We Westerners love a good liberation. Whenever protests or rebellion spring up in an autocracy, we cheer on the underdog, the weaker party, the ones facing down the shock troops and riot police of the government—pardon, of the regime. It’s an attractive vision—after all, so much of Eastern Europe freed itself from Soviet-backed tyranny like this, turning their states into some of the West’s staunchest allies. Yet other underdogs we’ve loved have turned out to be less lovable. Egypt’s revolution saw liberals sidelined by the Muslim Brotherhood, which made cack-handed power plays until overthrown by a military dictatorship that’s turning out harsher than Mubarak—and less friendly to Washington, too. Protests in Syria turned over a rock, and found lots of bugs, Al Qaeda among them. Rwanda’s Paul Kagame turned out to be an autocrat and an exporter of violence. Ahmed Chalabi and the Free Iraqi Forces barely turned out at all, except when the chance to loot was involved. We usually ignored the awkward questions about all of them until it was too late, content in a belief that those against dictatorship are for freedom.
Last week the government of Cuba announced that it was ceasing nearly all of the consular services that it provides in the United States. The reason was that the sole U.S. bank that had been willing to handle an account for Cuba is no longer willing. With no bank account, the Cuban interests section cannot do such things as accept payment for visa fees. This development will curb what had been growing travel between the United States and Cuba. The impairment of travel is a bad thing not only from the point of view of the Cuban government, which needs revenue from tourism, but also the current U.S. government, which appropriately sees greater travel and unofficial contacts as relief for separated families as well as encouragement for the sorts of free economic and political ideas that have been stifled under an isolated Castro dictatorship.
Maurice R. Greenberg, the chairman of the Center for the National Interest and chairman and CEO of STARR Companies, spoke with National Interest editor Jacob Heilbrunn about President Obama's deal with Iran. Greenberg, who fought in World War II and helped liberate Dachau concentration camp near Munich, focuses on the Iranian regime's history of belligerent rhetoric and actions.
JH: How should the memory of the Holocaust influence our view of Iran and its leadership?
MG: I had a special run in with then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who spoke at the United Nations General Assembly in Spetember 2006. He agreed to meet with several members of the Council on Foreign Relations. David Rockefeller was there. Peter Peterson was there. Myself. And three or four other senior members of the Council. The topic came up about the Holocaust. He repeated what he had always been saying. He didn't believe it took place. I challenged him. I happened to be at Dachau. Don't tell me it didn't take place. He didn't challenge me directly. He asked, "How old are you?" As though I was too young to have been there. Fast forward: We're negotiating with them clandestinely. How do you negotiate with a nation that has two objectives that have not been reversed: a) the Holocaust did not take place. b) We should wipe Israel off the map. The new president Hassan Rouhani made some oblique statements, not unequivocal, about the Holocaust.
JH: So should we deal with Iran?
With attention justifiably focused on the new nuclear deal with Iran, much less public notice has been taken of steps to make America's longest war even longer. Negotiations with a difficult Hamid Karzai over a bilateral security agreement (including a just-completed trip to Afghanistan by national security adviser Susan Rice) aim to provide a legal framework for keeping American troops in Afghanistan until 2024. U.S. forces intervened in the Afghan civil war in 2001. If a U.S. military presence continues for the duration of a new agreement, that's 23 years. Some soldiers who were part of the early deployments could have come home, gotten married, and had kids who will enlist and serve in the same war their parents did. The post-2014 missions are supposed to be training and counterterrorism, but amid an ongoing war, U.S. troops will be at war as long as they are there.
No, it isn't only neocons who are worried about President Obama's six month deal with Iran. Senators Charles Schumer and Robert Mendendez, among others, are also expressing their apprehensions. But for sheer panic it is almost impossible to surpass the alarms being sounded by the neocons.
Former UN ambassador John Bolton is calling the agreement an "abject surrender." William Kristol is decrying it. But the most outlandish criticism appears today in the Wall Street Journal by the redoubtable Bret Stephens. It seems safe to say that neocons such as Stephens have long been guilty of trivializing the Nazi menace by deeming any contemporary agreement with an American adversary a new "Munich." But now Stephens does it explicitly. He declares that Obama's deal isn't as bad as Munich. It's worse.
To accomplish this he has to rehabilitate a version of history that began to percolate in the 1960s in England, when scholars began arguing that Neville Chamberlain had gotten a bum rap. Instead of selling out British interests, Chamberlain defended them. He cut the best deal he could. Britain had few air defenses. The public wouldn't have supported a war. Why not hand over Czechoslovakia to Hitler? Stephens observes, "'Peace for our time' it was not, but at least appeasement bought the West a year to rearm."
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.
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.
For anyone who genuinely wants to avoid an Iranian nuclear weapon and whose attitude toward the nuclear negotiations with Iran has not been shaped by some other agenda, the “Joint Plan of Action” that was agreed to in Geneva this weekend is a major achievement that deserves enthusiastic applause. Without delving into minutiae that understandably would spin the heads of most Americans who are not nuclear technology enthusiasts, several key attributes of this agreement stand out.
First, it unmistakably moves Iran farther away than it is now from any ability to make a nuclear weapon, and even farther away from any such ability it would have in the future in the absence of this agreement. Among the facets of the deal that do this are the stopping of enrichment of uranium to 20 percent and the conversion of all current material enriched to this level into forms making it unavailable for enrichment to the level required for weapons.
Second, Iran's program will be subjected to an unprecedented degree of international inspection, going beyond the treaty obligations of Iran or any other country and providing additional assurance that any Iranian departure from the terms of the agreement would be quickly detected.
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.
The elimination of the filibuster by a 52-48 vote is the political equivalent of the starting pistol for the 2014 midterm elections. Any lingering hopes that both parties would reach a compromise on the debt or other legislation pretty much went up in smoke. Still, there is an upside, at least politically. Both sides can potentially benefit. Each political party can whip up its base with the filibuster issue.
For Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who didn't wage much of a fight to stave off the demise of the filibuster, it provides a great opportunity to warn the Republican base that 2014 will be a decisive election. It will determine whether President Obama can govern as an uncrowned monarch—ramming through administrative decisions that Congress is unwilling to approve. Getting the Democrats to take the hit for ending the filibuster, at least for judicial nominations, also is a nice bonus for McConnell—if he becomes majority leader, then he gets to reap the fruits of Sen. Harry Reid's decision to go nuclear. There is no reason to suppose that McConnell would reinstitute the filibuster should he become majority leader in 2014. Quite the contrary. As Ezra Klein observes, Republicans may well profit from Reid's manuever: