The BuzzTNI's Daily Media Monitor
As the world continues to wonder whether and when the so-called “Geneva 2” peace conference on Syria will take place, the Obama administration now views negotiations in Geneva as “really the only way to end this conflict,” in the words of Secretary of State John Kerry.
But given the slim chances of reaching a negotiated settlement anytime soon, the administration should recalibrate its Syria policy to reflect the enduring character of the conflict. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns acknowledged this in Geneva on September 30, when he stated that, “The hard truth is that the Syrian conflict is no longer just a humanitarian emergency – it is a protracted crisis. Our assistance should reflect the changing nature of the crisis.” Burns advocated increasing Washington’s support to governments hosting Syrian refugees, and urged “host countries to refrain from restricting or closing their borders, and to offer refuge to all those fleeing the conflict.”
For both strategic and moral reasons, the administration should do as Burns suggests, and more. Specifically, beyond just giving lectures and signing checks, Washington should also admit significantly more Syrian refugees to the United States.
In August, media reports indicated that the U.S. would admit two thousand Syrian refugees. In October, however, Larry Bartlett, director of Refugee Resettlement at the State Department, said that the US will share this two thousand number with several other countries. Bartlett recently told me that these reports that the US would admit two thousand Syrians were not accurate: "We said that UNHCR would refer two thousand Syrians to all resettlement countries by the end of 2013." In terms of how many of these two thousand refugees could or will be resettled in the US, "The United States does not establish specific quotas by nationality as some other resettlement countries do, but we normally accept more than half of UNHCR referrals worldwide," he said. Even this two thousand number, which would have been just a drop in the bucket, turned out to be too good to be true.
The five neighboring countries most affected refugee flows from Syria - Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon—together host about 97 percent of all UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees, pushing each of these countries to the limits of their capacity. Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq "are stretched to their limits," António Guterres, the High Commissioner for Refugees, said at UNHCR's annual Executive Committee meeting in Geneva. In Lebanon, for instance, the total number of refugees—registered and unregistered—is around 30 percent of the country’s total population. Jordan’s mushrooming Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees is now the kingdom’s fifth-largest city. Turkey has even demanded that the West take some of the Syrians it is hosting, going so far as to propose an airlift to fly them abroad. By the end of this year, UNHCR estimates that the Syrian refugee population will swell to 3.5 million.
A decision by Washington to take in larger numbers of Syrian refugees would signal to these and other countries hosting Syrians that the United States is willing to share in shouldering the refugee burden in a way that just writing checks cannot. Refusing to do so would makes U.S. calls, such as Burns’, for host countries to keep their borders open and offer refuge to Syrians smack of hypocrisy.
Despite being the leading international donor of humanitarian assistance to Syrians, the United States has admitted only a trickle of Syrian refugees since the conflict began in early-2011. Of the 69,930 refugees admitted for permanent resettlement to the US in FY2013, just thirty-six were from Syria, compared to, for example, 19,491 Iraqis and 661 Afghans. (In the past, Congress and the White House were reluctant to admit large numbers of refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan, citing terrorism-related concerns; nonetheless, the US has admitted many more Iraqis and Afghans than Syrians.) In FY2012, only thirty-one Syrians were admitted to the US. During FY2011, which encompassed the first half-year of the conflict, twenty-nine Syrians were admitted.
The Obama administration’s actions on Syria have also incurred a moral obligation for the United States to do more to help Syria’s refugees. After declaring that Assad had lost legitimacy and should step down, the administration declared the rebel Syrian National Coalition to be the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Soon, though, the administration pulled the rug out from under the rebels: efforts to provide higher-power weapons to the rebels stalled on the Hill, and Obama refused to enforce his “red line” against the use of chemical weapons in Syria by striking the regime. Today, the moderate opposition has been left “between Bashar al Assad’s militias and Iran and Hezbollah on the first side, and the extremist groups from ISIS and the other extremist groups who belong to al Qaeda on the other side,” as Louay Mokdad, spokesman for the Supreme Military Council (SMC), recently told me.
It’s difficult to argue against the claim that the administration, after creating great expectations of support, has essentially abandoned the rebels. Agreeing to admit more Syrians into the US, beyond being morally justified, would contribute to fighting the perception that Washington will be quick to abandon its foreign proxies when events turn sour.
The number of Syrians admitted to the United States of course pales in comparison to those hosted by Syria’s neighbors. But many EU Member States have also admitted far more Syrians than has Washington. For instance, France, which has accepted over three thousand Syrian refugees since 2011, agreed last month to an additional quota of five hundred Syrians. Germany has agreed to take in five thousand Syrian refugees from Lebanon.
Sweden, which has accepted at least 14,700 Syrians since 2012, has granted permanent residence to Syrian refugees, the only EU member state to do so. As the Washington Post's Lydia DePillis notes, “If a country with fewer than 10 million people can handle tens of thousands of refugees, surely the US can, too.” That the EU has taken in so many more Syrians than has the US, even though the US has both a greater obligation and interest in mitigating the ravages of the war, makes Washington's shortfall all the more shameful.
While State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki is correct that "the preferred solution for the vast majority of refugees is to return home once it is safe," many, like Nizar Al-Halbi (not his real name), want nothing more than to get as far away from Syria as they can, never to return.
When we spoke over coffee this summer in Amman, Nizar told me that he was imprisoned by the Assad regime for raising money to assist Syrians whose homes were destroyed in the fighting, and was brutally tortured during his half-year prison stay. He said that his foremost priority was obtaining political asylum in the West for himself and his family. Although he would occasionally visit Damascus from Jordan, he said that he can never go back for good because of the horrific memories that continue to haunt him.
Nizar expressed how profoundly painful it is for him to see Westerners and others from “normal countries”, as he put it, come to the region and go as they please: “How can coming here be a vacation?” he asked rhetorically. He said that, should he obtain political asylum, he would leave the region and never return. Fortunately for Nizar, he and his family have since been granted asylum in the EU. Countless others are unlikely to encounter the same good luck.
In Congress, support for resettling Syrians in the US is hardly robust. Kirk Johnson, founder of the List Project, which has pushed for domestic resettlement of Iraqi refugees, views obtaining Congressional support for resettlement of Syrians as a tough sell. Getting Congress’s buy-in would require strong advocacy and a mass of sympathetic lawmakers, yet Johnson doesn’t “see either of those necessary ingredients."
However, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), has pushed hard for resettlement of Syrians in the US. He has called for the granting of "humanitarian parole authority" to nearly six thousand Syrian nationals with approved immigrant visa petitions and families already living in America. In March, he and over seventy other members of Congress sent a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano advocating refugee assistance to Syrians attempting to reunite with family members in the US.
On Friday October 25, 2013, Brian de Vallance, Homeland Security's Acting Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, replied to the letter, writing that the U.S. government has entered "discussions" with UNHCR and "other governments on expanded resettlement of particularly vulnerable Syrian refugees." Rep. Schiff reacted by noting that such "discussions without action" merely show a "lack of decision." "They evidently don't want to say yes and they don't want to say no," he said.
When I asked Rep. Schiff whether he believes allowing more Syrians to settle in the U.S. has any positive implications for U.S. national interests, he said that “the request that I made would apply to Syrians with family members in the United States, so it has a very direct impact on the United States interest in reuniting families. But it also allows the United States to show it has taken a very personal interest in the safety and well-being of the refugees and gives us ‘skin in the game’ in a way quite distinct from providing weapons.” He added that he hopes “to win the support of the White House—a likely prerequisite to success on this issue.”
The time to act is now. In normal circumstances, the process of vetting refugees for admission to the United States can take a year or longer to complete. Heightened security concerns vis-a-vis Syrian refugees will likely lengthen the vetting period. However, as Morton Abramowitz has noted, Washington can and should expedite processing, as it has done with other refugee groups. It is past time for the Obama administration to move on this issue.
In a recent piece for Foreign Policy, Col. Scott Gerber once again demonstrates the widely held misconceptions surrounding Washington’s favorite defense punching bag: AirSea Battle (ASB). Col. Gerber repeats many long-held, factually inaccurate assumptions around ASB. He is not the first to make such points, and likely will not be the last. However, such a line of argument only damages the ability of the defense and security-studies community to debate important issues of military strategy and realistically confront the challenges posed by the rapid rise of anti-access/area-denial technologies (A2/AD) in a highly challenging budgetary environment.
First, let’s put to bed once and for all the talk of ASB as being some sort of strategy. To anyone who has followed the literature on the subject, it should be quite clear that ASB has no intentions of being a strategy. ASB has been defined multiple times and in various settings as an operational concept with limited objectives. An operational concept as defined by one scholar "is used to refer to the application of military power within a certain framework, regardless of the objective to be accomplished.” Clearly, ASB is not a global strategy for combating every conceivable challenge the U.S. military will face in the future. To make such an assumption is ill-conceived and quite dangerous. Could ASB form a battleplan or become part of a wider strategy even in combination with other contenders that ASB is constantly compared to—like offshore control? Absolutely. But to take ASB and give it the title of “strategy,” while flattering, is flat-out false.
So why does this well-worn narrative keep getting respun?
The simplest explanation could be the title itself. Great marketing and catch phrases create great expectations. Anytime you include the word “battle” in some sort of military jargon, scholars and pundits begin to make certain assumptions and the danger of overhyped analysis is always a strong possibility. Adding to this problem is the danger that repeating faulty assumptions over and over allows them to take on a life of their own thanks to social media, the blogosphere, and a relentless twenty-four-hour news cycle always in need of fresh blood, and hence to become tomorrow's fact. So while the true intent of ASB is there for all to see, its meaning is getting lost in all the noise. Scholars who are invested in this issue are robbed of a more meaningful discussion surrounding the operational concept—stuck in a straw-man debate that holds no utility for anyone.
And though only a few years old, the ghosts of early ASB concepts already haunt us. Back in 2010, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments debuted its own report on ASB. Many of the report’s ideas concerning supposed attacks on mainland China and deep-strike options have been overanalysed at nauseum. While the report, important as it was and still is, was not a government-sanctioned policy document. Three years on, ASB has evolved considerably. Reports like the Joint Operational Access Concept, various pronouncements from senior U.S. military officials, as well reports from the ASB office itself, we know once and for the extent of ASB, and it is clearly not a strategy.
In fact, for those who are looking for an exact definition of ASB, we have one we can point to. On October 10, I attended an open meeting of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee. There, Rear Adm. James G. Foggo put to bed once again any false impressions concerning ASB:
The Air-Sea Battle Concept, approved by the secretary of Defense in 2011, is designed to assure access to parts of the “global commons” – those areas of the air, sea, cyberspace and space that no one “owns,” but which we all depend on – such as the sea lines of communication. Our adversaries’ anti-access/area denial strategies employ a range of military capabilities that impede the free use of these ungoverned spaces. These military capabilities include new generations of cruise, ballistic, air-to-air, and surface-to-air missiles with improved range, accuracy, and lethality are being produced and proliferated. Quiet modern submarines and stealthy fighter aircraft are being procured by many nations, while naval mines are being equipped with mobility, discrimination and autonomy. Both space and cyberspace are becoming increasingly important and contested. Accordingly the Air-Sea Battle Concept is intended to defeat such threats to access, and provide options to national leaders and military commanders, to enable follow-on operations, which could include military activities, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster response. In short, it is a new approach to warfare.
The Air-Sea Battle Concept is also about force development in the face of rising technological challenges. We seek to build, at the service level, a “pre-integrated” joint force which empowers U.S. combatant commanders – along with allies and partners – to engage in ways that are cooperative and networked across multiple domains: land, maritime, air, space and cyber. And our goal includes continually refining and institutionalizing these practices. When implemented, the Air-Sea Battle Concept will create and codify synergies within and among the services that will enhance our collective warfighting capability and effectiveness.
Clearly, ASB is all about ensuring access to the global commons in areas where nations would deny U.S. forces access. What ASB does not seek to do is develop warfighting strategies for any and all situations. How could a limited operational concept do such a thing? This is where the difference between an operational concept and a strategy stand in direct contrast to one another.
So then if ASB is not a strategy, not some global warfighting doctrine for any and all scenarios, does ASB at least seek to massively constrain the role for our nations’ land forces as Col. Gerber seems to suggest? No. However, to be fair, the threats the United States faces are changing. With the rise of states developing A2/AD technologies, like in the cases of China and Iran, America has rightly begun a shift in focus to the threats and challenges of the future. Does this mean U.S. forces will never find themselves conducting land operations in some capacity in the near future? Certainly not. What it does mean is that just like after 9/11, U.S. forces surged towards capabilities for the times and in the areas where challenges presented themselves. In the current geostrategic environment a new surge of capabilities is needed to address the threats of the present—meaning a focus on defeating A2/AD battle networks. Not shifting focus towards the needs of the present ensures we will lose the wars of the future.
