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Foreign Affairs

Six months and counting: Team Obama looks pretty pitiful at this point

I have not posted much lately. Busy. Very busy. I don’t see how McQ does it. He’s a machine.

But I have been paying attention, and I must say Obama is as amusing during his first six months as I had hoped, and maybe more. Here’s a brief summary of where he’s at as far as I’m concerned, categorized into various types of success and failures on the political front.

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Iran Ready To Build Nuclear Bomb?

That’s what the UK Times is reporting:

Iran has perfected the technology to create and detonate a nuclear warhead and is merely awaiting the word from its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to produce its first bomb, Western intelligence sources have told The Times.

The sources said that Iran completed a research programme to create weaponised uranium in the summer of 2003 and that it could feasibly make a bomb within a year of an order from its Supreme Leader.

Of course, what we don’t know about Iran’s capability could fill a book. We’ve seen it variously reported that they a year away to ten years away – a good indicator that for the most part intelligence agencies haven’t a clue in reality.

However, as we know, nuclear bombs are old technology. The genie has been out of the bottle way too long to believe that Iran can’t build a bomb if it dedicates the time and resources to do so. And it certainly seems to have done both.

So now what?

That’s the salient question now. Let’s assume Iran has a bomb by this time next year – then what?

Well here’s the apparent game plan:

If Iran’s leader does decide to build a bomb, he will have two choices, intelligence sources said. One would be to take the high-risk approach of kicking out the international inspectors and making a sprint to complete Iran’s first bomb, as the country weathered international sanctions or possible air strikes in the ensuing crisis. The other would be to covertly develop the materials needed for an arsenal in secret desert facilities.

Last week, during a series of high-level US visits to Israel, officials outlined Washington’s plans to step up sanctions on Iran, should Tehran fail to agree on talks. Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, and General James Jones, the National Security Adviser, said that Iran had until the end of next month, when the UN General Assembly is to meet, to make a positive move towards engagement.

If Tehran fails to respond, Washington aims to build a tough international coalition to impose harsh sanctions focusing on petroleum products — an area where Iran is particularly vulnerable because it sends almost all of its crude abroad for refinement.

The feeling, of course, is if these sorts of sanctions can be imposed, it will hurt the regime even further by adding more unrest among a population already not happy with the election outcome. And, per the Times, hit directly at the Revolutionary Guards Council, which is the main exporter of terrorism through its surrogates in various parts of the world.

Of course what isn’t mentioned by the Times is the one big fly in the ointment of getting this done – China. No China, no sanctions. And China has developed a pretty close relationship with Iran based on petroleum trade. In 2004 it signed two huge oil and gas deals with Iran. Presently 45% of China’s crude imports come from the Middle East and that’s expected to rise to 70% by 2015. In 2008, China finalized a $70 billion deal to develop Iran’s Yadavaran oil field in exchange for the supply of liquefied natural gas. And much, much more.

So China is not going to be keen to cripple a nation which it has invested so much time and money in developing a relationship with – especially if it wants to maintain its own economy (and keep its own internal unrest to a simmer) during recessionary times.

Bottom line? My guess is a lot of tough talk and fist shaking at Iran, but in the end, nothing much happens and Iran ends up with its nuke. The play will be made in the UN where China has a seat on the Security Council and I’d almost bet the house that nothing comes out of that organization with any teeth whatsoever or China won’t vote for it.

Bottom bottom line – Israel, who we seem bound and determined to have worse relations with, is probably going to have to find a way to destroy the capability on their own. Militarily they’ve been quietly developing the strike capability for some time. And Saudi Arabia, which is very worried about an Iranian nuke and what it would do to the balance of power in the region, has given Israel a subtle nod that it would turn its back should the Israelis fly over their territory to strike Iran – unprecedented in the history of the region and an indication of the depth of fear the Saudis harbor.

But reliance on the UN and “sanctions”? I just don’t see that happening.


Hell Freezes Over – NYT Fact Checks Obama

I‘ll leave it to you to read the health care fact check. But this was of particular interest to me:

The president continued to take credit for deficit reduction by making a claim that has been challenged by many experts.

“If we had done nothing, if you had the same old budget as opposed to the changes we made,” the deficit over the next 10 years would be $2.2 trillion greater, the president said.

In fact, $1.5 trillion of those “savings” are mainly based on an assumption that the United States would have had as many troops in Iraq in 10 years as it did when Mr. Obama took office. But before leaving office, President George W. Bush signed an agreement with Baghdad mandating the withdrawal of all American forces within three years.

So Mr. Obama is claiming credit for not spending money that, under the policy he inherited from Mr. Bush, would never have been spent in the first place.

For those of you who missed it, even Bush didn’t plan on keeping as many troops as we had then for 10 years. The SOFA agreement and the general withdrawal timetable had been announced before Obama ever took office.

