Archive for April, 2015

Obama Negotiates

In his joint press conference today with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, President Obama commented on the state of negotiations with Iran, specifically on the issue of sanctions.  While most of the discussion has focused on the question of being able to reimpose sanctions, or abandoning them, or being able to reimpose them after abandoning them, this line caught my ear:

I would just make a general observation. That is that how sanction are, lessened, how we snap back sanctions if there is a violation, there are a lot of different mechanisms and ways to do that. Part of John’s job and part of Iranian negotiators’ job and part of the P5+1’s job, is to sometimes find formulas that get to our main concerns while allowing the other side to make a presentation to their body politic that is more acceptable.

Obama publicly said that, in part, the negotiations with Iran consist of an effort to get what we want, while letting the mullahs present some palatable line to their “body politic.”

In other words, he just told the Iranian people that their leaders are lying to them about the terms of the deal, in order to make the sale.

It’s no doubt true that part of a negotiation can be, under the right circumstances, when you hold the high cards and have been driving a hard bargain, to find some way of letting the other side save face.

None of those conditions obtains here. We’ve been getting rolled, and all Obama has just done with that comment is give the mullahs an excuse to pretend they’ve been backed into a corner where they have to drive a harder bargain.  He seems have mistaken conducting a seminar in foreign policy for actually conducting foreign policy.

As Mark Steyn likes to ask, “If he were on the other side, what would he be doing differently?”

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The Death of the Death Tax?

Thursday, the House will vote on HR1105, the Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015.  This is one of the most unfair taxes on the books, taxing assets and cash that have already been taxed several times along the way.  The bill has 135 co-sponsors, 134 of whom are Republican; kudos to Sanford Bishop of Georgia.

The Democrats would have you believe that the tax falls primarily on the exceedingly wealthy, and so is designed to prevent the concentration of multigenerational wealth.  Perhaps the reason the tax has been such a dismal failure in preventing income inequality is that its premise is so flawed.  The very wealthy have any number of strategies available to them to avoid paying the tax.  Does anyone think Chelsea Clinton is going to go do productive work any time soon?

In the meantime, the tax absolutely crushes asset-rich/cash-poor businesses and farms, of the kind held by successful, but not opulent, families. Often, the choice is between selling assets (and usually it’s the bigger businesses that gobble these up), and taking a loan out.  Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) appeard on Fox News to discuss the bill.  Her family had to take out a 10-year loan to pay the death tax bill when her father was killed in an accident on the farm.

How long before Obama or Elizabeth Warren or Hillary!™ takes a page out of the student loan debacle and decries banks making unfair profits off of families’ misfortune, and demands that the government take over making those loans.

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Where Presidents Come From

Governors, mostly.

We go through this every four years, and I certainly was taken by surprise in 2008 when both parties nominated senators.

This year, so far, it’s all Senators and a former Senator and Secretary of State.  (More on that later.)  Rubio, Cruz, and Paul are all first-term Senators, and given our recent experience with a first-term Senator-as-President, people are understandably leery of electing another one.

If Obama were the only point of reference, I might agree with those who say the comparison is a false one, but the fact is, we don’t have a great record with first-term Senators.  Starting after the Civil War, we have Benjamin Harrison, Warren Harding, and John Kennedy.  Those were the only Presidents elected either directly from the Senate or with the Senate as their only national experience, and they were all first-termers.  (James Garfield was elected from the House, but he really didn’t get much of a chance.)  None of them left much of a record, although it’s possible that two of them, if they hadn’t died in office, might have been re-elected for all that.

Harrison was a one-termer, losing his 1892 rematch with Grover Cleveland.  Harrison had a terrible economy working against him, but then as now, Presidents got the blame or credit for that, probably too much of either.  It wasn’t even a sure thing that Harrison would be renominated, although the obvious candidate, James Blaine, was too ill to run.  True, the executive hadn’t grown to its current, gargantuan proportions, but it was growing into its own, post-Civil War, and was coming to be seen as more important than it had been, with civil service reform a major, multi-decade issue.

