World

Are Hawks in Congress Trying to Scuttle Iran Talks?

Negotations over the county's nuclear program have been deemed fruitful by both sides, so why are GOP hardliners making trouble just when things seem to be going well?

AP Images
F or the first time in a long time, the news out of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, which took place Tuesday and Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland, was extremely positive. In a statement at the close of talks Wednesday—the first ever such joint statement from the Iranian and P5+1 delegations (the permanent five UN Security Council members plus Germany)—European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif hailed “two days of substantive and forward looking negotiations.” “I've been doing this now for about two years, and I have never had such intense, detailed, straightforward, candid conversations with the Iranian delegation before,” said a senior U.S. official after the talks. “And I would say we are beginning that kind of negotiation to get to a place where, in fact, one can imagine that you could possibly have an agreement.” The official continued, “I think if you talk to any of the P5+1 members–and some of them have been...

An Ignoble Prize

Eugene Fama, one of the winners of this year’s Nobel in economics, is the fellow who proposed that all markets are efficient all of the time—more precisely that market pricing accurately captures all available information and thus creates “correct” prices. Fama also insisted that there is no such thing as a price bubble. Somehow, the man missed one of history’s great bubbles and the collapse that followed—an epic case of markets getting prices wrong. He also missed the fact that markets have incorrectly priced carbon, leading to global climate disaster, which Lord Nicholas Stern correctly termed “history’s greatest case of market failure.” For this, they give the man a Nobel. What timing! The mind boggles in search of an apt comparison. It’s like giving a posthumous Nobel in physics to Ptolemy rather than Copernicus for demonstrating that the sun revolves around the earth. Or maybe in biology not to Gregor Mendel or Charles Darwin but to Trofim Lysenko, Stalin’s court geneticist, for...

In Catalonia, a Warning on One-State Solutions

AP Images/Paco Serinelli
AP Images/Paco Serinelli F rom the balconies above the narrow stone-paved streets of Girona hung gold-and-red striped flags. A blue triangle and white star adorned most of them, transforming the banner of the autonomous region of Catalonia into the standard of Catalonian independence. Here and there a legend emblazoned a flag: Catalunya, Nou Estat D'Europa —"Catalonia, A New State in Europe." I'd taken the train north from Barcelona to see Salvador Dali's personal museum in Figueres and then explore Girona's medieval old city. I was on vacation from the Middle East. But a political writer's time off can so easily become a busman's holiday. I looked at the flags and thought of the arguments about how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio, about political scientist Ian Lustick's very recent New York Times essay despairing of a two-state outcome, and about the furies that the late Tony Judt released almost precisely 10 years ago when he came out for a one-state solution. Nationalism...

Can Bibi Take Yes for an Answer?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig T he weeks leading up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday had been the most positive between the U.S. and Iran in decades. Conciliatory gestures from both sides, as well as a reportedly productive meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, culminated in a phone call between Presidents Obama and Rohani, the first ever between a President of the United States and a President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, on Friday. Netanyahu clearly saw it as his job to put the brakes on, like a sitcom father dashing down the stairs to stop the kids from making out on the couch. Except that Rohani hasn’t even gotten to first base. While Obama’s speech at the UN made clear that the U.S. desires a diplomatic solution, with the possibility of a better U.S.-Iran relationship in the future, he has also made clear that Iran’s deeds will matter more than its words. "...

Talking Second-Amendment Rights in China

AP Images/Vincent Yu
I’m a U.S. citizen, and I live with Chinese, British, and Brazilian roommates in Beijing. In China, introductions tend to elicit specific responses from locals, and it’s always an interesting representation of a given country’s warped reputation. When the Brit introduces himself, he’s often labeled a gentleman. When the Brazilian shakes hands, Chinese compliment him on his country’s soccer prowess and inquire whether he can dance the Rumba. When I introduce myself as American, I’m frequently asked whether I own a gun. This occurs in various situations, regardless of the background of who asks. I say no, but that my father, who grew up on a farm, owns a small pistol and has recently taken up skeet shooting. I never thought much about it as a kid, or even now, because guns were never a big part of my childhood. Only when someone asks do I remember we had one in the house. The American familiarity with guns is tough to explain to people in China—citizen gun ownership is banned and most...

Angela Merkel, Black Widow, Seeks Partner

AP Images/Michael Sohn
The American press has widely reported on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s nickname: “Mutti,” which translates to “Mommy.” Less noted is her second nickname, which is also familial but decidedly less affectionate: “The Black Widow.” She has earned this second sobriquet because she kills her partners with whom she governmentally cohabits. In Germany’s 2005 election, Merkel’s Christian Democrats edged out the then-governing Social Democrats by a single percentage point, 35 percent to 34 percent. The Social Democrats then entered into a coalition government headed by the Christian Democrats, with Merkel as chancellor. In the next election, in 2009, Merkel claimed credit for the government’s successes, while the Social Democrats had trouble defining themselves as a clear opposition party. As a consequence, not only did Merkel’s party win re-election, but the Social Democrats’ vote fell to an all-time low of 23 percent. Since 2009, the Christian Democrats have governed in partnership with...

Boom Times for the NRA

Flickr/Sea Grape
There's a lot happening at the moment—government shutdown, war in Syria, Iranian president sort of maybe not denying the Holocaust—so there was very little attention given to the fact that yesterday, the United States government signed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), commonly known as the small-arms treaty. It's meant to prevent the arming of human-rights abusers—potential perpetrators of genocide, and the like—by obligating states not to sell conventional weapons, from small arms up to tanks and helicopters, to foreign governments or entities that are going to use them to commit war crimes and massacre civilians. When it was voted on by the UN, the only countries that voted against it were Syria, Iran, and North Korea. And today, the National Rifle Association is celebrating. That might strike you as odd, but the ATT is political gold for them. It's the international equivalent of a failed gun control effort in Congress, which is far, far better than no gun control effort...

Angela Merkel's Boring Brilliance

AP Images/Markus Schreiber
AP Images/Markus Schreiber F ew European politicians have survived the financial crisis of 2008 unscathed, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has proved to be an extraordinary politician. While most of her counterparts across Europe have been swept away amidst the turmoil that has resulted from the euro crisis, Merkel keeps getting stronger. She just won her third general election, and this time, she brought her party within a hair of an absolute majority, something that hasn’t happened to the conservative Christian Democrats since 1957. She’s the first female chancellor in German history, and at the height of her power, which means her tried and true policy of slow, almost glacial change will continue. How boring. And how utterly genius. Not since Bismarck has a German politician managed to parry a dizzying array of domestic and international forces into a manageable agenda as well as she has. Known to friend and foe alike as “Mutti” (“mommy” in German), Merkel is not only the...

Hawks at Home—Obama and Rohani's Shared Obstacle

U nless you’re someone who relishes the prospect of U.S.-Iran conflict, President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday didn’t disappoint. Recognizing the opportunity presented by the new Iranian president, the speech marked a return to the conciliation of Obama’s first term, only this time backed up by several years’ worth of economic sanctions. While it’s easy to dismiss Obama’s reiteration of America’s commitment to the United Nations at the top of the speech as the usual internationalist boilerplate, the importance of robust American participation in multilateral institutions is something that has underpinned his administration’s approach to foreign policy. (For a wide-angle view of the speech, read John Judis’s excellent take .) It’s this approach—pursuing U.S. goals within a broader multilateral framework—that has facilitated the ongoing international effort to pressure and cajole Iran to address concerns over its nuclear program. Notably, the...

Obama’s Foreign-Policy Realism

AP Images/Meisam Hosseini
AP images/Meisam Hosseini President Obama’s attempted rapprochement with Iran and Syria takes him full circle, back to the Obama of the 2008 campaign and the Obama who was (prematurely) awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Evidently the United States is now willing to foreswear the use of force if these still-nasty regimes will give up weapons of mass destruction. It’s both a remarkable shift, and a low bar. This new course presents a tricky set of diplomatic challenges. It falls squarely within the school of foreign policy known as realism: give up on ideals that are unattainable and focus on those that serve core national interests and that can be achieved at proportional cost, even if that means making peace with regimes you detest. In modern times, Henry Kissinger, sponsor of détente with China, was the great advocate of realism—with the notable exception of the failed crusade in Vietnam. Realism says that we should try to get along with even brutal status-quo powers, not topple them,...

Me, Myself, and Netanyahu

AP Photo/Ammar Awad, Pool
(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File) W hen Barack Obama looks at the White House appointment book and sees that Benjamin Netanyahu will come calling next Monday, I doubt he'll smile. Past meetings between the president and the Israeli prime minister have come in two types: ones in which they publicly displayed the mutual distaste of brothers-in-law who wish they weren't in business together and ones in which they pretended for the cameras that they get along. Netanyahu's political soul is a hybrid of an early 21st- century Republican and a mid-20th- century Central European. In a certain place inside him, every day is September 30, 1938, when Britain sold out Czechoslovakia, and great-power perfidy is inevitable. A year ago, in his more contemporary mode, Netanyahu was publicly supporting Obama's electoral opponent, a detail neither man will mention on Monday. Obama and Netanyahu must always discuss two issues, Iran and Israeli-Palestinian peace, which they see in ways so different that they...

The Strategy that Dare Not Speak Its Name

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi
A s the past weeks of debate over action in Syria have shown, it’s nearly impossible to discuss U.S. policy toward the Middle East without discussing Iran, and concerns over the possibility that it could obtain a nuclear weapon. Over the past three decades, the U.S. approach to the region has been, if not entirely defined by the tension between Americans and Islamic Republic, then strongly colored by it. For its part, Iran has, to a considerable extent, defined itself in opposition to the United States, the sponsor of the oppressive Shah who was overthrown in the 1979 revolution. A key foreign policy goal of the Islamic Republic is undermining and rolling back the U.S.’s influence in the neighborhood which it considers itself the natural hegemon of. That bid for regional influence was given a generous boost by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which removed Iran’s bitterest foe, Saddam Hussein, whose invasion of Iran in 1980 sparked the massively destructive eight-year war that...

American Public Oddly Reasonable on Syrian War

President Obama addressing the nation on Syria.
When public opinion is running against the position you've taken on something, it's natural to conclude either that the people just haven't yet heard your argument clearly, or even that opinion doesn't matter. And in one sense, it doesn't. If you're right, you're right, even if most Americans disagree. Not long ago, most Americans had a problem with people of different races to get married; they were wrong about that even if they were in the majority. Of course, that's a matter of substance, which is distinct from matters of politics, which can constrain your behavior whether you're substantively in the right or not. So I wonder what Barack Obama thinks of public opinion on Syria these days. I doubt that he's like George W. Bush, who was forever certain that "history" would judge the Iraq War to be a smashing success. By now Obama may have concluded that he'll probably never win the public over on this question, so he should just try to move things along as best he can. There's a new...

America's Exception Deception

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster I n a democracy, politicians seldom counsel the public to be modest. They flatter and praise the voters, telling them that they are just and wise, hardworking and principled, possessed of boundless vision and common sense. And here in America at least, they also generalize those virtues from the people to the nation itself. America, Americans are endlessly reassured, is unique and special among the world's countries. It i sn't just that we're the most important country, which is undeniable, since we have the biggest economy, the biggest (and most frequently deployed) military, and the most influential popular culture. Those things could change someday. Instead, what voters are told over and over again is that we're "exceptional." We're not just stronger or richer; we're better. Indeed, we're stronger and richer because we're better. And we may well be exceptional in how often we're told that we're exceptional. My knowledge of the electoral politics of other...

Meanwhile, in the Refugee Crisis

AP Photo/Bilal Hussein
AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty T wo million refugees from Syria. The figure was announced last week and easily missed amid headlines about the Tomahawks that would or would not be fired at targets dear to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Refugees are less dramatic than cruise missiles, less dramatic even than wrangling about a Security Council resolution on Syria's poison-gas arsenal. Yet the exodus from the civil war-torn country represents a humanitarian crisis no less stark, a moral demand no less pressing, than the use of chemical weapons. It is a crisis which has policy responses that do not involve bombs, that do not require a debate about America and Europe re-entering the Middle East's wars. They do, however, demand spending money and a willingness to take in refugees on a new and much larger scale. In the end, these costs pale in comparison to the costs of war. Two million refugees, in truth, is a careful understatement. It's the number of Syrians who have registered as refugees...

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