Indeed, when it comes to the topic of A2/AD, Chinese capabilities and American options for dealing with such challenges, Col. Gerber has some interesting ideas:
Something else should frighten us about easy war: The dated strategy relies on dated platforms whose time is passing, namely aircraft carriers and manned strike aircraft. These weapons are not an effective response to the Chinese anti-access threat that is driving current strategic thinking. Current open-source literature discusses how the Chinese are developing a complex, interconnected defensive web. Air-Sea Battle is intended to penetrate those defenses by using a carrier strike group, which represents unstoppable power almost anywhere in the world -- except within 1,500 kilometers of the Chinese coast, where over 500 cruise missiles and 2,000 aircraft protect the mainland.
Review the math. The Chinese DF-21D anti-ship missile can reach targets over a thousand miles away, while the troubled F-35 only has a 670-mile combat radius. The approach offered by Air-Sea Battle just reprises a failed idea from the past that makes no more sense today.
While I do agree with the Colonel that China is developing a complex A2/AD network, ASB does not intend to use only carriers or some narrow version of airpower to defeat such networks. ASB, as described in Foreign Policy’s own pages by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert and Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh is all about further integrating U.S. armed forces and waging combat across multiple domains to lessen the effectiveness of A2/AD. As Greenert and Welsh noted, “we will defeat missiles with electronic warfare, disrupt surveillance systems with electromagnetic or cyberattacks, and defeat air threats with submarines. This is ‘networked, integrated attack’ and it will require a force that is designed for -- and that regularly practices -- these kinds of operations.” There is no overreliance on battle in one domain, one military asset, or one type of warfare in current U.S. strategic thinking. U.S. forces would engage A2/AD networks across multiple domains. Chinese and Iranian A2/AD networks are developing abilities in an attempt to keep U.S. forces out of a potential combat zone. Fighting on our own terms across multiple domains allows U.S. forces to regain the advantage and not fight on someone else’s terms. As Gerber notes “the enemy gets a vote.” So do we.
Could it be that Col. Gerber is invoking dated assumptions on ASB as a defense of an Army that fears cuts in funding in an era of sequestration? As he explains, “History tells us that land wars simply can't be wished away” and that:
excessively small ground forces invite war. Regenerating land power takes years. Predicted mobilization of reserves takes months, and unexpected mobilization takes much longer. During that time, we cede initiative to the enemy. Potential adversaries know this and ruthlessly exploit such opportunities. If we want to avoid fighting on the ground, we had best build an army that can win today.
In today’s budgetary environment—created by political paralysis here in Washington—all branches of the U.S. military are under tremendous strain to ensure they have the resources they need to meet the challenges of the future. While surely after a decade plus of war America’s armed forces can be repositioned into a smaller force that can tackle the threats of tomorrow, sequestration’s axe to the defense budget is creating a poisonous environment. Yet, there is no need to recast old myths or discredited arguments to gain some ill-perceived advantage. Land power is a vital component of any military and anyone who suggests otherwise is foolish. However, the threats our nation face are changing. I would argue now is the time for our valued friends who advocate so passionately for our nation’s land forces to make powerful arguments on how they can make a strong contribution in countering the looming challenge of A2/AD. As noted in the piece in FP penned by Greenart and Welsh, “in September 2012 an Army Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) ashore successfully guided a U.S. Navy SM-6 surface-to-air missile to intercept an incoming cruise missile.” This is just one of many possibilities where service collaboration can foster innovation and tackle the challenges of the future. A leaner and refocused armed forces can serve the national interest without resorting to tired lines of argument that only weakens everyone’s objective—a strong U.S. military.
Not all is lost, however, in Col. Gerber’s argument. We both agree that America must begin to develop the next generation of unmanned weapon systems. A strong case can be made that future allocations of vital defense dollars should be spent developing assets that can fight from long-range, that are stealthy, and can fight in highly contested A2/AD networks in areas where guidance systems and GPS targeting equipment will likely be jammed or of limited utility. Such investments would be vital in maintaining America’s commitment to ensure access to all parts of the global commons while also negating the very real challenges posed by A2/AD that are only growing over time.
Clearly the real debate is not over AirSea Battle, but about the future orientation of America’s armed forces, the challenges they could face, and how best to prepare for such challenges. To that end, we must have an honest debate looking at all the available facts, challenging each others’ assumptions and creating a real strategy to confront the challenges of this century. Not all will agree. Some branches of America’s military could very well see larger cuts than others. Unfortunately, sequestration has turned what would have been a spirited debate concerning the future direction of our military into a internet-based screaming match that highlights untruths and falsehoods. This does nothing but drive us away from the real goal—matching ends to means and deploying in battle a military that can accomplish the tasks its civilian leadership as of it. It’s time we all refocus on the challenges ahead and seek to craft a real U.S. military strategy for the twenty-first century, instead of attacking operational concepts never intended to be a strategy in the first place.
The swarm of journalists killing time in the lobby of Geneva’s Intercontinental Hotel can finally go home. A deal has been reached between Iran and the P5+1 (Germany and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including the United States) in the ongoing dispute over the Iranian nuclear program. It’s not a final deal--all sides say they want something more comprehensive--and it’s only set to last six months. Yet it’s a remarkable step forward. The Iranian nuclear issue had smoldered for a decade. The diplomatic process appeared useless, if not dead. Only three things changed: Iran enriched more uranium, the world imposed more sanctions, and the risk of war grew. The new deal stands in the way of all three, but its value is broader. American and Iranian diplomats were meeting openly, and were apparently able to hammer out their differences on an important issue. A little more trust between the two states could yield benefits elsewhere. And the deal itself isn’t so bad, at least according to details released by the White House.
Iran agrees to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, and to “dilute or convert its entire stockpile” of 20 percent enriched uranium within six months. This is reassuring. Taking a unit of raw uranium and producing 20 percent-enriched uranium from it requires far more effort than getting that 20 percent up to the 90 percent or so needed for a typical nuclear device. A large stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium would let Iran create warheads (if it chose to do so) relatively quickly. Diluting or converting Iran’s stockpile makes that take longer, giving monitors and intelligence agencies more time to find them out and giving international leaders more time to craft an appropriate response. Iran had previously resisted restrictions on its 20 percent enrichment--a worrying indicator, given the few peaceful uses such uranium has. A step back from 20 percent enrichment sends a more positive signal about Iran’s intentions.
More importantly, Iran agreed to significant restrictions on the centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium. The faster-working centrifuges that Iran has been developing won’t be used, and Iran won’t be installing new centrifuges. Iran has a lot of centrifuges that have been installed but aren’t yet operating, and the deal appears to keep those from starting up (the White House’s statement isn’t entirely clear, but it is clear that the number of centrifuges enriching will stay roughly the same). And Iran agreed to not build new enrichment facilities, a reversal from what they had suggested was their plan. More enrichment facilities would have compounded the diplomatic disputes, and they’d have made monitoring more difficult.
The heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak, which could allow Iran to make a plutonium-based nuclear bomb, also faces significant restrictions. Meaningful construction will stop. This is a victory for the West--the previous round of talks had broken down after France took a tough stance on Arak, insisting that the interim deal include halting construction. Something like the French position appears to have prevailed, and while it might not have been absolutely necessary to get to this point as quickly as Paris wanted (there are other milestones later in the reactor’s deployment that could also have served as stopping points), it’s better than what we might have expected, even in a final deal.
Crucially, Iran made major concessions on international monitoring of its nuclear facilities. Observers now get daily access to the enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, potentially giving swifter notice if Iran does decide to bolt for the bomb. They also get more access to Arak, including details of its design that had been kept under wraps. And Iran will make some disclosures that would be required if it signed on to the stringent Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a good omen since getting Iran to sign the Additional Protocol is a key goal of a final deal. But most importantly of all, the facilities Iran uses to make centrifuges will now be monitored, making the diversion of centrifuges to any hidden enrichment facilities harder. This will also allow verification of another element of the deal. Iran agreed not to build up a big stockpile of centrifuges while the deal is in effect, which would have allowed the nuclear risk to continue growing even as negotiators work.
What did we have to give up to get all this from Tehran? The U.S. will suspend key sanctions on Iran’s (already faltering) auto industry and on its trade in gold and oil; Iran will also get access to some of its money being held overseas. And some of the most controversial sanctions, such as restrictions on repairs to Iranian airliners, will also be lightened, while measures will be taken to increase Iran’s access to humanitarian goods like food and medicine. Lifting these restrictions could be win-win, since Iran and its apologists will have a harder time convincing the world that, a la 1990s Iraq, the sanctions are creating enormous human costs. Other governments will face less pressure to push back on the more effective parts of the U.S. sanctions regime.
The deal isn’t perfect. The West made major concessions on its old goals--once upon a time, the aim was “stop, ship and shut,” that is, that Iran would stop enriching uranium, ship its stockpile of 20 percent uranium abroad, and shut down the deeply buried enrichment halls at Fordow. In this deal, Fordow will still be running, Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent uranium will stay in-country, and enrichment will continue. But Iran’s nuclear program and politics had long ago created facts on the ground that made “stop, ship and shut” unrealistic. It’s a loss for the West--had those goals been realized, the risks to international security from the Iranian nuclear program would have been smaller.
There are also some gaps. Long-running concerns about a military facility at Parchin that may have hosted explosives tests needed for developing a nuclear warhead have been put off to the final deal. And it’s not clear whether Iran will still be able to design and test advanced centrifuges, provided it doesn’t use them to enrich. If it successfully does and the deal breaks down, it might begin manufacturing a new generation of more advanced centrifuges several times more productive than the rather primitive IR-1s in use now.
The deal also puts a lot of pressure on international monitors and intelligence agencies to ensure compliance. They’ll need to assure the world that there aren’t hidden enrichment facilities or centrifuge factories. Iran is unlikely to let inspectors traipse around the entire country looking for these things, so the world may have to rely on satellite pictures, spies, and other imperfect tools to monitor Iran’s compliance. There are already rumors of hidden sites--an affiliate of the terrorist group Mujahedin-e-Khalq (the MEK) announced one just last Monday. These can be hard to verify, and even unverified can be exploited by figures eager to wave the bloody shirt against Iran. It’s hard not to see a parallel to the period before the invasion of Iraq, where hard-to-solve factual questions became severely politicized, ultimately allowing a march to war.
And there’s another challenge with the rollout of the deal. President Obama, in an apparent sop to those who want more sanctions now, stated that if Iran reneges, America will “turn off the relief and ratchet up the pressure.” The official White House fact sheet on the deal expresses similar willingness to raise sanctions if things fall apart. While the sanctions regime did a lot to get Iran to this point, it’s not clear how much more it can be expanded in an internationally sustainable way. Things will be even hazier if last night’s deal breaks down in a way that doesn’t turn all the key countries against Iran. Obama’s move to appease his critics may merely box him in, forcing him to take a step in a future crisis that could either escalate it or inadvertently gut the sanctions regime. And either way, some of Obama’s critics don’t appear satisfied. The Senate can bring a House bill strengthening sanctions to the floor if it chooses, and Buzzfeed reporter Rosie Gray tweeted within hours of the deal’s announcement that a senior Senate aide told her “the sanctions...will be voted into law when Senate returns from recess.” The administration has threatened a veto--a weapon President Obama has been hesitant to wield, and which will be especially difficult to use now, with Obama at the weakest he’s been in his entire presidency. If worst comes to worst--say, if his veto gets overriden or the sanctions waivers he’ll have to issue to implement the deal face serious legal challenges--the White House text does leave some wiggle room: the Western countries agree to “Not impose new nuclear-related sanctions for six months, if Iran abides by its commitments under this deal, to the extent permissible within their political systems.” (Emphasis mine.)
Finally, what happens when something inevitably goes wrong with the negotiations process? While yesterday’s agreement gives plenty of cause for optimism, there are too many players, too many variables, and tremendous pressure for everything to go as planned. If a final deal can’t be reached, the indefinite perpetuation of the present arrangement wouldn’t be terrible, as it does put obstacles in an Iranian path to the bomb. Living with this deal forever would be easier for us than for Iran, which still faces painful sanctions like exclusion from the international financial system. Iran certainly has incentives to come to the table with a serious offer in the next six months. But Iran’s leaders might face sabotage from hardliners, or might see Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei again push for a tougher line. The comprehensive talks could also break down in a way that makes key countries blame America more than Iran, endangering the integrity of the sanctions regime and potentially letting Iran off the hook. And this isn’t implausible. Even if Iran tries to hold up its end of the bargain, bad or biased intelligence like I discussed above could make key Congressmen think Iran’s breaking its promises. And then, as a congressional aide told Buzzfeed, “Congress will move forward because Congress believes that, at the very least, after six months, if Iran doesn’t do what we need them to do, Congress will drop the hammer...When six months comes up, the administration will have no leeway with Congress.” Some on our end might be too ready to toss a deal that isn’t so bad.
