Rare Species, Previously Believed Extinct, Sighted: A Balanced Analysis Of The Iran Nuclear Deal

On a matter of as much significance and complexity as the Iran nuclear deal, it is depressing to see that almost all commentary in the news media begins with a partisan bias, a “team” mentality, and the typical talking-point orientation that makes genuine public understanding unattainable today. People choose the position that already aligns with their friends and their loyalties, and adopt it uncritically. As a result, public discourse is useless.

This is no way to run a democracy.

Elliot Cohen is a prominent Never-Trump neo-con and foreign policy scholar, writing in the Atlantic, a generally “resistance”-favorable progressive publication. His analysis of the current contretemps involving the Iran deal is the closest I have seen yet to a fair and balanced one. That doesn’t mean I think he is right on all counts, especially ethically. The second half of this statement, for example is as  troubling as the first half is refreshing:

“The Iran deal was, in truth, a very bad one. It did nothing to inhibit Iranian behavior in the broader Middle East, did nothing to stop its ballistic programs, and opened the path for a resumption of the nuclear-weapons program in a decade or so. Some of us said so at the time. Walking away from it, however, will make matters worse not only because success is unlikely, but because this shredding of an earlier presidential agreement further undermines the qualities that those who look to American leadership have come to value—predictability, steadiness, and continuity. Even when American allies have doubted the superpower’s wisdom, they usually felt they could count on its constancy.”

They also have to be able to count on its competence, courage, and ability to change course when a current course is disastrous. It is unethical to make policies that are careless, expedient and dangerous in a setting where there is no recourse once the course is set.  Leaders have to undo mistakes and take new directions even when it means future distrust and present anger.  The previous President took unseemly joy in declaring previous Presidential policies wrong-headed, and reversing them forthwith. True: this is a bad habit, and all leaders should respect previous decisions and commitments by their predecessors, except in extraordinary circumstances. The standard should be similar to the Supreme Court’s rule of stare decisus, which means that previous SCOTUS rulings have the presumption of permanence, unless they are sufficiently bad for law and the nation. I am satisfied to move the Iran debate from the Obama-Kerry mythology to “it’s a bad deal.” The question is then whether it is sufficiently bad to justify a variance from the general rule that Presidents ought to leave agreements made before their election stand if at all possible.

To his credit, Cohen displays almost equal contempt for the Obama administration and President Trump. Some notable excerpts: Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/15/2018: Remember The Titanic And The Bay Of Pigs Edition”

I’m always up for a little United Nations bashing, as a good argument can be mounted that an organization that pretends to further the aims of world peace and international cooperation and does so incompetently, fecklessly and corruptly is worse than no such organizations at all. I’m also always up for pointing out that this much maligned President is so much more competent at international politics and foreign affairs than Barack Obama that his domestic foes can only deal with it by double standards and transparent dishonesty.

This is as good a time as any to mention that Ethics Alarms passed the 9000 post landmark this week, and those posts (over less than nine years) have sparked 222, 231 comments so far, at a steadily increasing rate. Say what you will about the blog: it doesn’t lack for content. Or diverse topics: at last count, there were 24, 393 tags. That’s a lot even if you allow for the misspelled ones.

Here is Steve-O-in NJ’s Syria bombing-inspired Comment of the Day on the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/15/2018: Remember The Titanic And The Bay Of Pigs Edition:

The UN has been worthless by design from the get-go. Any institution that gives certain members an absolute veto over any action by that institution isn’t going to get anything done, especially when one of those members, the USSR and now Russia, is going to abuse that privilege. The institution as a whole is completely without a moral compass, and shows zero judgment or even consideration what nations it allows to sit on what committees. It’s a bad joke when Syria is about to sit on a committee concerning chemical weapons and Iran and North Korea can sit on committees regarding human rights. Other than Korea (because the USSR walked out), name one situation where the UN stepped in and took decisive action.

As for criticism of the President for finally taking action [in Syria], I think he actually did a pretty good job of fooling the media and probably others by making it look like he was backing off the immediacy of the attack to do some more coalition building with the allies and to let the USS Truman and its battle group get into position, which they should do in the next couple of days. Of course that led to a lot of talk about how this would just peter out, that Trump wasn’t going to enforce anything just like Obama didn’t and so forth. It turns out the coalition was already ready to go, and the forces in the area were plenty up to the task already. Maybe a dozen aircraft and five ships did the actual firing of weapons, including 30 missiles fired by the cruiser USS Monterey (a big reason to keep the Ticonderoga-class cruisers sailing).

I can understand some of the reactions. It’s just politics as usual, necessary action when your party’s President does something, but reckless or wrong or whatever when the other side’s President does it. There are a few principled peaceful people, who can be ignored, saying any use of force is wrong under any circumstances  and a few folks justifiably gun-shy because of the mess that Iraq became. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Day: Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen

'Oh, all right, here's what I really think, since I'm already ticked off...'

