Saturday, January 16, 2016

Who Knew Diplomacy Could Work With Iran? Oh, Right. Obama Did.

This had been an eventual week on the political stage, with Obama performing his last State of the Union, the Republican Presidential candidates going feral at each other at yet another horrific primary debate, and a series of international incidents involving the "rogue nation" of Iran.

The earlier incident involved two Navy patrol boats in the Persian Gulf performing maneuvers: somehow one of the boats suffered a failure and both boats ended up drifting into Iranian waters off Farsi Island. As the Washington Post reports:

...A senior defense official, speaking in Washington, said the sailors were not harmed but would undergo medical evaluation and a debriefing in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. Meanwhile, their vessels were taken by another American crew to Bahrain, their original destination and home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The release appeared to end a potential flash point as Iran and world powers move toward the possible next steps in a landmark nuclear deal that limits Tehran’s atomic program in exchange for the easing of international economic sanctions.
The detention also added to tensions in the Persian Gulf region amid the worst diplomatic unraveling in decades between Shiite power Iran and Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies. The feud — opened by Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric earlier this month — has put Washington in the middle as it seeks to implement the nuclear deal while also backing its key regional partner, Saudi Arabia...
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, in a statement, expressed his “gratitude to Iranian authorities for their cooperation in quickly resolving this matter…. That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong.”
The incident, meanwhile, offered a test of new high-level channels opened during the nuclear talks between the two nations. Diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran soured after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, and they were formally severed in April 1980, five months after militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took Americans hostage.
For hours — even as President Obama gave his annual State of the Union address — messages passed directly between Iran and Washington instead of the intermediary nations used for decades. The exchanges included Kerry reaching out to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was Iran’s point man during the nuclear talks...

What's important to note that this is all happening in the background of a more pressing concern: the phased slowdown on Iran's attempts at a nuclear weapons program, along with promised lifting of international sanctions that forced Iran to negotiate. From the BBC news:

As part of the deal, Iran had to drastically reduce its number of centrifuges and dismantle a heavy-water reactor near the town of Arak, both of which could be used in creating nuclear weapons...
Iran has always maintained its nuclear programme is peaceful, but opponents of the deal - such as some US Republicans - say it does not do enough to ensure the country cannot develop a nuclear bomb.
The US Secretary of State John Kerry has ordered that US nuclear-related economic sanctions against Iran be lifted.
Speaking in Vienna where he had been holding talks with his Iranian counterpart, Mr Kerry said Iran had "undertaken significant steps" which many people "doubted would ever come to pass"...

And along with this, the United States secured the release - via prisoner exchange - of five of our citizens some of whom have been held in Iran since November.

This works a little bit better than labeling Iran part of an "Axis of Evil". Remember that? How three nations with absolutely nothing to do with each other - Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Ayatollah's Iran, and the Il Jong North Korea Crime Family - all got bunched together as a collective bogeyman Legion of Doom? All part of the Bush the Lesser administration's attempt to invoke an updated version of the World War II Axis of Germany, Italy and Japan.

Bush's people did that at a time we were starting to work with Iran especially with efforts against the Taliban in Afghanistan, with a reasonably moderate elected government. By 2003, the Iranians were miffed enough at the roughshod treatment that they voted the moderates out and by 2006 went their version of wingnut, which hurt our efforts to resolve the painful occupations of Afghanistan AND Iraq. It made it rougher in their own nation when the moderate-leaning populace tried going back to a responsible government only to have the hardline Ayatollah forces crackdown on them. Neither the U.S. nor Iran enjoyed the consequences of that diplomatic snafu.

But now with a President in Obama who takes foreign policy serious, as a collective effort between nations to resolve matters before they escalate and to fight back against the darker forces like ISIL, we have better results. We're getting Iran to deal with us, not against us. We're recognizing their ability to play as a Rational Actor on the global stage.

So of course the Republican Party and their 2016 headline candidates are throwing conniptions about it. Per the Washington Monthly:

...But yesterday, in the mere 24 hours surrounding the SOTU, we were able to see a situation unfold in a way that demonstrates how quick Republicans have been to jump on the anti-Obama bandwagon - no matter what that means - and just how wrong that leads them to be.
Of course I’m talking about the two naval vessels and 10 U.S. sailors that were taken into custody by Iran yesterday. As soon as the news broke, Republicans were ON IT. Here’s just a sample from twitter:

On several occasions recently President Obama has suggested that perhaps Republicans should aim before they shoot. This situation was a perfect example of why that might be a good idea. Because less than 24 hours after these boats and sailors were taken into custody by Iran, they were released...