A perfect example of why every “fact” Obama utters needs to be examined carefully (that’s true for every politician, but this one especially), especially now when he’s promising the moon and stars in health care for less cost. Again, read the fact check for some of the points addressing that.


Nicaragua: And The Pattern Repeats

I have to wonder what our State Department and President, who seem completely enamored with process over actual democratic institutions, will have to say about this:

Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega announced Sunday, on the 30th anniversary of the leftist Sandinista revolution he led, that he would seek a referendum to change the constitution to allow him to seek reelection.

Following in the footsteps of elected regional allies, Ortega told thousands of supporters here that he would seek a referendum to let “the people say if they want to reward or punish” their leaders with reelection.

His close leftist allies who have had rules changed enabling them to remain in power include presidents Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.

In the last month President Manuel Zelaya in neighboring Honduras was ousted in a coup by his own military after seeking similar action.

My guess is they’ll applaud this even while it has essentially established “democratic” dictatorships in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. And my guess is the “certified election results” are complete for Nicaragua, just as they were for Hodura’s Zelaya, even as I write this. They only need to be produced at the proper time to “validate” the referendum.

Call it the Venezuelan model.

And our puddin’ heads in Washington will again applaud this step toward totalitarianism as a wonderful exercise in democracy we should all support.

Meanwhile those meanies in Honduras who take their Constitution too seriously? Not so much.


Certified Honduran Referendum Results Found

Criminal investigators in Honduras have reportedly found computers containing the certified election results of the referendum which was to confirm Mel Zelaya as president for…however long he wanted to be president, I guess.  Anyway, the certified results contained voting tallies, information about the voters, and other electoral information.  An example:

One of the district attorneys that participated in the operation that took place this Friday showed reporters an official voting result from the Technical Institute Luis Bogran, of Tegucigalpa, in which the specific number of people that participated in table 345, where there were 550 ballots, 450 of which were votes in favor of Zelaya’s proposal and 30 were against, in addition to 20 blank ballots and 30 ballots, which were nullified.

That’s a very complete report of the election, and contains a wealth of details about the results that would be a credit to the authorities in charge of any election.

Of course, it would be even more impressive if the referendum had actually taken place.

There was no referendum.  It was aborted by the legal, constitutional removal of Mr. Zelaya from power.

And yet, in the presidential palace’s computer, Mr. Zelaya apparently had a complete, certified result of an election that never took place.

If the Honduran authorities are to be believed, the evidence is that he had already completed a plan to steal the election, and the only remaining act to be performed was to conduct a sham referendum, whose results had already been determined.

Yet, this is the guy that the Obama Administration and the OAS thinks should be the legitimate leader of Honduras.

The OAS’s Double Standard

Surprisingly, one member of the Washington Post – Jackson Diehl – has noticed the double standard the OAS has applied when it comes to Honduras vs. Venezuela.

Venezuelan Antonio Ledezma is no gadfly or dissident; as the mayor of Caracas, he received almost as many votes in last November’s election (700,000) as Manuel Zelaya (915,000) did when he won the presidency of Honduras in 2005. Yet while the Organization of American States has been united in demanding Zelaya’s return to his post, and in suspending Honduras for violating the Inter-American Democratic Charter, it has studiously ignored the case of Ledezma — who, since his election, has been illegally driven from his office by a mob, stripped of most of his powers and budget, and subjected to criminal investigation by the regime of Hugo Chávez.

The reaction of the OAS? “None of our business”.

While championing Zelaya — whose attempt to illegally rewrite the constitution united Honduras’s Congress and Supreme Court against him — Insulza refused to interest himself in the case of Ledezma and other elected Venezuelan mayors and state governors who have been subjected to power-stripping and criminal prosecution by Chávez. The OAS “cannot be involved in issues of internal order of member states,” said a statement Insulza issued after a June meeting in Washington with Ledezma — a declaration he quickly contradicted once the pro-Chávez Zelaya was deposed.

The “Insulza” Diehl is referring too is OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza who has been absolutely uninterested in what has happened to the democratically elected mayor of Caracus or, for that matter, state governors and other mayors who’ve essentially enjoyed the same fate as Ledezma in Venezuela.

The reason? Simple – Insulza is counting on, in fact banking on, the support of Hugo Chavez for a second term as OAS GS. Insulza, who Diehl characterizes as a “Chilean socialist” knows he’s dead in the water without it. So he’s not at all inclined to rock the boat when it comes to Chavez’s illegal and unconstitutional moves in Venezuela.

Ledezma has courageously been pushing Insulza to acknowledge the problems in Venezuela:

Ledezma’s hunger strike eventually shamed Insulza into making a phone call in which he promised to meet with the Venezuelan mayors and governors in Washington, and to investigate their charges that Chávez had violated the democracy charter. But Insulza later repeated that “it is very difficult to determine how a country should organize itself internally.”