Does Congress have the ability to scuttle a potential nuclear deal with Iran? White House Spokesman Jay Carney thinks so. During Tuesday’s press briefing, he declared that, if Congress acts in such a way that a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue is “disallowed or ruled out”, it could create “a march to war.”
Many Iran hawks have taken issue with Carney’s remarks, with John Bolton saying that "Neville Chamberlain would be proud.” However, a common feature of these critiques is that they mischaracterize Carney’s argument, by asserting that Carney believes that the imposition of any new sanctions on Iran would derail negotiations and prompt a march to war. Elliot Abrams, for example, wrote that Carney “called any effort to adopt additional sanctions against Iran ‘a march to war.’” Carney did no such thing.
Carney was not necessarily arguing against the imposition of any new sanctions; rather, he was taking issue with Congressional efforts to deny the president the ability to lift existing or forthcoming sanctions on Iran unless “a deal that is acceptable”, in the words of Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), is reached. And what would make a deal “acceptable”—to Congress, that is? Complete cessation of Iran’s enrichment activities, a hardline position that Iran has declared to be completely “unacceptable” and many observers consider incompatible with reaching a deal. Echoing Senator Menendez's position on zero enrichment, Senator Lindsey Graham recently told CNN that a forthcoming bipartisan resolution in Congress will require Iran to cease all enrichment activity and dismantle all of its centrifuges.
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) has promoted a bill that would prevent any suspension of U.S.-imposed sanctions on Iran until the Islamic Republic completely ceases its enrichment program. In other words, rather than receiving gradual sanctions relief as a quid pro quo for taking positive steps regarding its nuclear program, Iran must do all that is asked of it before receiving anything that it seeks to obtain from the negotiations; forget the incremental process of give-and-take and compromise that are the fundamental basis of diplomacy.
The issue, then, is not so much the potential for new sanctions per se—although the administration has certainly lobbied for months against any new sanctions—but the fact that Congress is acting to tie the president’s hands as his administration attempts to reach a deal with Iran. Obscuring this distinction glosses over the fact that Congress is doing all it can to meddle in the President’s conduct of foreign affairs.
Of course, there will always be some inherent level of tension and contestation between the Executive and Legislative branches when it comes to foreign policy. But rather than playing a healthy game of political tug-a-war, Congress is trying to tie the President's hands, and the result could be a real war.
Many pro-Israel hawks, like Sens. Graham, Menendez, and Corker, have united around the position of zero enrichment and assume that, as the sanctions regime continues to take its toll on Iran and is even strengthened, Iran will eventually be forced to accede to this position. Their logic goes something like this: pressure from sanctions forced Iran to the negotiating table, and greater pressure will force Iran to make a deal, any deal—even one that merely reinstates the status quo ante after Iran has devoted enormous resources to its nuclear efforts and suffered tremendously from sanctions for years.
The problem with this logic—or illogic—is that it is remarkably ahistorical. It ignores that Iran, rather than being in the business of being forced to take actions it would rather avoid, has historically demonstrated tremendous resolution in the face of great pressure—far greater pressure than what Washington and others in the international community are currently exerting on Tehran. For example, in discussing “the last time we fought Iran”—during the so-called “Tanker War”—Bruce Riedel writes that by 1987, Iran
was devastated by the fighting; many of its cities like Abadan had been destroyed, its oil exports were minimal and its economy shattered. But it did not hesitate to fight the U.S. Navy in the Gulf and to use asymmetric means including terrorism to retaliate in Lebanon and elsewhere. Even when our navy had sunk most of theirs, Iran kept fighting, and the Iranian people rallied behind Ayatollah Khomeini.
Sen. Menendez has argued that imposing new sanctions that cannot be lifted until Iran abandons all enrichment activity is "an insurance that Iran complies”. Hardly. The target of this and similar efforts is the White House, not Tehran. How ironic it is that Carney’s critics decry his “march to war” comments, while attempting to impose constraints on the administration that make war more likely.
It’s getting harder to be a hardliner in Iran. President Hassan Rouhani is making overtures to the West, and while he’s hardly revolutionized government—executions continue apace, for instance—his nuclear negotiating team is meeting with the United States and its allies. Perhaps an interim nuclear agreement will be concluded this week in Geneva. And some are even questioning whether the “Death to America” slogan should be retired.
All this has the Islamic Revolution’s most committed loyalists quite worried, and they’ve been working overtime to pressure the new administration to back away from the United States. That’s why, earlier this month, they held a big rally at the former U.S. embassy in Tehran to commemorate the thirty-fourth anniversary of its 1979 takeover. There were chants, burning effigies, burning American and Israeli flags, posters of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, bored dignitaries, and lots of banners and fun headbands. A nice anti-American outing for the whole family—bring your grandma, bring your kids! And, par for the course when hardliners gather, there were insinuations of a sinister American-Israeli-Nazi alliance. Several attendees carried signs, apparently professionally designed and printed, depicting a Star of David with a Swastika inside it:
Look closely at that logo—does it look familiar? If you have an interest in oddball religions or in cloning, it should—it’s an old symbol of the Raëlians, a UFO cult that shot to international notoriety after their 2002 claim that they’d successfully cloned a human being. The Raëlians use the symbol to represent infinities of space and time, occasionally swapping it with a slightly less creepy spiral variation:
The Raëlians have several beliefs that probably wouldn’t appeal to Iranian Islamist hardliners—they tend to be in favor of sensuality, sexual openness and revealing clothing, for example. And one of their major organizational goals is the establishment of an interstellar embassy to greet the aliens when they come back—probably a tough sell for a country that doesn’t seem to like embassies of any kind, especially not ones with big Stars of David on top.
It’s hard to say if parading around Tehran with the logo of a UFO sex cult is the biggest hardline flub ever—there was, after all, that time they put up a mistranslated banner that read, in English, “America Can Do No Wrong”—but it has to be in the top ten. This is hardly the only time the hardliners have stepped in it lately, either—the same day, they released a pair of “Death to America” songs. You can hear one of them here. It’s not the best music, staggering through techno, trance, rock and, briefly, Latin-flavored pop. And hardline outlet Fars News has been scrambling, too—with France having broken up the last round of nuclear negotiations, its editorial cartoonists have struggled to find a consistent message. They’ve blamed French obstruction on manipulation by the Saudis, the United States, and mysterious Jewish hands, some of them with claws (paging Borat Sagdiyev!). If the nuclear negotiations succeed this week, we can look forward to even more delightful gaffes from Tehran’s most tone-deaf propagandists.
