walker would have some idea of what to do as president, these remarks remind us that he has nothing substantive to say about foreign policy and seems to know remarkably little about it. That was confirmed by Walker’s unwillingness or inability to articulate what his preferred policy towards ISIS would be:

The all-but-certain Republican presidential hopeful sharply criticized the Obama administration’s foreign policy, but when asked about how he would deal with the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), dodged.

Walker does a lot of dodging, or “punting” as he likes to call it, when presented with questions he won’t or can’t answer. That is the sort of evasiveness that badly undermines his pretense to being a leader proposing “big, bold ideas.” The truth is that Walker doesn’t have any “big, bold ideas” on foreign policy and national security, and worse he doesn’t appear to want to have any. On the contrary, he assumes that he can get away with the lowest-common denominator hawkish talking points and suffer no political price for it. That may work with the audience at CPAC, but it won’t and shouldn’t fly with the public at large.

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The SNP Surge and the British General Election

Alex Massie considers the implications of a big SNP general election win:

Scottish votes could well determine the outcome of this general election, but the matter of Scotland — that is to say, the battle of Britain — will not be resolved this May. This is just a preliminary skirmish for the other, larger, battles that lie ahead. David Cameron would be wrong to think that his mission in May is to sneak over the finish line: his fight will have just begun. So unionists are entitled to feel a deep and heavy sense of foreboding. This election is going to be a disaster.

This further confirms my view that the unionist win last September may have only delayed the dissolution of the union and Scottish independence rather than preventing it all together. The problems besetting unionist parties in Scotland now are comparable to the predicament of the ‘No’ campaign during the referendum. The nationalists set the terms of the debate, and the unionists were compelled to fight the election on the ground that the nationalists have chosen. The unionist parties still can’t seem to overcome the deep distrust felt for them by at least half of Scottish voters, and the nationalists are more than happy to exploit that distrust to their advantage. Since the unionists are divided among themselves and have never had much of a compelling argument for their side, it is not surprising that they have continued to bleed support. It is unlikely that they are going to be able to stop the bleeding before the general election, and after that it may then be too late for them.

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Britain’s Many Wars of Choice

Marc Champion bemoans the shrinking U.K. military budget:

Perhaps this rapid British retrenchment was inevitable given the severity of the financial crisis and the still raw memory of overreach in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet defense budgets should be determined by security needs, not the other way around [bold mine-DL]. With no political party arguing for U.K. defense ahead of May’s election, the outcome is likely to be a weaker, more insular Britain [bold mine-DL], increasingly undeserving of its permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.

It’s true that military budgets should be determined by security needs, but then the British military hasn’t needed to be involved in any of the fights it has been in over the last fifteen years. British security wasn’t actually threatened by Iraq, but that didn’t stop its government from more than a decade-long involvement in the “no-fly zones” and its participation in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Likewise, it didn’t need to aid in the overthrow of the Libyan government, but Cameron pushed for intervention there. Once again, Britain is involved in a new war in Iraq, this time against ISIS, that it doesn’t need to be fighting. The problem here isn’t that its contribution is a token one, but that there is no reason for Britain to be participating in the first place.

All of Britain’s wars over the last two decades have been wars of choice that it could have avoided, but which it chose to fight for what were usually dubious or bad reasons. That has understandably made the British public sick of military action overseas, and has made it much easier politically to cut funding for the military. If Britain were interested in improving its conventional capabilities, the first thing it ought to do is to scrap a costly nuclear arsenal that it also doesn’t really need, but which it hangs on to for reasons of prestige and status. Of course, this is the last thing that British hawks would ever consider doing, and so the cuts come at the expense of Britain’s conventional forces.

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The Absurd “No Light” Approach to Managing Allies and Clients

Jeb Bush is all for it:

I think a better solution is to have a forceful foreign policy where we’re supportive of our friends, where there’s no light between our closest allies [bold mine-DL], like Israel, like our neighborhood, like NATO.

Bush is hardly the only hawk to favor this approach to managing relations with allies and clients, but I believe he is the first would-be candidate of this cycle to put things in these terms so far. The idea that there should be “no light” between the U.S. and its allies and clients might be superficially appealing at first, but it doesn’t take much scrutiny to understand why this is an impossible and undesirable standard to have. First, U.S. interests and the interests of other states, even close allies, are bound to diverge some of the time. It is impossible to avoid some “light” to come between the U.S. and these other states, since no two states’ interests are ever in such perfect alignment. Because of this, it is extremely unhealthy and even dangerous to try to deny it when these interests diverge, since that will mean pursuing a policy that isn’t in the American interest or compelling an ally or client to pursue a policy that is not in theirs. That could lead the U.S. to take on unnecessary risks and costs in order to satisfy a client, or it could force an ally or client to follow the U.S. into an unnecessary war.

If the U.S. never allowed any “light” between it and its allies and clients, that would mean letting those allies and clients dictate what U.S. policy ought to be. We have seen in recent years how some allies and clients in Europe and the Near East would prefer U.S. policy to be more in line with their preferences, and then they whine about supposed neglect when the U.S. doesn’t do just what they want. American hawks are only too happy to bemoan the “betrayal” or “abandonment” of these states so long as it makes it easier to promote aggressive policies in these regions, and so they echo the complaints of allied and client governments that the administration has not been giving them enough “support,” which is to say that it has not been behaving exactly as those governments desire. Though he doesn’t say it in so many words, Bush sees no problem with letting U.S. policies be driven by what our allies and clients want us to do for them, and presumably that is what he would allow if he were president.

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