‘Oh, all right, here’s what I really think, since we’re way past the 2012 election and I’m already ticked off...’

 “The Russians managed to do what they wanted to do in Syria. Why not the United States? The answer has always been clear to me. Obama did not care enough. Not from him ever came a thundering demand that Russia and Iran get out and stay out. Behind the arguably persuasive reasons to do little in Syria was an emotional coldness. This was not Obama’s fight. Kellyanne Conway keeps pointing out that Hillary Clinton had no message. True. Neither for that matter did Obama. He waved a droopy flag. He did not want to make America great again. It was great enough for him already. The banner he flew was one of American diminishment. One could agree, one could not be proud . . . Since the end of world War II, American leadership has been essential to maintain world peace. Whether we liked it or not, we were the world’s policeman. There was no other cop on the beat. Now that leadership is gone. So, increasingly, will be peace.”

Richard Cohen, reliably liberal Washington Post op-ed columnist of long-standing, in his latest titled, “Thanks to no-drama Obama, American leadership is gone.

Good for Cohen. Like George Will on the conservative side, Cohen will occasionally break through his biases to pronounce hard truth. Except to pacifists and isolationists, Obama’s foreign policy has made the world a far more dangerous place, and created a power vacuum that is being filled by Russia, Iran, China and terrorist organizations. Weak, feckless and inept, the President’s foreign misadventures and evasions have been substantially shielded from accountability by public apathy, media alibis, and Hillary Clinton’s bind, which prevented her from articulating her own criticisms of our current foreign weakness  for fear that it would lose her the support of the blind Obama cheering section. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Democratic U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD.)

Cardin

Last week, Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, authored an op-ed announcing his opposition to the Iran Nuclear aggreement. In doing so, he placed himself in the line of fire of President Obama and his allies, including Minority Leader Harry Reid, who, in the words of one observer, were “breaking arms and legs” to ensure sufficient support to get the measure approved and veto proof. The President, disgracefully, had already compared principled opponents of the risky and irresponsible agreement—essentially the apotheosis of the President’s crippling phobia about projecting U.S. power abroad in the interests of peace when it might require threats backed by the willingness to carry them out. (We are seeing the devastating results of this leadership failure in Syria)—as the moral equivalent of terrorists. His allies in the news media had ignored all objectivity to marginalize Democratic opponants of the deal while tarring Republicans as warmongers, and effort that hit ethics rock bottom with the New York Times “Jew-Tracker” that implied that loyalty to a foreign government and faith, not consideration, analysis and principle, were behind opposition to the President’s scheme. Here is the Times graphic…

Jew-tracker-copyNice. Continue reading

Hugh Hewitt’s “Gotcha!” On Trump

trump-hewitt

If the Republicans, conservatives and liberal media can’t torpedo Donald Trump’s ridiculous and destructive presidential quest fairly and based on substance, their problems go a lot deeper than Donald Trump.

Wait a minute—they do!

The attempt to make a big deal out of Trump’s performance on the conservative radio talk show hosted by Earl Warren look-alike Hugh Hewitt is another example of the kind of unfair tactics that will just drive more supporters his way. First Hewitt asked Trump about Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple calls the famous leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Really? Famous? I’ll say right now: never heard of the dude. I will also say that if my ethics business required dealing with Iraq, I’d be briefed on him thoroughly before I had to make any substantive decisions. Trump’s “yeeees…”  indicated that ether he knew a quiz was coming, or had no idea who he was; then he said,  “Go ahead, give me a little, go ahead, tell me.” Then…

Hewitt: “He runs the Quds Forces.” (Listen to this on the Post link. I’m from Boston.  Anyone in my high school would have pronounced “Quds” and “Kurds” indistinguishably)

Trump: “Yes, OK, right.”

Hewitt: “Do you expect his behavior–”

Trump: “I think the Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated by us.”

Hewitt: “No, not the Kurds — the Quds Forces, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Forces — the bad guys.”

Trump: “Yes, right.”

Hewitt: “Do you expect his behavior to change as a result –”

Trump: “Oh, I thought you said Kurds, Kurds.”

This, apparently, shows that Trump is unqualified to be President.  (He is, but not because of this.) Count on Democrats using the fact that Hillary can run off these names as proof of her superiority, though she was, you know, Secretary of State. Later, when Hewitt tried more quiz questions about the Middle East, Trump objected: Continue reading

The Washington Post—Finally—Admits The Truth About President Obama

fingers-pointing

I will reprint The Washington Post’s lead editorial here nearly in full. I will have comments after, though I will make this one now: every character trait and leadership deficit the Post points to  was evident to objective observers—like me—from the beginning of Obama’s administration. That one of the most consistent and prominent Democratic Party and liberal policy boosters in the national news media finally mounts the integrity, honesty and integrity to admit it now is not all that satisfying.