In the launch issue of Politico Magazine, Rosa Brooks discusses the tense relationship between the White House and its military commanders. Her piece covers somewhat familiar ground, but one section in particular captures an important dynamic regarding how foreign and defense policy is made. It covers the 2009 Afghan strategy review, which she calls perhaps the “single moment when Obama’s relationship with the military began to sour.” After General Stanley McChrystal’s request for forty thousand additional troops to pursue an expanded counterinsurgency approach leaked to the press, the White House was angered and began to feel boxed in. Obama eventually gave the military most of what it wanted on troop levels, ordering a surge of thirty thousand troops—but he also decreed that “after 18 months those troops would begin to withdraw.”
The way in which this incident played out created mutual mistrust, Brooks says. One White House official told her, “The White House was convinced that the military had a vested interest in escalating the conflict. They felt manipulated.” Pentagon officials, meanwhile, began to think that the White House assumed all of their requests for troops or resources were politically motivated. The result was a self-reinforcing cycle:
Over time, of course, a White House tendency to split the difference is bound to create perverse incentives for military planners, making mutual mistrust self-reinforcing. “If you believe the mission truly requires 50,000 troops and $50 billion, but you know that the White House is going to automatically cut every number in half, you’ll come in asking for 100,000 troops and $100 billion,” says the aforementioned former White House official. “The military eventually starts playing the very game the White House has always suspected them of playing.”
Playing games with the way that one presents options in foreign and defense policy is nothing new. Another is what’s sometimes called the “Option C” gimmick, in which one presents one’s own recommendation as the “sane” middle option between two extreme ones. In their book The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked, Leslie Gelb and Richard Betts described how this process worked during the Vietnam War:
Inside hawks and doves alike could be placated by the dynamics of “Option B” (or “C”—whichever was the option between opposite extremes). This is the technique of giving leeway to the bureaucracy to find its own common denominators. It meant policy papers loaded with false options—two patently unacceptable extremes of humiliating defeat and total war, and Option B.
The problem with an “Option C” approach is a familiar one: it leads to making significant choices without necessarily being aware that one is making them. In Vietnam, the middle option was usually a gradual increase in troops or commitment, couched between the alternatives of total withdrawal or dramatic escalation. Each time, it was framed as the only “reasonable” choice. But over time, the commitment of American lives and resources that the U.S. government made to Vietnam was absolutely enormous, whether or not the mission had a chance of succeeding or was worth the ultimate cost.
In Afghanistan, too, “Option C”-style presentation of options was prevalent. Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel used that model after conducting his initial review in early 2009. Likewise, McChrystal did the same in his request for forty thousand additional troops later that year, couching it between the alternatives of “10,000–11,000 to mostly train the Afghan forces” and “85,000 for a more robust counterinsurgency.”
The dynamic that Brooks highlights is more corrosive than this, however. When Riedel presented his version of “Option C” to Obama’s national-security principals, Bob Woodward writes in Obama’s Wars, “Everyone recognized this for the stunt it was.” When presidents or other senior leaders are presented with a series of options, they know that there’s a good chance they’re being primed to choose an intermediate one, and can correct against this bias accordingly. What Brooks is describing, by contrast, is a situation in which neither side believes that the other’s “Option C” actually represents its preferred option. In her account, the White House believes that the military’s middle option is itself inflated, and as a result the military then believes it has to inflate its own estimates in order to counterbalance this fact.
Is Brooks right? It’s difficult to say from the outside. But if she is, there’s no obvious answer to the problem she lays out. All government agencies are likely to want more resources for their projects, and the White House is always likely to be somewhat skeptical of those agencies’ requests. The stakes are just amplified when it comes to defense—both because saying “no” to the military is politically risky and because military decisions often have life-or-death consequences in a direct, visible way. All of which is to say that, while we should certainly hope for the relationship between the White House and the military to be as healthy as possible, these types of games are likely here to stay.
Image: Tim Green. CC BY 2.0.
Stooped with my hands on my knees, I took a few deep breaths, headphones still piping music into my ears. I’d sprinted the last few blocks of my evening run and managed to log a few miles more than last week. Only a couple blocks from home at 18th and R, I took a moment to admire the light, feeling proud of what I’d accomplished. Out of nowhere two hands came from behind me and grabbed my behind, clawing down at the band of my shorts. My elbows jerked back and hit whomever it was in the ribs so hard it sent a shooting pain down my hands. A young Hispanic guy about my height let go and sprinted ahead of me, turning to smile over his shoulder. The shock was suffocating. Without thinking, I tore after him. My knees, soft and gummy after running for an hour already. I couldn’t keep up. I chased him for four blocks, before it become clear he would win. I stopped short, wheezing hard and every part of me burning.
That was four years ago. Was it wrong? Of course. Am I alone? Hardly. A twenty-three-year-old woman testified Tuesday that Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, the Air Force’s then chief of sexual-assault prevention, molested her outside an Arlington restaurant in May, then taunted her about it:
‘I feel someone come up behind me—their chest is to my back, and they firmly grab my rear end as they’re walking by, and they ask me if I like it,’ said the woman, who broke down in tears during her testimony in Arlington County Circuit Court.
On Wednesday, Krusinski was acquitted of the assault and battery charges. His lawyers successfully argued that the fact that the victim apparently gave “inconsistent testimony” regarding how many times she hit Lt Col Krusinski in retaliation for his unwanted groping introduced some reasonable doubt into the case. A server from the bar near the alleged assault testified that she too was groped by Krusinski that night, along with one of her coworkers.
Krusinski has been assigned to another position in the wake of these events. Yet Lt Col Krusinski is far more than a larger symbol of the forces’ now well-chronicled rape epidemic. He is also represents a much more narrow and insidious problem of the new “leaders” the military has appointed to deal with sexual-assault cases allegedly perpetrating the very acts they are appointed to prevent. See additional instances of this pernicious pattern here and here.
According to the Washington Post, a recent Pentagon summary found that “reports of sexual assault in the military increased 46 percent to 3,553 reports this fiscal year, a spike Defense Department officials portrayed as a sign that victims now feel more comfortable coming forward.” More people coming forward isn’t bad, but truly, what good is it if there is still no successful command structure in place to address such crimes? Would you report your sexual assault to a chief who you know assaults? It’s a legitimate question.
It’s welcome news that the U.S. Senate is now pushing to overhaul how DoD handles the reporting of sexual-assault cases. But even so the institution of an “independent team of military prosecutors” that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is proposing may be insufficient for the scope of this problem. It’s statistically clear that despite the military’s repeated claims of “zero tolerance” for sexual assault, many abusers are rewarded for their actions while victims are washed out of the military with “personality disorders” and other invented ailments. It’s also clear that many members of the military who are specially appointed to deal with combating these crimes cannot adequately be trusted to do so. Putting seven of these appointees on a team does not seem to solve that problem. James Kitfield has extensively documented “a command climate that tends to cast suspicion and blame on victims.” The groupthink command climate will likely only be reinforced rather than checked in this type of group.
If one were in want of an objective group to rule on instances of theft, he wouldn’t pick from a pool with a blatant stealing problem. The military’s appointment of sexual-assault officers who violate the very nature of the positions they hold indicates a malignant cancer at the highest level. A civilian oversight committee entirely unrelated to the military is necessary to ensure a more neutral and objective environment for reporting such assaults.
Could the much-maligned cuts to defense spending actually be a good thing for American strategy? That’s the case that historian Melvyn Leffler makes in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs. Responding to those who argue that past retrenchments have left the military ill prepared to respond to future dangers and stress the need to avoid doing the same today, Leffler argues that these fears are overblown. In his words:
Contrary to such conventional wisdom, the consequences of past U.S. defense cuts were not bad. In fact, a look at five such periods over the past century—following World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War—shows that austerity can be useful in forcing Washington to think strategically, something it rarely does when times are flush.
The argument, in a nutshell, is that when the government is operating under constrained resources, it is forced to make more difficult choices and prioritize more effectively, leading to better strategy. It has a certain intuitive plausibility to it, but the examples he presents don’t really seem to support it.
Take the most infamous one—the U.S. military drawdown after World War I, which is often held to have left Washington unready for World War II as the fighting broke out in Europe and Asia. Not so, says Leffler. Rather, “When a second global war did come, the paucity of the resources on hand actually forced U.S. policymakers to make tough but smart strategic choices.” Thus, led by Harold Stark, then chief of naval operations, the U.S. government embraced a threat assessment that judged that the “principal threat to U.S. security was German power.” It allocated resources accordingly, focusing first on helping the United Kingdom to avoid defeat at Germany’s hands while simultaneously building up its own military power and “using diplomacy to avoid war with Japan.”
No doubt this approach has been vindicated by history. Yet while Leffler says that it was “a combination of austerity and crisis [that] helped forge a core strategic concept,” it seems abundantly clear that the crisis alone was the real driver. After all, defense spending had been comparably low for the two previous decades, but that didn’t mean that officials were doing particularly deep strategic planning before 1940. Indeed, as Leffler notes, during that time they embraced a “flawed threat perception” that downplayed the danger from Germany and Japan. The result was that, on the eve of war, the United States had only the sixteenth-largest military in the world. The crisis was grave enough that it would have certainly prompted some kind of rethinking no matter what shape the military was in at the time, but Leffler never gives us any concrete reason to think that the lack of military resources was a net asset for Franklin Roosevelt and his team. U.S. planners succeeded in spite of the resource limitations they faced—not because of them.
This account is meant to support the view that we ought not fear defense austerity today. However, if one wants to make the case for cutting defense spending now, the best arguments for doing so are those that stem from long-range thinking rather than asserting that the cuts themselves will spur better planning. Such an argument might run like this: The United States is a very secure country. It dominates its own hemisphere. It spends more on its military than the next ten countries combined—and many of those countries are its allies. America has adversaries, but its rival great powers are far less dangerous than those of the past. Thus, there is room to cut the U.S. defense budget to right-size it to the threats it actually faces, while still enabling it to maintain preponderant military strength. The money saved could then be used to accomplish any number of other national priorities.
Whether or not you find this line of thinking persuasive, the point is that it starts with an assessment of what the world and the international threat environment actually look like. It doesn’t start with a budget number and then assume that officials will be able to re-prioritize to figure things out within that constraint. In short, if we’re going to cut our military budget, we should do it in the service of a concrete goal rather than just hope that doing so will spur our future leaders to do better long-range thinking of their own.
From its ninth-century origins as a ceremony dedicated to remembering saints and the dead, Halloween has evolved—or, depending on one's perspective, devolved—into a largely secular holiday associated more with crunchy Candy Corn and costumes reflecting the increasing vacuousness of Western popular culture than with solemn reverence for the departed. But beware: an eerie number of frightening historical events have occurred on Halloweens past, events that resulted both in tremendous levels of bloodletting and far-reaching transformations of the world’s geopolitical landscape. Below is a list of the top five scariest historical events that happened on October 31. Read on, if you dare….
#5 On the night of October 31, 1954, the indigenous Algerian Front de Libération Nationale, or FLN, launched attacks on French government assets in Algeria, igniting the Algerian War of Independence, a brutal liberation struggle characterized by massive human rights abuses, including torture by both sides. The conflict divided France politically and cost numerous French prime ministers their jobs. It also brought down France’s Fourth Republic, which involved riots, revolts, and even rebellion by a section of the country’s army. After nearly seven-and-a-half years, over 40,000 terrorist attacks, and hundreds of thousands of battle deaths, the French withdrew in June 1962. The following month, Algeria, which France had since 1848 considered to be an integral part of French territory, declared independence, effectively ending the second French colonial empire.
#4 After the March on Rome from October 22-29, Benito Mussolini was sworn in as Italy’s prime minister on October 31, 1922, fulfilling his threat that "either the government will be given to us or we shall seize it by marching on Rome." Before long, Il Duce turned Italy into a police state. In what was quickly revealed to be a hopeless attempt to resurrect the Holy Roman Empire, Mussolini presided over Italy’s invasion and occupation of Ethiopia in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, during which Italy employed chemical warfare agents on a massive scale; the conflict led to approximately 20,000 battle deaths. After the demise of Italy’s colonial presence in Africa, Mussolini’s alliance with the Nazis effectively put Italy in the position of being a puppet state subordinate to Germany. The result was Germany’s brutal occupation of Italy and the Allies’ invasion in 1943, which, in making Italy a key battleground during World War II, also devastated the country. In the end, despite supposedly making the “trains run on time”, Mussolini’s Italy was characterized by rampant corruption, dictatorship, racist laws and, finally, utter ruin.