This is the face of the “new” OAS, which recently admitted the totalitarian dictatorship of Cuba into fold. It is now an organization which is driven by a socialist agenda that uses the veneer of ‘democracy’ as a way of legitimizing advancing its agenda throughout Latin America and as a weapon to thwart real democracy should it attempt to stop that agenda from successfully subverting a country.

But it obviously has no desire to really support democracy or investigate illegal and unconstitutional moves by despots in good ideological standing with the OAS leadership. That is reserved for those countries which haven’t yet converted to the socialist “Bolivar revolution” championed by Hugo Chavez – the defacto leader of the OAS. And, as Diehl points out, the OAS has been quite happy with the new administrations policies:

Such willful disregard of political repression was the prevailing policy among OAS members before the Honduran coup — including the Obama administration. Though Chávez launched his latest and most virulent campaign against elected opposition leaders and independent media shortly after Obama’s inauguration, the administration for months refused to publicly respond; instead, it agreed on a new exchange on ambassadors with Venezuela and repeatedly announced its hope to “work with” the caudillo.

My goodness, it sounds like Iran, doesn’t it?

Diehl holds out hope that the administration is figuring it out citing a recent Hillary Clinton interview with Globavision as proof. One interview, however, doesn’t prove that the administration has figured out it is being played like a fiddle or that it will take another look at how it has reacted to Honduras or the agenda of the OAS.

Diehl cites testimony before Congress the day after the interview and wonders what it means:

In testimony to Congress the next day, the State Department’s incoming assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere, Arturo Valenzuela, said that following the Honduras crisis, “it should be clear that the collective response of the hemisphere in support of democracy should not be limited to taking action simply when elected leaders are removed from office by force.” Does that mean the United States now will also push Insulza and the OAS to judge what is happening in Venezuela — and in Nicaragua, Ecuador and other states where freedom of the press and free elections have been under sustained attack? The administration’s high-profile effort to defend a hostile Honduran president has provided an opportunity to take the offensive against the hemisphere’s most dangerous anti-democratic actors.

Given what I’ve seen so far from this administration and its foreign policy, I’d have to guess the answer is a flat “no”.


All Quiet On The Western Front

In Iran, the “pro-democracy” element remains under threat of government violence:

Seeking to pre-empt a revival of street protests in Tehran after days of apparent quiescence, Iranian authorities told opponents that a planned demonstration Thursday would be met with a “crushing response” and was illegal.

Protesters had planned to rally on Thursday on the 10th anniversary of violent confrontations when protesting students were beaten and jailed. The protests could rekindle the demonstrations that followed the disputed June 12 elections, provoking a sweeping official crackdown.

Iranian officials said Wednesday that they had released 2,000 people who were arrested for participating in the demonstrations, but continued holding l 500 prisoners who would be put on trial, according to the state-run Press TV news service.

Meanwhile in Italy, the G8 managed this “crushing response” to the Iranian government’s violence, killings and arrests:

G8 foreign ministers have managed to find common ground on the situation in Iran. The joint statement says the G8 regrets the actions by Iranian authorities after the presidential election, which killed civilians.


Meanwhile our Secretary of State will be futzing around with some constitutionally deposed would-be dictator from Honduras.


G-8 Climate Change Agreement A Bust

From a story in the NY Times:

The world’s major industrial nations and emerging powers failed to agree Wednesday on significant cuts in heat-trapping gases by 2050, unraveling an effort to build a global consensus to fight climate change, according to people following the talks.

As President Obama arrived for three days of meetings with other international leaders, negotiators dropped a proposal that would have committed the world to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by midcentury and industrialized countries to slashing their emissions by 80 percent.

Essentially that means that even with the House passing cap-and-trade’s economy crippling taxes, the rest of the world, especially the “emerging nations” (such as China, India, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico), are refusing to do the same.

This was the most interesting part of the story:

The breakdown on climate change underscored the difficulty in bridging divisions between the most developed countries like the United States and developing nations like China and India. In the end, people close to the talks said, the emerging powers refused to agree to the limits because they wanted industrial countries to commit to midterm goals in 2020 and to follow through on promises of financial and technological help.

“They’re saying, ‘We just don’t trust you guys,’” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group based in the United States. “It’s the same gridlock we had last year when Bush was president.”

You don’t say? Perhaps it is because the idea is the same stupid idea that was put forward during the Bush era and it isn’t selling any better while Obama is president. The “emerging nations” have seen the opportunity here to play a little economic catch-up. They get the Western economies to hobble themselves and they get a bonus wealth transfer too boot:

Mr. Meyer estimated that the United States, Europe and other industrial nations need to come up with $150 billion a year in assistance by 2020 to help develop clean energy technology for developing countries, reduce deforestation that contributes to rising temperatures, and help vulnerable nations adapt to changes attributed to greenhouse gases.

That’s $150 billion a year plus cap-and-trade. And we all know who will pick up the lion’s share of that tab. We should also remember that you can safely double any government estimate and probably be closer to reality than what you read initially.

So in a recessionary period in which the rest of the world seems to be understanding the folly of economically crippling legislation to curb CO2 emissions (as witnessed by the G8’s failure to agree to such curbs and the promise of further failure in Copenhagen), we choose to embrace them.

Ideology and bad science win the day in the US, while the rest of the world moves away from real emissions curbs or recognize the opportunity to exploit them for cash.



Obama/Honduras – Still Not Getting It

From an Obama statement in Russia:

“America supports now the restoration of the democratically-elected President of Honduras, even though he has strongly opposed American policies,” the president told graduate students at the commencement ceremony of Moscow’s New Economic School. “We do so not because we agree with him. We do so because we respect the universal principle that people should choose their own leaders, whether they are leaders we agree with or not. “

Again and again Obama stresses the fact that Mel Zelaya was “democratically-elected”. But the same could be said about many of today’s dictators. Elections are only one part of the democratic process. The other, and the one that sustains the electoral process, is the rule of law. Focusing only on the fact that Zelaya was “democratically-elected” but ignoring the fact that he has attempted to subvert Honduran constitutional principles that ensure such democratic elections is bad enough.

However, continuing that line of criticism after being apprised of the constitutional arguments and the process which led to Zeyala’s ouster is completely unacceptable. Yes, we back the right of people to democratically elect their leaders. But we must also back their decision, driven by the rule of law, to remove a leader when he refuses to follow the law he is sworn to uphold. Why is it that Obama, the “Constitutional law professor, doesn’t appear to “get” that?


Krauthammer – 2 for 2

Via The Corner, Charles Krauthammer on Fox’s News Hour with Brett Bair. First he talks about the pre-negotiated reduction of nuclear arms between Russia and the US:

That was the deal that Obama really was lusting after as a way to come home and to wave a diplomatic success.

The problem is that any deal on offensive nuclear weaponry is either useless or a detriment to the United States.

Useless because it makes no difference above a certain level how many warheads you have. We could suspend our negotiations today and say to the Russians: You can construct as many warheads as you want and spend yourselves into penury, as the Soviets did, to make weapons that are redundant, that will do nothing more than make the rubble bounce, as Churchill once said memorably.

It could be a detriment because the Russians have insisted on linkage between offensive and defensive weaponry. The reason it’s a detriment is because we have a huge technological advantage on defensive weaponry. We can shoot down a missile. The Russians can’t.

For 25 years, the Russians have attempted to get a curb on American defensive weaponry, starting at Reykjavik, where Gorbachev attempted to swindle Reagan out of our strategic defenses. Reagan said no. Bush 1 said no. Clinton said no. And Bush 2 said no.

Obama is wavering on this, and I think it could be a real catastrophe if he concedes. He already is wavering on the missile shield in Eastern Europe. Medvedev said we [he and Obama] agreed on linkage, and Obama himself had said it would be the subject of extensive negotiations.

Why negotiations with the Russians over a shield in the Czech Republic and Poland?

If he gives away the missile shield then he’s essentially given the Russian the advantage of not having to worry about losing any warheads to anti-missile defenses, thereby making any cuts, even by a third, painless. And, of course, he’s already ceded ground by agreeing to linkage and subjecting such a defense to “extensive negotiations”.

Reducing nuclear weapons is a laudable accomplishment. But weakening our defenses against such weapons as the price isn’t.

Sarah Palin:

If she thinks that this decision is a way to advance her political career, she is delusional. She could survive this. It’s possible. It may not be a fatal decision, but it’s not an advancement.

It is a quitting, and I think it’s largely a personal decision, a reasonable one. There was a lot of heat, a lot of attacks, and she wanted out, and that’s OK.

If there was a political calculation, it would have to be—if it were rational—that after the age of Obama, you know, way down the road, there are second acts in American politics. Reagan returned. Nixon returned. Clinton returned. It’s possible.

But she has to make herself serious. If she imagined she is going to be a Reagan-in-the-wilderness in the ’70’s and lead a movement, she has to be like Reagan, who was a serious man with serious ideas, who studied, who wrote, who thought, and made himself a major figure. If she doesn’t do that, she’s toast.

As much as I like Sarah Palin as a personality, I think Krauthammer has put his finger on her problem – she isn’t a Reagan or a Thatcher, or even a Nixon or Clinton. And as I’ve implied in some commentary to another blog post, with this highly partisan and poisonous political atmophere which gets 24/7 coverage, second acts are very, very hard to come by. And, as Krauthammer notes, when it’s “quitting” that defines your departure, a second act may be impossible.