Here is, with a few omissions so you will link to the site and read the whole thing (it’s only fair), is the damning and undeniable editorial:

Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) decided he would vote against President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, he explained his reasoning in a 1,700-word essay. On balance, he concluded, “the very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great.” We disagree with that conclusion, but not with serene confidence; we share the senator’s concern that Iran will use the lifting of sanctions to intensify its toxic behavior in the region. We understand and respect Mr. Schumer’s decision; also, it’s generally better to treat policy disagreements in good faith.

That has not been the spirit in which Mr. Obama and his team have met his Iran-deal critics. The president has countered them with certitude and ad hominem attacks, the combined import of which is that there are no alternatives to his policy, that support for the deal is an obvious call and that nearly anyone who suggests otherwise is motivated by politics or ideology. Mr. Obama’s rhetoric reached its low point when he observed that the deal’s opponents value war over diplomacy and that Iranian extremists were “making common cause with the Republican caucus.”

Continue reading

A Brief, Depressing Follow-Up On The Iran Deal

mushroom-cloud

I have been reading a lot about the Iran deal, hoping against hope that I just don’t understand it, and that it might be more responsible than it seems, because it seems to be astoundingly irresponsible.

Comes the Washington Post editorial board, reliably supportive of the President—any Democratic President, really–and a good bet to find the silver lining in any cloud. Surely, if this agreement isn’t the crowning, most dangerous incompetence on the mountain of incompetence that is the Obama Presidency, the Washington Post will move that mountain aside to show why.

Here are some direct quotes from this pro Obama, pro-Iran deal editorial by a liberal media standard bearer:

If the transformation of Iranian behavior the president hopes for does not occur, the deal on its nuclear program may ultimately prove to be a poor one — a temporary curb that, when it lapses, will enable a dangerous threshold nuclear state that poses a major threat to the United States and its allies.

In other words, the deal does not ensure this “transformation” will occur, the U.S. has no control overwhwether the “transformation” does occur, and the treaty doesn’t have anything in it that will compel such a transformation. Keep your fingers crossed.

 Its most immediate effect will be to provide Tehran with up to $150 billion in fresh assets from sanctions relief over the next year, funds that its leaders will probably use to revive the domestic economy but also to finance wars and terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria, the Gaza Strip, Yemen and elsewhere.

Gee, what a great deal.

Though Mr. Obama has promised to mitigate that outcome with new support for Israel and U.S. Arab allies, one effect of the deal may be an increase in the sectarian bloodshed wracking the region, as well as the conventional threat to Israel. When embargoes on arms and missile sales to Iran expire in five and eight years, that threat could further escalate, and Tehran could seek missiles capable of striking U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf or reaching the U.S. homeland.

That’s what the treaty allows, mind you.

These strictures, according to the administration’s experts, will keep Iran a year away from producing a weapon during that time — provided that it does not cheat by secretly conducting nuclear work elsewhere.Because Iran twice has been caught in such clandestine work, that is a critical concern — and the provisions for deterring and detecting violations are the areas in which Tehran fought for, and won, some troubling compromises. International inspectors seeking access to a suspected Iranian site could be delayed by a 24-day, multi-step process ultimately requiring five votes on an eight-member committee; at a minimum, the United States and four European representatives would have to concur. While a U.S. president could, in theory, unilaterally determine that Iran was cheating and force the reimposition of U.N. sanctions, it could take 65 days and might prove politically unworkable.

Wow! I see another Peace Prize!

 Mr. Obama settled for terms far short of those he originally aimed for.

This is what happens when you want a deal of any kind, and don’t have the guts to walk away.

Whether he is right in claiming that his successor in 10 or 15 years “will be in a far stronger position” with Iran will depend on whether his hopeful theory about its political future proves correct.

No, we can only judge the competence and reasonableness of an agreement at the time it is made. “We might get lucky” is no defense.

I’m convinced, and by The Washington Post: this was a craven, inept, dangerous agreement made by a foolish, desperate, deluded man and an tragically incompetent leader. The American people have an obligation to the entire world, and their children and grandchildren, to insist that Democrats join Republicans in killing it.

Later they can explain why they would again hand the nation over to a party that placed the fate of civilization in the unqualified hands of a President like this.