#3 Turkey joined the Central Powers on October 31, 1914, which would eventually result in the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the drawing of conflict-prone national borders across the Middle East. On November 2, Russia declared war against Turkey; France and Great Britain followed suit on November 5. Although the Ottomans were eventually defeated, the road to victory was hard, bloody, and horrific; the Gallipoli Campaign, generally considered a defeat for the Allies, was particularly costly. Eighteen months after jointly declaring war, France and Britain, with Russia’s assent, signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement, spelling out each party’s proposed sphere of influence in a post-Ottoman Middle East. After Russia’s revolutionary Bolshevik government was subsequently denied any claims to Ottoman territory, it published the text of the agreement in November 1917, exposing French and British imperial designs on the region. The eventual implementation of Sykes-Picot resulted in the drawing of national borders that in many cases failed to correspond to demographic realities on the ground, thereby sowing the seeds of many future conflicts in the Middle East, a phenomenon that still haunts the region to this day. Nonetheless, the demise of the “sick man of Europe” ushered in a period of French and particularly British regional dominance that lasted for over four decades.
#2 However, everything started to come crashing down for Great Britain and France when they entered the Suez Crisis, one of history’s most infamous foreign policy misadventures, on October 31, 1956. In collusion with Britain and France, both reeling from Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s recent nationalization of the Suez Canal, Israel invaded Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on October 29, 1956, after which Britain and France called on Israel and Egypt to cease all hostilities, withdraw ten miles from the Suez Canal, and allow Anglo-French forces to occupy the Canal Zone. When Nasser followed the Anglo-French-Israeli script by refusing these conditions on October 31, Britain and France intervened militarily against Egypt the same day, which also happened to be just days before the U.S. presidential election, infuriating President Eisenhower. The Soviet Union, which almost entered the conflict, stood by the US at the United Nations to condemn the British and French actions, which compelled British Prime Minister Anthony Eden to declare a ceasefire. At the end of the day, Britain and France, neither of which accomplished their military objectives in the campaign, during which over 2,100 men lost their lives, were discredited in the region, ushering the era of American preeminence in the Middle East.
#1 Characterized by tremendous turmoil and bloodletting, the Protestant Reformation was sparked on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg church door. In 1648, the Reformation concluded with the Peace of Westphalia, a series of peace treaties signed between the major European powers that ended the Thirty Years’ War, among the most destructive of Europe’s many conflagrations. Beyond ending Europe’s wars of religion, the peace treaties are also widely credited with establishing the principle of sovereignty, the fundamental basis for the modern international system of nation-states, which fundamentally redefined Europe’s age-old political fault lines.
Writing amid the first stirrings of the Progressive movement in the United States, Yale sociologist William Graham Sumner argued that seemingly positive social reforms always had an overlooked cost:
A government produces nothing at all...the state cannot get a cent for any man without taking it from some other man, and this latter must be a man who has produced and saved it. This latter is the Forgotten Man....The type and formula of most schemes of philanthropy or humanitarianism is this: A and B put their heads together to decide what C shall be made to do for D. The radical vice of all these schemes, from a sociological point of view, is that C is not allowed a voice in the matter, and his position, character, and interests, as well as the ultimate effects on society through C's interests, are entirely overlooked....to lift one man up we push another down.
Sumner’s Forgotten Man concept isn’t perfect. Any technocrat today will eagerly assert that not all government activity is strictly zero-sum, that some forms of spending stimulate more economic activity than their own value. And Sumner deployed the concept as part of an extremely grim view of human society:
A drunkard in the gutter is just where he ought to be, according to the fitness and tendency of things. Nature has set up on him the process of decline and dissolution by which she removes things which have survived their usefulness.
Yet Sumner had an important point. Those who seek to improve society can develop a laser focus on those they want to help, losing sensitivity to the interests of everyone else. And so they sometimes make improvements at the expense of others.
The Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, appears to have added a new wrinkle to the Forgotten Man idea. An NBC News investigation suggests that the administration “knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market [for health insurance] would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them.” This contradicts the president’s repeated assurances that “if you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan.” The NBC report tells the stories of multiple people on the individual market who did not get to keep their health plans:
George Schwab, 62, of North Carolina, said he was "perfectly happy" with his plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield, which also insured his wife for a $228 monthly premium. But this past September, he was surprised to receive a letter saying his policy was no longer available....The best option he’s found on the exchange so far offered a 415 percent jump in premium, to $948 a month. "The deductible is less," he said, "But the plan doesn't meet my needs. It's unaffordable."
And a new mother who received a cancellation notice from her insurer told NBC that
she supports the new law and is grateful for provisions helping folks like her with pre-existing conditions, but she worries she won’t be able to afford the new insurance, which is expected to cost more because it has more benefits. "I'm jealous of people who have really good health insurance," she said. "It's people like me who are stuck in the middle who are going to get screwed."
These people “stuck in the middle” are the new Forgotten Men of Obamacare. But unlike Sumner’s Forgotten Man, whose resources or liberties are taken for the benefit of another, Obamacare’s Forgotten Man has his health insurance taken away for his own good. Igor Volsky of ThinkProgress breaks out the apologetics, noting that many plans were cancelled because they didn’t comply with the new law’s tougher standards:
The goal...is to allow a consumer to keep their existing policies, while also ensuring that there are some basic patient protections built into these plans....Individuals can keep the plans they have if those plans remain largely the same. But individuals receiving cancellation notices will have a choice of enrolling in subsidized insurance in the exchanges and will probably end up paying less for more coverage. Those who don’t qualify for the tax credits will be paying more for comprehensive insurance that will be there for them when they become sick (and could actually end up spending less for health care since more services will now be covered). They will also no longer be part of a system in which the young and healthy are offered cheap insurance premiums because their sick neighbors are priced out or denied coverage. That, after all, is the whole point of reform.
Of course, some of Sumner’s Forgotten Man shows up explicitly—the “young and healthy” who once got cheap insurance are forgotten, for the benefit of “their sick neighbors.” (Some of those sick neighbors—such as the woman with the preexisting condition in the NBC story—are also among the forgotten, but let’s forget that.) Yet the new Forgotten Man is here, too, hidden behind Volsky’s hedge words: those who lose their policies can go on the exchanges and probably pay less thanks to subsidies; those who who don’t get the tax credits could end up spending less thanks to broader coverage. Implied: some who lose their insurance and go to the exchanges will pay more in spite of the subsidies; some who don’t get the subsidies will pay more in spite of broader coverage. And, if the reports are to be believed, some will simply lose their insurance altogether, as they’re no longer able to afford care under the Affordable Care Act. Volsky asks us to kindly ignore all these people, as they are not the law’s intended beneficiaries—and, moreover, he expects them to be grateful that they are no longer part of an unfair system. That’s a line the new forgotten men won’t soon forget.
Image: Flickr/LaDawna's Pics