Harding’s tenure is mostly remembered for the Teapot Dome scandal, and indeed, his administration appears to have rivaled Grant’s for corruption, although like Grant, Harding hired poorly, rather than to have been on the take himself.  Richard Epstein, about 10 minutes in on this EconTalk podcast, tries to make the case for Harding’s administration, and certainly compared to the frenetic Wilson, he made good on his promise of a “return to normalcy.”  It’s possible a reassessment is in order.  But part of governing is hiring and management, and on that score Harding seems to have failed (with the exception of Mellon at Treasury, which is no small thing).

Kennedy has been canonized by his untimely death, but the fact is the golden haze is mostly misplaced.   He had relatively few domestic achievements, and repeatedly got rolled by Khrushchev – first at the summit, then in Berlin, and finally with the Cuban Missile Crisis.  He made up for it by getting us into Vietnam.

Obama’s been effective in getting some things past, but he’s had to make full use (and then some) of the powers granted the executive branch, and his only real legislative achievement came in large part because of a well-timed prosecution of Ted Stevens, and a variety of found ballots in Minnesota, which conspired to give him 60 votes in the Senate.  A Republican with real coattails in 2016 might pick up a couple of Senate seats, but given the map, is quite unlikely to get such a filibuster-proof majority to work with (although there’s always the chance that a Republican majority leader might follow the Democrat tradition and change the rules to suit his needs).

Of those who ended up President by succession, rather than election, two were legislators first, Truman and Lyndon Johnson.  We tend to think highly of Truman in retrospect, and much of that is based on foreign, rather than domestic policy.  Johnson, while a train wreck in foreign policy, and responsible for a vast expansion of the welfare and regulatory states (which is responsible for much of our current distress), could hardly be called ineffective.  He had spent decades in Congress, learning the ropes, and learning how to apply carrots and sticks, honey and vinegar, in proper proportion.  And of course, both were re-elected.

The last Secretary of State to be elected President was James Buchanan, a rank failure by any measure, inasmuch as the country split into two on his watch.  By that time, it was already becoming an uncommon path to the White House, although many had that ambition: Clay, Webster, Calhoun, Blaine, Seward.  Mostly, that was because the early Democratic-Republican Party established the office as the training ground for the Presidency, with Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams all moving directly from Foggy Bottom to the White House, and all directly in succession.  But Martin Van Buren would be the second-to-last one to make that move, and even then, he stopped off as Jackson’s second-term VP in-between.

He would be the last VP before George HW Bush to succeed the president he served in that role.  Nixon, Humphrey, and Gore all had close calls, but the only way most Veeps got to be chief executive was through succession, not election.

By far, the greatest number of presidents have been governors, and I confess that’s my personal preference.  Governors make decisions, senators make speeches.  Governors run offices, senators run their mouths.  There’s no place to hide as a governor, unlike Senate votes that can be calculated for effect, depending on who’s vulnerable on what issue.

Governors have to learn how to lead, how to work with legislatures, how to persuade, and what points to compromise on while advancing an overall agenda.  They have to make choices.  Effective senators do some of this, but are rarely in a position to have an overall view of where they want policy to go.

The good news is that Republicans have a deep crop of experienced governors waiting to enter the race – Perry, Walker, Bush, Jindal, Christie, Pence, Kasich.  That’s what happens when you build effective state machines, and when you focus on winning state legislative races.

While Hillary certainly has an imperial mentality, it’s unclear if she has an executive one.  And of the senators who’ve declared, only Rubio seems to have taken the time to truly educate himself on foreign policy.

As for me, I’m waiting for the governors.

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Sen. Cotton on Attacking Iran

CNN is quoting Sen. Tom Cotton as comparing a US military operation on Iran’s nuclear facilities to President Clinton’s brief 1998 Desert Fox air campaign.

