World

The "Infiltrators"—Israel's Unwanted Asylum Seekers

As Sudanese and Eritreans marched on Jerusalem earlier this week, it became harder for the government to ignore its refugee issue.

Gershom Gorenberg

They simply left.

As soon as they got the chance, the refugees from Darfur and other parts of Sudan and from Eritrea walked out of the guarded camp in the Negev desert and marched north in bitter winter weather toward Jerusalem. There they stood Tuesday afternoon, on an icy sidewalk facing the Knesset, holding up brown cardboard signs with handwritten slogans, chanting in eerily subdued voices halfway between determination and desperation, until they were arrested, manhandled onto buses and sent back to the desert.

The Year in Preview: Dates of Judgment in the Middle East

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool)

In front of the United States State Department, two large digital screens should be erected by New Year's, showing the countdown to the Obama administration's looming foreign-policy deadlines for 2014.

One screen would flash the days left before March 29, when the nine months allocated by Secretary of State John Kerry for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations run out. By then, the two sides have to reach agreement, or at least show enough progress to have reason to keep talking. On the other screen, we'd see the time remaining until May 24, when the six-month interim accord on Iran's nuclear program ends—with a longterm accord, or well-founded hope of one, or a return to an unpredictable confrontation.

NBC's Big Fat Gay Mistake

The network's half-hearted attempts to appear gay-friendly while broadcasting the Sochi Olympics only underscore its complicity with the Kremlin's crackdown on LGBT rights and freedom of the press.

Flickr/Edgar Zuniga

There is no longer even the illusion of a free press in Russia—not after yesterday, when the Kremlin posted a decree on its website announcing the liquidation of RIA Novosti, the leading state news agency. “The move,” the news service wrote in its own account of the story, “is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.”

Sanctions Hawks Losing the Plot

AP Photo/Mark Wilson, Pool

A new poll of registered voters conducted by Americans United for Change and released last week is the latest to show majority support for the recent agreement in Geneva between the P5+1—the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany—and Iran. Among those with an opinion (41 percent said they had none, or hadn’t heard enough about the deal to form an opinion), 57 percent supported the agreement with 37 percent opposed.

Neocons Fail Negotiation 101 Yet Again

On the other hand, we could just listen to this guy's not-at-all-oversimplified argument. (AP photo by Seth Wenig)

If you want to know how the neoconservatives who brought us the Iraq War are reacting to the interim deal to freeze Iran's nuclear program, the best way is to head over to the web site of the Weekly Standard, where you can witness their wailing chagrin that the Obama administration doesn't share their hunger for yet another Middle East war. All five of the featured articles on the site concern Iran, including editor Bill Kristol's "No Deal" (illustrated with twinned photos of Bibi Netanyahu and Abraham Lincoln, believe it or not), one titled "Don't Trust, Can't Verify," and "Abject Surrender By the United States" by the always measured John Bolton.

These people would be simply ridiculous if they didn't already have so much blood on their hands from Iraq, and the idea that anyone would listen to them after what happened a decade ago tells you a lot about how Washington operates. But there is something important to understand in the arguments conservatives are making about Iran. Their essential position is that now that Iran has finally agreed to negotiate, we must "keep the pressure on" by not actually negotiating until they offer, to use Bolton's words, an actual abject surrender. We should not just maintain but increase sanctions, to make them understand that they'll get nothing and like it. The only way to get future concessions from Iran is to maximize their pain now.

You'll recall how much progress the Bush administration made in getting Iran to pull back its nuclear development with this approach (none). It seems pretty clear that the neocons understand about as much about negotiating as my dog does about delayed gratification. So let me suggest that an easing of sanctions now is exactly what could get them to agree to more concessions at the end of the interim agreement's period of six months. The reason is that what we've done is give the Iranians not only something to gain, but something to lose.

But What Does Iran Mean for 2016?

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

There are two things to say about the electoral effect of the Iran deal.

Barck Obama isn’t going to be up for re-election. Still, his approval rating will matter for Democrats in both 2014 and 2016.

The first thing—and it’s correct, as far as it goes—is that the deal won’t have any electoral effect, whatever happens. Smart analysts know that voters just don’t care very much about foreign policy. And this one … well, it’s pretty distant from the concerns of most voters. Iran’s nuclear program has been in the news for a long time, but it’s not headline stuff for the most part. No matter how much of a fuss there is about it in the press this week, most voters won’t engage. The blunt truth is that this too will be gone from the headlines before very long, anyway.

Without most voters paying any attention to it, that leaves only the most politically attentive, and they’ll divide the way they always do: as long as the balance of the coverage isn’t radically lopsided, Democrats will be inclined to support the administration, and Republicans will be inclined to oppose it. It’s true that some Democrats in Congress are opposed to the deal, but for most rank-and-file Democrats, the president is the opinion leader who matters.

In short—no change in the president’s approval rating. No electoral effects in either 2014 or 2016.

