Friday, May 11, 2018

Cruising the Web

It has not been a promising week for Iran. The Israeli Prime Minister made public an intelligence coup that they pulled off right in the middle of Tehran and which exposed the regime's attempt to preserve their plans to build a military nuclear program. Such an operation in the center of their capital city was a humiliation for Iran. Then Trump pulled out of the Obama nuclear deal. And then this week, they fired rockets into Israel's positions on the Golan Heights, but Israel's missile defense system was able to shoot down those missiles that reached Israel. Israel then retaliated by striking Iranian positions in Syria. Israel demonstrated their military superiority in another humiliation of Iran. Israel's defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman put Iran on notice.
“If there is rain on our side, there will be a flood on their side.”
That sounds rather like the Chicago Way: "He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way." For Obama, that was the way to fight Republicans, but not the way to deal with Iran. Remember this?
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, who regularly uses language to reinforce his modern-guy credentials, seems to have set that aside when he explained how he won’t be cowed by Republican attacks. “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said at a fund-raiser in Philadelphia on Friday, employing a phrase that could have been lifted from a gangster movie. “
But with Iran, Obama was willing to send them pallets of cash that they then used to fund their military and terrorism throughout the region. Israel takes a different approach to Iran. David French refutes the assertion from the NY Times that the Iran deal that Trump just pulled out of had been holding Iran and Israel "from all-out conflict." Pshaw!
While there is no doubt tensions are escalating, the Iran deal wasn’t preventing conflict with Israel; it was helping bring war right to Israel’s doorstep. In essence, the deal protected Iran from direct strikes on its homeland even as it poured resources into its Syrian military infrastructure. For Iran, the deal was a shield and a sword, granting a degree of immunity at home while empowering the Iranian military abroad.

America should learn lessons from Israel. It needs to shed its inexplicable fear of direct confrontation and signal that ongoing Iranian efforts to kill American troops and support American enemies are intolerable. It needs to signal clearly that it won’t cede one inch of ground to Iranian-allied forces in Syria.

While it is wonderful to have three American hostages released from North Korea, let's not forget that North Korea can simply grab more hostages whenever they want. I was amazed to learn how many Americans live in North Korea via this story from August, 2017 that Jim Geraghty linked to.
When American doctor Stephen Yoon thinks of North Korea, he does not think of ballistic missile tests or the threat of nuclear war. He remembers instead a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, who suffered from spastic quadriplegia that made her unable to stand or sit. Five years ago, she went to Yoon’s developmental-disability program at Pyongyang Medical University Hospital, where she received treatments from Yoon and his team of local doctors. After almost a year of exercise therapy and some surgeries, she walked out of the hospital on her own.

The event was heralded in North Korean state media as a national victory, but it received no notice in the U.S., where few people even know about the roughly 200 Americans like Yoon who work and live under the rule of Kim Jong Un. Carefully monitored by the regime, they have come and gone for years, doing educational, medical or infrastructural work, and sometimes raising families in a nation that has been officially at war with the U.S. since 1950. Yoon, 45, moved to North Korea 10 years ago. “We were able to convince and convey to the North Korean government that the kids with disabilities have value and they can be part of society,” says Yoon. “I really believe in our presence.”

Heidi Linton, a mother of three from Asheville, N.C., who leads the organization Christian Friends of Korea, has helped to deliver millions in aid to North Korea since 1995 and spends as much as three months a year in the country to support hepatitis and tuberculosis care centers. About 50 other Americans work in North Korea’s Rason Special Economic Zone, near the Russian border, on social entrepreneurship and humanitarian projects. There’s also a predominately American-run school, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, that has brought nearly 70 American professors and staff members each semester.
These people are very brave and saintly in their dedication to help North Koreans. They're lucky to have been unmolested so far, but nothing guarantees their safety. The Trump administration has stopped Americans from traveling to North Korea as tourists and is discouraging journalists and aid workers from going there, but some are still there.

It doesn't get a lot of play in American media, but there are still protests and strikes throughout Iran in response to miserable economic conditions.
Teachers went on strike in central Iran’s city of Yazd. Steelworkers and hospital staff walked off the job in the southwest city of Ahvaz. Railway employees protested near Tabriz. And a bus drivers union in Tehran battled the private companies that control many city routes.

These were among the hundreds of recent outbreaks of labor unrest in Iran, an indication of deepening discord over the nation’s economic troubles. Workers are turning not only against their employers but also Iran’s government, piling pressure on leaders who promised but failed to deliver better times in the two years since economic sanctions were lifted in the nuclear deal....

Prices of eggs, meat and bread are rising more than 10% a year, compounding consumer woes. Unemployment is about 12%, and the Iranian rial has fallen sharply against the dollar, raising prices on imported goods and prompting a central bank intervention in April. Oil prices have risen, bringing a moment of relief, but consumers say they’ve yet to see the benefits.

Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars in proceeds from the nuclear agreement have gone to Iran’s military involvement in Syria and support of Lebanon’s Hezbollah rather than the national economy, critics of the deal say....

