May 14, 2019

Tensions Flare With Iran

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

“Iran threatened [last] Wednesday to enrich its uranium stockpile closer to weapons-grade levels in 60 days if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for its 2015 nuclear deal, raising regional tensions as a U.S. aircraft carrier and bombers headed to the Middle East to confront Tehran.” AP News

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From the Left

The left worries the strategy of ‘maximum pressure’ is not working, and about the risk of escalating tensions leading to armed conflict.

“There can be little doubt that the administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy is inflicting considerable economic harm on Iran… To date, however, there is no sign that either Iran’s regional policies are shifting or its leaders are willing to come back to the negotiating table and submit to the Trump administration’s demands. Nor is there any hint that economic hardship has triggered popular unrest of a magnitude that would threaten the regime’s survival…

“The one thing Tehran would find more intolerable than the crushing impact of sanctions is raising the white flag because of them… [The US should step] back from maximalist demands, and [use] sanctions as a scalpel, not a chainsaw.”
Ali Vaez, The Atlantic

Some are asking, “Can Europe save the Iran deal?... Europe could take small but symbolically important steps to signal to the Iranians that it is committed to maintaining the nuclear deal [without running afoul of US sanctions]… It won’t be easy to walk this thin line, but the stakes are high: If the deal falls through, it will increase the risk of American military action to curb Iran’s nuclear program.”
Ariane Tabatabai, New York Times

Others point out that “attempts by some European Union countries over the past year to circumvent renewed American sanctions have come to nothing. The commercial reality is that they cannot protect energy companies, banks and other businesses seeking to trade with Iran from Washington’s punitive secondary sanctions… The idea that the Europeans will ride to the rescue… [is] far-fetched.”
Simon Tisdall, The Guardian

Regarding the deployment of an aircraft carrier and bombers, many note that the US “has a long history of provoking, instigating, or launching wars based on dubious, flimsy, or manufactured threats… The most egregious case was the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in 2003, which was based on bad intelligence that Baghdad had active weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. The repercussions are still playing out sixteen years (and more than four thousand American deaths) later… The sense of foreboding is tangible.”
Robin Wright, The New Yorker

Trump's “goal, it seems, is to put so much pressure on Tehran that it has no choice but to completely change its behavior — but he could end up leading the countries to the brink of war in the process… Now is typically the time when cooler heads prevail, but it’s unclear if there are cooler heads around… It’s hard to overstate how avoidable this situation was.”
Alex Ward, Vox

“Trump’s defenders will say this evidence is all circumstantial. But circumstantial evidence is not weak evidence: it’s simply evidence based on the circumstances in which an act of wrongdoing is committed — such as the license plate of a car that speeds away from a bank just after that bank is robbed. Criminals are convicted on such evidence all the time. They will also say that there’s no explicit quid pro quo proposal here. But… ‘even when a corrupt deal is struck implicitly, the government can still prosecute extortion on a quid pro quo basis. Circumstantial evidence can be enough to prove a criminal exchange.’…

“In the absence of an explicit quid pro quo over restarting aid, the context and circumstances are what will become the focus of the investigation. There is enough here to support impeachment. Whether it is also enough to convince Republicans and lead to removal is another matter.”
Noah Feldman, Bloomberg

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) “insisted the president couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong because, in the end, Ukraine got its money without committing to any investigations. This point of view has radical implications for America’s system of justice and overcrowded prisons, if Mr. Jordan in fact truly believes that all inmates convicted of attempted crimes are innocent of wrongdoing… Perhaps the most telling remark was offered by a Republican staff lawyer, Stephen Castor, who suggested that while the president’s behavior may have been highly irregular, ‘it’s not as outlandish as it could be.’ Here’s a tip: When ‘not as outlandish as itcould be’ is your strongest defense, it’s time to rethink your position.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

From the Right

The right is not worried about Iran’s withdrawal from the deal, arguing that it was ineffective from the beginning.