Drone War Testimonials

A reporter sits down with one Pakistani family who traveled more than 7,000 miles to tell their story to Congress—only five representatives showed up to listen. 

Humna Bhojani

Two beams of light came down from the drone lingering over the field where they had been gathering okra and hit Nabila’s grandmother, Mamana Bibi. The earth shuddered. Nabila fell; terrified, she stumbled into a run. Blood was gushing from her arm. She wrapped her red chaddar (head covering) around the shrapnel wound; moments later it was soaked through. Through the smoke, Nabila caught a glimpse of Mamana’s brown sandal. She passed out.

Obama's Nuclear Step Forward

AP Images/Mohammad Berno

Shortly after the news broke that a deal over Iran’s nuclear program had been struck in Geneva, Switzerland between Iran and the P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, U.K., France, China, and Germany), President Obama made a short speech from the White House hailing the agreement, and noting the challenges ahead in hammering out a broader comprehensive deal. “Ultimately,” he said, “only diplomacy can bring about a durable solution to the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program.”  

Bibi's Agreement Anxiety Disorder

To explain Benjamin Netanyahu's frenzied reaction to the Geneva agreement on Iran's nuclear program, let me begin with the stack of brown cardboard boxes under my wife's desk.

Each of the five cartons contains a gas mask and related paraphernalia for a member of my family to use in the event of a chemical-weapons attack. They were delivered last January, as part of the gradual government effort to prepare every household in Israel for a rain of Syrian missiles.

Apology Silliness, Foreign Policy Edition

I apologize for these pastries. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

We're now negotiating the terms of our sort-of-departure from Afghanistan, and there's no doubt the Afghan government needs America more than America needs it. Imagine, if you would, that we just packed up and left. There would almost certainly be a full-on civil war, one the Afghan government would be hard-pressed to win. And back here, we'd pay about as much attention as we do now to the river of blood flowing through Iraq, which is to say, every once in a while we'd see a news story and say, "Gee, that's terrible," and then go back to wondering how long it'll be before Miley Cyrus and Lindsay Lohan go on a cross-country crime spree.

So if you were the Afghan government, you probably wouldn't want to drive too hard a bargain in negotiating the terms of the future American presence there. And it's all getting hung up on whether the Americans are going to apologize for killing Afghan civilians, and whether they might offer an apology that isn't really an apology, and whether they can do it in a letter that's signed by Secretary of State John Kerry or if the letter has to be signed by President Obama himself. This is the silliness on which the future of an entire country, and who knows how many lives, depends.

Europe's Miserable Credit Score

Without access to credit, the European South is unlikely to bounce back anytime soon.

AP Photo/Michael Probst,File

European Central Bank president Mario Draghi surprised markets last Thursday by cutting the Bank’s benchmark interest rate to a record low 0.25 percent (as low as the federal funds target rate in the U.S.). Explaining his decision, Draghi—the person who deserves most of the credit for the lull in the euro crisis over the past 15 months—noted that “monetary and, in particular, credit dynamics remain subdued” and that monetary policy must remain accommodative in order to “assist the gradual economic recovery” taking hold in the Eurozone. In other words, monetary policy must remain extremely loose to prevent Europe from sliding into a Japan-style period of protracted stagnation.

Moderating Influences

AP Images/FRANKA BRUNS

“How do you define an Iranian moderate? An Iranian who is out of bullets and out of money.” This was what Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk had to say Wednesday after a briefing by his former Senate colleague, Secretary of State John Kerry, on the state of play in nuclear negotiations with Iran. Last weekend, the talks came tantalizingly close to closing a deal on a first phase agreement, a halt to Iran’s nuclear work in exchange for limited and reversible sanctions relief, which would in turn lead to a broader comprehensive deal addressing the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

Super Sad Spy Story

AP Images/Julian Stratenschulte

Let’s face it, unless Democrats win back the House in 2014, Obama will soon become a lame duck president. To some degree or another, it is a universal truth that second term presidents turn to foreign policy to burnish their historical legacy. Yet the continuous drip of revelations about the NSA’s vast array of surveillance programs is not only shaping up to be the biggest headache for the Obama administration but potentially, part of its defining legacy. And that is sad. Super sad.

The Other Default?

AP Images/Yves Herman

In Brussels they had a word for it: Shutdownfreude. As the standoff between the President and Congress reached its fever pitch last week, officials at the European Commission were relieved that, this time at least, it wasn’t their political system at the center of a potential global meltdown. Now that the United States won’t default on its debt due to a few dozen Tea Party radicals, things are returning to normal. Or should we say the new normal in Europe—serial crisis.

Bomb Me, Big Sheldon

AP Photo/Stanley Troutman, File

The world is full of crazy old men. America has its share. But most of those crazy old men don’t go out in public to advocate America nuking other countries. And most of them aren’t major donors to right-wing American and Israeli politicians and think tanks.

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