The Republican debates were not much better. Even with the news that the sailors were already freed and the incident over, the candidates on-stage tried to use it to justify their calls to bomb Iran (via Vox):

...Rather, they fumed over the Iran incident as if it had been a particularly notable segment of reality TV, in which their favorite character had suffered a moment of awkward embarrassment at the hands of their least favorite. It was like watching a recap of MTV's Real World, in which everyone is fuming about how that Obama guy just won't pull his weight around the house, and did you see how he totally let that awful Ayatollah Khamenei jerk get away with dissing him?
If it sounds silly, that's because it is. But it's a kind of silliness with real and potentially dire consequences, as the candidates, one by one, promised militarism and an official policy of belligerence, speaking to a world that remembers the last time America tried that and earnestly fears the consequences should it happen again.
"I want to get to the substance of the question on jobs," Sen. Ted Cruz said in response to his very first question of the night. "But I want to start with something, today many of us picked up our newspapers to see the sight of 10 American sailors on their knees with their hands on their head. ... I will tell you, it was heartbreaking."

Just note that the question Cruz got was on jobs, and he STILL needed to go out of his way to bluster on this incident so he could get out there first before the other candidates. The others weren't any better.

Christie: We are not the world's policeman but we need to stand up and be ready. The problem, Maria, is the military is not ready either. We need to rebuild the military. This president let it diminish to a point where tin pot dictators like the mullahs in Iran are taking our Navy ships. It is disgraceful, and in a Christie administration, they would know much, much better than to do that.
Rubio: Barack Obama believes America is an arrogant global power that needs to be cut down to size... That is how you get a foreign policy where we cut deals with our enemies like Iran and we betray our allies like Israel and we gut our military and we go around the world like he has done on 10 separate occasions and apologized for America.

It's as though the candidates all wanted to pose as Badasses, as manly men able to enforce their American Exceptionalism upon a cowering planet. Little recognizing that for centuries and through 40-odd Presidencies, we have had to deal with other nations and not shell/invade/bomb all of them to get our way. As Max Fisher noted in his Vox article:

...As I have written previously about this worldview, which is also shared by a number of media figures, it is a world in which high-stakes geopolitical events do not matter for the actual content of those events or for their concrete consequences, but rather primarily for their quality as theater. Foreign policy is not the conduct of relations between states but rather a locker room competition of displays of toughness. The only appropriate posture is thus one of constant and maximal belligerence.
All the stuff about lives at stake, risks of war, and complex diplomatic issues are just window dressing for what really matters: the zero-sum competition for maintaining national pride or imposing national humiliation...
This isn't just campaign silliness. It has consequences. As the Washington Post's Dan Drezner shows, "toughness" as a foreign policy strategy isn't just ridiculous. It's dangerous:
All of these guys think that they’ll sound at least as tough as George W. Bush. The thing is, we already know how that movie played out. While Bush ostensibly demonstrated American resolve by invading and then surging in Iraq, North Korea developed a nuclear weapons capability, Iran accelerated its nuclear program, Russia invaded Georgia, China built up its soft power across the Pacific Rim, and Hugo Chavez expanded the Bolivarian bloc in Latin America. As a theory, the notion that any of these guys would deter Iran from doing what it did this week seems pretty laughable.
This is a movie we've seen before, and that the world has seen before. Even if Americans have short memories and are tempted back into a vision of reality TV–style foreign policy where it's all about imposing machismo and cost-benefit is for wimps, I have found, anecdotally but consistently, that no one outside of America has forgotten how it went last time. I don't know that they're going to have an easy time dismissing all this as empty campaign rhetoric, and I don't know that we should, either.

This is why fearmongering that the Republicans are selling us this year needs to get ignored by the voters. We are running the risk of voting into office someone who will treat international relations like a Game of Chicken. Using tanks instead of cars, using bombs instead of dueling pistols. It is the mindset of a Bully.

It is not the mindset of a professional adult, Something we need from the Someone who will sit in that Oval Office. It is not the mindset we've gotten out of President Obama the last seven years.

I worried before when Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize so early in his administration, that the world was merely honoring him because he wasn't Bush the Lesser. Now we see why. Where Dubya and his administration bullied, Obama led with outreach and dialogue and respect among our allies as well as opponents. This is how a President should act upon the global stage.

And of course the Republicans will blind themselves to that reality before they ever admit to it.

They're trying to blind the rest of us from that. Don't let them.

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