From the Right

The right is not worried about Iran’s withdrawal from the deal, arguing that it was ineffective from the beginning.

“Rouhani’s threats to partially withdraw from the JCPOA will have a negligible effect on Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons because the agreement is so weak. The nuclear deal already allows Iran to pursue nuclear-weapons-related activities, permitting it to enrich uranium with 5,000 centrifuge machines while the agreement is in effect. Its inspection provisions are likewise very weak and Iran has violated them by not permitting inspections of military sites. Iran also has refused to fully account for its past nuclear-weapons work…

“Iran’s recent threats and alleged plans to attack U.S. interests reflect the success of President Trump’s maximum-pressure strategy on Iran. U.S. sanctions have isolated Iran and deprived its ruling mullahs of funds to spend on the military, terrorism, and meddling in regional disputes.”
Fred Fleitz, National Review

Dated but relevant: The agreement was always nothing more than a giant Band-Aid over Iran’s obvious nuclear weapons aspirations – freezing those ambitions for roughly 10 years, but never truly solving the problem…

“[Moreover] while Iran’s nuclear aspirations were at least frozen for a decade under the deal, it faced no restrictions on having an entire decade to research, develop and test ever-more advanced missiles – missiles that could someday carry a nuclear warhead. In the last few years, Iran has tested various new ballistic and cruise missiles, each demonstrating growing leaps in technological sophistication and accuracy… Trump killing [the] deeply flawed Iran deal [was] the right move.”
Harry J. Kazianis, Fox News

“Anyone who suggests that Iran and its proxies don’t constitute a threat to US interests and its allies simply haven’t been paying attention for the last 40 years. That doesn’t mean that war is the inevitable answer, but it should mean that preparing for conflict and ensuring that Iran understands the consequences are at least reasonable responses.”
Ed Morrissey, Hot Air

Minority View: The U.S. went back on its promises of sanctions relief to Iran, and has embarked on a much more aggressive economic war in pursuit of maximalist goals that amount to regime change in all but name. Sanctions cannot provide leverage over the targeted regime if that regime believes it has nothing to gain from complying with our government’s demands. If a regime is being told that it will be strangled now or strangled later, its leaders may decide that they will take their chances and try to outlast the administration that is trying to strangle them.”
Daniel Larison, The American Conservative

It’s worth noting that “conservative ideas were much more popular when not associated with the Republican party. In Washington State, voters narrowly rejected bringing affirmative action back to state contracting and university admissions…

“In Seattle, the self-proclaimed socialist city-council member appears to have lost her seat to a pro-business challenger. In Colorado, voters gave fiscal conservatives a big win by rejecting letting the state keep any tax revenues above the state spending cap, money that the state Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights currently guarantees as refunds to taxpayers. In Sussex County, N.J., voters approved, by a 2-to-1 margin, a referendum directing the local freeholder board to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Washington, Colorado, New Jersey — notice these are places where Republican candidates have had no luck lately.)”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“After adding in the ultra-millionaire’s tax and factoring in the other capital taxes Warren wants to levy — on financial transactions, on unrealized capital gains, on corporations — we’d be asking every billionaire to hand over more than two-thirds of their total wealth over a 10-year period. If the government actually managed to collect it, their fortunes would rapidly erode — and so would tax collections. The plan might be a good way to smash wealth, but it’s a terrible way to fund the nation’s health-care system…

“If Warren makes it to the White House, and tries to pass a plan, the Congressional Budget Office will eventually attach more reasonable numbers, with more defensible assumptions, sparking an even more spectacular political blowback than the one that greeted Friday’s announcement. Outside of the progressive Twitterati, there isn’t necessarily an enormous constituency for spending $20.5 trillion to herd every American into a national health insurance program; there would be even less support for spending what Warren’s plan would actually cost.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

On the bright side...

New robot will keep plants alive by throwing 'tantrums' when it needs water.
WSET

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