Ethics Observations On The Iran Deal And Its Media Coverage

treaty1. Throughout the negotiations for the apparently now completed Iran nuclear deal, all I could think about is how it would have made my old negotiation professor, the late Adrian Fisher  (who negotiated the SALT treaty) throw up. He taught his negotiation class at Georgetown Law Center, where he was the Dean, that no advantageous negotiation can occur unless your side is willing to walk away from the table. It has been clear from the beginning that the Obama Administration was desperate for this deal for political purposes, not national security, which the treaty does not assist in any way.

Dean Fisher—and his frequent guests, like Averill Harriman— taught his class that deadlines were essential in the negotiation process, both as a tool to force the other side to make tough decisions, and as a demonstration of resolve.  In this negotiation, the U.S. repeatedly allowed “deadlines” to pass, with no consequences. That tells the Iranians all they need to know about the U.S.’s likely response when they violate the terms of the agreement, as they are certain to do, at least as long as this weak, feckless, posturing and irresolute President is in office.

Of course, to be fair, the Iranians had plenty of evidence on that score already, as did we all.  “Red line,” you know.

2. The administration admits that it does not trust Iran. GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, who opposes the treaty, stated that Iran has never kept any international agreement or promise,, and thus cannot be trusted to keep this one. Nobody is seriously disputing that. Under such conditions, the whole concept of the deal is irresponsible. Who signs a treaty that it seriously doubts the other side will obey? Graham called this is the equivalent of making a deal with “religious Nazis.” The comparison is apt, except that the Obama arrangement with Iran is in some ways even more reckless than the one Neville Chamberlain made with Hitler. At least Chamberlain believed—stupidly, naively—that Hitler wanted peace. The Iran deal is what the Munich treaty would have been if Chamberlain was pretty sure Germany would invade Czechoslovakia and Poland anyway.

Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” was a pathetic hope. Obama’s is more like a lie. Continue reading

The Jeb Bush “Gotcha!”: Unfair Question, Dumb Answers

Enough about Iraq, Jeb: When did you stop beating your wife?

Enough about Iraq, Jeb: When did you stop beating your wife?

In the vast history of unfair questions, even including such immortals as “When did you stop beating your wife?,”none is more unanswerable in a substantive way than the question Jeb Bush was asked on Fox News—yes, that’s the same Fox News that supposedly lobs softballs for any Republican. The question: “Knowing what we know now” would he have authorized the Iraq war?

What possible use is that question, other than as an exercise in complete hindsight bias? If the answer is no, it appears to validate the dishonest criticism of the war decades ago, by those who attributed new knowledge about the infamous WMD’s to the original decision, which wasn’t about weapons of mass destruction in the first place. If it is yes, it is evidence of insanity.

Now we know that the invasion would be botched, the U.N. would cravenly and irresponsibly withhold support for enforcing its own resolutions, that our hillbilly soldiers would torture Iraqi prisoners and take photos of it, that the new Iraqi government would be incompetent and corrupt, that the news media would assist Democrats in re-writing the history of the decision, and most of all, that even after the situation in Iraq had finally been stabilized, an incompetent President would prematurely pull out our troops, causing the government to implode and ISIS to thrive.

George W. Bush had even said when he was President that if he had known that no WMD’s were there, he would not have invaded Iraq. That was also a dumb answer at the time, and I believe a dishonest one. But today, W. would give the same answer, and knowing what we know now, it would be both correct and honest. That’s if he were silly enough not to say, as his younger brother was too dim to say, this:

“I’m not answering that. It’s pointless. Would Lee have ordered Pickett’s Charge, knowing how it would turn out? Would I have left the dock as captain of the Titanic, knowing that it would hit an iceberg? Would I have approved the Space Shuttle program, knowing that two shuttles would meet with disaster? “Would you still go to see ‘Our American Cousin,’ Mrs Lincoln?” A decision can only be judged based on what the known situation is at the time. It cannot be fairly judged based on the results of the decision, immediately or years later. That’s consequentialism; it’s a logical fallacy.

and

“Nor can I answer the question of what I would have decided in my brother’s place, because I do know how things worked out, and he, of course, could not know. So asking that question is unfair to me, and answering it would be unfair to him. “

But Jeb was too dim to say that. So first he answered… Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Sen. John McCain, and also “WHAT????”

U.S. Senator John McCain gestures as he arrives to address the third session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa

“It was kind of a very rapid process. Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm. I think we probably should have had more discussion about it, given the blowback that there is.”

—- Sen. John McCain (R-Az) to Politico, explaining and making excuses for 47 Republican Senators injecting themselves into sensitive U.S. negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapon development..

1. I am speechless. Luckily, I can type.

Well, sort of.

2. The silver lining: at least the Senator just made those regretting President Obama’s election in 2008 feel better. We were spared embarrassing moments like that of President McCain, asked why he sent missiles to destroy Toronto, explaining, “Yeah, I was watching “Family Feud,” had to run to the can, and was distracted. Hey, it happens.” Continue reading