I admire Cotton for the courage to write The Letter™, round up colleagues to sign it, and publish it, and I think he’s both right and wrong about the prospects of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

He’s right, in that it won’t be anything like the invasion of Iraq, the rescue of Kuwait, or the invasion of Afghanistan. It will be conducted mostly from the air, with specialized units on the ground to support the air ops. It won’t be an invasion, and people who talk of “another war in the Middle East” are trying to conjure up the wrong images, as Cotton points out.

That said, Iran isn’t just Iran. It’s Hamas, Hezbollah, Yemen, and forces in Syria and Iraq. It’s got assets in Europe, South America, and possibly Central America. It almost certainly has sneaked assets into the US, with the ability to do a little more than kidnap the Saudi ambassador.  Expect them to wreak as much mayhem and terror as they can muster, either in immediate response, or over time afterwards.

The argument for attacking them now, is that it’s better to fight a non-nuclear Iran now, before it’s consolidated its grip on the region and further developed its missile technology, than to fight a nuclear one later, with all the resources it will have at its disposal.  That may or may not be the best or only course of action, but it’s one that may well be required.

Given the nature of the regime, any effective negotiation needs to be backed by the credible use of force, and any credible use of force needs to include the enemy’s retaliatory capability.

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Robert Zubrin on Iran

Robert Zubrin, in three succinct Facebook posts, explains his objections to the Iran “deal.”  First, the problems with the deal itself:

The problem with the Obama-Teheran Pact is that no genuine deal is possible. This is so because the entire purpose of the Iranian nuclear program is to produce nuclear bombs. The proof of this is:
  1. Iran does not need nuclear power for electricity, as it is currently flaring vast quantities of natural gas.
  2. If Iran did want nuclear power for electricity, it could buy 3.7% enriched U235 (reactor grade) for power generation purposes from either France or Russia at much lower cost than it can producing it domestically.
  3. Therefore, the only reason why Iran needs its own enrichment capability is to further enrich reactor grade U235 to bomb grade material.
  4. Further proof of this is supplied by the fact that Iran is actively developing ICBMs, whose only purpose is to deliver nuclear warheads.
  5. Therefore there can be no genuine deal, because any arrangement which stops Iran from developing nuclear weapons would defeat the entire purpose of its nuclear bomb program, while any deal that does not stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons would represent a complete capitulation by the West.
  6. And since Iran cares deeply about what actually results from any deal, while Obama only cares about how the deal appears, it is clear that any deal which is made will be one in which Iran is allowed to develop atomic bombs while Obama gets to pretend otherwise for a few months.
Second (in two posts), a way that Israel, or some other country, could stop the program almost immediately, and now has the incentive to do so:

The simplest way to stop the Iranian nuclear bomb program completely is to strike Iran’s oil export terminal on Kharg Island. As you can see, it is a very soft target. Two dozen JDAMs would suffice to set the whole place ablaze. Without oil exports, Iran would go bankrupt, and not only the bomb program, but the entire regime would be brought to an end, as they would be unable to meet payroll. No bucks = no bombs.

I observe that my previous posting identifying Iran’s extreme vulnerability to a strike on Kharg Island has provoked numerous responses objecting to US military action and pointing out a variety of possible negative consequences. However those authors misunderstand my point entirely. I am not calling for a US military strike on Kharg Island. That obviously is not going to happen under the Obama administration, as its current energetic efforts to make any deal with Iran, regardless of consequences, clearly shows. I was simply pointing out that if someone actually did want to stop Iran from getting atomic weapons, they readily could do it using much smaller military forces than the US has at its disposal.

Therefore, those people who find the idea of a strike on Kharg island and its potential aftermath unpleasant should do everything in their power to prevent the Obama administration from sealing a deal that would make such a strike an existential necessity for the Israelis.

It will be observed that everywhere Obama has abandoned America’s commitments, chaos and mass bloodshed has erupted. Look at Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Ukraine. Consider what will happen to Afghanistan, particularly the women and girls of Afghanistan, as soon as Obama withdraws American forces. Should Obama be allowed to proceed with his policy of ending the containment of Iran, the level of violence he has already unleashed will continue to expand without limit.

When the policeman abandons his post, it does not bring peace to the neighborhood.


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