Iran’s labor disputes are extending a panoply of protests in the Islamic Republic that stem from social, economic and political strains. In December and January, people poured onto the streets for two weeks of demonstrations, touched off by deposits lost through failed financial institutions. The protests, Iran’s largest in nearly a decade, were quashed by authorities.

Since then, women have posted videos that show them removing mandatory headscarves, a criminal offense. Defrauded depositors still air grievances, and workers have kept up demands.....

The simmering anger, as voiced by protesters, is stoked by the belief that a corrupt and politically empowered elite is siphoning off Iran’s wealth.

“The social gap is about to explode,” said Alireza Saghafi-Khorasani, the secretary of a labor-rights group in Iran. “There is no economic plan.”
As we have seen throughout history, a tyrannical regime is most vulnerable to overthrow when rising expectations of its citizenry are not met. Iranians thought that things would get better as a result of the 2015 deal. They thought that, with sanctions lifted, and billions of dollars released to their country the economy would improve. That has not happened. With Trump pulling out of the deal, things could get even worse. And labor discontent has been potent previously in Iranian history.
Labor troubles have proven dangerous to the status quo in the past. By organizing oil strikes before the 1979 Iranian Revolution that slowed energy production to a trickle, Iran’s workers swept away economic supports of the ruling shah and helped ensure the success of the uprising.
That is why the Iranian regime has banned independent labor unions. That hasn't appeased discontented workers who haven't seen their complaints addressed by the regime.
The financial situation of blue-collar Iranians hasn’t improved much in the nearly four decades since the revolution. Urban family incomes average around $800 a month, with a minimum wage of around $200 a month.
Somehow I don't think that rants from Iran's leaders against the great and little Satans is going to satisfy Iranians who don't have enough money to make ends meet and when the administration has stopped funding wages and pensions for some firms.

David Harsanyi blasphemously argues that Barack Obama's legacy deserved to be trashed. People from Obama's administration have been lamenting that Trump has been steadily unraveling Obama's legacy. But if Obama hadn't been so focused on implementing what he wanted without going through any sort of effort to bring Congress along with him once he lost control of Congress, perhaps his policy would have been harder for a new president to reverse. The Iran deal is just the latest example, but it's not the only one.
You’ll remember the panic-stricken coverage we endured when the United States withdrew from the faux international Paris climate agreement last year. It’s true that the deal was oversold as a matter of policy (by both parties for political reasons), but it was symbolic of how the Obama administration concerned itself more with international consensus than domestic compromise. We know this because the president would never have won ratification for a deal remotely similar to the one he entered — nor did he attempt to. Obama, despite the hagiographic framing of his scandal-ridden presidency, had about as much interest in genuine concession as his political adversaries did.

Obama allies at home incessantly pointed to poll numbers as a justification for his executive abuse, mostly because the only polls that really mattered, congressional elections, continued to soundly reject his agenda. The defense rested on the idea that the Republican-led Congress had failed to “do its job” and act on issues Democrats had deemed vital. But Congress, of course, “acted” all the time by checking the president’s ambitions. This was not only well within its purview, but in many ways the reason the electorate handed the GOP Congress in the first place.
Harsanyi is exactly correct that Obama's pattern was to say that he was implementing a temporary policy, but now that he was succeeded by Trump, temporary has become permanent.
n 2012, Obama told the nation that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which by any standard was a stand-in for legislation, was merely “a temporary stopgap measure.” By the time Trump overturned it, the measure represented “who we are as a people.” That’s because by “temporary” Obama always meant “until Democrats can make it permanent through the courts or electoral victories.”

Even when implementing laws Congress could pass, Obama and his allies relied on coercing participation through mandates. But when it became inconvenient, they began arbitrarily implementing parts laws. Administrative discretion became administrative abuse. When the president decided the Obamacare’s employment mandate was politically inconvenient, for example, he simply skipped it for expediency.

The Constitution doesn’t say “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law unless liberals tell us it’s super important.” Yet, shortly after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration realized it would need more subsidies and asked for an appropriation from Congress.

When Congress, then teeming with politicians elected on the promise of overturning Obamacare, refused, Obama Treasury Secretary Jack Lew ordered the administration to begin making “cost-sharing reduction” payments anyway without any public legal justification. Obama created a $7 billion per year appropriation for insurance companies participating in the supposedly self-sufficient and competitive state health-care exchanges. Not a single liberal pundit that I know of concerned himself with this norm-breaking.

One federal court found the Obamacare subsidy unconstitutional, and the case is working towards the Supreme Court. But, then again, no administration in memory was stopped more often by courts, often by unanimous SCOTUS decisions. Whether it was ignoring the Senate in making appointments or claiming to rewrite employment law, Obama tried to function without constitutional restraints.
This was a legacy of an imperial presidency that is well worth destroying.

Jack Goldsmith of Lawfareblog, who is no friend of Donald Trump, also argues that leaving the Iran deal is simply Trump reaping what Obama sowed.
The particular manner in which President Obama crafted the Iran deal paved the way for President Trump to withdraw from it. Obama made the deal on his own presidential authority, in the face of significant domestic opposition, without seeking or receiving approval from the Senate or the Congress. He was able to do this, and to skirt constitutional requirements for senatorial or congressional consent, because he made the deal as a political commitment rather than a binding legal obligation. As Curt Bradley and I recently explained, a political commitment “imposes no obligation under international law,” a nation “incurs no state responsibility for its violation,” and thus “a successor President is not bound by a previous President’s political commitment under either domestic or international law and can thus legally disregard it at will.”

Presidents have the clear authority to make non-binding political commitments. That is why I defended the legality of the Iran deal (as opposed to its wisdom) at the time. But whenever a president makes an agreement as a political commitment rather than as a binding agreement under international law, he is making a tradeoff. On the one hand, the president can avoid the need for approval from the Senate or Congress and make the international deal despite domestic opposition. On the other hand, a political commitment has no binding force under international or domestic law—and there is thus a danger that it will not be honored by a subsequent president.
In response to Obama administration figures complaining about Trump's decision, Goldsmith responds,
Sorry, but you don’t get to make an enormously consequential international deal in the face of opposition from Congress, and skirt the need for congressional consent by making the agreement non-binding under domestic and international law, and then complain about a withdrawal from the fragile non-binding agreement you made when a new president who ran on the issue and won does what a majority of Congress wanted at the time....

One of the most important purposes of legislative consent for international agreements is to ensure that the agreement actually serves the national interest clearly enough to garner such consent. Agreements that have the approval of the Senate or Congress tend to be longer-lasting and more durable. One reason is that they, unlike the Iran deal, are binding under international law. A more important reason is that a later president is much less likely to back away from an agreement made by a prior president with the support of the nation secured by its consent through elective representatives.

The Obama administration did not secure this consent. It made the agreement unilaterally, and thereby pledged the reputation of the nation, even though it knew the Iran deal was non-binding and lacked approval among the nation’s elected representatives. If the United States’ reputation for upholding agreements takes a hit, the responsibility for that outcome lies squarely with the original decision by the Obama administration to make the hugely consequential deal on its own.

The Obama administration took a bet that either Hillary Clinton would win the election or that the unwinding of sanctions for three years would make any reimposition of sanctions too painful politically. And it lost the bet.

In fact, the Obama administration at the time of the deal admitted that the deal was neither a treaty nor an executive agreement. It wasn't even a signed document. Here is the letter that the Obama Department of State wrote to Representative Mike Pompeo in 2015. The Iranians didn't even sign the deal.
As our Joel Gehrke reported in 2015, “President Obama didn’t require Iranian leaders to sign the nuclear deal.”
Here is what Gehrke reported at the time.
Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) obtained by National Review.

“The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document,” wrote Julia Frifield, the State Department assistant secretary for legislative affairs, in the November 19 letter.

Frifield wrote the letter in response to a letter Pompeo sent Secretary of State John Kerry, in which he observed that the deal the president had submitted to Congress was unsigned and wondered if the administration had given lawmakers the final agreement. Frifield’s response emphasizes that Congress did receive the final version of the deal. But by characterizing the JCPOA as a set of “political commitments” rather than a more formal agreement, it is sure to heighten congressional concerns that Iran might violate the deal’s terms.

“The success of the JCPOA will depend not on whether it is legally binding or signed, but rather on the extensive verification measures we have put in place, as well as Iran’s understanding that we have the capacity to re-impose — and ramp up — our sanctions if Iran does not meet its commitments,” Frifield wrote to Pompeo.
Think about it. They were arguing that the lack of a signature by IRanians on the deal was a feature, not a bug of the deal.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani discouraged his nation’s parliament from voting on the nuclear deal in order to avoid placing legal burdens on the regime. “If the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is sent to [and passed by] parliament, it will create an obligation for the government. It will mean the president, who has not signed it so far, will have to sign it,” Rouhani said in August. “Why should we place an unnecessary legal restriction on the Iranian people?
That's the masterstroke of diplomacy that the Obama people regarded as the crown jewel of Obama's foreign policy legacy. It's a joke.

Tom Trinko makes an interesting argument about liberals. His thesis is that liberals don't believe in human evil. Therefore, it is easier for them to believe that there are ideal government policies out there the government can implement to fix the world's problems.
Obama's "rapprochement" with Iran was based on the idea that a terrorist-funding, theocratic, fascist state could be turned toward the Golden Rule just by showing its rulers how much Obama cared about them. Obama's reasoning was like that used by Neville Chamberlain about Hitler – he was a reasonable man whom Chamberlain could deal with.

Because leftists don't believe that the mad mullahs who run Iran, as opposed to the average Iranian, are evil, they can't see that those mullahs have to be treated with carrots and sticks because they will not do what is right unless they fear the consequences of doing what is wrong.
Read the rest and see if you agree.